Since we are getting ready to depart for Divyevo tomorrow, this will be my last post until next Monday. Hope to come back with lots of good bits about St. Seraphim. Some of you have asked about language learning, so I might do a post on that.
In the mean time, here is something I emailed last year for tomorrow’s feast of Ss. Peter and Paul when I was in Greece celebrating on the New Calendar. It was by far my most memorable time in Greece and favorite post, so if you haven’t yet read it, I hope you will enjoy! See you all again on July 16!
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
We arrive in Kavala on the Eve of the Feast of Ss. Peter and Paul (N.S.), the very place where the apostle Paul first set foot in Europe and catechized his first European convert, Lydia the purple seller from Thyatira. The vigil begins in the Cathedral dedicated to St. Paul in the heart of the city… begins here, but moves elsewhere.
The moment is beyond poetic, and I am strangely patriotic. Yes, that’s right, the WASP (or rather WASO) with not a drop of Greek blood in his veins feels pride for the motherland. Tonight, everyone here at the Cathedral is a dual citizen, a citizen of Greece but also of the kingdom of heaven. In this country currently rocked by economic and political crises, it is almost as if the land is trying to be born anew at this moment in which Greek and Byzantine flag fly over the Cathedral square, born into a more perfect union.
British journalist and novelist G.K. Chesterton once said of America that she is a nation with the soul of a Church. Tonight, Greece reveals herself as a nation whose body, soul, and spirit all belong to the Church. Whenever she is separated from that life-giving unity whether by corrupt politicians, greedy economic schemes, or secular ideologies she begins to die spiritually. But tonight, on this great Feast of Ss. Peter & Paul, bodies, souls, and spirits all are present in great numbers awaiting a special experiment in liturgical celebration.
As I said before, the vigil of the feast only begins at St. Paul’s Cathedral for vespers. Then at the end of Vespers, all of the people fill the streets and process to the actual site of St. Paul’s first landing in Kavala, a distance of 1-2 miles. This experiment is a return to stational liturgies, a way of celebrating the divine services by praying one piece at a time at different successive churches with a procession between each station.
It was the standard modus operandi in Constantinople 1000 years ago, but, as scholars tell us, gradually the ethos of liturgy became more and more contracted as the empire suffered loss and was eventually overcome by Islam. The once ecstatic (literally “moving outwards”) and dynamic work of the people became more and more withdrawn and privatized. The Great Entry in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom that once spanned the whole city of Constantinople has in today’s practice been reduced to a u-turn within the confines of the local sanctuary.
But tonight, the Church returns to her more apostolic and universal roots. In the procession, soldiers, firefighters, girl scouts, and colorful folk dancers all gather around the Klobouklion of St. Paul along with the Bishops, clergy, and most importantly, the faithful Christians assembled. It is more than a civic parade, more than a nice festival with a little religion sprinkled on top. It is unequivocally a work of the people, a united effort of praise to God in Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Nothing I have seen in America can compare to it. I have grown up with very reverent parades honoring fallen comrades and giving God his due, but it is never quite as full and complete. Always the idea of American Civic Religion muddles the power of the cross and generalizes Christ right out of existence; the minister is invited to offer an invocation at such events, but to be sure, not to say anything specifically Christian. Tonight, the Metropolitan of Kavala and two other bishops lead the civic leaders, armed forces, police, etc. and not the other way around. Christ is not only center-stage, but preached in a way so public as to cause scandal in some places of America.
To those on the New Calendar, Chronia Pola, Blessed Feast! Greetings on this glorious and apostolic day, and pray for Mother Greece, that she may be known more for events like this night and less for the ongoing economic and political crises.