Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | March 18, 2010

St. Nicholas

Sunday I went to and was wowed by St. Nicholas Cathedral (OCA) here in Washington D.C. It was awesome! Folks in the OCA are fortunate to have in St. Nicholas a national cathedral truly worthy of the name, and for me, joining in worship I have to say the faithful are blessed to experience  something that lingers with you. “We didn’t know whether we were in heaven or on earth, but truly that there, God dwells among men.”

And God likes a beautiful church, beautiful vestments, and a beautifully painted cathedral together with a first rate choir… and here all the elements come together under the guidance of a loving congregation and innumerable priests. Metropolitan Jonah wasn’t there… but you can’t have everything, and it was wonderful in its normal everyday worship… which is anything but.

So while I’ve sojourned here for Bible study before, I’ve never been fortunate enough to join in worship.  And now that I have already been back for  a liturgy of Pre-Sanctified Gifts (last night), all I can say is that “Yes my knees do hurt. And ain’t that great?” Another wonder I am thankful not to have missed. And there’s something wonderful about an Orthodox service in the fading light of the evening as the icons begin to shift their glow from the fading streams of outdoor light to radiate off the nearby candles and low-set incandescents.

To one and all of you OCA folks from this Antiochian, from a lay sort of dude to the clergy, and to a wonderful choir: Thank you! Thanks be to God!

Found a few pics here to include for those who might wish a similar inspiration. My appreciation is not dimmed one whit from the first step within, nor am I bashful in sharing here as best the I could find… even if there are some compromises. My apology is that these offerings could  not be better. And what more can I say? Hard to take pics yourself and worship at the same time!


  1. It is a beautiful Cathedral and the choir is always wonderful. I haven’t been for a liturgy in about a year, but did go to Sanctity of Life vespers there a few months ago. I’m glad you had such a lovely experience. Do WR do Presanctified?

  2. Wow! I didn’t know we had a real cathedral back there. (But then, why not?)… I gotta say, those Eastern Riters know how to do worship (even if it is the hard way sometimes…). 🙂

    • I’m used to “Cathedral = Miracle Mile of a Building, Cast of Thousands”… and though this doesn’t fit that definition, from the perspective of “saving souls not facades” it more than does the trick.

      Western Riters don’t have quite the same thing: Stations of the Cross followed by Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. The latter is in fact a presanctified sacrament. But the whole is not a music heavy service… and at St. Nicholas, the Presanctified was definitely music intense. I loved it!!! Stations of the Cross lets you get to drop to your knees at each station, but it’s not a full prostration…. or done with quite the speed/frequency at points as they did the service at St. Nicholas. Somehow I remember last year at St. Marks it was both shorter and… let’s face it…. you guys have carpet. “If there’s an Icon on the door, trust me… it’s gonna be better with a Bigelow on the floor.” Lots to be said for the “knee friendly” church.

      If you want prostrations, Western Rite seems to save them for Good Friday and a tripple en route to veneration of the cross… which in this case is the “taken down altar cross held by the acolytes.”

  3. James – Fr. Basil Summer was at St. Mark this past Weds. he said that traditionally Catholics should (do?) celebrate the Presanctifieds on Good Friday.. Do WR Orthodox do it that way? I had forgotten about the Stations of the Cross and always just assumed they were a new addition to the Catholic church. I didn’t realize they went so far back. Very interesting.

    Yes, the carpeting at St. Mark is a gift.

    • Deb: Yes. Fridays.

      Antiochians generally do services on Fridays, too, but that’s an Akathist I think.

      Now that you mention it, I’ve looked and a review of the history of stations traces as far back to the 4th century accounts as best as I can tell. This was taken up “on site” in the 12th century by the Franciscans residing in the Holy Land who’d take pilgrims on the same visitations. Apparently the formalization of this expands into devotion manuals in the 15th century, and more broadly in the 17th century when it’s allowed inside. Nowadays, it is supposed to at least begin and end in a church. The regulations for stations are also fairly stringent.. and cannot be done without a blessing of the bishop, and privilege of installation given to a Franciscan if available. To participate, you were supposed to be “in a state of grace”, or give your confession first. Interruption once begun of the 14 stations on “Via Crucis” was not to be done unless for confession, mass or another service. Apparently “indulgences” were given for this piety. Fun facts, huh?

      I’m not overly given to this, and prefer Liturgy of Pre-Sanctified Gifts, but it has its place for marveling at the events of the passion, and what has been done for us… or as they say, encouragement to take up one’s own cross. The brownie point system…. uh… well… I’m glad we don’t have that (in so far as I am aware), but I certainly understand its place in a simpler time and place perhaps… given our proclivities to be “stiff necked” people.

      As to Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament (also not one of my favs), this also seems a late addition(13th c), but in this case without the benefit of antecedents tracing back to the beginning (as the Stations do). Catholic Encyclopedia suggests it came into practice as the populace became entranced with the practice of the elevation of the Host in the Mass. Appears this piety developed as a protest in the 12th c. when Peter the Chanter insisted that epclesis changed the ordinary bread and water into holy things. Thus elevation begins at “Here is my body”… and the protesters insisted that this was the point of change… and looking upon it was seen as particularly pious and very popular in reaction. The canticles sung with the devotion apparently come from lay guild practices of singing these in the evening. The two were combined into a short, (often) informal devotion… a “looking upon the Host” thing.

      As an Orthodox…. I have to say “Hmmmm… how’s that again?”. But my bishop okays it. And we support our parish, so we do these things. They were certainly not part of my protestant Anglican ethos…. so they don’t come naturally. And though the Pre-Sanctifieds and prostrations weren’t part of my ethos either… they’re more comfortable and the music… at least at St. Nicholas is absolutely wonderful.

  4. James, that was very interesting. I didn’t know much of this (except the Epiclisis part). In fact, I am a bit surprised that the WR follows that type of piety and understanding – but as you say, we support our church. Of course, I could be mis-understanding it all too. But, it seems to me that it puts an emphasis on formula rather than the Holy Spirit.

    Good to see you on Sat. We won’t be having a Presanctified this Weds. Vesperal DL for Annunciation instead.

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