While there is still time during the few days yet remaining of the joyous Paschal period, we would like to share some information related to one of the photos from Father Justin’s blog that we found fascinating. The photo is from Father Pavlos’ Liturgy at St. Catherine's on Thursday of the week after Pascha, when each day is liturgically Sunday, with all the most beautiful hymns and musical settings from the Resurrectional services of the whole year compressed into one week.
Asked what it is like to experience the Divine Liturgy as celebrant, Sinai’s Father Pavlos says, "An indescribable atmosphere is created inside the church during the Liturgy.” Betraying his affinity with the expressive style of Saint John of Sinai, Father Pavlos calls the Holy Eucharist “the Festival of festivals, celebrated on earth but taking place in heaven, the resurrection a person experiences before the general resurrection." Whether in a small chapel or magnificent cathedral, he says the Divine Liturgy is equally transcendent, "beyond words anyone can say.”
Asked to explain further, he adds: “… you speak there with God ... made worthy of the inestimable honor of speaking with God – is that a small thing? To be accorded the honor of conversing with God?"
Gloriously, there is no electric lighting in the cathedral church of St. Catherine’s, so the effect of the Paschal light streaming through the altar, which happens at this time of year, is especially moving during the quiet, prayerful services. “Contrite” is the word Greek pilgrims use to perfectly describe this introspective atmosphere typically found in monasteries. Devout Athenians who own cars will typically travel to attend Liturgy in a monastery on Sundays, thirsting for the inward joy of this prayerful experience.
At St. Catherine’s, under the large tiered chandeliers of beeswax candles and the ranks of oil candles hung from the ceiling far above, flickering the brilliant hues of their pink, green, or blue crystals only on the great Feasts when they are all lit, monastics are handed a large candle before the start of the Resurrection service, which is held alight through the reception following the all night service, as everyone breaks the fast together with special treats provided by the Monastery; the same candle is then held throughout all the services of the Paschal week to follow.
Father Justin uses a tripod when possible, so his photo of Father Pavlos' Liturgy can be expanded to reveal many astonishing details inside the altar that one never sees - even when attending the services in person:
The Monastery's large Russian Gospels are ranged across the back of the Holy Table for the week after Pascha. (A close up of this is attached in another photo from a previous year.) One can also distinguish the mother of pearl and tortoise shell baldachin, or canopy of state over a cathedral altar. The sixth century marble walls of the bema are visible, hung with ancient icons. A further close-up reveals the embroidery of Christ sitting upon the rainbow, “The heavens are my throne, the earth is my footstool.” This embroidery adorns one of the priestly vestments which dress the altar, including the epitrachilion hanging from the left post of the canopy. Underneath the aer are the immense chalice and paten that have been taken out for the week after Pascha. And beautiful white and gold vestments catch the light as though with life of their own, as the brilliant rays of the Sun of Righteousness bathe celebrant, pilgrims and all those encompassed by the liturgical prayers the world over in the iridescent response of their mystical grace. Christos anesti!