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Posts Tagged 'χρόνος'

American beauty

About seven years ago, I was driving to Chicago from Bloomington for the first time. I was with my friend Jonathan Wey, and we were on our way (as it were) there to pick up my wife up from the airport (long story). Once we were in northwest Indiana, I eventually saw this largish structure several miles off in the distance. My first thought was that it looked like an Orthodox church, but no, surely it’s a grain silo — why would there be an Orthodox church so large it’s visible from the freeway in Indiana, of all places?

As we got closer, however, it became clear that yes, it was an Orthodox church. Jonathan and I looked at each other, nodded, and I got off the highway so we could find it. It turned out to be St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church in Merrillville (pictured), and there happened to be somebody there who let us in and showed us around. From what I remember, it’s a stunning building, lovingly constructed in every way, with an incredible attention to detail.

St. Sava Church also appears to be the only place where one can buy prints of St. Varnava, the first (and so far only) Orthodox saint from Indiana. I ordered one so that my wife could give it to the Russian church in Kiel that has been so hospitable to her over the last year, and when it arrived this week, they had also enclosed a little booklet titled “St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church Visitor’s Guide”. It’s a lovely, professionally-produced spiral-bound publication that contains a history of the parish, details about the iconography, bells, and external mosaics, liturgical furnishings, and general information about Orthodox Christianity.

A few things jumped out at me about this little book. First off, this bit in the “Welcome” section:

Our present church was built on 140 acres… land purchased by the Church-School Congregation following [the burning down of the old building]… [T]he Priest and the Church Board undertook plans to finance and erect… what would be the “church of our dreams” in a “once-in-a-lifetime endeavor”. That seed having been planted, it gave birth to an ideal that included every church organization. Building and finance professionals helped to nurture the seed and guide its growth. It flowered as our unsolicited volunteers weed their labor-intensive work which epitomized God’s truth that “faith without work is dead”. All contributed their time, knowledge, talent and money to the church that would glorify God in the Divine Liturgy.

What’s interesting about this to me is that the building of a beautiful church is considered part of the work of the whole congregation, that it part of the expression of this community’s faith, and that this is What Orthodox Christians Do. This is reinforced a page later when the book goes into the exterior description of the building:

Saint Sava Serbian Orthodox Church was designed to conform with the spirit of Orthodox teaching. According to Orthodox belief, God is eternal King. Hence the church building, which is the sacred home for the worship of God, should be royal in every aspect. Orthodox Christians have always built their churches with that in mind and have always put into the church everything that they regarded as the best: the sturdiest building materials, the most beautiful adornments and the most costly utensils and vestments they could afford… Earthly royal splendor has always served as a pattern for the expression of heavenly glory. Orthodox church buildings are designed with the intention to make God, the Heavenly Kingdom and Salvation seem sensibly real and present.

Orthodox church have strict guidelines they must follow when building a church. The structure of church buildings is usually in the design of a ship or a cross. The ship plan resembles and signifies the ark of Noah in which he and his family were saved from the flood, while the cross plan reminds Christians of the Cross upon which Jesus Christ was crucified. Strict Orthodox Church guidelines detail that the length of the building must run parallel to the east-west line, so that the church sanctuary is always facing east. Saint John of Damascus (d.753) affirms that it is an Apostolic Tradition to worship facing east. The main entrance to the church is always through the western portal. Most churches have two side doors, the northern and the southern, and Saint Sava Church was built in accordance to all these traditions.

Byzantine architecture evolved from the Roman in the 6th century. The most popular Byzantine plan is a cross pattern in a square. The building is topped by a cupola, a cylindrical or polygonal drum covered with a dome, with narrow arched windows cut all around the concave space. Oftentimes in Byzantine architecture, the central dome is surrounded by several smaller cupolas on a lower level. Crosses embellish the top of every dome and belfry, signifying the church is glorification of the Crucified Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. A great number of Serbian churches and monasteries have been built in the Byzantine style. Originality is expressed both in the design and the ornamentation, and no two churches are alike. Every church can be unique within traditional guidelines. Saint Sava in Merrillville was patterned after the church in Topola, Serbia, but differs with its columns and its west-facing windows.

