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2739: Dormition of the Mother of God, Phoenix, Arizona, USA
Dormition of the Mother of God, Phoenix, AZ (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Old Rackensack.
The church: Dormition of the Mother of God, Phoenix, Arizona, USA.
Denomination: Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Eparchy of Chicago. The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is the largest Eastern Rite Catholic church in full communion with the Holy See, with some 40 hierarchs in over a dozen countries on four continents. Its primate is the Archbishop-Major of Kiev-Halych and All Rus, whose seat is in Kiev.
The building: The parish moved from their former building to the present location in 1990, and there is talk of acquiring yet another church building. It’s a plain, rather flat brick structure surrounded by palm trees on a plot of ground featuring what the locals call "desert landscaping." One enters through the back door and finds oneself in a narthex off which the main space opens. That space has been divided into two parts: the parish hall in the rear and the sanctuary up front. The sanctuary looks like your typical Eastern Rite church, with iconostasis, royal doors and icons galore. I rather liked a large icon on the wall in back of the altar depicting the Dormition of the Mother of God.
The church: A Ukrainian Catholic priest arrived in Phoenix from the Old Country in 1955 to celebrate the divine liturgy for the small Ukrainian community of the time. A mission was established two years later, and services were held in the chapel of a local Catholic high school until 1961, when the mission acquired and refurbished an unused church building. The mission was elevated to parish status in 1962. They offer an adult Bible study/Christian formation group and religious education classes for children, and support the Food for the Hungry charity.
The neighborhood: The church is located on a quiet side street of primarily working-class houses, with an elementary school and college prep academy just down the street and St Mary’s Episcopal Church, Phoenix’s Anglo-Catholic church par excellence, just around the corner.
The cast: The Revd Hugo Soutus, pastor.
The date & time: Dormition of the Mother of God, Friday, August 15, 2014, 10.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Divine Liturgy.

How full was the building?
Four women and myself.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, but we stood for about 90 per cent of the time.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
No one said anything; nothing happened.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
The four women sang a hymn in Ukrainian, in unaccompanied four-part harmony, while the priest censed the altar and iconostasis.

Dormition of the Mother of God, Phoenix, AZ (Prayer at the Icon)

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom and Let Us Lift Up Our Hearts: Prayer Book for the Faithful.

What musical instruments were played?

Did anything distract you?
The air conditioning was not turned on, and the heat of a Phoenix mid-summer morning was beginning to work its way into the space.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
There is little else more stiff-upper-lip than the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom. The entire service was in Ukrainian, mostly chanted, with the four women in the congregation engaging in a four-part harmonic dialog with the priest. The priest was dressed entirely in blue vestments with gold trim, including what we in the West would call the alb. There was copious incense. I noticed that only two of the women took communion, and there was no antidoron.

Dormition of the Mother of God, Phoenix, AZ (Priest at the altar)

Exactly how long was the sermon?
There was no sermon.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I thought the women’s singing was heavenly. I wondered if Sunday services with a fuller congregation were like that – did the entire congregation sing the responses, or was there a choir?

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Only that I had a sketchy understanding at best of the liturgy. One of the women noticed my confusion and leaned over to ask me if I was Roman Catholic. I replied that I was Episcopalian, and she showed me what page we were on in the service book at that moment. It didn’t help, though – even though the book was duo-lingual, I couldn’t accurately gauge the flow of the Ukrainian text and so didn’t know where we were on the English side of the book. Speaking of which – in my copy, at least, the words "and the Son" (the Filioque) had been crossed out with pencil in the Nicene Creed.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
At the end of the service, the women sang what I think was a hymn to the Blessed Mother, judging from the refrain "O Maria, O Maria, O Maria", as the priest closed the royal doors (first time they were closed during the whole service) and could be seen through the iconostasis consuming the leftover Sacrament.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none. I slipped quietly out during the above-mentioned hymn. There had been no collection, so I left my MW calling card on a table in the narthex.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – I am not Ukrainian and don’t live in that neighborhood, but I was impressed by the understated yet beautiful church appointments and the enthusiasm with which the congregation (all four of them) participated in the liturgy.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. Unlike other Eastern Rite services where I have felt very much like an outsider looking in, I had the feeling that I was witnessing something very holy and very special.

Dormition of the Mother of God, Phoenix, AZ (Interior)

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
"O Maria, O Maria, O Maria."
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