Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Friendship and The Church's Witness, part 3

A 6th century mosaic of :en:Jesus at Church Sa...Image via Wikipedia

Unfortunately the reciprocity that I mentioned yesterday is often been lacking in our witness. At times its absence has been embodied in our preference for a merely, or at least largely, ethnic parishes that is self-consciously closed to any who would are not Greek or Russian or at least are unwilling to be Hellenized or Russified.

More troubling to me however is a more recent phenomenon.

Largely as a result of an influx of converts to the Orthodox Church, we have seen clergy and parishes that are markedly sectarian and anti-intellectual. In this second case, for all that the community might be a buzz of liturgical activity (in English of course!) and adult education classes and sermons that quote (often out of context) the Father, we see people working zealously to exclude (and condemn) anything “Western.”

In both cases the kenotic character of out witness is sacrificed in order that we might preserve our “special” quality of being Greek or Russian or somehow above or outside the cultural currents and debates that afflict our Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical and non-Christian fellow citizens. At the risk of offending, no matter how we are told by Old World hierarchs or monastic elders that it is so, no matter how many quotes we marshal from patristic or monastic authors “Turn on, tune out and drop in,” is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ and Him crucified and risen from the dead.

His Beatitude's words about the episcopal ministry are, I think, applicable as well to Christians and even the American people as a whole. He says,
No bishop of the Orthodox Church works alone; each is sustained and aided by a structure, developed over centuries, and implemented in any given place in accordance with the realities of the life which God gives us. This structure has to be capable of existing in a very wide range of different circumstances, as evidenced by the history of the Church. There have been times of plenty and times of famine, times during which political systems have been friendly and supportive, and others when they have been downright hostile and injurious to everything for which the Light of the Gospel eternally shines. As these changes have occurred, the Church has found the need to make laws and rulings, to protect the integrity of the life of Church under all circumstances. These rulings, or Canons, are a treasure-house of experience, which enlivens and enlightens each new situation which the Church, in Her life, faces in every age.

Likewise, and within our own areas of concern, as Orthodox Christians and American citizens, we are all of us sustained social structures both ecclesiastical and cultural, and by personal, economic and political relationships, that have developed over centuries. We are none of us is alone not matter what the reigning ideology of radical individualism might say or what, because of our own emotional and spiritual wounds we might believe about ourselves. In one sense at least, we are all of us cultural and ecclesiastical free riders, and thank God for it since who among us could recreate centuries of human creativity?

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory
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