Today I went to an orthodox service with one of my co-teachers. There aren’t any Catholic churches here in Poti, and I haven’t been to mass since I got to Georgia. It has been difficult to find time and someone who will take me with them. This morning though I convinced and hounded my co-teacher to let me tag along.
The church is small but beautiful and fairly new or at least recently renovated. Poti is working on rebuilding both of their main churches. The walls were covered with ornate pictures of saints and religious work. No pews or seats were around. People just stood around and shifted as needed when more people entered. The front of the church included a wall with three doors. Two side door and a large center door that was often opened during services for the priest to walk through. On the other side of the wall lays an ornate alter. There was priest and seven men assisting. They ranged in ages from five or six to forties. I think it was a combination of alter boys and deacons.
It was a unique experience. The polyphonic singing is amazing. Four men stood facing each other to sing a beautiful combination of harmonies. Sometimes they all just hummed dissonant pitches while the priest was singing. The music had an uncanny way about echoing through the church. It would vibrate the walls and add even more momentum to the song. It felt like the music would echo through the walls and back into the souls of all those standing in the Church. While I would have loved to sing along or heard some congregation pieces, the amount of music was far greater than a Catholic mass. I’m a bit jealous of that!
I didn’t understand much of what was being said in the rapid Georgian. I know that the gospel was the prodigal son. I know that the Priest gave an interesting and humorous homily. I also know that it took 4 1/2 hours! Standing for 4 1/2 hours while trying to decipher Georgian and follow all the signs of crosses was difficult. I could not find cues as to when everyone did the sign of the cross. I tried to be respectful, but I missed a lot of them. (So, Catholics go across their shoulders first and Orthadox touch the shoulder on the right side first. Is this why my first grade Faith Formation Teacher was so insistent about how we did the sign of the cross? Just so we didn’t get mistaken as Orthadox Christians? lol) There was also a great deal of kissing icons and crosses as people were leaving the church. I know Catholics do this too sometimes. But watching all the sick people touching the cross was a bit too much for me. The Priest would have let me come up at the end in the line of everybody else, but I politely declined. I love Jesus; I think he’ll understand me foregoing kissing his statue for remaining healthy.
The differences were intriguing. It gave me a lot of time to think about how much I take for granted during the services I attend at home every Sunday. Hopefully, I’ll get to a Catholic service next time I’m in Tbilisi. I’m grateful for the experience but miss my own services where I know what’s going on.