Tuesday, May 23, 2006


This from a newslist today:

I saw this movie on Al's recommendation. What impressed me most about it was that the filmmakers managed to provide insights into the feelings and actions of both sides. Aside from the violence, which was unavoidable, the only thing that I found truly offensive about it was the continual use of the word "God" in translations from Arabic into English.

But the film got me thinking about other things, especially after a conversation with two friends who were received into the Church eight years ago, and who have now decided that they just can't take it any more. Their reasons: 1) "ethnic" orthodoxy; 2) contempt for converts; 3) ecclesiology; and 4) theological revisionism.

As I was talking to my friends, I found myself thinking about the film, and about the "differences" that set people against each other. The fanatics in "United 93" belonged to a religion which I do not find appealing, but even it may have its virtues. It seems to be, for example, almost completely "colour-blind".

Even its emphasis on the Arabic language seems to have the effect of dampening the kind of destructive ethnic pride that is our besetting sin. It appears that muslims will accept without hesitation just about anyone who shares their faith. I have never encountered a muslim who thinks that some people are, in a word, sub-human. Sadly, I cannot say this about putative Orthodox Christians, and it is, in part, encounters with some of these types while travelling in Europe, that have made my
friends give up on Orthodoxy.

Then there is ecclesiology. How many cities can each of us name that have in them half a dozen "Orthodox" Bishops? And things get really exciting if we count the "non-canonical" Orthodox, the newly-rehabilitated monophysites, etc., etc. We are a scandalous visible contradiction of our own ecclesiology.

Theological revisionism? Well, you all know what I mean - for example, several regular posters here have unburdened themselves at length about the new-age theology that seems to percolate ever more fragrantly at SVOTS. Even the Ecumenical Councils can now be whitewashed into revisionist irrelevance, if this might help to serve the cause of superficial ecumenism. Am I the only one who has noticed that we even
have one lurker here who waits for opportunities to take shots, however oblique, at the Council of Chalcedon? And who can blame him? We might as well have issued printed invitations.

I have now lumbered on for six paragraphs without even mentioning scandals, the sad business in the OCA being only the most recent. These usually are even more "scandalous" than they need to be because of the inept and amoral ways in which they are dealt with.

So why do I remain Orthodox? I have a certain affection for my ethnic background, but this is entirely incidental to my commitment to the faith (except when someone attacks my ethnicity from a belief that I am not fully human) and not enough to keep me in the Church.

My friends will probably end up in the great Roman family. Despite its faults, it is also, at least, pledged to the full dignity and equality of all human beings. I am beginning to see its appeal..........

So, the question is how can converts survive long term in an ethnocentric parish?

Your thoughts


Anonymous said...

faith... it is all that will keep us coming back and even then we will fail. One second thought, faith and repentenace is all that can keep converts in a church that only feels like "home" sometimes.


Anonymous said...

As one journeying towards Orthodoxy, I have to say that this is something I have written off. I have not read the book, but a lot of people get upset at Franky Schaeffer in his Dancing Alone book because he talks about this issue and the need for change. Why is that? Many Orthodox seem to question whether it is a valid issue.

Having just visited a Greek festival, this is fresh on my mind. I was thinking that the Greek festival does not necessarily have anything to do with Orthodoxy, so why is it being held in a church? It can be quite disturbing seeing people walking around drunk at church.

In some ways, I always feel like it is an evangelical opportunity that is often wasted. There are people on one hand who are looking at the church and saying "Oh, how cute, like that movie, 'The Big Fat Greek Wedding.'" and on the other hand saying, "These people must be weird. Look at their stuff. What do they believe?" It frustrates me to no end when I see people stroll in and out of the churches, asking questions, wanting answers, and there is no one to talk to them personally about it.

I don't mean that we should disregard the beauty, history, and culture that is being passed on by each (t)radition. I also know that there is a lot of misinformation out there as well. The parishioners don't know or aren't equipped to tell people about their faith and how it reaches beyond their grandparent's national borders and culture. They have to believe it themselves first!

On the subject of Orthodoxy in America: I think a lot of people have a hard time imagining an "American Orthodox" church because they say a.) American has no substance to its culture/history that Orthodoxy can build on b.) American culture is so "secular" (even its Christianity) that it would be preposterous to embrace its culture as a medium for Orthodox custom.

Converts can survive the long-term ethnocentricity? I don't know that I have an answer yet that won't sound cliche. Long-suffering couldn't hurt.

I hate to be a cynic with no better plan. Joe R.

Barnabas said...


No reason to apologize. It's easy to get cynical about this, especially in a culture where we're use to getting our way.

My discovery in all of this is that this challenge invites ME to look at my own heart and ask some hard questions.

Is my personal comfort more valuable that the Truth of Orthodoxy? Is my heart large enough to be patient with people who are actually ignorant of the treasure they were born with?

These answers invite me to confront my own spiritual poverty and be healed.

At the same time, I refuse to back down or be quiet or patient about this when it comes to keeping others from having access to the Orthodox faith. As uncomfortable as it may be for those who are ethnically tied to the faith to hear, we are called to offer this faith to everyone and anyone. When that is threatened by more of a commitment to recipes and dance steps and costums, then these folks better get ready for a sermon!

Barnabas said...


Faith and Repentance, huh? Sounds like you've been listening to your old man again.

When are you going to learn that this guy is just an ignorant old wind bag!

Better to listen to your son, than that goofy know-it-all!