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Author Topic: Inquiring about fitting in at church  (Read 1291 times) Average Rating: 0
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Bunny3
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« on: March 02, 2011, 07:21:34 PM »

Hi Everyone,

I am new here to the forum but would really like to ask a question of some converts, please forgive me for the length of my post.

Ummm, some background...I have believed in Jesus for a long time and for a few years a long time ago I went to church and had friends and a very active christian life. I was the only christian in my family and so thought that the faith I was taught at my church was all there was to know about God and so I ended up falling away and went back to worldly things but never forgetting the beautiful presence of my loving God in my difficult life as a working and struggling single mum.

In the last couple of years I have secretly started a worship and prayer life without telling anyone around me and it has been a wonderful pretty much all consuming search for understanding who God really is instead of just what some guy claiming to be a pastor says he is. So after two years of a rather crazy 6-7 hours a day praying and reading and reasearching I discovered that pretty much everything I have come to understand as 'truth' for me about God is the same as what the Orthodox church teaches.

So here is my problem. I decided to attend a service and I was soooo excited to go and be a part of the liturgy and see what it was like but it was not what i was expecting at all! I didn't realize that they sang most of the liturgy, or that they used loads of incence or that ...I dunno, it was all just so different than anything I had ever experienced at church before.Please forgive me if I am offending anyone as it is not my intention at all to do that. I just felt like I had stepped into a foreign country and couldn't understand anything that was going on...I came home and cried.

I have since started going to a local church that my husband wants to go to  (church of england) and as he has never expressed a faith in God before I feel obligated to go with him every Sunday but I find the service dry and they don't seem to teach anything beyond the basics again and I am struggling but I know that we will make friends there and fit into our local community. The Orthodox church closest to me is a 45min train trip away so we will not have the community that we have here. I have prayed about it and everytime I turn on the computer or read something or watch tv it somehow seems to lead me back to the Orthodox church again but my husband will never go there and I feel it would jepordise any hope of his becoming a christian at all.....

Again, it is not my intention to insult anyone of the Orthodox faith, I am not saying the people there were different than me just the service itself was unfamiliar.

I would really like to know if anyone else struggled with this type of 'cultural' shock when they entered the church?

God Bless you all
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« Reply #1 on: March 02, 2011, 08:00:25 PM »

Yeah I had bit of a shock as well with my first experience with an Orthodox Church. Before I attended a Divine Liturgy, I read up on how they worship and what I should be expecting to experience on my first visit...in fact by doing this raised my expectations for the Church to provide some sort of mystical moving experience within me.

It didn't happen the first time, in fact that sort of experience with the incense and such was completely absent that Sunday I went. It was a Western Rite Liturgy, Latin Rite, and there was all this kneeling and everybody is reading out of the Divine Liturgy book of St. Basil...I just couldn't follow along with it. I gave up and just sat and watched. I was disappointed because I wanted to walk in and feel something, but I later realized that isn't the approach one should do, my bad. I had nothing against that Church (in fact I later rejoined it) but I wanted something a bit more from what I was reading, so I went to an Greek Cathedral and it was much in line with what I had read. Again no mystical experience, but it wasn't until 2 weeks later where I did have this sort of encounter with God...I honestly can't explain it.

Anyway sorry to bore you, but as far as fitting in is concerned...I had a bit of a problem fitting in with that Greek Cathedral because well alot of them are Greek! And I got alot of stares since I'm not Greek (just a white boy with dirty blond hair and blue eyes...) and it seemed to me that it had sort of the trappings of an ethnic club. I guess I couldn't make a convo about Gyro's *shrugs* Wink

But as you said it's really like being in a foreign country, if you are used to Protestant services or maybe haven't been to a Church before. It's a bit overwhelming at first, because you just want to question all of it. What's the point of using incense? Why the candles? What's up with the vestments? An altar? etc etc. So I completely understand where you are coming from. It's funny because the more I learned about the Divine Liturgy and all the theology around it, it actually made it much more simpler for me to understand it all...and then I could feel like I am participating.

