Holy Trinity Cathedral, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Holy Trinity Cathedral
Location: Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 8 March 2020, 9:00am

The building

The first Holy Trinity Church was begun in 1905 to minister to Greek and other Orthodox-worshipping European immigrants who were brought into Utah to work in the burgeoning mining and railroad building industries. By 1920 a larger church was needed, and the present building was consecrated in 1925. It is in the Byzantine style and is the work of the local architectural firm of Pope and Burton, who designed many private homes, civic buildings and churches of all faiths throughout Utah and elsewhere in the United States. It was elevated to the status of cathedral in 1968 by Archbishop Iakovos, primate of what was then the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America. The interior is configured in typical Orthodox fashion, with iconostasis and royal doors. I was particularly impressed by the stained glass, which I will describe in more detail below.

The church

Holy Trinity claims to be the largest Greek Orthodox parish west of Chicago. They sponsor several organizations for youth, women and men listed on their website. I’ll just mention Dionysios Dance, which uses dance (quoting from their website) ‘to teach Greek customs and traditions to the youth acting as cultural ambassadors for local communities,’ and the annual Greek Festival, featuring traditional Greek food, dance and other activities.

The neighborhood

Holy Trinity Cathedral is located at the corner of West 400 South and South 200 West (Miss Amanda’s mind is still reeling from confusion over Salt Lake City’s street naming system), somewhat to the southwest of Temple Square. This area was originally called Greektown and was a treasure trove of ethnic restaurants, stores, barber shops and other businesses catering to the immigrant population. As the residents became more assimilated over time and moved away, the area fell to seed. Urban renewal is struggling hard to take hold, however, and today new hotels, apartment buildings and restaurants dot the vicinity. The splendid old Denver & Rio Grande railway depot, now a museum and office building, is just down the street. Some of Salt Lake City’s light rail and trolley lines use abandoned D&RG right-of-way.

The cast

I’m not sure, but judging from his photo on their website, I think the dean was the celebrant. He was assisted by a younger priest who is not pictured on the website; a cantor; and six young servers – boys ranging in age from tykes to teenagers.

What was the name of the service?

Orthros and Divine Liturgy.

How full was the building?

There were four of us there for Orthros. By the time it segued into the Divine Liturgy, there were ten. All elderly, all smartly but conservatively dressed: the men in dark suits, the women in plain dark dresses. As the Divine Liturgy progressed, people continued to trickle in – a younger crowd, some families with children. All smartly dressed in their Sunday best, but more colorful. I’d say the cathedral was eventually about three-quarters full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

The dean nodded a good morning as he puttered about. Another priest stopped at my pew and asked, ‘I’ve seen you before, haven’t I?’ When I had convinced him that he hadn’t, he asked me where I was from. I told him I was not Orthodox, and he asked me what denomination I was and what had I been reading lately (the last took me somewhat by surprise). We chatted for about five minutes. Other than that, aside from an occasional nod, no one acknowledged me.

Was your pew comfortable?

Standard wooden pew – I’ve sat in worse. It was basically OK.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

With only four of us there, it wasn’t much of an atmosphere.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

Orthros opened with: ‘Glory to you, who have shown us the light’ in Greek.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

A hardbound Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom. I was impressed with its layout: parallel columns of Greek, transliterated Greek, English, and a running commentary. The latter was especially helpful.

What musical instruments were played?

Not in Orthros, and not at first in the Divine Liturgy, but eventually a small mixed choir joined in from the rear gallery, accompanied by what sounded like a small electronic organ.

Did anything distract you?

I couldn’t take my eyes off the stained glass. The windows were an illustrated storybook version of the life of Christ, each pane helpfully labeled: The Annunciation, the Nativity, the Presentation in the Temple, the First Miracle, the Transfiguration, etc. I was especially impressed by the window depicting the Last Supper: Christ sitting at the head of the table, his hand raised to bless the chalice he was holding, with the twelve apostles sitting docilely on either side, all wearing halos except for Judas, whose face was contorted in a scowl. I also noted two murals on either side of the wall under the dome. If I read the Greek inscriptions correctly, one was of Matthew and the other of Mark. They held scrolls in their laps and quills in their hands, and were looking across at each other as if to say, ‘Are you going to write this down, or shall I?’ I assume that Luke and John were depicted on the other side of the dome, which I couldn’t see from where I was sitting.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

It was a mixture of spoken word and chant, and a mixture of Greek and English. It all flowed well, and the chanted parts were chanted beautifully. Incense billowed in abundance from the typical jingle-bells thurible you see in Orthodox churches. Both the priest and the cantor helpfully signaled with subtle hand gestures when we should sit and when we should stand.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

If there was a sermon, it was delivered after I had to leave. I had already been there for two hours, and I had to check out of my hotel and get to the airport to catch my flight back to Phoenix.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

I am generally not turned on by Orthodox liturgical style, but this service seemed open, inviting, and very worshipful. It was a privilege to be there.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

The fact that I had to leave early, as mentioned above. Also, the Orthodox custom of arriving late for the service. I understand that it’s the custom, but personally I would rather get there on time. But I hadn’t seen anything yet … see below.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

As I left, I noticed a veritable crowd of people out on the porch, with more streaming in through the doors.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

I don’t know if there was any.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

7 — It’s unlikely that I’ll be in Salt Lake City again, but if I am, I wouldn’t mind taking in another service. As I said, it felt open and inviting and I was glad to be there. Next time I’ll arrange it so that I don’t have to leave early.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

Yes. This is a vibrant, active parish full of people who are proud of their church, even if they arrive late.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The stained glass.

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