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57: St Spiridion Orthodox Church, Seattle, USA
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St Spiridion, Seattle
Mystery Worshipper: The Owl.
The church: St Spiridion, Seattle, USA.
Denomination: Orthodox Church in America, which is an amalgamation of a number of ethnic Orthodox churches. However, the majority remain Russian.
The building: An attempt to replicate a traditional Orthodox cathedral from the north of Russia, using brick and plaster, which manages to come off neither well nor poorly. Inside, the building looks much better, even if it seems gaudy. It has dozens of real and reproduced icons covering virtually every square foot of the walls and gilt iconostasis (icon screen).
The neighbourhood: Probably the second-worst neighborhood in Seattle in which to have a church that holds midnight services. Maybe it's my college student paranoia, but walking past about fifteen auto-body shops, which all seemed to be open despite the hour, made me momentarily question my sanity.
The cast: Very Rev Vadim Pogrebniak, Rev Timothy Perry, Rev Michael Dunbar, Deacon Mark Becker and a half-dozen others from the age of about 12 to well over 70.
What was the name of the service?
The Paschal Service (a combination of the Holy Saturday Nocturne with Easter Matins and the Easter Liturgy of St John Chrysostom).

How full was the building?
So full that an usher asked the crowd on three separate occasions to move closer to the row of icons just in front of the iconostasis. It was so crowded that the Orthodox friend who had brought me leaned over and whispered: 'Do you remember that story about the church in Russia which shook apart New Year's Eve in 1491 because so many people had squeezed into it?'

Did anyone welcome you personally?
My Orthodox friend helped me buy candles and shared her Paschal service book with me. I was also greeted by her family and friends, as she introduced me to all of them.

Was your pew comfortable?
No pew. Because this is essentially a Russian Orthodox church, it was all standing for all three, increasingly long, hours. Fortunately, no one fainted, although several of the children did eventually curl up and fall asleep on the floor towards the end of the Liturgy.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was generally hushed as a number of chanters rotated through reading the book of Acts. During the readings, most of the assembled congregation (me included, at the suggestion of my friend) prostrated themselves before and kissed the Christ icon which lay on the bier.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
What else would an Orthodox Pascha begin with aside from: 'Blessed is our God, now and for ever unto the ages of ages'?

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Most of the congregation did not use books. However a number of the visitors and members used a small book, 'The Paschal Service', along with a pamphlet entitled 'The Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom'.

What musical instruments were played?
To quote my Russian professor: 'The Greek Orthodox are heretics because they allow instruments in their churches.' The music was produced entirely by the choir, which had a balcony to itself above the main floor.

Did anything distract you?
My shoes, which gradually became less and less comfortable as the night wore on into early morning.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
If you think that grand pageantry went out with the Reformation, you need a visit to an Orthodox Pascha. Ancient and modern icons being led in procession, the chanting of the Scripture, bronze fans, incense, peppermints, the color of time... well, not the last two, but all the rest.

St Spiridion, Seattle

Exactly how long was the sermon?
5 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8. The sermon itself was the traditional Easter Homily of St John Chrsostom. However, Fr. Vadim read it to great effect. I suppose, though, that any message at that point in the service would be received joyfully, as the two hours of standing with lit candles is pretty effective in breaking down barriers to suggestibility.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Regardless of the time that one began the fast of Lent, or even if one did not begin it at all, now is the time for rejoicing and all are welcome to the feast table prepared by Christ's Resurrection.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Hearing the choir, which was just above and behind me, sounding like a flight of angels singing praises to the Resurrection.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Having to stand for three hours in my shoes. By the end, I was certain that another hour would have been my undoing and I would have joined the five-year olds on the floor in exhaustion.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
No time to look lost, as a line quickly formed to receive eggs and blessings from the various priests. Then everyone was hustled outside, and my Orthodox friend quickly took me downstairs to get some water.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
No coffee for this Owl after 3am, but I did have a glass of water and some chocolate eggs, which alleviated most of my light-headedness.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4. If it weren't for the beauty of the services, I'd probably give this a 1. We were given a rather strong reminder about non-Orthodox people not being allowed to receive communion – and this was like a cold, cruel, anti-ecumenical shower. I was probably not alone in finding the homily somewhat ironic after that reminder.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Very glad. I was so happy following it, despite my inability to take communion, that I hugged my friends and their family and, in the Russian custom, said, 'Christ is Risen!' while kissing them on their cheeks three times. Only another Easter service could hope to match that feeling.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The priest and congregation responding to one another in English, Russian and Greek:

'Christ is risen!' 'Indeed he is risen!'
'Khreestohs vohskrehsyeh!' 'Voheesteenoo vohskrehs!'
'Kreestohs ahnehstee!' 'Ahleethohs ahnehstee!'
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