It's interesting you brought up how the Orthodox Church has this sort of strange appeal where you want to go back to it, because that's exactly what happened to me. Even after my first disappointment, I just had this feeling I knew it was right, and something was just pulling me back in.

Regarding your husband, this is a tough area and I won't comment because I don't have any experience with this. I might advise something unOrthodox, so I'll refrain. My apologies.
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« Reply #2 on: March 02, 2011, 08:32:22 PM »

When I decided to attend my first Divine Liturgy I called a friend that is Orthodox to ask what I should expect.  She told me not to expect, but to experience.  That was incredible advice.  To be honest, I didn't even like my first Orthodox liturgy, but it was interesting.  It was nice to feel free to have that opinion.  There was sometime about it though that I couldn't ignore so I decided that I was going to attend eight times before I decided what I thought about Orthodoxy.  After eight liturgies I still wasn't completely sure what I thought, but I couldn't imagine going anywhere else.  So I kept going.  Thanks be to God that I couldn't ignore it.  So my advice is to commit to going at least 3 more times and start a dialog with the priest.  Praise God that your husband is interested in Christianity.  I pray that the Anglican church might be a stepping stone for him.
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« Reply #3 on: March 03, 2011, 12:28:25 AM »

Dear Bunny:

I am so sorry to hear that you felt estranged. Yes, the Eastern Orthodox church is incredibly exotic in comparison with the Roman Catholic and, especially, the Protestant churches of the west, most of which have strayed very far away from the original church in theology and worship. They seem to have rationalized, tried to improve upon--abandoned--the original traditions and theology of the church. Consequently, much of the life in them has been lost. That's why the experience of attending them is so "dry." You're spiritually thirsty, and you want to be close to God.

The fact is, the Orthodox Church has not changed with the winds of time, or abandoned the original traditions of the faith. If you study deeper, you will find that the trappings and rituals of the church--the incense, icons, priests' garments, fasting rules, prayer style, women's head coverings, chant, etc. are all legacies of Old Testament Judaism and are described in some detail in the Old and New Testaments and in the earliest documents of the church. This is the ancient Christian church--that's why you have found truth and life in it--and it is a blessing that you've found it. God would not have led you to it had He intended for you to live in the spiritual desert.

Read the Church Fathers and study Orthodoxy quietly on your own. There are many Orthodox resources online; they will help to quench your thirst. (Here's one you may enjoy. Here's another.) And bear in mind that all Orthodox Churches are not alike; you may feel more comfortable in one church than in another. If they can, most people visit a few churches before settling on one they feel at home in.

Apparently, your main ministry right now is to help your husband become a Christian. (See, to the Orthodox, there are no accidents. You're here for a reason. If you believe that Orthodoxy is the true church, you're practically Orthodox already.) If you have to attend the CoE for a while in order to help him, it will be your cross to bear. We are all His servants.

I converted from atheism and had never before attended church. My first liturgy was strange to me, too--another world--but it was also exhilarating, like coming to an oasis in the desert, and I've seldom been thirsty since.

It's very hard to offend the Orthodox, and few would admit to you that you had. But you haven't.
« Last Edit: March 03, 2011, 12:33:52 AM by sainthieu » Logged
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« Reply #4 on: March 03, 2011, 09:05:55 AM »

Thank you everyone for your kind and thoughtful replies. I think I will take a little advice from all of you and take my time to explore the church without feeling that I am abandoning my family. Thank you for the links to you tube the Rachmanov liturgy was BEAUTIFUL! so have bookmarked it Smiley

I think I will do as one kind person said and commit to going at least three more times over the next few months and see how things go while still attending my current church with my family. And will spend some time in reading about the Orthodox faith and understanding what the reasons are for the unfamiliar parts of the liturgy and try adopting the morning and evening prayers.

