Monday, April 9, 2012

My Byzantine Triduum Adventures

Happy Easter, one and all! Christ is risen!!

I just spent the most wonderful Triduum and Easter Sunday visiting with lovely people in Pittsburgh. It was absolutely delightful to be able to spend the end of Holy Week with one of my oldest and closest friends, Sara, and her family.

The weekend was filled with many exciting occurrences, which I may recount here in the future, but by far the best and most important of these occurrences was my discovery of the Byzantine rite of the Catholic Church.

I mean, I'd always known that it existed. I have a few Byzantine friends, I knew that in the Byzantine rite they cross themselves from right to left; and that married Byzantine men can become priests...but I'd never been in a Byzantine church, and I'd never been steeped in that culture.

My friend Sara's parish does this thing every Holy Thursday where, after Mass, they get in a bus and make a mini-pilgrimage to seven different churches in Pittsburgh. This year, the theme was Byzantine churches.

So, we went and visited all of these Byzantine churches, and there were icons everywhere and frescoes and gold leaf and huge enormous gates (some as big as walls) that veiled the sanctuary from the rest of the church.

And guys, I'm obsessed now.

Here are some bits of lovely Byzantine knowledge that I gleaned from this epic visit:

- In the Byzantine rite, the first part of Holy Week is called 'Bridegroom Week', in reference to Christ, our Divine Lover. At Holy Ghost Byzantine Catholic church, an icon had been placed in front of the sanctuary to be reverenced: Christ scourged and wearing the crown of thorns. The image was titled 'BRIDE – GROOM'.

- One priest talked about how, while the western Church focuses so well on Christ's great condescension in coming down to earth, the Church in the east focuses on what Christ came to do: bring us up into Heaven. This is why Byzantine art and architecture is so ethereally lovely. It's designed so that a person walking into the church will be transported, and will feel as though he's celebrating the Sacred Liturgy not on Earth, so much as in Heaven with the angels.

- “Icons aren't decoration; they're theology in color.” A priest at one of the churches was talking to us about the symbolism in an icon of Christ. He said that, in iconography, blue usually stands for humanity, while red or a certain shade of purple stands for divinity. In the icon, Christ was wearing a red garment, and had wrapped a blue garment around himself, indicating that he who is God the Son has clothed himself in humanity, so to speak, in the Incarnation.

- Probably my favorite church (in terms of visual beauty) out of all the ones we visited was St. John Chrysostom, which is located in the Greenfield section of Pittsburgh. Incidentally, it's well-known for being the church where Andy Warhol was baptized.

When the priest at one of the churches invited us to join him and his congregation for their celebration of the Jerusalem Matins, Sara and I were super intrigued. So, at 9 am on Holy Saturday morning, we went on over to St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Greek Catholic church to participate. The service wound up being just shy of three hours! Almost everything was chanted, even the Scripture readings. It was three hours of praise to Christ in the tomb, specifically, and a symbolic 'tomb' had been placed in front of the sanctuary. There was an icon of Christ being lain in the tomb, and it was surrounded by a whip, spear, and other objects associated with Christ's passion and death. The liturgy ended with us walking in a line up to the 'tomb', on our knees, to kiss Jesus' head and feet in the icon. It was super intense. I just kept thinking, I am walking on my knees to get to Jesus. How am I this blessed?

So, to sum up this very long story, I'm now entirely entranced by the Byzantine rite and its gorgeous art and liturgies. I'm resolved to check out the nearest Byzantine church...I'll get back to you on that.

Thanks for reading, and, as always, God bless you!

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