Let us be attentive
Saint Anthony Greek Orthodox Church
Way back in Catholic school, I remember one of the teachers telling us that we—meaning Catholics—could attend Greek Orthodox churches and could participate in communion because Greek Orthodox was just a different branch of the same church. I’m not sure that it was true then, and I’m pretty sure that Orthodox can’t receive communion in Roman Catholic churches. It’s not important—just one of the things I was thinking about when my mind wandered while I was doing my taxes Sunday after Hunter and I attended the service at the Greek Orthodox Church.
The style of the church is elegant and breathtaking. The architecture is simple, with a foyer (narthex) which opens into the peaked nave (the place where people sit), then the altar area (sanctuary).
The altar area is separated from the nave by an iconostasis, which is a kind of a wall, with a series of five wood panels on either side of an arched doorway, which I’ve seen called the Beautiful Gates. The priests and the altar can be seen through the doorway. There’s a series of stained glass windows on either side of the nave interspersed with two-dimensional Stations of the Cross, and a larger stained glass window above the altar. There was seating for approximately 130 people on wooden hand-worn pews with kneelers.
The iconostasis is stunning. I’m ignorant of exactly who the bigger-than-life icons represent—Jesus, Mary, John the Baptist, among various other saints—but they’re painted in that Byzantine style with the gold leaf and stylized clothing but detailed faces. This is some of the more dramatic religious art that I’ve seen in Reno.
Sunday was special in that Bishop Ilia presided over the the Divine Liturgy with the regular priest, Reverend Father George Bratiotis. It was the beginning of the Lenten Triodion, which is the time spent preparing for Lent.
My impression is that the two-hour liturgy went in basically the same order as a Roman Catholic service. There were certain things that were different—the beautiful song/chants of the priests, rising and falling sometimes into harmony, sometimes into unison; the juxtaposing of language; the orientation of the priests toward the congregation; an increased use of incense, each person was greeted by name at communion. But in many ways, it was similar. I don’t know which ritual is older. This one “feels” older, but that could have just been the circumstance.
The epistle reading was from Paul’s second letter to Timothy Chapter 3:10-15, which is basically Paul’s exhortation to keep the faith, that God will deliver the faithful from evil.
The second reading was from Luke, Chapter 18:10-14, the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. The Pharisees were known for their strict adherence to Jewish law. Tax collectors were known as … well, not much has changed. In the parable, the Pharisee stood and self-righteously thanked God that he (himself) was so good and was able to do such a great job worshipping. The tax collector basically humbled himself, saying, “Be merciful to me, a sinner!”
The bishop came forward past the iconostasis to offer the sermon. He had a very humble, homespun style. Bishop Ilia spoke on the second reading. His message was basically that God doesn’t appreciate boastfulness because often it’s connected to things like criticism and judgment of others.
It’s pretty easy to see how an all-powerful someone might not appreciate the spindly bragging of a human being. Bishop Ilia said the faithful should follow the example of the Publican as they prepare for Lent. “He needs God’s mercy and grace. This characterizes this period … and we’ll hear this in the readings we hear for the next 10 weeks. … Draw nearer to God and Christ in the way we think and act—not by imitating the Pharisee.”