Different cultures unite in same faith
by Gina Kim - Tribune staff reporter
Source: Chicago Tribune, March 21, 2005
Peppered throughout the religious service were the same words
murmured in different languages. Whether in Serbian, Greek, Russian, Arabic, Ukrainian or English, the
approximately 600 Orthodox Christians gathered Sunday in a Palatine
church were all saying, "Lord have mercy."
Celebrating the first Sunday of their Lent, members of 60 area
parishes gathered at St. Nectarios Greek Orthodox Church in Palatine. It is
one of the few times each year that the groups, separated by heritage,
come together to observe their shared religion.
"We are one church even though we are ethnically divided," said Rev.
Nicholas Dahdal of St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in Cicero.
Billowing incense and singsong prayers were interspersed with a
cappella choir music. The pinnacle of the service came when about 60
bishops, priests and deacons walked in a procession, each carrying a wood
frame with a painted portrait of a saint.
Ancient ritual symbolism is central to Orthodox Christianity and
Sunday's service, or the Sunday of Orthodoxy, celebrates the return of
religious icons in the year 843 after an effort to suppress them. All of the attendees
recited a proclamation, said only on this occasion each year, venerating icons.
That was the service's climax for Rev. Dennis Pavichevich of Holy
Resurrection Serbian Orthodox Cathedral in Chicago. "The voices were
united--that in itself is very powerful," he said.
Hearing the different groups saying the same words was a profound
experience, said Jessica Maple, 23, who is converting to Orthodox
"It was wonderful to hear people from all the different parishes say
what we believe," said Maple, who is joining Christ the Savior Orthodox
Church in Chicago. "It gave me the goose bumps."
While sharing many of its central beliefs and practices with Roman
Catholicism, the Orthodox church split in 1054 over political and
theological differences. As Orthodox Christianity spread, independent churches were
established in different countries and imbued with various cultures.
Immigrants brought their church traditions to the United States. But
as subsequent generations have integrated into American society, many
question the wisdom of remaining separate. Together, they could become
one of the largest churches in the country with 7 million members, about
300,000 in the Chicago area, Dahdal said.
"We do waste many resources because we are divided," he said. "People
see us as Serbians and Russians ... when we are Americans."
Sunday's service wasn't necessarily a step toward unification of the
church's administration, but it does paint a picture of what an
ethnically diverse congregation would look like.
"The most unique dynamic of the service is not the service itself but
the fact that the Orthodox Christians from various jurisdictions come
together," said Rev. Demetri Kantzavelos, chancellor of the Greek
Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago. "We have the whole Orthodox Christian family
Although the service was mainly in English, the 30 songs and
responses were sung in more than seven languages demonstrating the vast reach
of the Orthodox church, said Gordana Trbuhovich, who is founder of the
Pan-Orthodox Choir of Greater Chicago.
"I personally love the gathering of all the Orthodox brothers and
sisters for one common prayer," she said. "It makes you feel part of the
Katherine Charnota, 75, a member of St. Michael's Orthodox Church in
Niles, said that is the reason she attends the multi-ethnic service
year after year. "It is so significant and uplifting when you see all the different
nationalities and the different Orthodox branches join together and
revere the icons," she said.
Copyright © 2005, Chicago Tribune