Dressed Weird? - a chilling occurence in Canadian customs

I thought I would relay this story, partly for humor value and partly to display how little respect for clergy exists. Last weekend I was invited to bring the Icon of St. Nicholas to our parish in London Canada for the Fortieth Anniversary of their temple building. Since I was already in Detroit for the Feast of the Dormition at our cathedral there it was just a short two hour drive into Canada. I should state that I have traveled with the Icon to Canada before, but only by air, and have never had any problem at all.

I drove through the tunnel from Detroit to Windsor, at the guard booth I was asked my citizenship (USA) and my reason for travel, which I stated as: Visiting our parish in London for it's anniversary and would only be there for two days. The guard asked why I would want to do that and I informed him I was a priest. After a few minutes he told me to pull into the immigration area. Once there I was instructed by another guard to unlock my doors and trunk and to step to the side while they searched my car. Five guards tore my car and luggage apart asking questions about everything. What intrigued them the most was the packets of cotton with myrrh that I was bringing to the parish. I informed them that the cotton was soaked with holy oil and was a gift to the people I was to visit. Then I was asked why I had so many pictures of "this man". I informed them that they were pictures of the Icon of the saint, Saint Nicholas. I noticed no recognition of that name or the fact that these were religious items. Then they opened my suitcase with the vestments in them and they all gathered around poking and picking at them. The person who seemed to be in charged asked, "What's this stuff for? I told her that they were my vestments and were used for serving Divine Liturgy, or mass, if they understood that better. With a look of disbelief on her face she said, "But what are they for?" I told her again they are part of the religious practice of which I am a priest.

This continued for about forty five minutes until one of them began to take the case from the Icon. At that I protested that they should not touch it, I would be happy to show it to them, but it would be a violation of my faith for them to touch it. The woman in charge saw that I was not going to budge on this and she said for me to remove the case. Upon removing the case she and two others witnessed the Icon, which was streaming. They said nothing for a few seconds and finally the woman said; "Thank you." I put the Icon back into the case. The woman asked me to accompany her to a nearby bench, there she asked if I had ever been to Canada before. I said yes, many times. She asked if I had ever been searched before. I said no. She then said I would have to go to the administration office. I asked if I could lock my car to protect the Icon and she agreed.

In the office a woman began to interrogate me for about half and hour. She started by saying that they had found many strange things in my car and were concerned about what I really was going to do in Canada. I told her I was just a priest and asked why that was so strange. She replied: "Well it's because you are dressed so weird!" At this I must admit I lost a little of my composure and said that I was a priest and dressed as one, and certainly did not appreciate her calling my attire weird. Her comment was that she had seen priests before and none of them ever looked like me! At that point I asked what exactly they wanted of me and if I am not welcome in her country, then since I have violated no law, I should either be admitted or allowed to leave, but I would no longer subject myself and my faith to her observations or opinions. She said that in her opinion I was entering Canada for the purpose of making money. I told her that I was not. She said: "You are going to preach in Canada and that is work". I told her that I was not going to preach and if I did not receive compensation for serving in a religious service it could not be seen as work. Once again in a somewhat louder voice I told her either to allow me to pass or return to the US, but I was done talking to her and wanted to see a supervisor.

Just then a man walked in, from the look on the girl's face he was a supervisor. He looked at me and smiled saying; "Hello Father." He turned to the girl and said; "Is there a problem?" She remarked: "This man is trying to enter Canada for the purpose of working without a permit." He looked at me and said: " Is this true Father?" I said, "As I told the man at the gate, I am going to celebrate the anniversary of our temple in London and would be returning to the US tomorrow." He smiled again and took the piece of paper from the girl's hand and stamped it, much to her dismay, handed it to me and said: "Enjoy your stay in Canada Father." I returned to my car amid the stares and smirks of the guards and went on my way.

I am sure this was an incident inspired by the evil one's minions to detour the Icon from coming to the faithful in London, but the reaction of the guards made me feel as if being a Christian and a priest made me a stranger in a strange land. I guess I have to keep in mind this is the country that forced an Orthodox Church to allow a dog inside the temple, fining the priest.

In Christ
Priest Elias Warnke
Pastor of St. George Orthodox Church
303 Grace St
Michigan City, IN 46360-4923
Mailing Address: 1223 Wabash St, Michigan City, IN 46360-4219
E-Mail: coutput@netnitco.net

This was taken from a post (Aug 30, 1999) to a clergy mailing list. Used with permission

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St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas