St. Andrew House

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Various Articles Concerning Orthodox Unity

 Click here to download A Process for Orthodox Administrative Unity in North America by Dcn John Zarras


Click here for a copy of the "Report to His Eminence Archbishop Iakovos Concerning the Future Theological Agenda of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese" submitted to the 30th Biennial Clergy Laity Congress, July 1990, Washington DC 

 
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A House Blend

 By Father Jon E. Braun

When it comes to good coffee, caffeine lovers may be familiar with the “House Blend”—each restaurant’s or coffee roaster’s recipe for brewing the “perfect cup” that appeals to the greatest number of people. Not some exotic specialty roast like Mocha Java, Sumatra, or Jamaican, the house blend is designed to be a happy meeting ground, something that will accommodate the widest variety of tastes and appetites.

Mind you, not everyone who loves coffee likes the house blend. That’s all right; it is not necessary, or even desirable, that they should. But on the other hand, there is surely nothing wrong with the way it tastes, and for those who understand why and how the house blend is best used, it makes very good sense.

In terms of the Orthodox Church and its establishment here in North America, I believe there is a growing need for what might be called the “Orthodox House Blend.” I am talking about a “house blend” in churches, if you will—a mixture that accommodates the many and varied backgrounds of people coming into Orthodox parishes.

It happens to be my good fortune to be the pastor of a start-from-scratch “house blend” parish, and it’s quite an experience. After a year and a half, we’re a brew of almost everything! For openers, a little more than half our people are converts to the Orthodox Faith. But even the portion of our people who have an Orthodox background is mixed. A slender majority have been active in the Orthodox Church all their lives. Still others left the Orthodox Church and went to Protestant churches for a period of time, but they’ve come back. And there are those who left the Orthodox Church, for various reasons and at various ages, and went nowhere at all for many years. Now they’ve come back to the Church because they really like the “house blend.” They feel at home because of the blend of people.

As I see it, Orthodox parishes in North America today come in three basic models, or blends.

First, for most of the two hundred years since Orthodoxy came to America, the great majority of Orthodox churches have had a defined ethnic identity. They looked back to a mother church and a mother country. So we find Greek Ortho­dox churches, Romanian Orthodox churches, Russian Orthodox churches, Syrian Orthodox churches, and so on. True, there are often a few people from other backgrounds in these churches, but for the most part they are spouses of ethnic members—with a few occasional converts sprinkled in. Ethnic churches aren’t the house blend. They are an important special blend.

Secondly, in recent years there have emerged parishes that are comprised almost entirely of converts to the Orthodox Faith. These parishes aren’t house blend either. They are another important specialty. They aren’t for everyone, but they do have an extremely significant role in the full scope of Orthodox life in North America.

But now, thirdly, there are a growing number of Orthodox parishes emerging on North American soil which began as ethnic parishes, or at least sprouted from an ethnic base, but which have quite intentionally sought to add significant percentages of converts to the makeup of the parish. The number of this blend of parishes is growing rapidly. This last model is what I would call the “house blend.” Conceivably some in ethnic or convert parishes may feel these don’t “taste” very good. “Too strong or too weak,” some may say. And we who are in these house blend parishes don’t mind their feeling that way, but we ourselves really do like the taste.

GETTING DOWN TO TERMS

This blend illustration may be better understood if we get down to cases with three terms: ethnic, cradle, and convert.

Ethnic churches are simply a common strand of the fabric of the American experi­ence. And they are by no means unique to Orthodoxy. The Episcopal Church, for example, was and is an ethnic church; its ethnicity just happens to be English.

But the ethnic experience goes far beyond the Episcopalians. There are Irish Catholics, Italian Catholics, and Polish Catholics. And among the Protestants, there are German Lutherans, Swedish Lutherans, and Danish Lutherans, to name a few. And there are Scottish Presby­terians. My dad grew up in a Low Ger­man-speaking Mennonite church. My wife grew up in a Swedish Mission Covenant Church. And I have only begun to name the churches that were or still are, in some measure, ethnic.

One memorable “ethnic experience” I treasure goes back to my basketball-playing days for the San Jose Covenant Church, a church Swedish in background. I was the center, so the team roster read like this: Peterson, Pederson, Braun, Swanson, Johnson. I’d say that suggested an ethnic back­ground!

It seems to me North Americans don’t look disparagingly at churches with a Western European ethnic background. But woe to those from Eastern Europe or the Middle East! They’re foreigners. They are judged so severely for what goes com­pletely unnoticed elsewhere.

Ethnic churches are not de facto bad churches, and their ethnicity should never be a criterion for judging them. Frankly, I’m tired of people casting the term “ethnic” about with respect to Orthodox churches, as if “ethnic” were some nasty, but easily curable (all you have to do is become like us) disease. There are even ugly aspersions flung about with respect to whether “ethnics” are truly Christians. That is nothing more than American fundamentalist nonsense—as if you’ve got to speak English and be at least a fourth-generation Heinz 57 variety to be a genuine Christian in America. (American fundamentalism itself is a branch of American ethnic religion!)

Of course many problems must be addressed in ethnic churches as they take root in a new homeland. That takes time. And if they are trying to use the Kingdom of God to preserve and perpetuate an ethnic heritage, that is totally inappropri­ate. The Kingdom of God has its own ethnic identity, namely heaven! But just because a church’s services are in Arabic or Greek or Slavonic doesn’t mean they are perpetuating a heritage at the expense of the Faith. And for goodness’ sake, are there not literally thousands of American “ethnic” churches that are confessedly committed to preserving and perpetuat­ing the “American way of life” and/or “the American dream”?

“Cradle” is the second term we need to work with. Of course there are cradle Orthodox. Strange, isn’t it? I’ve never heard the word “cradle” used of anyone but Orthodox, and so often it is used as if it were a malady.

