Thursday, September 13, 2007

What’s in a name?

This Article was met by some resistance when originally published. Some thought that I was advocating the abandonment of all Greek in our parish -- but such was not the case. Our concern must be for the one, holy, orthodox, catholic faith and the spread of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus. We can honor heritage, but not allow that hertiage to get in the way. Those coming home to Orthodoxy surely must respect the long history of those who brought this Holy Faith to the United States -- and those of the varying Ethnic Backgrounds must Remember that we are Orthodox and Greek or Serbian or Russian. To become Orthodox does not mean becoming Greek or Russian!

One of my fondest memories of our coming to Orthodoxy happened just after our Chrismation. As we came into the fellowship hall for the Evening in Athens that was in progress, Angelo approached, and with a twinkle in his eye said, “Now, you Greek!” Those of you who have seen “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” will remember that same line after Ian Miller is baptized. Good fun!

I suspect from reports that I have heard, that the same could be stated in any one of a number of Orthodox jurisdictions. “Now, you Russian!” “Now, you Serbian” The list could go on. (This isn’t only an Orthodox thing, either: Lutherans of yesteryear and some of today would say, “Now, you German!” In the first third of the twentieth century, many German Lutheran congregations switched to English because of the anti-German sentiment).

On the one hand, there is not a thing wrong with such light-hearted statements.

But the “dark side” lies in the fact that some, albeit well-intentioned pretty much mean it. That is to say, they will speak of the Greek (or Russian, or Serbian, or …. ) Church and mean just that. Not the Greek ORTHODOX Church, but the GREEK Orthodox Church. That becomes a dangerous thing. It implies, whether it is intended or not, that Christ’s Church is a national thing and that there are many, rather than one, Church.

I am told that if you are in Greece (or Russia, or Serbia or … ) that it is the Orthodox Church that is referenced, or “the Church.” However, when our forefathers came to this country, which has no “state church,” they quite naturally spoke of their Church by their nationality. And it was true that Greeks who came to this country did speak Greek, and Russians Russian, and Serbians Serbian and Romanians, Romanian (and so on), because at that time it was their native tongue.

However, it was the same Divine Liturgy. It was the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. It was Christ’s Church. And that joined all across the nationalistic and ethnic backgrounds. The hierarchs could gather and speak with one voice, although in different languages.

That was then. But we don’t live “then,” but now! And we all rejoice in the faith of Holy Mother Church, we rejoice that we are joined in Christ! And we truly do say to all around, “come and see!”

And we can rejoice that our liturgy is a living liturgy, but that it is the liturgy of the Holy Church and that it doesn’t change willy-nilly with every fad and fancy, as it is a guardian of the truth served by faithful priests and bishops!

However, we are now American. And our language is English. And we want those who join us to see and hear and understand the faith handed down. We do not want to make comments that would suggest that because a person doesn’t share our ethnic background that they are “second class.”

At the same time, we certainly don’t want to lose the timeless beauty of the Greek in the Divine Liturgy (and, of course, those of other backgrounds might say the same).

Our Liturgy, our Church is so rich and full that it takes time to experience it all. Our worship is multi-dimensional, “3-D” or even “4-D” compared to then one dimensional and two dimensional “worship” services of so many others that call themselves church. It takes time to assimilate it, and we certainly don’t want language to be a barrier, nor do we want our own attidudes to become a barrier to the Faith given in Christ!

So, Ezekiel, what are you saying?

First, we can treasure our ethnic backgrounds, but we must guard against allowing those backgrounds to destroy the unity we have in Christ. We dare not suggest that people need “become Greek” or “become Russian” (and the list goes on) to be Orthodox. Treasure the heritage and pass it one, but don’t equate ethnic background with the Church.

I think that we also need do what we can to make our Divine Liturgy accessible to all. That doesn’t mean changing it, but it does mean being aware that many who come are not versed in Greek. It is true that over time one can learn the Greek of the Liturgy, to be sure – but we want all to know what they are saying the “Amen” to! I would be willing to work with Father and with Vassilli to assure that the hymnody of each Sunday and feast is accessible to all. As I look about at Divine Liturgy, I see many who aren’t really aware of the marvelous apolotykia, troparia, and kontakia that are being sung. With words, all could follow and even join in the song of the Church!

Above all, we need to assure that people see the marvel of the Church united in one Eucharistic fellowship over every nation and ethnic background. We want all to see that we are indeed Orthodox, in order that they may see the Church in our country, not merely as a transplant or ethnic oddity. That doesn’t mean that we lose the rich heritage that has been handed down from our ethnic backgrounds – but it does mean that we never let that cloud the fact that we are joined in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, in Christ, in whom there is no Jew nor Greek.

We have received the True Light! And we have received the Heavenly Spirit! Now, we deny our selves, take up our cross and follow Jesus. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”

We are Orthodox. We are Christian.

With all humility and love in Christ


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