I’m Maria and I want to tell you that I really like your column and I write to you because I have a complaint about the Greek community and the Church. When I was younger, about 26-27 years old, separated from an American husband and with three small children, we were thinking about going on welfare. I was then suffering from severe depression and could not work, but my little ones were going to church every Sunday.
But I didn’t know that here in America you have to be a member to go to church, you have to pay membership dues. We didn’t have enough to pay, we were in shock. At one point, I went into the church and saw that they had put a sign next to the door in large capital letters with the names of those who had not paid the membership. So the whole community learned that we and the other three or four poor families had not paid. Everyone else in the church was rich with huge houses and owning businesses in the area where we lived* and we poor ones went to the church to be embarrassed by seeing our names on the wall because we didn’t have enough money to pay. I will never forget how much shame I felt. And at one point when I went to take my little ones up for Holy Communion, one of the women who was an usher stepped in front of me and said, “In your village did you receive Holy Communion every week and you bring your children to receive constantly?” That is why young people are moving away from the Church. So why would I advise my own children to go to Church? What did they get from the Church?
*Maria in her message mentions the area, but because we insist on the anonymity of the people who communicate with us, we do not mention it here.
It is really very difficult to be a single woman with three young children in America with no money and no support, like you. And indeed in such a situation the Church seems to be the only refuge, the only consolation. So you believed and there you turned, but were sadly disappointed. As you write, the Church has not only failed you, not helped you, but made you feel ashamed, made you feel unwanted, over membership dues you did not have enough money to pay. And you were very angry.
Only Maria, it wasn’t the Church that closed its door. There were some people inside it, like the ones who decided that the donation was more important than having a poor family come to the Church, or like the woman you mentioned who spoke so rudely to you.
And such people who work in a way that is unacceptable or harmful to others, unfortunately, exist in every institution, in every social group. But we never get around to saying, for example, that we will not go to school because we met an unacceptable teacher, or that we do not need medical attention because we went to a bad doctor.
The same is true of the Church. There are enlightened priests, people who serve their flock with love, respect, and conscience, often going out of their way to help their fellow man, there are others, fortunately who do much less, who do not honor their position or role. But that does not in any way diminish the role and value of the Church.
Because the Church is much more than individual people. The Church has to do with man’s deep need to communicate with God, it has to do with faith without which man loses hope and purpose. It is about love in its highest form that reaches to the sacrifice for human salvation.
And if you want my personal opinion, I would advise your children to go to Church. Our children live in a world full of danger, full of frustration, it’s so easy to feel fear, loneliness, despair. And then what will they do? To whom will they turn if not to God? Where can the desperate soul find solace, where will they find hope, courage, strength to continue living and striving at a time when everything looks black if not prayer in the sublime atmosphere of the Church?
Comfort your children for what they have been through, and help them understand that people make mistakes, but forgiveness is what sets people free from the burdens of the past, from sadness, anger, and frustration.