Friday, February 4, 2011

Religious Landmarks #1: St. Nicholas of Myra Byzantine Catholic Church

Over the weekend the members of the Interfaith LLC attended a service held in St. Nicholas of Myra Byzantine Catholic Church in downtown Orlando, near I-Drive.

The Mass which we had the opportunity to experience is usually referred to as the Divine Liturgy meaning "a work of the people." It is carried out in a community-like atmosphere;
all participate and have a role in the ceremony including the bishop, the priest, the deacon, the cantor, and all the people of God.

Click on "comments" to see what the members had to say about their experience.


  1. I personally have similar thoughts about most Catholic services, including this one. It was a nice weekly verbal hobby, this one more than most because they sung everything. The idea of a church or a temple is to practice contemplative (meaning with the temple) prayer. However, this is impossible to do in the many Catholic services I have attended because we have to ask for mercy, keep up with the singing, and listen to various edification sermons.
    In the Lords' prayer, it says "Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven." Though I have ambiguous views of what Heaven is, I don't think there are any churches or temples, because the whole place is the temple. If Catholics followed Jesus' teachings, I don't think they would go to weekly sermons. Instead people would do the Lord's work to create the manifestation of Catholic teachings throughout the Earth.

  2. First I'm going to respond to the above comment, then I'm going to give my own opinion on the Byzantine mass...

    As to Catholic masses, they're about community and praying together to add strength to the prayers and to each other. The one-on-one contemplation is generally seen in private visits to Catholic chapels, or during the often weekly offered opportunity for the Adoration of the Christ (this is a time for silent personal prayer with Christ in the form of the Eucharist in the room with you). These are private spiritual encounters.
    The mass itself is not about private prayer (which is why many people come early to mass to pray on their own first). During the mass (the Roman Catholic mass at least) there is one time set aside for personal prayer--the time after receiving the Eucharist. The rest of the mass is about community. This is actually what I really like about Catholic masses. The community, and the idea that all Catholic churches around the world are saying the same prayers and the same readings.

    Now my impressions of the Byzantine mass. Even as a Catholic, I found it pretty difficult to follow. I was really surprised to see how different the Roman Catholic and Byzantine Catholic masses were. They have the same order and components and the same meanings, but the little details varied greatly, as did the overall tone. Everything was chanted/sung, there was no kneeling, no time to wish each other peace, the alter was not very visible, and the Eucharist was given in a different way--I think that sums up the main differences. It also just felt a bit more formal and impersonal (although others might feel the singing created the opposite effect)
    As much as the differences surprised me, what surprised me even more was how much those differences affected me. The masses both meant the same thing. They had the same primary components, the same overall sentiments. But it didn't seem natural to me. I am much more used to and connected to the Roman Catholic traditions than I thought I was.

  3. I agree that you can get out what you put into a religion; however, the I think the weekly gatherings in churches I've encountered more strongly resemble a crowd of people rather than a community of people. A crowd to me is a group of people who are not communicating among each other. Everyone is facing the same direction, singing the same songs, watching largely the same service week after week, and hearing the same preachings year after year. It's not the mystical experience, the transformation of conscious, or the type of community building that I personally would like in a religious service.

  4. Growing up, I had the unique opportunity to be able to witness different places of worship; I remember going to a Chinese monastery with my family during my youth and in Middle School I would accompany my Christian friends to Sunday service. This being said, I was raised up in Jewish household so I was no stranger to going to temple either. While some may think that these types of experiences may have left me religiously confused, I think that it greatly accounts for my open-minded perspective with regard to this topic for discussion.

    However, going to the Byzantine-Catholic church was unlike anything else that I had experienced in the past. Upon walking in I couldn't help but recognize the familiar scent of incense riding heavy on the air. The liturgy was delivered through a series of chant; everything, and I mean EVERYTHING (down to the announcements) that was said came together into a harmonious choir of voices, contributing to the cultivation of a very spiritual environment.

    On the downside, I found it to be very difficult to keep up with the service and this is even with the help of someone who was part of the clergy guiding us along through the passages. It seems to me that the Byzantine service focuses heavily on the atmospheric elements, but fails to recognize the human element crucial to the spiritual process. While it could be said that there was a “spiritual” presence with us, I felt as if the service was very impersonal. As a result, whatever it was that I had been feeling was not something that I felt I could partake in.

    Personally, I felt as if the structure of the service created a clear distinction between us, being the audience, and the “Holy.” This is best exemplified by the location of the Alter, which was hidden from our view. If you actually pay attention to the chants, there was a lot of asking for mercy involved which made me feel like a child who had just done something very wrong, but wasn’t quite sure what they had done in the first place. Even the sermon left me a bit disconcerted in how the priest continuously urged us to put our faith in God so that he would give us what we needed even if it came to us in a different “package”. It was as if we had no control over our own lives.

