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05 June 2006

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Ted Laskaris

Stavros: You are quite right to point out Orthodoxy's emphasis on Life and the Resurrection. Many anti-religion types highlight the Orthodox Church's supposed strategy of inspiring fear in the hearts of the many in order to promote its own command of men. This may be true of other Christian denominations (see, for example, the endless opus on witchcraft and demonic copulation developed by the Catholic Church) but Greek Orthodoxy focuses on Man and his spirituality in a way that brings on serenity and love. This is an aspect of our faith which we forget -- or ignore... This is THE aspect we should always remember as we (hopefully) look to develop our inner peace through our Orthodox belief and practice.

drmom

Steve, when you talk of rediscovering the Orthodox faith, I assume you are speaking to Greeks raised in the Orthodox church who have left for one reason or another. Providing a spiritual home to Greeks is a big enough task, I realize, but is the ministry of Greek Orthodox Church to Greeks alone? How does the Orthodox church reach the non-Greek world ..."go therefore and make disciples of all nations..." How do you keep the truths of Christ as taught in the Orthodox church from being a "Greek thing" or a "cultural thing" when relating to neighbors who are seeking...would they be welcome in the church...would they understand anything? :) Again, reaching out to Greeks is a big enough task, and there are plenty of Protestant churches who reach out to certain groups of people so I understand if that is the mission of the Greek church.

Stavros

Megan, the Orthodox Church in America is made up of different ethnic churches that reflect the ethnic groups that have been traditionally Orthodox (Russian, Romanian, Serbian, Bulgarian, Greek, Arab). Orthodoxy is the same all over the world, it just speaks the language of its people. During the Byzantine Empire, two Orthodox Christian Missionaries Cyril and Methodius converted the Slavs and created the Cyrilic alphabet, still used today, so that the Slavs could read the Bible in their own language. As Orthodox we have an aversion to prosleytizing our fellow Christians. Many Americans of all faiths, but especially Episcopalians and Evangelicals have been drawn to Orthodoxy for many of the reasons I outlined in the post. In my own community we have a growing number of converts of all ethnicities and races who are welcomed into our mostly "Greek" Orthodox Church. They are very often much further along the road to salvation than many of us born in the faith. BTW, Orthodox Christians do missionary work throughout the world. Go to http://www.ocmc.org/ to learn more. Orthodoxy was brought to America by Russsian missionaries in Alaska. They converted many of the native Americans there, and it wasn't done at the point of a gun. If you want to learn more about Orthodox spirituality I would recommend two books by Kyriacos Markides, a professor of sociology at USM @ Orono. "Mountain of Silence" and "Gifts of the Desert" (See the links)

drmom

As always Steve, your posts get me thinking...in the words of my sister, "that guy rocks!" Your simple explaination of the role of icons and Mary in the Orthodox faith was the best I've heard...and that's after a whole year of "History of Christian Thought" at Hillsdale. Thanks!

demonax

Thought-provoking stuff, as usual, Stavros.
I'd like to develop a point made by drmom about the non-Greek Orthodox world, though.
You praise the way the Orthodox church respected ethnicity so that even though the liturgy and rites of the Orthodox church are the same the world over, ordinary Russians, Serbs, Bulgarians, etc, are still able to worship in their own language.
However, it could be argued that this heterogeneity is a weakness of the Orthodox church; that it has prevented the church from expressing its universal apostolic mission and reduced it to a church attached to specific national entities, undermining Orthodox unity and allowing for the development of competition and rivalry not only among Orthodox churches but Orthodox peoples too.
Perhaps it would have been better if, rather than allow the Slavs and others to perform the liturgy in their own languages, we had insisted on the maintenance of Greek – in the same way as the Pope/Roman Catholics insisted on Latin. (Perhaps this was not possible because Latin was no longer the language of any one people and had lost its political character, whereas Greek was still a living, and hence a political, language).
I think it's Bishop Timothy Ware in his book, The Orthodox Church, who bemoans the fact that unlike Catholics, who will worship in any Catholic church, Orthodox Christians still prefer to worship in his or her 'national' church – Greeks to the Greek Orthodox church, Russians to the Russian Orthodox church and so on – and calls for these national traditions/prejudices to be broken down.
Anecdotally, this absence of Orthodox unity was illustrated to me a couple of years ago when I got chatting to a Bulgarian woman and, as is my way, I mentioned to her that, through Cyril and Methodios, we gave her people culture and civilisation whereas before they were barbarians. The Bulgarian woman rather than express gratitude or appreciation for her Hellenic heritage, insisted that Cyril and Methodios were Slavs, from Moravia, and began a rant on the 100-year Greek 'occupation' of Bulgaria following the victories of Basil II, the Bulgar-Slayer, in the tenth century.

Stavros

Demo, as I see it Orthodoxy is a fusion of ethnicity and universality. Ethnicity is absorbed into the faith and thus becomes a God centered expression of ethnicity. Through its universal nature however it generates a deeper bond and ultimately is a rejection of ethnicity. Jesus did not see us as Greeks, Jews, or Samaritans. He saw us all as God's children and worthy of Salvation.

