I am an Orthodox Christian and have been my whole life. Most of my friends and family are as well. It would probably shake things up a bit if I suddenly switched to another denomination, let alone another parish. The trouble is, I have wanted to do that on a number of occasions, and that feeling has become more frequent of late.
There are a lot of reasons I am fed up with my church. There are the national church problems that have been bothering a lot of Orthodox laypersons lately. There are some personal issues I have with the Orthodox Church, specifically the one in America as I do not have a lot of experience with the Orthodox churches in/from other countries. Finally, there are a myriad of things that bother me about my specific parish.
We’ll focus on my parish, as it is the most pressing issue on my mind.
Why are our services so mind-numbingly long? Our regular Sunday worship service is regularly over almost 2 1/2 hours after it begins. 10 minutes later, just as we’re about to recover over a nice cup of coffee and some refreshments in that “time between times” that exists between church and lunch, our enjoyment is halted by a slurry of more prayers and blessings, the same ones that we have just repeated 10 times during the service. And if you’re in the choir like me, you already practiced all the Troparia and Kondakia for an hour before church, and some Sundays you’re getting ready to do it for another 1 1/2 hours after lunch. That’s basically 5 hours of singing the same stuff over and over and over, numbing your mind into a tired heap.
I hate to use the term, but it truly is mind-numbing, and not stimulating or inspiring in any way. (I shouldn’t have to disclaim that this is “just my opinion” because you’re reading a blog, but if you’re offended in any way, remember that.) I constantly have to force myself to concentrate on the gospel and scripture readings that are being sung instead of spoken.
I have been told that we sing readings in order to avoid putting our own inflections and emphasis on the words, which could put our own spin on the reading. However, in our parish, the rector sings much louder and more slowly on some sentences, softer and more quietly on other sentences, with more syllables and notes on certain words that he likes, and finally even speaks some phrases. If he can speak one sentence, why can’t he speak them all?
In an effort to follow the good intentions of the church, he has effectively done exactly what was being guarded against – putting his own spin on things – while at the same time bored us to death with his “singing” and made it impossible for us, the listeners, to understand what is even being said. Here lies the irony of singing the gospel. We’re butchering the gospel reading, one of the most important parts of the service, because we’re so scared of changing something. On a side note, I don’t think Jesus sung to his disciples. If He did, then I guess I’m way out of line with all of this.
Back to the length of the service. I want to compare our parish with a couple other ones. Saint George’s begins Sunday morning worship at 10 am, exactly an hour after we do, and they finish at the same time as us. I thought all Orthodox churches were supposed to be the same. How do you lose 40% of the service? Where does it go? They have twice the congregation we do, so if anything it should be longer with all of those extra people taking communion.
Saint Stephen’s Pascha service ended at 1:30am Sunday morning, and they had several baptisms. The church in Ft. Wayne ended around midnight. What time did we end? 2:30am, with no baptisms.
Saint Stephen’s 12 Gospels service lasted 1 1/2 hours, less than half the length of our 3+ hour marathon. Our first reading lasted more than half as long as their entire service. Can you imagine listening to someone sing you the Bible for 50 minutes? And knowing that it was just the first of 12 readings?
Let’s not even mention that Saint Stephen’s opted entirely out of the Saturday morning service (one which took us another 3+ hours to do). Opted out?!? You can do that???? Apparently we didn’t get the memo. By the way, during the 12 gospels service, the laypeople in that church took turns reading – not singing – the gospels. Man, they’ve got it going on over there in Crawfordsville.
These refusals to accomodate parishoners, among many others, might have something to do with why our church numbers are not increasing. We lose more people per year than we gain, and that’s a fact. And I’m not talking about people leaving the church, just transferring membership to other parishes.
That’s all for part I. We’ve covered some of the most annoying things about our parish, but there’s much, much more to come. I know I’ve really set out with a negative attitude, so I’ll probably end with a post about what’s kept me in the church for so long.