Leading up to Greek Orthodox Easter I always look forward to partaking in the annual overindulgence of chocolate, baked goods and meat.
For me Easter Sunday is also the only day of the year I get to feel what it’s like to be Greek Orthodox because I was brought up as a Pentecostal Christian.
Confused? Well you should be as 98 per cent of Greeks have Greek Orthodox faith. But even though both my parents are Greek, I was brought in a Pentecostal church after they changed their religion as adults.
Just like Prime Minister Scott Morrison, I too have been referred to as a “happy clapper” for the enthusiastic manner in which Pentecostal Christians clap to hymns and bible verses. Growing up John 3:16 was always a big hit.
At its peak, the church I attended was full of mostly Greek immigrant families singing along to the Greek version of How Great They Art. The congregation helped build their own church in the 70's which ironically was just across the road from a Greek Orthodox Church. Despite the close proximity of the churches I had a much different religious upbringing to the kids across the street.
Being Pentecostal Christian meant we didn’t follow many of the Greek Orthodox practices. We didn’t pray to saints, have icons, view Jesus’ mother Mary as a deity and we didn’t go to confession. I had no godparents; didn’t celebrate a name day and I also was never christened as a baby.
When other Greeks Australians found out that my family weren’t Greek Orthodox there were times when we were ostracised from our own community. It made me feel I was a little less Greek especially as my parents never attended Greek social functions. This was due to their Pentecostal church adhering to strict interpretation of the bible’s teachings which didn’t allow ‘wordly’ interactions.
While many Greeks attended church during Easter and Christmas, my parents took their change in religion seriously and as such were prolific church goers. This meant I attended services every Sunday morning, Sunday afternoon, Friday night, as well as fellowship meetings during the week. This was the same as church but at someone’s house. During summer I also went to Christian camps, which again was the same as going to Church but for five days in a row.
My earliest recollection of my strict Christian upbringing is from kindergarten. Before attending school my mum gave me strict instructions about never lying and to be like Jesus and look the other way if there was any conflict. This instruction didn’t play out well on the playground. After a period of being teased and bullied and letting the other kids hit me, my mother realised that showing the other cheek wasn’t going to work. She still advised I keep the honesty part but if someone hit me I should stand up for myself.
When other Greeks Australians found out that my family weren’t Greek Orthodox there were times when we were ostracised from our own community.
My Pentecostal upbringing also made my high school experience difficult, especially as the school I went to was made of kids with 70 per cent Greek background. Due to my religion, some of my classmates viewed me and my family with deep suspicion. It made the issue of identity growing up even more complex. After being called a wog in one corner of the school I was called a Jehovah’s witness in another.
There were many times I would come home from school asking my mother why they changed our religion. Why did they swap the fun Greek Orthodox religion which included presents on name days, Greek dancing, music, constant swearing and drinking ouzo, for the same religion that was in the film Footloose? It was a question that was never fully answered.
Like many Greek kids growing up in Australia, as I got older I rebelled against my Hellenic heritage. But I also rebelled against my strict Christian upbringing. In my late teens I stopped attending Church and in my mid 20’s I tried out being an atheist. I turned to philosophy and read Camus, Nietzsche and Socrates but in the end, my upbringing had too close of a hold on me which is why I like to call myself an agnostic. Just in case.
Every Easter it seems my parents former religion also had too much of a hold on them as well, because despite being Pentecostal Christian they still celebrate Easter at the same time as Greek Orthodox.
This is why every year my mother bakes numerous traditional Greek Easter delicacies such as Flaouna (a Greek Cypriot cheese bready) koulouria (Greek biscuits ) and also dyes the eggs red.
Ironically I am now married to a woman who is Greek Orthodox. When we were first going out I hid my Pentecostal past from her parents for months until my dad undid all my good work.
On afternoon my soon to be father in-law called my dad and wished him a happy name day.
“I don’t celebrate this day,” my father promptly replied. As he went to give the phone to my mother so she could explain further he accidentally hung up the phone. Because of the tension I experienced with other Greeks growing up this reckoning about what religion we were was what I feared the most when I went to my in-laws place that weekend.
Luckily when I explain why I wasn’t Greek Orthodox it didn’t become a big deal. After a few years of being married to a Greek Orthodox family I’ve come realise that being Greek is much more than a religion. It’s about family, food and lying about who does the best BBQ at Greek Easter.
So far my dad’s is the best but just don’t tell my mother that I like my wife’s koulouria better than hers, that’s a massive sin in my family.
Con Stamocostas is a freelance writer. You can follow Con on Twitter @constama10.