I attended the Gyro Fest today at the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox Church. I've been to their Gyro Fest before, so I am getting better at finding my way to 805 Walnut Street, New Kensington. This small church offers a tasty and friendly fund-raiser to support the general purposes of the church.
As I finished my lunch, one of the men asked how it was and encouraged me to tell all my friends. So ... I'm letting you know that today's Gyro Fest will continue until 5:30 p.m. If you read this too late, you might want to make note of the church for a future Gyro Fest.
After lunch one of the workers introduced me to Father Stephen Mazaris, the pastor, who greeted me warmly and then was kind to give me a tour of the sanctuary upstairs where the congregation worships regularly. The building had originally been a Lutheran church, but the Greek Orthodox congregation made a number of changes to the building in order to use it for Orthodox worship.
Father Mazaris explained the standard layout of the icons on the iconostasis. An icon of Christ is immediately to the right of the central doorway. An icon of the Virgin Mary is always to the left. An icon of the forerunner, John the Baptist is to the right of the icon of Christ. To the left of the icon of the Virgin Mary there should be an icon for the name of the church, so the icon showed the Annunciation. To the far left was an icon of Archangel Michael, and to the far right is an icon of Archangel Gabriel.
"The Orthodox do not pray to the icons," Father Mazaris explained. I am familiar with the distinction and aware of the frequent Protestant oversimplification of the practice of venerating the icons. He also explained that they ask the saints to intercede for us. Although that might sound strange to most Protestants, we are very familiar with the practice of asking a Christian friend to pray for us.
Father Mazaris escorted me behind the iconostasis to the altar where he explained a number of the details of the eucharistic liturgy. One thing I learned was that at the altar which he called the altar of oblation, some of the sacred implements used were symbolic of events and objects connected with the nativity: a star over the bread as it was cut, and linens that represented swaddling clothes for the infant Jesus. In our Presbyterian liturgies we could do more to connect the Lord's Supper with the incarnation. These connections will be in my mind the next time I officiate at the Eucharist at Central Presbyterian Church.
As we finished the tour Father Mazaris reminded me that the church was there seven days a week and that I would be welcome to come back any time, without having to wait for the next Gyro Fest. I believe that the same warm welcome would be extended to anyone who wished to visit this church.
No more gyros for me next Saturday. On October 15 from 4 to 6 p.m. Central Presbyterian Church will have its last ham loaf dinner of 2005.