Thank you all again for your understanding and my prayers are with all of you
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« Reply #5 on: March 03, 2011, 12:04:10 PM »

The fact is, the Orthodox Church has not changed with the winds of time, or abandoned the original traditions of the faith. If you study deeper, you will find that the trappings and rituals of the church--the incense, icons, priests' garments, fasting rules, prayer style, women's head coverings, chant, etc. are all legacies of Old Testament Judaism and are described in some detail in the Old and New Testaments and in the earliest documents of the church. This is the ancient Christian church--that's why you have found truth and life in it--and it is a blessing that you've found it. God would not have led you to it had He intended for you to live in the spiritual desert.
Amen! Before I attended my first Divine Liturgy, I had read quite a lot and thought I knew what to expect. From what I read, this was what I had always hoped that worship would be and should be, but never was. So I was expectant, but prepared to be disapointed, since I had learned that the reality of worship, whether Protestant or RC was always a let-down, and people tried to compensate with fads, innovations and emotionalism.
However the Divine Liturgy was more than I could ever have hoped for. Though I didn't have some grand mystical experience, I felt "satisfied" and at peace. This is the way it's supposed to be, I thought.
And it only gets better and better.

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« Reply #6 on: March 03, 2011, 07:01:14 PM »

If it makes you feel any better, my first experience was pure culture shock. I looked around at all the pictures on the walls and and smelled the incense and thought "I am not going to be able to tell ANYBODY I know about this." Not only that, but it was a special Sunday (something about the Cross) and people were getting down to make full prostrations. I could not get my head on the floor for even one of them, and those around me were going down over and over. It was nerve-racking to talk to the priest--Mom thinks it was the robes.   Cheesy   
My former church was the complete opposite of this one -- they don't do traditional things. No liturgy, no robes, worship is casual, no pictures on the walls, chairs instead of pews, songs displayed on a big screen, etc. So you can imagine what an adjustment my first time in a Liturgy was.
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« Reply #7 on: March 03, 2011, 08:05:20 PM »

Welcome home, Bunny3, you have indeed found the “Treasure”!  Instead of thinking “foreign”, think “ancient” with the origins in the East, preserved and brought here for us to experience with all our senses and body, soul, and spirit. You are not alone in this “culture shock”. Have you ever read Fredericka Matthewes-Green’s: "First Visit to an Orhtodox Church, 12 things I wish I’d known…"?  (http://www.frederica.com/12-things/).

Also never say, “Never’.  With each experience and observation in Orthodox worship I said to myself that my dear hubby would Never do that! After much prayer, and reading, to my surprise, he did! That will be something to take time to work out and you'll find other threads on this forum about that.

We also travel an hour one way to church, as it IS worth it. What is time for, if not to give back to God, especially on Sundays? Perhaps you can revisit that church and other Orthodox churches in the area.


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« Reply #8 on: March 03, 2011, 08:37:51 PM »

I felt foreign to the liturgy until I started to actually participate in it.

Welcome to the forums! Smiley
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« Reply #9 on: March 03, 2011, 10:26:36 PM »

Welcome to the Convert Issues Forum.

Thomas
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« Reply #10 on: March 03, 2011, 10:40:31 PM »

Welcome to the forum, Bunny3! I think a lot of us can relate to a lack of community. I myself live about 30 minutes away from my parish, and it can be difficult to be part of such an "alien" Church with little support. But we must always remember that in spite of it, when we pray we are joined to all the other Orthodox Christians around the world who are praying at that same moment. It's not quite the same, but it helps us remember the first Christians, who also seemed to be all alone in the world. We are all together in prayer. Smiley

I wish I had some advice about your husband, but prayer never hurts. Saint Monica, the mother of Saint Augustine, prayed intensely for 20 years that he would turn from his ways and become a Christian, and finally he did. (If you would like to read more about their story, look for the book Confessions by St. Augustine.)

