Today I had a unique opportunity to worship with the people of Trinity Mar Thoma Church, a Parish of the Malanaka Mar Thoma Syrian Church here in Edmonton. They use a variant of the West Antiochene Rite.
Now, of few of you might go “Maple, why the heck would you go do that?!” The answer is a simple “Because I could”
The Anglican Church of Canada is in Full Communion with groups like the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, the Old Catholics in the Union of Utrecht and the Malanaka Mar Thoma Syrian Church. This last Church, a group of Christians from the State of Karela in India, have been in full Communion with the Church of England since 1961, and while using Eastern liturgies, are still technically Protestant.
If you wanted any pictures I must then apologize to you because I didn’t take any. I thought it would be rude.
First of all, as some of you know I am what is called “White”, that is, I am of European descent. In fact, three of my eight grandparents were born or born to people from Scandinavia, two were of a particular Volksdeutsche known as Volga-Germans, and the remainder were from Northern Britain (none Anglican, by the way). So, yes I am “White”. With this much ancestry from Northern Europe I am fairly pale. So, when I went to Church this morning I stood out a bit. I really stood out.
However, I would like point out that the people at the Church were exceptionally friendly. They were really helpful so I knew what was going on, where to look in their Prayer Book (they have them, by the way!) and not to sit on the right had side because that is for the women. Also, when you basically say “I am an Anglican coming here to exercise Full Communion with you” the basic response was “Okay, sounds great. Many of us use to do it all the time because we didn’t have this Church.”
The service itself is a little odd. For example, we Anglicans begin the service with a Procession of the Priest and others to the Front of the Church. In this Church they pull back the Curtain to show the Priest partially vested to begin the service. They had a hymn, some prayers and then the Curtain closed.
Then there was a reading from the Old Testament, a Hymn based on a Psalm 42, and then a New Testament reading. Finally, I was told by the elderly gentleman in front of me that the service of Holy Qurbana was now beginning and where to go into the Prayer book.
Now, I mentioned earlier that they use the West Syrian Rite. I want to make it absolutely clear that I am not demeaning the service, however, to most Western Christians there is a lot of chanting, a lot of intercessions, and a lot of “Wow, we say a lot less in my Parish”. That is the way they do things. That is the way they have basically been doing things since well before the Reformation.
There is a particular way the Epistle and Gospel were introduced (which I can’t remember). There was also the Nicene Creed (slightly different from what I was use to) and prayers of thanksgiving for people celebrating birthdays and wedding anniversaries. That occurred before the Sermon… which oddly wasn’t on any of the readings. And, I’d rather not talk about what it was about. I will how ever point out the priest solicited Parishioners to look up biblical passages and read them out loud.
Oh, and Confession. Lovely confession prayer. Only those intending to communion had to stand up to say it. The Consecration prayers for the Eucharist were shorter than what we see in modern Anglicanism. However, there were a lot of prayers and intercessions after the consecration was complete. In fact, the Congregation was blessed not once, not twice, but three times before distribution began.
Next, there was taking Holy Communion. They knelt for it. Cool, I can kneel for Communion all the time. The host is placed on the Tongue. Okay, don’t see a lot of that in Anglicanism. I have done it a few times (in some cases to bug the Priest). However, the wine is served in not by having the chalice touch the lips of the communicant, but by using what I can best be described as a liturgical ladle scoping wine from the chalice and then the wine being placed into the mouth of the communicant. I found the experience to be quite different. Not wrong. Just different.
The Post-communion was really, really quick. Just a blessing from the Priest and then the Curtain closing. After that was announcements.
For me this was an important experience. In some ways it was very different; Different to the point of “Really? You do it that way?”. However, there is nothing wrong with the way they worship at all. It is the way they worship and I came to see how they worshiped. And I am glad I did.
Those of you who have meet me in person will know I am a big believer in a “Big Tent” Church. I want a Church with Liberal Evangelicals, and Traditionalist Anglo-Catholics. I want to have LGBTQ friendly parishes and retain parishes that might not be that friendly to LGBTQ Christians. I want to have Parishes with more than just a boring vanilla page 185 BAS services; I like the fact my Diocese has a Dinka-language Parish, a Cantonese-language congregation and a Liturgy for First Nations persons.
I also like the fact that while I might be a pasty white-guy I can walk into a friendly Mar Thoma Church like I did today, worship the Lord with them and partake of the Sacraments with them how they do it rather than how I am use to doing it.
PS – Lutherans, I might be showing up on your doorstep next month.