All church buildings must be consecrated by a bishop before a Divine Liturgy can be celebrated. When a church is consecrated or christened, Kumovi (sponsors) are chosen. Glisho Rapaich, Michael and Yvonne Galich served as Kumovi to Saint Sava Church. Every Orthodox Church is dedicated to a Holy Event in the life of Jesus Christ; to the Most Pure Mother of God; to the Holy Trinity; to the Archangels Michael or Gabriel; to the Holy Apostles or to a Saint or Martyr for Jesus Christ.

The church of Saint Sava in Merrillville is a magnificent edifice which attracts great interest. People who see it from a distance are drawn to visit it personally (pp1-3).

So the building first and foremost is for the glory of God, being tangible, material icon of the Heavenly Kingdom on earth. The building itself is rooted firmly in the witness to Apostolic Tradition, the wider history of the oikoumene, that is to say, the Christian Roman Empire, and the specific, local history of Serbia. This adherence to tradition is confirmed by the whole Church, in the person of the Bishop, the people, and those in heaven with whom we worship. And, finally, this is done for the benefit of the larger community, not just for those who attend the church. The church building, in other words, is not incidental; it’s not just a random gathering of four walls and roof that only the Orthodox in a given area know about. It is an image of the Kingdom, and a witness to both the entirety of the faith and the unity of the Church for all who might see it. A lot of this we’ve heard before in the abstract, but here is an amazing, concrete example of a community making it happen.

I read a book a few months ago called When Not To Build. It’s written by a former Protestant church architect who became convinced that building new buildings is a distraction for congregations, and that churches are better off treating their buildings as more-or-less necessary evils for the purposes of gathering as we’re commanded, but beyond that, the building of big, expensive buildings is a money-pit and something that prevents churches from doing what they’re actually supposed to be doing. It’s a book that has some decent practical suggestions, to be sure, but much of it is problematic from an Orthodox point of view — it embraces the narrative of of post-legalization decline, certainly, and it has no patience whatsoever for a theology that would treat the building as having any kind of an iconographic function.

Problematic though it may be, it genuinely seems to be how a lot of people think. For the last six years, I have been part of the conversations at my parish towards building our permanent building, and these conversations continually circle back around themselves and go nowhere. Some of it has to do with money, but I think a lot of it has to do with being genuinely baffled at the idea that the building has any or all of the iconographic and traditional functions outlined by Andrew Gould and the people of St. Sava Church, and certainly the notion that the church building itself is intended to reflect royal splendor in materials and design runs contrary to Middle American ideals about avoiding conspicuous consumption. For some, it need be no more complex than a practical question of space to be solved practically — build whatever size pole barn or brick box you can manage, and retrofit a dome on top of it if it’s really that important to you for it to look “Orthodox”, whatever that means. Anything else is surely just too theoretical and abstract to be relevant to those of us here and now who have to build and use the place. I’ve even heard it suggested that building a beautiful church building is something that materially wealthy but spiritually dead communities do (usually implied somewhere along the way that these are “ethnic” parishes in addition), and that parishes that are spiritually alive (i.e., “convert” parishes) don’t need such trappings.

When Gould was here, he spent some time talking about multi-aisle design of his interiors, complete with interior columns and transepts, and how there’s a traditional diversity of kinds of spaces inside the church. Somebody asked a question that amounted to, well, so what? Why is anybody here going to think that that’s a good thing? It contributes to the beauty of the nave, Gould replied. “I don’t come to church for the beauty, I come for the participation,” was the answer. Now, to be fair, there’s evidently something of an assumption somewhere that multi-aisle designs are problematic or at least unnecessary in an American context; in the St. Sava booklet, it says that “we preserved the original model and its general characteristics of style and beauty, with additional attributes more practical to serve the religious needs of an American parish. The use of steel eliminated the need for interior columns in the nave…” (p.3) Still, it’s clear that St. Sava Church, in making those kinds of decisions, tried to work things out in the context of a traditional understanding of these matters, rather than an approach that assumes that the traditional practices are irrelevant and impractical.

