In my last post, I spoke of issues with my church turning fundie, and fearing I had to leave it. Some people may think, Well this is what Orthodoxy is–Didn’t you know this when you converted? Especially nowadays, various bloggers and celebrity priests and Youtube influencers have gotten people thinking that Orthodoxy means right-wing views on both politics and religion. David Bentley Hart has joked that American Orthodoxy is now “a wing of the Southern Baptists with incense.”
But no, actually, it’s a small-town Midwestern Greek church, mostly cradle, where the people have more modern practices, women have fought for more equality and leadership in the church, and–unlike what I hear about the big-city ethnic churches–actually welcome in newcomers. You don’t have to be Greek; you don’t have to wear a headscarf; you don’t have to obey your husband; women can read and chant and sometimes even help the priest during services. You don’t have to follow all the fasting rules; organs are fine and pews are welcome; birth control is okay. Some people are Republican, even Trumpers; some are Democrats. Some have more traditional views of–well, everything; some are more progressive. I came here not for strict old-fashioned practices and patriarchal society, but for mystical spiritualism that says God is love and NOT wrath. This is why I, deconstructing from Evangelicalism and leaning liberal, was able to come into an Orthodox church and stay there for about 16 years. Any convertitis I felt back in 2006, under the influence of people I met online, was quickly tempered by assimilating into what some would dismiss as an “ecumenist” or “modernist” church.
The trouble came when more traditionalist and Republican views seemed to start coming in and taking over. A nearby right-wing monastery under Elder Ephraim has been gaining influence when I never heard much about it before. The new priest began channeling Tucker Carlson–even said the local nuns were “praying for Kyle Rittenhouse.” He’d say in one breath that our church is not racist or against people who are LGBTQ, then in the next say God didn’t make anyone trans and complain about CRT. Pull your kids out of the public school because they’re influencing the kids into being trans, he said. This government is evil, he said. I began to fear that I couldn’t be an ally for racial and queer justice and stay here.
This is why I left right before Christmas. Well, physically left. I didn’t officially leave because I don’t make decisions lightly. I have to research and ponder first. I’ve left churches before, but never did I have so much at stake. I’ve put 16 years into this church–studying the doctrines and why they do things, learning to talk to saints and use icons, learning how to fold palm crosses, decorating, reading Epistles and a good chunk of the Holy Week readings every year, Greek Fest, running the website. They’re family: parental figures, grandmotherly figures, siblings, now a new generation coming in and converting and possibly becoming like one’s children. I have a BFF and occasionally the Greeks will flirt with you. Especially for a transplant from another state, finding chosen family is a big deal.
Christmas came; instead of church, I was home nursing a dying bird. (RIP Spice. 🙁 ) I stayed away for nearly four months. I kept dreaming about people from church. I researched–the results of which are in the last post–and checked out local liberal churches online. (The local ONA UCC church has an AWESOME preacher.) But for the past month, I realized I’d have to make a decision whether to come back for Holy Week.
My stomach twisted; I didn’t know what to do. I was told the priest had stopped talking politics. I didn’t want to give up icons or my patron saint (Gregory of Nyssa, the universalist). People like our progressive archbishop and David Bentley Hart and Archbishop Lazar Puhalo are Orthodox. I missed people and felt very lonely. Holy Week came and I decided to do the fast. We didn’t have the usual number of services; I missed Wednesday and Thursday, feeling headachey and reluctant. I missed the Friday afternoon one. But I finally went to the Friday evening one.
I got a warm welcome. People missed me. I got hugs. The priest smiled and said something like, “Hey stranger, where have you been?” The people I missed the most were the happiest to see me. One of them, the president, basically filled in my stewardship card for me and before I knew it, my membership was renewed another year (I’d been holding off on it). “I see what you did there,” I thought with an inward chuckle. Then at the Paschal service, my BFF–who told me he’d be working the whole week–showed up at some point. I didn’t know it till I was walking downstairs after services and he hit me on the back. lol We connect on social media all the time, but he lives in another town and works a lot, so I hadn’t seen him in MONTHS.
I still have the same issues with the church. But I decided to give it another chance. I seem to go through periods of doubt every five years; just as in the past, the people kept me from leaving. Maybe I can have some influence, too. We’ll see how things go.