|131: Cathedral of the Assumption, Smolensk, Russia|
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Mystery Worshipper: Bert and Ernie.
The church: Cathedral of the Assumption. The cathedral is in Smolensk, although we hadn't ventured out of the UK. This was one of the world church services played on Radio 4 to celebrate Advent.
Denomination: Russian Orthodox.
The building: "Golden onion domes glittering in the sunlight near the banks of the river Dnieper."
The neighbourhood: Smolensk is where the Russians beat Napoleon in 1812.
The cast: Canon Michael Bordeaux.
What was the name of the service?
BBC Radio 4, Sunday Morning Worship.
How full was the building?
There were two of us and a teddy bear. Presumably the actual audience was much higher.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
The Radio 4 announcer and Archbishop Runcie introduced us to the programme.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes. Although pew isn't quite the right term. More mattress, really.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Grumpy. Bert wasn't quite ready to be awake and didn't appreciate being made to get up to switch the radio on. Ernie was, as ever, full of the joy of morning.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
Now there's a question. When worship actually began was a bit of a mystery. Was it the travel documentary style setting of the scene "Take a map of Europe: if you draw a line from the Arctic to Istanbul and another from Portugal to the Urals, they could intercept at the ancient Russian city of Smolensk" or "Lord have mercy" (sung in Old Church Slavonic)?
What books did the congregation use during the service?
None. Handy, since it meant Ernie didn't have to worry about holding pen, notebook and hymnbook.
What musical instruments were played?
Choir, mostly. With some bells thrown in for good measure.
Did anything distract you?
Bert was distracted by the nice, warm duvet. Ernie was slightly distracted by Bert's snoring.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Grand choral liturgy and chant in Old Church Slavonic, with the odd link in English. A bit perplexing for young people like us.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
Less than 2 minutes. Identifying any sort of sermon wasn't easy.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
3. Ernie thinks: There didn't seem to be much emphasis on teaching or exegesis in this service. The bit we are calling sermon was the point where it dropped out of being a religious documentary and dropped into a section on what we should learn from the church in Russia.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The great Anglo-Catholic theme of... er... something or other, you know, thingy, whatever it was. Not sure really. Only two minutes long, but we'd forgotten by the time he stopped speaking. A triumph of modern communication methods.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The fact that the cathedral had survived 70 years of oppression and manipulation under the communists and the Nazis, witnessing to lots of brave people who went through things we couldn't really comprehend for their faith. This was summed up beautifully as the secret light of Christ shining in people's hearts. Also, the great choral music does stir something inside.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Bert thinks: Was this worship or a documentary a sort of Rough Guide to God? A 35-minute programme on an Orthodox Service cannot really do it any justice, and whether it was actually an aid to worship is a moot point. It never really got beyond "this is how people in Russia worship," or "this is an ikon" that sort of stuff. The English commentary tended to distract from the richness of the music and liturgy. Ernie says: Bert can't comment on the whole programme as he fell asleep half way through.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The continuity announcer told us that "Letter from America" would be a repeat, as Alister Cook was ill. Ernie said "Oh!" at which Bert woke up and asked if it was over yet.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Ernie says: Bert had agreed to make coffee but conveniently forgot.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6. Ernie did once regularly listen to Radio 4 instead of going to church. It is a bit unpredictable in quality. As for the Cathedral itself, commuting to Smolensk would bust our budgets.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
No. The liturgy was taken out of context, out of order and not translated until after it had been sung. That piece of music might well have been the Lord's Prayer, which unites Christians throughout the world, but if you don't tell us until the end, Canon Michael, then we will hardly recognise it or pray along.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Realizing that Alister Cook (in the programme afterwards) was dealing with moral issues in a much more satisfying and relevant manner than the so-called morning worship did even though it was a repeat from the mid-sixties.