We're all here to help and offer our own prayers as much as we can.
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« Reply #11 on: March 04, 2011, 11:15:52 AM »

Hi Bunny3,

I'm an Orthodox catechumen, still very much wet behind the ears and learning.  I was drawn to Orthodox worship precisely because it is so strange.  Let me explain.  I was raised Mormon, then dabbled in mainstream Evangelical Protestantism afterword, but found both styles of worship (despite doctrinal differences) to be exactly the same: preaching from the stand where church elders are seated.  Finding myself spiritually unfulfilled, I began to research Christian origins and the development of worship styles and doctrine over the centuries.  What I found is that the style of worship in the churches I was used is very American indeed, based on the architecture and conduct of meetings in the New England town hall.   In old Europe, going all the way back to how Christians worshipped in the very first centuries, I learned to my amazement that there was a steady progression of slowly jettisoning elements of the original mode of Christian worship, beginning with Orthodoxy (the oldest of all Christian traditions).  Styles of worship in Orthodox and Catholic churches used to look virtually identical, as both come from the same source - the original, universal (catholic with a small 'c' church), which was recognizably Orthodox in character by the early second century.  Once the church split into Western (Catholic) and Eastern (Orthodox) halves, the Western church gradually began changing things, with doctrinal and liturgical developments taking the Catholic church away from Orthodoxy and toward what Catholic worship looks like today.  These changes within Catholicism were hastened once the Protestant Reformation took place, as Catholicism changed further in response to the threat.  By contrast, the Orthodox church in the East hardly changed at all.  In fact, if you were to step into a time machine, what you experienced in Divine Liturgy would look and feel almost exactly like what Christian worship looked and felt like in the late second and early third centuries.  Incence, gold, icons or statues, robes, chanting, the whole shebang, was the norm for all Christians everywhere for the first 1500 years of Christianity.  There's a reason for this.  Christianity is a conscious continuation of the worship style of the Jewish temple anciently, with Jesus as the Great High Priest, complete with altar, robes, incense, gold, bread and wine, and atonement sacrifice.  The similarity is even evident in church architecture.  Orthodox churces are called temples.  The iconostasis (the place where the icons are hung in the front of the church) represents the veil of the temple, the space behind the veil where the altar is located represents the holy of holies in the temple, where the Jewish altar was located.  The Orthodox priest enters and leavesThe atonement rites in the Jewish temple foreshadowed, and were a preparation for, Jesus and His one, eternal sacrifice on the cross.  The primary difference now is that in Christianity, the blood sacrifice was done away with and replaced with the one, eternal sacrifice of the Son, the Lamb of God, commemorated in a bloodless manner at every Divine Liturgy, with the bread and the wine (the body and blood of our Lord, the Lamb of God) replacing the body and blood of the sacrifical animals in the original Jewish temple rites.  The reason Orthodox worship seems so strange is because modern, Americanized styles of worship have taken the Protestant Reformation to their logical conclusion.  All of the gold, incense, robes, and liturgical style of worship that were original to the Jewish temple and the worship style of the very first Christian churches was gradually done away with.  The Catholic Mass retains much of it, but not all.  Lutheran and Anglican churches have still less, and modern evangelical churches have even less (almost not at all, in point of fact).  In Protestant churches, the rituals were mostly elimated and almost totally replaced by the homily (a small part of the Divine Liturgy, but almost the whole point of Protestant worship these days, also called the pastor's sermon).  In sum, what I discovered, without ever once attending an Orthodox church, was the what seems so strange within the Divine Liturgy is actually what was considered normal 1500 or Christianity's 2000 years, until European (and especially American) Protestants came along and changed everything.  If you were to teleport a Christian from the late first and early second centuries to the United States today and take them to a church with you, that person would feel just as bewildered and confused as you felt visiting the Orthodox Church.  If you took that person to an Orthodox church to attend Divine Liturgy with you, he or she would smile and feel right at home.  I guess that's the main thing I wanted to get across.  If you want to really experience what worship in an original Christian church was like 1800 years ago, all you need to do is walk into your closest Orthodox church and attend Divine Liturgy.  The good news for you is, you don't need a time machine to do this.  Just take the train you mentioned and go back to the Orthodox church.  It really is the original Christian church, one, holy, and apostolic.  I hope that helps.

Andrew
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« Reply #12 on: March 04, 2011, 11:21:33 AM »

Hi again Bunny3, I wish I had edited what I wrote before posting.  I left one important sentence completely unfinished!  Please use this version, instead.