And yes, traditional practices are also expensive. No question about it. Right now my parish is trying to replace our unsightly, inexpensive metal music stands with a proper analogion so that we can actually look like we belong in our little, awkward corner of the nave, and just that alone could be a few thousand dollars. One Orthodox woodworker said it could be done for as little as $1,000 and as much as $8,000, depending on how much carving we want. Extrapolate from there the cost of a full set of liturgical furnishings needed just to be functional, and it can’t be argued that there aren’t a lot of fantastic low-budget options for an Orthodox church that doesn’t have a woodcarver, metalworker, carpenter, iconographer, architect, mason, and general contractor all in-house. As somebody said to me recently, “Most of us struggle just to be able to pay the priest.”

At the same time, the St. Sava booklet acknowledges all of this, giving an account of things that makes it clear that the entire community made it its responsibility to contribute sacrificially of time, talent, and effort to build a church that would be an Orthodox witness to an entire area. They wanted people to see it from the highway and pull off to find it, and they were willing to do what they had to in order to make it happen. Maybe not everybody wants that, I suppose, but it seems to me that there’s a problem when we on the one hand criticize “ethnic” parishes for being insular and functioning as “little more than the tribe at prayer” and then set up churches in places that are hard to find, inaccessible, and invisible. However “ethnic” St. Sava may or may not be (and I don’t know, having never been there except for that afternoon), you can’t come down on them for trying to stay unnoticed.

I’m not entirely certain how to put all of these pieces together. Is a true “culturally American Orthodox Christianity” going to reflect a core frugality and practicality that sees the architectural and iconographic traditions as ostentatious and unnecessary? Are former bank buildings and insurance offices adapted as well as possible for liturgical use what we’re looking at? I suppose you could argue that church buildings started out as converted temples and public buildings, but it seems to me that that’s a different kettle of fish entirely. Do we get that there’s a difference between chronos and kairos, and that the church is built for one and not the other? Is beauty in Orthodox worship and building design something we’re going to have to redefine along American egalitarian, “horizontal” lines in order for it to be “relevant” enough? Is it a case where, if we see examples like St. Sava, we’ll be inspired to do it ourselves? Or is it a case where examples like St. Sava make us think, “Yeah, how nice for them. Nothing to do with us”?

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Just a bit more about Orthodox Hoosiers and Friends of Music at All Saints

I realize that there are a couple of brief items, probably most properly belonging to the category of chronos, that are buried in two blog posts that require a sense of kairos just to read them from start to finish. Thus, it seemed good to excerpt them here.

  • As I’ve noted, I’m working on setting up an alumni network for Orthodox Christians who have attended Indiana University. This is for a number of reasons, not least (but not only) because we anticipate that such a network would have an interest in supporting potential building efforts in the near future. There’s a Facebook group, a domain name has been registered, and I’m slowly but surely compiling a mailing list. What I don’t have is a budget for any of this — the parties thus far whom I have informed of this work (who were the ones who thought this would be a good idea in the first place) have said only, “Sounds good, keep us posted”; they have, unfortunately, not been in a position to say, “Sounds good, let us know how we can help.” If I had, say, 20-30 interested parties willing to pool ~$1,000 in startup costs for charter membership benefits to be determined later, that would speed things along considerably. Alternately, if I had fifteen people willing to pool those costs and fifteen people willing to contribute some time, that would also be extraordinarily helpful.
  • The chant workshop last weekend was a much bigger success than I could have dreamed, but because we weren’t charging admission, food and printing costs were quite a bit higher than what we had originally planned. As I said, we had a private donor at the outset, plus WEST’s support, and we’ve had some additional gifts that have been extremely helpful, but we had also hoped to end the weekend with some seed money for the next event, and we’re not there yet. To give people an idea, an upcoming one-day Gregorian chant workshop with Susan Hellauer of Anonymous 4 is charging $60 a head while advertising limited space. This was a weekend, and we neither charged nor turned anybody away. I am toying with the idea of setting up a booster organization specifically to support these kinds of things moving forward; Friends of Music at All Saints or some such. Again, if there are people interested in being a benefactor for charter membership benefits TBD, we can arrange something.

In any event, if either of these efforts (or both of them!) strike you as being the kind of thing you’d like to help support, please get in touch with me; I can be reached at rrbarret (AT) indiana.edu. Alternately, there’s always the PayPal button on the Tip Jar page, but there might be more efficient ways of doing things as well. Let’s talk.

