Paul Coles, Youthworkerish type guy. Present location: Targu Mures, Romania. Married to an amazing girl named Fiona. I'm on a JOURNEY and have no idea where I'll end up other than in the hands of God.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Another first for me...

This Sunday I took a few teenagers from a state group home to an Orthodox church in a small village just outside Targu Mures. Levi had told me that the priest at this church was a very wise man and he really wanted to see him and maybe talk to him. So off we drove to this village.

When we got there I couldn't believe the scene. The village probably had about 30 houses and this tiny church but there were cars parked everywhere. We ended up having to park about 500m away on one of the few, very muddy, village streets. As we walked toward the church we realized that the cars were not just from the surrounding area but some of them were from as far as 6 hours away.

It was then that they told me that this priest is famous all around Romania. So it wasn't much of a surprise to me then to see that when we came to the church, about 10 minutes late, it was standing room only... outside standing room... and the temperature was -9 C. Ah well what can you do.

So we started out standing outside but throughout the service people from the outside kept moving in and more people would come so the outside and inside were getting fuller and fuller. After about 20 mins we managed to get into the foyer of the church and we were literally standing like sardines. The tiny foyer was about 2m x 2m and at one point i looked around and counted 35 people just in that tiny room (that is not an exaggeration!) there was absolutely no room to move. I couldn't even have moved my arm to scratch my nose if I wanted to. (you can only imagine the strained flurry of movements when everyone tried to cross themselves every 5 mins!)

But after about 20 mins of that I got a welcome relief because all of the sudden everyone started to exit the building. What I didn't realize was that this was the point in the service when the priest walks from the front of the church all the way out the back swinging his incense thing and blessing the people (i think). Everyone got down on their knees for this and he would touch everyones head as he walked by. He did this twice during the service but he never touched my head. He must have known I was a bit skeptical.

I couldn't follow all of what was going on but there was a lot of praying, a lot of singing liturgical type stuff and a lot of people saying Amen and crossing themselves.

I kind of liked it because the people definitely weren't there to be entertained or because it had the best worship or the most dynamic preacher in the area. It seemed like they were there to be blessed and to experience God in a more profound way than the everyday.

I don't like the idea of separating the secular and the sacred but there is something interesting and attractive about this style of gathering. About a building that is so distinctly set apart for worship and about a time that is so deeply rapped in tradition and ritual that it takes you away from the normal, from the everyday and seemingly transports you to sacred and holy space.

And it also gave me a great window to have some brilliant conversations with Levi, Marian and Juja about our many questions of life, faith, doubt, religion and a God that is sometimes just a bit too hard to see.

We all learned a lot on a beautiful Sunday morning.

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