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Glimpses of Russia Orthodox & Reflections

Written by| Cecilia Wong
Chinese translation| Catherine Chan

This summer, I was accompanied by a Catholic friend on a tour to St Petersburg and Moscow. It was basically a pilgrimage tour, with a major focus on Russian orthodox churches and iconography. We visited obviously many pilgrimage sites and of all the Cathedrals and churches (including cave monastery churches!) we visited one could hardly miss the many icons which adorned the walls and pillars and ceilings of the church interior. For me who come from a church which adopts minimalism in its interior decoration it was a visual treat to see these churches with their overwhelmingly decorated icons. And at the end of the tour I felt it was like an icon marathon, and even my Catholic friend was impressed by the huge role icon plays in the Orthodox faith!

For the Orthodox Christians, worship is directed towards Christ in the Kingdom of Heaven who is embodied in the church on earth as well as the saints in heaven which together represent the body of Christ. And as icons, or sacred images, are not pictures but represent the holy presences of those depicted on them, one would, understandably, find in every church icon depictions (or presence!) of Christ and venerated saints which are used as windows through which we see Christ and the saints.

Surrounded by, and in the company of, host of saints in every church that we visited, I was awakened to the eternal kingdom of Christ. What a wonderful thought that during worship we were met through icons with the Mother God, Moses, Saint Peter, Saint Paul (yes, the great apostle Paul who wrote the epistles that we read in the New Testament!) and all the other prophets and saints and martyrs and missionaries! I was reminded of this truth and vividly remembered what my pastor back home said at the beginning of a prayer meeting which happened to have a really low attendance. While all those present were greatly discouraged as they looked around and found only a handful people attending, to our great surprise, we heard our pastor say, “Tonight, we are deeply honored to be accompanied by a host of angels and the church in heaven.”! Certainly, only those with a Kingdom vision can say that!

Of special mention was the Divine Liturgy (or Holy Communion Sunday service) which we attended in the Cathedral of St Sophia in St Petersburg. It was my first ever Orthodox worship and it was eye-opening and inspiring! Unlike the congregants in Hong Kong who are normally seated during worship, the worshippers were all standing throughout the entire Divine Liturgy service. In fact, this is their normal way of worship. As all the Orthodox female worshippers do, I covered my head with a veil (which often slipped off my head!) and wore a long dress (well, it’s actually a beach wrap as I thought it would be easier moving from church to church!). Standing inside the hall (and in my funny attire!), my eyes were captured not only by the host of icon saints but also struck by the visual characteristics of the various acts of worship which drew upon all the senses of the worshippers — the burning of the incense, the swinging of the censer by the priest forward and bringing it back and sending a cloud of aromatic smoke, the kissing of the icons as they moved around the hall venerating the icon saints, the rituals with its many signs and symbols, the chanting and singing and bells, the sign of the cross, the bowing and prostrating and kneeling, the greetings and blessings, etc. To what appeared to me as random acts and even distractions, the Orthodox Christians found these acts of worship absolutely engaging as they worshipped with their whole being – body, mind and soul and interacting with one another!

On reflection, that made me wonder if at home we are too much focused on our intellects, neglecting our other faculties and thereby limiting ourselves from giving our full to God in worship. For those who are worship leaders, how should we conduct worship so that we can engage the worshippers more fully and give our best to God? How much reverence and fear and love do we have for Jesus the King who is enthroned in heaven, and yet humble enough to be present in our midst? What sort of attitude do we bring when we come before God every Sunday in worship? And how conscious are we of the glory of his eternal kingdom, and the unity we have with both the heavenly saints and one another?

I have heard people saying before about the difference between churches in the East and that in the West, that unlike pastors in the West who are mostly philosopher; pastors in the East are mostly artist. On reflection, perhaps there is some truth in that saying, something which MaHA, I believe, would agree, and be proud of!

