I was lucky enough to see a Greek Orthodox service at the Apokalypsis monastery. The priest wore a white ‘dress’ decorated with Greek crosses. He had a large, bushy grey beard and his hair was a similar colour. He spent most of the service in an inner room chanting while two men, members of the congregation not garbed in priestly attire but definitely part of the service, on the opposite side of the inner half of the chapel were counterpoint to his chants. People attending the service had lit candles when coming in to the chapel, but these were replaced every 10 minutes by one of the two men helping to run the service, who would replace each thrown-away candle with a new one. There were a few chairs in the inner part of the chapel and there was no music, the only sounds were the three human voices.
Periodically, worshippers would walk around the icons kissing each one in turn and then either kissing or running their prayer beads over the beaten silver surrounding the two gaps in the rock used by St John. At no time were all the people still. The priest spoke rapidly in a near whisper, his voice carrying around the chapel easily, but there was never any reply from the congregation as a whole, just from the two men. Theirs was the only sound I could hear – there was no noise from outside.
Occasionally, the priest came out of his inner sanctum with a senser full of incense. He lifted this towards the congregation three times and also wafted it out of the window as if in blessing nature. The incense momentarily blurred the icons in my line of sight and my nostrils breathed in the holy smell (some other word!). Some new worshippers prostrated themselves in front of one of the icons whilst others prayed and stayed where they were. There was always movement with people coming in and out of the chapel, lighting candles, praying, kissing icons, and touching the beaten silver. At no time did people talk amongst themselves.
After about an hour the priest gave the sacrament to all those who queued up to receive it. One of the priest’s helpers re-arranged the candles and threw most of them away as they’d almost all burned down to the sand in the container they were standing in. The final act was for the priest to hand out bread to all the worshippers as they were leaving the chapel. He then changed into black attire and strode confidently out of the chapel while listening to half-a-dozen people who were following him. The whole service lasted an hour and 20 minutes.