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!!
Let Christ be born in our hearts!
Question: Are we the Church of Christ or the church or Baklava and Kibbeh? This is a serious question. The reality is what started as a way to share our culture and to expose our ethnic heritage to the American public has now become something else. It was a really good purpose, but somewhere along the way we got hooked. What do I mean? The festivals that our Churches sponsor each year have become an income stream for many parishes. They have become a necessity and not icing on the cake. How many parishes dedicate 100% of the receipts to charity, civic endeavours or philanthropy? Just like a narcotic our parishes have learned to depend upon these yearly events, while allowing us, the parishioners, to avoid our personal responsibility to our parish. Stewardship should be the support for our Churches, yet as we rely on outsiders to fund our Churches: we deny our own duty and let the guests support of our parishes.
If we provide according to our means and responsibility then our festivals should be bonuses. There is a deeper question. Are we mature in our faith? Are able to look at our Parish as ours and as given to us by Christ to care for and support. If are faith is centred on Christ, then the parish is Christ and never a burden. The problem is our attitude towards Christ. Are we committed to His Church and to Incarnate Him in the world? During this Nativity season are we prepared to care for Christ out of love or are we content to let others meet our obligations?
Holy Theotokos Protect Our Church
Question: Is ours a Church or a Social Club? This should be one of the first questions we ask. What is our parish and why does it exist? To comprehensively seek the answers these questions, I think we need to look into our background. I will centre the discussion on the Greek communities; only because I know them best. But, I truly believe that my remarks hold true for Arab, Russian, Ukrainian, Serbian(or fill in your own ethnic group) Orthodox Churches. When we look into the past, all our Churches were social clubs in the past. Why? Our churches were made up of immigrants who transplanted their faith from the Mother countries. God bless them for their sacrifices and may their memories be eternal! These were the pioneers, clergy and laity who formed and planted our parishes. They needed each other and for the most part stuck together. That is excluding the political schisms, which often reflected old country politics. Truly, they needed the Church to be their social glue. They banded together with the communities as the focal point of their social life. Early in our American experience very few could join country clubs or other civic endeavors, most worked long hours and spoke little English and always with accents. Because of these factors and many more, the Churches were the social outlets. The families spent the majority of their time at Church sponsored activities or events. That was then.
Today, we are in our fourth or fifth generation in this country; our social, educational and financial integration in the fabric of American life is complete. The Church is no longer our only social outlet. Our relationship to the Church has changed, but have our attitudes changed. What is the role of the Church in our lives? There is no doubt that as a Christian community we need fellowship! The question is: “Do we seek to have the Church fulfill deep spiritual needs or do we still consider it a social club where we go to get our ethnic fix? This is the first and most basic question, we must ask ourselves. Church or social club? Which is it? At this time of year as we prepare for the Nativity of Our Lord and as our families gather to celebrate this joyous festival perhaps we can begin to ask each other serious questions about where we want to take our Church. After all, we are the Church!