Mar Abraham, Scottsdale, AZ (Exterior)

Mar Abraham, Scottsdale, Arizona, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Mar Abraham
Location: Scottsdale, Arizona, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 10 August 2014, 10:00am

The building

From the outside it is a series of rather plain gabled sections. The stone niche outside the building was empty when I snapped the photo, but as I left the church after mass I noticed that a statue of the Blessed Mother had miraculously appeared. Inside is a large, oblong, low-ceilinged room, short on windows but well lit by fluorescent fixtures. Stations of the Cross grace the walls. The altar is free-standing and flanked by icons of the Sacred Heart and the Blessed Mother. Under the altar table, between the pediments, is a full color diorama of Da Vinci's rendering of the Last Supper. Over top is a narrow strip of stained glass depicting the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments, with Hebrew lettering. There are no royal doors or iconostasis as in other Eastern churches.

The church

Also known as Mar Auraha, the parish was established as a mission in 1993 and elevated to the status of parish in 1995. They sponsor Bible study, a youth group, Knights of Columbus, and a sodality group. Saturday evening mass is celebrated in Arabic, and two Sunday masses are in English and Chaldean, respectively.

The neighborhood

Scottsdale is a well-to-do suburb to the east of Phoenix. Known for its luxurious homes and upscale shopping centers, Scottsdale is also ranked as one of the premier golf and resort destinations in the world, and derives much of its tax revenue from tourism and the convention trade. The church is located on Cactus Road, near Scottsdale Road, in a primarily residential neighborhood.

The cast

No names were given, but I'm assuming that the celebrant was the Revd Poulos Ghozairan, pastor. There was also a deacon, three servers, and four choir members. The celebrant wore an alb and gold cope; the deacon an alb and gold stole crossed over his neck, not over the shoulder; the choir members wore blue robes. I'll have more to say about the servers' attire in a moment.

What was the name of the service?

English Mass.

How full was the building?

About three-quarters full. Mostly young to middle-aged adults, men and women, some teenagers.

Did anyone welcome you personally?


Was your pew comfortable?

Cushioned wooden pews - not too bad.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

People entered silently and found seats. The majority arrived after the mass had begun.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Open our eyes, Lord" sung by the choir.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

A paperback booklet entitled The Rite of the Divine Mysteries of the Church of the East of the Chaldeans and Assyrians. There was no bulletin.

What musical instruments were played?

None. There was a choir of four women plus the deacon (when he wasn't performing his duties as deacon).

Did anything distract you?

I found the latecomers a distraction, including two of the servers and two of the choir members.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

It was mostly in English and mostly chanted, with some parts in Aramaic and some spoken. The Chaldean rite dates from the fourth century. There is some disagreement over whether the dialect of Aramaic used is the same as Jesus spoke; the Chaldeans believe that it is. The structure was basically what we’re used to in the Western church: liturgy of the Word, offertory, eucharist, thanksgiving and blessing, but the texts were very different. The Nicene Creed was chanted minus the Filioque. Bells were rung at the consecration and epiclesis. I understand that the Chaldean rite calls for copious amounts of incense, but none was in use today. Some women donned black mantillas as they went up to communion. Communion was ministered from a large ciborium with a small bowl in the center containing the Precious Blood. For communicants wishing to receive on the tongue, the priest dipped the host into the bowl; for those wishing to receive in the hand, he administered only the host.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

14 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

9 – It seemed that the priest was preaching with a twinkle in his eye, made all the more twinkly by his accent, especially when he used English slang (for example, he spoke of lapsed Christians who might want to consider coming back to church to "give it another shot"). He very eloquently tied in the gospel message with the current persecution of Christians in Iraq and elsewhere without lapsing into political grandstanding.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

His text was the gospel reading for the day, John 9:1-17 (Jesus gives sight to a blind man). Jesus' miracle sparked a debate: why heal a blind man, and why on the sabbath? But the meaning is clear: Jesus is the light of the world, and whoever believes, sees not only the light of day, but also of salvation. Some who witnessed the miracle were afraid to admit it for fear of persecution. And then there are the persecutors, the antichrist. What can we do when we witness persecution? First of all, we can acknowledge our own sins and pray. We can be sure that our own vines bear good fruit, not rotten fruit. Finally, we can give alms. Everyone can do something to make a little difference. Everything is laudable and acceptable.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The Chaldean liturgy was quite beautiful if unfamiliar. The chant had a distinct middle-eastern heft to it that was pleasant to listen to.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

Now, let's talk about what the servers were wearing, shall we? One boy wore an alb with green trim that was too short for him, very dirty and very wrinkled. Another boy, sporting glow-in-the-dark blue sneakers under his alb, wore a red cincture tied in a multi-looped bow. And let's also talk about the choir. They sounded uniformly dirge-like regardless of what they were singing. The two girls who had arrived late seemed more interested in playing with their hair than in singing. They badly need a director who won't stand for that type of nonsense and who knows how to get good vocal tone out of his singers.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

At the end of the service, the priest began the reading of announcements by saying, "A special welcome to our guests - thank you for coming and for supporting our Christian community." I thought that was very nice. Unfortunately, it was the only welcome extended to visitors - after the blessing and dismissal, everyone just left and congregated outside in small groups, not taking notice of who might be visiting. One woman did stare at me, though, but didn't say anything.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There was none. The on-line newsletter indicated that the youth group would be selling ice cream after mass to help support the persecuted Christians in Iraq, and I was looking forward to buying some (I can't go a day without ice cream!). However, they must have been running later than even the tardy choristers and servers.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

4 – The liturgy was interesting, but I would want a church that didn't tolerate servers and choristers showing up late and in dirty, wrinkled albs – and that follows through on their promise of ice cream.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?


What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The way the pastor tied in the gospel reading with the persecution of Iraqi Christians.

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