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An unworthy Deacon, named for the brother of God: James, striving to "work out his salvation with fear and trembling" within the Tradition (paradosis) of the Eastern Orthodox Faith. It is a strange and marvelous journey, and I am accompanied by the fourfold fruit of my fecundity. My wife, the Matushka or Diaconissa Sophia, is my beloved partner in the pursuit of Theosis, and she ranks me in every way.
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Monday, June 26, 2006

Do we have the gospel or not?

A dwindling "Greek" parish is looking to reinvent itself.

Sadly, their plans seem to indicate that they will do nothing of the sort. With all due respect, Father Combitsis, do you have the Gospel to offer people or not? Are you the Church of Jesus Christ or not? Is the Living God worshipped within the walls of what sounds to be your very beautiful Temple or not?

...or, are you simply a "Sons and Daughters of Greece" club?

Trying to attract more and younger parishioners, it has begun advertising in Greek newspapers, offering valet parking and reaching out to Greek college students in the New York area.

Anyone else miss anything at all in this article that would give a non-Greek the impression that this Parish could be their home too? I must have missed it.

How about advertising in the New York Times? How about reaching out to AMERICAN college students? I fear, their effort as devised, will fail, as I suppose it ought to. We Orthodox must be about proclaiming the Gospel to America...we have a treasure and if we really believed it, we would not hide our light under the bowl of ethnicity. We are the Church of Christ, not the Church of Greece, Russia, Serbia, Syria or anywhere else. However, if we must be more specific than that, I might be so bold as to remind us that we also happen to be the Church in the United States of America, last time I checked. (Others may feel free to insert their respective country in there as well.)

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 12:02 PM [+]


So typical. How many times have I been to Greek churches, and had people ask me "are you Greek?" NEVER, NOT ONCE, has someone from those parishes asked me how I got to be Orthodox. Imagine a bunch of Greeks starting an "American city" or staging an American ethnic fair, dressing like Americans, and such, and that is how they look at us: weirdos.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:44 PM  



If the Greeks asked you whether you were Greek, you are ahead of me. Over a period of about ten years, I would occasionally worship at the Greek parish about ten minutes from where I lived (my regular Church was an OCA parish about 45 minutes away). No one - clergy or lay - ever said a single word to me in all the times that I was there.

Being asked if I were Greek would have been a little bit better than the "silent treatment" that I received.

By Blogger Chris Jones, at 4:03 PM  


In Seattle, they're trying to start an Orthodox School under the auspices of the local Greek Church. As a convert parent, which is worse: having my kid feel like an outsider at a local Protestant/Catholic parochial school, or an outsider at a Greek Orthodox school?

Steve K.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:59 PM  


Yup and the tenative name for the potential Seattle Orthodox school is the Orthodox Prep Academy, which I found a little funny... Opa! Pass the ouzo!
Also they listed Greek language as one of the subjects, which is all well and good from a classical standpoint, but Greeks teaching Greeks makes me nervous. Of course I must say the Serbs aren't much better...

By Blogger Radoje S., at 6:48 AM  


I apologize on behalf of the Greek communities that have shunned or ignored your presense within the church. Some of us are a particularly bigoted lot with "xeni" (foreigners). Believe me when I say we are trying to re-educate the bigots. The problem might also be different in America then it is here in Canada where I know we have a fairly heterogeneous congregation (at least in my parish). Does the cold shoulder only happen in the church or does it also happen at post-liturgy events? Chris, did the priest not even bless you during the distribution of prosphora at the end of the liturgy?

You probably don't know or can't understand how weird a phenomenon it is for Greeks that people from a non-Orthodox background actually want to be (or are) Orthodox. Hence the "are you Greek?" question. I remember the one time I went to worship at an OCA parish the astonishment I felt to see so many non-ethnics worshipping during the liturgy. Then to see so many non-ethnic laity and the whole service in English! I was blown away because it was so different! It was such a wonderful experience I am planning to do it again soon.

While I agree with you comment James, you must ask yourself, who better to reach out to the Greek youth and the lapsed Greek adults then the Greek community. They are doing a good thing by trying to evangelize to those who are no longer close to the church. You would expect them to try and evangelize to the people they can most easily reach. Of course they should have extended the invitation to all Orthodox.

