Friday, October 28, 2011

World Religions Series: The Greek Orthodox Faith

As promised last month, I started on a journey to better understand the different world faiths that my friends, family, co-workers, acquaintances, etc. all belong to and practice.  I didn't give anyone a timeline to finish answering the questions, but I was hoping to begin posting some of their responses by the end of this month.  After a gentle reminder to the various people who agreed to participate, my friend and former Scott Rudin Productions co-worker, Charley Parlapanides graciously answered my request.

Charley may not remember this, but as a person very curious about religion, I asked Charley to take me with him to church once when I lived in L.A.  He agreed and off we went to the Greek Orthodox Church (I remember thinking it was such a fun adventure!)  Interestingly, I remember only a few things from that day: the church was beautiful, everyone had a huge happy smile going in and out of the church, and they were all very welcoming to the obvious new comer in the crowd.  I remember thinking that it felt like a really nice community.  Oh, and after the service Charley gave me the full "Greek" experience by taking me to get Greek food.  I must say, to this day, Dolma is still one of my favorite foods!  My husband and I order from this little mom and pop shop here in Boise called Mazzah about 3-5 times a month, and we never miss the Greek Festival here either... the food is too good to miss out on!

St. Sophia's in Los Angeles, CA 

I digress... I want to thank Charley for allowing me to have that experience with his church and his Greek culture all those years ago in LA, and for participating in my blogging journey into World Religions today.  And so, without any further ado...

In his own words, Charley Parlapanides and The Greek Orthodox religion:
Charley and his wife, Elenie
What religion do you practice, and how did you come to practice it?
I am a Greek Orthodox Christian also known as an Eastern Orthodox
Christian. People will hear Russian Orthodox or Romanian Orthodox
and get confused but it is all the same. We are all part of what is
called the Eastern Church or Orthodox faith, we just do our liturgies in
different languages.
I was born into the faith. Both my parents are Greek and grew up in the
Greek Orthodox Church. Unlike most countries or the US, Greece is a
theocracy, meaning the Church and State are one. Or at least that is how
it used to be...

Tell me about your religion. Describe what the tenants of your relgion
are in your words.
The Orthodox faith is one of humility. Each day we must humble
ourselves in the pursuit of God’s grace. Only through humility can
one grow closer to God. This is accomplished through prayer and
adherence to the sacraments of our church. One of the sacraments I
find most helpful is the sacrament of confession. It is one of the great
mysteries of our faith.
Also, and maybe most importantly, we believe that God has given us a
direct means of communicating with him. That line of communication
is our heart. Therefore, we must strive to not let our hearts be hardened
by the material world or the hardships of life. And sometimes when we
are unwilling to humble ourselves, God does it for us.

What does your religion mean to you?
It means everything to me. It is the foundation of my being. I would be
nothing without it.

What are five things you love about your religion?
1) It’s consistency. The Orthodox faith is unchanging, hence the
name. It is has been this way for 2,000 years and will continue to
be so.
2) I love its humility and understanding. We are taught to never point
the finger at someone else and cast judgment. I remember being at
a Monastery in Greece and a man asking a Monk there if suicide
was a “mortal sin” for lack of a better word. Would someone
who has killed themselves be punished? I’ll never forget what
the monk said. He told us a story about a young woman from his
village. She was only seventeen and had gotten pregnant. She was
unmarried and in Greece, during that time, that was considered
taboo. Everyone in the village was talking about her. She ended
up “committing suicide.” But he said, that girl didn’t kill herself,
the village killed her. God will see that, God knows that. I
thought that kind of absolute, unconditional love was truly moving.
3) The Monasteries of the Orthodox faith. They are a refuge of
silence and tranquility. The Monks there are amazing. They are
filled with joy and laughter, even though they spend all day, every
day, praying, fasting, and performing the Devine Liturgy.
4) Lent, Holy Week and Easter. It is a time of transformation and
rebirth. It is a real gift and a reminder of the spiritual journey we
must all undertake.
5) The Chanting. If you have ever spent any time in an Orthodox
Church or Monastery you will know what I mean.

What are five things you don’t particularly agree with about your
1)  I don’t have five things. My only complaint is that we Greeks
sometimes use Church as more of a social function than a path
towards God. Otherwise, I have no complaints.

What are the most common misconceptions about your religion and
how do you address them?
The Orthodox faith doesn’t evangelize. We don’t go out and try and
convert people. We just try and live the faith. Consequently, I think
people don’t know much about the Orthodox Faith. For example, our
Priests are allowed to get married and have children, as long as they are
married before they are fully ordained. Yet, people will associate us
with some of the scandals other churches have endured. They will lump
us in with other denominations. But it is what it is.

How does your religion affect your family life? Your work life?
It is central to our family life. My wife is Greek and was raised Greek
Orthodox as well. It helps to have that common ground. We are both
working to be better people, spouses, and parents which is part of our
faith. We are also hoping to pass this down to our daughter.
In terms of work, I think humbling yourself each day is key. Especially,
in a crazy business like Hollywood. Plus, it keeps everything in

If you could leave people with one idea that most closely describes the
way you see and understand your religion, what would that be?
Dostoyevsky, who was Russian Orthodox, said “faith doesn’t spring
from miracles, miracles spring from faith.” I think that is the key. You
can’t try and understand the spiritual world with logic. You can’t ask
to be shown definitive proof of the divine, so that then you can believe.
You have to find it with your heart. Once you do that a whole other
world and level of understanding will open up to you.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Anything human can and will be flawed. The Church is run by human
beings, who make mistakes and will continue to make mistakes.
That much is certain. But that doesn’t diminish the wisdom and
great mysteries of the Church. I always ask people, “If a doctor
made a mistake would that lead you to disregard Western Medicine
in its entirety? Would it make sense to ignore that entire body of
knowledge?” No, of course not. Yet people do that with religion.
Because of mistakes human beings make they disassociate themselves
from their faith all together. I think that can be very dangerous because
when they do have a spiritual crisis they no longer have that support or
knowledge. It is like breaking your leg and not seeing a doctor. Yeah, it
will heal but will it heal properly? Or will it be a scar you carry with you
for the rest of your life?

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