Sun, 01 Oct 2000

How many times do you pray in a day?

By Ida Indawati Khouw

JAKARTA (JP): Almost all of Indonesian dictionaries should be revised now especially regarding religious terms as some of them are no longer suitable.

Some terminology, for years associated with Islam like shalat or solat or salat, and ruku (deep bow from the waist), now also belong to Christianity due to the presence of Orthodox Christians here.

The famous Indonesian-English Dictionary by John M. Echols and Hassan Shadily, for example, translates salat as "ritual prayers and actions performed five times daily", whereas congregations of the Orthodox Churches also perform the ritual, not five but seven times a day.

The rituals of the ancient Christian religion, which initially grew in the so called Eastern world, are, indeed, something new for Indonesians who are familiar with Western Christian religions like the Roman Catholic Church and various Protestant churches.

Congregations of the Orthodox Churches consider that their denomination is older than Catholicism or Protestantism.

According to the Encyclopedia Americana the Orthodox Churches, generally called the Eastern Orthodox Churches, are a family of 15 self-governing Christian churches, but those existing in Indonesia so far are the Greek Orthodox and the Syrian Orthodox Christians.

Many people might be surprised witnessing Orthodox Christians performing their shalat rituals just like Muslims.

Prior to a discussion about the Syrian Orthodox Christians on Jl. Cikini Raya in Central Jakarta last week, for example, the faithful began with the shalat and chanting of Arabic Holy Bible verses, the same way Muslim's recite the Koran.

While Muslims have prayers five times daily, both the Syrian and Greek Orthodox Christians perform the shalat seven times a day following the tradition of Judaism. This tradition existed long before Islam, but the ritual was given new exegesis, namely centered in Christ.

Bambang Noorsena from the Institute for Syriac Christian Studies said in his paper that the seven-time prayers start at 6 a.m., when the followers, before they do anything, ask God to purify their hearts.

"The prayer, conducted during sunrise, also reminds us about the resurrection of Jesus," said the man who once made a special study on the Syrian Church and its liturgy at Bab Touma Seminary in Syria.

The second is performed at 9, the time when Jesus was sentenced to death and His disciples felt the presence of the Holy Spirit. This is followed by the midday prayer, the time when He was crucified.

A prayer performed at 3 p.m. is to commemorate the time when Jesus died. At about 6 p.m. the congregation performs another prayer to remind of the time when Jesus's body was taken down from the cross.

The last two shalat are performed before sleeping, commemorating the entombment of Jesus' body, and at midnight following His word that He will come again to the world like a thief at night, that is why people should always be on guard.

The ritual movements include ruku (deep bow from the waist), and sujud (bow from kneeling position and raising the hands). The congregation also has their own kiblat (direction) which is toward the East, at first following the Judaism practice.

"That early Christians performed the prayers, actually, can be read in the Bible, for example in the book of The Acts of The Apostles," said Bambang, who introduced the Syrian Orthodox teachings -- centered in Antioch, Syria, the only church which still maintains the language of Jesus, the Aramaic language -- in Indonesia in 1997.

That Christians here, in general, do not perform such prayers, Bambang said was because of adaptations done by Roman Catholic popes for the sake of fulfilling modern life pursuits, "the rituals disappeared further after the Protestant reformation."

Unlike the Greek Orthodox Church, the Syrian one has yet to established the church here. "We should have a priest if we want to establish the church. Moreover, I don't have intention to build one. I just maintain it as a study center.

"I want to show that Christianity did not come only from the West. The ancient churches, actually, have similar roots with Islam," said Bambang who claimed that there are about 3,000 people regularly joining his study center.

He hoped that by knowing the "meeting points" between Islam and Christianity, hostility between them which occurs so often here could be eliminated.

The Gereja Ortodox Indonesia (GOI -- the Indonesian Orthodox Church), which is under the patriarch of Istanbul, is located at the housing complex of film artist Roy Marten in Jatiwaringin area (East Jakarta).

Every Sunday morning, tens of congregations perform what they call the holy liturgy in the church which is full of Eastern Church icons.

The women worshipers wear head scarfs and perform the ritual separately from the men. You will hear continuous chanting of prayers of adoration lasting for about two hours. No rows of chairs, musical instruments or choirs like those at most churches here.

The church interior follows that of the Greek Orthodox Church around the world namely having a "holy" room, forbidden to all but priests and those baptized in the Orthodox way. Within the room are the implements with which the priests prepare bread and wine for Holy Communion.

The bread is prepared by the congregation in their homes where they fast for six hours during the preparation for the sake of self purification.

"Before the communion, the unleavened bread should be signed by a cross stamp which we have distributed to our congregations," said GOI priest Daniel Bambang Dwibiantoro, who introduced the Orthodox Christian faith in 1988 and claimed to have about 2,000 followers at present.

Daniel said that the holy liturgy, flavored with incense fragrance, was a "drama" of Jesus' whole life. "That's why all of the liturgy's parts are the commemoration of Jesus' life stages," said the man who wears long robes everywhere.

Besides the weekly liturgy and shalat, the GOI congregation also perform other prayers for their daily needs, for instance at the ceremony to construct a house, to purify a house and before cultivating the land.