Are you going to SMSP or SASC tomorrow? This question likely makes no sense to you, dear reader, but to a fictional youth deciding between two fictional parishes, St. Mark and St. Peter Church (SMSP) and St. Athanasius and St. Cyril Church (SASC), the question makes perfect sense, because each parish, of course, has an acronym.
Wait… acronyms? For parish names?
Let me suggest with all love, respect, and sincerity, that this notion of referring to parishes and other holy things using acronyms is not a good idea.
Acronyms are commonplace, especially in our modern digital age in which people use words such as “LOL” and “AFAIK” in their digital correspondence. More traditionally, we use them to describe degrees (B.A., M.S., J.D. etc.), cars (BMW, GMC, VW), television channels (NBC, TNT, TBS), businesses (CVS, DSW, UPS), people (J.R.R. Tolkien, E.B. White), and everything in between. Indeed, acronyms are so common in our society, they are practically an afterthought.
And this, beloved reader, is precisely why they shouldn’t be used to describe holy things, such as churches, saints’ names, and other things that demand our respect due to the grace and holiness within them. Consider, for example, churches in particular. Orthodox Christians have an exalted view of the Holy Church. Each and every parish of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church provides us with a sacred space in which we experience the presence of the Living God. Consider this beautiful description of what it is like to enter a church from Archimandrite Meletios Webber:
From the moment a person enters the door of the church, whether rich or poor, an aged archbishop or a young neophyte, he or she goes through a sort of inner transformation in order to meet God. We act and feel in a different way when we are in a sacred space; in some sense, we might even talk of being different people when we are in church. Most often, our voices tend to get quieter, our movements less hurried; our sense of being present grows rather than diminishes. Our minds may calm down or they may not, but there is an overwhelming sense that they are invited to do so.1
This is the result of being in sacred space. We meet the living God, enjoy being in His presence, and allow ourselves to be transfigured by the whole experience much as the Holy Prophet Moses was physically and spiritually transformed by his experience of God at the burning bush on Mount Sinai. Now, imagine Moses addressing his fellow Hebrews and telling them, “Yeah, when I was at the BB, I was completely changed.” Doesn’t that sound odd and disrespectful?
When we use acronyms to describe holy things simply to appear more casual or relaxed, we do ourselves a disservice by disconnecting ourselves from the divine reality. When I refer to St. Mark and St. Peter Coptic Orthodox Church (a fictional parish), I refer to an ecclesial community founded upon the Orthodox Christian faith and having the Holy Apostles Mark and Peter as intercessors. When I refer to “SMSP,” it’s harder to connect with that divine reality.
In the end, we don’t do ourselves any favors or accrue any benefit from abbreviating the names of holy things, like saints’ names and parishes. What do we gain? Nothing. What do we lose? We potentially lose a proper sense of awe and respect when encountering the divine. It’s not worth it, especially in a day and age when the divine and holy are increasingly under attack as it is.
- Meletios Webber, Bread & Water, Wine & Oil: An Orthodox Christian Experience of God (Ben Lomond, CA: Conciliar Press, 2007), 91–92. ↩