Going to church this week isn’t just about mothers putting the guilt on their kids to go. Many young Greek Australians flock to church this week for a number of reasons and choose to participate on many different levels.
As lines flow outside the church at the times of Holy Communion this week, it’s hard not to notice the jump of young churchgoers. Whether it be because of tradition, or the fact they want their days of fasting to mean something, the lines this week show a changing demographic.
Father Jordan of the Carlton Parish says the jump is a positive thing.
“You can see by the numbers, ones that you don’t normally see throughout the year, but they’re making an effort to get up early in the morning and come. For example on Thursday or Saturday morning, when we start, it sort of surprised me that we have a lot of youth, a lot,” he tells Neos Kosmos.
But as much as the jump in numbers seems like a genuine interest by the Greek youth in the church, there is a consensus that adhering to traditions during Easter isn’t all about religion.
Anastasia Grillas (21) says she fasts because her mum makes her. “It keeps the family happy and the big man upstairs so I only do it for a week cause I can’t go any longer!” she tells Neos Kosmos.
Areti Louzis (21) finds cutting meat and dairy from her diet a way to challenge and cleanse herself.
“I fast as a period of cleansing and purification for both the body and soul,” she says.
While Christian Papadopoulos says “I fast because when I get into the meat on Sunday, it feels like a delicious reward”.
But as lines stretch way out into the streets for Communion this week, the topic of confession has drawn a strong opinion between the young Greek community and the Church’s stance.
Father Ioannis of the Thornbury Parish says he sees many young Greeks asking to be confessed, especially during the Easter season.
“Just like going to a doctor saying “I have pain here or there” and they give you the right pill, it’s exactly like confession,” he tells Neos Kosmos.
“A priest will give the right advice and blessing for someone to progress well spiritually.”
But from the many young Greeks we spoke to, they had little or no interest in confession.
“Don’t think it’s worth anything… People are better off talking to professionals about their problems,” says Elle Kazantzis (20) on the issue.
Kristi Tsakiris (21) says the thought that wrong actions can be forgiven by the church so easily troubles her.
“I don’t believe in the idea of just doing wrong and then confessing and it’s all good,” she says.
“I don’t think I’d ever do confession.”
Alternatively, Areti Louzis (21) said she knows confession is “necessary” but still chooses not to go because she feels through private prayer she can achieve the same result.
“I’m certain enough my prayers in church and outside church reach Him, and through my own refining of character and the things I do, I prove to Him that I truly want to atone for my sins.”
In a more secular approach, Anastasia Manousakis (23) thinks confession can never be completely confidential.
“I’m not going to risk the Greek community in my area learning my business,” she tells Neos Kosmos.
Even when there is a lack of belief in confession, the Church doesn’t stop trying to get its younger parishioners interested.
Many churches around the country are introducing sermons that are half in English and half in Greek to help those less fluent in Greek better understand the liturgy.
Many priests are finding that their tries have come a little too late for those reaching adulthood.
Father George from the Altona North Parish says forcing children to go to church at a young age, without their parents explaining why its important, means they will always feel detached and will lose interest quickly.
“Even as kids growing up we have very limited knowledge of our religion. We’re born into something and told we have to go to church, that’s about as far as it goes. And then, what we do find is that there are a lot of young people out there who are actively trying to reengage with their church,” he tells Neos Kosmos.
It is a slow process, but as time goes on, the Church is coming to terms with modern times and trying to communicate through different methods.
Just like the Pope joining twitter last year, the Orthodox Church is using technology to better connect with its younger audience.
“Personally I’ve got a skype account, a church skype account, a facebook,” says Father George.
“We make ourselves more available to the youth and to the public in general so that we’re more approachable, because we understand people work; it’s very hard to get to a church these days”.
As the crowds gather at churches all around Australia, the opportunities are there to make lasting connections.