This is an account of what happened the last time I ever stepped foot in a Greek Orthodox church…me finally letting go of a religion which I never felt connected to and brought me nothing but guilt and pain.
My father had passed away in early 2008. I wanted to hold my father’s funeral at the Westal Greek Orthodox Church like my mother’s was, as it was built and maintained by my local Greek Orthodox community (my mother being heavily involved in much of its early days). Unfortunately, I found out through the overpriced Greek Orthodox funeral director, that we couldn’t have it there as it wouldn’t be considered legit in the Greek Orthodox community as the Arch Diocese had the church struck from the records. Why? Well because the priest at Westal refused to pay the incredulous amounts of money to the conglomerate of the Greek Orthodox leaders since the church was built solely from donations and fund raising from the local community. After Westal was established it continued to be self funded and maintained and has never received any assistance from the heads of the Greek Orthodox church and wanted to put all the “profits” the church made back into the community instead of lining the already overflowing coffers of the Greek Orthodox Arch Diocese.
Just another reminder of why I turned my back on the church when I was kid.
The church where my father’s funeral was held in Clayton was awful due to the greedy and judgmental old fashioned priest who had no people skills and used guilt, fear and manipulation as a tool. This was the priest who gave my father’s last rites in hospital. He was the closest priest to said hospital and one of the Greek doctors called him as a sign of respect to my father’s faith. The first thing this “holy” and compassionate-less priest said when he laid eyes upon my father (who was painfully suffering whilst trying to breathe and could only communicate by the terrified look in his eyes due to loosing his speech and mobility) was to spitefully complain that he had to pay for parking and that it was late at night. After giving my father the last rites in a half assed way (which actually seemed to calm him) he hovered for ages to get some sort of tip or payment and then left in a huff when he realized it was not forthcoming.
This priests behavior grew worse when he held the funeral there due to it being the closest one to our family home and the nursing home my father had lived in during the last few years of his life. I found out not only did the priest rip me off and overcharge me BUT he told me to get things which I found out by another more prominent church in neighboring Oakleigh (after the fact) that it was unnecessary and a way for him to fill his storerooms whilst knowing full well I was using all my savings to pay for the overpriced Greek Orthodox funeral. That wasn’t the worst part, that came later when he asked me if I attended church and I replied honestly – that I didn’t. So what did he do? Well right after the funeral service (which had to be paid for in full before the fact) he gave a sermon on why you need to go to church or you’ll go to hell whilst constantly looking my way and finished off by going on and on about how greedy society had become and to focus on faith and family and then incredulously finished off by asking for donations to allow the church to thrive. All the while neglecting the fact so much money has come into that church that not only is everything gold leaf or plated but the church has bought quite a number of the surrounding properties at around half a million a pop and knocked them down to create more parking for their parishioners. All the while neglecting the fact that the priest himself makes quite a profit from the church, which has enabled him not only to live in a huge two story mansion type home in another suburb which is more expensive and prestigious but he also drives the latest BMW and sends his kids to private schools and to expensive trips to Greece on a regular basis and indulges their every whim financially…so much for living a simple life and abstaining from the lures of vanity like they are instructed to do when they take their vows.
My own Greek Orthodox relatives were shocked at this because you never give a Sunday sermon during a funeral and friends and coworkers who had come to show support who weren’t even Greek were also quite appalled at this unexpected bible bashing sermon they didn’t expect. This priest annoyed me further because during the wake of simple breaking bread next door at the church hall (which incurred yet another excessive cost) the priest pestered me and pestered me to organize booking and payment for another rite in 7 days (which is a simple watering of the grave). I wasn’t in the right head space to make more plans so when I continuously refused to do that as I politely told him it wasn’t the right time and I needed a few hours to get my thoughts in order after just having buried my father and that I would get back to him, he went to my sister and organised it with her. He did this knowing full well that I had paid for everything including the funeral and I was the estate’s executor and the fact my sister and I didn’t speak as she cut ties with me years earlier (due to getting engaged to a “Jew”). I was tired and over it by this stage but I went to this rite at the grave-site a week later and yet again he hovered for payment after all the money I had already thrown at him and the disrespect he showed me. If I hadn’t already turned my back on the Greek Orthodox church at 11 years old – this would of definitely made me leave the “faith” which I personally find a misogynistic greedy religion who prays on the fears of their faithful.
After that I held the next memorial at the church in Oakleigh which not a single relative or family friend turned up to, including my sister which I ascertained was due to the fact that my father hadn’t left them anything in his Will (you wouldn’t believe the people I had knocking on my door wanting to find out what was happening to my father’s estate, which included relatives he hadn’t spoken to in decades) and hey they could of taken some of the tens of thousands of dollars worth of debt he left me, but I digress. The Oakleigh church contact who helped me out immensely explained to me that the priest whom I had perform my father’s funeral in Clayton under duress had indeed taken advantage of me and they were not only very kind and gentle with me but they explained fully and in detail what needed to be done and how it was going to be done. This small kindness was a relief but it stopped me from holding anymore memorials for my father yearly like some traditionalists do, due to being completely put off by the process and finding out from various sources it was unnecessary to have it at church and a simple tithing to a charity or doing volunteer work would suffice (which I did and I still do to honor my father’s memory).
(Saint Photini which I was named after was an outspoken devotee who was tortured and killed by Emperor Nero due to her unwavering faith.
Ironically, her remains are buried in Mt Athos an all-male religious state where women cannot enter.)
Anyway truth be told the real reason why I left the Greek Orthodox church was because I was actually kicked out of Sunday school when I was 11 or 12 (cant recall exactly) but my father was called one day by the priests wife who ran the bible studies class as apparently I disrupted the other children in class and I wasn’t welcomed back. How did I disrupt the class? Well considering I knew the bible well due to my mothers devout attendance and knowledge about scripture (she was a practicing hermetic Greek folk witch but incorporated her faith in her practice) I often asked questions of the priests wife which emphasized contradictions, not only in the bible itself but the way the church and priests carried themselves in direct contradiction to what was being taught in the class or being preached in church. Fact is the priest’s wife wasn’t apt at answering questions which were sincere yet challenged the huge inconsistencies in what was said and what was done. In the end I remember the last thing the priest and his wife said to me after the last Sunday school class I was ever to attend, but not so eloquently as I put it to you now…they said that I was a girl child who asked too many questions and needed to just blindly accept what I was being told. That my studious intellect and genuine curiosity was a danger to myself, my faith and others. Also something along the lines that women were inherently sinful and dirty, who needed to work hard for salvation yet were never be able to achieve the connection to God that priests could. After that day I completely turned my back on the church and refused to be part of it and disavowed my baptism in the faith when I was 21. I never attended a service in a Greek Orthodox church again unless it was to support a friend or family member for a specific celebration and even then I never made any devotional tokens unless it was to occasionally light a candle in my parents name when it was a family event (that was until my father’s memorial which was indeed the last time I stepped foot into a Greek Orthodox Church and I will never again).
After the fateful day I was expelled from Greek Sunday school at 11/12, I started researching the origins of the magick my mother had taught me and that is when I discovered paganism which led me first to Hermetic tradition and then to Wicca (witchcraft connection) and finally to the Hellenic and Kemetic faiths which I continue to honour to this day. So it its essence I think the transition from a faith I had no connection to, to one where I am have full freedom and self responsibility suits me just fine.
My personal philosophy is : “The divine and spiritual is not found within the church but within the individual’s connection to spirit/god/goddess.”