Really, all we mean by “cradle Orthodox” is people who have been Orthodox since they were in the cradle. And what’s wrong with that? Aren’t there cradle Baptists? Cradle Pentecostals? Cradle evangelicals? Cradle charismatics? Even those of us who are converts to Orthodoxy are often prone to use the expression “cradle Orthodox” to mean, “not as committed as we are.” Frankly, that attitude reveals a sinister pride which should have no place among a people whose daily prayer is. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

In fact, it may be quite a compliment for people to be called “cradle Orthodox,” At least it testifies to the fact that they’ve stuck to the Faith of their Fathers—quite a feat these days, when people change (or drop) their faith, their denominations, and their religions, with the ease and aplomb with which they switch automobiles.

Still, in all fairness, it must be admitted there are cradle Orthodox who have virtually no clue about their faith, They’ve just bumped along over the years going along with the program, as it were, but never making a true commitment to Christ or the Church. Perhaps the tie was ethnic heritage. Perhaps it was family. Maybe it was just a felt need for church. Whatever it was, it was never enough to press them into digging into the heart of their Faith.

This problem is not unique to Orthodox Christians. All churches, should they survive twenty years, are going to encounter that troublesome predicament. That doesn’t excuse lack of commitment, but it does make it understandable.

Finally, we need to look at the word “convert.” Being a convert myself. I must say I had a hard time with the word. After all, I was a Christian before! But I’ve come to deal with the reality that becoming Orthodox is a type of conversion. For some of us, it was quite a radical departure from where we once found ourselves to enter into a Church that is historic, liturgical, and sacramental.

And sometimes the cradle Orthodox don’t realize how difficult this conversion can be. Some cannot grasp the inner wrenching we went through to make the change. There are even some who are at a loss to understand why we find Orthodoxy such a treasure. Indeed, converts are sometimes looked down on as ignorant newcomers to be held in suspicion.

Where an atmosphere of suspicion and belittling tends to peak is in those environments where cradle and convert are effectively separated from one another. And, conversely, those issues fade when they are together. At my parish, the proportion is 55% convert and 45% cradle. (I’m probably the only one in the parish aware of those figures.) But we don’t think of each other as cradle or convert. We think of each other as brothers and sisters in Christ: we see each other as Orthodox Christians, and members of the same Body. I must admit that when I’m outside my own parish and meet some cradle Orthodox, I occasionally still feel the suspicion so strongly, I’m sure they feel the same coming from me. But in my “house blend” parish, we don’t have that problem.

Further, without for a moment suggesting that the all-cradle or all-convert parishes aren’t good models, we would insist that our model, the “house blend,” is a wonderful model. It has some distinct advantages, and in the long haul it will appeal to the greatest number of people— not because it’s inherently the best, but because of people’s tastes. Take a look at just four appealing attributes of the house blend.

ADVANTAGES OF THE HOUSE BLEND

1) Balanced Christian Living.

Balance is a quality that is often hard to come by in Christian living. In the house blend church, every cradle believer and every convert has some degree of influence on the whole—perhaps far more than when everyone has the same background. Cradle Orthodox are challenged by the zeal of the converts, but the converts are balanced by the experience and history of the cradles.

I see this dramatically experienced during the Lenten fast. The cradles have been involved in the fast from their youth. Some have kept it well; some hardly at all. But they have an experience of it, and they know what it should be. It’s in their memory banks (and their cookbooks!). We converts, on the other hand, tend to start the long-distance race of Lent sprinting. That’s not the way to finish such a grueling race! I see the interacting balance working, and all are encouraged. More run the race to the end.

But balance is a two-way Street, and cradle Orthodox are balanced by converts too. Most people, for example, who grow up in an Orthodox church simply never think of sharing their faith with anyone else—even of inviting someone to attend their church with them. Most converts, however, are very comfortable with that and have done so much of their lives. With a mixture of cradle and converts, all are encouraged.

2) Modeling.

There is great value in “doing things as second nature,” as it were. Think of how much all of us have learned from our parents, our churches and our schools—ways we speak, things we do, how we drive our cars or decorate our Christmas trees, and how we meet and greet one another. In the “blend” church, so much is learned by converts, who quickly come to imitate those who grew up in the Faith.

Take the matter of “church etiquette” —things like how we enter the church, how we relate to icons and respond in the Liturgy, how we bake the Holy Bread, how we talk to a priest or greet a bishop—just to name a few items. As converts come to do these things the way they are modeled for them by the cradles, the latter often come to a new appreciation of why they themselves do these things. A reciprocity occurs here, and it’s healthy—to say nothing of saving time (and sometimes a good deal of embarrassment!).

3) Contagious Commitment.

Converts, just by their presence, tend to challenge all the people of a parish or mission to greater commitment to Christ and His Church. The fact of being a convert often implies a strong commitment to Christ. All, cradle or convert, who are committed to Christ, are a challenge to others to “commend ourselves and each other and all our life unto Christ our God.”

But there’s also the “little” matters commitment that are affected in the blend. Getting to church on time, tithing (or least very significant giving), participation in the services, attendance at Vesper Matins, feast days—all are affected. A leavening occurs in the whole lump. Some cradle Orthodox may have developed some careless habits in these matters. The blend encourages all,

4.) Integration.

One final advantage of the blend model which is not to be overlooked is the ease with which we converts can be melded into the whole of the Orthodox Church—in our deaneries, our regions, our archdioceses, and the Orthodox world at large. The integration into all of these becomes normal and natural rather than traumatic.

The “suspicion factor” of converts is greatly reduced. The shock of the “ethnicity factor” is also diminished. Those gulfs have already been crossed, or at least addressed. And the “who-taught-the-converts factor” doesn’t even get consideration. The mix in the parish carries over into the larger Church to such an extent that acceptance of both cradle and convert is much more easily accomplished by all. Genuine Christian tolerance of one another and our respective backgrounds finds good soil for growth, because the cultivation has already begun.