Thanks!

On the difference between καιρός and χρόνος and building a church that makes the difference clear (Part I)

It’s really hard for me to believe that January of 2010 has just about gotten away from me entirely. Classes started on 11 January, then there were two Somethings Big at All Saints the next two weekends that pretty much ate my life, and now this last week, the third of the semester, has felt like the real first week of classes.

Oh yeah, and Great Lent starts up in two weeks.

My class schedule feels a bit more focused on my interests this semester than it did last semester; this is good, but it also feels like I’ve got more work to do. I’m sitting in on a class looking at the medieval city as well as an ethnomusicology seminar on music and sacred experience, I’m taking a seminar on Ancient Greek democracy (easily the class where I feel most outside of my area), a colloquium titled “Essential Readings in Early Medieval History,” third year Modern Greek, and then I’m supposed to do some Latin reading with one of my professors. I’m also reading St. Athanasius’ Greek life of St. Anthony.

It’s not really any more work than last semester was, to be truthful, but I’m just getting into the rhythm of it this week, so I’m feeling a little more behind than I’d like. I’ll live, and not every eye will weep for me.

So, Andrew Gould visited All Saints the weekend of 15-17 January. All Saints’ building effort has effectively been dead in the water for ten years; the “temporary” building in which we presently worship is a shoebox (the left wing of the pictured concept painting), and it was deemed reasonable to build an ultra-utilitarian, multipurpose space first based on the logic that “people come for church but stay for the other things a church does” — plus, at the time (2001) they figured they’d be in there for less than five years. Well, when I arrived in 2003, Fr. Athanasius pointed at that painting and said, “That’s ten years away.” In 2005, it was still ten years away, and the parish council started toying with the idea of hiring a different designer, since it just seemed like there was no motivation on anybody’s part to build the original idea. We talked to Christ Kamages in 2006, but Fr. Athanasius announced his retirement shortly thereafter, and a number of people felt it would be unwise to jump into a capital campaign and building project under such circumstances. Ironically, Fr. Athanasius explicitly warned us against delaying, telling us at his last parish council meeting, “We walk by faith and not by sight, and I want you to go ahead with this,” but any conviction he intended to leave us with vanished as soon we had to start paying a fulltime priest with a family for whom this was how they put food on their table, as opposed to a retiree who didn’t need the money.

In 2007, Fr. Peter tried to figure out what we might be able to do to expand our facilities in small steps, and in returning to the original concept, he tried to push the idea of building the narthex and southernmost wing of the complex. The extension could be built to be an intentional worship space with provision for acoustics and so on, and would allow us more room to grow — we’d be facing south rather than east, but we would make do. The estimate came in at a half million dollars, which seemed to constitute a reasonable step in the right direction.

We raised, I think, all of $35,000. Maybe. “Pretty good for a church full of working people,” our treasurer told us, but it was clear that nobody in the community felt inspired to try to make sure it happened. Certain people who had originally said, “Let us know when you’re ready for us to write checks,” now were making excuses as to why they couldn’t — excuses like “Well, Dad’s old Episcopal church is building a new wing and we had to give to that…” I wish I were kidding. Worse, at least two large parishes outside of Bloomington were running capital campaigns and got to some of these people before we were ready. We were back to square one.

The situation didn’t improve any; we got to a point where the choir had to be relocated so that we took up half of the space we used to have, and eventually we were trying to figure out how we could configure the building so that the partition wall separating the virtual nave from the virtual fellowship hall could just be left open. We were (and are, make no mistake) in that horrible catch-22 where you need to build in order to grow, but you have to grow in order to build (and it is not an economic option to relieve the pressure by planting a mission). You will either figure out a way to build, or the problem will be self-correcting because you will die.

Enter Andrew.

Andrew’s work on Holy Ascension first came to my attention around Pascha of 2008, and I talked about him a bit here. I contacted him last spring in order to find out what it would take to get him out here when we started talking about how to get rid of the partition wall, and a number of us then made a concerted effort to convince the parish council that we should bring him to Bloomington to see what he would have to say. Long story short (too late!), we finally went ahead and booked Andrew in September, and the weekend of 15-17 January was the first time we could get the church’s calendar to sync with his.

