October 19, 2009

Church Experiment #42: St. George Russian

Whoa. Why didn’t anyone warn me that exotic orthodox churches are nothing like Catholic churches?

First, I almost walked into the wrong building. There is a Korean Baptist Church within a stone’s throw of St. George Russian Orthodox (www.stgeorgeroc.org). Speaking of which, who knew there was a Korean Baptist Church in Cincinnati?

When I finally found the correct building, I was shocked to realize the room was small and the congregation was smaller. I expected a huge, old building with lots of people. I was so surprised that I almost turned around and left. I normally have a pretty good idea what I’m walking into, but not this week.

After a brief hesitation, I decided to stay.

To finish reading about this experience or any of the reflections from my 52 visits, please purchase the full book here.


The Reverend said...

I know a lady who is Russian Orthodox and is from Russia. We've had many a conversation about faith and what church is. From what I can tell, those churches are set up a) for Russians who come to America so that they can worship and b) that's about it.

They don't actively proselytize. They don't try to "get out into the community". None of that.

I just talked to her and pretty much, she said while they won't turn anyone away, they definitely won't go out of their way to greet new people.

Heck, I've even tried to invite myself to her church and can't get a straight answer!

Obviously, this is one persons take on their faith (note: she is crazy. And I mean Crazy!) and cannot speak for the whole lot of them (and I know you have other Orthodox readers).

Anonymous said...

One of my co-workers LOVES this church ! Church on Fire in Harrison. http://www.cfmharrison.org/ check it out!
I'm really enjoying this blog!

Mimi said...

As an Orthodox Christian, it was interesting to read your comments.

In some congregations, particuarly ones with strong ethnic ties, there won't be weekly Communion, since the preparation is quite rigorous.

In others (such as mine) regular Communion is encouraged, and while preparation is serious, it is not nearly as rigorous as churches where Communion is partaken of once or twice a year.

The ones where Communion is not regular is much more like The Reverend mentioned and not actively proselytizing. Other parishes and jurisidictions have a lot of converts (of which I am one) and inquirer's classes and a presence in the community.

Same faith, same love for God, just different varieties.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, um, ever thought of doing some research into the congregation or religion before visiting? If you want to be surprised, well, I can see there's some validity in that, but if not a book I might recommend is called How To Be A Perfect Stranger, by Arthur J. Magida. This wonderfully informative book details what to do and what to expect at almost every type of religious event imaginable, including those held at a Russian Orthodox service. Cheers!
Clyton C. Doyle

Steve Fuller said...


I have mentioned this a number of times throughout the experiment, but I purposefully visit without doing prior research. I want to experience what a typical guest might encounter without any background knowledge.

That's sort of the whole point of the experiment.

Christine said...

My father was Russian orthodox. Since he was a first generation American, called a "Hunky" on the streets of his town, he refused to learn Russian. He used to tell me that the services were up to three hours long, standing the whole time, in Russian. He couldn't understand any of it, so he counted the different colored panes of glass in the stained glass windows.

756 blue...498 red...

He totally lost interest in Christianity. So when he came home from college one day and asked his parents if he could be Episcopalian, they gave an emphatic yes. Thank God, they hadn't raised a complete heathen!

Marfa said...

Hey, that's my church! A friend of mine pointed me in your direction...and I would really love to explain more to you! First of all, I am American, not Russian. Fr Pavel brought out the chalice and diskos out during the Great Entrance, which holds the bread and wine, then he takes it in the altar and the Holy Spirit descends and makes it the body and blood of Christ. I think you may have left before Communion!
One of your final remarks makes me think that you want an easy and relaxing church...I love Orthodoxy, but it does require work, sometimes I fine myself unable to read the Bible daily, but when I do I usually find something that is rewarding. It's worth the effort!

Anonymous said...

Interesting. But I don't understand your experiment. You go into churches you don't know anything about, and then do not wait around for answers to your questions? I think there could be some better approaches, such as learning about the Christian faith, starting with its history to understand how the earliest Christians worshipped. There are many great resources and people willing to help. You might also enjoy the work of Frederica Mathewes-Green about attending an Orthodox church..
If what you are looking for is entertainment and relaxation in the worship of God the Creator, though, I do not believe you will find satisfaction anywhere. Now, if hope, reverence and faith are what you are looking for, God provides!
Best to you on your search. May God richly bless your path!


bustermy said...