These are not the only advantages, but they stand out as examples of how the house blend model can appeal to the many. Of course it is not the only model. It would be inaccurate and inappropriate even to say it is the best. No model is the best. All have their place, and all are needed. But the house blend must not be overlooked, and we will see more and more of these parishes as the distance in time and culture from homelands grows, converts increase in numbers, and Orthodox life grows stronger on this continent.

The Very Rev. Jon Braun is pastor of Saint Anthony Orthodox Church in San Diego. California.

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Catholicity and “House Blend”

By Al Fragola

I read Father Jon Braun’s article “House Blend” with great interest. Fr Jon has made a most valuable point, but it is nothing new to Orthodox Christianity. Indeed, Orthodox Christians have professed a belief in what he wrote for nearly 1700 years – every time we say “I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” Our Church is catholic, and has been since the time of the apostles.

Catholicity, as applied to the church, means the quality of being universal, complete, and all-embracing. In Matt 28:19, Christ told the disciples to “teach all nations”, not just specific ones. In Col 3:11, Paul writes, “Here there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free man, but Christ is all, and in all.” Catholicity breaks down the barriers between worldly divisions without extinguishing human differences. In the writings of the Church Fathers, we can find them contrasting the whole church, as catholic, with the local or particular churches, which participate in the catholicity of the whole. In other words, the Church is universal (non-ethnic), while selected peoples may be ethnic. There is no conflict here unless we choose to create one.

Due to my military career, I have had the opportunity to live in many places, and thereby have been in a variety of parishes. Most of these parishes sprung from ethnic roots, but not all. My wife and I have also spent a considerable amount of time in “Orthodox” Europe, and studied at the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies in Cambridge. It was our experiences in Europe and the Middle East that led us to fully understand the catholicity of the Orthodox Church as it applies to “ethnicity”.

Throughout the Orthodox Churches, our faith is one, we are all exhorted to lead a Christian life and our worship is basically the same. The ethnic customs of the people, however, vary from country to country. Orthodox Christianity transforms and embraces ethnic cultures, but it does not impose a monolithic ethnicity. Thus, in Greece, the Greeks do what is natural for them – that is, they eat, dress and behave as Greeks. Similarly, the Russians, Lebanese, Bulgarians, Syrians, Romanians and others do what is natural for their cultures. When Russia was converted to Orthodox Christianity in 989, they were not expected to become ethnic Greeks, but Orthodox Christian Russians. And that is what they became. In the words of the old Dinah Shore song, they were “Doin’ what comes naturally”.

At Cambridge, we had students and lecturers from a great variety of countries. We compared the various customs involved in Church life in our home lands and marveled and celebrated the wealth of differences. We all came to see that Orthodox Christian customs are a magnificent rainbow of different practices, based on the natural expression of our various ethnic backgrounds. Yet, we all shared the same faith, believed the same Christian truths and strove to lead Christian lives. What a perfect example of the catholicity of our Church! There was no one “correct meal” to serve at Pascha, but a wonderful variety of practices. No “right” or “wrong”, but a vast assortment of “customary”. Yet, my wife and I really had few American customs to describe to our classmates. Sadly, too many parishes in the U.S. discourage departures from the customs brought over from the “traditional” ethnic Orthodox lands, even though they may have nothing to do with our faith, life and worship. Thus, an American Orthodox expression has been slow to emerge. Perhaps this is due to America’s culture being so heterogeneous, the result of the merging and blending of so many immigrant cultures. Yet, there are many foods, celebrations and cultural expressions that are uniquely American, and even more “foreign” expressions that have been wholeheartedly adopted as part of American life. From a culinary standpoint, barbecued ribs are an example of the former, and pizza of the latter. There is great enthusiasm in “ethnic” parishes to celebrate the Independence Day of ancestral countries, yet reluctance, at best, to celebrate July 4th in the same manner. Most of these American cultural expressions are not in contradiction to Orthodox Christianity, yet many think it inappropriate to observe them within the framework of Church life.

As we witness our faith to America, we must bear in mind that our Church is catholic. We must allow “customary” or “normal” American ethnic practices to be part of parish life. My friend, John Sweeney, is not Greek, Russian or Arab. He is an Anglo-Saxon American. He can easily become Orthodox in his faith, life and worship, but he can only fake being an ethnic Orthodox of the “traditional” type. If we expect John Sweeney to be a “faux” Russian, Greek or Arab, then we are promoting falsehood in the life of the Church. I have seen parishes in America that expect their members to eat, dress and live like 19th Century Eastern European peasants, because they think that such behavior makes them Orthodox. What is astonishing is that none of the members of these parishes are of Eastern European descent! They are simply mimicking what they have been taught to think is “correct” Orthodox behavior - behavior that has absolutely nothing to do with the Orthodox Christian faith, life and worship. When these parishes find that they do not attract or retain inquirers, they are surprised. They do not realize that people are willing to “convert” to Orthodox Christianity, but they are a bit befuddled that part of being an Orthodox Christian is playacting something that by ancestry one can never be. Surely, it must be confusing to be told that acting out a falsehood is part of being Christian!

It is imperative that we understand that the Church is not “ethnic”, only its people are. All of us receive the heritage of our ancestors, but when we speak in terms of our Church, Her “native land” is the Kingdom of Heaven, not some earthly geopolitical realm. It is in and through the catholicity of the Church that our earthly, ethnic customs are transformed and become part of the life of the people in a parish as they live their Christian lives “naturally.”

Catholicity means that we, as Orthodox Christians, must accept and encourage a variety of natural ethnic expressions with joy and love, to include American customs. There is a story about a parishioner of British ancestry who brought a baron of beef to the parish Paschal banquet. He was berated by several “cradle ethnic Orthodox” for bringing the “wrong food”! The parishioner said, “This is what I would serve to my honored guests at a wedding feast for my daughter, not kielbasa and beet salad! Does not the Paschal banquet also deserve what one would serve at a wedding banquet?” He was simply doing what came naturally to him. In contrast, at a parish composed almost exclusively of recent converts, I saw one young parishioner who had a sausage and pepperoni pizza in his Paschal basket. Everyone thought that it was a wonderful choice for him. Not only had he done without this, his favorite food, for many weeks, but, since it contained meat, cheese and olive oil, it was a perfect dish for ending the fast. What a truly natural expression.

