The exterior of the church was striking, with a bright red roof and a gaudy gold bulb atop the steeple, on which a golden cross stands straight and tall. We made sure to pull our scarves up over our heads before entering. Mass had finished a few minutes before we slipped into the small, ornate sanctuary; it smelled like candles that had just been blown out. I don’t know much about the orthodox faith, but I read a book for my theology class called The Orthodox Way by an orthodox bishop, Kallistos Ware. He explained that orthodox worship incorporates icons, pictures, and other sensory stimuli as a means of transcending the mundane to reach the divine.
The icons were innumerable; there were ornate pictures covering every square inch of wall space in the sanctuary. Frankly, it was overwhelming for a plain old Protestant. There were only about four short benches in the back of the church–the rest of the sanctuary was open; there was a lectern at the front of the room, but it was not raised. There were what looked like two small altars at either side of the sanctuary in front of the lectern. Along the side walls, there were basins and smaller bowls, presumably for hand washing. An older woman entered the sanctuary and carefully crossed herself and bowed before entering the room. She bowed in front of one altar, rose, and paced to the other, where she repeated the crossing and bowing routine. Then she started picking up candles and tidying a few things, which we took as our cue to leave. We sat there a total of 3 and a half minutes, though we could have sat there for as many hours absorbing the artwork in the church.
I am interested in attending a service at the Russian Orthodox Church–even though I am quite certain I will not be able to understand anything that is going on. Our study abroad coordinator encouraged us to seek to experience God outside of our comfortable Western-Protestant worship style. God was, is, and always will be the same. I am interested to see how the lens through which I have always viewed God differs from the way that people in this tradition view Him. Certainly, no culture or religious sect has a true grasp on the reality of God. There is truth that can be grasped because it has been revealed in the Bible, but worship style is very contextual. I hope I am approaching orthodoxy with reverent intrigue without making a spectacle of it.