SOURCE: The Province
By Kent Spencer
In ancient times, people’s spiritual health was nurtured by village priests because there was no such thing as a psychiatrist’s couch.
Father Constantinos Economos says religious leaders still help wayward souls find their way.
“You get to be there for people during their good times and bad times,” says Economos, head priest at Ypapanti Greek Orthodox Church in Victoria.
“As a priest, I’m the supportive figure.”
Priests’ roles have changed hugely through the centuries; nowadays there are also psychologists, private programs and government clinics to guide souls along.
But one aspect of the priest’s role is pretty much the same as in olden days. Church ministers are still called upon to preside at tear-drenched funerals, make sense of life’s journey and offer spiritual sustenance.
Economos is familiar with the sight of grief, despite being a relatively new deacon at the age of 28.
“The worst moment is seeing anguish on the face of a widow or widower. The person they’ve built their life with is gone,” he says.
“People don’t want to hear that it was their time. It’s never the right time.
“Spiritually speaking, death is unnatural. It’s unnatural to be apart from God,” he says.
Economos is an up-and-coming leader who is prepared to assume the weight of building a new generation of parishioners in the Greek Orthodox Church.
In past times, the church’s focus was to provide a home for newly arrived immigrants from places like Greece, Romania, Russia, Ukraine and Serbia.
Today, those same immigrants have become established members of the community and built magnificent churches for their congregations.
But something isn’t right. Economos says a whole generation has missed going to church.
Now the focus is on third-generation descendants like himself, as well as anyone showing interest from the larger community.
“We’re North America’s best-kept secret,” he says.
He is the first Vancouver-born Greek to be ordained an Orthodox deacon.
It happened in his home parish of St. George’s, where he remembers skinning his knee on the sidewalk in the 4500-block Arbutus Street.
The inside of the onion-domed St. George’s Greek Orthodox Cathedral, which serves as the church’s B.C. headquarters, is covered with serene religious paintings, making it appear as a “heaven on Earth.”
Greek Orthodox is a traditional Christian church that separated from Roman Catholics hundreds of years ago.
Its world structure is less hierarchical and it is less strict in some ways — for instance, allowing priests to marry. (Economos is married and wants to have children.)
As a young man, Economos was the rarest of individuals. He chose to give up soccer rather than Sunday services when conflicts arose.
“Other teenagers talked about getting a nice car. I liked those things, but I was focused on helping others. I’ve always felt like an old man, older than my peers,” he says.
Of course, it is easier to carry people’s burdens when you played rugby, weigh 285 pounds, are six foot three inches tall and never give up.
“My wife teases me about being persistent. I work 12-hour days, six or seven days a week. I feel guilty if I’m not working,” he says.
Economos is also the church’s Western Canada youth director, and founded its first youth camps, called Camp Metamorphosis B.C., in summer 2010. He says attendance is growing because they are big on fun and short on religious doctrine.
They combine sporting activities with moral teaching of the kind you don’t get at a hockey practice, Economos says.
“There is a right and wrong. There’s no maybe,” he says.
“If we build good social tendencies with young people, they will carry them throughout their entire lives.
“I tell young people it’s not scary or sad or boring to be Greek Orthodox.
“We Greeks, we don’t just want to be known for our souvlaki. We want to be known for the warm family that we are.”
One thing bothered me about the article: "Greek Orthodox Church is a traditional Christian church that separated from Roman Catholics hundreds of years ago." The author has mistakenly wrote that Greek orthodoxy separated from the Roman Catholic Churchwhich it did not. Our church's bishops ascensions stem right back to the apostles. The same cannot be said of the Roman Catholics bishops as they broke away from the Truth.