Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox — Can You Tell the Difference?

Russian Orthodox church, Kizhi Island, Lake Onega, Russia

Years ago, I belonged to what must surely have been the funniest, most enjoyable carpool since the invention of the wheel. My “fellow carpudlians”* and I used to spend most of our commuting time (between Reston, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.) regaling each other with amusing — and mostly true — stories, many of which had an international flavor, since we were all Foreign Service officers.

Dean, whose ancestry is Greek, once told us about the time when, at Army boot camp, the drill sergeant called him to his office, showed him a roster of all the people in the unit and asked about his religion.

Pointing to an abbreviated entry next to Dean’s name — GRK ORTH — the sergeant asked, “Is GRK ORTH like RUS ORTH?”

Dean said he wasn’t too sure, but he thought they might be similar.

Then … “What do you people believe?” Puzzled and not quite knowing where this was leading, Dean started to say something about the Trinity, when the sergeant cut him off.

“No,” he said, “Not that. When is your sabbath?”

When the sergeant heard Dean’s response — “on Sunday” — his face turned red.

“That damned Ivanov!” he fumed. “He was in the last group I trained. He swore to me that the RUS ORTH sabbath lasts from sunset Friday till dawn on Monday, and that no work of any kind is permitted. He said he needed a pass to go off base so he could save his soul by observing the sabbath at the RUS ORTH church.”

That’s how Dean learned he’d missed a golden opportunity to get away from basic training for the entire weekend and go “celebrate Sabbath” any way he liked.


* Residents of Liverpool are called Liverpudlians, so it stands to reason that the members of any carpool could be called carpudlians. (I wish I could take credit for this term, but I was introduced to it by my “fellow carpudlian,” Alan Rogers.)

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