In Praise of a Pan-Orthodox Church

By Joseph Incorvaia and Daria Albinger Incorvaia

          The essay that follows is a speech given by Joe and Daria Incorvaia earlier this month. The couple, which has been married for 8 years, is one of many “mixed marriages” that comprise a growing portion of our Orthodox family.  

 Daria:

 For me, Orthodoxy has always been a part of my life.

         My mother was cradle; my father was baptized Catholic, raised Protestant then converted to Orthodoxy. We went to church when I was a young child in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on a regular basis. My sister and I attended Sunday School, my Father worked with the SOYO and my Mother was part of the Ladies Guild. 

         When I was 11 years old, we moved to suburban Dallas, Texas. The closest Orthodox churches were Ethiopian and Coptic churches, both 40 miles away.

         My Mom came up with what she thought was the best “Plan B”- weekly services at the parish in which she was raised, in Wilkes-Barre during the summer and for Christmas and Easter; we supplemented with Mass at a Catholic Church in Plano, Texas. Our neighbor was the Priest. And if we got a little too comfortable, Mom was always there to remind us to say the “right” Creed or the Lord’s Prayer the Right Way.

         Orthodoxy was, and still is, in many ways, a connection to my heritage. My mother is Syrian-American, and, as a child, Orthodoxy and the Arabic language, to me, were one and the same. Although I don’t speak the language, the service was familiar to me. And I thought, for many years that would be enough.  

Joe:

I was baptized and raised Roman Catholic in Brooklyn, NY.

         I went to Catholic Schools for most of my life. At some point, I started to feel some distance from the church, and there were several instances that ‘troubled me.’

         One instance was when I was going to confession with my classmates before one of the Holy Days, as we did in school. While in the Confessional, I said something that set the priest off; he started screaming at me. I walked out of the Confessional Box, to the stunned looks of my classmates, feeling embarrassed and humiliated. Looking back, I realize he probably was drunk. I ran errands to the local liquor where I’d pick up brown paper bags for priests and nuns stapled closed, as if I didn’t know what the contents were!

         Another time, I was at Sunday Mass, when a teenage boy was standing in the back of the church. The priest actually took the time to stop the Mass to excoriate the boy for wearing jeans to church. My friends and I looked back to see this humiliated Latino boy, and wondered if that might have been the only clean pair of pants he had to wear that day.

Daria:

When I moved to Connecticut, I started going to church on a regular basis.

         I found a Russian church on the Yale campus, with a welcoming priest and a friendly congregation. While it fed my need for spirituality, I felt something was missing because I couldn’t understand the language.

         When I moved to New York, I began to attend church again on a regular basis. The priest was, and still is, a dear friend of my family’s. In a previous parish assignment, he was my grandparents’ priest in Pennsylvania. I became active in the parish, teaching Sunday School, joining The Order of St. Ignatius of Antioch, and serving on the parish council.

         Again, it checked the box spiritually, but language was a barrier.

         As a journalist, I’m always looking to understand things, and I knew there was more to Orthodoxy than the cultural aspect.

         I should probably mention at this point, that I’m related to Father Joe [Allen]. He is my mom’s first cousin. She and my Sittoo talked a lot about Uncle Joe’s church in New Jersey, where people of all ethnicities were welcome. I always thought it would be nice to go to a church like that, but I lived in the City at the time.

Joe:

Let me say, it’s not my intention to denigrate the Catholic Church.

         There are many fine priests and nuns that I’ve met, but I just felt a distance from the church, and I lost my spiritual connection with it.

         When I met and fell in love with Daria, and she mentioned that she was Orthodox, I had very little knowledge of Orthodoxy. All I knew was that the two Greek families who lived on my block in Brooklyn went to Easter Sunday services on a different day then we did. My parents tried to explain to me that they used a different calendar than we did, but I didn’t understand.

         Daria and I were required to talk to her priest before we could get married in the church. He was straightforward and didn’t proselytize. He also encouraged Daria not to coerce me into converting. She didn’t have to; my mother, who was happy to see me in church, was pushing me toward the East.

         We liked going to the church and made a lot of friends. I found something in Orthodoxy that was missing in me spiritually. But we began to see a gradual shift in the church toward an almost all-Arabic language service.

         We’d also moved to Jersey City at this point, and that’s when Daria decided to go to St. Anthony’s.

Daria:

I didn’t call Father Joe before I came to liturgy for the first time.

         I wanted to experience it on my own, and see if something called to me that I hadn’t experienced anywhere else. I saw a family of faith where ethnic heritage was honored and celebrated, but certainly second to what brought the parish together, the Orthodox faith.

         And it goes without saying, that being able to understand the whole service was an eye-opening experience.

Joe:

When Daria told me how she felt attending services at St. Anthony’s, I decided to come with her.

         I found a community and a church that was more welcoming than any I’d experienced, and it came at a time when I really needed it.

         The last 8 years have been a time of personal upheaval and growth for me. My 25 plus year career on Wall Street came to a halt, and I’ve been in the process of re-inventing myself, as a financial adviser and in sales. Having a foundation in the church has helped me.

Daria:

        I’m in a career that’s given me a front row seat to history.

         I’m watching a world that’s changing at warp speed. Orthodoxy has been a constant in my life for more than 50 years, and as I get older, I find that I need that constant.

Joe:

So that’s the long, and sometimes winding, road that’s brought us here.

         Honestly, though, we feel like we’ve always belonged here, especially since we’ve made so many wonderful friends in the time we’ve been here. 

         They’re of Syrian, Lebanese, Greek, Russian, Romanian ancestries, and many others. And, to my surprise, I’m not the only person of Italian and Spanish heritage here!

         Last year on Palm Sunday, I closed the deal, and converted, with the help of Father Joe, and my godmother, Khouriye Valerie.  

         So we thank you for welcoming us, and we look forward to being a part of the St. Anthony family and community for many years.

 

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