Recently, I've thought a lot about the verbiage we use to talk about the faithful in the Orthodox Church. For those raised in the church their whole lives, who have come from generations of Orthodox Christians, we call them "Cradle Orthodox."
For those who have discovered Orthodoxy later in life, who many times come from other Christian confessions and many times have a strong formation in other Christian groups, we call them "Convert Orthodox."
This is a handy way to talk about the cultural challenges that face each group. On one hand a "Cradle Orthodox" might be terrified by an influx of people into his parish from a different ethnic background precisely because he fears loosing something precious in his background. This "Cradle Orthodox" comes from centuries of formation and many times his religious understanding of the Orthodox faith is inextricably tied up with his cultural formation. For many "Cradle Orthodox" to be Greek or Russian or Romanian or Serbian IS to be Orthodox.
A "Convert Orthodox" however, would look at this in bewilderment. He has been shaped by a religious experience that says his faith is not so much tied to an accident of birth as to a free and conscious choice to follow a faith. He is amazed that a "Cradle Orthodox" knows so little about the faith he was born into. Many times this "Convert Orthodox" has paid a high social price (sometimes, in the case of former pastors who convert to Orthodoxy, they have also lost jobs and retirement benefits) to embrace what they have discovered as the "faith once for all delivered to the saints."
The "Cradle" sees his self identity wrapped up in this ethnic identity which includes a religious affiliation.
The "Convert" has little if any ethnic identity at all, and certainly doesn't see his self identity shaped by any ethnic ties. If there are any ethnic ties, they will be subordinate to his religious fervor and commitment to his church.
This necessarily sets up an interesting clash of civilizations within the Orthodox Church here in America.
This is a country where a melting pot of ethnic backgrounds are all thrown together. For 200+ years we have experimented with building a nation where a person is identified as an American but may come from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. The national motto of the country is the Latin "E Plurabus Unum"- Out of the Many, One.
Having set this up, I want my next post to deal with what I hope to be an ongoing conversation about the very nature of Orthodox identity, an identity that goes beyond any ethnic heritage, while not dismissing the beauty and value of a heritage where Orthodoxy shaped an entire nation.
But, as my grandma says, God ain't got no grandchildren!
The Mass is Not Ours but For Us
2 days ago