When Andrew arrived a couple of Fridays ago, the first thing we did when we got him to the church was walk him around the property. He got to see a very representative sample of our 24 acres, and when we finally finished the tour, he asked a question which changed the game as we had known it up to this point.

“Why don’t we build on the hill by the corner?”

Keep in mind this is a question that has been asked before. The hill in question is the highest and most visible spot on our property from the road, and it’s a no-brainer to wonder why that wasn’t the plan from the get-go.

The answer has always been, and thus was dutifully trotted out on this occasion, “Because that’s where the septic field is.” This has effectively always ended that line of inquiry.

Except that Andrew didn’t go down without a fight. “Show me,” he said. “Where is your septic field exactly?”

We showed him. We showed him exactly where it was marked off as being. And his answer was, “This is a non-issue. We can build right up to this point, and this is exactly where and how the church you want can fit here.” He paced it out for us. “You’ve already got a boxy utilitarian building over there,” he told us. “On the 24 beautiful acres you have, why do you want to surround your temple with cars and asphalt when you can put it someplace where people can really use it to transition into a different world and engage your land?”

We spent the next couple of days talking about it. Miraculously, we didn’t spent two days arguing about it. The conversation wasn’t, “Well, why don’t we see what might be less expensive?” Rather, the conversation was, “How do we make this happen?”

Andrew talked about a lot of things. He talked, for example, about how you have to build for the liturgy. I had asked John Boyer if there was anything I should be prepared to talk about from the choir’s perspective in the design process; acoustics, of course, were the concern at the top of John’s list. Besides that, however, he also a big narthex, an apse that functioned as a resonating chamber, and the choirs placed in transepts. Andrew, as it happened, brought up virtually all of those things unprompted as practical “must-haves” that aren’t negotiable. (And the one thing he didn’t present as such, transepts, once I told him what we’re trying to do, he said, “Yes, of course, you’ll want transepts.”) Acoustics, in fact, were the very first thing that he mentioned to me as one of the design features he won’t not do.

Andrew talked about money. To build what he would design for the number of people we’re talking about (200 on Sundays, 300 on feast days), we’re looking at ~$2 million. His fees will be 6-8% of that, including construction documents. Plus, we have ~$220,000 on our existing mortgage that we have to retire. So, at the end of the day, $2.5 million is what we’re looking at, soup to nuts. (This prompted the question — what was the estimate on the original concept? $2 million for the temple and the south wing, was the answer, and that was in 1999 dollars. So, we’re not out of our original range by any stretch of the imagination.)

One of the ideas that came up while talking about money was trying to establish an alumni network for Orthodox Christians who have come through Indiana University. Surely there have to be hundreds out there who were in Bloomington when there was no church at all — hence Orthodox Hoosiers; I am slowly but surely getting this running, but I’m a one-man army on this front. If you’d like to help in any way, administratively or financially, please get in touch with me (rrbarret [AT] indiana.edu); there is no support from All Saints behind this effort except for the moral kind, and if perhaps there were 20-30 interested parties willing to pool ~$1,000 of startup costs for charter membership benefits to be determined later, that’d be immensely helpful.

Most importantly, however, Andrew told us why we need to build a beautiful church. This alone was a game-changer, and how. To have somebody who knew what he was talking about, and who is clearly a faithful Orthodox Christian, tell us with humility yet authority that in our current building we appear to be God’s people in exile — well, the terms of the conversation are permanently different now, because everybody who heard Andrew’s answer understands that the point is not to build four walls and a roof, but rather to write an icon of the heavenly city. A gentleman who had just been through a $1.7 million building campaign at his own parish to build something, well, not quite as nice, shook his head and said, “If only we’d heard that before.”