I'm an Orthodox catechumen, still very much wet behind the ears and learning.  I was drawn to Orthodox worship precisely because it is so strange.  Let me explain.  I was raised Mormon, then dabbled in mainstream Evangelical Protestantism afterward, but found both styles of worship (despite doctrinal differences) to be exactly the same: preaching from the stand where church elders are seated.  Finding myself spiritually unfulfilled, I began to research Christian origins and the development of worship styles and doctrine over the centuries.  What I found is that the style of worship in the churches I was used is very American indeed, based on the architecture and conduct of meetings in the New England town hall.   In old Europe, going all the way back to how Christians worshipped in the very first centuries, I learned to my amazement that there was a steady progression of slowly jettisoning elements of the original mode of Christian worship, which looked closest to Orthodoxy today (the oldest of all Christian traditions).  Styles of worship in Orthodox and Catholic churches used to look virtually identical, as both come from the same source - the original, universal (catholic with a small 'c' church), which was recognizably Orthodox in character by the early second century.  Once the church split into Western (Catholic) and Eastern (Orthodox) halves, the Western church gradually began changing things, with doctrinal and liturgical developments taking the Catholic church away from Orthodoxy and toward what Catholic worship looks like today.  These changes within Catholicism were hastened once the Protestant Reformation took place, as Catholicism changed further in response to the threat.  By contrast, the Orthodox church in the East hardly changed at all.  In fact, if you were to step into a time machine, what you experienced in Divine Liturgy would look and feel almost exactly like what Christian worship looked and felt like in the late second and early third centuries.  Incence, gold, icons or statues, robes, chanting, the whole shebang, was the norm for all Christians everywhere for the first 1500 years of Christianity.  There's a reason for this.  Christianity is a conscious continuation of the worship style of the Jewish temple anciently, with Jesus as the Great High Priest, complete with altar, robes, incense, gold, bread and wine, and atonement sacrifice.  The similarity is even evident in church architecture.  Orthodox churces are called temples.  The iconostasis (the place where the icons are hung in the front of the church) represents the veil of the temple, the space behind the veil where the altar is located represents the holy of holies in the temple, where the Jewish altar was located.  The Orthodox priest enters and leaves the holy place, standing in for Jesus, the Great High Priest, just as the ancient Jewish high priest used to enter and leave the holy of holies in the Jewish temple.  The atonement rites in the Jewish temple foreshadowed, and were a preparation for, Jesus and His one, eternal sacrifice on the cross.  The primary difference now is that in Christianity, the blood sacrifice was done away with and replaced with the one, eternal sacrifice of the Son, the Lamb of God, commemorated in a bloodless manner at every Divine Liturgy, with the bread and the wine (the body and blood of our Lord, the Lamb of God) replacing the body and blood of the sacrifical animals in the original Jewish temple rites.  The reason Orthodox worship seems so strange is because modern, Americanized styles of worship have taken the Protestant Reformation to their logical conclusion.  All of the gold, incense, robes, and liturgical style of worship that were original to the Jewish temple and the worship style of the very first Christian churches was gradually done away with.  The Catholic Mass retains much of it, but not all.  Lutheran and Anglican churches have still less, and modern evangelical churches have even less (almost not at all, in point of fact).  In Protestant churches, the rituals were mostly elimated and almost totally replaced by the homily (a small part of the Divine Liturgy, but almost the whole point of Protestant worship these days, also called the pastor's sermon).  In sum, what I discovered, without ever once attending an Orthodox church, was the what seems so strange within the Divine Liturgy is actually what was considered normal for 1500 of Christianity's 2000 years, until European (and especially American) Protestants came along and changed everything.  If you were to teleport a Christian from the late first and early second centuries to the United States today and take them to a church with you, that person would feel just as bewildered and confused as you felt visiting the Orthodox Church.  If you took that person to an Orthodox church to attend Divine Liturgy with you, he or she would smile and feel right at home.  I guess that's the main thing I wanted to get across.  If you want to really experience what worship in an original Christian church was like 1800 years ago, all you need to do is walk into your closest Orthodox church and attend Divine Liturgy.  The good news for you is, you don't need a time machine to do this.  Just take the train you mentioned and go back to the Orthodox church.  It really is the original Christian church, one, holy, and apostolic.  I hope that helps.

