Father Thomas Carroll is a 70-year-old priest in Dublin, Ireland.
He grew up rural county Tipperary, in a family with strong military ties. His grandfather fought in Gallipoli, while his great uncle was at the battle of Thessalonica during the first World War.
Growing up in a Catholic secondary school, he felt called to take holy orders but was told he was not ready, so he followed the family tradition and joined the military.
“We seem to be a family that was always involved militarily. There was discipline among us, but the rules were not too strict. Yet, I could never consider myself a free spirit,” he recalls.
It was while serving in Cyprus with the UN in the 1960s that Father Carroll’s life, vocation and future were set on a path that led him to a narrow brick-built church in the centre of Dublin. A church which stands out from others in the city because of richly gilded decorated screen which separates the altar from the nave, but also because it is orthodox.
To prevent its servicemen being influenced in anyway, the UN did not permit any interaction between them and either communities. However, Father Thomas could not entirely follow the discipline, that both the peace keeping forces and his family have edified him.
“I had a few acquaintances with Cypriots, but the only person that I had a lot of communication with, was a Greek orthodox priest in a village,” he recounts. Father Thomas would meet up with him on a regular basis, to talk about theology and argue regarding everything around it.
“We often could not agree on anything, but he left a lasting impression on me,” he continues.
That prompted him to explore the Orthodox religion further, but when he returned to Ireland there were only a handful of Greeks and Cypriots living in the country. They did not have an established community, so nobody could help him.
It was only when the Archbishop of Great Britain Methodios, established the first parish in Ireland in 1981, that became possible for him to talk to people with the same interest.
Prior to this he had contacted the Greek Orthodox archdioceses in London, but nobody responded to his letters. “They probably thought that I was some guy seeking only information,” Father Thomas says.
When the parish has been established by Methodios, a friend happened to mention it to him by chance. He then got around there straightaway, but it took him another 5 years before he decided to make the “big jump” and convert.
“I eventually became an Orthodox in 1986, so I do not do anything in a hurry as you see,” he jokes. “But after that, I was committed. I took early retirement from my job in 1996 and went to study theology for 5 years.”
After the conclusion of his studies, he initially served as a deacon for four years in his new parish, before eventually becoming a priest. And to him it is a vocation, not his profession.
Ultimately, it was the outward portrayal and the beautiful liturgies of the orthodox dogma, that attracted him to it. “I came from the tradition that initially the Catholic Church came from, with many similarities in liturgy and rituals. But after the Second Vatican Council in the ‘60s, everything changed and became more simplified,” the priest explains.
For Father Thomas, the traditional poignant ceremonies had been stripped from the Catholic faith. Services had become to some extend “protestantized” in the method of worship, minimalised. So, he realised that it was not for him.
This inevitably left a big hole in his spiritual life, that he couldn’t relate to this new situation in the Catholic Church. “This is where Orthodoxy entered my life and gave me something tangible to hold on to. Something about the church itself, its layout, the rituals even the smell of incense, would grab you straight away,” he describes.
At the time, among the Orthodox community in Ireland, there were about 20 nationalities. The original parish was founded for all orthodox Christians within the island of Ireland, regardless of any jurisdictions.
As immigration increased into Ireland, many of these new arrivals established their own communities and Father Thomas’ parish eventually became primarily Greek. The community has grown in recent years due to the increasing emigration from Greece, thus the future of his parish looks secure.
For Father Thomas, a church is a living thing and must adapt to society, rather than society adapting to it. Another reason why he admires the Greek Orthodox Church, is because it reaches out to every nationality.
“All Greek orthodox archdioceses in the UK, have up to 30% clergy that is non-Greek, thus the liturgies are commonly English speaking. Other jurisdictions like the Romanian or Russian, are operating in their language solely for their own people,” he says.
The priest believes that breaking down language and nationality barriers is very important for a modern religion, especially when attracting young individuals.
Otherwise they could be at the mercy of fundamentalist evangelical churches, while others may become attracted to radical Islam. “They are giving them something to live for, when often they have nothing,” claims Father Thomas.
He is the only one who converted to Greek orthodoxy in his family. “It did not make any difference to most of them, but I think today they would be happy with my choices,” he says.
“If you asked me how Ireland is responding to a church of different dogma about 50 years ago, there would be quite hostile reaction to it. Now nobody cares. At the last count, there were about 130 different religions the country, most of them established during the past 15 years,” Father Thomas explains.
