Is it real or did you make it up?

Elyse Buffenbarger and her husband, Bryce, who is a third-year seminarian at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology.

Eight years ago, I was done with church. My “seeker-friendly” evangelical congregation had devolved into a hip, vaguely spiritual coffeeshop; the cross that hung in the sanctuary had been taken down for being “too religious.” The Presbyterian church down the street, with its accompanying symphony, felt majestic but cold. The Methodist minister around the corner preached her sermon on a Leonard Cohen song. Try as I might, the Gospel was nowhere to be found.

Imagine my interest when I heard that Bryce, a friend from high school, had left his evangelical church and become “Greek Orthodox.” Greek Orthodox? What in the world was that? It embarrasses me to admit it now, but I thought the term “Greek Orthodox” was some sort of obscure joke Bryce had invented to make fun of churchgoers.

On a whim, I emailed him. “Is Greek Orthodoxy real,” I said, “or did you make it up?”

There was no way I could have known, as I wrote that email, that Orthodoxy was real, that Bryce would want to get dinner and talk about it, that he and I would be married a year later. I could not have known that the Orthodox Church was the home I had been looking for all my life. I certainly could not have known that, years later, we would come to seminary with the intent of ordination. By sending one email, I had signed on for the adventure of a lifetime.

After learning that the Orthodox Church was not an obscure joke, but the second largest Christian church in the world, I was stunned that I had never heard of it before. Bryce hadn’t either, until he attended a philosophy conference and met Orthodox ethicist Tristram Englehardt. Neither of us grew up under a spiritual rock; we both had deeply religious families, broad educations, and lives lived in Christian communities.

So I ask you this: does the college student down the block from you know that Orthodoxy exists? Does your local community know your parish for its service and not just its baklava? The parish that first welcomed us both, once a thriving Greek Orthodox community, has dwindled to four or five very faithful families and can no longer afford a priest; if it does not grow and welcome others into its fold, it will die out in a generation, maybe sooner.

Will yours?

Photo credit Brian Wolfe.