DCSIMG

City's religious life through a lens

ORTHODOX

FOR a man belonging to a faith rich in Eastern European tradition, language and iconic imagery, it is perhaps surprising that Edinburgh’s Orthodox priest was born and bred no further east than Currie.

John Maitland Moir had been an Episcopalian priest for much of his adult life when, 23 years ago at the age of 57, he found a new, even stronger calling.

Drawn by the ancient traditions and beliefs - unchanged down the centuries - he decided to convert to a religion which most associate with Russia and Greece.

"The Orthodox Church is the original church," he explains. "It hasn’t changed, it has kept its traditions. The faith is the original faith."

The son of a Presbyterian father and an Episcopalian mother, he spent his early adulthood teaching before becoming an Episcopalian minister at the age of 27.

It was his life until his mid-50s when he felt the Church had become too modern.

"I was happy enough but then it changed in all sorts of ways, the beliefs changed and it became too modern," the 80-year-old explains.

"So I went to Constantinople for six months to learn more about the Orthodox Church. It was then that I decided to become Orthodox. It was a big step and, yes, there was a lot of soul searching. The Episcopalian community was quite accepting of it - and it was right for me."

Today his home is linked to the church at Meadow Lane where, on Sundays from 9am, the city’s 70-strong Orthodox community gathers to worship in the same way the fathers of the Orthodox Church worshipped centuries ago.

While the Orthodox Church shares much with other Christian churches, there are substantial differences in the way of life and worship. Statues and other three-dimensional images are forbidden, the church follows the Julian calendar and Easter is the main festival of celebration.

"There has been an Orthodox community in Edinburgh since the war," he explains. "It was originally Slovaks, Poles, Russians and Serbians."

The church moved to its Meadow Lane home in February, to accommodate a growing congregation: "There are lots of Greek students in Edinburgh," explains Fr Maitland Moir.

Although in his 80th year, he travels the length and breadth of Scotland, taking Orthodox services as far afield as Aberdeen, Perth, Dundee and Inverness.

"Everyone is welcome in our church," he adds.

SIKH

HE may not have fully appreciated it at the time, but 47 years ago, Ragbir Singh Landa and his family were pioneers of their faith.

His parents arrived in Edinburgh from their native India in 1957, quickly settling Ragbir and his 13 siblings in a small flat in St Mary’s Street in the shadow of the Royal Mile. "They had plans to go back to India," he smiles. "But we got stuck here."

Sikhs were far from commonplace in Scotland in the 50s - Ragbir remembers only two or three other families from those days - and the men’s turbans and long beards would attract stares by bemused locals.

"I went to Milton House Primary School and James Clark Secondary School. Yes, I looked different, but there was never any bother," the 51-year-old recalls.

He went on to run a greengrocers in Great Junction Street, known by his customers as "Rab".

"I regard myself as Scots first, Indian second," he explains. But in the 1950s, Edinburgh’s Sikh community needed a place to worship. A temple was established when a two-room property in Hopefield Terrace was bequeathed, replaced eventually by a slightly larger property in Academy Street.

"As we grew in number, we bought the old St Thomas’ Church in Mill Lane in Leith 24 years ago. Now we have 220 ‘paying’ members. We are very close-knit, very supportive of each other," says Ragbir, a father of five sons and with ten grandchildren.

The Mill Lane "gurdwara", or temple, has recently been handed 175,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to help refurbish the property for further generations of Sikhs to continue their worship. However, post 9/11 led to security cameras, panic alarms and prejudice.

"We have had some problems - people see the turbans and shout ‘Taliban’. They don’t know any better, it’s ignorance," he sighs. "It’s starting to get better and most people give us no problems."

Just what the future holds for Edinburgh’s Sikh community, rests with a younger generation increasingly distracted by the trappings of modern society.

As Ragbir admits, Sikhism suffers the same problems as other religions when it comes to persuading young people to keep the faith.

