The Orthodox Church is not generally well known in South Africa, which has a bewildering variety of more than 10000 different Christian groups. Yesterday we had two opportunities to make it better known among groups of other South African Christians.
The first was Pecha Kucha at TGIF, at 6:30 am.
Pecha Kucha is Japanese for chit-chat, but the term has also come to be used to refer to a specific presentation style: Each speaker has exactly 20 slides showing for exactly 20 seconds each, resulting in short and fast-paced presentations of 6min 40sec. The slides advance automatically, and the speaker cannot slow them down or speed them up.
TGIF is an informal Friday-morning coffee-shop meeting with a topical and challenging talk followed by a time for questions and discussion – all over a cup of good coffee. We’ve been attending TGIF meetings on and off for nearly ten years, more regularly since Val retired. Most of those who attend come from the Evangelical Christian tradition, and there have only been a few encounters with Orthodoxy, though once there was a meeting of new monasticism and old.
This time Val was one of the Pecha Kucha presenters, and her presentation was on the life of St Nicholas of Japan and his missionary career. It was quite a challenge to produce twenty slides, and to fit the narrative to exactly 20 seconds on each.
St Nicholas was chaplain to the Russian consulate in Hakodate, and his first converts were three samurai. When persecution broke out against Japanese Christians, St Nicholas sent them home to lie low for a while. What he did not expect was that on their way home, to their separate home fillages, they preached the gospel in every place where they stayed.
There were several other presentations — including ones on poetry, on the need to tell more than one story, on the need to make Christianity difficult again, and on the uses of Twitter.
In the afternoon we went to Benoni, where the Anglican Church was having a deacons’ c0nference. They had about 30 deacons from several Anglican dioceses, and as part of their programme they were having presentations from Methodists, Roman Catholics and Orthodox on their understanding of the diaconate. They were meeting at the Lumko Conference centre, and Val and I joined them for lunch, and after lunch we went to St Athanasius Orthodox Church in the centre of Benoni, where the parish priest, Fr Markos, made us welcome.
Many of the Anglican deacons had never been into an Orthodox temple before, and in order to explain the liturgical duties of a deacon it was necessary to explain the architecture of the temple, and how it related to worship. That also meant explaining the ikons on the ikonostasis and some of the other ikons and their positions.
One of the significant differences between Anglican and Orthodox deacons is that the Anglican ordination service outlines the duties of a deacon, but the Orthodox ordination service does not. But in the other Orthodox services the liturgical duties of the deacon are explicitly set out in the rubrics, whereas in the Anglican service books there is barely any mention of deacons at all. Some of the things I said (and some I didn’t say) are included in this post on Deacons and diaconate, so you can read them there, and I won’t repeat them here.
In order that it should not be mere talk, but actual experience, we ended up by serving Vespers. Zoe and Marios Hadji-Joseph from St Nicholas of Japan Orthodox Church in Brixton kindly joined us, so Zoe and Val could sing Vespers in English, and Marios could act as an altar boy. Thus we were able to show, in a small way, that in Orthodox Vespers many different ministries are working together. The priest (Fr Markos in this case) does relatively little — giving the dismissal and the exclamations at the end of the litanies. The deacon does more — leading the litanies and censing the church, assisted in this by the altar boy. But most of the service is done by the choir/congregation.