The OCeeker: St. Marina Coptic Orthodox Church and the Kiss That Missed

Something kinda holy just happened. If only the OCeeker could make sense of it. But that's the risk one takes when a sanctified savage lolligags into a liturgy where even the Almighty his own self can't break through the language barrier.  

That said, a man will take a blessing in any tongue, and yer brown-eyed boy sure received one at St. Marina Coptic Orthodox Church in Irvine.

The sanctuary--located in a business park in the City of Beige Stucco--is filled with icons of the saints hung upon ornately cut, wooden walls, and there is a square altar upon which the holy elements are placed.

Having spent many a Sunday in cookie-cutter evangelical halls, with their vanilla walls and bare bones decor, stepping into St. Marina's was like walking into the Holy of Holies, where one is reminded that believers indeed are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. If only they could tell visitors what the hell is going on during a midweek liturgy.

Turkish delight

According to church history, St. Marina was born in the 3rd Century into a wealthy family from Antioch, in the country known today as Turkey. After her parents died, she lived with a nanny who told her the stories of Christian martyrs. At age 15, she converted to Christianity, forsaking her pagan upbringing.

A holy hottie, the governor of Antioch dispatched his soldiers to fetch Marina. The governor demanded to know if Marina could defy him and his gods, to which she proclaimed, "I am Christian. I believe in the Lord Christ, and my name is Marina."

For that, the governor subjected her to the torture of getting body-scraped with iron combs and having her wounds rubbed with salt, vinegar and lime. Then she was thrown in the clink. To make the long story short, after further tortures, including being thrown into a cauldron filled with melted lead, she was ordered to have her head cut off.

She only asked the executioner to allow her to first pray. The executioner cut off Marina's neck, then, convicted by her faith, cut his own neck while proclaiming, "I believe in the God of St. Marina."

The word "Copt" comes from the Greek term Aigyptos, which was derived from Hikaptah, one of the names for Memphis, the first capital of ancient Egypt. The Coptic Church was founded on the teachings of St. Mark, who, according to tradition, evangelized Egypt during the reign of Caesar Nero. In modern times, the term "Coptic" refers to Egyptian Christians.

They're in Irvine now.

I just want your extra time and your...kiss

Father Bishoy Kamel led a a couple dozen worshippers through morning prayers on a sun-kissed Wednesday morning. If only the OCeeker could've kissed his hand. He tried.

As Kamel walked the sanctuary with incense in tow, which represents the presence of God and the prayers of the saints, he stopped to ask the OCeeker where he was from. Sexytown. After learning that the Unorthodox One was a visitor in the midst, Kamel, rather hospitably, directed a congregant to show him an English translation of the liturgy and point out where we were in the order of service, which included Scripture readings and a solemn remembrance of Christ's death on Calvary's cross.

This was a fine, but rather sneaky gesture on Kamel's part, the OCeeker soon discovered. When it was time for the saints to kiss his hand, the OCeeker moseyed up to lay lips on manpaw, but Kamel withdrew his digits and offered him a blessing of peace. Now, the OCeeker has been rebuffed by many a lady with obviously poor taste in men, but when one can't get to first base with a priest, it causes a lothario to re-examine his plan of attack, ye heathen.

Kamel, dressed in white, priestly garb and a holy hat, was assisted by a group of boys who attended to the altar. One reading included a passage from 1 Peter 4: "Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy."

We were given psalms to read out of the Coptic Orthodox Book of Hours. Seeing as how it was in English, the OCeeker actually got to talk to God for a little bit. So did the saints, who were mostly older people. (This isn't the place to pick up babes on a Wednesday morning at 9 a.m.) The women, all with head scarves, sat on the right side of the sanctuary and sang a little louder than the men, who gathered on the left side.

Orthodox church services are filled with rich symbolism. Kamel held up a cross lit with three candles, which speaks of Christ being the light of the world. Even the prayers are directed eastward, as a reminder that Christ is the "sun of righteousness" rising from the east.

The OCeeker recommends you wear your comfy shoes upon visiting a Coptic church. They stand during most of the liturgy. Just follow along with the sheeple when they bow or sit, and you'll be set.

Kamel's liturgy received five out five church schisms. A beautiful service indeed, American believers would do well to visit an Orthodox church at least once during their earthly sojourn.

St. Marina Coptic Orthodox Church holds liturgy several times throughout the week at 5 Wrigley St., Irvine, (949) 941-5165;

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