By Antonis H. Diamataris
Once again, helped by good weather, our churches were filled on the evening of the Resurrection, even as during the rest of Holy Week there were fewer people in the pews than last year.
A sea of people of all ages suddenly gathered in our churches, almost out of nowhere, with lit candles, with reverence and devotion, with a need for the warm feeling of participation, to hear Christos Anesti (Christ has risen) from our priests, to take heart to continue in life.
This year, we were able to cover more communities perhaps than ever before, with exclusive reports even from Montreal, proving again that the Herald does its job properly, and that the Church is the backbone of the Greek-American community. It is where we pray, where we gather, where we see one another, where we drink coffee together after the Liturgy. Moreover, is it is where the “heart” of religion, as well as our distinct identity, beats.
For various reasons, only a small percentage, unfortunately, of Greek-Americans are church members. According to reliable information, a mere 10%. A very small portion indeed. This places a large and unfair financial burden on members, while others reap the services offered by the church, when they need them, without participating except only a few times a year, like at Christmas and Easter.
While no one can expect 100% participation, 10% or even 15% participation is too low. What keeps almost 90% of our people away from the Church?
Some people attribute the reduced participation to the use of the Greek language. Sounds like a lame excuse and, in fact, it is very likely that the opposite holds true, since the use of Greek during Liturgy is limited nowadays, even in communities in which it shouldn’t be. But trends sweep over everything.
And although we should undoubtedly offer the opportunity to our children that are born here, whose Greek is limited, to hear the sermon and various points of the Liturgy in their native tongue, the disappearance of the Greek language, besides distancing the Greek-born, deprives the Liturgy of its identity, its ritual, its essence.
I would say that Church participation has much to do with the level of our clergy, the example they set, and the caliber of our hierarchy. I have seen churches with little participation be filled every Sunday after a change of priest, but I have also seen the opposite. And I have seen churches fully packed when an archbishop would worship in them, and I have seen churches attract few congregants – to an extent that makes one uncomfortable – when another archbishop attends.
The opportunities given to the Church are huge. To carry out its Christian mission. To unite, inspire, and guide our people. Yet also to take a leading role, certainly without imposing, or to express its discontent to those who react to the preservation of our national identity. As do other religions.
Let us not fool ourselves. It cannot fulfill its mission without it. It is unrealistic to believe that will it lead all the Orthodox, that it will create a Church of all nations.
But as we said: like all things, it is a matter of leadership.