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Given the opportunity, I have been able to visit three very different places of religious worship throughout the past few weeks. I learned briefly what it means to participate in a Greek Orthodox Church, a Roman Catholic Church, and a reform Jewish Temple. Each place of worship offered different feelings of community, and each had their own unique ways of that the service is set up. The Orthodox and Catholic churches were very common in a lot of their aspects, but the language barrier in the Greek Orthodox Church made certain prayers seem different. The Temple on the other hand was very different, but the building was so simple, that other worldly ideas seemed not present during the service.
Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, on 30 Race Street, is a spiritual home to a large majority of Orthodox Christians in the Charleston area. I attended a Sunday Liturgy service on January 18, 2015 at 10am. Most Greek Orthodox churches are built with the concept that the altar always faces east, the direction of Constantinople, and that looking at the church with a bird’s eye view, the structure resembles the shape of a cross.
*St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Cathedral located on Long Island takes the Shape of a cross, with the head facing east.
The ARCHITECURE includes icons, tile flooring, pews, and columns. According to Father Demetrios Serfes from Boise, Idaho, “the Bible is the book of the Church. We therefore read Holy Scripture, not as isolated individuals, but as members of the Church” (Father). The SACRED TEXTS include the New and Old Testament and the Gospels in which the Orthodox Church is based on. According to the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, “the Church, does not prevent the individual from exploring the deep meaning of the Bible to find new expressions. But this always must be authorized by the Church as a whole, where infallibility lies. It is important to know how freedom and authority work hand in hand in the teaching and governing of the Church” (“The basic”). The Greek Orthodox also has a sacred tradition, which is the unwritten teachings that have not changed since the beginning of the religion because the teachings are preserved.
There are many RITUALS that are consistently practiced through daily services, and some actions that take place throughout ones lifetime. Also known as the Orthodox mysteries, the sacraments are celebrated as if God’s everyday presence was heightened (“The Sacraments”). The purpose of the sacraments are to gain closeness with God. The most important sacrament is partaking in the holy Eucharist, or communion that resembles the death of Christ. During the service, Communion is received by those who have properly prepared themselves to accept the body and blood of Christ through specific fasting. Communion consists of a spoonful of wine from a challis to represent the blood of Christ, and a piece of bread to represent the body of Christ. This process represents the last super while the priest chants: “take, eat this is my Body which is broken for you for the forgiveness of sins . . . drink of it all of you; this is my Blood of the new Covenant which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins” (“The Divine”). The other few sacraments are baptism, chrismation, confession, marriage, holy orders, and anointing of the sick. There are also daily rituals that take place during weekly services. The sign of the cross is the most widely common ritual because the action can be done to bless food, after a prayer, while blessing the whole congregation, or whenever a person feels the need to cross themselves. To make the sign, you place your thumb, index and middle finger together to represent the father, son and holy spirit, then you touch your head, navel, and both shoulders starting with the right side in that order. At the entrance of the church, the congregation is expected to light a candle to say a prayer with, and then each person should venerate the icons that are located in the narthex, or the entrance area of the church. To venerate an icon, you do the sign of the cross and kiss it; this is done out of respect. At the end of a service, a sermon is spoken to enlighten the congregation on matters that are relevant, or maybe teach a lesson that dealt with that day’s gospel reading. These rituals have been in effect for thousands of years, since the beginning of the Eastern Orthodox Church because very little change has taken effect in the service since the beginning.
When I first walked into the church, it was very apparent that ETHICS include a person’s attire, hushed tones, but there are other ethics that take place in everyday life. According to a few ladies that were in the same pew, women should attempt to wear a skirt or dress that goes below the knee. If the material sits above the knee it is seen as acceptable, but should not be too short. The entirety of the congregation was dressed in their best Sunday attire with men in sports jackets and ladies in modest dresses. During a service, the congregation is supposed to remain quiet unless hymning, or praying out loud. The people remain respectful of the people around them. When a parishioner greets the priest, he or she should kiss his hand out of respect. Other personal ethics come into play when not in church. The Orthodox teaches respect, and that one should honor their mother and father. Ethical behaviors that are based off of the Ten Commandments such as not killing or not committing adultery are teachings the people try to focus on. One of the sacraments was confession which is the process of cleansing ones sins, and being forgiven by God. Even though the process is in effect to rid someone of sin, the Church believes that sin disconnects a person with God, so one should keep their actions on a tight leash to prevent as many sins as possible.