How many times each year do we say the Nicene Creed? How frequently do we profess, “I believe in one holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” Our Church is one true Church. All Orthodox Christians are bound together in the true faith, regardless of location, language, jurisdiction or nationality. Our Church is holy. It is full of the grace of God, for Christ is in our midst. Our Church is apostolic. It is the Church founded by the Apostles, and is an uninterrupted continuation of that community of believers from apostolic times. And our Church is catholic. It is universal, complete, and all-embracing. While we regularly hear ourselves talk about the Church’s oneness, holiness and apostolic origins, how often do we really address the Church’s catholicity? Were we to truly fulfill our professed belief in this catholicity, Fr. Jon’s article and this one would never have needed to be written! After all, the Church Fathers expressed it so clearly in the fourth century.

It is imperative that all Orthodox Christians in this country put this stated belief of catholicity into practice and encourage a truly American Church to evolve - an American Church that embraces the variety of cultures on our soil, rather than approving only certain ones. Thanks to the leadership of Metropolitan Philip, our Archdiocese is blazing the way in this regard. Many of our parishes are, as the management gurus say, “on the cutting edge” of American Orthodoxy. A vibrant and truly American Church is coming into being where parishes naturally celebrate the real cultural feelings of the members of the community, be it Arabic, Greek, Slavic, “American” or combinations of these. There is no conflict here. In the catholicity of our Archdiocese, “right versus wrong” has been replaced by “customary”, and much that is now “customary” in many parishes springs from the customs of this continent. And at the same time, we are all united in the same faith, Christian ideals and basic Orthodox worship. Truly we are one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. Thanks be to God!

Al Fragola is a member of St Andrew Antiochian Parish in Arlington, WA. He was received into the Russian Orthodox Church at St Vladimir Seminary, NY, in 1968. His military career moved him from place to place, and thus, he was fortunate to worship in a number of parishes of the OCA, Greek Archdiocese and Antiochian Archdiocese, from newly planted missions to urban cathedrals. He wife and his wife were members of the first class of students at the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, Cambridge, England, completing our studies for the Certificate in Higher Education in 2002. Al and his wife now live in retirement on Whidbey Island, WA.

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Orthodoxy in DIXIE 

By Father Joseph Huneycutt

I’m a Southerner. I was born and reared a Southern Baptist; educated as an Episcopalian, and converted to Orthodox Christianity a decade ago. Since then, I’ve been struggling to be Orthodox. As a missionary priest, I’ve also struggled to bring others to Orthodoxy in the South. More than anything, I’ve learned that I have a lot to learn. I’ve also concluded that Orthodoxy, in its plethora of jurisdictions, will have to learn some things, appreciate some things, about Southern Culture before ever being truly successful in bringing Southerners to the Faith.

I was reared in a small town near Charlotte, North Carolina. Growing up, I never met a Jew, much less a Muslim. Lutherans were rare enough in my hometown, much less Roman Catholics. Basically, we were Baptists and Methodists, blacks and whites. I’d never even heard of Orthodox Christianity until I was on my way to the Episcopal seminary in the 1980’s. Come to think of it, I’ll bet most folks in my hometown still have never heard of Orthodoxy.

No Orthodox jurisdiction ever sent missionaries to the South. Most Converts have stumbled upon the Faith only after many years of searching. If this were different, perhaps more progress would be apparent in bridging the gap between East and South. Like St Innocent who helped convert the natives of Alaska by "Incarnating" their native faith thereby bringing them to Christ, would that someone had intentionally helped the South to grow out of its native Protestantism into the fullness of the Christian Faith. Instead, many of the "ethnic churches" resemble Protestant churches with icons and the assimilation, at least with church practices, has moved away from traditional Orthodox practice toward Protestant norms. Such a vacuum allows Converts to flounder toward the Kingdom while accumulating various practices from the smorgasbord of Orthodoxy in America. It also lends itself to parish and/or jurisdiction hopping in hopes of finding the fittest vessel, the most correct iconography, the willing guru, etc.

I have heard that the seminaries in Russia are bursting with future priests. We have a priest shortage in America, they may soon have a glut in Russia. It wouldn’t surprise me if they sent some of those men to this country to evangelize. That would certainly wake us from our jurisdictional squabbling and anti-Christian stupor! Maybe our constant judging and nitpicking would be tempered by some honest to goodness evangelism?

Face it, the smorgasbord of Orthodox jurisdictions makes absolutely no sense to most Converts. Finding the True Faith is encumbered by also finding a dozen administrative bodies claiming to be really it! I was once told by a monk "All monks are in communion with each other." Though said in jest, very much like a tightly knit ethnic community which fellowships within its own ethnic world, the same can be said of Converts -- the majority of which are in the South.

We Southerners have many weaknesses. Paramount is our ingratiating spirit. We deliberately set out to gain others’ favour by winsome actions. Hopelessly people-pleasing we are! Being "cut from this cloth," we also have a weakness for taking a man at his word. If you tell us that you’re going to do something, more often than not, we expect you’ll do it. If you don’t, there’s a good chance that you’ll lose our trust, permanently. This behaviour will differ between Southerners and Southerners and Southerners and Outsiders. Like any ethnic group, we trust our own a while longer. Yet, to a Southerner, duplicity appears rampant in American Orthodoxy. Arabs, Russians, and other cultures are accustomed to hubris and other blustering within daily discourse. In the South, we expect it of politicians. We discourage it in decent folks. Integrity, in the South, is expected of church leaders. Having found the True Faith we’re confused by contradictory words and actions which often emanate from the various jurisdictional hierarchs.

