August Church Tour: part 1

I promised here that I would try to remember to take my camera on my visits to different churches over these three weekends. Well, I managed to remember it today for my visit to this parish. It was my first ever visit to a Serbian parish and I must say that I am thoroughly looking forward to repeating the experience. While I have always been welcomed wherever I have gone, never before today had I felt more immediately at home on a visit to any parish.

I planned my journey last night and was surprised to learn that it would take me considerably less time to travel to St John's than it does my own parish. It involved getting a bus to Rochdale then a train to Halifax. I managed to make use of the wonderful feature on Google Maps that allows one to view street level for many built-up areas in order to work out exactly where the bus stop was and what buildings to look out for immediately before I reached it, (never having been to Rochdale before). I got to Rochdale station, bought my ticket, and made my way to the platform, where I was greeted by a curious site. I took a photograph.

It is St John's Catholic church. I asked about it when I got to Halifax and learnt that, despite its appearance, it was built as a Latin Rite church and was never Byzantine, which came as a surprise given its appearance as Rochdale's own Agia Sofia.

The fascination soon gave way as my train arrived (on time!) and took me to Halifax station, where I was able to follow my jotted directions with no difficulty. However, what Google Maps didn't show me was that some bright spark decided many years ago to build Halifax town centre in the middle of a valley, which meant that travelling any distance out of the town centre in any direction means making an uphill journey, which is not particularly easy for the asthmatic, more generously-proportioned variety of subdeacon while carrying a case of assorted vestments, (not knowing what colours would be used, I took a selection).

I had managed to get an idea of the appearance of St John's church from the parish website but I had not been prepared for what I saw. There is an entire complex that belongs to the parish, including the church with its downstairs hall, a separate hall containing a small flat, and a presbytery attached.


The church itself is an old Methodist preaching house, with a gallery built for the purpose. This has been sensitively and lovingly adapted to Orthodox use, with the pews removed, a purpose-built iconostas installed, a new floor with solea laid, icons painted onto the front of the gallery, and icons on canvas mounted onto the walls. of the altar. The result can be seen below.



I thoroughly enjoyed the Liturgy. It was standard Byzantine Rite, offered prayerfully and without idiosyncratic additions. I was pleased that the doors and veil were opened and closed at the proper times. The Alleluia was abbreviated, as were the antiphons, but, given that the antiphons have not been used in procession for some centuries, I think that singing them in full has now become the exception rather than the norm. The ROCOR books print them in full and this is what my parish follows but I know that this is not universal, even in the Church Abroad. There was the ringing a bell at the epiklesis - something I have seen in Antiochian practice. Also, with reference to an earlier post, a prostration was made at the epiklesis. The sermon was given after the communion of the clergy, which is something I had known to be common but had never actually seen and, interestingly, no wine was used for the zapivka, but bread alone. One thing that tripped me up is that the hot water for the chalice was not boiled beforehand and poured into a vacuum flask but instead a kettle was boiled during the Liturgy itself. Obviously, vacuum flasks were not in use until recently so heating the water just before it is needed is clearly the older custom - I am just not accustomed to having to prepare for it.

Here are some photographs taken after the Liturgy.



After the Liturgy, I was taken to the hall downstairs where I discovered there was a bar! Now that's the sort of church I like. Blessed are they that thirst after righteousness. There is ample space for up to 200 people, and a substantial kitchen with more than enough ovens and burners to cater for such numbers. I would highly recommend it as a venue for hire. This is merely part of the excellent set-up they have in place to support themselves, another being the candle-room, where they make all of the candles that they use in their services, many of them from reclaimed wax from stubs. I was given the grand tour as a first-time visitor.







Here is a silent video from the day of the consecration of the sister church within the parish - Holy Trinity, Bradford.





I found in the parish of St John a close-knit family who, despite having known each other for decades and having worked together to build up all they they have today, are incredibly open and inviting to newcomers and are making a conscious effort to ensure that their communitiy, which contains a good spread of ages, lives and thrives into the future, bringing more people to the saving Faith. Of course, no picture of such a busy church would be complete without the serenity brought by the church cat.

7 responses:

margaret said...

The Agia Sophia is amazing. But you know what I like best, don't you? And I liked your gold and blue vestments second best.

Michael said...

It is splendid, isn't it, Margaret? I managed to find this photograph of the interior. I think it's majestic. I must visit at some point and perhaps ask for access to take some photographs. It's only a few miles away.

The vestments are lovely - a gift from the parish, made by the nuns from Minsk.

And it is only meet and right that they take second place to my adorable new feline friend. :-)

It has been pointed out to me that the photographs give the impression that the church's kitchen, mentioned in the post, is not quite up to the hygienic ideal for a food preparation area. I should clarify that the photographs are of the candle-making room and not the kitchen, and that the marks on the walls and surfaces are candle-wax and not grease from food preparation! I'm sorry for the confusion. :-(

margaret said...

Ahhhh... St Elizabeth's convent is where I would go (if they would have me) if I was a few years younger and capable of embracing a new language, a new culture AND monasticism all at once. I think their combination of Orthodox monasticism with nursing and social work is fantastic. As it is I have consoled myself with buying the same brand of sewing machine. I suppose the photos did look a bit unhygienic but, probably shouldn't say this in our elf'n'safety afflicted days, but sometimes the best food comes from the most suspicious looking places.

Elizabeth @ The Garden Window said...

Gorgeous photos; looking forward to Part 2 in due course :-)

Jon Marc said...

What a lovely day! It's interesting how serving styles differ from place to place. I served in a Synodal parish today founded by a priest formerly in the OCA, so it was an interesting blend of the familiar and the totally unexpected :-). So far the heating of the zeon during the Liturgy is a universal tho' ;-).

Michael said...

I think the work they do is splendid, Margaret. Perhaps you can at least spend some time out there. Have you see the DVD they have produced about their work?

Part 2 duly posted, Elizabeth. :-) I may get round to posting part 3 tomorrow, and I still have another church to visit. I'm really quite enjoying this.

'So far the heating of the zeon during the Liturgy is a universal tho' ;-).'

It's new to me. Greek, Antiochian, Russian; parish, cathedral, mission, conference in a borrowed space - all places I have been to so far boil the water beforehand and simply store it in a flask until it is needed.
It may be a pond difference.

Ian Climacus said...

What a gloriosuly wonderful post; thank you Michael. What a blessing to be able to journey past England's own Agia Sophia and experience the Divine Liturgy wth you at St John's.

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