Friday, June 25, 2010

Sunday in Liverpool (Learning to Live in England, Part 12)

It was my fault. I had neglected to do my homework on the Internet. Too busy blogging and reading all your blogs. So I forgot to find out how to get to the Greek Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas in Liverpool. Demetrios thought he remembered, but as long-time readers of this blog may have realized by now, that phrase ('thought he remembered') has frequently led to - well, not exactly disasters, but dead-ends, anyway. Take the train, he said, and walk a couple of short blocks from Central Station.

That much is more or less true, except it's more than a couple of blocks and they aren't exactly short. But it is non-helpful if you aren't sure which blocks, in which direction. We wandered around lost for the longest time. We asked several people, but nobody knew, and to make things more confusing, there's another 'St. Nicholas' that isn't Orthodox.

Eventually an Information Point opened and some nice clerk there printed us a map. By then, however, it was well past when any Divine Liturgy would be over. We didn't know when the Liturgy might have begun, but whether as early as 9:30 or as late as 10:30, it was surely over by noon. Had we but known, it was only beginning, but we didn't know.

NOON! Who begins an hour-and-a-half to two-hour service at noon, when you've had to fast from the midnight before? I mean, who does that, and why?

So, unaware that, provided we could have found the right bus, we could still have made it before the Cherubic Hymn, we ducked into MacDonald's on Paradise Street and sat in two very comfortable chairs (yes, comfortable, in MacDonald's!) enjoying our burgers and fries. Then, as it was a glorious day and we were seated right behind a glass wall, we watched what seemed to be about a third of the populace walking past, enjoying the warmth and bright sunshine.

The fashion just now for women is full-length, filmy, brightly printed skirts with sandals, some quite elaborate. A lot of girls have cherry-red or mauve hair, and many sport tattoos. (Why do girls think tattoos are pretty? Or do they, really? Perhaps they wear them for other reasons?)

We must have sat there at least an hour and a half, resting our feet and thoroughly enjoying the show. 'I suppose we ought to join the show instead of just watching it,' I said, 'but to tell you the truth, I don't want to yet.'

'Neither do I!' said Demetrios.

So it was about 1:30 by time we decided to make our way to the Greek church. We were determined at least to get there and see what it looked like and be able to know for sure we could get there next time.

Demetrios kept exclaiming at the beauty of the Victorian buildings, the refreshing breeze, the beautiful this, the wonderful that; everything seemed perfect to him. He pointed to a girl skipping and kicking up her heels, and said, 'That's how I feel!'

There was no hurry by now, of course, so as our route took us right past the Liverpool Cathedral (Church of England), we decided to look in.

It's most impressive, as a cathedral is meant to be. It's of red sandstone facing, but that covers up many tons of brick and concrete and steel. It's a 20th Century edifice, using Gothic style but thoroughly modern building methods and materials. It's the largest cathedral in Britain, and the largest Anglican cathedral in Britain and/or Europe. It was completed in 1978 and opened by Her Majesty.

Oragn music was playing softly as we walked in, lending further churchly atmosphere.

Admittance is free, but you do have to pay a ticket for the audio guided tour, which we didn't, or to climb up the tower. The 'Tower Experience' is heavily promoted, especially at night, at sunset.

The artwork leaves much to be desired. The statues look like corpses stood erect. The paintings you have to see before you can properly fail to appreciate them. There's one of the Good Samaritan. All the characters are contemporary. The man beaten and robbed and left for dead is entirely naked, and you get the full frontal view. (He's well-endowed, too.) The elaborate scrollwork/statuary and whatever behind the altar is 'Cathedral Classic' and, to me, ugly.

The baptismal font is too shallow to dip even a baby. You don't even have the option of actually baptizing (dipping) anybody.

The Lady Chapel alone is bigger than an average church in the U.S.

We had been sitting in the first row of wooden chairs when the choir filed in, all vested, men in cassocks and surplices, boys with ruffled collars. (Interesting: they have women priests, but no women in the choir; what's with that?) We had been lucky enough to be there for choir rehearsal.

A nice man who stopped to chat with us informed us that Choral Evensong would be at 3:00.

So we hurried off to find that Greek church in time to be back at the cathedral for Evensong.

We found St. Nicholas, at last! It just happened to be open, too, and the clothing of the people in and about the church let us know there was about to be a wedding. We ducked behind some posing family members, in between photographs, and went in.

It was good to be back in an Orthodox Church, good to enter a house of worship where you cross yourself as you go in, and greet the saints via their icons, and light a candle to symbolize the offering of your life.

Nobody was very friendly. At least that was our first impression. Perhaps because they were desperate to have us gone before the ceremony, I don't know. Anyway, it was not the open-arms greeting one usually has from Greeks.

We hurried away and arrived back at Liverpool Cathedral just barely in time for Evensong.

Talk about traditional! Oh, yes, this evensong even retained thee, thou, and doth. As in, 'He hath holpen His servant Israel.' And of course there was the prayer for the Queen, to which we are unaccustomed.

Anglican church music has its own, unique sound. We have three or four recordings of it at home, and I've come to the point, I think, of being able to recognize it anywhere. I like it a lot. Not as well as I love Russian chant, or even Byzantine when well done, and I'd be horrified to have in in an Orthodox church because it appeals far more to the senses than to the human spirit, but at that sensory level, it's indeed lovely.

The cathedral has contemporary services, too.

The sermon was an eloquent reflection upon Fathers Day. The Church of England is doing all it can, the preacher said, to promote Fathers Day. Okay...

