Oh, how I love our Tewahedo Orthodox Church. From the beautiful liturgical Zema (Chant), that are said by our Priests. To the beautiful aroma of the incense that fills my nose and is left on my netsela and clothes when I get home. Oh, how I love our Tewahedo Orthodox faith. When we stretch out our hands and we say “Ezgio Meharene Kristos” (Have mercy on us Christ), those words penetrate my heart every time and always reminds me of The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ taught:
9 Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ 13 And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Luke 18:9-14 (NKJV)
Sadly, as beautiful as our Tewahedo Orthodox Church is, people like the Pharisee still exist inside our Churches. Growing up in the Greek Orthodox Church and never experiencing any hypocrisy, what a reality shock the people in the Eritrean Church were to me. The first time, I attended a members meeting and witnessed people screaming like uncivilized people. Two ladies throwing water bottles at each other, because they simply disagreed with what was being said. A group of men getting into a fist fight like it was a boxing match inside the Church. This was all foreign to me! I was in complete and utter shock. What shocked me the most is how prideful and power hungry some people truly are inside our Churches. Especially, those serving on the Board or Committee. I found them constantly putting themselves above the people and sadly they believe they are superior to our Priests. I’ve had to continuously ask myself, what in the world is happening here? You see, sadly this has become the norm in our Churches. If I had experienced it in just one Church, I would just say it’s the people at that particular Church, but when I’ve been part of four different Churches and have witnessed such behavior you better believe, I know too well that Pharisees are in all our Churches.
What helped me was that I had to understand, no one but God is perfect! Therefore, not all the people serving the Church are spiritual people. Some just do it for personal gain and enjoy having the title. I find people like that, love serving themselves more than they love serving our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. What frightens me the most is how they can say they are serving God, but say words that are ungodly and do things that are not Christ like. As I’ve told you before, people cannot walk with Christ holding the devil’s hand. Most importantly, I had to understand, our beautiful Church welcomes all: the hypocrites, the self-righteous and the shallow. It welcomes the sincere, the passionate, the forgiving and the selfless. It doesn’t shut it’s doors to the people who in the past have made you angry, uncomfortable, impatient or self-conscious.
You might find the Church to be distant and preoccupied. They might not be as welcoming as you had hoped or maybe you tried to serve in the Church, but were caught off guard by bureaucracy and division among the people. I’m sorry if you have experienced too “righteous” or too blind people. Maybe you left and you were surprised that nobody called, cared, noticed or invited you back. Or perhaps your experience has driven you to speak negatively about our Church, swear to never come back to the Church, proclaim that no one needs the Church or maybe you believe that you are better off without the Church.
If this is true, if your heart resonates with this, I have something to say to you, “I’m sorry.” Please remember, when you go to Church, it isn’t perfection. It isn’t flawlessness. It isn’t completion. That’s why as a Tewahedo Orthodox Girl, I will never allow hypocrisy to ever stop me from attending Church, nor do I want you to ever stop. I look at people like Fr. Kesis Hermon, who allows NOTHING to deter him from our faith or our Church. He has dealt with far more hypocrisy than you and I can imagine or ever experience, but he never gives up. Over and over again he reminds me, walking with Christ is never easy. He is constantly reaching out to the youth to motivate them and help them to stay encouraged. In return he has motivated me and encouraged me to start this blog, which I hope if nothing else has encouraged you to never give up!
I apologize for the fact that you may have been hurt by the people in the Church, but it is NEVER a reason to leave the Church. We have been blessed with our beautiful Tewahedo Orthodox faith and we go to Church to serve Christ, not the people in it. I hope that you will forgive and come back, because our beautiful Tewahedo Orthodox Church needs people like you to make a difference!
Author Selam Seyoum
(An adaptation of I am Church)