Guster gives way to Good Friday, Roman and Greek

Last Friday Guster played in my town at a downtown BBQ place. For a little while I had considered going to the show, on the basis of the rave reviews of friends, but then decided not to. I’d have had to go alone, and I didn’t know their stuff very well. But then I remembered that last Friday was Good Friday, and that going to a concert was really out of the question, regardless of who was playing.

At 2:00 I went to my church (Roman Catholic) and later went to the gym, where I ran into my old Greek teacher. He happens to be a Greek Orthodox Christian, and he told me I should visit his church’s Good Friday service. So I did. At 7 p.m., while Guster was taking the stage a few blocks away, I was sitting in a pew for my first worship experience in a Greek Orthodox Church.

Here are a couple of pictures from the Catholic liturgy.

The crucifix is removed from its normal place and enters in procession. The faithful then go forward to venerate the cross by kissing or bowing before it. I used to think this kind of stuff was strange, if not idolatrous, but theologically it makes sense: We are saved through Jesus, who came to us in the flesh. The Incarnation of the divine Logos transformed the status of matter, glorifying it. Recognizing that our salvation is inextricably connected to matter, including the wood of the cross, makes one look at matter in a new way.

And here are two pix from the Greek church:

The Greek liturgy for the “Great Friday Vespers” was unlike anything I’ve been to before. The most obvious difference was in its length: 2.5 hours, or, as my host said, “only” 2.5 hours. I guess they rushed through things? My host loaned me a service book in Greek and English on facing pages, about 500 pages long. It was strictly for Easter Week. So the Greeks have about 250 pages of liturgy just for Easter Week. Good Friday took up about 70 pages. I was supposed to be able to “follow along” with the service, but a few obstacles prevented my doing this. The service was almost entirely sung, with a couple of very lengthy readings. The service also drew from segments of the book at will, rather than going through the whole 70 pages (which would have taken a lot longer than 2.5 hours). So I didn’t know where they were except for at the very beginning. But most practically, I couldn’t deal with a 500-page book because I had a lit candle in my hand for at least 90 minutes. Also, everybody was standing for at least two hours of the service. If my penance during Lent had been deficient, this made up for it.

Probably the most interesting things about the Greek liturgy for Good Friday, aside from the extensive singing, was that it seemed to be composed almost entirely of prayers. Lots of prayers to/for Theotokos and the saints and patriarchs of the Eastern church. I didn’t detect a sermon or homily. Also unique was the tomb of the Savior, or bier, a structure at the front of the church, covered with roses. Upon entering the church, the faithful go forward and venerate the dead body of Christ, which is represented by an image lying flat on the middle platform area of the bier. This involves touching it with the hand and/or kissing it. There is also a Bible on the stand, which they also venerate by touching the five icons on its cover. After the service ends, everyone processes forward and venerates the bier and the body of Christ once again, this time by bowing and touching the forehead to the ground three times in succession, then kissing the image of Christ. I figured that touching my head once to the ground was pretty good for a first-timer. Didn’t want to try to look like I knew what was going on, you know.

I hope Guster put on a good show . . . it would have had to be phenomenal to match the experience at the Greek church. My own Catholic church was great too, don’t get me wrong, but novelty certainly has some force. And next time Guster comes around, if they’re not playing during the Easter Triduum, I just may check them out.

CORRECTION (11 April): the church I went to is not “Greek Orthodox” but “Antiochian Orthodox.” Honestly, I don’t know the difference. But this church is said to have been founded by Lebanese and Syrian Christians, and they did indeed sing in Arabic for a short time at the Good Friday liturgy (in addition to English and Greek).

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2 Responses to “Guster gives way to Good Friday, Roman and Greek”

  1. thelamp Says:

    check out http://thelamp.wordpress.com/2007/04/08/what-does-god-have-to-say/

  2. Curly Says:

    How about giving me a reason?

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