Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Easter in Syria
Where the Byzantine Christian laity functionally belong to both the Melkite Greek Catholic Church and the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch at the same time. (Formally they are one or the other and identify themselves as such.) They intermarry, intercommune and go to each other’s churches to have their children baptised and chrismated. (Which I’m sure would give the SSPX, the ‘Santo subito!’ RC neocons and most of the online Ortho-world in America a stroke... as it would the liberals if they knew anything about the Christian East’s orthodoxy and traditionalism and took it seriously.) The only division is the clergy don’t concelebrate. I understand the Melkite and Orthodox patriarchs of Antioch are neighbours (in the same street) in Damascus and are very friendly.

(Recognised Internet Authority™ Stuart Koehl, a regular at Mere Comments, says that pre-World War II Romania was like that too. Byzantine Catholics were about 20 per cent of that Orthodox country’s population. The Communists turned them against each other by co-opting the Orthodox and persecuting the BCs.)

This isn’t mushy ecumenicism either but the Catholic ideal of simply having ‘the church’ locally, the village church with the sacraments and the fulness of the faith, full stop. Something Fr Anthony Chadwick wrote about recently.

Al-Maseehu qaam. Christ is risen.

Samer al-Batal writes: I crossed the border to Syria for this one; I just came back from Damascus. Things are quite festive back there and all the more so now thanks to the falling of one Easter this time round for all the churches as well as due to Good Friday processions seeming to follow one after the other, at least in my general area: it isn’t too difficult to make good time in moving from one church to the next provided you are not stupid enough to drive and have some good skills for spotting steady streams of movement in the sludge of congested crowds and working them to your advantage — crowds it should be mentioned carrying enough crushing force to rival the reputation the Meccan Haj has earned for itself. This annual congestion is yet another reason to arrive a good 45 minutes early; you will not be able to focus on prayer or a service too much when standing throughout and being pressed on from several directions at once, or if you are not a fellow of stature, being sucked down living quicksand as I would imagine.

[Here are] some of the pictures and low-quality, fleetingly quick videos I took of things such as the Good Friday processions and Sunday celebrations in the patriarchal cathedrals.

[It] is mostly the outdoor processions Friday night (I attended with the Greek Orthodox the full Matins burial service, and then went on to see the processions), a quick stop at the Syriac [Oriental] Orthodox during Good Friday prayers, and the Easter procession of triumph at both the Greek Catholic (they begin as early as 5 in the morning before daybreak) and Greek Orthodox patriarchates inside the walls of the old city but not much is there to be shown from the Easter Liturgy (the old battery on the camcorder even having been charged from early morning gave out before the Liturgy’s Gospel reading which was too much of a pity as Patriarch Hazeem does a good read of the opening of St John’s Gospel).

Easter greetings from the monks of Hamatoura in Lebanon
Samer writes: This is simply put, lovely. Flash gets them extra points.
Fr Pandeleimon, as you might recall, is the good Orthodox abbot with the excellent and deep voice who chants the Liturgy in the Arabic and English recordings that are the work of the Mount Lebanon choir and Subdeacon Kareem il-Far. He is in the country it seems, at the monastery. Perhaps I will get a chance to see him in Beirut.

A few good words on this tradition
From Ship of Fools:
What did the Orthos have in their favour?

Among much else I would list:
  • A genuinely multicultural worship experience: Eastern European migrants mingling with fairly working-class locals and middle-class professionals.
  • A tremendous sense of expectancy and joy.
  • Terrific acapella singing (and it didn't matter if they started in the wrong 'tone' or missed the odd note).
  • Some appropriate quips and wisecracks from the priest.
  • That sense of informal formality and sense of occasion I've experienced in some Orthodox settings before.
  • A robustly God-centred approach without fads and dumbed down toe-curling cringe-worthy choruses.
  • On this occasion, genuine interaction between the worshippers. Difficult to avoid when you're crushed into a small candle-lit space and hemmed in by icons and paraphernalia. I don't think I've ever been kissed by so many strangers in such a short time (on the cheeks! ;) ) and will long remember the priest's fluffy white beard.
Objectivity, Godwardness and the right mix of formality in the sanctuary and ‘come as you are’ for the laity: an Eastern version of more or less what I believe in.

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