Andrew was kind enough to leave us with a concept sketch:

What you see is the view of the building from the southwest, somewhat in the air. The corner of building on the right is our existing building, surrounded by the parking lot. The church has a basement level which would function as the parish hall once finished; the temple itself would be level with the existing parking lot, and the covered bridge (a clever nod to famous Indiana landmarks) would extend from the parking lot to the narthex, over the valley that runs between the parking lot and the hill (plus you can also see the stairs leading up to the entryway on the north side of the narthex,). There would, of course, be whatever handicapped parking spaces are necessary, plus an elevator from the basement level to the narthex, but Andrew’s idea is that for the 99% of the parish that is able-bodied, the 200 feet from the parking lot to the church, however you choose to walk it, will function as a transition from the busy world into the Kingdom. “The temple will be 100 feet long to begin with,” he said, “so you’re walking 200 feet to and from Communion anyway. We walk that in the Target parking lot without even thinking about it. The church building shouldn’t be the place where we emphasize suburban ideas of convenience.”

Andrew’s other idea was to use a slab of limestone from our property (it used to be a working quarry) as our permanent altar. As I’ve told a couple of people, then we could tell C. S. Lewis fans that we have the real Stone Table.

Will we build it? It sure seems possible. Nothing has been decided formally (and I should emphasize that, lest I come across like I’m speaking out of school), and it will still be another week or so before the parish council can meet about how to move forward, but Andrew definitely got a lot of people excited. I think we should challenge ourselves to break ground within two years. I think we can build the city on the hill if we make it a priority to do so as a community.

The thing is, Fr. Peter is reasonably certain that we’re not going to be able to get a mortgage for more than half a million dollars. This means we’re going to have to come up with $2 million in cash, somehow. In the short term, we’re going to have to raise around $250k — ~$220,000 to retire the existing mortage, and somewhere around $21,000 to engage Andrew to formally get the design to the level of detail where he can produce the pretty watercolors that get people to write checks. That’s nothing when you’re talking about building a permanent church, but when you’re telling that to a lot of working-class Hoosiers, you realize just how much of an asset the imperial treasury actually was back in the day.

(Did I mention that I’m working on an Orthodox IU Alumni Network?)

By the way, I would absolutely, unhesitatingly, and without qualification recommend Andrew Gould to any church going through this process. He has a terrific eye, a wonderful sense of how architecture interacts with the landscape, and a frightening amount of knowledge when it comes to talking about the tradition of Orthodox Christian church buildings. Andrew is also very affable and easygoing, there isn’t a hint of arrogance about him, and he’s a great guy with whom to have a beer as well. All of us had a great time getting to know him, and we really hope to see him again soon.

What Andrew is not, just so we’re clear, is cheap and obedient — and I rank these negatives in the “plus” column, no question about it. Now, he doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, but neither does he say, “You’re a church, so I’ll charge you next to nothing.” He’s very up front about saying that he charges market price for what he does, and that this is his living, not how he fulfills charitable obligations. It cost $2,000 plus his travel to bring him out for the weekend to do this kind of consultation; as noted, the next stage will be $18-21k. The construction documents will be another chunk of change. This is not unreasonable; it’s just that that’s actually what these things cost. Our old design was done for “the discount” — and, well, as my father likes to say, the most cost effective way of doing anything is to do it right the first time, and sometimes free is too expensive. So, as far as I’m concerned, This is a Good Thing.

(By the way, because I’m clumsy, I accidentally spilled coffee all over the original watercolor of the old design during the course of this weekend, utterly ruining it. I swear to God it was absolutely an accident, but I was asked by somebody later, “Was that a Freudian spill?”)

As far as “obedience” goes — what I mean by that is, Andrew is not going to design whatever you want no matter what. He wants to design things that look like they belong where they are, but what he puts his name on has to be rooted somehow in Orthodox architectural tradition; if that isn’t what you want, call somebody else. Somebody challenged him on some points related to that over the course of the weekend; “I don’t come to church for the beauty, I come for the participation,” this person told him, more or less telling him that they felt like certain structural insistences on his part seemed unnecessary and foreign (at best) to what they were used to in churches. Andrew didn’t back down, and simply continued to explain with patience, humility, and his encyclopedic knowledge. This person was eventually won over — but the point is, don’t expect him to chuck centuries of tradition because you don’t like it. His churches are bigger than you, and bigger than him. Again, as I see it, This is a Good Thing.

This is already over 2,700 words, so I think I’m going to split this post in two. Thus endeth part the first; part the second, in which All Saints goes to Parents’ Weekend of Byz Chant Boot Camp, will be coming soon.


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