Saint Sophia’s Cathedral: Experiencing God in Sign and Symbol
A Photo Journal by Dr. Lo Sprague
One is awe-struck stepping into this sacred space, dazzled by the magnificence of light. It sparkles from crystal chandeliers and dances in the gold leaf of paintings that fill the room. It pours in from the dome 90 feet in the air where the enormous figure of Jesus looks down. It floods through the panels of leaded stain-glass splashing a wash of color on those gathered here.
The senses are fully engaged. Alert. Clearly this is not a place of detachment but of meeting. And there to meet all who enter is the immense figure of The Theotokos, The “God-bearer”, The Virgin Mary. She stands serene, praying, arms outstretched, her Son, Jesus, in her lap. She is “The Bridge to Heaven”. She instantly captures and holds one’s attention – and imagination.
This space is filled with painted figures, crowded with them, as if every single member represented in the Christian family has been invited to join in – and has accepted the invitation!
A visitor can do no less.
Father John Bakas, Dean of the Cathedral, begins to take all who have come with The Guibord Center on this day on a journey that layer-by-layer carries us into a deeper understanding of the Christianity that has existed hauntingly vibrant and alive though time and space, ever the same and ever transformational, for two thousand long and turbulent years.
This is a journey of substance. Father Bakas speaks of the potency of symbols. “Symbols both reveal and conceal… never completely capture the reality of that which they seek to express… symbols serve as the proper language for what Orthodox theology calls MYSTERY”… something deeper, something greater… “humanity’s signposts that lead us into communication with the Divine… meta-rational signs of an interior world that is very real but whose existence will always remain unknown unless human beings learn their importance.”
We look around at the symbols that surround us in this sacred place and sense a richness shimmering with the miraculous – just out of reach.
Fr. Bakas has agreed to Rev. Dr. Guibord’s request to lead us thorough the preparations made by all Orthodox priests in their ritualized transmutation into serving the sacred. The veil is pulled back from the seemingly simple act of vesting and reveals it as a conscious prayerful process of increasingly engaging the Holy.
Movements have meaning. Process has purpose. Time taken becomes time transformed. With each gesture, each layer of enrobing added on the others, we sink deeper and deeper into the mystery.
Only when Father Bakas is completely vested, is he fully ready to speak of the rites of the Orthodox Church.
They are not new. We have heard of them before. But there is something palpably different about this time. This time they are rooted in a context of profound intentionality. Inside mystery is meaning.
The mystery is of Love and of all that flows from that Love that is manifested in a community of partnership and support, of sacrifice and commitment, of hard work and deep fulfillment and trust… a place where one is not left alone to flounder but is upheld in spirit and in fact… a place where communion and community are inseparably interconnect.
Each rite makes sense as the natural extension of being in loving relationship with a loving God and loving community.