Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The ILC’s Maiden Voyage to Vanderbilt: Everyday a new Adventure

Out of all the time I have spent here at the Vanderbilt Summer Academy, I have found class to be the most interesting experience as it should be. The abnormal truth is that it’s getting even more interesting as we get closer to the end of the program.

I awoke very early for class this morning to gather at The Commons, two hours before our normal start time at 9:00AM, to eat breakfast and prepare for our field trip. We took a trip to the beautiful Greek Orthodox Church called Holy Trinity, and sat in on the service. Upon our arrival I was in awe of the sheer size of the church. When we moved inside the walls were adorned with beautiful pieces of artwork depicting, Jesus, Mary, and the 12 disciples. In the sanctuary itself, was a huge altar with paintings of the 12 disciples and Jesus along with other religious figures including the apostle Paul. For most of the service we stood with only about 15 minutes of total sitting time. The practices of worship include a lot of ritualism including bells, incense, specific chants, and songs; some songs and chants include a call and response format. The service also included help from the community with young church members having to carry the lanterns.

After the service was over, we were able to talk to the leader of the service and ask questions about Christianity and the Eastern Orthodox sect of Christianity. I learned that they shaped their sanctuary in the fashion of the ancient Israelite Tabernacle with three layers within the church, one being the holiest in which only priest can enter.

After we returned from our trip, we immediately switched tracks and got right down to Buddhism. We attacked the complicated idea of emptiness in one’s self, yet fullness in the spirit of all humanity. We talked about the ideas of inevitable death and samsara which is the cycle of life, basically reincarnation. We explored nirvana and the idea of being a bodhisattva or person that after becoming enlightened denies nirvana instead to come back to earth and help others reach Enlightenment. One example is the Dalai Lama.

Exploration is never finished in our World Religions classes. Using sources from YouTube to King of the Hill as tools, we are able to understand the concepts of these complex religious systems allowing us to be able to not only look at the religion from a historical perspective, but from the eyes of the people that practice it.


A group of sleepy-eyed students boarded two vans at 7:30 AM this morning to attend morning Mass at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church here in Nashville, Tennessee.

I did not know what to expect with this being my first time ever stepping into a church; however, what I experienced and observed was far beyond what I had anticipated.

Inside, the chapel was just intricate—delicately carved pillars rose up towards the wooden ceiling above, and the sweet smell of incense filled the air. A natural light filtered in from the grand windows high above the walls, making visible the thick smoke of the burning candles.

The service was intriguing, as well as a bit strenuous for us student visitors. We all stood and sat when appropriate as a sign of respect; the majority of the time, the worshippers (therefore, we as well) stood. I learned later that one stands in the house of worship because he is in the presence of a king: Jesus Christ.

After much reading from the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, the priest offered the worshippers receiving Communion blessed bread and wine— the body and blood of Jesus Christ. We students did not receive Communion, of course, because we are not of Greek Orthodox faith. However, it was definitely a ritual worth seeing.

Learning about Christianity, or any religion, for that matter, is so incomparable when one actually has the experience of standing-- even watching worship-- in a holy house. It is satisfying in a way, enlightening in a way, and no doubt beautiful. I have learned to appreciate and respect culture—the different beliefs people hold to their heart and the varying traditions people perform in faith.

Tonight was our last sign out night, so our proctor group, along with some other friends, decided to head over to CABANA for dinner and/or dessert.

I ordered a cream cheese brownie with vanilla ice cream (similar to what Aiyana had) and contemplated on how far all of us have come here at VSA.

We only have a couple days left here at Vanderbilt, and the three weeks seemed to have flown by. We have developed friendships that are simply heartwarming, and met great individuals who will no doubt go far to be successful in this world.

However, we have also discovered something about ourselves, whether it be something profound, such as the discovery of a passion for engineering, or something less substantial, such as the discovery that I cannot dance (my Arete class is Dance Around the World).

Although our parting may be tearful, we must all learn to live in the moment, because there are not many left here.

…Today's lesson on Buddhism has taught me well.

The Greek Orthodox Way

Going to bed late and waking up early are not a great combination for the average teenager. We’re normally tired 45 percent of the day without waking up earlier than normal. However, we are all strong “troopers” as our professor likes to say. We all met up to have some boxed breakfast, which was an assorted muffin, an orange, Greek yogurt (*wink wink*), and juice. We then carpooled to The Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church.

The building is rather large. Inside, it’s beautiful. The intricate wooden frame designs were beautifully carved. Dozens of framed paintings hang on the walls. Windows let in light throughout the chapel. But the most unique and stunning design was the center of the room, which was like a dome, except not on the ceiling, but on the wall in the front of the room. Painted on it were the 12 apostles. An alter with Jesus Christ on the cross is on a table in the middle of the room, in front of the wall. A small divider with paintings on it surrounds the dome, with a small opening where the Father could be seen.

However for the majority of the service, the Father’s back was turned to us, as he chanted from the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom. The service is nothing like I’ve ever heard of before. Almost the entire service is spoken by song. The writings in the Divine Liturgy are sung and chanted by voices behind the wall in both Greek and English. Occasionally, the Father would turn to us and shake a small instrument shaped like a church with a burning coal and incense inside, and bells connected to it. Also, we learned that worshipers stand for about 90 percent of the entire service. We stood as well as a sign as respect, but a few of my classmates were close to passing out from a combination of both standing and the pungent smell of incense.

After the service, we asked a few questions with the Father of the Church. He explained his robed outfit, the style of the church, and a few more questions. Everything at the Church is either a symbol for something in the Holy Bible, or a replica/dedication to the original Church.

I can truly see now how Muslims believe that Christians practice idolatry (however not all Christian sects do, and not all Christians believe they do so). Almost every prayer ends or contains the words “the Holy Trinity” or mentions the Lord and Jesus Christ together. It does seem like they worship two gods.

The artwork decorated throughout the Church is very unique. All the paintings are of people with solemn expressions. They all have the same body and face style and structure as well.

We continued our discussions on Buddhism. Although yesterday I posted that the idea of not being attached to anything because of the lack of existence was depressing, our professor explained how truly liberating their beliefs are. Buddhism teaches about living in the now and taking advantage of the moment. Only focus on now, what you’re thinking about at this moment, what’s going on this moment. It teaches you to respect your life and live it to the fullest by not constantly worrying about the future. Embrace every moment in the now. Be joyous about the time you have right now.

So I forgot to mention my arĂȘte class for this week! I am learning how to fence! We have already learned footwork, parries 1-6 (attack and defense saber positions), and the rules of attacking. We fenced our instructor yesterday, and today we fenced a partner. I did pretty well surprisingly! The suit is heavy and hot, and the helmet smells like sweaty men, but it was pretty fun using the saber. I can now say that I’ve fenced before! I’ll try to post some pictures tomorrow.

Tonight was the last sign out of the program. 16 of us ate out at a semi-fancy restaurant called Cabanas. I only got dessert, but it was delicious. I had a cream cheese chocolate brownie with raspberry filling and vanilla ice cream with strawberries. Though the food was superb, the charges were ridiculous. I guess we pay an arm and a leg for the nice and fancy ambiance?

As for what we did later tonight, I’ll have to post it tomorrow. Let’s just say we have a surprise for Malika, our proctor. I don’t want her to find out exactly what it is yet since she sometimes reads our blogs, so I shall inform you all in my next post. So excited!