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391: Assumption, Scottsdale, Arizona
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Assumption, Scottsdale, Arizona
Mystery Worshipper: North Star Junior.
The church: Assumption Church, Scottsdale, Arizona.
Denomination: Greek Orthodox.
The building: This was the first Divine Liturgy celebrated in the church's brand-new, unfinished, but already impressive cathedral. The cathedral is a solidly built edifice, mostly concrete, in true Byzantine style both inside and out. It is topped with a large dome, which now has an Orthodox cross on top, but didn't when I took my photos.
The church: Assumption is a very welcoming community, the welcome coming from both the laity and the clergy. It is perhaps a bit less "ethnic" than the older Greek cathedral in town, with quite a number of non-Greek members.
The neighbourhood: Assumption has been meeting for some time in a house which was renovated to be used as an Orthodox church. The cathedral has been a long time in coming, and was a big event for the entire Phoenix Orthodox community, whether Greek or other. Across the street is a golf course, and the church itself sits in a nice, but not fancy-schmancy, residential neighborhood northeast of downtown Scottsdale. It's on a big, busy street, and has very little in the way of pedestrian traffic.
The cast: Father Andrew Barakos, the pastor of Assumption. He is a pleasant-looking man in his 40s, and bears a strong resemblance to a cross between actors John DeLancey ("Q" in Star Trek: The Next Generation) and Bill Murray of Caddyshack fame.
What was the name of the service?
Divine Liturgy celebrating the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos ("God-Bearer," i.e. the Virgin Mary). After this was the Dedication and Veneration of the Cross, which is now sitting atop the cathedral's dome.

How full was the building?
Mostly full – at least 200 people.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No one was specifically a "greeter," although they are common in Orthodox churches. I received smiles from several older folks, and then started seeing people I knew from Assumption, and a few other local Orthodox congregations. This Liturgy was on a Wednesday morning, so was attended almost exclusively by Orthodox; not too many folks go "church-hopping" on a Wednesday morning!

Was your pew comfortable?
What little we sat – it's an Orthodox cathedral, after all! – was in rickety, plastic/metal folding chairs. I don't know what the plans are for permanent seating in the future, but I sure hope it's not these chairs.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Widely varied. There were those participating in the Orthros (morning prayers), others wandering around getting their first look at the interior, others chatting quietly. A couple of the chatters didn't bother to stop once the Liturgy started, unfortunately!

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen." Same way every Orthodox Divine Liturgy starts. It never fails to give me chills!

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Many Orthodox churches have a spiral or hardbound Liturgy book which is available to anyone who wants one. Assumption had only some pamphlet-style service books on hand, due to the unfinished character of the place. Most of the people in attendance didn't use them, as they basically know the whole Liturgy already.

What musical instruments were played?
This being an Eastern Orthodox Church – none, nada, zippo. Just the combined voices of the small choir and congregation.

Did anything distract you?
There was nothing on the cement wall, ceiling or floor, and so every little noise was obvious. The chairs were especially annoying when they moved at all – think of fingernails on a chalkboard and you'll have an idea. The dome above, which one day will house a big, beautiful icon of Christ Pantocrator, seemed to amplify any noise, and often Fr. Andrew could barely be heard. At one point, an older lady's metal-legged walker made a prolonged SCREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEECH! across the floor, and the hair on the back of my neck stood up.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Most worshipers were reverent and participatory. Distractions aside, an Orthodox Liturgy brings one to the fringes of heavenly worship, and this one was no different. There was no actual choir in this service, but two primary chanters: a gentleman who handled all the Greek chanting (he was good!), and a woman who led the English portion. She had a tendency to go flatter, and flatter, and flatter.

Assumption, Scottsdale, Arizona

Exactly how long was the sermon?
No sermon. An Orthodox homily usually takes place directly after the Gospel reading. Fr. Andrew did address the congregation after the final "Amen." It wasn't really a sermon, but a welcome to all who attended and an acknowledgement of what an incredible place the cathedral is.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
An Orthodox Liturgy is not like being in Heaven, it is actually being in heaven. We join the never-ending heavenly worship of God during each service, and if the choir isn't very good, we try to imagine the angels instead. The substance of the Divine Liturgy and the presence of the Holy Spirit are heavenly, in a literal sense. The construction of the cathedral didn't hurt either.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The aforementioned noisy distractions were definitely the less-than-Heavenly aspect of the service, but still not a big deal.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I wasn't lost, and no one else looked lost, either. We all saw folks we knew, whether from Assumption or other Orthodox churches. I greeted several friends from a number of different Orthodox "jurisdictions" – Greek, Antiochian and Russian.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There wasn't any after this service. Coffee hour usually takes place only after a Sunday Liturgy.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – It's a little far to go, and I absolutely love my church, but oh that Cathedral! Fr. Andrew is a wonderful pastor, also.

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

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The new cathedral, and how it will progress as icons, crosses and frescoes are added over the months.

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