A visit to St. George Orthodox Church

Note: During Lent, people from Saint Martin in the Fields Episcopal Church and Saint Timothy Lutheran Church has been visiting other houses of worship. We have been learning about other people’s faiths and traditions. It has been a good experience. When you experience other faiths, you can understand that there are many ways of spirituality and that they are all good. As humans, we want to go beyond ourselves and to seek the divine. We want to know that there is something more than the lives that we have on earth.

Some very wonderful people have shared their beliefs with us. They have shown us how they practice their faiths. In our society, we talk a lot about “tolerance.” But, in my opinion, tolerance is a low standard. It’s not enough merely to tolerate someone else’s beliefs. It is better to accept and honor your friend’s and your neighbor’s belief. It’s even better to understand that belief. It makes people better neighbors and better friends.

This time, we visited Saint George Orthodox Church in Sanborn, New York. Orthodoxy is an old faith that traces its roots to the early church described in the Book of Acts. The Roman Catholic Church also traces its roots to that point in time. In fact, for about the first 1000 years of the church’s history, there was one church. East and West were united. Divisions started to form over a number of issues, including the role of the pope. By 1054, a schism occurred, separating the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic churches from one another.

The Eastern and Western churches share many beliefs. They are all Christians. Jesus Christ and his teachings are at the center of their faith. 

There are many differences between the eastern and western churches. For the Roman Catholic Church and all Protestant churches, Easter this year will be celebrated on March 27th. At this point, we are now entering Holy Week.

For the Orthodox church, the Great Lent has just begun. They will celebrate Easter on May 1st. The reason for this is that the western churches use the Gregorian calendar, while many Orthodox churches use the Julian calendar. The differences are very complicated, but if you’d like to know more about these calendars, check out: Julian Calendar.

So… Saint George Orthodox Church. Approximately 35 of us came on the visit. We went to a service, called the liturgy of the presanctified gifts. We enjoyed a delicious potluck meal and then we were taken on a tour of the church. The priest at St. George (Antiochian) Orthodox Church is Father Paul Solberg. He is a former Lutheran pastor who converted to Orthodoxy, much to the utter confusion of his Norwegian father, who said, “Son! Where did your mother and I go wrong? You’re the only one of my children who is not Lutheran!”

In the process of adopting Orthodoxy, Father Paul said that a priest helped his discernment by saying, “Leave your presuppositions outside. Come in and pray.”

Father Paul had discovered, as an adult, a spiritual home for himself. He had to overcome doubt and confusion. In 2000, during his first year as an Orthodox priest, Father Paul was overcome with emotion as he lit the large candle and sang sang, “Come and receive the light that is never overcome by darkness.”

“This rural boy from North Dakota has been given the responsibility for everyone to light their Paschual candles.” (Paschua is synonymous with “Easter.”)

Father Paul said that he had a few missteps along the way. He had times when he was on the altar and he forgot what he was supposed to do. He attempted to sing peace be to all in a deep bass voice, as if he were Russian. That attempt failed.

“There is no place for pride in the Orthodox church.”

Father Paul now has the title of Archpriest. Because he is married, he cannot become a bishop. The Orthodox church permits married men to become priests. A single man who becomes a priest cannot later decide to get married, if he wants to stay a priest.

In the Orthodox church, Lent began on Monday, March 14th. People must change their diets during the Lent, which, in the Orthodox Church, is called the Great Lent. During the entire time, people who belong to the Antiochian Orthodox Church do not consume meat, fish, dairy, or eggs. On weekdays, they also fast from olive oil and wine. The purpose of the fast is not to make a sacrifice or to become vegans, but to engage in a spiritual exercise. The goal is a change in heart. When you fast, you are going within, searching your soul. “You are drawn into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ,” said Father Paul.

Father Paul also told us about the icons. In Orthodox churches, there are icons, which are sacred images. There are no statues and no stations of the cross, as there would be in a Roman Catholic church. The icons are written, not drawn or painted. 

The purpose of the icons are to aid in worship. It gives people a window into the divine. They also enhance the beauty of the church. 

This icon depicts Jesus and his mother. Here, Mary (also known by her Greek title of Theotokos) is seen with a very young Jesus on her lap. “This Jesus does not look like a toddler. He sit, as if he is sitting on a throne.” 

“The icons help us and remind us to worship. They tell of events in the life of Jesus Christ,” said Father Paul.

Last note: This was our last visit to a house of worship. Last week, the group visited Saint John African Methodist Episcopal Church in Niagara Falls. Due to a transportation glitch, I was unable to attend. I am hoping, at some point, to have an opportunity to visit that church.

1 thought on “A visit to St. George Orthodox Church”

  1. In our area of upstate New York (the Southern Tier) we participate in a Sacred Sites Open House. Last week it was in May. I think they've just put up the link (google "nylandmarks and sacred_sites_open_house/") – you may get that chance, if you have transportation. I've enjoyed your series; thank you. Our area has a great variety of churches; I went to the 2015 Open House and learned a lot.

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