From a WW II Era Perspective
Rosemary Kromidas Hendrix, M.Ed.,CMFT
When I was growing up during the 40s and 50s, I never thought about intermarriages within our Church. We lived in a NW Florida city, which had a small, but active, Greek community. I don’t remember anyone who was not Greek being in our church. My Uncle Nick was married to my Aunt Della LaForest, a lady of French Canadian descent, a Roman Catholic - but I never considered her being “different” and having any problems being in an interfaith marriage. Aunt Della worked the festivals, she worked along side Uncle Nick in the restaurant business, she understood some Greek and even spoke some from time to time. I never saw a problem - did she? I don’t know.
Uncle Nick and Aunt Della were married in the Roman Catholic Church in Michigan - in her home town, the place she went to parochial school, and where her Pere’ ran a fishing camp. She was raised in a French speaking home and learned to bake delightful French pastries - we all loved to visit in aunt Della’s kitchen - the aromas were glorious! Her baklava was the best! She attended the Roman Catholic Church and he always gave me $1 to light a candle for him in the Greek Orthodox Church. Problems? I don’t know - I never knew.
They never had children of their own. I was their favorite niece - and I loved it. You could say I grew up in an interfaith home - even though my parents were both from Greece and spoke Greek. I was obligated to go to Greek school and the choir as a youngster. I was given permission to choose any boy from Greek school to be my future husband - and I did! This was the way it was to be - problems? I never thought there would be.
You might say, I was the typical first generation American-Greek, and did as I was told. I was a good child - obedient to my immigrant parents who thought the best for me was to marry a Greek boy, have Greek babies, work the festivals, join the Philoptochos, and sing in the choir. Problems? I didn’t think there would be any.
After 23 years of being married to a “nice Greek boy” and having the obligated children, and singing in the choir and working the festivals - we separated. Problems? There were plenty.
I took some time to find myself and to discover what I wanted from life, I got a college education, and remarried a non-Greek, Episcopalian who was raised as a Baptist, and whose mother was a Deaconess in the Baptist Church. Problems? I was beginning to see some.
Now I was in an inter-Christian marriage - my Mother loved him and thought nothing of it. Where were the objections I heard as a child? His Mother loved me- where were her thoughts on this strange new life her son was to lead? Problems? They weren’t obvious.
But, there were problems. My new husband couldn’t understand the language of a religion he learned to love. Although Liturgy books with side-by-side translations were available, the priests would, more often than not, celebrate in all Greek and keeping up was difficult for him. Our local church began offering an all English language service which we attended, when possible. Another problem arose - I am a choir member and have been since childhood. This is my way to express my stewardship. Choir was a part of the all Greek service, and not the English one. I chose to give up choir for the time being.
He couldn’t take communion unless he converted. He raised so many questions I couldn’t answer. I felt lost. I was being tested on my own faith traditions and culture. They had been blended so much that I couldn’t separate them. I couldn’t explain why I did certain things in church - I just did them because my Mother and her Mother did them. I could not help him with this problem, so he sought to educate himself.
By attending the English Liturgies, and reading many books on Orthodoxy - a favorite being Timothy Ware’s The Orthodox Church - my husband became knowledgeable and chose to convert to Orthodoxy 2 years after we were married. He had become knowledgeable enough about the Liturgy to be able to participate in it, even if it was mostly in Greek. We started attending the Greek language service, so I was able to rejoin the choir.
My native language is English, but my familial language is Greek and I enjoy speaking Greek with my friends at church, I had to learn to be more sensitive to include him in my conversations.
We found many couples our age were in inter -Christian marriages and had been married for 40+ years. Most had converted and were very active in the church. They became our mentors.They accepted him unconditionally and encouraged him to become active in all phases of the church and community. This was an important aspect which helped him become more comfortable and able to express his Orthodoxy to the fullest.Problems? Yes, but they are being worked out with the grace of God - we will be fine.