On my retreat this past weekend, I went to church with our neighbors, the Virippils, at St. Thomas Orthodox Church. It was my first time in an Orthodox Church, I believe. Beautiful sanctuary. Nice service. Very different from what I'm used to, but an enjoyable experience.
I got to speak with the pastor a bit after the service and asked him some questions about their beliefs and practice. Like, what's the significance of the incense they swing at everything? He explained, but I don't think I really got it all. He struck me as one of those pastors (of whom I have known many) who have a hard time explaining such things in regular, simple language. Nothing against him -- very nice guy -- but seminary seems to do that to people sometimes.
I didn't question him much more after the incense query, but I did have more I was wondering about. Like . . . all the icons. Especially their kissing them. My friend explained to me (when I asked who "Theotokos" was -- Greek for "Mother of God") that they do not worship Mary, but they "give her veneration". I'd like to understand the distinction there a little better. Apparently they "venerate" the saints, too.
And I've always been fascinated by churches who see communion (and baptism) as "sacraments". I grew up Baptist. We called them "ordinances". They were not sacraments, because no saving grace is actually conveyed in the act. They were merely symbols and acts of obedience.
So, I am fascinated by people believing that eating this piece of bread dipped in some grape juice--or getting dunked in a tub of water--actually changes something in you spiritually. Erases original sin. Conveys forgiveness. Whatever. It's such a bizarre concept to me. But I suppose I have beliefs that others would find pretty bizarre as well . . . hmmmm.....
Overall, though, the Orthodox service was a positive experience. It's good to worship in someone else's "worship language" once in a while.