Thursday, April 12, 2012

another Greek Easter

This year, Greek and Roman Easter fall a week apart: the Western Church celebrating on the 8th of April and the Eastern Church on the 15th.  So the Greek Church is now in the midst of Holy Week, with Palm Sunday just past and Good Friday and Easter yet to come.
    I hadn’t been to a Greek Church for many years, not since I was in Greece, but last Sunday I went.  It was part in Greek and part in English, but I didn’t try to follow the service, instead immersing myself in the sounds and scents and images, which reminded me of a short poem by C. P. Cavafy:

In the Church of the Greeks

I love the Church  --  her images of the six-wingéd Cherubim,
Her silver vessels, her candelabra,
Her lights and icons and pulpit.

There, within the Church of the Greeks,
with her fragrant incense
and chanted liturgy
and in the magnificent presence of her priests
moving in solemn ritual  -- 
garbed in shining vestments  --
my mind runs to the great worth of our race
and the glory of our Byzantine heritage.

On one level, Cavafy has it just right.  In the Eastern Church every sense is engaged in worship  --  sight and sound and touch and smell and movement  --  and to the poet also the associated glories of the thousand years of the Byzantine.  But he seems to see nothing of its mystic faith, of the sacred, timeless space of the liturgy, of the believer drawn up to heaven to the company of the saints and martyrs looking out to him through the window of their icon.  The poet sees only the outward, superficial things, which is, I think, a sad affair, but then Cavafy had a sad life.

He did write a very nice poem about travel, which I may write about sometime.


  1. As you set out for Ithaka, hope the voyage is a long one...???
    That really calls to my soul.

  2. I have never been to a Greek worship service, but have been to a number of Russian Orthodox services and I am sure they are similar, but probably also different.

    1. I assume you would be right, though it is odd that I don't know, as Russian was my minor in college, but now that you mention it, for all the culture I read there was nothing about the Church. I suppose this may have been because it was in the midst of the Cold War and so the Soviet era was stressed, and my Russian expat teachers may have been secularists. I hadn't thought about that before.