Last week I talked about choice https://blogs.goarch.org/blog/-/blogs/the-burden-of-choi-1, and how difficult it can be to make sure you’re making the right one. This is particularly difficult in situations where you aren’t sure there actually is a ‘right’ choice.
Having just moved to a new city, I’ve had to make a lot of those choices lately.
Deciding to move wasn’t particularly hard, and there are a million little things that have made the process easier than I thought it would be. That has made me feel immeasurably blessed and given me a lot of faith in my decision.
But, as with any move, when you start living in a new place you realize that there are a lot of little routines that you took for granted and which now need to be recreated. For the most part these have been pretty simple (I’ve picked a favorite park and found a new zoo) but there is one thing that’s proved more difficult than I expected:
Finding a parish.
Wanting to be part of a community of likeminded individuals is pretty basic to human nature. People enjoy being around other people who share their interests, which is why we become regulars at a bars or join clubs in college.
Our membership in the Church is no different, a big part of it is being involved in the community. So naturally I just assumed I would go to my local parish, become best friends with everyone, and that it would feel just like being at home, but in a new place.
I never considered that I don’t know how to find a new parish. And I hadn’t realized there would be so many options.
I have only ever been part of two parishes: St. George Orthodox Church in Albuquerque, NM, where I was raised, and Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church in Ogden, Utah where I spent my young adulthood. I didn’t choose either parish, they were simply where my dad was assigned. Not that I could have chosen since, in both of these places, there aren’t really any other options. With only one parish in town, everyone who wants to go to a Greek Orthodox Church ends up in the same place. And knowing that we are all there, together, creates a wonderful sense of community. I’ll always love that about my home parishes.
I know that, at the end of the day, it shouldn’t matter where attend services, since I’m making the decision to go. But I still find myself overanalyzing, creating lists, and weighing my options heavily--in part because that’s who I am as a person, and also because this still feels like a big decision that demands careful thought.
Yet the more I think about it, the more I realize that I’m not going to find a place in New York that feels just like my parish back home. And even if I could recreate the experience of being in my father’s parish where everything is familiar and comforting, I don’t think I’d want to.
The unfamiliarity of celebrating Liturgy in a new place paradoxically offers me the comforting familiarity of the Church. I know my friends back home are all going to Liturgy on a Sunday morning and that gives me a sense of comfort. Even though we aren’t all physically in the same place, we all are doing the same thing, we’re all praying together. And, in a kinda cool way, that does bring us all into the same place: the Kingdom of God.
It’s not the same as when I get to attend church with my sisters and stand next to them, or confess to my spiritual father. But as long as I am surrounded by other people who are there for the same reason, united in worship, there is still a bit of that comfort, and it becomes less important to form a routine or have a favorite spot then to simply find a Church and participate in the Liturgy.
We, collectively, are the Church, and remembering that makes the decision of what parish to go to seem less important.
For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them. (Matthew 18:20)
Regardless of where we are and who we are with, when we come together in the Church we are all coming together as the Church, with the same purpose and forming a community. I’m starting to appreciate that just as much as the time I get at my home parish.
Because when I’m not back home, I love knowing that on a Sunday morning, even though they aren’t physically with me, all of my friends and family are with me in spirit. As are all Orthodox Christians, anywhere and everywhere, who are celebrating the Divine Liturgy and standing with me in the Kingdom.
In light of that, some of the stress of picking the “right” parish fades. I have to remember that this isn’t one of those choices with a “wrong” answer. And instead of feeling overwhelmed by a desire to find a particular place, or the right place, I should enjoy the freedom of exploring how vast our community really is and how unifying the Church can be.
Charissa is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. Charissa grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah and studied political science at the University of Utah. She enjoys sunshine, the mountains and snowcones. Charissa currently lives in New York City.