Dated: 21st August 2017


英文原文| 黃文芝
中文翻譯| 陳瑋彤

這個夏天,一位天主教朋友和我踏上莫斯科聖彼得堡之旅。基本上,這是一個朝聖之旅,主要集中觀看俄羅斯的東正教堂和聖像。我們參觀了很多宗教景點,綜觀我們參觀過的眾多教堂(包括洞窟修道院!),幾乎都離不可開裝飾牆壁、柱子及教堂內部天花板的許多聖像。我在香港參與崇拜的教會室內裝飾採以極簡主義,行程中看到這些教堂擺放了大量裝飾華美的聖像,於我而言,可說是一種視覺享受。至旅程結束時,我彷如經歷了一場聖像馬拉松,連我的天主教友人也不禁驚歎聖像在東正教信仰中所扮演的重大角色!

對東正教徒來說,崇拜的中心是坐在寶座上的基督、天上的眾聖徒和地上教會聯合成為一體。聖像不只是圖片,而是代表了所繪畫的對象聖潔的存在,故此敬拜者可以透過聖像畫,感受到基督和眾聖徒活在他們當中。

在到訪的每一間教會中,我們被聖徒們的肖像所包圍,這讓我猛然醒覺到基督國度的永恆。試想想,我們在崇拜期間透過聖像,與聖母、摩西、聖彼得、聖保羅(沒錯,正是我們所閱讀的新約書信的作者,偉大的使徒保羅),以及其他先知、聖徒、烈士和傳教士相遇,這是何等奇妙的意念!這個真理亦令我聯想到,所屬教會的牧師在一次祈禱會開始時的一席話,當天的出席人數屈指可算,在場的人環顧四周,本應感到很沮喪,但驚奇的是,牧師竟然說:「今晚非常榮幸,有許多天使和天上的眾聖徒在我們當中,與我們一起禱告!」我想,只有那些有天國願景的人才能說這樣的話!

特別值得一提的是,我們在聖彼得堡聖索非亞大教堂參加的神聖禮儀(或作聖餐主日崇拜)。這是我第一次參與東正教崇拜,真是令我大開眼界並啟發良多!崇拜進行期間,香港的信徒通常會坐著,而這裡的崇拜者在整個聖禮中卻是全程站立,原來這是他們慣常的敬拜方式。此外,按照所有東正教女性崇拜者的做法,我以頭巾覆蓋頭部(它經常從我頭上滑落),身穿長裙(實際上是一條沙灘裙,因為我覺得這樣比較方便穿梭於各個教堂!)。我(穿著滑稽的裝束)站在禮堂裡,不僅看到聖像上的聖人,也被敬拜活動中的種種視覺元素所觸動,這些行為牽動著崇拜者的所有觸覺——焚香、牧師前後擺動香爐,發出一陣芳香的煙霧、會眾四處移動親吻教堂內的聖像,誦經、唱詩與鐘聲、用手比劃十字架,鞠躬、叩頭和下跪、問安及祝福等。這些於我看來是隨機,甚至會令人分心的舉動,對東正教徒而言,卻是他們以身心靈和情感,一種全情投入的敬拜!

在反思的過程中,我想香港的教會是否過於著重頭腦上的敬拜,而忽略了身體其他部份(包括官感),因而限制了我們在崇拜中將自己全然獻給主?帶領敬拜的人亦需要思考,敬拜應該如何進行,才能使敬拜者能夠更充分地參與,並將我們最好的獻予上帝?每個主日來到神面前敬拜,我們帶著怎樣的態度?基督在天堂裡雖極被尊崇,卻仍謙虛地活在我們中間,對此我們是否應以最大的尊崇、敬畏和愛慕來回應祂?我們又有否意識到祂永恆的國度,以及我們與祂並天上眾聖徒合一的榮耀?

我曾聽說有人談及東方教會和西方教會的區別——西方的牧師大多是哲學家,東方牧師則多數是藝術家。在省思裡,也許這個說法有其真實之處,我相信語蜜工房眾團隊們也會同意,並以此為榮!

寫於 2017年8月21日

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