I really like our Cathedral, St Markella’s, in Astoria, NY. It always seems so alive, with things going on every day all day long. One thing that is different about a church in the middle of the city is it is open all day every day for people to go and pray. You don’t get that in suburban churches as much; the local Greek (New Calendar) Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, where I live, is set up on a hill with trees around it for instance. I can understand why this is, but I still love visiting New York and knowing I can go in the Church and light a candle or talk to a clergyman, monk, or nun if I need to.
Liturgy at St Markella’s is fantastic. It usually begins with Matins around 8 am. Most people are not there yet (an unfortunate practice everywhere, I have noticed) but the service begins quietly. The psalms are recited reverently and then the hymns begin to be chanted in magnificent Byzantine style. There are several chanters, but one in particular I am fond of, who has a rather powerful command of the chant. When he sings, I imagine that he is pounding the music, reminding it who is in control. It is very conducive to the flow and order of the prayer to have the chanter in absolute control of the music.
My favorite part is when the bishop comes out to bless the first time during Matins. Something about him coming out with his staff and blessing, then ascending his throne. It is very moving to me. Matins continues, and the priest reads the Gospel. He then covers his hands and his face with his vestments so that we will venerate the Gospel book but not his hand. Liturgy begins and goes on for about 2 hours. The Cherubic hymn is sometimes upwards of 10 minutes. It is so beautiful. I once had a strong experience while praying during this time.
There is a strong fellowship after the Liturgy and the people do many projects together such as our Homeless Program. Not everything is perfect at our Cathedral but it is a real community and I feel a true part of it. Even though I now live eight hours away and am working on a mission, whenever I visit I feel spiritually recharged and I rejoice at the chance to see my friends there.
Our diocese has a Metropolitan Council and it has members from all of the parishes and monasteries. It was a real blessing to be at the inaugural meeting and to see the sense of common purpose. We are working towards the same goal: maintaining and propagating the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ—the Orthodox Church. We are people from many different areas working together for the same goal, Greeks, Americans, and Russians among others.
I am so proud to be an Orthodox Old Calendarist and I am so blessed to be a member of this wonderful Church.