Hello All, I am so grateful to be here in this forum. After reading and lurking here for a long time, I see so much love and help freely offered and am amazed by the spirit I find here.
I come here today because I am actually overwhelmed and need some guidance. In fact, I am so overwhelmed that I am not exactly sure where to begin. Let me start by saying that my parent's had me baptized a Lutheran when I was 5 years old but they never took me to church. Then in college I converted to Catholicism. This happened because I wanted to be closer to God and because my boyfriend's family always took me to mass with them. My family had fallen apart and I was definitely looking for stability. I didn't even know there was an Orthodox church at the time. I've since gotten married and my husband (who grew up protestant) have grown together in Christ and are looking for a church to really call home.
He has been going to Mass with me but neither one of us quite feel right there. We both went to an Orthodox service once and he was upset by it because the people at the church gossiped during the service. We also went to a local Greek Orthodox Church and spoke to the priest there. He was absolutely amazing and explained to us that the gossiping during the service was wrong and not normal. That made my husband feel better. He is still struggling with feeling like an outsider due to the ethnic part of Orthodoxy but he is willing to work through it. We have been studying and praying on this issue for years now. On Saturday I attended a lecture at the Catholic church on Marian theology and it had a profound effect on me. It made me feel like I need to seriously devote my life to God but in a church were apparitions were not more important than Jesus (I hope that makes sense, I am not being critical. Just telling you what is in my heart).
Hi, Dolly! Welcome to the forum! Let me begin by apologizing to everyone on the thread, because I love to answer these kinds of threads, and usually read through the other answers first to make sure I don't spend a bunch of time telling you something others already have said. However, I'm in a bit of a hurry to get out the door, so I've only skimmed the thread that follows the OP. Sorry if I'm redundant!
So, here are my questions for anyone willing to try to answer them:
-we have three Orthodox churches near our home: Russian Orthodox, Pan Orthodox, and Greek Orthodox. Which one would you try attending first?
I would like to know what you mean by "Pan Orthodox." In the world, different local (i.e., national) churches exist in various places, and where Orthodoxy is newer, those different churches have sent mission efforts in for the purpose of evangelizing the native population, serving an ethnic diaspora, etc. "Pan Orthodox" is a term that generally means "cross-jurisdictional." i.e., a group made up of folks from different jurisdictions (jurisdiction being a local church, like the Greeks, the Russians, the Serbians, etc.). A parish can be said to be "pan Orthodox" if their members come from many different such backgrounds, but the parish itself will exist in a single jurisdiction, as our Church is a hierarchical one.
By Russian Orthodox, I assume you mean ROCOR (Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia), though you could mean a church belonging to the Russian Patriarchal Parishes. Doesn't really matter. Russian Orthodoxy has a reputation for being more conservative, and more rigid in things like liturgical practice. Their parishes also tend to be ethnic, but are not always. This is especially true where Orthodoxy has been for a while (such as Pennsylvania).
The Greeks tend to be fairly middle-of-the-road, not necessarily conservative or liberal in their piety. It depends on the parish. Greek parishes also have a reputation for being ethnic, but again, that doesn't mean not friendly. I know many that do services mostly or completely in English (same for ROCOR) and always welcome visitors.
While beginning your initial inquiry, before you get attached to a certain priest or parish, I'd recommend going to all of them. This is what the priest who received me had me do, to make sure I understood I was converting to Orthodoxy, and not to just his parish (i.e., be disillusioned if I went elsewhere, even if it were Orthodox).
-When you go to an Orthodox church for the first time is there anything special we should do or not do?
There isn't particularly anything. You will probably not be able to follow the services quite yet, and have that standard "new person" expression. We can spot it pretty easily.
When people know you're new, we can't really expect anything of you, and hopefully folks will come over to say hi, and maybe even offer to answer any questions you've had about the service. Don't feel obligated to venerate icons, cross yourself (though you're Catholic, this may come naturally to you...but we cross a lot more than you Latins!) or anything else. As for movements (e.g., standing, sitting, moving as the priest/deacon censes the temple), just follow the crowd, and don't be worried if something catches you off-guard.
