Mystery Worshipper: Carmarthenshire
Church: Cathedral of the Transfiguration of Our Lord
Location: Brooklyn, New York, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 28 September 2008, 9:00am
The parish was founded in 1880 by immigrants from Galicia, meeting first in a private home and then in an abandoned Methodist church. The present building was begun in 1915 and is modeled after Moscow's Cathedral of the Dormition. It was finished in 1922 and became a cathedral in 1932. Renovations were begun in 2003 and are ongoing. The building seems rather square-shaped, with several cupolas (onion domes), which seem out of place in the developing neighborhood. The building is on the national historical register. Like in many Eastern churches, the rule about tat on the interior seems to be "the more the better." I do not see this as a bad thing. Near the entrance of the church there is a desk from which one can buy candles.
The cathedral seems to minister principally to immigrants and their families, which must be increasingly difficult as the neighborhood gentrifies. I heard many conversations in Russian. Vespers are sung on Saturday evenings, with confessions heard and the Divine Liturgy celebrated each Sunday. Church school follows.
The cathedral is located on the boundary between Williamsburg and Greenpoint, on the westernmost edge of Brooklyn just across the East River from Manhattan. Both neighborhoods were for many years occupied by immigrants and their families. In a story that has been repeated in New York many times, first came the artists, then the hipsters, and then the yuppies. Today both Williamsburg and Greenpoint are gentrifying rapidly, and new condos being constructed dot the landscape.
The Very Revd Wiaczeslaw Krawczuk, rector of the cathedral, presided. He was assisted by a deacon whose name was not given.
What was the name of the service?Divine Liturgy.
How full was the building?
The church was mostly empty at the beginning of the service, but more streamed in as time went on. By the time the eucharist was distributed, the church was around three-fourths full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Was your pew comfortable?
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was a confession before the liturgy, chanted by the priest before a Madonna ikon. Then everyone lined up and the priest said something over them, which I assume was an absolution.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
The opening words were said by the priest in front of the altar, behind the screen. They were unseen and unheard by the congregation.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
None! At Orthodox parishes I have visited before, there has always been some sort of service book in which one could follow along with the liturgy. Before the service started, I asked for one at the candle desk, but the man staffing it looked at me oddly and told me there was none. It turned out I really didn't need one, as all the responses were done by the choir.
What musical instruments were played?
None. The choir sang a cappella.
Did anything distract you?
The plethora of ikonography everywhere! Folks moved about venerating them during the liturgy. This, along with the fact that most folks came in late, gave the service an almost "liquid church" feel. I don't think this is necessarily negative. The microphones sounded very tinny at points, which was more problematic for me. Much of the service was in Slavonic, which I don't understand.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Neither, really. The stark division between clergy and laity seems to be something inherent in Eastern churches, what with the screen shielding the altar from parishioners. Much of the service seemed to consist of things said by the priest and responses by the choir. There was no room for congregational responses or anything of that kind.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
3 – The rector's first language is clearly not English, so I give him credit for preaching in it. I'm not sure I understood some of his conceptual leaps, though.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Our love for God is different from human love: we are to love God before all people and things. But how are we to love our neighbor? We cannot hate neighbors and love God, because people are pictures of God and he is their creator. You cannot love a young woman because she is pretty and hate your mother because she is old. That is not love. Many people keep pets, and love their dogs or cats – but people who love dogs and cats more than children or their parents have psychiatric problems. We are to love people, not dogs or cats. People shouldn't have dogs or cats instead of children. We should respect our culture and religion. Too many people are joining sects and saying that they found the gospel there. The Orthodox church has the gospel. It is in the liturgy, in Sunday school. If they cannot find the gospel there, then they are lazy.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The choir sang beautifully.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Not being able to follow along in a book and consequently having little idea what was going on.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I went to the basement and had a roll. No one talked to me, but I didn't feel like I got a cold shoulder.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was tea, bagels, rolls, and coffee. They were not complimentary, though! A roll cost me 75 cents. I have encountered this in other Eastern churches before and was prepared. The roll was very fresh.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – If I were looking to convert to Orthodoxy, I would look for a parish that was more accessible to newcomers. As it was, I was surprised this one was not more so, given the number of former Protestants and Roman Catholics that have been crossing to Constantinople in recent years.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?