I belong to a Greek Orthodox community in Maine that is almost one hundred years old.
It was founded by Greek immigrants. This community has welcomed and included Orthodox who are Russians, Rumanians, Syrians, Albanians, Ethiopians, Serbians and converts
of various backgrounds, hispanic, anglo-saxon, French Canadian. They have all made important contributions to our community and enhanced the spiritual life of our congregation. From my perspective, converts often have a much better understanding of tradition and the tenets of our faith than we do. Orthodoxy has always been inclusive not exclusive.
Orthodoxy in America is changing slowly. We increasingly seek to proclaim our faith and to critique and confront American culture. We stand, for example, unequivocally opposed to abortion on demand, to instant gratification as the driving force of life, sexual immorality, abuse of various kinds, and environmental suicide. We affirm the dignity of human life, the centrality of the family, the need for work and sacrifice, and the equal but different roles of men and women. The mission of Orthodoxy is always to win the people and the nation for Jesus Christ. What is gradually emerging is a uniquely American expression of Orthodoxy. We are very early into this process. What is starting to happen is only natural. American Orthodoxy may be the ultimate expression of the universality of Orthodox Christianity.

The Slavs and Greeks were two entirely different cultures, Saints Cyril and Methodius and the early Slavic Christians were able to take Orthodox Christianity and present it to the Slavic culture in terms it could understand and embrace. I can just imagine some Greeks in Constantinople telling Saints Cyril and Methodius: “Come on, now, those barbaric Slavic peoples will have to become Greeks in order to become Christians since Greek culture and Christianity are so intertwined.” But what did the Slavs do? They took the Byzantine-Greek form of Christianity and modified the nonessentials to speak to their own culture. In the end, you and the Bulgarian woman may not see eye to eye on parochial ethnic issues but there is a great deal you have in common in terms of faith, whether you admit it or not.

George

Great post Steve.

Hermes

Stavros, interesting post. However some issues:

"What is gradually emerging is a uniquely American expression of Orthodoxy."

In some cases an Orthodoxy without the Greek language. That is a disaster for Hellenism in the United States.

"American Orthodoxy may be the ultimate expression of the universality of Orthodox Christianity"

That is ridiculous.

Stavros

Hermes,the issue of the survival of the Greek language is obviously one that is the subject of much debate and even acrimony among members of the Greek Orthodox Church in the United States. Where people stand really depends on how long ago Greek Americans or their ancestors arrived in the US. Not everyone is as close to Greece as recent immigrants or their first generation offspring. That's reality. Should Greek continue to be used in the liturgy and taught to the young. In my opinion, yes, however, given the state of Greek language usage and instruction in the US I would say it is unrealistic to insist that the Greek language be used exclusively. Those attending services want to be able to understand what is said, especially if we are to keep our youth actively engaged in their faith. I think other ethnic Orthodox churches in the US are faced with the same dilemma. Whether you like it or not we are headed in the direction of Orthodox unity in the US with a common language. When I say that this is an expression of universality I refer to the melding of various ethnic Churches into an American Orthodox Church. You have often decried the decadent and crumbling nature of American culture. Why would you deny Orthodoxy a foothold in the US and a chance to change that culture in a positive way?

As for Hellenism and the Greek language, please don't write it off so easily. It can survive, but only if ALL Greeks work together to nurture it, no matter where it is. If you have taught me anything it is that the critical piece of this is Paidea. The future is full of pitfalls AND opportunities. It is up to us to focus the use of limited resources, to take advantage of new technologies and improved air travel to bring our youth the advantages of Greek Paidea. As much as I love the Church, in many ways, the Greek Orthodox Church in America has not always been an active proponent of Greek Paidea. Its up to those of us who care about it (some not even Greek) to actively work toward this goal.

Hermes

Greek Pontians lived for over 2000 years away from the main centres of Hellenism and many of them still knew and spoke Greek. This was in an era when travel and communication were not what they are today. So there is absolutely no excuse for a Greek American of any generation to not understand Greek.

If the liturgy is in both English and Greek that is fine. But if it is not in Greek then Hellenism in the United States is finished.

The centre of Orthodoxy is Constantinople. Not America. Even suggesting that is a montrosity of monumental proporptions. It even bothers me and I do not really care much for Christianity. What are you going to claim next, that the Parthenon be shipped to New York?

Stavros

Hermes, sounds like you had a bad day. No one is suggesting we move the Patriarchate to America, although clearly it has no future in Turkey. The point I was making is that only in America is their a good chance for the separate ethnic Orthodox Churches to come together as one entity. BTW, the center of Orthodoxy is Christ, he is the foundation on which the Church is built.

From Wikipedia: "The Pontic linguistic lineage stems from Attic Greek, and contains influences from Byzantine Greek, Turkish, and, to a lesser extent, Persian and various Caucasian languages. Although Greeks regard Pontic as a dialect of Greek, Pontic and Standard Greek are mostly mutually incomprehensible because they developed independently for almost two millennia."

As for the Parthenon, I hope its future does not include the addition of a minaret or two.

Hermes

I have had a good day. Pontic and 'Standard' Greek are comprehensible. One is a dialect of the other.

English and Greek are not. Greek Americans are very capable people, they should also show their capability and retain their Greek. Direct them to the Ellopos website.

David

Hmmmm.....Funny, I always was taught by my spiritual father that prayer is the center of Orthodoxy. One may as easily find the path to salvation in a parish in Japan as on top of Mt. Athos. Physically, Constantinople is not the center of Orthodoxy. It is the first among equals...a position of honor not power. It does not speak for the Orthodox world....that is well, Papist. Please never forget the Great Commission and its absolute meaning

Stavros

Dave,

You are correct.

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