We would like to introduce another interesting article by Christopher Jobson. Organist at Colemere Church for 64 years.
This morning was an early start to try, not very successfully, to beat the rush hour traffic in Shrewsbury. My mission was to worship in a church that was bare of pews, organ or pulpit. The worshippers, members of a church that has had no schism, reformation, counter-reformation or confrontation with modern rationalism, were standing among many candles.
The Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, older in origin than the Bible or Councils, was today enacted in Finland, Ethiopia, Zagorsk, Istanbul, Moscow and just about every major city in the world. The atmosphere in church was exotic with the walls and screen covered with icons some representing Christ the Pantokrator, the Judge of all. The eyes look straight at you, intense personal and challenging. Then there were icons of the Mother of God, almond-eyed today decorated with flowers for the celebration of Her Nativity.
As worshippers came in they each took up one or more slender candles, walked to the Icons of Christ and the Mother of God, kissed each Icon and lit the candle in front of it. The cluster of tiny flames flickering on the faces and the smell of the incense were all mysterious but the words being sung were familiar and yet clothed in warmer darker harmonies. The singers were the worshippers who have come not out of a sense of obligation but to merge themselves, according to Orthodox tradition, in fellowship with the Church invisible, all of the members past and present whose worship goes on forever.
These are not casual Christians because they know that when they arrive they will stand in a crowded space for over one and a half hours. The Orthodox Church is a community of people descended directly and without a break from the original Christian community of the Apostolic Age. Their Faith is enshrined in the Divine Liturgy lex orandi, lex credendi – what is prayed is what is believed. This Apostolic tradition is the foundation of the doctrinal and spiritual authority of the Bible, the Councils and Christianity itself.
In the central supremely divine act of consecration it is God who acts in an inexpressible way. It is an eternal, heavenly reality where the eternal and the earthly are one. As I stood in that church this morning I joined with the whole company of Christians dead and alive, participating-in, rather than witnessing a miracle: I was part of it and I felt at home.
These are the impressions of Dr Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury after attending an Orthodox Liturgy for the first time:
“I felt I had seen glory and praise for the first time. I had seen and heard people who were behaving as if God were real. I came away with the sense of absolute objectivity and majesty and beauty of God which I have never forgotten. If people worshipped like this, I felt God must be a great deal more real than I had learned so far.”Dr Rowan Williams (The Times, 12.11.2005)
Feature Image shows the interior of Shrewsbury Greek Orthodox Church. The photograph was taken before the first Covid-19 lockdown. Copyright Christopher Jobson.