(MULTIPLE PHOTOS) What a great weekend I had with 25 folks in Vancouver as we explored Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Greek Orthodox Christianity, and Daoism in one extraordinary weekend.
A neat parallel happened during the weekend as at the synagogue, we watched them take the Torah out of the ark and parade it around the congregation while everyone turned to face it (you don't turn your back on Torah). The next day at the Orthodox church, they took the body of Christ out of the tabernacle (another special container at the front) and paraded it around the congregation as everyone turned to face it (again, no turning your back on the eucharist). For Jews, the Torah became the centre of religious life, replacing the Jewish temple that was destroyed in the year 70. Hence, they dress the Torah up as the temple priests were once dressed (with a crown and robe) and it now occupies the ark (that used to be in the temple) and is the centre of worship. For Christians, Jesus' body replaced the temple as the sacrifice of his body replaces the temple animal sacrifices. The gospels even have Jesus referring to himself as the new temple (destroy this temple and I will rebuild it in 3 days). Both traditions have survived the destruction of the Jewish temple partly by finding another centre for religious devotion.
Zoroastrian fire urn. Only the second I've ever seen. The Zoroastrians perceive god (Ahura Mazda) as pure light and use fire to symbolize him.
The brown powder is myrrh and the red sticks are incense, both of which Zoroastrians put into the sacred fire. Some Zoroastrian priests were once known as magi. They were also astrologers who consulted the heavens for guidance (many ancients believed the sky revealed truths about the heavens and earth). Hence the story in Luke's gospel about the magi who watch stars and who bring gold, incense and myrrh to the birth of Jesus.
At the Daoist site, our hosts spoke to us a lot less and emphasized practice instead. Hence, we engaged in Tai Chi and in chant. The tradition emphasizes practice over language on the basis that the practice is its own form of learning.
This Daoist shrine honours Quan Yin, a Buddhist figure. In China, devotion to Daoist, Buddhist and Confucian figures blends together harmoniously.
Here we are at St George's Greek Orthodox church with Father Constantinos. The wall behind us is the iconostasis, a regular feature in orthodox churches that houses the altar inside. Orthodoxy emphasizes the mystery of divine liturgy and especially of the transformation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. Hence the wall hides key aspects of the service, notably the changing of the bread and wine into the eucharist, to emphasize that it is a miracle one can never fully understand.