|57: St Spiridion Orthodox Church, Seattle, USA|
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Mystery Worshipper: The Owl.
The church: St Spiridion, Seattle, USA.
Denomination: Orthodox Church in America, which is an amalgamation of a number of ethnic Orthodox churches. However, the majority remain Russian.
The building: An attempt to replicate a traditional Orthodox cathedral from the north of Russia, using brick and plaster, which manages to come off neither well nor poorly. Inside, the building looks much better, even if it seems gaudy. It has dozens of real and reproduced icons covering virtually every square foot of the walls and gilt iconostasis (icon screen).
The neighbourhood: Probably the second-worst neighborhood in Seattle in which to have a church that holds midnight services. Maybe it's my college student paranoia, but walking past about fifteen auto-body shops, which all seemed to be open despite the hour, made me momentarily question my sanity.
The cast: Very Rev Vadim Pogrebniak, Rev Timothy Perry, Rev Michael Dunbar, Deacon Mark Becker and a half-dozen others from the age of about 12 to well over 70.
What was the name of the service?
The Paschal Service (a combination of the Holy Saturday Nocturne with Easter Matins and the Easter Liturgy of St John Chrysostom).
How full was the building?
So full that an usher asked the crowd on three separate occasions to move closer to the row of icons just in front of the iconostasis. It was so crowded that the Orthodox friend who had brought me leaned over and whispered: 'Do you remember that story about the church in Russia which shook apart New Year's Eve in 1491 because so many people had squeezed into it?'
Did anyone welcome you personally?
My Orthodox friend helped me buy candles and shared her Paschal service book with me. I was also greeted by her family and friends, as she introduced me to all of them.
Was your pew comfortable?
No pew. Because this is essentially a Russian Orthodox church, it was all standing for all three, increasingly long, hours. Fortunately, no one fainted, although several of the children did eventually curl up and fall asleep on the floor towards the end of the Liturgy.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was generally hushed as a number of chanters rotated through reading the book of Acts. During the readings, most of the assembled congregation (me included, at the suggestion of my friend) prostrated themselves before and kissed the Christ icon which lay on the bier.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
What else would an Orthodox Pascha begin with aside from: 'Blessed is our God, now and for ever unto the ages of ages'?
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Most of the congregation did not use books. However a number of the visitors and members used a small book, 'The Paschal Service', along with a pamphlet entitled 'The Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom'.
What musical instruments were played?
To quote my Russian professor: 'The Greek Orthodox are heretics because they allow instruments in their churches.' The music was produced entirely by the choir, which had a balcony to itself above the main floor.
Did anything distract you?
My shoes, which gradually became less and less comfortable as the night wore on into early morning.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
If you think that grand pageantry went out with the Reformation, you need a visit to an Orthodox Pascha. Ancient and modern icons being led in procession, the chanting of the Scripture, bronze fans, incense, peppermints, the color of time... well, not the last two, but all the rest.
'Christ is risen!' 'Indeed he is risen!'