When I first became Orthodox in the Antiochian jurisdiction, someone suggested that I read a book entitled "The Arab Mind" to get a sense of my newly adopted church culture. The book claimed that, in Arabic, the root word for eloquence and exaggeration is the same. An Arab may exaggerate to show machismo. For instance, a man may shout across a street corner to another "I hate you." The other man replies, "I not only hate you, I’m going to kill you!" The man retorts "I’m going to kill you and your family!" Etc. These same men may later be found sharing a friendly meal together. Words fail me in describing how this same dialogue might have ended in the South. Put it this way, funeral processions still stall traffic in these parts.

Contrary to outsiders’ perceptions, Southerners do not put on airs. Though we may be hospitable, friendly, and civil, what you see is what you get. If we share openly with you, it means we trust you. Once you break that trust, it may be irreparable. All are welcomed here. Yet, we are easily offended. If offended, the offending party will be cut off till reparation. Our people-pleasing nature lends itself to over-sensitivity. It just comes with the territory. In the South, admiration comes easy, respect is earned over time.

Like all those outside Paradise, Southerners gossip. In a region where being idle is considered a virtue, idle talk ain’t far behind! I don’t mean the kind of vindictive gossip popularized by Soap Operas and other media. (Though we have that too.) Rather, Southerners carry on conversations in a way that others might view as gossiping. And, God help us, at times it is. Yet, often this is a manner of couching subjects within an engaging tale. It’s the way we talk around here.

Southerners are self-effacing. We can take criticism if it’s properly couched in civility and/or humour. For us, if direct confrontation is necessary, things have already gone too far! Sometimes our neighbors to the North skip all the niceties and cut right to the chase. (Northern aggression continues.) And, since all the Orthodox jurisdictions hail from a different culture with the "home offices" up North, this element of cultural war persists within church dynamics. Brutal honesty is not only unwelcome but most often rejected in the South.

Before attending my first gathering of Clergy and Church Wardens in the Russian Church, I was asked about the nature and agenda of the meeting. I said, "Well, they’ll probably argue and yell at each other for a few hours and then we’ll have lunch. After lunch, they’ll argue and yell some more then we’ll kiss each other goodbye and go home." I’m no prophet, but boy was I ever on the mark with that prediction! In such a setting you can recognize the Southerner -- he’s the one with his mouth shut. If asked, were he honest, he’d say "I think you all are crazy." But, "don’t ask, don’t tell" has always been policy where I’m from. Being slightly dishonest in the name of civility is considered a virtue.

You yell at a Southerner and it may have eternal consequences. When we speak, all that’s required of you is to listen politely until it’s your turn. We don’t take kindly yelling, interruption, jeering, or public ridicule. We may not break bread with you until there’s resolution. You don’t have to agree, mind you. But, you must behave in such a way that assures civil discussion and debate. It may be that we take things personally. But, we operate on the assumption that you do to. Therefore, quite selfishly, the Golden Rule applies no matter what your rank or station.

Northerners are most often defined by their family’s nation of origin. This type of identification is foreign to the South. Here, folks are identified by their family name and/or their religious affiliation. I’ve often heard Northerners speak of someone as being Italian, Ukrainian, German, etc. Along with this description is the implied religion of those being described (Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, etc). This is not the case in the South. Here, folks are defined by their religion: Baptist, Episcopalian, Methodist, Charismatic. So it is that Northern Orthodox are often amazed that Christians would intentionally convert to Eastern Orthodoxy. What an idea! Can you convert from Italian to German?

Folks in the rural South usually attend the church nearest their home. In the country, you’ll find mostly Baptists, Methodists, and Pentecostals. Towns will have Presbyterian and Episcopalian churches. And, here and there, you’ll find Lutheran pockets and an occasional Roman Catholic church.  Latins and Lutherans may have a bit of a drive or live within a "family burb." However, Presbyterian and especially Episcopalian churches are populated with many who have "worked their way up" to that denomination. Your particular brand of Christianity may be a status symbol in the South. Unfortunately, viewed from such binoculars, Orthodoxy can seem a step down. Forgive me, but to a proper Episcopalian, Orthodoxy can seem down right barbaric!

When expected, don’t be surprised if a Southerner shows up early and leaves late. We don’t understand "Orthodox People Time." If you tell a Southerner that something starts at 6:00 pm, he’ll most likely arrive at 5:45. We don’t want to miss a thing! We’re not only unaccustomed to the Orthodox habit of being late, we find it rude and uncivilized. Also, Southerners usually don’t leave without saying Goodbye, many times. This process of departing may take 30 minutes or better.

Southern culture is, at least, as relevant as other forms of ethnicity -- whether "Orthodox" or not. We Converts appreciate the foods and festivities of our adopted culture. But, must we discard our norms and ways and replace them with those of traditionally Orthodox lands? Fund raising’s fine, but what about tithing? Lamb’s good, but so is pork barbecue. Pascha and kollich is festive, but that first bite of pecan pie is just as heavenly. Can such Southern gatherings as Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving, family reunions, BBQs, and oyster roasts be "baptized" into Orthodoxy? It’s too early to tell. Orthodoxy is new to the South. And it’s yet to be seen whether the two can melt into one God-pleasing flavor.

Converts have lots of extended family and friends that remain Protestant. Thus, most find themselves in awkward situations. Wednesdays and Fridays may not be as difficult to negotiate as is the Peter & Paul Fast or fasting for Easter and Christmas. I baptized a man who, for years, had hosted the family pig-picking on July 4th. Of course, that’s often a fast day. But that was his one big family obligation. I remember a couple that I’d chrismated and had moved away. The next major fast to come along, I called to see how they were doing. They, in jest I suppose, replied "Oh, we’re doing fine. We’re just eating over at our [non-Orthodox] friends’ each evening!"

