Church tourists

by , under church, o tempora

Two women, mother (about my age) and daughter (late twenties). They’re standing with their noses practically pressed to the glass door when I step out for an errand.

Me: Do you want in? I’ve got the keys.

Women: Ooh, can we? Really?

Me: Sure, one moment. (They almost crowd in behind me when I take the keys from the meter cupboard.) No, this is my house, I’m just getting the keys to open the church. It’s often open anyway, only the usual volunteer isn’t here at the moment.

Women: Oh, this is so cosy! What a lot of icons! Did you paint them all yourselves (or “yourself”, can’t tell in Dutch with formal second-person pronoun)?

Me: No, they’re all by different people. We get them as gifts. Some of them are even reproductions. Only the iconostasis was made especially for our church, by a Russian icon painter, took him and his apprentices six months.

Women: (point out several different icons and ask technical questions which I can’t answer)

Me: Sorry, I don’t know all of that, there are people in the parish who probably do but not me.

Women: But are you at least allowed to vacuum and dust in here? (sounding more like privilege than permission, I realise now)

Me: I’m allowed, I suppose, but I don’t.

Women: (look slightly unsettled)

Me: It’s not my work, other people do that. I’m not the caretaker, I’m a choir singer, it’s just that I live up there (point to ceiling of narthex which is our kitchen floor). I have the keys to let maintenance people in, and to open the door when it’s closed and someone’s interested and I happen to see them.

Women: What a blessed place to live!

Me: Oh yes, definitely!

Mother: Who is your, er, preacher?

Me: Father Theodore, he’s a Dutch priest who studied in Belgrade and St.Petersburg.

Mother: But is he a Benedictine?

Me: No! We’re Orthodox!

Mother: But we were in Chevetogne and it was exactly like here.

Me: I can imagine, as far as I know they celebrate the Byzantine rite in Chevetogne. But they’re Catholic and we’re Orthodox.

Daughter: They actually have two different sections there.

Me: That’ll be a Western-rite one, ‘normal’ Catholic so to say, and a Byzantine-rite one, like ours.

Women: What order is your priest in, then?

Me: He’s not a monk, he’s a married man with two children and a granddaughter.

Women: (some confused sounds)

Me: We’re not in the Catholic church at all. This is the Orthodox church, we belong to the patriarchate of Constantinople, Patriarch Bartholomew.

Women: Oh, thank you for enlightening us. (They don’t look at all enlightened. Ah well.)

They put something in the donations box when they leave. I want to give them a general leaflet but we don’t seem to have any left, only leaflets about the youth camp but I don’t suppose they have Orthodox children between 7 and 18. I invite them to come tomorrow and see a baby boy baptised, but they’re only in town for the day.


  1. Cheryl

    Neat! Do people often not understand the difference between Orthodox and Catholic? I didn’t know you lived above your church, very cool. Must make it convenient to get to choir practice (and services).

  2. Irina

    Sadly, many people either don’t know the difference or want to know how Orthodox differs from Catholic (but that’s what we have church volunteers for– we’re not trained but we practice a lot).

    Living above the church is AWESOME, especially as our favourite reading spot on the roof terrace is right above the altar and it feels blessed. (Just nipping down to choir or services is part of it, but not the most important


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