"... and from the Son."

According to the four-color three-fold professionally-printed brochure I was given by the greeter at St. Spyridon Church on Thames Street in Newport, Rhode Island yesterday morning at the ten o’clock Liturgy, it was Jesus Christ himself who founded the “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.” One because he is the one and only savior; Holy because he is holy and the Holy Spirit dwells in it; Catholic meaning universal; and Apostolic because the apostles went out and made disciples of all nations and established the Christian Church throughout the world. St. Paul established the Church of Antioch; Sts. Peter and James the Church of Jerusalem; St. Andrew the Church of Constantinople; St. Mark the Church of Alexandria; Sts. Peter and Paul the Church of Rome.

St. Spyridon, an Eastern (Greek) Orthodox Church, but officially the Orthodox Catholic Church, has been anchored on the corner of  Brewer Street since 1915 or so, even though it’s easy to pass by it every day and not really notice. Which I did, but am trying not to anymore.

 I experienced a parallax view of the city I thought I knew so well before I even got I inside: as I was walking along Thames Street I came up behind two elderly ladies, slightly hunched over with osteoporosis and the wind, chattering away in Greek like they were going to a neighborhood market in Zakynthos to buy feta and horiatiko psomi. I held the door for them and heard the Matins, from the Latin matutinus meaning of or belonging to the morning, being sung, also in Greek, ringing out like a loud, clear bell, as Iona Moreau gave me the National Sanctity of Human Life Sunday program in addition to the What is the Orthodox Church? handout mentioned above.

The pangeri ushered me into a pew in the back, where I sat alone for most of the mass trying to listen and watch as attentively as I could the strangely familiar rituals, the ethos, pathos and logos of the known and unknowable. But more on that later – I mean the alone in the pew part. Chris Christopher reminded me of the elfin Dobby in Harry Potter, with his sunken eyes and mischievous grin as he urged me in.

The layout seemed as odd as Trinity Church’s, but in a completely different way. Maybe odd is the wrong word; how about unfamiliar? I’m going to quote Brother Andre Marie from the website Catholicism.org and let him explain what I mean:

“Like their Uniate Catholic counterparts, the Orthodox to this day retain their beloved and traditional iconostasis. This marvelously decorated icon screen, separates the sanctuary, where most of the Divine Liturgy actually takes place, from the nave of the church, where the laity assist at the divine mysteries. The priest goes in and out of the “Royal Doors ” at various points of the Divine Liturgy (e.g., to communicate with the faithful), but most of the sacred actions he performs are concealed. Despite that, the Church is filled with beautiful chant and incense, the overflow, as it were, of the holy action taking place at the altar.”

We must strive to sanctify all aspects of life — but to do that — to make everything and everyone holy — we have to separate ourselves from the world, approach the divine Mysteries with fear and trembling, receive Them in faith, love, and gratitude, and carry the precious treasure of grace wherever we go. Ignorant peasants in the Middle Ages knew this implicitly... the Faithful of the New Law learned the sacred order in the universe from their churches. The medieval cathedral wasn’t only beautiful, it was also an elaborate catechesis in stone and glass. This is to touch upon what we commonly call the “sense of the sacred.”

It is this sense, this awe in the divine presence , that the Orthodox have retained in their worship.

I remember very vaguely going to a traditional Latin Mass (also known as the Tridentine Mass, or Usus Antiquior) once when I was a child, and thought it weirdly theatrical and macabre. There was a railing instead of a screen, and the priest, if I remember correctly, stayed on his side of the sacred, backside to. Organ thunder and burning incense are also part of the memory.

So why the split? What’s the Orthodox’s beef with the Catholics? Can’t be the same deal as the Church of England and the Episcopalians, can it? It kinda can, and is, as a matter of fact.

The Nicene Creed is the profession of faith widely used in Christianity, so named because it was adopted in the city of Nicea (present day Iznik, Turkey) by the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. Alexander, Bishop of Alexandria was accused of carelessness by Arius, a clergyman, of blurring the distinction of nature between the Father and the Son by his emphasis on eternal generation. Alexander (not the great) and his supporters created the creed to clarify the key tenets of the Christian faith, and it explicitly affirms the co-divinity of Jesus.

The Nicene Creed was amended by the First Council of Constantinople in 381, and this version is often referred to as the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed. It is the only ecumenical statement of Christian faith accepted by the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodoxy, the Church of the East, and most Protestants, including the Anglicans.

It reads as follows, in English:

We believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
                                      the only-begotten Son of God,                                                begotten from the Father before all ages,
God from God,
Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made;
of one substance with the Father.
by him all things were made.
Who for us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven;
he became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered and was buried.
The third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures.
He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again with glory
to judge the quick and the dead.
His kingdom will never end.

And we believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life.
Who with the Father and the Son,
and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified.
He spoke through the prophets
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.
We affirm one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look forward to the resurrection of the dead,
 and to life in the world to come. Amen.

In the late 6th century the words “…and from the Son” were added to the description of the procession of the Holy Spirit, which the Eastern Orthodox Christians argued is a violation of the Third Ecumenical Council, since those words were not included in the text approved by either the Council Of Nicaea or that of Constantinople.

The Orthodox (right belief) Church separated from the Roman Catholic Church after it added this “Filoque” officially to the statement of beliefs in 1054, and also claimed the primacy of the Bishop of Rome (the Pope) over the other Bishops. The Orthodox Church doesn’t recognize a universal head other than Christ, and is governed by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, recognized by all the Bishops as primus inter pares, or first among equals.

So it seems the Pope is the devil in this schism too.

As far as the service itself, it was the 12th Sunday of Luke, mundane enough, with a couple of noteworthy exceptions, not already noted. It ricocheted back and forth between Greek, and  English. The sermon was Luke’s gospel story of the ten lepers being cured, but only one showing Jesus any gratitude – in either language. Father Aaron also referenced a Greek pop song in his homily, which was about two lovers who wanted to be one, and that's what we want with God, he said – to be one with him. 

I sat behind come to find out Father Aaron’s family: a wife and three children, who were delightfully preoccupied and misbehaving slightly, exactly as they should. Worth mentioning, there were two enlisted navy seamen, in uniform. The rest of the congregation was a cross-section but skewed older, for sure, and almost everyone seemed to know everyone else: A community.

The church was only about one-quarter full when the mass started, but people wandered in nonchalantly throughout the entire service until the pews were chock-a-block by the end. I was joined in my pew by an old man who didn’t stand or respond to anything, but had his head buried in the missal, which was also in Greek and English. I wondered which side he was reading. And a woman of a certain age who was thankful that I made room for her because by the time she came in the place was pretty packed. She stayed for a while and then left early.

But in all fairness to her, the end of the service was kind of up for interpretation, and people started leaving after the new catechumen, David Krupa, was welcomed into the church to begin his formal preparation. People seemed to randomly leave just as they seemed to randomly enter: after communion, before and after the announcements, and a lot trickled out during the “children’s hour” where the young kids were all brought up to the front few pews and given a question and answer lesson about Adam and Eve and the Serpent.

The music was still playing as I spilled back out into the warm, secular sunshine, the seagull squawks, and salt air.
January 27, 2020 — Johnny Mustard