The MATERIAL CULTURE of the Greek Orthodox Church is very traditional, and should remain consistent at any Orthodox Church around America. The Priest wears special garments during a service, and the color depends on the calendar and what part of the year it is. During a service, the Priest reads the Gospel that has a gold bound, and contains the first four books of the new testament that tell the story of Jesus’s life. The word Gospel comes from Greek roots to mean “good news”. Other materials include a cross behind the altar that had the body of Jesus Christ located on the altar table, the censor which hold the incense that is used during the service, a chalice for communion, and candelabras that are located on the solea, which is before the altar. The presence of altar boys are in place to assist the priest during the service. During processions around the church, each boy holds liturgical fans, crosses or candles followed by the Priest who hold the challis for communion. A less common object, but of extreme importance, is the baptismal font which is used during a baptism for a baby, which is also another sacrament (Baptism).
The DOCTRINE in which the Orthodox base their beliefs on has a lot to do with the dogma of the church, which is the rules throughout ecumenical times created from different priests. According to the Greek Orthodox dogma, “the teachings of the Lord, proclaimed by the Apostles, whether the Twelve or the larger group of Apostles [the Seventy, for example], or the missionary Apostles like Saint Paul, were handed down to the apostolic community. Writen for the needs of the community, “during both good and bad periods of the Church’s history, her law as adapted itself constantly to the circumstances of the time, up to the present day” (“The Dogmatic”). This faith, once handed down to the Saints, continued to live in the Christian community that succeeded apostolic times” (“The Dogmatic”). The creed is also considered a symbol of faith that is read during every liturgy. The orthodox also have a set of canons, or laws, by which they are supposed to live their lives. Some laws revolve around when to fast and how, prayer, helping the poor, and charity work. The canon laws should not be looked at as a punishment, but as a way to gain a closer relationship with God.
There are many RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCES that one can feel while attending a service, some say it depends on the person. The best overall experience that one could potentially attain is being able to live a life according to Christ while following in his footsteps. Many people not only look at Jesus’s life for a guide, but also the lives of the saints who preached and lived holy. These holy people may be written about in the bible, but people can still be sainted today. While in Church, should be able to leave any worldly thoughts behind, which include all those not associated with god and prayer. The connection to God is extremely important. When present at an Orthodox Church as an outsider, the parishioners are supposed to make you feel welcome and at home. One should feel a sense of belonging while sitting amongst others. Along with the connection to God, THE SACRED includes the holy trinity, the Theotokos, or Virgin Mary, and they also believe in the existence of saints. The holy trinity includes the father, son and Holy Spirit as one unit, and the Theotokos is revered and respected in an extremely high sense.
The INSTITUTION revolves around the orders that come from the hierarchy of people that live in places from America to Greece. The ecumenical patriarch, currently Bartholomew of Constantinople is the main head of the Orthodox Church. After him follows the bishops who is an overseer of a specific community. The bishop delegates duties to Deacons or Priest, who are in charge of smaller districts with in the community of the Bishop. A few of the groups that are run under the jurisdiction of the local priest include: the Parish Council that runs the church, the Philoptochos, which is made up of women only, the AHEPA, which includes males only, and the youth group GOYA, which is open to middle and high school students. These organizations are nation-wide are present in most Greek Orthodox churches. For the economic aspects in the church, a weekly offering tray is passed around to the clergy, and different fundraisers take place throughout the year that help with the finances. Greek Orthodox churches are known for hosting a yearly festival which is usually run by the parish council.
