I had the interesting experience of reading about our Holy Thursday service (Matins with the 12 Passion Gospels) from the point of view of a visitor. One of our catechumens brought a few friends to services during Holy Week and Pascha. Here's an excerpt:
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Lent had already begun when I started learning about it; therefore, I was not able to participate this year. However, my Orthodox friend invited me to attend the Thursday night service, Matins with the Twelve Passion Gospels. I learned how to cross myself and the appropriate times and places to do so. Of course, I failed miserably at the beginning of the service, but the people never judged me for my effort. The only way I know how to describe the atmosphere of the church is solemn reverence. We all knew that we were in the presence of God for the purpose of worshiping our Lord and Creator. For this special service, a cross with an image of Jesus is placed in the center of the room. Everyone prayed at the icons and the cross but me. I was praying, but for some reason I decided not to try the repeated kneeling and crossing in public. I regret not giving it everything I’ve got. The service began with the priest going around to each icon and person with incense. We bowed our heads when he passed by. Then, he began with the first Gospel reading. We lit candles and listened to the chanting. They do not just read the Scripture, they sing it. It was very refreshing to not need to be able to carry a tune to worship. No one made a show of themselves on a stage. Jesus Christ was the center of attention as He should be. At the end of each Gospel reading, we blew out our candles, kneeled to pray, and sang the hymns. Let me just say that kneeling with your face to the ground is very difficult while holding a candle and a book in your hands. The imminent threat of setting myself on fire kept me alert throughout the service. At the end, everyone prayed at the icons again and crossed themselves as they left the church.
I met the priest and subdeacon after the service. I have always expected priests to be impersonal and reserved. This priest was very friendly and welcoming. He knew I would be there, overlooked my obvious Protestantness, and welcomed me to come back. The subdeacon gave me a big hug and kissed my forehead with his huge beard all over my face. He answered my unasked question of why there was a face on the rock under the cross. It was representative of the skull of Adam. I was not going to ask until I was gone. I guess he just knew it was something I would find odd. Throughout the service, the people were helpful and directed me in the right direction. It was nice to be so different, but so welcome by a group of people that did not know me at all. [emphasis mine]
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