Monday, March 31, 2008

The Tale of Two Easters

If you're a churchgoer (frequent or otherwise), or just like to go for Sunday brunch, you probably know that last Sunday was Easter. Although I received ashes on my forehead over 40 days ago, however, my Lent marches on; my family and I won't be celebrating Easter until April 27, per the Eastern Orthodox liturgical calendar.

I was raised Pentecostal, in an Assembly of God church. Pentecostals, for those unfamiliar with this Christian denomination, are the "baptized in the Spirit," fire-and-brimstone breathing "crazy" Christians typically depicted as caricatures in popular media. My Sundays were spent in a 3-hour worship service, complete with men speaking in tongues, women dancing in the aisles and weekly "altar calls" to be saved. I went to Tuesday night youth group, Friday bible study, and spent one Saturday each month traveling for Bible quiz competitions. I don't think I fully bought into Pentecostalism, however, since shortly after going off to college I started going to a Catholic church and converted during my sophomore year. My grandparents were thrilled, since I was the first grandchild to join Catholicism. The morning of my wedding, for example, the three of us celebrated mass together at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis; it's a memory that will stay with me forever.

My wife, on the other hand, is Greek Orthodox, as is Gabriel. Like Catholicism, Orthodoxy is a very traditional faith and can trace its roots all the way back to the infancy of Christianity. It also doesn't carry the political history or stigma of the Catholic church. Since getting married in 2000, we have celebrated Easter with the Orthodox church, and I have participated in the Orthodox Lenten fast (no meat, although fish is allowed) for the last several years. However, I like starting Lent with a Catholic Ash Wednesday mass; the Orthodox Lent starts with little "fanfare" on Great Monday, 40 days before Easter. (For a week after Ash Wednesday, Gabriel kept pointing to my forehead asking where Daddy's black mark was.)

What this all means is that when we showed up at J. Christopher's for our weekly Sunday brunch last weekend, we were part of the minority dressed in jeans, not our fresh-from-Macy’s Easter clothes. Fundamentally, I'm in a religious limbo. I still consider myself Catholic, since that was the conscious choice I made over 10 years ago. Nevertheless, I only attend Catholic mass once or twice a year and, instead, am a member of the Greek Orthodox community in Cumming, GA. At the same time, however, I'm not allowed to take communion or vote in church meetings since I'm not actually Orthodox. Limbo.

Do I consider converting to Orthodoxy? Yes - it's important to have family unity at church - but there are a few things holding me back. For one, I know it will upset my grandparents. I know they should just be happy that we're raising their great-grandson in any Christian faith, but they'll be upset nonetheless. I also don't want my conversion to be a "big deal," which I'm worried it will be for my in-laws. Finally, at a more dogmatic level, the Catholic church is very clear about what it believes. It's all written down in the catechisms of the church, where you can find stances on everything from the meaning of communion to birth control. The teachings of the Orthodox church, on the other hand, are much harder to find. What I *am* excited about is our priest; he was raised Baptist before making the choice to convert to Orthodoxy and joining the priesthood. If anyone can relate to my religious history, he can.

So, for all those who celebrated Easter a week ago, Happy Easter. In three weeks you can wish me the same while I eat bowls of avgolemono soup in between bites of lamb.

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