Sunday Divine Liturgy:
A Glimpse into Orthodox Christianity in America
Senior Joseph Sills discusses his experiences at St. Nicholas Orthodox Church.
What better way to start a Sunday morning than a two-hour standing service at a Russian Orthodox Church? I guess that’s what our trip leaders thought, so that’s what we did.
In fact, St. Nicholas began as a Russian Orthodox Church before joining the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) in 1970 to reach an ever growing English speaking congregation. The church, however, still shows signs of its roots. Many of the members are still Russian, and many of the icons in the church bear Russian writing as opposed to the Greek more common in OCA churches.
Upon entering, the burning incense, chanting choir, and colorful icons engaged our senses; this promised to be an interactive service. In fact, as the service progressed I felt prompted to participate, so I began forming the sign of the cross every time the priest spoke “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”, I bowed as he sent out incense to the congregation, and I sang the best I could. You see, Orthodox Christianity is not new to me. Many of my family members who have grown up Protestant have become Orthodox in their adulthood, and I have attended many of their services. But at St. Nicholas, something caught my attention—the atmosphere of the service reignited my curiosity in this ancient expression of Christian faith.
Afterwards, we spoke with the priest, Father Maximus, about some of the Orthodox rituals. As he explained several practices such as iconography and praying to saints, Father Maximus interwove stories of his own experience as his adolescence as a nominal Catholic, young adulthood as a Protestant evangelist, and ultimately his ordination as an Orthodox priest. At first I was struck with the breadth of the religious tradition he had traversed, and then I wondered how hard it must have been to be uprooted twice out of comfort and placed in a new and terrifying religious context. Father Maximus’ life reminded us all that the pursuit for excellence and truth never really ends and that as life progresses one’s faith path can take unexpected and even unasked for turns. Nevertheless, the joy in the man’s face revealed a faith not in himself, but in a Power who would accompany him through whatever life might bring next.
Thus in one of the world’s most ancient and firmly rooted Christian faith traditions, I felt affirmation to pursue my faith journey with all its twists and turns, ready to allow flexibility and vitality to take me somewhere I would not have dreamed.