About 50% of those are ethnic African churches. “But the people of Ireland are accepting all religions in their country now. Maybe the reason is that most of them do not go to the church themselves,” he continues.
“Young people particularly, who are carrying on the catholic faith in Ireland, have absolutely no animosity to anybody outside this tradition,” he concludes.
Father Thomas is one example of a man, who did not just follow a religion due to family, community or national traditions. He researched, reached out and when the time was right, he found what was best for him.
By Christos Mouzeviris.
HOLY WEEK SERVICES
HOLY ND GREAT WEDNESDAY
THE ANOINTING OF THE SICK 7 p.m.
HOLY AND GREAT THURSDAY
INSTITUTION OF THE HOLY EUCHARIST
DIVINE LITURGY OF ST. BASIL THE GREAT 11 a.m.
VIGIL OF THE REDEEMΙΝG PASSION 7 p.m.
HOLY AND GREAT FRIDAY
GREAT VESPERS OF THE DESCENT FROM THE CROSS 3 p.m.
GREAT FRIDAY VIGIL AND PROCESSION 7 p.m.
HOLY AND GREAT SATURDAY
Η ΑΝΑΣΤΑΣΙΣ – THE SERVICE OF THE RESURRECTION 10 p.m.
FOLLOWED BY THE DIVINE LITURGY OF ST. JOHN CHRYSOSTOM
THE VESPERS OF AGAPE 11:30 a.m.
The parish council with the Hellenic community would like to celebrate Easter Sunday Greek style with a BBQ after the end of The Vespers of Agape around 1pm in the church grounds.
We are going to organise this BBQ ourselves and would love as many from the Hellenic community to join us. We are asking for each family to participate as regarding to food. We would ask that each family bring some meat suitable for cooking on BBQ and if each family could bring either salads/other starters/gyka/pitta/Easter biscuits or whatever each person feels they would like to cook/bake.
If everybody could get back to me to let me know what each family will bring would be great so we don’t have the same of everything or end up with too much salads etc. Then I can email you all again and let you all know if we need anything else etc. We would love to have some music too so anybody with some Cd’s that they would like to hear bring them along too.
Also if you know of other people who are not included in this email and would like to come to forward them the details. My mobile is 087 1924528 if anybody wishes to contact me.
We would like to invite you at our Church’s Christmas Bazaar that will take place on next Sunday 9th December after the Divine Liturgy around 12.30. We would be grateful if you could participate and also donate Christmas treats and cakes.
We would also like to invite you to register as a member of our parish in order to participate at the elections that will take place on the last Sunday of June 2013. The closing date for members’ registration, according to the Church constitution, is six months before the elections, so it is the end of December 2013.
You may find an electronic copy of the Church Constitution in the attached file. Forms for registration are provided by members of our Parish Council.
Finally, we send you the announcement of our Parish priest Fr Tom Carroll, of commencement of our Sunday Catechism school.
With kind regards
Prof. Emeritus Frixos Joannides
We are organising a charity event on Sunday 25 March to celebrate the National Greek Day, and the name day of our Church, and to also help out a non profit organisation in Greece that supports neglected children (http://www.kivotostoukosmou.org/kivotos/). The venue will be Corfu Greek Restaurant on Parliament Street in Dublin, the arrival time will be 14:30 and the restaurant will be booked for us until 18:00.
The entrance fee will be 25 euro per person and the menu will include
A started dish (per person) including: Mezedes: Tiropitaki (cheese piebite), keftethaki (meat ball), Ntolmathaki (stuffed vine leaf), Kolokithaki (courgette), and fried obergine.
Communal dishes on each table will be a Tzatziki and a Greek Salad (offer of Corfu Greek Restaurant)
Main dish: a choice of one of the following (per person):
Souvlaki (Pork or Chicken)
Cod with garlic potato
Chicken with mushrooms
For people fasting for lent:
Mousakas (Vegetarian version)
Stuffed tomatoes with rice
Desert: Communal plater with sweets on each table (offer of Corfu Greek Restaurant)
The drinks will not be included in the ticket price and will be charged separately.
Children below 12 years will be admitted for free and their menu choice will include Spageti Bolognese or fired chips. If they wish to order a main dish of the menu above, then this will be charged a full fee of 25 euro. Children above 12 years will be charged a full entrance fee of 25 euro.
I hope you will support this worthy cause and get to celebrate with us the double occasion.