The second church I visited was the Catholic Cathedral of St. John the Baptist on Saturday, January 24 at 5:30 pm. The inside of the church is very gothic, beautiful and consists of white and gold colors. Many columns line the sides of the church that meet with an arch in the middle. The architecture is very detailed in work, but the cold white walls left me with a sense that the facility did not feel welcoming. The windows are covered with beautiful stain glass, and the altar is located at the front of the church. This service was vastly similar to the Orthodox in many ways. The SACRED texts include the Bible’s New and Old Testaments. Along with the sacred texts, there are sacred prayers such as the Nicene Creed, and Our Father. Each are read during mass, and it states much of the beliefs of the Church.
Different RITUALS take place during the service, and like the Orthodox Church, Catholicism has 7 sacraments that connect them to God as well. With some slight differentiations, the seven in the Catholic Church are Baptism, Reconciliation or confession, partaking of the Eucharist, Confirmation, holy matrimony, holy orders, and anointing of the sick. The significance of partaking in Holy Communion deals with many people believing that when they eat the Bread and drink his blood, that it is a metaphor or a symbol. Yet Catholics truly believe it is the Body and Blood or Christ. This is called Transubstantiation, and occurs in the part of the mass called the Liturgy of the Eucharist. During mass, the sign of peace was my favorite. This is the part of the service when everyone around shakes each other’s hand, and makes each person feel welcome into the church. The Catholic Church also does the sign of the cross, but they are not as particular with their finger placement as the Orthodox was. You touch your head, navel, and shoulders, but you go to the left shoulder first. The whole congregation does this at the same time, during certain prayers, or if the individual feels the action is necessary at a specific time. St. John’s is very movement oriented, where we sat, and kneeled, and stood at various times throughout the service. Every Sunday Communion is offered by a Eucharistic minister in the form of a wafer, called the host, where you can have the wafer placed in your mouth directly from the minister, or receive it in the palm of your hands to partake on your own time. To partake in Communion, a person should fast, or refrain from eating, at least an hour before mass begins. Also like the Orthodox service, the Catholic priest gives a sermon at the end of mass to reflect on certain worldly problems, or topics that need to be spiritually tackled.
The ETHICS that should be upheld by the congregation is based off of respect for yourself and to the holy. One should follow the Ten Commandments, and go to confession to relieve your soul of the sins you have committed. Going to confession is recommended to take place at least once a year, or as soon as possible if one commits a mortal sin. In the Catholic Church, there are two different types of sins, mortal and venial. Mortal occurs when something serious takes place such as a murder or committing adultery. Examples of Venial sins include less serious sins that are forgivable such as stealing a friend’s toy. God forgives the sins if only the person believes they are truly sorry, so by confessing sins to the priest, he will absolve people form sin. Along with confession, a Catholic is expected to pray to God daily for help and guidance. While in church, the attire in which you wear should be modest, and not revealing, but should also look presentable. One parishioner told me that she grew up learning that one’s hands and fingernails should be clean before taking Holy Communion. From my observations, the congregation was well dressed, but not too fancy. While attending mass, people should be quiet and reverent to those around them showing respect for others prayers and to God. More ethical teachings are taught in the Catechism of the church.
From the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a large written book, the DOCTRINE of belief is spelled out through the teachings of the church. The very beginning of the Catechism spells out what faith is in “. . . response to God, who reveals himself and gives himself to man, at the same time bringing man a superabundant light as he searches for the ultimate meaning of his life” (Catechism). The teachings help the Catholic approach the proper ways to talk about God, know the knowledge of God, different interpretations of faith, and even understanding their sacred scripture. A women in her mid-twenties informed me that she grew up attending a Catholic school, and following the Ten Commandments was something that was taught at a very young age. These were the list of ten laws that God gave to Moses in which his people should follow, and have been practiced in the Catholic Church as a way to stay close to God.
Many different MATERIAL OBJECTS are used during mass in the Catholic Church. At St. John’s Cathedral, a patient, or gold plate, is used to hold to host during communion, but other catholic churches use other objects. The patent is an old tradition that is now starting to be brought back to the Catholic Church here in Charleston. There is a cross located on the altar, along with a bouquet of flowers. At the front of the church there is a place for loved ones to light a candle for ones who have departed, it is a sign of love. The Stations of the Cross are place across the walls to displays the different events that led up to the crucifixion of Jesus. Each picture is surrounded by a triangular shaped frame, and they are lined up in the same order of the story of Christ. Every Sunday the Eucharist is given to the congregation, if already blessed communion is not finished, it is placed in a tabernacle to use for the next Sunday. The tabernacle is located behind the altar, and is usually gold. Other material objects include the pews and the altar.
Many people go to church for certain RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCES, and in the Catholic Church you are supposed to feel closer to God through prayer. The overall goal is to reach salvation once one dies. By attending mass, and following the laws of the Church, one should be granted the ability to live in salvation in heaven free from pain and suffering. Attending mass should be a way for a community to gather together and pray as one being to God. Not only can you feel this experience while attending a service, the Catholics also offers confession. This is where you tell your sins to a priest to be forgiven by God. The purpose of this act is to feel a weight lifted off of you, and to be cleansed of your sins. Attending mass and living a holy life can contribute to being sainted once one dies. The topic of saints brings on the next topic of the SACRED people in the Catholic Church. Saints are people who have died and gone to heaven and are recognized for their good works on Earth. The Church is confident that these individuals make it to heaven because they are extremely holy people with high virtues. The Catholics do no worship Saints, but keep statues and necklaces to remember their good works. They ask these individuals to pray for their own salvation. Like the Orthodox Church, the Catholics believe in the holy trinity, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, where each entity acts as one. The purpose of life is to have an everlasting wish to make it to heaven when we die. According to the Catholic religion, the only way you make it to heaven is by being a good person while on earth.
The last aspect of St. John’s is the INSTUTION by which the church is organized. The Pope is the overseer of the whole Catholic Church. Under his jurisdiction comes cardinals, bishops, and priests. Cardinals meet for councils and elect new Popes, the Bishops oversee the diocese, also understood as many parishes in one area, and Priests over see those parishes. The priest runs the church with the help from other organizations that include the women’s club, the men’s club, the men’s religious study’s group, women’s faith club, women’s bible study, St. Vincent de Paul society, and the knights of Columbus council (Charleston). The makeup of the Catholic Church consists of a large majority of European decent, but not limited to that region of the world. The money from the church comes from a weekly offering basket, and the suggested amount of 10% of one’s salary each year. Many Catholic Churches a huge feast each year to help offset the cost of the building and other needs.
The third religious site was a Jewish temple, Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim. This building is the second oldest synagogue in America, and has a very simple structure. The pews are arranged so only two to three people can sit together at the same time, and the ARCHITECTURE set up reminded me of a court house because of the appearance of the alar. Similar to the previous two sites, the synagogue had stained glass windows that had a beautiful artwork. The simplicity of the building was a nice way to not be distracted by a wide variety of objects around. The service I attended was on January 31 at 8pm. The Jewish religion reads SACRED TEXTS that include the Torah, and the Tanakh, which includes the Torah along with the Holy Scriptures.
With many RITUALS in the Jewish synagogue, the call to worship, or Barekhu, is said by the canter “Praise Adonai, who is to be praised” with a reply from a group of ten males called the minyan, “Praised is Adonai, who is to be praised forever and ever.” The Shema prayer is also a regularly spoken during a service to remain faithful to the belief in God. The Tallit is a prayer shawl worn which is normally worn during a morning service and worn by the person who is reading the Torah. The Amidah prayer is a large chunk of the service, and also recited during morning, afternoon and night services. When the Rabbi comes in for the first time, it is expected of the people to rise and greet him with respect. After every service there is a feast of foods and deserts called Oheg, and it is where the community gathers after service.
There are many traditional MORALS that should be practiced while in a Jewish synagogue, and a lot of them are dealt around certain apparel. For women, it is a sign of disrespect to enter the temple with ones shoulders showing, and men should wear kippah on their head that is usually white, blue or black. Each kippah looks different, some have the Star of David, and others have embroidered boarders of gold, and are worn at the back of the males head. While attending a service, one should either turn their phone off, or have it on silent to prevent the temptation of using the devise. During a service called shema, it is seen as respectful to cover your eyes to be one with God which comes from the Jewish code of law that says there should be no distractions while reciting this important prayer. Other actions that are seen as disrespectful would be if the Rabbi told the people to pray, or stand and one failed to do so because one should show honesty, integrity and loyalty while in the Temple.
The different MATERIALS used during a liturgy begin with the mishkan’filah, which is a festival prayer book that is available for each member to follow along with during a service, and there are many other books that are used on special days throughout the year that have different prayers than the mishkant’filah. Seen as a sign of disrespect, the Rabbi should never touch the Torah because it is bound with pig skin, so to turn the pages he or she will use an instrument called a yad, or hand stick to flip the pages. The Torah scrolls are kept in a Holy Ark, or an Aron Kodesh, that is located above the altar, and is said to be facing east in all synagogues because that is the direction of Israel. The golden fixture is located at the front of the Temple, and sits high above all else. Located on the top of the Holy Arch is the eternal light that is present in all Jewish Temples. The origination of the light comes from the biblical story of Moses where “Moses instructed them to cause a lamp to burn continually near the ark as a symbol of God’s eternal presence” (The Eternal). The Rabbi uses a prayer shawl that consists of 613 different tassels that are to represent the 613 commandments found in the Torah.
The DOCTRINE in which the Jewish religion conducts themselves derives greatly form the original Ten Commandments that lead to 613 now, and different lessons taught in the Torah. As I learned from the Rabbi’s sermon, we are to “pray as if everything depends on God, but do as if others depend on you.” This is a statement that comes from a very popular teacher that is taught to all Jews at a young age to instill the importance of prayer, and dependability. Some of the Commandments include knowing that God exists, to love and fear God, to learn and teach the Torah, to love all human beings, to not hold grudges, to give to charity and to love the stranger. These commandments are taught while growing up in a Jewish family, the laws are also triggered in the brains of an individual while attending a service, whether it be from the Rabbi’s sermon, or prayers that relate to these topics. The teachings in the Jewish religion are widely based on the fact that you should strive to be the best person you can be through prayer with God who is the only SACRED being in the Jewish religion in which the people pray too. Through communal prayer, one can feel a number of EXPIERENCES while in the Temple. The experience should be unique to each person, but a few people explained that the Temple gives people a sense of community. To have a well-deserved afterlife, people seek guidance from their Rabbi and synagogues to follow the right path during their life. Each person can easily pray in their home, but to be able to pray as a group has a higher degree of feeling accepted. This is their own way to feel close to God with the presence of other people who are seeking the similar goals.
And the last aspect to the Jewish Temple resides in the information about the INSTURUTION. There are two different sects to Judaism, one is the Orthodox Jews, and the other is Reform Judaism. Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim is one of the first Reform Judaism Temples in all of America. This branch of Judaism was created to be more modern in terms of sacrifice and duties because many Orthodox Jews have many rules to follow that are too hard to fit into today’s society. The Refrom Judaism sect also focuses on giving women more rights in the service, and now women can even become Rabbi’s. In Orthodox Temples, women and men are separated by different floors, but the Reform Judaism believed that family gatherings while praying is a better alternative. To be considered a member of the synagogue, one should pay a certain amount of dues each year, this is where some of the funding for the establishment comes from. There is also a place on the synagogues website that is available for those who wanted to make a donation. The temple is run by the clergy and the board of selected people. The Rabbi’s also have a large say in decision making throughout the year. There is a group called the Brotherhood, and the Sisterhood that meet and make different decisions dealing with the Temple. Each group normally has a representative that appears in the board meetings. Each temple has their own practices, but some hold different fundraisers throughout the year to keep the building up and running.
This opportunity has opened my eyes to many different ways to approach religion. Each religion I studied has been around for thousands of years, and the fact that the services have been perfected over the centuries is what makes the service unique. I felt accepted in each place of worship, even if I did not always know the proper etiquette for the first time. This experience has taught me that many different religions believe in the same ultimate God, but that each sect has their own way of approaching the topic.
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