The pendulum may swing otherwise. You’ve seen them: the "Orthodox Taliban." The man grows long hair and beard, forgets how to smile. The woman covers herself from head to toe -- her modesty smothers her dignity. They both stop bathing. There’s no visible joy in their life. Their wrists are covered with wool knots. They eat only broccoli; tofu is reserved for feast days. They begin shopping for a home -- preferably a tent or a lean-to -- out in the woods, sans the burden of electricity. These things may not be harmful in and of themselves. Yet oftentimes, when Converts confuse such "asceticism" with Orthodoxy, it can have dire results.

Through Catechism, reading of the Fathers, and other instruction, Converts fashion an ideal Orthodoxy toward which to struggle. Then, they might get to know some of the "Cradle Orthodox" only to be turned off. This can develop into a dichotomy leading to judgmentalism, Pharisee-ism, and a sort of Convert-Superior-Orthodoxy which is, needless to say, far from the ideal! We must all struggle toward the ideal in humility. Thanks to the lackadaisical piety of some Cradles, this can present a great challenge. To the eyes of the beginner, many Cradles seem lax in piety, dress, service attendance, fasting, and Orthodox zeal versus ethnic identity. These can be a great temptation.

So, what’s a Southern Orthodox Convert to do? Assimilation with the Protestant milieu is not an option. Been there, was that. Christianity plus icons and Typicon is not the answer. Why bother? Becoming a dirt-eating-tree-hugging Druid is not the way. I mean, really. Then again, these options are all alive and "well" within the Church. And that may be okay, as far as God’s concerned, but it comes close to grits without salt for a Southerner.

Thanks to the War Between the States and Reconstruction, Southerners have a strong distrust of outside authority. As the saying goes, "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me." There’s an underdog thread that binds us together. Yet when asked to perform a task by those in authority, one can bet it shall be done. We are teachable. However, all things must be in accord with proper respect. Our experience teaches that there’s virtue in losing when done graciously. Nevertheless, we have strong suspicions regarding authority. Those in positions of Orthodox leadership would do well to familiarize themselves with the norms of Southern behaviour and expectations. After all, if you are serious about evangelizing another land, which the South definitely is, you would do no less!

This is not to say that the South should secede from the ethnic Orthodoxy of the North. Rather, Southern Orthodoxy should be allowed to flourish with its own personality and character with proper hierarchical oversight. Any community that can appreciate this and encourage Southerners toward the Kingdom within their own Southern culture will do well in making solid Converts to the Faith in Dixie.

Father Joseph Huneycutt is pastor of St Raphael Orthodox Church in Hendersonville, NC and is the author of the “blog” titled, “Orthodixie”

Visit Fr. Huneycutt at http://southern-orthodoxy.blogspot.com/

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Letter to the ecumenical patriarch from Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow

 

September 18, 2002

 

 

We brotherly greet you, wishing you many mercies and blessings from our Lord and Saviour.

 

We have received Your Holiness’s letter No. 129 of April 11, 2002, devoted to the status of the Archdiocese of Russian Orthodox Parishes in Western Europe. We have been very much bewildered by numerous bitter reproaches and unjust accusations with which this letter abounds. However, following the words of wise Solomon, “He that covereth a transgression seeketh love; but he that repeateth a matter separateth very friends” (Prov. 17:9) and reluctant to put to vain tests the feeling of brotherly love shared by our two Churches, we shall not dwell on these unhappy expressions as believed to be prompted rather by a regrettable misunderstanding caused by what we think to be a wrong understanding of the problem you raised. Therefore, we deem it more beneficial to move immediately to a review of your interpretation of Canon 28 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council, to which we categorically disagree.

 

Indeed this canon defines the terms of reference for the Patriarchal See of the Church of Constantinople, limiting it to the ancient diocese of Asia, Thrace and Pontus, that is, areas in what today are Turkey, Bulgaria and Greece. However, it does not at all follow from this canon that “every province which does not belong to any other patriarchal see” should be subjected to the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

 

Clearly, the wrong interpretation here comes from a wrong treatment of the expression “ev tois barbarikois” and the context associated with it. This wrong interpretation presupposes that the question is not barbarian people who lived either within or without the Roman Empire, but state-administrative entities inhabited predominantly by barbarians. Meanwhile, it is no doubt that this expression implies people rather than regions. It is used in ethnic, not administrative-political sense. It is evident from the following arguments.

 

As is known, the term “barbaros” in the Hellenic and Byzantine eras denoted representatives of tribes alien to the Greek language, culture and traditions. Thus, St. Gregory of Nyssa in his third homily against Eunomius speaks of “barbarian philosophy” (barbariki filosofia); Eusebius of Caesaria mentions barbarisms in the Greek language, St Epiphanius of Cyprus refer to “barbarian names” (barbarika onomata), while Libanius, the teacher of St. John Chrysostom, speaks of “barbarian ways” (ithi barbarika). St. Paul also means by a “barbarian” any person who does not speak the official Greek language or Latin: “If I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian (barbaros) unto me” (1Cor.14:11).

 

These “barbarians” could live both outside the Roman Empire and within it. St. Paul, for instance, preached among the barbarians (1Rom.1:12) without crossing the borders of the empire. The Acts of the Apostles (28:2,4) describe the people in the Melita island as “barbarous” in spite of the fact that this island was part of the empire, only because they spoke Poeni. As far as the term “barbarikon” is concerned, it meant in fact territories outside the Roman Empire. In this sense this world is used, for instance, in Canon 52 of the Council of Carthage stating that there were no councils in Maritania because this land “is situated in the confines of Africa, for they are neighbors of the barbarians” (to barbariko parakeete). Nevertheless, this word can also denote all that is “barbarian” including territories belonging to the empire though inhabited by “barbarians”.

 

It is in this sense that this word is used in the canon of the Chalcedon. It refers not to barbarian peoples in general, but only certain people, people only in “the aforesaid diocese” *(ton proeremenon dioikeseon) that is, the barbarians who lived in the dioceses of Pontus, Asia and Thrace which were fully incorporated in Eastern Roman Empire. Thus, the canon places under the See of Constantinople those bishops who worked among non-Greeks living within the church borders of these three dioceses.

