Monday, June 6, 2011

Oh, Canada!

One of the perks of being a seminarian is that you get the opportunity to meet many interesting and wonderful people. Jordanville is located in upstate New York, making most of Orthodoxy on the eastern seaboard very accessible by motor vehicle. I took one such road trip last weekend to Ottawa, Ontario, the Canadian capital.

I got invited up to Ottawa for the weekend by two friends I met at the St. Herman's Conference, which last December was held here at Jordanville. On Friday, my traveling buddy drove all the way from Buffalo to pick me up at the Monastery; we then drove up into the upper reaches of the mysterious North.

Canada, contrary to popular belief, is not just “America's Hat,” but has a distinct culture and history, of which I and my Buffaloan (Buffaloite? Buffalovian?) friend have no clue. But we clearly could tell it was a foreign country by being stopped at the border checkpoint and mercilessly interrogated.

Guard: “So, what is your purpose for coming into Canada?”
My Friend: “We're here to see two girls, our friends.”
Guard: “And how did you meet these girls?”
Friend: “At a church event.”
Guard: “How would you Americans meet two Canadian girls at a church event?”
Friend: “We're in the same church!”
Guard: “I'm in a big denomination myself, and I don't go around meeting Americans!”

Things did not bode well. The border guard ordered us into the customs office. After careful questioning, we were determined not to be crazy American terrorists bent on destroying beaver dams. Our passports recovered, we arrived without further incident in Ottawa, receiving a warm welcome. Later that night, we got a short tour of downtown Ottawa, including the ByWard Market and a ludicrous number of stairs (and bear puns).

The next morning, we set out on a magical mystery tour of various architecturally significant buildings in the city, thanks to the Doors Open weekend. Our first stop was a mosque down the street from the parish. I have never been in a mosque before, so I had no idea what to expect. Upon entering (and taking off my shoes), I was struck by the bare interior of the mosque. Underneath the white dome, the walls of the mosque were whitewashed. There were no chairs or pews, but a simple carpet, and a seat in the front for the imam to give his sermons. It was as if someone had taken an Orthodox church, stripped it of all decoration and the iconostasis, and painted the walls white. (This is not without precedent.) The complete lack of decoration is in order for the worshipping Muslim to completely submit himself to an absolutely transcendent (and un-incarnate) Allah.

The next stop was the Christ the Savior Bukowinian Orthodox Church, under the Patriarch of Constantinople. We spent our time in the car wondering what a Bukowinian was; the kind priest explained that Bukovina was a part of the former Austro-Hungarian empire now split between Romania and Ukraine. We of course felt much more home at this church than at the mosque. (“I can feel the blagodat coming back to me!”) Our last stop was Rideau Hall, the residence of the Governor-General, who acts as the Queen's representative. It was as expected: beautiful, and quite regal. I was very excited to see one of Glenn Gould's pianos (not the famous CD 318, but another of his Steinways) in one of the great halls of the mansion.

After coming back to our friends’ house, we were treated to some delicious souvlaki barbecued by the paterfamilias (who also happens to be pater of the church). We played some games with the sisters and their little brother, and then prepared for the Vigil. Coming from Jordanville, I am always surprised (or is it relieved?) by the shortness of parish vigils.

After the Sunday liturgy, we wrapped up the weekend in the early afternoon. We reluctantly said good-bye to our Canadian friends, but look forward to our next visit. In the meantime, I will be praying for the fate of the Ottawa parish of the Protection of the Mother of God, which is going through some legal trouble. I am very thankful to our Canadian friends up north and their family for hosting us Americans this weekend! The experience was anything but unbearable.


  1. We bearly made it back in one piece we had so much fun...

  2. Hey! I'm a Canadian who just stumbled across your blog entirely by accident and wanted to apologize for your difficult time in crossing the border! I've heard of people having trouble going back into the USA from Canada (regardless of citizenship), but never the other way around!

    My American dad did get pulled in when he told the border guard he was on his way to marry my Canadian mum, but that was so that the guard could get the customs office to give him a round of applause for his very sensible decision to marry a Canadian ;-).

  3. Jon Marc,

    I accept your apology as representative of the Canadian people! It was certainly a stressful encounter, but it did make for a great story. Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Good stuff then :-)! And of course! It's always fun to find an interesting new blog :-).