Sunday, October 26, 2008

May the good Lord shine a light on you!

Today’s worship experience at St Iakovos Church was, for me at least, a more uplifting one than last Sunday’s, for the simple reason that then Fr Nikolaos, understandably flustered by the unanticipated entry into the sanctuary of an bishop unknown to him during the Great Doxology, forgot to turn on the lights, and so the Liturgy was conducted in a thick gloom (as evidenced by the clip I posted of the Great Entrance). I thought at the time that it might have had something to do with the state of the parish’s finances. I’m glad I was wrong. By today, the novelty of my presence had worn off and Fr Niko was much more himself, and I felt relaxed enough to join Xenon the Cypriot physicist at the chanter's stand. There were a few more people here this week as well – again, mostly university students - and not many repeaters from last Sunday. Of the 1500 Greeks studying here, Fr Niko says maybe 150 of them come to church on a semi-regular basis – say, every other week, or once a month.

I didn't make clear when I first wrote about this parish that it is under the spiritual direction of the Greek Orthodox Metropolitanate of Italy, which is based in Venice, and which is a part of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Its current Metropolitan, His Eminence Gennadios, has been serving in that capacity since October 27, 1996. Here are a couple of links if you want to read up on the church here:

According to the Wikipedia article, there are 49 Greek Orthodox parishes in Italy. That may be true, but they're not all regularly functioning parishes in the sense that we're familiar with. Most of them have a Liturgy on an occasional basis. I get the impression from talking to Fr Niko that most of them are like chapters of the OCF, the Orthodox Christian Fellowship that serves the spiritual needs of Othodox college and university students in America, and that the priests here function as chaplains rather than regular parish priests.

This morning I met an older couple, Giorgo and Eleni, who Fr Niko introduced to me as his right and left hands in the community. They’re both Greeks from Greece who came here in the early 70’s to study medicine and ended up staying. In response to my questions about the history of the community, they told me that there are Greeks whose presence in the city goes back as far as the years immediately following WWII, but that there aren’t many of them, and they’re not strongly connected to the parish. I also met a Serbian-American woman named Paola who hails from Arizona but has been living here for the past several years, teaching art history at Syracuse University, which has a program in Florence. (I forgot to ask her if that was our Syracuse, New York, or Italy's Syracuse, in Sicily. I will next time.) She was gracious enough to invite me to tag along on Thursday mornings when she takes her students to specific areas of the city for their lesson. I very much look forward to doing that.

I took some pictures:

In the style typical of Catholic churches in this part of the world, besides a main altar at the opposite end from the entrance (churches here don’t have to face east; this one faces north), there are private family altars running along the walls on either side – in this case, some facing east, and an equal number, west. (Point of clarification: these chapels would originally have been designed and built and maintained at the expense of particular families, but they aren't "private" in any meaningful sense these days.) I think there are at least four on either side of this building. On each of the altars, Byzantine icons have been placed, but the dominant image in every case is a large Baroque scene of the life of the particular saint in whose honor the chapel is dedicated. The Orthodox community doesn't have the authority to do anything about that, as the building and everything in it is a protected historic monument.

The dome is not above the center of the church, but rather directly above the sanctuary. When this was a Catholic church, Mass was celebrated at an altar at the far end of the sanctuary. Now that Orthodox Christians worship in it, the Holy Altar table is more in the center of the sanctuary, directly beneath the dome. I've posted a photo which shows the dome illustrated with a very dense crowd of saints and angels riding clouds, all looking up to Christ and His Father, with the Holy Spirit a light-emanating dove hovering between them. It's very hard to see the central figures in real life, as the colors have faded in the 250 years of the painting's existence.

After Church, it seemed to me a bright idea to take a walk in the Biboli Gardens, which are part of the Pitti Palace. The Pitti is yet another of the enormous residences of the Medicis, and is situated on the south side of the Arno, a short walk from St Iakovos. I hadn't been there yet, and the day seemed perfect for a relaxing stroll in the closest thing this city has to a park. What a disappointment! You enter the Gardens by crossing the Palace courtyard - and then ascending 30 steps! And THAT only gets you to a level gravel area from which every path into the surrounding greenery is an ascent! I frankly had had my fill of mountain climbing this week, but I figured I should make at least an effort to appreciate the grounds, as I'd already paid 10 euro for the privilege. I chose the path straight ahead of me, reasoning that it couldn't go uphill forever. Surely at the top of that enormous slope there would be a wide vista of green in which to frolic. No: at the top was a fountain, on all sides of which paths ascended to what looked like other fountains. Even the thought of having wasted money didn't prevent me from turning back at that point. I can't imagine any normal person finding anything like pleasure in this place during Florence's famously hot summer months! Give me the cool of a museum any day!

I've been asked to talk about the cuisine here, and I will, next time.


John Paterakis said...

Actually, that's a pretty impressive church building. When I was in Milano a few years ago, the church was literally in an apartment. It took me a while to figure out that one had to find the appropriate buzzer on the front of the building and ring for admittance!

Is this actually their church building, or do they borrow or share the space?

Walt Trachim said...

Interesting stuff. I didn't realize that there was as much of an Orthodox presence in Italy than what you write about. But I suppose it would make sense that it is there; after all, Italy is practically next door to those places where Orthodoxy is most prevalent.

Your posts are awesome. Thank you for sharing your journey with the rest of us. And I'm definitely looking forward to reading about the local cuisine... :-)