Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Greek Orthodox is Greek to Me

Someone asked where we went to church in Greece. Here's the story.

We did intend to make it to church on Sunday and eagerly looked forward to worshipping with the saints in another part of the world. Not the saints on the wall. I mean the live saints in the sanctuary.

We had a bit of a transportation problem that morning. The hotel bus to town did not run until 9:00. Services started at 8:00 and ran until about 10:00. Since we would not have any idea what was going on anyway, we thought it would not be so bad to show up at 9:30 and catch the last half hour of the service. So, we caught the bus and headed to town.

We had an extra logisitical problem. We did not know exactly which church to go to. There are numerous churches on Mykonos but apparently not as numerous number of priests. Apparently they move around to different churches doing services. They broadcast these services outside the churches via microphone and loud speakers. As we headed into town we could hear a service going on. However, in the maze of the 'walking only' streets that is downtown Mykonos, we could not locate the source of the chanting priest.

After wandering around at a rapid pace for well over thirty minutes, we decided to slow down and relax, realizing that we had missed the morning service.

Sometime after 10:00am we wandered upon another church in the middle of town. The church was crowded to overflowing and there were many people standing outside the church, gathered around both the back and side entrances. Many men were outside, dressed nicecly, but in animated conversations, oblivious to the service going on inside the church. We were excited to finally find the service and tried to make our way into the church. It was crowded and there was really only room for my wife, Katie, with her church dress on, but bare sleeves, to stand just inside the side door with the ladies in full sleeves. I looked in, couldn't see anything, and decided not to get trapped between the various Greek middle aged women who were standing at the door's threshhold. Katie, however, made her way into the church, with some encouragement from the ladies. After a few minutes, a few more ladies made their way into the church behind my wife, and she was blocked from making her way outside. I stood outside the church, observing the many people seemingly oblivious to the goings on inside.

Occasionally, one of the outside worshippers, having heard some cue from inside, would step closer to the building, perhaps touch the building, do a bit of crossing and pass a moment or two in some reverance. As I said, more Greek to me.

At one point, two boys, about 7 and 10, popped out from the back of the crowded church. With smiles and laughs they sprinted back around to the side entrance shoving their way back into the church. I think their game was to see if they could squeeze through everyone back towards the back again. Worship did not seem to be on their mind at all.

There was finally a break in the service and the crowd issued forth. Katie was freed from her position and made here way to me, smiling, at having finally got to worship with the Greeks.

After the service, most of the Greek men and a goodly number of the younger women, immediately lit up their cigarettes and began talking. Everywhere we went in Greece, we found that a large percentage of the population smokes.

Oddly, right after the service, they began to pass out presents in bags. Inside the bags was a muffin, nuts, a sweet roll and a few other items. As we had stood around watching the people from a few feet away, a lady walked forward and handed me one of the bags. "Efgharisto," I said. She replied, "Parakalow."

Later that morning we made our way back to the hotel. A young lady there had told us when the church times were and asked if we had made it to the service.

"Yes, and they even gave us a gift." And we held up the pretty bag of treats for her to see.

A smile crossed her face but also a bit of a puzzled look at the same time.

"Oh, that is the gift for the funeral service." she said. "I am pretty sure that is the six-month service."

My wife and I looked at each other and laughed.

That explained some of the more curious looks we had got at the service. I suppose it would not be so weird if a foreigner came to Sunday worship. But to come to a memorial service of some unknown stranger is a bit stranger.

Maria explained that the Greeks do multiple funeral services. They do them immediately after the death, at forty days, six months and then annually. We were at the six-month service. They give gifts, she told us, for good luck, even to strangers. Thus, explaining why we had gotten our gift.

So, THAT's where we went to church in Greece.


Xindaeltal said...

That's funny. We had a similar experience last Sunday. We visited the Greek Orthodox church when a bishop was visiting. There was significantly more Greek and less English making it less easy to understand.

It was all Greek to us as well.

David Hart said...


I loved your narrative. After reading it, my mind couldn't help but wonder if the reverse could happen here in America.

... Foreigners with a language barrier looking for a church service in Anytown, USA, finally find one. With confused faces, they observe the somber atmosphere, the depressing sermon, the expressionless faces leaving the building, and the visitors return to their hotel wondering if they attended a funeral.

"No," a hotel employee clarifies. "That was a church service."

She explains, "Many American churches are like that, and many Americans only go once a month (about 30 days instead of 40), six months (the Easter and Christmas club), or annually (just Easter to wear their Sunday best at least once that year)."

Your innocent misunderstanding in Greece was a humorous anecdote. The cold facts here in America are a sad reality.

Thank you for not sending any visitors away from Providence Church wondering if they attended a funeral or a church service.