We went a lot. The evening we arrived we found the nearest church — Basilica de Jesús del Gran Poder — and though the company was congenial with lots of little children, the next church along (with an entrance in the same block), the Iglesia de San Lorenzo, where a very old priest served Mass for a handful of people every weekday morning except Wednesday, fit us better. Gilded baroque angels are a better sight in Easter time than Christ carrying a cross as if it’s Good Friday.
But on both Sundays we got the opportunity to go to our own church: an Orthodox church of our own jurisdiction, the tiny parish of San Serafín de Sarov. I can’t really be coherent about it, only rave in bits and pieces. I’m so glad we found it; I love Roman Catholic services but a steady diet of them doesn’t agree with me, rather like Spanish restaurant food.
There was a very old priest, too old to serve: Archimandrite Pablo, and a younger priest, Padre Victor, who did all the serving. The archimandrite spoke English, and Padre Victor only Spanish, but so clearly that we could understand the sermon, which is more than I can say about any Catholic priest I listened to in Spain.
It felt so like home. One thing that was really different was that there wasn’t a choir so everybody sang, occasionally spurred on by the priest’s cheerful “Todos!” and his singing of the first line, which was uncomfortable for me because though his singing voice sounded deep it was actually high in pitch. The first Sunday there was an alto behind me so I could crib a bit, the second Sunday she was on the other side and I had someone behind me who sang at no discernible pitch at all (but with great conviction). If I lived there, I’d probably try to round up a couple of the better singers and, if not form a choir, at least practice. But perhaps they do that already because there were several people with good voices who knew both the words and the tunes. (I picked up a simple sort-of-first-tone melody for the Beatitudes, and I’d have memorised the first-tone variant used for the Second Antiphon, “Spanish first tone” in my mind, if I hadn’t been distracted by the Beatitudes on the second Sunday.) There were printed booklets, very useful: Spouse said following the service on paper made him much more aware of the structure of the Liturgy — of course I’m used to always having the choir book, but he gets only the linear sequence, and only a small part of it while he’s serving. The second Sunday I was looking up something in the liturgy booklet during the Hours, and the woman reading the Hours promptly came over and gave me an Hours booklet, which (even though she’d jumped to the wrong conclusion) was actually very nice to have because I could read along with the Psalms.
Another thing really different, but I think we, our parish, are the outliers in that: apparently frequent Communion isn’t usual there, so we went to Confession the first Sunday and sort of surprised the old priest the second Sunday when we wanted to go to Communion again. He asked Spouse if he hadn’t hit me in the intervening week, and when Spouse said no, waved us through. (He’d also asked me earlier if everything was all right in our marriage; this man has an obsession. Or bitter experience with his parishioners.)
It’s a very international parish: they have the same habit we have of praying the Lord’s Prayer in all available languages, and we had Romanian, several Slavic languages, one language we not only didn’t understand but didn’t even recognise, and French, as well as Spanish and Church Slavonic. We were asked if we could do it in English the first time, and we said “we can do it in Dutch!” so we did. It was nice to see people smile at that, “a new one!” They also do the forty-times “Lord have mercy” in four languages: three in Spanish, three in Greek, three in Romanian, three in Slavonic, repeat twice, then three in Spanish and one in Greek. I wish we could do that too, but I’ll probably never get Choirmistress to agree.
To catch everything I should perhaps do a Mystery Worshipper-type questionnaire, but let me say only this thing: every part of the service was like being in Heaven.