Steve, I am sorry that I did not have a chance to meet you when you came to our church. Your experiment is interesting and I appreciate how you are approaching it with objectivity. I pray you will find the truth you seek.

Some of the comments on the blog sting me a little bit, especially since I am an American who converted to Orthodoxy (FYI St George has quite a few converts--even our archpriest and his wife). What I mean is--I took your blog as a request that we in our parish do a better job reaching out. It's obviously something we need to work on.

Sometimes in our quest to stand humbly before God and to pray fervently during the liturgy we forget to reach out to newcomers. My mistake and I do ask your forgiveness.

As for whether or not we proselytize, I admit we are quieter than some faiths. Many of us, myself included, feel inadequate to the task. Again, this is a human weakness, and not necessarily a function of the church or a particular religion. But we have the same biblical and traditional mandate to help bring others to Christ as any other Christian.

Thanks again for coming and for opening my eyes to how we look to a visitor. May God bless you on your quest, and I do hope you will come back and see us!

If you have any questions feel free to email me at bustermy@aol.com

lydia said...

I was at a Serbian Orthodox church last week for a wedding and will be returning this week for a funeral.

I had much the same experience as yours -- TONS of chanting and singing, enough incense to blind you, and tons of crossing and kissing, the doors closed in front of the altar. I have to say that Fr. Sasha was wonderful -- he was very sincere, and had beautiful verses (all sung) for the ceremony.

I had not had such a church experience since I was in Spain for Christmas 20 years ago.

Thanks for sharing -- what a great experience. Looking forward to hearing what you find next week!

Steve Fuller said...

Hi, Marfa.

I actually remember seeing you during the service. I hope it's clear that I didn't dislike the service. It's just clearly not designed for guests (which is okay, I suppose). I really didn't understand anything that was happening, but as others have pointed out, if I was really looking for a church home, I would do some research beforehand and stick around to ask questions after.

I do believe traditions can be wonderful, but only if you understand what is happening and why you're performing the rituals.

My last sentence wasn't trying to communicate that I want an "easy" church, but going to unfamiliar places can be stressful. The past few weeks have been way out of my comfort zone, so I would just prefer something a little more familiar next week.

And you have to admit, that room gets super crowded, super hot, and there is a lot of incense. I thought the service was over when I left, but even if it wasn't, I couldn't have handled much more. Again, not that it was "bad," just had me a little stressed out.

Thanks for finding my blog and sharing your thoughts. :-)

Steve Fuller said...


Thanks for your kind words. Each church has to be true to their own mission and calling. Clearly, "seeker friendly" churches miss out on some of the beautiful rituals and traditions that were present at St. George. And clearly, a very ritualistic church like St. George might struggle with welcoming newcomers. Not sure if there is a right way of doing church, but hopefully all churches are clear about their mission and then live it out.

Thanks for stopping by!

Steve Fuller said...


As you can see with this post, usually people will stop by the blog and leave comments to help answer my questions. I try to enter each church without much background, then use the blog as a forum for folks to discuss what I experienced. Someone like Marfa usually stops by to fill in the blanks.

I enjoy the dialogue and learn so much about other faiths because people are willing to share. For a great example of this, check out my visit to the Hindu Temple. Someone left a comment that explained so much of what I experienced at the Temple.

Anonymous said...

Calvary Chapel Tri state?? Grace Fellowship in Florence, Immanuel Baptist on the AA in Cold spring.. Just some suggestions.

John said...

Hi Steve,
Thank you for showing interest in our church. I meant to introduce myself to you after the service but I didn't have the chance. I regret that you had to leave early because the parts of the service that visitors find most interesting like communion and the sermon happen at the end of the service. I'm also sorry you felt uncomfortable. Our congregation has outgrown our home and we have been working for many years to build a new church building in Loveland, Ohio which we plan to begin construction on soon. If you or your readers are interested in knowing more about our building plans, the details can be found on our website which I thank you for linking to in your post. As for your readers comments on community involvement, we host several events throughout the year. We just held our 4th annual Russian Fest in September and our 5th annual Russian Winter's Night banquet at Peterloon Estate is coming up on February 12th, 2010. Details for all of our upcoming events and pictures from past events are available on our website for anyone interested in attending.


