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Greek Orthodox service

A Report by Sofia Walker '11

An icon of Mary as Our Lady of Kazan with the baby Jesus..

It is the season of Lent, and the Orthodox Church celebrates with some special readings. Recently, a few curious Smith students and some Pioneer Valley residents assembled for an Orthodox service led by Nick Groves, a Community Spiritual Adviser for the Five Colleges. The decorations were simple: an icon of the Virgin Mary and Child Jesus propped on an altar cloth and with a candle before it. "Usually we like to light incense, too," said Groves, "but the smoke detectors in here are quite sensitive and, ah, there have been some incidents."

The ceremony consisted of readings from the Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, an 8th century bishop of the Orthodox Church. The canon is a long, poetic document in which Andrew speaks in the voice of many old testament figures, trying to imagine what it would be like to have lived their stories. Groves warned us before beginning the service: "You may notice that he talks a lot about sin. But, you know, it's Lent!" The readings were punctuated by audience responses and prayers to St. Mary of Egypt and the Virgin Mary. The last act was a series of prostrations before the icon.

After the service, everyone came together for some coffee and baked goods. The pastries were all vegan, in accordance with the strict Lenten diet of Orthodox Christians. Two of the students attending came from other faiths, and were curious about questions of Orthodox ceremony and tradition, such as the difference between the Greek and Russian Orthodox churches. Hannah, a Hampshire student studying religion, explained that aside from some regional saints and customs, the churches are not really that different.

The Five College Orthodox Ministry has been holding services ever since the 80s, according to Helena Lake, a community member whose brother was once deacon at a local Orthodox church. Groves wants to hold similar gatherings every three weeks, so students interested in experiencing the warm, welcoming, and slightly exotic Orthodox atmosphere are encouraged to watch for announcements!