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Were it not for the sign on the red canopy over the entrance, one could easily pass St. George’s Greek Orthodox Church by as just another building along a nondescript city block. Inside, however, the profusion of images is even more conducive to prayer and worship than in the usual Orthodox church. In a space suitable for a small auditorium (about one hundred feet by twenty feet), the walls are covered with murals that depict scenes from the lives of Christ and the saints. Most of the images are in the icon form that is characteristic of Byzantine sacred art, but a few are in a more Western style, such as one of the Theotokos (the Virgin Mary) towering over a rather unthreatening-looking demon as she grasps a tuft of his hair with her left hand. The iconastasis , or rood screen, in front of the altar dominates an exquisitely decorated sanctuary.

On Sunday, May 9, the fortyish Rev. James W. Kordaris—the proistamenos , or pastor, of St. George’s—led the ancient Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, alternating between Greek and English. The busy psaltis, a lay male cantor, sang entirely in Greek through most of the liturgy, but the passages from Scripture were read in both languages. The Gospel reading was John 9:1–38, the story of Jesus’ healing of a man blind from birth. That passage centers on a theological conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees that is partly about the Sabbath but mainly about how suffering and sin are interrelated. Unexpectedly (at least to this writer), Fr. Kordaris gave his homily on the Gospel at the very end of the service—in order, he said, to accommodate the normal trickle of latecomers. Indeed, at the start of the liturgy, the congregation stood at less than two dozen; it ended up numbering more than twice that.

Fr. Kordaris read his homily rather quickly. (Some of the young children present were eying the slices of unconsecrated bread—the antidoron —that sat in a basket in the main aisle, awaiting consumption after the service.) And yet, given the Gospel text, Fr. Kordaris could hardly fail to offer rich spiritual fare. He started with a story of a little boy who bumped his head on the door of the family van as he rushed to leave the car, in defiance of his mother’s instructions, before she secured the parking brake. The mother used the occasion to tell the boy that God was punishing him for his disobedience. Such episodes, common in the lives of believers, help account for the widespread impression of God as a vindictive tyrant. But Fr. Kordaris went on to cite several examples, from the Bible and from everyday life, to remind his hearers that God’s grace, mercy, and power are shown forth most of all through our “weakness.” That, Fr. Kordaris indicated, is the broader lesson in Jesus’ answer to his disciples when they asked him: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus replied: “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.”

Much else can be (and has been) done by preachers with this passage, especially with the story’s ironic interplay between physical and spiritual blindness and light. But Fr. Kordaris probably did as much as he could, realistically, in the circumstances of his parish. The intimate family atmosphere was palpable, not only during the service but at the coffee hour that followed, with its Sunday-brunch bounty of home-prepared foods.

City: New York
Borough: Manhattan
Address: 307 West 54th Street
Phone: 212-265-7808
Religion: Christian
Denomination: Greek Orthodox
Main Service: Sunday, 10:30 A.M.
Pastor: Fr. James W. Kordaris

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