Sewanee Interfaith, a student-run organization designed to foster dialogue, collaboration, and understanding between members of different religions and beliefs, embarked on a trip on February 25 to visit the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Nashville, TN. A group of seven students made the trip to the Church to attend vespers, a sunset service lasting about an hour. The vespers service included prayer, liturgical readings, and extensive singing in the ancient Byzantine chant tradition. Rev. Fr. Gregory Hohnholt presided over the service and took time to meet with the Interfaith group afterwards, answering questions about the service, architecture of the building, and aspects of the Orthodox Church itself. Students learned the significance of symbols and icons (sacred images of saints) throughout the church.
The Orthodox church is rooted in early Christianity and offers one of the most traditional liturgies available. Orthodoxy split off from Catholicism officially Photo courtesy of http://www.pbase.com/around the year 1054 in a Great Schism that continues to this day. Nashville’s Holy Trinity Church was officially founded by the Greek immigrant community in Nashville in 1917 and opened at its current location, an expansive new complex, in 1992. The vespers service took place beneath its expansive all-blue ceiling, illuminated by murals of Jesus Christ, Mary, and the host of saints and disciples. “The images were beautiful, and the Reverend was kind enough to explain the meaning behind aspects of the artwork I wouldn’t have considered, such as the order in which different portraits appeared or the importance of particular colors in the church,” says Elara Sherman (C’17).According to co-president of Sewanee Interfaith Lily Davenport (C’16), the group’s mission with these trips is “to educate people about different faiths, and to provide access to diversity that we don’t often see on-campus. Too often, the famed Sewanee Bubble keeps us from engaging with the wider spiritual and philosophical world . . . Interfaith is about finding common ground with those who differ from us, but also about honoring and celebrating our diversity . . . we can learn what it is to live together in unity, rather than in homogenous unison.”
“It was definitely the best-spent Saturday of the semester thus far,” says Jennifer Merriman (C’17). “I never knew that a large Greek Orthodox community could exist in Nashville, a fact that has made the city infinitely more fascinating to me. Being able to intimately experience another religion that way was an unforgettable and priceless experience.” Other recent excursions by Sewanee Interfaith include a trip to the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, and a visit to the Saints Peter and Paul Basilica in Chattanooga is in the works for the near future. To find out more about Sewanee Interfaith or to get involved, check out the group’s Facebook page or stop by one of their open meetings at Stirling’s Coffee House at 5:30 p.m. on Thursdays.