Sunday is the St. Elias parish festival. For those of you who are Orthodox I actually don't have to write any more than this, you can fill in the lines yourself. For the rest I'll continue.

Whatever our jurisdictional differences in this country we Orthodox share at least one thing in common, most of us have festivals of one kind or another. At festivals we feed strangers, dance for strangers, hold raffles for strangers, and find other ways to entertain them, for a price. Of course that's a hard and cynical view of things. There's more to festivals than that, but the financial part is certainly important. Many parishes make significant income via their festivals and over the years we've gotten really good at giving our friends and neighbors quite an afternoon or weekend for their tickets.

St. Elias is no exception. The people plan ahead, work hard, and produce an amazing five hour Sunday afternoon event where we can feed and entertain anywhere from 500 - 1000 people. That's not bad for a parish of around 50 plus active members. And the food really is good, in fact having been in several denominations over the years I can assuredly tell you the food in Orthodoxy is simply the best. I've had stuff to eat at St. Elias during Lent that's better than many people could do on their best day.

But the truth is I'm torn about the whole festival thing. It takes weeks to plan and execute a festival and about 20 seconds to write a check. If every Orthodox Christian simply tithed we could rid ourselves of the hours spent sweating in front of steaming pots and smoking grills. I hate that feeling that hangs over all of our plans, the hope that everything turns out okay, that the weather is fine, that people come, that nothing too strange happens, the knowledge that we really do need this money to make ends meet. The atmosphere of a festival can be quite fun but underneath, for many Orthodox parishes, is a kind of grim, make or break, determination.

And yet the work of a festival can draw us together in that most ancient of ways, a shared task. It also gets us out in the community and in LaCrosse, like many small cities, church events are also community events. It's not unusual for the local television stations to provide some coverage and friends of members and just the curious attracted by the smells (did I tell you that we can really cook?) drop by. It's also kind of a family reunion for us. Orthodox who rarely attend church, people who have left but still have an emotional connection, and family friends stop by. We can reconnect at a festival, the picnic being a kind of safe ground where we catch up with each other.

We've made some changes, as well. We serve the Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning before the festival outdoors and on the grounds. It calls us to higher things and in its own way sanctifies all that follows. We pledge a tithe of our income to a special need. Last year it was orphans, this year we'll give the money to help with flood relief. I hope it reminds us that all our blessings are from God and that we should always return a gift as a sign of gratitude. We provide literature and books for those interested in the Faith. Is it perfect? No. Is it a start? Yes.

So if you're Orthodox you know what the next few days will look like. Say a little prayer for us for all the usual things, good weather, good attendance, and good service. If you're thinking about Orthodoxy just know that some day you might get the tap on your shoulder asking you to take up a task for your parish at the festival. And if you just happen to be passing by the Oktoberfest grounds in LaCrosse this coming Sunday stop in, the food really is that good.

1 comment:

Mimi said...

Father, bless,

May it be a wonderful festival! And, Happy Feast Day to you and your congregation