I had the sincere pleasure of attending my first Antiochene Orthodox mass yesterday. My wife attended the service with me so the entire experience was mixed with the desire to observe the rites as they took place and lean to my right every three or four minutes to check and make sure I hadn’t said anything stupid.
The mass began with a singing of the Psalms in Arabic and English. The sensation of hearing the Palestinian language sung by Palestinians (at the very least, those around the area) brought an immediate sense of disconnect from the St. Paul background. I felt on some level I was being placed in a time outside of the suburban St. Paul, a time outside of time.
As the voices behind us rose, a melodic confession of deep theological dogma began tickling my ears, swelling deep within my psyche. The priest would sing aloud a confession, to be enhanced, or agreed upon by the echoing voices of the chorus elevated behind us. I personally recognized many of the words sung, however the experience of song brought the exuberance of the creeds to brighter awareness within me.
I followed along with the mass to the best of my ability. Between my palms laid a sort of spiritual playbill, so I could know what to expect and attempt to be prepared for its alloted time. As in most services, I expected the demeanor of the audience to fade greatly. Curiously enough among the anachronistic crowd I saw no eye gaze to a watch, sleepy heads or thumb twiddling. The attendees stood firm, exited and utterly joyful through even the slightly longer homily (long for liturgical standards, I later found the priest has a pentecostal heritage).
Then came the amalgamation of our proliferation. We were to come forward to intake the bread and the cup. Voices began to rise, the temperature in the room, which had been surprisingly cool, began to steam. Then as people began to step forward I remembered who I was, where I was … and what I was not. My feet were nailed to the ground, my eyes glued upon the rejoicing and the celebration of the congregation as the climax of their week finally came to pass.
I am denied penance in the catholic church, roman and orthodox. I cannot call myself baptized in faith, for my baptism was inauthentic. I cannot celebrate in the redemption offered by my savior by taking in his blood and body as it was meant for me. I am, to speak anachronistically, a pagan.
But I have been baptized and I meant it: god, my authority has seen my faith. I have confessed my sins: god, my authority has heard it. I have accepted the offer of redemption and would gladly celebrate in any forum offered: god, my authority has felt it.
Why does the authority of the orthodox church dictate that which only the god can?