Sunday, August 15, 2010

My Russian Orthodox Church

I would like to begin by saying that this is a bit on why I belong to a Russian Orthodox Church. It escapes people, at times, why an American might choose to attend a church whose language and culture are not their own. I hope to clear a little bit of that up, even if you weren't wondering, I hope it is a good read.

Let's see, when I was 3 years old, my parents became Orthodox Christians in a tiny town so far north in California, it may as well have been Oregon, which is where we eventually moved some years later. I believe all of the people in our little church were american converts from other various backgrounds, but mostly from Catholicism. The church itself was established under the Western American Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, so imagine that we were part of the Russian Diocese, but not a one of us is of prominent Russian ancestry. So, basic bit of history which might lead a person to believe that I might go where we go because that is simply what I grew up with, but it isn't as easy as all that. After we moved up to Oregon, there was a period of time that we had a dry spell in having a priest and there aren't exactly a plethora of Orthodox churches in southern Oregon, so it isn't as if we would have had our pick and so a separation occurred between myself and the faith of my youth.

Fast forward to years later and I would meet my, now husband, though he lived in the far off land of Colorado. He went home after a week, we emailed, talked on the phone, I came out for a visit and so did he, we met each other's families and then I moved to CO. Whew! After I moved out here, he kept asking about finding a church to attend together and, having been to some Protestant youth groups with friends in my early teen years, I didn't find any comfort in the prospect of looking into any as an adult. Deep down inside, I think the spark was still flickering, something probably only kindled by the prayers of my mom and dad, but fed nonetheless. So, instead of totally writing it off with his talk of churches, I called my mom for an address. We ventured from Fort Collins down to Denver to show him what I grew up with and that was the beginning of everything. He wanted more of what he saw and experienced because it was the same as in Jerusalem and he was apparently searching for it for 5 years, only not knowing where to look.

Ok, so now you get why we are attending church...basically, the Grace of God with a side of initiative. That being said, we didn't HAVE to attend this particular parish, no one forced us to drive from Fort Collins to Denver, 70+ miles one way, to come to this exact church. I do believe that we passed a few along the way, but what could be the draw? Well, this is where we were drawn, I suppose you could say, in, somewhat, the same way I was drawn from Oregon more than 1000 miles eastward to Colorado, just knowing that it was the right thing to do, even though we had only known each other for 5 months at that point, and long-distance, at that!

On to the topic at hand, why a culturally and linguistically different church when there is a variety of Orthodox churches throughout the Denver area? To be honest, in the earlier days, it never even occurred to me to go to any other parish, it was where Jay was baptised, we were married and Katherine was baptised, we have history. That is a good start, but what is more, why have we stayed this whole time, especially when people STILL look at us sideways when we say, "I'm sorry, I don't speak Russian." All as we help them in the kiosk, bookstore or are volunteering for an event.

I will say this much, the people with whom we attend church are Orthodox Christian's and many happen to be Russian as well, as to be expected. Our specific roots go directly back to Russia, who trace their own parentage to Greece. So, as things would be, America is among the next step in the lineage for many Orthodox Churches, who will also reclaim their roots in many countries, as well as, establish new ones in others. So, first and foremost, I go to church with many Orthodox Christian's whose heritage is Russian. They are our church family, plain and simple.

Another aspect is the language because, let's be honest, how could we overlook it? How do we know where we are in the service and isn't it confusing, what are they saying? Well, for anyone to understand this completely, they would have had to have experienced an Orthodox liturgy, or even a vigil and its timeless and effortless beauty. I was not versed in anything more than, 'Gospodi Pomiluy', means, 'Lord have Mercy', so you can imagine it has been a journey and, in fact, it gave me reason to ponder my innermost thoughts and intentions in life. When things become habitual, I am not unlike your average person, who will take its worth for granted and, in this case, I had a way of memorizing the prayers to the point of glazing over their purpose and they just became words. With the Slavonic, I had to focus on the words to try to pinpoint repetition and patterns, but I also fell in love with the melodies and intensity that only another language can enhance. At times, it is as though the prayers are flowing through me, in and out of the entirety of the church in an infinitely profound and yet, simple, manner.

In closing, I will say that when I listen, God leads my heart into 'green pastures and He leadeth me beside the still waters, He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.' (Ps. 23 2-3) I have to imagine that if I was to choose something different from this church it would have more to do with a lacking in my faith or if that is where we are meant to follow, than my parish lacking in having its roots here where I was born. Anyone who looks at me funny for being a part of a Russian Orthodox parish just must not see Christ in Her, because He is the reason we are there, nothing more and nothing less.

Thanks for listening...the next one won't likely be quite so long, but you never know.


Terry said...

You are very gifted in your writing. Thank you for sharing. I have been listening to AFR podcasts and am working through "Search the Sriptures" and have learned a lot.

Martha said...

Wishing you a joyous feast of the Transfiguration!!! I love our church. Sometimes I wish everything were in English, though. I studied Russian in college and traveled there in 1999, but find it hard to pray when I don't understand it all. Last week I went to a funeral at the Greek church, and it was half in Greek...I didn't understand a LOT. I thought about it after...and this is America, I wish for all English, honestly. I'm being selfish, though.