Dropped my girls for Japanese lessons in Mesa and headed to Chandler for Saturday services at St. Katherine’s. It is a very nice church and of course I was once again spotted as a newcomer. Interestingly enough, the most friendly woman, Maria, met me at my chosen pew and swooped me away to her pew. She is the Priest’s wife! Did you even know that Orthodox Priests could marry?
She explained that the Catholic Church does not allow Priests to marry due to property rights but that in the Orthodox Church a Priest could declare his intentions in seminary – to marry or to lead a life of celibacy. She explained that her husband was called to the church by God and that the decision to be celibate is also a calling. Her husband obviously was not called to celibacy. She felt that in the Orthodox religion the Priests have a lot to offer their flock because they can be husbands and fathers and this adds a relatable element to them. As the mass went along she explained to me many of the differences between the Orthodox and the Catholic Churches. It was interesting stuff.
I loved sitting with her because while the service was in both Greek and English she explained everything to me; all the symbolism, prayers, chants, rituals, everything. It was such a great spiritual lessons. I kept wondering if we were going to get in trouble for talking in church but hey! she is the wife of the Priest. She sits on the right side third or fourth row from the front if you ever go. Sit with her. I am sure she would absolutely love to share her faith and story with you.
I was particularly intrigued when she stated that most people don’t actually know their faith or the meaning behind their rituals. I would have to raise my hand in the affirmative on that one. St. Katherine’s had a red book that explains every part of the mass. You can follow along and know that at this very moment, Angels surround the Priest, her husband! That could be a very good thing and I hope Angels surround me, at least once in a while.
I loved when she said that her husband was a sinner and did a cute little smirk and then kindly stated that we are all sinners. She just had such a great personality that I believed being the wife of the Priest must be so much fun. And probably a lot of work too. She considered her marriage to him for quite some time because to be the wife of the Priest must a calling for her as well. God pressed it upon her heart in a dream that to marry this man was a protection for both of them.
The service was very much like the Serbian Orthodox Church I attended in Week 21 except that this was in Greek, not Serbian. The Priest conducted many of the rituals from behind decorative screens, with incense and purple and gold robes made from the most incredible cloth. The art was amazing, bold, colorful. Love that.
Maria is Greek American and her husband was raised as an Irish Catholic. He converted to the Orthodox church during seminary and has brought many converts to his church. I was also told that in the Orthodox church only the Orthodox can take communion but that I was welcome to go up for a blessing. I declined. The communion was given in a way I had never seen before. The chalice had the communion and wine in it and the Priest scooped it from the chalice directly into their mouths. They had to sort of hunker down to receive it and another priest wiped their chins with a cloth. Maria explained that if you were not right with God, taking communion could cause you to burn. It is only through God’s mercy and grace that we become worthy to receive.
I feel like I am mostly right with God but I often take communion without deep reflection or thought. It’s just what’s next in the service so I go along. I will have to ponder this revelation. Maria explained that the Orthodox believe that the bread is the flesh and the wine is the body of Christ. It is not symbolic. It IS the body and blood. In other churches they serve water or juice. Fascinating how much variety is out in the world.
In the past 44 weeks there has only been one ritual I did not participate in that I could have and I regretted that I had not allowed myself the full experience. I have done everything – even in the Mosque. When I attended the Serbian Orthodox Church I did not go to the front to kiss the Icon, the Cross or the Priest’s Hand. I had just seen the global germ fest movie Contagion with Kate Winslet and Matt Damon and was so not interested in kissing something that 100 other people had just kissed. Today, I am somewhat happy to report that I participated by kissing the hand of the Priest while Maria introduced me to her husband, aka Father Armstrong.
She also explained that when the economy took a dive in 2008 the church suffered greatly as donations decreased significantly. I would like to take a moment to pray for a full on, strong economic recovery so that people can get back on their feet, pay fewer taxes, feel healed financially and donate to their local churches and charities. I would love to see a trickle up recovery where we the people feel generous, confident and secure. Can you tell that April 15th is just a week away and I owe!?
I feel a little guilty doing a recap on everything that Maria shared with me but at the same time I felt that she gave me a much deeper experience than if I had sat in the pew across from her. Thank you St. Katherine’s Greek Orthodox and many blessings on their faithful.
Link to St. Katherine Greek Orthodox – http://www.st-katherine.org/Home.html