Sara@www.tablegrace.net said...

Have you thought of checking out Apex in Dayton? I know it is a bit of a drive, but we'll take to lunch afterward.......

Anonymous said...

I don't recall reading that you have been to the local Bahá'í Center:

Anonymous said...

I hope you'll take this in the spirit it is meant, which is constructive, not attacking.

I've read your blog for a great many weeks now, and I question the sincerity of your search. Frankly, you sound like a tourist to churches, many of which you make no effort to pretend any interest in, and you apparently make next to zero effort to even learn the cultures or customs of the churches you vist, making you an uninformed tourist at that.

If you are authentically searching for your next Christian church home, you should be thoughtfully searching churches which you know have a snowball's chance in Heck of being the place -- Christian churches, to start with. If you're just offering a travelogue of religious styles and houses, IMO you should be more informed and respectful. I believe you think you are respectful but your ignorance is a form of disrespect. What's the point of reporting that you've visited yet another church where you didn't know what was going on or why?

Again, I don't mean to be hurtful but at this point I'm not sure of the motivation for the project, which initially was so interesting to follow. For what it's worth.

Steve Fuller said...


Thanks for commenting.

1) I have never said this experiment is about finding my next church home, so I have no idea where you got that idea from. It is about connecting with God and redefining my faith. I am visiting a wide variety of churches because I want to experience new cultures and broaden my horizons.

I may end up at a church once this is over, and I may not, but this isn't church-shopping.

2) I prefer to experience these new cultures firsthand, and then ask questions that others can answer (which, as you can see, happens all the time, including in this post.)

I don't want to sit at my computer spending hours researching every religion and denomination in the world. That sounds boring to me.

3) I don't claim what I'm doing is "right" or "perfect." It's just something I'm doing, and people seem to enjoy reading about my experiences. If you have lost interest, you're always free to stop reading. Or do your own experiment. But this is mine, so I'm going to stay focused on my original mission.

Anonymous said...

As an acedemician, you surely know that learning a bit about the churches you visit and the faiths they practice would not require you to spend "hours" at your computer, which you might find -- oh noes! -- boring. If you invested even a few minutes, you wouldn't come off as so ignorant of what you are seeing, nor so completely disinterested in the faith you are (allegedly) participating in.

You say yourself that you are trying to keep an "open mind," to "make yourself available," to "take part" in what other churches have to offer. If you can possibly see past your reflexive defensiveness -- thanks for the invitation to stop reading! -- you might consider whether, at this point in your experiment, you are actually still doing any of that. Please DO re-focus on your original mission, if you can find your way back to it, because it was a worthy one and it simply is not reflected in these last few weeks.

Personally, I _will_ take you up on your invitation to stop reading. Best of luck slogging through the rest of the year.

Steve Fuller said...

Wow, anonymous, you seem angry at something I have done. I am sorry for that. I am doing the best I can. I'm sorry my experiment isn't meeting your expectations.

Anonymous said...


I attended a Greek Orthodox mass when I was in Nafplio (Peleponnesos) this past May. As a Roman Catholic who had no access to my own denomination that Sunday, worshiping with the Orthodox seemed to be a reasonable compromise for me. While I did not understand many of the prayers and songs in their liturgy, I knew enough about their denomination to respect the iconostasis (which you refer pejoratively as a fake wall) and their tradition of venerating icons. I also knew that I was in the right place. The Orthodox tradition is very physical in practice - making the sign of the cross, standing for the liturgy, venerating icons, and venerating the lectionary (the book from which the gospel is read). When the priest was saying part of the mass behind the iconostasis, he was blessing the congregation and then blessing the bread and wine which Orthodox Christians and Catholics believe become the recreation of mystical body of Christ. While Catholic and Orthodox Christians may have different practices, our beliefs are very similar. Our 1000-year separation into distinct traditions still remains a painful subject for many believers.

Anonymous said...

I am the choir director at St. George. Sorry I wasn't there the week that you came for a visit. We have a wealth of tradition and symbol packed into our tiny church. We are planning to break ground on a much larger location in Loveland with at least four times the size. As "close" as the feeling is, there is a deep love in our parish that grows deeper as one understands the many facets of Orthodox Christian faith. I hope you will return again and share in some conversation about the rich tradition of our faith.