Monday, September 20, 2010

Visit to the Coptic Church Festival

This past Saturday (September 18, 2010), we went to St. Mary's Coptic Orthodox Church for their church festival. In many ways, it was like many other church festivals or picnics. There was a moon bounce for the little kids, a dunk tank for bigger kids, church tours for the interested, food (including ethnic delights) for everyone and even a car wash for your car. We had a grand time.

After handing our keys over to the car wash guys, we meandered into the parking lot where someone offered us a tour of the church. We thought that would be a nice start, so off we went. The guide explained to us that orthodox churches are usually in one of two shapes. First is cruciform or cross-shaped, with a long main aisle and two side aisles that would look like a cross from above. Second is the ark shape (as in Noah's ark), with a rectangular room and a ceiling with long wooden slats supported by arches much like an upside-down boat. This church is ark-shaped. Like other orthodox churches, the altar/sanctuary is separated from the pews or nave by the iconostasis, a wall with three doors or openings connecting the sanctuary and the nave. The iconostasis has many icons on it representing saints and other holy persons. Here are some of the pictures I took:

Main door of the iconostasis

Detail of Mary and Christ child, yes it's on the curtain!
Detail of Last Supper over the main door
Icon of Mary and Christ child to left of main door. Note the intricate carving on the columns!
One of the common motifs in decorating the church is the cross, which can be seen in the iconostasis, the pews, the altar and even the podium:
The woodwork throughout was pretty incredible.

The altar directly behind the main door/curtain is fairly simple.
There is no tabernacle as in Catholic churches since all the consecrated bread is consumed during the orthodox mass. And yes, that is a camera set up in the sanctuary. They stream their services on-line for parishioners who may be away for various reasons. Our guide said that he'd watch when he was off at college. Another camera is in the body of the church facing the podium and iconostasis.

Another interesting decorative feature is the "ostrich eggs" on the iconostasis. They symbolize the vigilance of the Holy Spirit in watching over the church, just as the ostrich will not leave its egg for anything until it is hatched.
To the right of the egg is an icon of the Archangel Gabriel and one of the side doors
Also, this church is blessed with relics from fourteen different saints, most of whom were from the Egyptian area. The reliquaries that house the relics are quite ornate, as in the picture below which shows icons of the four saints on the top with the relics in cloth bags underneath.
Apologies for the poor lighting in the photo
Also, the baptismal font is large enough for baptism by immersion, which is their common form of baptism for adults and infants.
Detail of icon of Jesus baptized in the Jordan River above the font
While Angie and I did the tour, Jacob kept asking us for change to put in the poor box. Lucy meanwhile made a friend:
Looking cute on the steps of the altar
Not to be outdone, Jacob later made the same friend in the parking lot while they were playing with rocks:
Jacob has a preternatural awareness of cameras pointed at him
We enjoyed the festival too. Since it was the middle of the day, we did not get a meal, though I did try the sugar cane juice (surprisingly tasty) and some baklava (not particularly outstanding).
Sugar cane juicing machine
Standard food booth with lots of extra sugar cane on hand
Jacob was fascinated by the dunk tank since they were emptying it. He threw many leaves and blades of grass into the runoff water. Much more fascinating was the band, which played some contemporary Christian music quite well. The singer was especially good. Jacob liked the band because they let him try out their drum during one of their breaks.
The band's allure overcame Jacob's preternatural awareness of the camera pointed at him
The visit was a lot of fun. We'd definitely go back next year. Maybe then we'll be brave enough to try to get the kids to eat something more than a little different for dinner.

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