Holy Week observances

Wednesday

This Wednesday, at 8:00 p.m., St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church in Elkhart will be celebrating Tenebrae, an ancient Holy Week service of psalms and readings. Tenebrae is Latin for “darkness” or “shadows.” Fifteen candles are lighted in a stand called a hearse. At the end of each reading one candle is extinguished, until all but one candle is left burning. And that candle is hidden behind the altar, putting the church sanctuary in total darkness. A loud noise (Latin streptius) is made, usually by slamming a book shut or stomping on the floor, to symbolize the earthquake after Jesus’ death. After the great noise, the single lighted candle is returned to the hearse, signifying the light of Christ’s resurrection.

— Steve at On the Slow Train


Thursday

This morning I passed by a Romanian Orthodox church in our neighborhood and noticed that the front door, usually closed, was open. So I went in. Stairs led down — to a community gathering area, I suspected — and up to the church, where I heard hushed voices. I went up, through another door, and into a warm sanctuary, wider than it was long, and sat down in a back pew. The walls were of wood. Painted Orthodox icons hung or stood everywhere: on the altar, on the walls, on the ceiling. There was one very precious icon of hammered gold and silver — a Madonna and Child – with a painted or enameled face and hands but most looked relatively new. Several people holding small prayer books knelt in the pews and prayed, and over on the western side of the sanctuary, a priest in a brocade robe prayed with a woman who was, perhaps, giving a confession. His arm was around her and a purple stole lay over his shoulders and her head; as he prayed or spoke to her I could see her head nodding in assent under the stole. In the front, bustling about the altar, three elderly women, dressed in full skirts and wearing kerchiefs, prepared the sanctuary for Easter. Huge pots of blue and pink hydrangeas had already been placed in tiers around the main altar, and the women raised and rearranged several large rugs piled atop a floral carpet with a large cabbage-rose pattern on a dark green background. A stand of votive candles flickered red, gold, and green, and behind me in niches in the wall were trays of sand and thin tapers lit by worshipers. In one corner, a tiny shop, hardly bigger than a cart, sold cards, candles, rosaries. Lingering incense perfumed the air.

— Beth at cassandra pages


Of Beth

Beth Adams’ blog, the cassandra pages, has long been part of it and I’ve been following her account of Easter services in the Anglican Christchurch Cathedral in Montreal, where she sings in the choir. She’s the blogger par excellence, sharing through musicsketches and photographsas well as words – a gentle, informal drawing into her daily reality. I have found myself riveted and ambivalent. Brought up Anglican, I was not much engaged and often bored by services and, by adolescence, increasingly alienated by the working-class Protestant ethic (work and cleanliness are next to godliness; we don’t have much and that’s what we deserve, but we’re more deserving than they are). Not hard, then, to identify with the young Spanish boy’s alienation from his church and its cooption by a repressive ideology. But also, there’s a deep pleasure in hymns and readings familiar so early they can never be forgotten, and the sheltering space and light of a church is something I learned to love as an adult seeking respite from the crowded chaos of the world outside. So there’s considerable allure in what Beth recounts, and the subtle, thoughtful interpretations of which she speaks, of which Anglican writer Esther de Waal speaks, are vastly different from those which affronted me as a child.

— Jean at tasting rhubarb