Sunday, July 12, 2009


(Or however it's spelled in Serbian.)

Quiet suddenly pours over the worshippers standing in the church. The Holy Spirit (or is it merely light?) streams through the nave windows, first on the people then, as time passes, on the faces of Jesus and Mary, Mother of God.

In the last few minutes before the Divine Work of the People begins, a priest and two young men stand in a side chapel, blessing bread and candles before wrapping them in bags and taking them out. The young men are good humored, in jeans and tees, beautifully incanting the prayers. They leave with their packages, then return and slip through the door of an angel into the hidden altar room. When they reappear, gold robes cover their jeans, their hair is pulled back, and they bear large sienna candles, pure beeswax.

Men stand on one side, women on the other. Only the frail sit in the chairs so close to the altar, and only when their ancient legs can take no more. For the next hour and a half, the priests and the choir of men sing the liturgy, their voices mingling in deep and dancing tones. (How I've missed this sound!) Throughout we cross ourselves and bend at the waist, over and over, at every mention of every holy name. Some touch the ground; others gesture toward it. The half-room of men sing the responses. Men singing, consistently, confidently. From time to time, mostly on the alleluias, the chorus sprouts higher voices. All sing or speak the Creed -- at least it sounds like the Creed -- that 1600 year old statement of unity and faith, sung in the heavens and on earth.

Over and over we and the altar and the bread and wine are blessed with incense, rising up as prayer into the dome vault, and perhaps beyond. Everyone puts money in the offering, as the golden young men weave through the crowd. We don't put in much (I am extravagant with 100 dinar, or $1.35) as this isn't when tithing happens, but everyone responds to the blessing we've received.

As the baptized faithful move forward to take communion, others step to the "store" to buy candles to light at the various niches. Mary the Mother of God, St. Michael, Jesus, perhaps others receive prayers, kisses, flowers. Even apples, below the Mother of Tenderness.

Outside there is a breeze, and gentled voices, except for the occasional squeal of delight from a playing child. The Roma women sitting at the gates have also received today, both money and acknowledgment, like the beggars at the temple in Luke.

In an hour and a half of a foreign language, with the waves of voices lapping and the Sun illuminating all dimensions, your mind has room to move. From the words to the sound to the mosaics, from the mundane (what shall I make for dinner?) to the divine, to plans and regrets and hopes, God is in the details, all of them, including the monkey mind and the vast transcendence.

Sabbath. Finally.
Alleluia. Amen.

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