Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Ethnicity and Evangelism

While I appreciate why one would say that Orthodox parishes are too bound up with ethnicity, I do not think ethnicity as such is really the problem in most of our parishes. Here in Pittsburgh we have over 100 Orthodox parishes. Almost all of these communities were built by ethnic Greeks, Russians, Serbians, Ukrainians, and Carpatho-Russian who went out an worked hard to involve people in the Church. That they focused on members of their own ethnicity is not necessarily good or bad--it is simply a fact. I'm more comfortable and effective with the unchurched so that's where I put my energy--that's the group God has called me to care for.

Likewise, Greeks (to take one example) cared for other Greeks and, in so doing, fulfilled the commandments of Christ.

Where we have gone wrong is not so much that we are Greek (or Russian, or Serbian, or Ukrainian, or Carpatho-Russian) as we use being Greek (or Russian, or Serbian, or Ukrainian, or Carpatho-Russian) as an excuse to not continue the very work our ancestors in the faith excelled at. Sadly, we'd rather work at being Greek (or Russian, or Serbian, or Ukrainian, or Carpatho-Russian or being American) then being Christian. In a word, we have gotten comfortable with who we are and lost that fire to build new parishes and reconcile people to Christ and His Church.

We have become so concerned with being comfortable (which is really the problem not whether we are Greek or Russian, or Serbian, or Ukrainian, or Carpatho-Russian or American) that have forgotten that we are a Pilgrim People who have in this world no lasting home. Historically, today's ethnic parishes were yesterday's evangelical powerhouses who used what they had to advance the Gospel. Our problem is not that we are Greek (or, well, you get the idea), but that we are cheap. We have lost the sacrificial spirit and commitment to hard work that the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ requires.

And this is not a problem of ethnicity, but of a poverty of catechesis and spiritual formation (especially of the laity). If today the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of American committed herself to reconcile even a percentage of those who have drifted away from the Church, we could build 2 or 3 parishes for every one we have know. But for this to happen the laity must know Christ and His Gospel--and this is a question of proper catechesis and intentional spiritual formation for the laity.

God has poured out on all of us great gifts and abilities. What is lacking is not divine grace, but human freedom. People must be taught use their gifts--intellectual, social, cultural and spiritual--for the sake of Christ and His Church.

Again, the problem is not ethnicity as such. Rather is our inability, and sometimes our unwillingness, to put all the gifts we have at the service of the Gospel. From my Greek (and Russian, andSerbian, and Ukrainian, and Carpatho-Russian) friends, I have learned a great deal about how to embody the Gospel in the context of my everyday life: icon corners and fasting, feast day customs and funeral meals, and above all in joy. Are my ethnic Orthodox Christian friends perfect? No far from it in fact--but the same can be said of me.

So what can we do?

"Let us love one another" and the many gifts Christ has given each of us. Then, let us support and encourage one another to use the gifts we've been given generously at the service of the Gospel. When I've seen this done in parish, the community grows. Where this is not done, the community dies, sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly, but die it does.

So, let us live by blessing God for the gifts He has given each of us.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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