I feel blessed to have been born Greek. What a wonderful culture we have with the strong family traditions, the delicious foods, the great stories of how our pappous and yiayias came to this country and made a home for themselves and their family. The celebrations we have for name days, baptisms and weddings truly point to an appreciation for life. What wonderful parties I experienced growing up in a Greek family. The Church was the gathering place for Greeks that were spread throughout Portland. I remember Sunday school, where I met my Greek friends that weren’t relatives. We had so much in common compared to the kids in my neighborhood. We had a natural bond, and they remain my friends today. I witnessed from both by grandparents and parents that their closest friends were Greek. The Church was the glue that helped keep the rich Greek culture alive and together. The annual Greek Festival, held on the church grounds, allowed us to showcase our wonderful culture to countless non-Greeks. I was proud to be Greek.
As part of the Greek culture, I was baptized in the Church as a baby. I was Orthodox. The understanding of my Christian Faith came from what I learned in Sunday school. In addition, my mom taught me the Lord’s Prayer in English and my grandmother made sure I knew it in Greek. I remember disliking Liturgy, because everything was in Greek. Due to the language barrier, so many messages were being sent, but so few were actually received. We, along with my friends’ families, seldom attended church in the summer.
I went from 18 to 31 without attending church except for special occasions. I would always work at the Greek Festival as I viewed it as my “Greek” obligation. I was asked to run for Parish Council in 1980 as my business background would be appreciated. The following year, I was elected President of the Parish Council. I was attending church every Sunday, including during the summer. My eyes were beginning to open but my heart was still blind. This is a generalization, but this is what I saw and felt after two years: At 10:00 a.m. when liturgy started, the church had only about 20% of the attendance one would see at coffee hour, yet the Sunday school was full with the children of parents not in the church. This is difficult to write, but I felt for many parishioners, the church was a gathering place for Greeks with a liturgy attached. The Greek flag flew higher than the Cross. I was disillusioned but also partially awakened by the reverence and piety of the committed I saw who attended Orthos and Divine Liturgy every Sunday.
At the age of 34 Kristi and I married. I was 36 when we had Catherine and 39 when Margaret was born. I found myself perpetuating with my own children the culture and environment I experienced growing up. I would take my daughters to church during the school year but not summers. I would find myself, during Divine Liturgy, checking out who was in church in anticipation of social hour rather than paying attention to what was happening at the altar. When I gave money, it was more for the purpose of fulfilling my obligation to pay dues rather than for giving with love and thankfulness for all my blessings. I worked at the festival, but it was more about showing Portland what it was like to be Greek rather than pure love for the Church. I never took confession, had no prayer rule and never fasted; however, I truly believed I was in good spiritual standing. I was ignorant.
In 1997, I was invited to attend a meeting to explore starting a mission church on the west side of Portland. I attended with a handful of strangers. Catherine Lingas, the chair of the Diocesan Missions Board, told the group what was required to start a mission church and asked us each what we thought. She went around the room and came to me last. I was just sitting there thinking about the idea when I truly believe I was overcome by the Holy Spirit and spiritually heard the quiet prompting of God. A voice came clearly into my mind and simply stated, “You can make the mission church happen! You have been blessed with the needed gifts to help make it happen.” The voice got louder, clearer, and directly to the point. “What are you going to do?” I was now spiritually aware. I heard and acted, and with the help of the others present at that first meeting and many others who came after, the mission church became a reality.
I was now moved and committed to follow the teachings I had ignored or been ignorant of during my youth. The mission church started with Father Theodore as our priest. Confession, fasting, a prayer rule, Bible study, and a multitude of teachings has helped lead me away from the ways of the world to a greater spiritual awareness and a life that is increasingly pleasing to God. My new spiritual awareness also made me aware of a truly dangerous enemy: the devil. The devil is always waging unseen warfare, continually tempting me to follow worldly ways. I wish the devil would go away and leave me alone, but he will not. With God’s help, I will continue to resist him and never stop trying to grow closer to God. I find it very rewarding as I see God helping me overcome old passions. If I lose a battle, I go to confession, learn more about how I was defeated and get back into the ring more knowledgeable and equipped for the next round.
The spiritual struggle will never end, but with God I pray I am further ahead each year as I climb the spiritual mountain toward God and all His glory. My spiritual journey is always energized when I attend St. John and see all the new families and young children going up for the sacrament of communion. I am so thankful that I heard and then acted when the Holy Spirit knocked at my door that day in 1997. I now know He knocked several times before that day, but my addiction to the ways of the world would not let me hear it, or if I faintly heard the knock, the evil one took away any incentive for me to act and change my ways.