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1080: Holy Trinity, Westfield, New Jersey, USA
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Holy Trinity, Westfield, New Jersey, USA
Mystery Worshipper: Amanda B. Reckondwythe.
The church: Holy Trinity, Westfield, New Jersey, USA.
Denomination: Greek Orthodox.
The building: The building, set on a large wooded lot in a quiet residential neighborhood, is modern in design, with a dome that gives it a distinctly Byzantine appearance. The auditorium is square but appears round due to the dome. There are light oak wooden pews and a glass-enclosed cry room. Large stained glass panels around the dome depict the Annunciation, Nativity, Baptism of Christ, Transfiguration, Crucifixion, and Resurrection (as well as one other scene I couldn't identify), and flood the auditorium with sunlight. An icon screen separates the sanctuary from the auditorium. A fresco on the dome over the sanctuary depicts a large image of Mary behind a teenage-looking Christ.
The church: The church sponsors Bible study, Greek school, and many parish social organizations.
The neighborhood: The so-called bedroom communities of northern New Jersey, so close to New York and so well served by public transportation, are clean, quiet, pleasant places to raise a family. Westfield is no exception, with its broad, shady streets and downtown that resembles something out of a 1940s movie set.
The cast: The Rev. Father Peter Delvizis, proistamenos; The Rev. Father Chris Dalamangas, protopresbyter; two cantors, four acolytes, about 12 choir members and a choir director, all of whom were unidentified.
What was the name of the service?
Divine Liturgy.

How full was the building?
The church can comfortably hold about 200. During the Orthros (matins) service preceding the liturgy, there were about a dozen or so people present. As the Divine Liturgy began, people started arriving in earnest, until by the time the Gospel was read the church was fairly full. After the sermon, more people entered who had been waiting outside, packing the church to its capacity, with people left standing in the aisles and on the porch. The congregation was predominantly young to middle-aged and very well dressed, including many family groups with children of all ages.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Not exactly. A woman dressed in black who resembled the actress Irene Papas was selling candles on the porch. She explained to me that Orthros was in progress and that the Divine Liturgy would begin at 10.00. I told her I was not Greek Orthodox and not familiar with the order of service, and she replied that I was welcome to stay anyway.

Was your pew comfortable?

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Orthros was being chanted by the priests and cantors. Those people present followed the service in silence. Others trickled in very quietly. At the conclusion of Orthros, the choir took their place and the Divine Liturgy began with no pause between the two services.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Blessed is the kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and forever, and to the ages of ages, Amen," chanted in Greek.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Edition; the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, with Hymnal, in Greek and English; announcement leaflet.

What musical instruments were played?
I was surprised to see an electronic organ used to accompany the choir, whose makeup also surprised me (12 women and 2 men).

Did anything distract you?
The cry room was underutilized – not that anyone cried, but there were a lot of pre-schoolers squirming about in the pews and flailing their limbs. I was also distracted by the obvious absence of the so-called filioque (Holy Spirit proceeds solely from the Father, not from the Father and the Son) in the Nicean Creed.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
You can't get much more stiff-upper-lip than the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom. The liturgy was conducted in English, with some parts in Greek. The priests were vested in albs, stoles, and white chasubles; the acolytes in gold robes with stole-like scarves that crossed on their backs. The choir wore dark blue gowns. Both the Orthros and Divine Liturgy were predominantly chanted, with one cantor chanting in an interval of a third, or sometimes in a drone bass, below the other, and the choir chanting in harmony with organ accompaniment. Incense (of which they could have used more) was dispensed from a thurible that had little bells attached.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
11 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Father Dalamanagas preached from notes but made good eye contact and established good rapport with the congregation. His style was intimate and his argument clear. He preached from a lectern set on the sanctuary steps, rather than from the pulpit.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Father preached on the Gospel lesson of the day (Luke 16:19-31, the parable of Lazarus and the rich man). We do not condemn the rich for their wealth, any more than we extol the poor for their poverty. But the wealthy are tempted to increase their wealth by taking unfair advantage, just as the poor are tempted to use their poverty as an excuse to lie, cheat, and steal. The rich man in the parable is nameless because God considers wealth for naught; Lazarus is named because God remembers perseverance. And why Abraham? Why not Moses or Elijah? It's because Abraham is a symbol of hospitality, and that's how we should strive to appear before God.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom is a most beautiful service. I was especially awed by the procession of the sacred elements around the church before the consecration, the beautiful chant used for the words of consecration (in English), and how after the consecration the acolytes prostrated themselves on the sanctuary floor while the congregation knelt on the floor (there were no kneelers).

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The church was very crowded, and I was beginning to feel claustrophobic. The cantors had a tendency to go flat, and when the organ brought the choir in with their responses, it was always about a half-tone higher than where the cantors had left off.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I received the antidoron (blessed but unconsecrated bread) with the rest of the congregation and then followed the others into the parish hall for coffee. No one lingered about the church.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Strong, bitter coffee served in styrofoam cups. There were also some cut-up bits of donuts and Danish pastries – not remarkable. People stood about in groups visiting, but no one took notice of the newcomer. I spotted the Irene Papas woman and tried to catch her attention, but she was busy talking with friends.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – If I were Greek Orthodox and lived in the area, yes. The congregation is large and friendly (at least amongst themselves) and the church appears to be actively involved in the community. But I don't think an outsider would have an easy time making it as a Greek Orthodox – you have to have been born and raised in the culture, I think.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, especially the beauty of the Divine Liturgy.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The acolytes prostrating themselves on the floor after the consecration, and the little jingle bells on the thurible.
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