Here are a few of my more memorable experiences when visiting Orthodox parishes. I’ve found that the place and the priest can create very different experiences. In all of them, I was quiet and respectful and allowed them to lead the conversation.
Antiochian Orthodox priest: strongly made sure I understood that Orthodox and Eastern Catholics are not the same thing after hearing I go to an Eastern Catholic church. Very hospitable and frequently asked what he could do for me and invited me to liturgy. Pointed out how many parishioners he had who left Catholicism. Said he had heard bad things about his local Eastern Catholic parish and its priest. Again made sure that I knew that he was not a Melkite and the two Churches don’t work together. Invited me to come again and gave me a bulletin.
Coptic Orthodox priest**: Made sure I knew the customs (take off my shoes, which side to stand on, to remain standing), gave me all the needed books, frequently sent a very young deacon down from the altar to check that I knew when we were changing books and that I was in the right place. Asked about my church’s practices and asked specific questions about my impressions of his church. Welcomed me to come back whenever I would like and said he would like to come visit my parish. He later did so.
OCA priest: Warmly welcomed me and asked where I go to church. Immediately turned around and left without another word when I told him. On another occasion, I was again at his church with an Eastern Catholic priest. The OCA priest treated the EC priest with disgust, made a very rude comment, and refused to greet him as a priest. On another occasion, I was with several of this priest’s parishioners. They said they are specifically forbidden from visiting or supporting an Eastern Catholic parish, they may not participate in a prayer led by any Catholics, and they are taught specifically how to evangelize the “heretic uniates.”
OCA priest #2: Warmly welcomed me and asked where I go to church. Said he had a number of converts from there over the years. Talked about his missionary activity and its success. Invited me to come again.
OCA priest #3: Welcomed me and invited me to return. Asked about the lenten devotions in the Eastern Catholic Churches with what appeared to me to be an air of superiority, which I also saw when he talked down about the other local Orthodox Churches’ lenten practices. Spent most of the social time talking with parishioners about where to find fasting foods (all of them appeared to be keeping the full fast) and about the upcoming schedules. His parishioners also said that they may not attend or support Eastern Catholic parishes, that they are specifically taught how to evangelize Eastern Catholics, and they may not participate in prayer led by any non-Orthodox. They were 100% converts from what I could tell (not as a parish, but as individuals), but they had names like Vitalis and Photini which Vladimir (previously Ian, the Scottish for John) explained to me was their Chrismation names. All wore black and gray, the women had full babushkas on, and the formality in speech was unparalleled. In contrast, an OCA woman who had just moved to the area was there for her first time. She was in jeans with no headcovering (which got more than a few raised eyebrows and head jerks between people behind her back) and said she frequently visited Eastern Catholic churches for weekday services, which set off an audible gasp from other parishioners. The parishioners mainly talked about not going to Greek Orthodox Churches because they were too latinized with their pews and organs. They agreed that they would stay at home and pray if their only choice was a Greek Orthodox church when they went on vacation.
Greek Orthodox priest: Had a very balanced conversation about the differences between Orthodoxy and Catholicism. He seemed grounded in his own faith and to have no animosity toward Catholicism. He asked questions about purgatory and talked about the Dormition, pointing out differences in theology and also looking for areas of commonality. Invited me to check out their cultural and social opportunities like Greek class and assured me that all in the community were welcome. Gave me papers on the church on the way out which included a time line that showed how the Catholic Church split from Orthodoxy and sacked Constantinople.
Greek Orthodox priest #2: Made sure I knew the errors of Catholicism, talked about the sack of Constantinople, and told me I should be going to an Orthodox church. Also said he would commune me if I came for liturgy. :shrug: