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Saint Sophia’s Cathedral: Experiencing God in Sign and Symbol

A Photo Journal by Dr. Lo Sprague

Orthodox Christianity at its most magnificent

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 stained-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 this day on a journey into a deeper understanding of Orthodox Christianity that has existed virtually unchanged for two thousand long and turbulent years.

The Journey Begins

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.”

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 leads us through the preparations made by all Orthodox priests before serving the sacred. The act of vesting is revealed as a conscious prayerful process of engaging the Holy.

Movements have meaning. Process has purpose. Time taken becomes time transformed. With each gesture, each layer of vestment added, we sink deeper into the mystery. Only when Father Bakas is completely vested, is he ready to speak of the rites of the Orthodox Church.

The rites are not new. We have heard of them before. But there is something different about this time. This time they are rooted in a context of profound intention. Inside mystery is meaning.

Mystery Revealed

The mystery is of Love and of all that flows from that Love. It is manifested in a community of partnership and support, of sacrifice and commitment, of hard work and deep fulfillment and trust.  In this place one is not left alone, but is upheld in spirit and in fact. In this place communion and community are inseparably interconnected.

Each rite makes sense as the natural extension of being in loving relationship with a loving God and loving community.

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