    This being said, I really enjoyed the beautiful art that adorned the church; at least I had something nice to look at in the case that I got lost during the chants.

    -Anna M.

  5. I am a little disconcerted by all this criticism of the mass. I believe that all conceptions of deity are legitimate and all ways of relating to deity are legitimate. There is no wrong way of doing things. Just because the Byzantine Catholic mass didn't speak to you, doesn't mean ways of worshipping that do speak to you are superior. They might work better for YOU, that does not mean they would work better for EVERYONE. Yes, I too an a little put-off by the constantly asking for mercy thing. That and the whole idea of someone being born of a virgin are the two main reasons I left the Catholic Church. HOWEVER, while I was a member of the Catholic Church, I thought both the Roman and Byzantine masses were beautiful and still do. Everybody doing and saying the same thing at the same time makes the mass feel very powerful to me and I like to consciously think about each word to determine whether I believe that part of it or not. Now, when I go to mass, I say the words that I believe in and stay silent for the words that I don't. I believe that if enough people believe in something and participate in something, that gives it power. That's why I partook in the Eucharist. Even though I don't believe it is the body and blood of Christ, I do believe it has some power simply because so many people believe it does.

    Michael, in response to one of your comments, I don't believe going to mass and doing good works to create the manifestation of Christ's works are mutually exclusive. I know that, for a lot of people, the mass is a huge inspiration for people to do good works and creates a community through which such works can be funded and organized.

    Anyway, I'm sorry if this was a bit of a rambling rant, but I really was unnerved by the negativity I was seen in most of Michael's and a little of Anna's comments. I thought interfaith was supposed to be about trying to understand other religions, not criticizing their perfectly legitimate rituals.

  6. I just want to reiterate some of Ruth's sentiments.

    If you agreed with everything the Catholic religion was about, you'd be Catholic. It's as simple as that. Of course you don't connect with everything at a Byzantine Catholic mass. I mean, as a Roman Catholic I still found things I didn't connect with. I could easily look at every Religion or every set of beliefs out there that are not my own and find something I don't like about them...because they aren't MINE. But, that's not the point.

    The point of experiencing other religions is to try to understand what others see in. Obviously the millions of Catholics out there feel like they're more than just part of a crowd. They connect to something. I connect to something. Another Catholic might connect to something else. Those are the things we should be focusing on. Not what we don't get out of a particular religion, but what other people do.

  7. While I do agree that we must celebrate different religious traditions and owe respect to their individual legitimacy, I also believe that the purpose of our organization is to foster a better understanding among one another through meaningful dialogue. This must begin with each of us owning up to our own beliefs, however unconventional or unpopular they may be. This means that Michael’s experience is valid as it is his own and his thoughts have some basis, which we should try to understand. Essentially they are his “religion.” I don't think that Michael was aiming for negativity (though some of his sentiments may have been delivered a bit harshly/ dependent upon extremes), nor was he trying to disrespect anyone in the house. This being said, I don’t want to spend too much time speaking on his behalf as I can only speak for myself; as far as my perspective on the matter goes, I did make it a point to comment on the beautiful art and the fact that I recognized the atmosphere as being very spiritual. However, I was also an outsider looking in. Maybe someone other than myself had seen something that I hadn’t thought to look for, let’s focus on creating those bridges.

    (And rambling is good, I’m glad that we’re making use of this space. Go interfaith!)

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  9. I accept the people who identify with different religions, but the religions, practices, and value systems themselves are not immune to criticism; otherwise religion would degrade into a self-righteous hypocrisy.
    I'm sorry if my previous comments appear negative, but "honest disagreement is a good sign of progress." I'm not here to express a superficial acceptance of practices that I don't agree with for specific reasons.
    Even if I don't agree with a religious position, it's still a perfectly acceptable position to be in. They're your opinions and you are at liberty to uphold them or not.
    My problem with the constant mercy thing is that it institutionalizes guilt. It (the church) defines you as a sinner instead of a person who has sinned (there's a big difference). You're only hope, supposedly, is to keep coming back and belong to the innest in group. It's basically a control mechanism that functions to keep people unenlightened.
    The institutions that we've built around Jesus' teachings, in my opinion, have little relevance to them. I boil down Jesus' teachings to "Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven." The masses, the churches, the clergy, and everything else are only as necessary as you make them.
    Jesus also said that the Kingdom of Heaven lies within you. By going to all these services, you're basically searching for yourself, which you can never find because you are that which you seek. It's like an eye trying to see itself or an ear trying to hear itself.
    That's the big surprise. You're IT. You are what you've been looking for. If you still want the masses, the temples, the books, the traditions, the religious nursery rhymes, and the repetitive edification sermons to feel a sense of connectedness to an overall oneness that you were never separated from in the first place, you can keep them.