After evensong, we had tea in the purpose-built cafe over in the North Transept. They call it, somewhat pretentiously I think, 'The Refectory'. You can sit there and have tea and a treat (shortbread topped with caramel and chocolate!) overlooking the cathedral precincts.  (Massive wooden doors are opened, leaving only the acrylic ones to keep the weather out.)  They play light classical music for you while you eat, which heavy acrylic doors prevent being heard in the nave, adjoining. The cafe will cater to your group, too, by appointment. You can even rent the rear of the nave, according to one pamphlet, for such things as 'corporate receptions or gala dinners'.  No experience or even proper concept here of sacred space.

The cafe is right next to the purpose-built gift shop. We browsed in there, but didn't buy anything.

On the way home, we reflected on the loss of tradition and Tradition, and what it implies, but that's for another blog post.

Taking a somewhat different route to the train station, we passed the shell of a large church, St. Luke's. I asked two women sitting on its steps what had happened to the building. They said it had been bombed during the war, but was on the national list of sites to be restored.

As the conversation progressed, it turned out they were Catholics, and they wondered whether we had also seen the Catholic cathedral. When told we had not, they pointed to its top, showing above some buildings in front of it, and highly recommended it. it's very modern in style, apparently. We were too tired to see it today, but will remember to check it out another day.

We arrived home footsore and backsore but having had another splendid day in Liverpool.


margaret said...

The two usual reasons for late starting liturgies here are (a) shared churches, I used to go occasionally to St Athanasios' in Cambridge and they started at 11.45because the Anglicans had to get in first and (b) because of the horrors of public transport on a Sunday, as you will have noticed a lot more people are dependent on public transport here than in the US and it may not be possible for some people to get there before noon.

On the other hand perhaps they're just nuts :)

123 said...

I had the same experience with the Greek church in Liverpool. I showed up around 9:30 or 10am thinking I might even be late, but the doors were locked and there was no notice of when services were held - if at all (I didn't know if it was even still a functioning church, and couldn't tell from the outside). My whole, huge Liverpudlian family didn't even know there was a Greek church in Liverpool. I went to the RC Cathedral crypt for their early Easter Mass, served by the bishop. The crypt is all brick and in the style for the more traditional, original (and far more beautiful) design of the RC Cathedral in Liverpool. Afterwards, I decided to wander back toward the Greek church just in case, but also found the Anglican Cathedral now open. I decided to take one last walk past the Greek church around noon just to see if anything was going on. After awhile, I figured out they had only just started Orthros! Most of the Greeks showed up around 2pm! but I just couldn't stay out any longer as family had an Easter Sunday dinner waiting for me. I thought it a beautiful church. it actually reminded me a little of Old World synagogues I've seen. i thought the birds flying in and out of the broken windows way up high sad - in addition to the cultivated ghetto feel of the place and people (everyone was speaking perfect Scouse English when I left, not Greek or English with Greek accents).

Lifelong Scousers never knew there was a Greek church in Liverpool... sad. The ROCOR parish on the Wirral just bought an old Anglican church, which I'm sure is very nice.

You should have written for directions to Toxteth and the church - that was a terrible neighborhood until quite recently after having been the richest part of town back in the port's heyday (which is why the Anglican Cathedral was built there).

123 said...

"The wooden model of Sir Edwin Lutyens' unbuilt design for Liverpool's Catholic Cathedral is one of the most elaborate architectural models ever made in Britain" can be seen here:

Far, far better than what my (historically, culturally, nominally) Roman Catholic family in Liverpool refers to as "Paddy's Wiwam" - which is an apt descriptor of the hideous thing the RCs put up to 'balance' the Anglican Cathedral in so Catholic a city as Liverpool.

Anonymous said...


Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Margaret, thanks for the possible explanations. We find public transport here better than in the States, but it still takes a long time. Half an hour by train to Liverpool, then catch a cab or bus to the church.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Christopher, thanks for the insight and the reference to the model of the original plan for the RC Cathedral.

St. Paddy's Wigwam - that's what the two ladies we spoke with also called it. They said they didn't like it.

Yes, St. Nicholas does look like a synagogue, now you mention it.

Christopher, how come I can no longer get onto your blog from here????? Is it because I'm using library computers? I get a message saying the blog is open to invited readers only. :-(

I miss reading your blog! A LOT.

margaret said...

Same here, Christopher. I'd like an invitation to your blog if possible.

123 said...

Would be happy to send an invite. What is your email? You can reach me on my orrologion email address with gmail.

Bb said...

By then, however, it was well past when any Divine Liturgy would be over. We didn't know when the Liturgy might have begun, but whether as early as 9:30 or as late as 10:30, it was surely over by noon. Had we but known, it was only beginning, but we didn't know.

NOON! Who begins an hour-and-a-half to two-hour service at noon, when you've had to fast from the midnight before? I mean, who does that, and why?

Many of Liverpool's bustling nightspots are owned and run by Greek businessmen, and open on Saturday night until the early (sometimes not so early) hours of Sunday morning. When these are the influential people in a parish, concessions are sometimes made. My parish occasionally gets visited by Greek people who travel to us from Liverpool because they don't want to go to the Greek parish on their doorstep, and one has transferred permanently, saying it is "too Greek", (which is why I wasn't very surprised when I read in an earlier post of your about the priest asking whether you were one of their own). Orthodox parishes in the northwest make the effort at keeping in touch with each other and establishing a sense of Orthodox family. At my parish, we always write to the priest at St Nicholas', inviting the parish to our significant events, but we never receive any reply and nobody comes. We're not even sure whether the congregation gets told, and we never get invited to take part in anything special they do. It's quite sad really, but we keep trying.