The world’s second-largest Christian body, with 250 million members, is officially known as the Orthodox Catholic Church. It shared communion with Roman Catholics until the schism of 1054.
Here are ten ways it varies from its Western counterparts.
- Unlike the Roman Catholic denomination, the Orthodox operate as a communion of autocephalous churches, each governed by a bishop (often known as a metropolitan). In practice, these often have a national or regional identity, such as Greek Orthodox or Russian Orthodox.
- Metropolitans, rather than the pope, are the head of each of the self-governing churches, and together they form the Holy Synod. The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople is recognized as the first among equals.
- Advent and Christmas. Advent is longer and Christmas isn’t celebrated until January 7.
- Lent and Pascha. The liturgical calendar differs from those used in Western Christianity, with Easter (Pascha, the Greek preferred term) typically being aligned to Passover. Great Lent is longer, too. The Feast of the Assumption and Pentecost are holy days nearly equal to Pascha.
- The Theotokos. The Virgin Mary, Mother of God, is venerated and central in the liturgical worship. More nuanced, too, than in Roman Catholicism.
- Greek, rather than Latin, as the basis of its Scriptures and theological discourse. It’s a language more suited to nuance and philosophy, so I’m told.
- The priests may marry (unlike Roman Catholicism) but the bishops cannot (unlike Protestants).
- Sensuous richness. Incense, bells, chanting appeal to the nose and ears. An abundance of iconography, especially, surrounds the eyes.
- The iconostasis. An elaborately decorated wall stands between the altar and the congregation. It has three doors – the angel doors, to either side, and the blessed door in the center. The priest passes repeatedly through the central door, which is left open during the service, while the deacon or others may use the side doors, as required.
- You show up for the Sunday service – the Divine Liturgy – you’re likely to think you’re late. The priest, deacon, and psalmists have already been celebrating the Orthos for an hour, sometimes alone, in preparation.
AS AN ASIDE: In 978, Vladimir the Great sent emissaries to study four religions in neighboring regions – Judaism, Islam, Latin Rite (Catholic), and Eastern Rite (Orthodox). Reputedly, he rejected Judaism as lacking power, since it had lost Jerusalem. Islam, because it banned alcohol. Latin Rite because of the political power of its pope. But Eastern Rite, with the sumptuousness of its liturgy in Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, won him over. As they wrote, “We no longer knew whether we were in heaven or on earth.” And thus, the Russian Orthodox church was born.
Admittedly, this is a superficial overview. I’m hoping for a lot of clarification from more knowledgeable readers.
Since these are transcribed from the Hellenic alphabet, their spellings in Latin script can vary.
Here are ten.
- Yasou. Hello.
- Kalos orises. Welcome.
- Ti kanete. How are you?
- Ine kalo. That’s good.
- Ne. Yes.
- Ohi. No.
- Signomi. Excuse me.
- Efharisto. Thank you.
- Parakalo. Please. Also, you’re welcome.
- Goodbye. Andio sas.
I’ll leave the swear words to Cassia in my novel What’s Left. Especially the ones she learned at church camp.
My novel What’s Left has me thinking about families – especially like Cassia’s Greek-American household in Indiana.
- Number of single-parent families in the U.S.: 13.7 million (27 percent).
- Number of Greek-Americans: 1.3 million to 3 million of full Greek ancestry estimated. (With her mixed ancestry, Cassia wound not be counted here.)
- Number of Greeks in Indianapolis area, 1900: 29.
- Number of Greek-Americans (full ancestry) in Indiana: 23,993 (2010).
- Number of family businesses in U.S.: 5.5 million.
- Greek diners: More than 600 founded in New York area between 1950 and 1970 alone.
- Number of diners in New Jersey: about 525 (the leading state).
- Greek-menu restaurants in U.S.: 3,100.
- First Greek Orthodox church in the U.S.: New Orleans, by 1866
- First Greek Orthodox church in Indiana: Holy Trinity, Indianapolis, 1910.
As Greek Orthodox Christians everywhere sing joyously while waving candles aloft in the darkness before dawn this morning, the hymn continues:
Thanato thanaton patisas,
ke tis tis mnimasin,
And in English-speaking places, they alternate that stanza with a translated version before repeating both over and over:
Christ is risen from the tomb
trampling down death by death!
And on those in the tombs, he has granted life!
In my novel What’s Left, Cassia’s family runs a landmark restaurant but realizes many of the Greek dishes they make at home are just too exotic for their clientele in southern Indiana, at least during most of the timespan of the story.
They do add roasted Greek potatoes as an option, but that’s about it.
Well, by the early ’80s, when they have a vegetarian line going, they might add dolmathes, the stuffed grape leaves, or vegetarian stuffed peppers to their offerings, perhaps along with tzatziki, the distinctive cucumber yogurt sauce distinguished by its dill and lemon.
Oh, but how much are the holding back on? Consider these ten options.
- Gyro. It’s a yummy handful, a wrap made of warm pita bread filled with strips of seasoned grilled lamb and beef with tzatziki and sliced tomatoes. (No onions on mine, please. They don’t agree with my system.)
- Souvlaki. Around here, it’s usually kabobs of char-broiled marinated pork, ordered by the skewer. “Give me two sticks, please,” is the way to order. Rounded out with things like rice pilaf, beans, and Greek salad on the plate. My favorite came from a wood-fired stove at the Common Ground Fair in Maine.
- Spanakopita. Or spinach pie, made of filo dough baked with layers of spinach and cheese.
- Loukaniko. Greek sausage made with orange peel, too. Great appetizer.
- Kolokythokeftedes. A Cretan vegetarian appetizer ball featuring feta cheese. (Feta is big in our house.)
- Lamb shank. This slow-baked, savory hunk o’ meat is one of the glories of our local Greek festival. Or, for those who want something a little less messy to eat, the slices of roast lamb are delightful, assuming you like lamb. If not, go for the lemon-pepper roast chicken. (Admittedly, I’m cheating in trying to keep this a Tendril. Just ten dishes? Oh, my, impossible!)
- Pastichio. Layers of baked macaroni with cheese and seasoned beef are a common entrees , as is Moussaka, made of layers of baked eggplant, potatoes, and ground beef.
- Keftethes. Meatballs. Bet you can’t eat just one.
- Baklava. This honey-infused filo is a heavenly dessert, but be warned, it has to be eaten while fresh. That honey can get sticky.
- Let’s not overlook Loukoumades. Bite-sized golden puffs of fried dough often sprinkled with syrup, walnuts, and cinnamon are another celestial way to round out the meal. I have heard some heated discussion, though, about whether the next generation can live up to the standards this one requires. The debate can be quite amusing, especially when the stand is being operated by closely supervised children.
Now, as for your Greek favorites?