The universe is full of opposing forces. The Chinese call it Yin and Yang. In politics it’s liberal and conservative. In everyday life it’s right and wrong or good and bad. One cannot exist without the other.
But is the Greek Orthodox Church left or right?
I’m not talking about the political leanings of the Church, no… what I’m talking about is when you enter the church building, which side of the church do you sit on, the left side or right side? Do you buy candles from the right or the left? Do you cross over from one side to the other after you bought a candle? Why do you do this? Is this one of the biggest mysteries of our time, similar to other great mysteries such as why were the Pyramids built? How did the Universe start? Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Is it Greek coffee or Turkish coffee?
Let me set this up to make it clearer. St. Demetrios in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, where I am a member, is a typical Greek Orthodox Church. You walk into the Narthex (vestibule) and there are candle stands to the right and left. To enter the nave there are doors to the right, left, and middle, and upon entering, you can sit in the pews on the right or left and there is an aisle down the middle.
Once in a while I assist in selling candles and my good friend, Stavro Stavrakis and I noticed that the same people do the exact same thing every week. Some families or single people will come in, go to the right, buy candles, kiss the icons, and sit in the pews on the right. Others do the exact opposite. There are a few that purchase candles on the right but cross over and sit on the left, but we did not see anyone purchase from the left and cross over to the right… interesting.
The mystery deepens. We also noticed that those that purchase candles on the left and sit on the left, almost never acknowledge anyone standing on the right side but those that purchase candles on the right almost always acknowledge those standing on the left side. Why is this? Is this part of our genetic make-up? Is there something subliminal about this? Should we care? Maybe we should spend more time sitting in the pews instead of trying to figure this out!
When I was a young tyke growing up in New Jersey and attended church at St. Thomas in Cherry Hill, my family always sat on the right. It just felt right. However, when I moved to Upper Darby and started attending church at St. Demetrios we always sit on the left. It just feels right, too. Strange?
Some of you may have an initial gut reaction that the answer is political affiliation. Republicans/conservatives to the right, Democrats/liberals to the left, but this is not the case. I see Republicans on the left and vice-versa. Besides, where would the Independents sit… in the middle aisle because they haven’t made up their minds?
Don’t think that Stavro and I are just untrained laypeople. No… we have thought this through and have used the scientific method. We have performed background research, constructed a hypothesis, tested our hypothesis by doing an experiment, analyzed our data, drew a conclusion and we are ready to communicate our results. Actually, we just watched the people and asked them why, but the scientific method sounds better.
For example, we asked long-time member, Mike Vousdoukas his reasoning for sitting on the left. He smiled, looked at us through his glasses with a stern look and answered, “I have no idea”.He was really thinking, “Idiots”. In reality, that was the most popular answer… the “no idea” not the “idiots” part.
We also asked well-respected Dr. Dimitri Monos and to our surprise, he said that he has thought about this question (only scholars would think about this!). But, his answer was very telling. He said that when he lived in Greece as a young man, he sat on the right because the men always sat on the right and the women always sat on the left. But we pointed out that he now sits on the left. Why? His answer was simple, “I sit where my wife sits. She sits on the left”. Eureka, this was a breakthrough!
Our good friends, Paul and Olga Zografakis told us they sit on the left because that’s where their children sit with the Sunday School before going to classes… another piece of the puzzle. Others said it was tradition… their parents sat on a particular side so they sit on the same side. But what happens when someone from the right side marries someone from the left side? Hatfields and McCoys syndrome? Another good friend, John Stergiou, was teased by the other parishioners that he sits on the left but he is a good Republican. Why? His response – “if you look from the priest’s view, from the alter, I sit on the right side, the “right-hand” of God”. Oh well, another wrench thrown into this mystery.
Stavro suggested that we bring his teenage twin sons and see which one sits where, but I already know they are not a good barometer to measure the answer… they’ll sit where the girls are sitting. We all did when we were their age.
What have Stavro and I concluded from our research in attempting to solve this complex mystery… absolutely nothing. But, we know that people do this and the reasoning may be as simple as they feel more comfortable on one side than the other, or it’s just warmer on this side than the other. Whatever side you sit in Church, right or left, or from where you purchase the candles, it doesn’t really matter in the scheme of things… the more important issue is that you go to Church and you can sit where you want… this is America!
But, with that said, the next time you do go to Church, remember, Stavro and I are watching and taking notes… or, you’ll be thinking about one of the biggest mysteries of our time… Church, right or left?
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