St. Luke Greek Orthodox Church in Mooresville, which observed Holy Week April 23-30, celebrated the Easter season with 22 services.
“Every step of the way, we have a service that commemorates it,” said Father Robert Lawrence, the presiding priest.
The Orthodox church, one of three in the greater Charlotte area, traces its faith back to Eastern Christianity, which is modeled after the early Christian church. According to the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, there are more than 5 million Orthodox Christians in the United States.
Lawrence described Orthodox worship as “incarnational.”
“We don’t feel like we are just commemorating these things,” he said. “We actually become present at the event. Liturgically and mysteriously, somehow we are taken out of our regular calendar time and placed in that kind of salvation time where we participate.”
That means during Holy Week, which the Greek Orthodox church celebrates later than most Christian churches, services are filled with visual images of Jesus Christ’s last days.
On April 28, for example, the church held a service focusing on Jesus’ crucifixion that included a tall cross adorned with an icon of Christ Crucified. On April 29, the church took the icon off the cross and laid it in a replica tomb.
“It’s dramatic without being theatrical,” Lawrence said. “It’s very somber and grounded, moving and poignant.”
The wooden tomb is placed at the entrance of the church, and congregants walk through to experience the role of Jesus’ death in salvation.
“Instead of talking about it, we go and do it,” Lawrence said. “It’s reinforced physically.”
St. Luke’s sanctuary, a transformed unused storage space in a building on Talbert Pointe Drive, is adorned with candles, icons and other ornate décor. It’s all part of the Orthodox church’s sensory worship experience that includes incense, hymns and the Eucharist.
Tammy Pollard, who has been a member of St. Luke since it opened, said she was drawn to Orthodox faith because it focuses on God rather than people.
“The entire structure of our church services, the meaning, power of faith and especially the grace concealed within them, have an incredible power to drive away the spirit of the world, and I truly feel like I am in the presence of heaven on earth when I walk into the church,” Pollard said.
Lawrence said that Orthodox faith differs from Western-based Christianity in that it does not focus on salvation by doing good works or making a declaration of faith.
Instead, it teaches that people have been captured by a sinful world and need rescuing by God. “It’s about how do I cooperate with God as he works out my salvation,” Lawrence said.
Lawrence said that St. Luke has grown “fairly steadily” since its founding 10 years ago, although growth is slow because he said Orthodox is “very alien to most people.”
Still, the church is drawing people who are interested in a worship style that is the same as that in the Christian church 2,000 years ago, Lawrence said. He described it as a “very, ancient stable expression of Christianity.”
St. Luke welcomes visitors and provides information to newcomers about the church and the worship services, which are conducted in English. Lawrence, who is a former Southern Baptist, said that the church is “very American” and has congregants from the Middle East and European countries where Orthodox Christianity is practiced.
“St. Luke has always been a close community of people from all walks of life and cultures, and I really like how parishioners share in that and share in their faith together as well a welcoming everyone that walks in our doors,” Pollard said.
Marty Minchin is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.
St. Luke Greek Orthodox Church meets 9:15 a.m. Sundays for Divine Liturgy at 134-A Talbert Pointe Drive, Mooresville. www.stluke-nc.org.