"A lot of them do hold on to the religion. But there are others, they want to cut their hair and to shave their beards. We have told them: ‘Go on your own way, when you done your bit then you can come back’. When they are ready, they will come back. They are good lads."

QUAKERS

THE businesses are household names, producing chocolates, sweets - even the shoes on our feet. Rowntrees, Cadbury, Barclays Bank and Clarks Shoes - known throughout the country and founded centuries ago by Quakers, individuals who had a deep faith in a radical "new" movement.

Their success and their faith were not unconnected: Quakers, with their strong belief in truth and equality, gained a reputation for honest trade. Household-name businesses were born.

Today’s Quakers gather in much the same way as the early followers in the 17th century, meeting in quiet contemplation, seeking their own "individual" route through Christianity.

Anne Davies, a former clerk for the Religious Society of Friends - the Quakers’ official name - in south-east Scotland, has been a Quaker all her life.

"My parents were Quakers," she explains.

"And while it was natural for me to become a Quaker too, it was still very much an individual search."

There are 470 Quakers in the Edinburgh and south-east region - most of them living in the city. They gather at their meeting houses at 7 Victoria Terrace and at The Open Door, 420 Morningside Road, where, unlike most other religions, there are no hymns, rarely any music and no preacher.

"We meet in silent worship, settling down with others in quiet contemplation. It’s about trying to find out for ourselves what our faith is, without being told or preached to," explains Anne, a former head of Mount Esk Nursery School in Bonnyrigg.

"Unless we can feel for ourselves, we are not really feeling it at all."

The Religious Society of Friends was founded by George Fox in the 1650s after he became increasingly annoyed by the inconsistencies he found in mainstream religious movements.

He suffered for his beliefs, being imprisoned eight times for preaching views that angered the religious and political establishment of his time.

There are an estimated 210,000 Quakers around the world, including musicians Bonnie Raitt and Tom Robinson, actors Ben Kingsley, Victoria Wood and Sheila Hancock.

"We are seekers of the truth," adds 73-year-old Anne. "We believe every individual is worthy of respect, regardless of their outward appearance."

WICCA

CONSIDERING witches have had something of a bad press over the centuries, Sandy Christie is fairly upfront about the "w" word.

"Yes, we are witches, that is essentially what we are," she says cheerfully.

But the 61-year-old divorcee says it is actually the term witch that is misunderstood. "People used to think of witches as evil and having truck with the devil, but that’s not what it’s about at all. The devil is a Christian invention," she says.

The retired shop worker converted to Wicca, a branch of paganism, in the 1970s, after meeting a friend of a friend who was an adherent.

"I suppose until then I hadn’t really found a religion that I had been drawn to. Nothing felt right until this happened."

Wiccans believe in reincarnation and she feels this may have been part of the reason.

"It sometimes happens that we are reincarnated with the same people again and again. We don’t realise it, but we are drawn to people, there is a familiarity there, a feeling that this is my family, this is where I belong."

She says Wicca comes under the umbrella of paganism. "Paganism is a broad spectrum. I am Wiccan which I suppose is a modern rehash of the ancient Celtic religion of Britain." Pagans, she says, can be roughly defined as people who believe in a faith linked to the earth and its natural cycles.

"Wicca is quite organised, perhaps more organised than some broader pagan streams, with training facilities, a high priest or priestess and any number of people of either sex. They are often organised into clans, families or covens and there are initiation rites."

She was a member of a coven in Edinburgh until eight years ago when the high priest died. Then, she says, the community was "scattered to the winds" and since then she has practised her faith alone.

"Most witches will go through a solitary period, then a coven period, then a solitary period - just as in life, nothing stays the same."

In Edinburgh, she says, there are probably hundreds of Wiccans - and across Scotland, thousands.

She says her religion has helped her deal with personal problems. "I have been subject to bouts of depression and it’s the earth that gets me back on track. It’s my contact with the seasons and the seas, and their energy."

Keeping Faith runs from Friday until February 6, 2005 at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, 1 Queen Street, Edinburgh. Admission free

 
 
 

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