“Greek Orthodoxy does not make a dualistic division between the material and the spiritual world; rather, the material world can make manifest the holy. Hence Orthodoxy is a tactile and sensual religion. Rituals are often long and elaborate. Churches are rich with ornamentation and filled with icons, lighted candles, and offerings. They are also places of activity–worshippers light candles, kiss the icons, and hang támata from the iconostasis.” (Dubisch, In a Different Place: Pilgrimage, Gender, and Politics at a Greek Island Shrine)

“Icons in a church or chapel are in a sacred place, a place where, all Orthodox Christians believe, through the Liturgy or the Eucharist, the Son of God is actually present. The church or chapel building itself within this context of belief is a microcosm of the universe, with the dome and vault representing heaven set over the earth.” (Margaret Kenna, Icons in Theory and Practice)

Greek Orthodox Christianity and American Protestantism are about as far apart as two branches of Christianity can get. We American Protestants come from a nation that is rooted in uptight Puritan theology and ethics, and as Lutherans we follow the doctrine of a man who actively opposed the materialistic aspects of the Catholic Church. It is deeply embedded in our cultural subconscious to be suspicious of excessive materialism in religion. Coming from this context, the experience of a Greek Orthodox worship can be a little weird for us. SO much emphasis placed on the physical space, things, and senses can seem frivolous, wasteful, or distracting. Didn’t Jesus say something about leaving behind worldly possessions and all that? But the people who actually practice the Greek Orthodox faith talk about the beauty and rapture of being able to physically experience the divine. In their worships, they make space for God to be physically present and experienced through the icons, incense, and grandeur of the church. 

But we are outsiders to this experience; we aren’t totally comfortable with it and everything about it is different from what we know church to be. So what’s the point of trying to understand people from a culture or religion that is so different from our own? I believe it’s important–that’s why I majored in anthropology. Jesus believed it was important, in his ministry he brought together people from all walks of life who couldn’t believe they had anything in common. You all must believe it’s important because you’re here on this trip with all of these weirdos and you’re willing to experience the lovely uncomfortable beauty of another culture.

 

Prayer

God may you open our eyes to your presence in our everyday experiences and sensations. May you open our hearts in understanding to those who are different from us, both here and in our own communities. And may you grant our bodies and minds rest, and prepare us for the next part of this journey. Amen.

 


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