 

All the interpreters of the canons, Alexis Aristenus, John Zonaras and Theodore Balsamon just as the compiler of “An Alphabetical Table,” Matthew Blastares, understand “en barbarikes” precisely as barbarian people and only those who are placed under the jurisdiction of these three dioceses. They underlined that barbarian peoples in other, neighboring, dioceses were not subjected by this canon to the jurisdiction of Constantinople but remained under the jurisdiction of other Orthodox Churches. As Aristenus writes, “He (bishop of Constantinople’s) has his jurisdiction only over the Metropolitans of Pontus, Asia and Thrace who receive ordination from him as well as the bishops of barbarians in these dioceses because the diocese of Macedonia and Illyria and Thessaly and Peloponnesus and al the Epirus and (barbarian) peoples in it (i.e., in this diocese) were under the bishop of Rome at the time” (Athenian Syntagma II, 286.

 

It should be also noted that the canon does not speak of diaspora but the autochthonous “barbarian” peoples who did not live in diaspora but in their own lands. They embraced Christianity mainly as a result of missionary work, not brought it from their homeland elsewhere as in the case of diaspora. Therefore, to apply the canon, which implied autochthonous peoples who adopted Christianity as a result missionary work, to diaspora, which comprises those who left their homeland where they were raised in its Orthodox tradition, means at least a deviation from historical reality and a confusion of different notions.

 

Therefore, the assumption made by Your Holiness that on the basis of Canon 28 of the Council of Chalcedon ‘the terms of reference of the Ecumenical Patriarchate included Western Europe and essentially all the newly-discovered lands of America and Australia” appears quite far-fetched and devoid of any canonical substantiation. These remote lands do not have anything to do with the three dioceses mentioned in the canon, nor do they even adjoin them. Moreover, the predominant church flock in these territories are not natives but representatives of traditionally Orthodox nations who have their own religious traditions and wish to preserve them. As for the canonical territories that used to belong to the Church of Rome until the 1054 schism, the Church has not adopted a single decision of pan-Orthodox authority to determine their jurisdictional affiliation.

 

All the above-mentioned is confirmed also by historical facts showing that until the 20s of the 20th century the Patriarchate of Constantinople had no actual power over the entire Orthodox diaspora in the world, nor did it claim this power. For instance, the Orthodox diaspora in Australia was initially taken care of from Jerusalem, and it was the Patriarchate of Jerusalem that appointed priest there. In Western Europe, the Orthodox parishes and communities from the very beginning depended canonically on their own Mother Churches, not on Constantinople, as it was in other parts of the world where, in keeping with Christ’s commandment (Mt.28:19-20), zealous missionaries of Local Orthodox Churches, including that of Constantinople, preached the gospel and baptized natives who became children of the Churches which enlightened them.

 

In case of America, beginning from 1794 Orthodoxy in that continent was represented only by the jurisdiction of the Russian Church, which by 1918 had united up to 300 thousand Orthodox Christians of various nationalities-Russians, Serbs, Albanians, Arabs, Eskimo, Aleutians, Koloshes, Indians, Negroes, Englishmen. Among them were also Orthodox Greeks who received corporals for their parishes from Russian bishops. This state of affairs was recognized by all the Local Churches who sent their priests to American parishes to serve under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church.

 

Jurisdictional pluralism emerged in North America in 1921 when a Greek Archdiocese of North and South America was established there without the knowledge and consent of the Russian Orthodox Church. That very moment initiated what you describe as “division of the Orthodox, in defiance of sacred canons, especially among those living in Western countries, into ethnic and racial groups and churches led by bishops elected on ethnic and racial grounds, who were often not the only ones in each city and sometime not in good but hostile relations to one another.” It “is a disgrace for entire Orthodoxy and a reason for unfavorable responses working out against it.” As is evident, it was not the Russian Church that was to blame for this sad state of affairs. On the contrary, in its desire to turn American Orthodoxy back to the canonical course, the Russian Church as the Mother Church granted in 1970 autocephaly to its Daughter Church. In this action the Russian Church operated within its canonical jurisdiction, having in mind a future pan-Orthodox decision on the restoration of One Local Orthodox Church in America. It is noteworthy that as far back as 1905 the Holy Patriarch Tikhon, who was at that time Archbishop of the Aleutian Islands and North America, submitted to the Sacred Synod a draft on the establishment of such a Church.

 

The inclusion of new regions in the jurisdiction of the Holy Church of Constantinople along with those adjoining the above-mentioned three dioceses was not associated, in our understanding, with Canon 28 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council. It was rather a consequence stemming from completely different reasons of Illyria, South Italy and Sicily mentioned by Your Holiness were not “always” in the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. They were forcibly taken away from the Church of Rome and transferred to the Church of Constantinople by the iconoclastic Emperor Leo the Isaurian without any relation whatsoever to Canon 28 of the Council of Chalcedon. The most important reason for this action of Leo was the resistance of the Church of Rome against the iconoclastic policy of the Byzantine emperor whose political power extended to the above-mentioned territories.

 

This is an authentic pan-Orthodox tradition in this matter, and the Holy Church of Constantinople used to observe it without fail until the time when Patriarch Meletius IV invented a theory of the subjection of the entire Orthodox diaspora to Constantinople. It is precisely this theory, being apparently anti-canonical, that is , as Your Holiness put it, “hostile to the spirit of the Orthodox Church and Orthodox unity and canonical order.” It is an expression of “canonically ungrounded and ecclesiologically unacceptable expansionist intention.” Claiming the universal spiritual power dissonant as it is with Orthodox canonical tradition and the teaching of the holy fathers of the Church, it represents a direct challenge to Orthodox unity. There are no reasons to believe that the Orthodox diaspora does not come under the spiritual jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople only because it “tolerates this situation for the reasons of economy and for a time being.” This latter phrase is especially bewildering and disturbing, for it seems to point to the intention of the Holy Church of Constantinople to continue pursuing the one-sided policy of expansionism alien to the spirit of brotherly love and conciliarity. In this connection, it would be relevant to mention here the fair remark made by His Beatitude Patriarch Diodoros of blessed memory in his letter No. 480 of July 25, 1993, to Your Holiness. He wrote that a Pan-Orthodox Council alone has the right to settle the complicated problem of diaspora. We will add that the Holy Orthodox Churches of Rumania and Poland do not support either the vision of the diaspora problem as set forth by Your Holiness. This is evident form the reports of these Churches presented in 1990 to the Inter-Orthodox Preparing Commission for a Holy and Great Council.

