It Takes a Pan-Orthodox Village

candle-w-red-coverI grew up with the notion that it could take just one parish to keep me in the faith. I was raised in a humble Greek Orthodox Church in Southern California. My weeks were like clockwork in the church. Sundays were for worship, Mondays for Greek dance, and Fridays for Greek school.

I grew up with the notion that it could take just one parish to keep me in the faith. I was raised in a humble Greek Orthodox Church in Southern California. My weeks were like clockwork in the church. Sundays were for worship, Mondays for Greek dance, and Fridays for Greek school.

The church became the central grounds of my life’s milestones. The first time I spoke publicly was at the Oratorical Festival. At this church, I received my first Orthodox Bible, taught my faith to Sunday school children, and met my best friend. I said goodbye to my mother at her funeral when I was twenty-one at this church. My parish priest conducted special services before I went to college and before I went to India to volunteer at the Theotokos Girl’s Orphanage. Every step of the way, I felt more grounded in this church and faith.

iconandrosessmallWhen I moved to New York for graduate school, I struggled spiritually. I missed my family and church. I longed to spend time with people who were of different ages than my own. I sought out elderly people to sit with and children to baby-sit because I was so accustomed to my church community.

I began to look for Greek Orthodox churches in New York. Each Sunday, I would make the freezing trek to a new church. I felt as if I was in a reality show, “Which church will Christiana choose?” After walking into each church, closing my eyes to pray, crossing myself, partaking in Holy Communion, and then joining the coffee hour and hoping that someone would say hello to me, I always felt somewhat empty after. I never found a community just like my own. I settled with the closest Greek Church to my apartment. My reality show was a bust.

A couple years later, I moved back to Los Angeles and my fiancé, who was also raised Greek Orthodox, asked me a daunting question, “Shall we go to the OCA church today?” I was curious and skeptical. “This is not my church,” I thought, “I don’t speak Russian. Do I have to cover my head?”

As I walked into the church, I turned my head to the right to scope out a pew in which I would sit. You know, that area where you always sit each week? To my surprise, there were no pews and just a few lonesome chairs.

I stood through the entire service, at times feeling back throb while marveling at the beauty of ancient icons. I began to realize that no one really seemed to notice if your head was covered. Everyone seemed spiritual as they walked around the church to venerate each icon. My doubt slowly left me as I felt a deep sense of peace. Little did I know that this visit was my birth into a new spiritual life of Pan-Orthodoxy.

ChristdomesmallpicMeeting my husband opened my eyes to something extraordinary in my faith because his approach to attending church was different than my own. We spent hours debating our ideas, knowing that one day we would need to merge these approaches. His philosophy was that if there was an Orthodox church nearby, he would attend it, regardless of whether it was Russian, OCA, Antiochian, or Greek. He had the ability to maintain his Greek roots by speaking Greek as if he were raised in Greece and by being well versed in the Byzantine Empire’s history just as if he were born of that era. I, on the other hand, thought I was only allowed to attend Greek Orthodox Churches and often times blurred my lines between ethnic social traditions and worship.

After the first service at the OCA church we attended, people introduced themselves to us, and I felt that sense of community for the first time away from home. I was also able to continue to grow in my faith, which was ultimately my priority. This process continued.

theotokospinkWhen we moved to Washington, D.C, we attended an Antiochian Church, and within minutes of the start of coffee hour, we met the entire congregation and priest. Weeks later, we became members. If there is a special feast day, we will find a church that offers a service. While traveling away from our home, which happens often, we attend the closest Orthodox church to our accommodation. This has been one of the most eye-opening and fulfilling aspects of my faith, not to mention that it has allowed us to meet some extraordinary friends from all over the world and across different Orthodox jurisdictions.

As global citizens and adults, our worlds are becoming more transient. Gone are the days where our youth will stay in the same city, let alone the same country, to study and live. If I only knew back when I was in New York that I had such a large range of churches to attend, I would not have felt so empty at that time. If only I knew that the Greek Orthodox Church was in communion with the OCA, Russian, and Antiochian churches, among others, I would have allowed my faith to keep growing in a way that was best for me.

joyandincensesmallPeople seem inclined to categorize us Orthodox Christians. Are you Greek Orthodox? Russian? Antiochian? OCA? We are a bewildering case to some people who wish to categorize us, yet it has all become very clear to me. I am simply an Orthodox Christian with deep family roots in Greece and Asia Minor. My Greek roots will never be washed away, and neither will my sense of Orthodox belonging.

As we raise our children and find ourselves settling in new cities, it can only benefit us to take the opportunity to visit local Orthodox Churches. Next week, make a commitment to walk up to a newcomer to your parish and introduce yourself. You never know where people are in their faith and how much a simple handshake and smile can impact their spiritual journey.

 

****************************************************

 

Christiana-Roulakis_cropped

written by
avatar
Christiana Roulakis directed and produced a short film called Lucky…
Related Posts