Andrew
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« Reply #13 on: March 04, 2011, 05:43:58 PM »

Thank you so much everyone for so kindly welcoming me to the forum and encouraging me to try again. I guess really it is not up to Jesus to conform to me but for me to conform to him right? I think it is just difficult to adjust to something so new and I really do need to do some more reading on it all. Everyone has been so understanding and encouraging though it does make me want to try again and it is really good to kknow I am not the only one who has felt this way and that others have overcome their fears and found home. I love the story someone said about their husband never going to pray like them and she was wrong! I pray for that.

I will admit that the thought of talking to the preist at the church seems REALLY intimidating to me, what would I call him? Father...? I will have to work up to that one and think of what I want to say, I would not want to insult him with my lack of understanding.

Andrew thank you for your encouragement and it is exactly all the things you talked about that have drawn me to the church in the first place. Smiley
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« Reply #14 on: March 04, 2011, 06:08:54 PM »


I will admit that the thought of talking to the preist at the church seems REALLY intimidating to me, what would I call him? Father...? I will have to work up to that one and think of what I want to say, I would not want to insult him with my lack of understanding.

Andrew thank you for your encouragement and it is exactly all the things you talked about that have drawn me to the church in the first place. Smiley

I dont think the priest will be insulted by a lack of understanding.  After all it is part of his job to help people understand the faith.
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« Reply #15 on: March 06, 2011, 07:23:58 PM »

I can imagine it will be "strange" for me too when I return.  I haven't been since childhood.  I really want to get back into the Orthodox tradition.  I'll let you know how it goes.
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« Reply #16 on: March 06, 2011, 08:06:06 PM »

hi, keep it up, no need to panic if things are strange.
the main thing the orthodox churches do right is the teaching about how to be really close to God. emotions come and go with time, but spiritual discipline and good teaching does not.
read up more about the church, and go when you can. you can say to the priest 'hi, father, can i ask you some questions?' and if he is busy he should be able to find you someone from the congregation who is able to answer your questions.

yeshuaisiam, i hope you don't wait too long to get back to church!

i, personally found the coptic service (oriental orthodox) easier to understand than the eastern orthodox services i have been too (especially one church where it was all greek to me!), however coptic people tend to be rather noisy, as a culture. the easiest of all is the british orthodox church (http://britishorthodox.org/) which obviously is not in USA, but can explain a lot of things via the website.
they are oriental orthodox, but the liturgy, in my opinion, is midway between eastern and oriental orthodox liturgies.
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« Reply #17 on: March 06, 2011, 08:16:53 PM »

For me, my first Divine Liturgy was beyond stressful. Halfway through I was able to relax and experience the prayers, but I was so nervous about going up to get the antidoron at the incorrect time! (I know, SUCH a silly worry!)

It was a little bit of a shock when I first entered the church..but I thought that it was a good kind of shock. Even though I studied religions for years, it was a new experience to see saint icons all over the wall, and of course, the iconostasis. Also, raised in the Roman Catholic church, I was kind of surprised how children were pretty much wandering freely around the church and it was amusing to witness some people having hushed conversations during some of the chanting. (I loved the chanting, by the way, even though it was a new experience for me.)

Right after Father finished reading the Gospel, several of the women turned to me and decided to introduce themselves at that moment! I almost laughed out loud!

We don't speak Greek or have any ties to the Greek culture, so it was really funny to have some of the older church members introducing themselves in Greek! I was beyond confused. But they were very accommodating and welcoming, and I think that really helped ease the 'culture shock,' so to speak.

And for myself, I cannot stress enough that you should try to talk to a priest. My husband and I were really nervous about it and we do not regret it at all! We look forward to speaking with the priest every week. He's been very frank in regards to our questions and our spiritual journey and he's a very wise man in general. I was nervous about approaching him because in my experience, the priests in my childhood were very distant and I felt like I was inconveniencing them by asking them questions or talking to them. Not so, with this church, anyway!
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I once believed in causes too, I had my pointless point of view --
Life went on no matter who was wrong or right
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