 

Considering the above-mentioned, we can with reason challenge Your Holiness’s assumption that the Exarchate of Russian Parishes in Europe is “one of the forms of mandatory care” by the Church of Constantinople. The assumption on the mandatory nature of the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople over this Exarchate is refuted by the very history of this church structure. Please be reminded that the official documents of the Church of Constantinople concerning the status of Russian parishes in Western Europe recognize the Russian Orthodox Church as their Mother Church and the temporary nature of the order established for governing these parishes. Patriarch Photius’s Tomos of February 17, 1931, in particular, states this unequivocally. Commenting this document in his letter to Deputy Locum Tenens Metropolitan Sergius (No. 1428, June 28, 1931), His Holiness Patriarch Photius wrote, “the state of affairs should remain temporary till, with God’s help, the unity and one image of the Holy fraternal Russian Church is restored.” In full accordance with this policy, His Holiness Patriarch Athenagoras, in his letter to the Exarch of Russian parishes No. 671 of November 22, 1965, Archbishop George of Evdokia testified that “the Russian Church, having gotten rid of divisions and having organized herself internally, has acquired the freedom of action in her foreign affairs.” He also announced the abolishment of the freedom of action in her foreign affairs.” He also announced the abolishment of “temporary” Exarchate of Russian Parishes in Western Europe and recommended that it should enter into relations with His Holiness the Patriarch of Moscow, who “can and must show and always manifest the paternal love of these parishes.” The second acceptance of the diocese of Russian parishes in Europe into the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople and its transformation into an Exarchate by the Tomos of June 19, 1999, have not changed essentially the temporary nature of the present status of the Russian Archdiocese, since the Tomos in its very first point refers to the Tomos of Patriarch Photius. Thus, the Holy Church of Constantinople herself, in her official documents and actions, unequivocally recognized the right of the archdiocese of the Russian Parishes in Western Europe to re-unit with its Mother-the Russian Orthodox Church. In doing so, she saw in it neither manifestation of “extremely erroneous and secularized frame of mind” nor “erroneous ethnic and racial conception.”

 

As for the statements His Eminence Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad made during his visit to Paris (February 10-12,2001) which Your Holiness mentioned, this matter was already discussed during the regular round of negotiations between the Patriarchates of Constantinople and Moscow on April 19, 2001, in Zurich and in Metropolitan Kirill’s letter to Metropolitan Meliton of Philadelphia (No. 2062, July 17, 2001). In Paris, Metropolitan Kirill was invited by Archbishop Sergius of Eukarpia to meet with the Archdiocesan Council. During this meeting, the hierarch of our Church did not set forth any special proposals, but when asked about his vision of the future of the Archdiocese, he expressed the attitude of our Church which we have never concealed and to which we have been invariable committed. This position is that the existence of a separate church structure of Russian parishes in Europe is a result of the tragedy of the Russian people provoked by the 1917 Revolution. Now when the consequences of that revolution have been overcome at last, it would be quite normal that the emigrant parishes should return to the fold of the Moscow Patriarchate. This desire to restore the spiritual unity of our people is reflected in the statement of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church (November 8, 2000) which you mention, in the passage speaking of her children “who live outside the Russian state” (not “outside the Russian Church,” as you quoted wrongly). We are very much saddened by the fact that the natural and legitimate desire to gather our own flock, who have found themselves in diaspora for certain historical and political reasons, should be so harshly and unjustly attached and misunderstood by the Primate of a Church which has experienced a similar tragedy.

 

The Orthodox diaspora is one of the major questions of inter-Orthodox relations. Its complexity and unsettled nature has generated serious complications in relations among Churches and has certainly weakened the effectiveness of Orthodox witness in the world today. Nevertheless, we firmly hope that through consistent and persistent efforts Local Orthodox Churches will ultimately find an agreed pan-Orthodox solution of this problem at a Holy and Great Council of the Eastern Orthodox Church. All the more heavy, therefore, appears the measure of historical responsibility for actions aimed against achieving a God-pleasing agreement on this key question.

 

Therefore, for the benefit of both pan-Orthodox unity and the Church of Constantinople so dear to us through centuries-old historical memories, we call upon Your Holiness to hearken to the injunction of the holy fathers in Canon 8 of the Third Ecumenical Council: “Lest the Canons of the Fathers be transgressed; or the vanities of worldly honour be brought in under pretext of sacred office; or we lose, without knowing it, little by little, the liberty which Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Deliverer of all men, hath given us by his own Blood”. In the spirit of faithfulness to the patristic tradition, we ardently and very sincerely ask Your Holiness to renounce the frame of mind obstructing the achievement of longed-for harmony and move to actions which will really speed up the convening of a Great and Holy Council. As a helpful step on this way, we may consider, for instance, the implementation of the agreements on the Estonian problem, which have already taken so much effort to develop.

 

Asking God to grant Your Holiness peace, health and long life, we once again embrace you in brotherly kissing and remain with invariable love and respect in Jesus Christ,

 

Alexy II

 

Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia

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Click here for a copy of the "Report to His Eminence Archbishop Iakovos Concerning the Future Theological Agenda of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese" submitted to the 30th Biennial Clergy Laity Congress, July 1990, Washington DC