Earlier in the week the “March for Life” rally as held in Washington, D.C. It is held to coincide with the anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade decision. This year marked the 38th. anniversary of that court ruling. The question I would like to pose does not have direct bearing on the issue of abortion, as disturbing as it is; but the general topic of the Church and social consciousness. Do we, as an Orthodox community, speak out as often as we should or with a loud enough voice on pressing social issues and moral concerns in this country?
Looking below the surface of this question, what the real question that underlies this concern is; are we comfortable in this country, yet? Have we grown comfortable and confident enough to freely comment on the pressing issues of our society or that confront our nation? This question has bearing on the degree, which we now view ourselves as fully American. Is this country home; or do we still feel like the Diaspora? If we answer by declaring this home, then we absolutely have an obligation to speak with a loud voice of moral guidance based on an Orthodox ethos and ethics.
There is part of me that looks at our reticence to speak with a loud voice as a consequence of our immigrant background. As an immigrant Church, we did not speak out due to our own sense of isolation and insecurity. Our community and even our leadership, both clergy and laity, felt isolated, inferior and was focused introspectively. We looked inward. Fortunately, these days are behind us; or are they? It is fitting to raise our voices in the event of a catastrophe or a difficulty befalling a sister Orthodox community anywhere in the world. This is our duty and our responsibility, to focus the American society and leadership on the difficulties our fellow Orthodox face. But, do we not also have a responsibility to speak to issues that our country faces. Please, encourage our leadership to speak out. Hierarch, clergy and knowledgable lay leadership need to speak out and to attempt to positively influence the course of our nation. The Orthodox social conscious can be that new perspective that the American society needs to make better choices in these crucial times. May Our Lord Guide us all and may the Theotokos ever protect this great country.
The pain on Pope Shenouda III’s face.
One of the sad consequences of our Orthodox disunity on this continent became so evident this week. Unless you have been totally disconnected from current events, you could not help but noticing the tragic events in traditional Orthodox lands. In Egypt, we witnessed the bloody martyrdom of Coptic Christians. In Alexandria, the city of Sts. Athanasius, Cyril and many more luminaries of Orthodoxy, our sister Coptic Orthodox Christians were massacred by fanatics. In “Northern” Cyprus, Orthodox were murdered and Churches desecrated. In Lebanon, a leader of the Christian community has correctly labeled the systematic elimination of Christians in the Middle East as genocide. In Palestine, we continue to here terrible reports from Fr. and Pres. Khoury about the misery the Palestinian Christians endure each day. Even in New York, we continue to await the resolution of issue of St. Nicholas Church at ground zero. What do all these issues have in common? The small voices of divided Orthodox leaders are barley heard above background noise! Archbishop Demetrios issues a statement, Metropolitan Jonas prays for Egypt and unfortunately Constantinople must remain silent! Since our voices are not united they can barely be heard. Who cares what we say since, we have succeeded in marginalizing ourselves!
Our own disunity and divisions assure that no one pays attention to us. We are small ethnic enclaves who are quoted in our own jurisdictional press and by a few niche publications. We don’t make an impact; consequently we don’t make a difference. Critical events and essential issues present themselves and we provide little cogent Orthodox witness. We live not only in a time when national and international events occur at break neck speed, but when moral and ethical judgments need an Orthodox compass.
If we insist on staying apart, how can we begin to have a louder voice? What about a joint press office that would issue simultaneous press releases in New York and Washington, perhaps under the auspices of the Assembly of Bishops of the Orthodox Church. What about a joint commission of Orthodox Theologians who could speak to moral and ethical concerns. Little voices are whispers and are not heard. We must begin to act united and who knows it might get to be a habit!!
We will be asked hard questions!
Where are they? As some of you know I am a cradle Orthodox. The truth is that I am also a generational, cradle Orthodox. I grew up in the Church with many contemporaries that are no longer in the Church. Where did they go and why did they leave? These are questions we are either ashamed or frightened to ask. I believe we delude ourselves by not seeking the answers to these questions. What is it about the Orthodox Churches in America, all jurisdictions, that greet and speak with pride of the “new” Orthodox; people who embrace the faith, while generations walk out the back door? There are many others who are primarily unchurched or who are holiday Orthodox. What do I mean? They come with parents or family for holidays or for family events either marriages, baptisms or funerals, but are absent the rest of the time. Years ago, we used to say it was “the language issue” or the “ethnic issue” Hogwash! Even in the most ethnic or single language areas, there are still churches which are predominately English speaking. This is not the reason, this is an excuse. We must look deeper, the vast majority of us need to ask serious question. Do I really understand what is going on in my Church? Is it meeting my inner needs? Obviously, by the exodus of faithful, we as the Church are missing the boat. Are we prepared to ask hard questions and listen to the answers. Over the next few blog posts I would like to ask some of these questions, but I would like this to be a dialogue. Comment and let’s try to engage the issue.
Personal note: Today is St. Eleftherios’ Feastday – to my beautiful wife Ria, Thea Ria, Granddaughter Ella, and Son Vastan (Eleftherios) I Love you all. Hronia Pola!
The Northern Lights
Northern lights – the Aurora Borealis, this phenomenon has longed amazed us. As we look into the northern skies, we Orthodox should remember that we have our own northern luminaries. Today is a great day to reflect on our own stars from the North. Today, Orthodoxy commemorates the first North American to be canonised a Saint. St Herman (Germanos) of Alaska was one of the trailblazers of the faith, who came to these shore not to find treasure, but to bring a treasure, the Holy Orthodox faith. Yesterday, the Church commemorated a spiritual descendant of St. Herman, a martyr for the faith, St. Peter the Aleut. In these two days, we look at labour and its fruit. St. Herman was the labourer and St. Peter the fruit of the labour. How can we Orthodox faithful in America not rejoice today? No matter what our own backgrounds, how can we not express admiration and ask for the blessing of St. Herman? As the Enlightener of the Aleuts, Herman worked to save souls and to bring Christ to the Native peoples of Russian Alaska. The light by which he enlightened is brighter today because of the seeds St. Herman planted. Orthodoxy is no longer a strange faith from a foreign land, but part of the fabric of life on this continent. As we see in the news, a raging blizzard is blowing across the Midwest. We hear of travel delays, snow and ice paralysing the country, but think how it was in the early nineteenth century in the small hut of St. Herman. He had the warmth of God’s Holy Spirit and the brightness within his heart to warm his hut. He has become an adornment in the northern sky. Even though the Aurora Borealis is a natural occurrence; perhaps, it is God’s way of focusing our spiritual eyes on the great northern lights of Orthodoxy.
The Lights of the North