(Photo by DOUG LONEMAN / CHRONICLE)
KAYLEY MENDENHALL, [Bozeman Daily] Chronicle Staff Writer
The people of Gallatin Valley as a whole know little about Orthodoxy.
"First they think I'm Jewish and then they think I'm Greek or Russian or something," Cathy Slovensky said, of the reaction she gets when she reveals her religious affiliation. "I start laughing and say, 'I'm Scotch-Irish.'"
Because the religion is relatively unknown here, some people may find Bozeman's new Orthodox priest a curious sight, said Bill Slovensky.
"The presence of Father Peter in the area is enough to turn heads," Bill Slovensky said. "He dresses in his black cassock all the time, it looks like old Roman Catholic garb. He's just like a throwback from 2,000 years ago."
Father Peter Tobias, 32, said the new Orthodox Church in Bozeman isn't Russian, Greek or even Eastern Orthodox. It's simply American Orthodox.
The literal meaning of Orthodox, one of the world's most ancient Christian religions, breaks down into "ortho" meaning straight or correct, and "dox," which has a double meaning of worship and glory, Tobias said. So, Orthodox translates to "right worship or right glory."
"Orthodoxy is a faithful adherence to what was first taught by Christ and the Apostles," Tobias said.
A few local families have been working to build an Orthodox Church here for nearly seven years. They started holding weekly prayer services and, about two years ago, the national Orthodox Church of America honored them with a name -- St. Anthony the Great Orthodox Mission.
For a while, the congregation simply continued prayer services, occasionally graced with a visiting priest. Then this past summer, Tobias and his wife and daughter were assigned to the parish.
"There are enough Orthodox Christians here in Bozeman to start a (church)," Tobias said. "I think we have in the neighborhood of 25 souls altogether, 10 to 15 families."
Services are performed in English and follow a modern calendar rather than the old world calendar, which is used in the Serbian Orthodox church in Butte.
All the congregation needs is a building to call home. For now, the group meets at the Belgrade Senior Center Saturday evenings at 6 and Sundays at 9:30 a.m. The church is applying to the regional diocese and the national Orthodox Church for grant money to buy land and begin construction.
For many, Orthodoxy is a part of cultural or ethnic heritage, but others, like the Slovenskys, have converted. The Slovenskys were one of the church's founding families, although neither were raised in the Orthodox tradition.
Bill Slovensky was born Ukrainian Orthodox, but his mother practiced Catholicism while he was growing up. He strayed from the church and eventually became a Protestant.
"Inevitably, I saw some things in our (Protestant) studies that I recognize as inconsistencies or lack of understanding," he said.
Cathy Slovensky agreed. "As we would study church history and look at what American Christianity had become ... we became very disillusioned with the fact that when people started disagreeing with each other they would go off and start a new church."
They found Orthodoxy hadn't changed to please popular culture, but has remained the same since the beginning.
"The Church exists on Earth to always be the faithful custodian of what the Apostles handed down," Tobias said.
One of the most comforting things she has found within the Orthodox Church is its focus on all five senses. The services revolve around music, incense, communion and visual icons, she said.
"It involves your whole self -- what we are body, soul and spirit," she said. "The funny thing is, having been a Biblical person who studied more than 25 years, within Orthodoxy I find a depth I did not find anywhere else."
Kayley Mendenhall is at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Article reprinted with permission.)