Mystery Worshipper: Katherine of Appalachia
Church: Holy Trinity
Location: Portland, Maine, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 24 June 2007, 10:00am
The building, originally a Methodist church dating from 1828, is a simple brick structure with an arched doorway. It is the second oldest existing church in Portland. Its steeple formerly housed one of only 13 Liberty Bells cast by the Paul Revere foundry; I think this bell is in the narthex of the church now. The narthex is very wide with three aisles, not including the side aisles. The icons in the larger, middle section are in a softer, more Western style, while those in the ends are more Byzantine.
The parish was founded by Greek immigrants, but is now also home to people of Eastern European, Middle Eastern and East African background. They sponsor several programs for youth, adults and seniors, and although they take seriously their ministry to families of Greek origin, they welcome all into fellowship with them. Each year at the beginning of summer they sponsor a Greek Festival, which draws crowds from all over and features icon displays and tours of the church, Greek music, dancing, and plenty of food. (Sadly the festival had just concluded before my visit.)
Portland is Maine's largest city and an important cultural and economical center. The church is located in a part of the city called "Old Port," a formerly derelict neighborhood refurbished in the 1970s and known for its cobblestone streets, 19th century brick buildings and fishing piers, as well as boutiques, restaurants and bars, and a throbbing nightlife. The immediate neighborhood is residential with a quiet New England feel.
The Revd Fr Constantine Sarantides, pastor, was the celebrant.
What was the name of the service?The Divine Liturgy
How full was the building?
When I arrived, there were about 10 to15 people. By the time the gospel was proclaimed, the church was around one-fourth to one-third full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A lady in the narthex said hello, as did a man behind the stand where candles are sold.
Was your pew comfortable?
The pews were wood with no padding and no kneelers. For the limited amount of time I was seated, they were comfortable. We sat only for the epistle reading, the sermon, and while awaiting others to commune.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet with a little chatter. I was very surprised by this because, according to the website, orthros (matins) was scheduled immediately before. I assumed it was canceled because the Greek Festival had been that weekend.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Blessed is the kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages, Amen."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom. A copy of the New Revised Standard version of the Bible was in the pews.
What musical instruments were played?
None. There was an organ in the choir loft, but the choir wasn't using the loft this day.
Did anything distract you?
The iconostasis was very large and had many icons. It wasn't until the first reading of the gospel, which was in Greek, that I noticed an icon depicting God the Father as an old man (Ancient of Days). Some refer to this as the "heretical icon," holding that Christianity more appropriately applies the epithet Ancient of Days to God the Son, even though Daniel in the Old Testament had applied it to God the Father. I know not everyone feels this way, but the thought that this church might dismiss the New Testament sentiment made me uncomfortable for the remainder of the service.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The divine liturgy as it is usually done -- with pomp, dignity, and plenty of smells and bells.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Father Constantine confessed that he hadn't prepared anything due to the festival, but he nevertheless preached a very good "off the cuff" sermon.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
St John the Forerunner (the Baptist) prepared the way for Christ. In today's world, there are lots of people talking about the second coming, but it's been commercialized in books and marketing items like WWJD (What would Jesus do) hats. The question we should be asking is: "What does Jesus want?" The second coming will take care of itself. We need to prepare ourselves and each other.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Father Constantine chanted exquisitely and the congregation seemed very devout.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The heretical icon and all the Greek. All but two (and a portion of a third) of the hymns were in Greek (and if you've ever been to an Orthodox service, you know there are a lot of hymns!). The rest of the service was about half Greek and half English.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Not much. I got a couple of smiles and good mornings, but that was it.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none, probably due to the festival.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – It's probably a good parish. I was impressed that they stood the whole time, even with pews, and I enjoy a service with lots of chant. But my Greek is very limited. Kyrie eleison!
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The iconography. Besides the heretical icon, there was a large icon of Patriarch Joseph (Genesis 37-50), which I've never seen on an iconostasis before.