Every year, on the Sunday of Orthodoxy (the first Sunday in Lent), all the Orthodox (except ROCOR) get together to have a multi-language vespers service, followed by a meal. The various groups take turns to host the event - the Russian (Moscow Patriarchate), the Antiochians, the Greeks and the Serbs. The Bulgarians and Romanians are always there, but their communities are too small to host the event.
This year, the event was hosted by the Antiochians at their Cathedral of St George at Redhill Street - conveniently some 15 minutes walk from where I live. So there I was on Sunday evening, singing with the choir of the Russian Cathedral. Present was a Metropolitan of the Greek Church, and Bishops Basil of Sergievo and Anatoly of Kerch, both of the Patriarchal Russians.
This first picture shows the Antiochian Deacon at the Great Litany. The petitions were in Arabic, and the responses alternately in Greek, Arabic and Romanian. Since those three traditions all use the same music, merely in different languages, they could all sing together - the cantors of whichever tradition singing the words, the others following along on the Ison. They're on the far end of where I'm standing - all in black. On my side of the kliros/cleros there were the Russians and Serbs.
Notice the great numbers!
Clergy during the Great Entrance - Bishops Basil and Anatoly can be seen to the right, in the black veil. Then the Antiochian Deacon, the Russian (actually English) Deacon in purple, the priests of the various jurisdictions around the Greek Metropolitan at the throne, then the mass of chanters from the various Byzantine traditions.
Various languages were used - Arabic, Greek, Slavonic (by both the Serbs and Russians), English (only by the Russians), Romanian. A lovely experience!
Bishop Basil preached a short sermon.
After vespers was the communal pigout session - by oeconomy, this year we had food in the church (I'm not going to say anything)...
One thing marred the experience though. I was talking with a young couple (the girl was Greek) about the service, and as soon as it came out that I was a Byzantinist and a chanter, they got all excited and we got along really really well. Until the question 'so you are a convert then?' - to which I answered 'no, I'm not'. Then 'oh, you were born Orthodox' and I said 'no, I wasn't'. They said 'oh, are you Orthodox'. and I said 'in a manner of speaking, yes. I'm Greek Catholic, an Eastern Catholic'.
And then all hell broke loose.
'Oh! You believe in the Pope?'
Which really is a silly question. The man in Rome exists independent of whether I believe in him or not! It's not like believing in God, whom one cannot see, and whose existence cannot be proved by scientific methods. She didn't quite understand that. And she went on and on about how I had to unite myself to the true church. Which was truly offensive - if I'm not formally Orthodox and I'm at that sort of event, I count as a guest of sorts, and attacking my beliefs unprovoked was.... well, bad manners of the highest order. Honestly, I couldn't tell her that without spoiling the conversation, so I held my piece. If I ever see her again and she starts again, I *WILL* tell her off.
I stirred things a bit by pointing out that it is possible to be a saint of the Orthodox Church without being Orthodox - specifically St Constantine XII, the last Emperor of Byzantium and Ethnomartyr. After all, he signed the union with Rome and never repudiated it. Even worse, he received Communion the morning of his martyrdom from the hands of a Cardinal - and Orthodox are notably short on Cardinals.
'No, it cannot be' was her constant denial. I told her to look in the history books and read the chroniclers - she insisted I must be reading biased sources - she demanded to know which writers and chroniclers. Gee, is it my fault that I'm better-read in the history of her nation than she is?
And she went on and on about how since I was there for the Feast of Orthodoxy and all, it must be a sign from God that I should convert. Gee, lady, I'm there because I'm singing for the choir, what's your problem? Surely my religion is the business of none but myself?
I think the most offensive thing about it was that I only got this because I'm in communion with Rome. There was more beef in her than in the whole of Texas! Had I said I was an Anglican, they'd have welcomed me and been all over themselves to be nice to me. Grrr. The pox on her.