Christ is Risen!
Our Church’s tradition is to read the Gospel message of Pascha’s Agape Vespers in a variety of languages. In my parish most of the readers we have are native-speakers of the languages they read. This annual liturgical tradition celebrates our various cultures as well as the oneness that we have in Christ. Second, it reminds us that the Good News of Christ is for everyone. There is no culture, no language, no person that is meant to be excluded from the Truth.
This Agape Vespers tradition serves as the perfect launch to our 50-day journey to Pentecost, when we celebrate the descent of the Holy Spirit. This Divine event enabled the apostles to share the Gospel in various languages. These two multilingual celebrations are bookends to a season when we greet each other–and the world–with “Christ is Risen!” During this season, we try to imitate the apostles in their zeal to share the Gospel in every relationship, every language, and every cultural context.
The obvious place to begin is by engaging guests who walk through our doors out of curiosity about our culture and heritage. This week I invite you to read the journey of a special young woman whose introduction to Orthodoxy came as a result of her appreciation of our culinary culture. Kali orexi!
Before the local Greek Festival in summer 2011, my only exposure to the Orthodox Church was from watching My Big Fat Greek Wedding. My mom had become Protestant in her teens, and my dad was raised Roman Catholic but converted to Protestantism in college. They had raised my three sisters and me in a faithful Protestant home. We went to Cedar Mill Bible church every Sunday, my mom led a Bible study, and all of us daughters attended Protestant schools. My whole world was Protestant, and I had no idea there was anything else. I was sure of my salvation. After all I had said a prayer when I was four years old, and I tried my hardest to remember to do my devotional each day.
Once I hit middle school, I began to feel uninterested in my faith. My church youth group was cliquey, and I didn’t enjoy the youth pastor’s weekly altar call. I would go to “big church” with my parents but just singing worship songs and listening to a lecture for an hour and a half bored me. At school my friends began hitting that age where they were either becoming very serious about their faith or completely ignoring it. As much as I wanted to be part of the kids who were sincerely devoted to their faith, I felt like I was lying.
I wasn’t the only one feeling this way. My parents had been discussing changing churches for a while, but we couldn’t find one that fit our needs. I’m so thankful that I love Greek food, because it’s the way God answered our prayers. I saw an ad for the Greek Festival and convinced my parents to go. The food, however, was not the highlight of the night.
Somehow we found our way into the back of the church and talked with a woman demonstrating icon painting in a quiet room. We continued on after being intrigued by the elaborate vestments hanging there and the icons surrounding the table.
In the Narthex we ran into a friendly Greek man who introduced himself to us. Church tours were over for the day, but he offered to show us around inside. My old church’s “sanctuary” was a huge room with two large screens, a stage, a big cross in the middle, and row after row of pews. Because of that, walking into St. John for the first time was the most awe inspiring experience. I can’t even describe it. I just remember wanting to cry. I had never felt so at peace. Later my mom told me she got the same feeling.
We went home that night, not realizing our lives had just changed. We carried on as normal, but in the back of my mind, I kept thinking about St. John. I attended a Protestant youth camp soon after. I kept searching for that feeling I had gotten at St. John, but I couldn’t find it. No matter how loud I sang during worship time or how high I raised my hands, I didn’t get it.
When I got back, I realized I wasn’t the only one who was still thinking about our visit to St. John. The man who showed us the church had explained a lot to us, but my parents began to research the Orthodox Church on their own. A couple weeks after the Greek Festival, my parents decided to attend Liturgy. They let me stay home and sleep in, not knowing what to expect at this totally new church. The things they said upon returning home were only positive. “It’s different, but good different” seemed to sum up their experience.
I attended my first Liturgy the next week on the day of the luncheon for Fr. Theodore Dorrance’s 20th anniversary to the priesthood. Liturgy was so foreign to me, but in contrast, singing for an hour and listening to a lecture suddenly didn’t seem like it should qualify as worship.
We went back the next week and I attended my first GOYA Sunday school class. Everyone was so nice and friendly (and talkative); it overwhelmed me. I had spent years with the kids at my old youth group and had barely talked to them, yet in this one hour I had talked with this group of strangers just as much, if not more, than with my old youth group.
We began attending St. John regularly. I use to dread going to church every Sunday, but suddenly it was what I looked forward to most. Many of my friends, however, had questions about my “new church.” People often acted confused as to why I would go to such a different, non-Protestant church. Once a friend asked me, with a look of panic after seeing me cross myself, if I had become Catholic.
All of this didn’t matter though, because we knew it was too late to turn back from the path we had started down. After a few months, we were already talking amongst ourselves about joining the Church.
We waited, of course; we went through the liturgical year. My first Pascha was incredible. I finally realized that maybe getting presents at Christmas wasn’t the best holiday. I also went on GOYA trips and made some new best friends. It’s easy to say that the eighteen months of our journey were the greatest of my life, thanks to the Church.
Finally, on Holy Saturday in 2013, both my parents and I were brought into the Church. I can’t imagine where I would be in life if we hadn’t stumbled into the church that one July day. It’s fair to say I owe my whole life to my love for delicious Greek food.
To explore the topic of effective Festival Outreach, please attend our May 4th webinar with Fr. Barnabas Powell. Register here.
This year’s three Mochas for Missions articles are each written by a parishioner in our Metropolis who has become Orthodox as a result of her experience at a Greek Festival. All three articles are available for download on the Mochas for Missions page.
Christ is Risen!