-I suffer from Celiac Disease. Does anyone else out there also have this condition (or someone they love) and know how this effects taking communion (I know this is not the proper term in Orthodoxy but I am not sure of it)?
I've known several Celiacs who are Orthodox, and there are different solutions. Some people can partake normally without issues, by the grace of God. For others, this isn't the case. Some take only a VERY small particle of the Body, and others are only communed with the Blood from the same chalice (as we place our bread into the chalice with the wine). Those who have truly severe issues may be given just the Blood from a separate chalice, separated out before any Body is added)
As for your terminology, "taking communion." it is not unacceptable. Don't worry about it. Perhaps a better way to phrase is "receiving communion" or "partaking [of the Eucharist/Mysteries]", but I doubt you'll offend anyone with your phrasing, especially as an inquirer!
-Can someone explain how fasting works? This is a concern to me due to my disease and my husband isn't sure he can do it.
Orthodox fasting occurs almost every Wednesday and Friday of the year, as well as during Great Lent (40 days), Holy Week, Nativity Fast (also, "St. Philip's Fast" or, a Latinized term, "Advent [Fast]", 40 days) the Dormition Fast (For the Dormition (Assumption) of the Mother of God) 14 days, and for the Ss. Peter and Paul Fast (Or, "Apostles Fast", which varies in length).
During a fasting day or period, no animal products are consumed. No meat of any kind, including fish...though seafood such as shrimp, crab, etc. are acceptable. Also no cheese, butter, eggs, milk, etc. Also, no alcohol is taken, particularly wine, though liquors are generally included in the prohibition. Beer is permitted. Oil is also not consumed, but how this is a applied varies. Some partake of no oil, others only olive oil. Most take this prohibition to mean that oil should not be used in excess (i.e., for bread, salad dressings, fried foods etc.), particularly as oil can be found in almost every food item these days.
There are also "relaxed" fasting days that aren't as strict. They generally permit either "wine and oil" or "fish, wine and oil." Though, some days are only "wine" days, and a pre-Lenten week allows the consumption of animal products like cheese, butter or eggs, while disallowing meat.
Fasting is both a corporate and private asceticism. Some, particularly though with diseases or diet problems cannot follow the full "brunt" of the fast, and this is acceptable. If you feel unable to do so, speak with your priest (once you have found a parish and feel comfortable about starting to fast) and work out something that works for you.
-How do the woman dress at church? Is it OK to wear dress pants? (I know that sounds stupid but my church people wear shorts and sweat pants) Also, are woman suppose to cover their heads?
This somewhat depends on the parish. Practices differ. The most conservative (such as ROCOR), will want dresses and headscarves. Others are not as strict and do not care if a woman wears a headscarf and/or a dress. It's my personal opinion that folks should look nice for church, meaning button-ups and dress shoes for men, dresses for women. While not everyone is as conservative as myself, most will agree that nothing particularly casual should be worn, like sweatpants or shorts.
Think, perhaps, smart casual. That is generally acceptable.
-Am I missing any questions that you think I should be asking?
There aren't really questions you should or shouldn't be asking, aside from the ones you have. Don't worry, others will pop up as you continue on this journey. Don't sweat it!
-Can anyone give me any advice on starting this process?
Just start visiting. Check out your local parishes, and speak to the people there. Introduce yourself to the priest. Mention your background, and let them know you're going around to all the local Orthodox parishes to get a broad perspective (if that's what you choose to do, again...I encourage it) and be friendly. No matter what parish you end up with, if you do convert, chances are you'll be seeing people from all the local parishes every now and then.
Thank you so much. I realize this is a long and somewhat rambling post. I just feel that we need to get serious about this and take proper steps. Thank you all and God bless!!!!
No problem! Looking forward to hear more from you, Dolly.
Fabio Leite (or anyone else who would like to help me), so does this church count as a real orthodox church? Sorry, you have confused me.http://www.htoca.org/htoca/Welcome.html
(just a little side note: I will be running out to my volunteer work in a few minutes. So, thanks to anyone else who posts and I will respond tonight when I return home.)
It took a bit of digging, but yes, this parish is canonical, part of the Orthodox Church in America.