I want to begin by saying that the best thing we've encountered so far, aside from purity of doctrine and worship, is--for me, at least--the unity present between Jurisdictions. One can go between churches, no matter their ethnic or Jurisdictional background, and hear the same liturgy, see the same gifts offered, and be connected in bonds of love and theology with anyone in the room. Granted, this is an idealized picture; but it is accurate. Having been to four different churches (across Jurisdictions), I can attest to the theological and doctrinal unity of the Church. Glory to God in all things. This is definitely the atmosphere we have stepped into. Both priests in town have stood firmly behind each other, supporting the others' ministries, and offering us their support and guidance on our journey. This is a blessing we didn't expect, but it is truly a wealth and treasure of our newly emerging Ecclesiology.
This weekend was really our first Orthodox weekend. We spent all week saying morning and evening prayers (a rediscovered experience) and went to Vespers last night at the local GO church. Aside from the priest, two readers, the wife of one of the readers, and their baby, we were the only ones there. Pretty conspicuous. It wasn't awkward, but it was disconcerting. I knew that the service was new to this parish, but I had expected to see some more people. The church was aesthetically very simple, but quite nice. Beautiful stained glass windows, a full iconostasis with rather Russian looking icons. The service was very informal (for an Orthodox service), and quite nice. Fr. T. made sure to speak with us afterward and the reader and his wife took us out for dinner for a very honest conversation about their lives and their experiences at the two churches.
As Felicity and I were driving home, I felt very much that God was calling us to drive the extra 15 minutes to the OCA church. No one, and certainly not this couple, has come out and said "Don't go there, it's a bad place." That would be a lie. It's not a bad place, and we had a very nice morning. They were able to give us a little bit of history and background to help us make up our own minds. One of the things they told us, and the thing I remember most clearly, is that the GO church has a history of drama. Every 3-5 years or so something happens and people who've been in the church for longer than 20 years suddenly feel like (not being Greek), they're unwelcome. One thing they mentioned that sticks with me is that the OCA church is a church family vs. an extended family. That is an important distinction.
The church we left was an extended family church. Everyone was related. Everyone grew up there. They weren't uncaring and unwelcoming, but they didn't see the need to open their doors wide and be inviting--which is part of what's brought them to their current state of turmoil.
This morning's service was confirmation, to me, that we aren't going to be going to the Greek church regularly during our time here. This idea requires more processing. To be continued...