Searching a directory in a large city, you might see a multiplicity of Orthodox churches: Greek, Romanian, Antiochian, Serbian, and on and on. Is Orthodox Christianity really so tribal? Do these divisions represent theological squabbles and schisms? Not at all. All these Orthodox bodies are one church. The ethnic designation refers to what is called the parish’s “jurisdiction” and identifies which bishops hold authority there. There are over half a million Orthodox Christians in Australia and 300 million in the world, making Orthodoxy the second-largest Christian communion.
The astonishing thing about this ethnic multiplicity is its theological and moral unity. Orthodox throughout the world hold unanimously to the fundamental Christian doctrines taught by the Apostles and handed down by their successors, the bishops, throughout the centuries.
One could attribute this unity to historical accident.
We would attribute it to the Holy Spirit.
Why then the multiplicity of ethnic churches? These national designations obviously represent geographic realities. Since Australia is also a geographic unity, one day we will likewise have a unified national church – an Australian Orthodox Church. This was (or ought to have been) the original plan, but due to a number of complicated historical factors, it didn't happen that way. Instead, each ethnic group of Orthodox immigrating to this country developed its own church structure. This multiplication of Orthodox jurisdictions is a temporary aberration, and much prayer and planning is going into breaking through these unnecessary walls.
Currently the largest Australian jurisdictions are the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, the Serbian Orthodox Diocese, and the Antiochian Archdiocese (Middle Eastern roots). Services will differ in language used, the type of music, and a few other particulars, but the Liturgy is substantially the same in all.
I wish it could be said that every local parish eagerly welcomes newcomers, but some are still so close to their immigrant experience that they are mystified as to why outsiders would be interested. Visiting several Orthodox parishes will help you learn where you’re most comfortable. You will probably be looking for one that uses plenty of English in its services. Many parishes with high proportions of converts will have services entirely in English.
Orthodoxy seems startlingly different at first, but as the weeks go by it gets to be less so. It will begin to feel more and more like home, and it will draw you into the Kingdom of God. I hope that your first visit to an Orthodox church will be enjoyable, and that it won’t be your last.