Orthodox Contact, A St. Nicholas Melbourne Publication, Issue №41 February 2004
Timothy's Journey

Orthodoxy is new to Singapore and to Southeast Asia as a whole. I was baptised by Singapore's first resident Orthodox priest, Fr Daniel Toyne about three years ago and joined myself to a tradition that stretches 2000 years. Having decided to come to Melbourne to further my studies, (I am doing architecture at the University of Melbourne). I saw in this an opportunity to meet the variety of ethnic groups who call themselves Orthodox. Often this ended up in funny experiences.

One night, about a year and a half ago, I attended a dinner and dance organised by the Greek Orthodox youth committee. Having found my seat, I found myself next to an old Greek woman. She looked at me intently for a while before asking, "Are you from Russia?"

"No" came the reply, "I'm Chinese."

"You're Chinese?!" she exclaimed, clasping her hand together. I was not surprised at her reaction. Hundreds of people were just as surprised as she was. The Orthodox Church is not known to have Chinese members. (We do have Orthodox believers in China, but they operate underground.) Then came the next question. "How did you become Orthodox?"

Like the old woman, many people (even non-Orthodox!) had the idea that to be Orthodox, you had to be Greek, Arab, Russian, Serbian, Romanian etc. Nobody had the slightest notion that a Chinese Singaporean could be Orthodox unless through a mixed marriage. Yet here I am, an Asian convert to Orthodoxy. How often we forget the words of Christ and His Apostles, "And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself." John 12:32, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free…" Galatians 3:28… Anybody can become Orthodox.

I attend St Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Church which is under the omophorion of His Eminence Metropolitan Archbishop Paul Saliba. Besides me and a Malaysian lady who is married to the son of the priest pastoring St Nicholas, Fr Dimitri (in the Orthodox Church clergy are allowed to be married but before ordination), the congregation is mostly made up of a rich variety of peoples whom I seldom meet in Singapore: Lebanese, Syrians, Egyptians, Kuwaitis, Australians etc.

English and Arabic are both used in this parish which are alternated in the services. Service booklets are printed in both languages too so that no one will get lost in the services. The music used in the services is the Byzantine chant which has its roots in Greek, Roman and Middle Eastern tunes. As I am learning this ancient music, I often take samples back home to listen (I sing in the parish choir and have picked up some Arabic words as a result!). I hope to share this with my home parish when I return to Singapore.

Worshipping with a predominantly Middle Eastern congregation has also opened my mind up to the beautilul diversity in this world. Not only have the congregation of St Nicolas welcomed me to their services, they have also shared with me a bit of their vibrant culture. I find myself enjoying their parties, food, music etc (Whoever said Orthodoxy is dry and boring!) I have also picked up cultural sensitivities such as learning not to cross your legs (especially in church) for that is disrespectful.

Having said all this, I consider myself very privileged to be in this multi-national community. Most of all I am very gratetul to have become an Orthodox Christian. I have "found the true faith" and "seen the true light" and started my long arduous journey of repentance. I have been blessed with seeing acts of piety in this community. This is probably the best gift I have received from St Nicholas, that of living the Christian faith.

From Timothy Tan