Steve, I don't know your situation, but is it really that bad that your kid would feel like an outsider in a Greek Orthodox school? Is it because some/all the classes will be in Greek? My experience has been often profound respect for converts who willingly send their children to Greek Orthodox schooling.

Radoje, are their other places in Seattle where the children can learn modern Greek?

By Anonymous George, at 7:24 AM  


I think if the Greek Orthodox Church hopes to survive...indeed if ANY Orthodox Churches are going to survive here in America, they need to realize more and more that they are (if not in name) the Orthodox Church in America.

It's great that they are reaching out to Greek youth...but I'd be willing to bet you that they'd do THAT task far better by reaching out to EVERYONE. Do you know what I mean? Not just the greeks, not just the lapsed Orthodox...but everyone! Have we forgotten the universality of the Gospel?

I don't wish to "greek" bash here, for I am certain that all the ethnic churches struggle with this issue.

The Orthodox Church is such a treasure...and it is a sin to turn it into little more than an ethnic version of the elks club with fancy vestments and pretty pictures.

As far as the Greek Orthodox School...well I would reserve my judgement until I see what it ends up being. Fact is, the Greeks have reached out to ALL the local Orthodox Churches on this effort and if we sit in judgement offering nothing and it does indeed become an ethnic school for Greeks where non-Greeks will feel out of place (which is presumptious of us to say) - guess who can be blamed?

By Blogger JamesoftheNorthwest, at 8:50 AM  


I agree James. We need to have a pan-ethnic consolidation of the Orthodox in America, to bring all the old world jurisdictions under one new world jurisdiction. There is one problem with this, other than the refusal of the hierarchs. The ethnicities that brought Orthodoxy to the New World brought it over within the context of their culture. It's not because the Greeks (and others) want to have an exclusive club that they shun those outside their ethnicity, but because they fear the loss of the fullness of what it means to be that ethnicity (i.e to be Greek is to be Orthodox) and because all they know is how to worship in an ethnic setting.

So it is a great cause to promote the merging of all jurisdictions under the banner of the Orthodox Church in America, and I would also love to see this happen, but for those really pushing this cause they need to realize that the process to make this happen is not a simple one. We (the ethnic Orthodox) need to figure out how to preserve our culture and language apart from the church (like say a Greek Orthodox school!, or a school where multiple ethnicities are represented and respected), which in the Greek case is difficult since for 400 years of Turkish oppression and occupation, we figured out that the only way to perserve our culture and language was to tie it to the church. It will take us a while to separate the two, so be patient with us. Also the elderly whose English is poor and prefer to worship in their native language need to be accomodated.

By Anonymous George, at 9:35 AM  


Well, I just don't agree. I shouldn't have to ante up my children to the Greek School in the hope that THIS TIME, the Greeks will finally take off the blinders. Sort of like Charlie Brown and the football...

The basic problem with Greek Orthodoxy in America is that many of the immigrant Greeks, had they stayed in Greece, would not be going to Church. When they come to America, Orthodoxy plugs a gap. But by catering to this need, they create an environment that the children of immigrants recognize to be artificial, not wholly religious. As the children recognize their Greekness as an aspect of their heritage, it, along with the religious "freight", gets second place, to careers, family, marriages, education, etc. Which explains the 90% drop-out rate. Which explains why so few bother to consider marrying an Orthodox spouse. And this explains why they cannot understand a Non-Greek becoming Orthodox. "Don't THEY have their OWN religious heritage?" The whole attitude and temperament is not something I would expose my kids to. Much better they were in school with fundamentalist evangelicals, who, even though they disagree with us on many points, would at least understand the idea of a primarily religious/spiritual identity.

- Steve K

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:40 AM  


Steve, I appreciate you trying to untangle the mess of Greek Orthodoxy, but your presumptions are merely that, presumptions. You are not (I assume from your convert remark) a child of a Greek immigrant, so how would you know how we feel? I definitely do not recognize the Greek Orthodox environment in America as artificial, it is unfortunately the situation in Greece that is artificial and regressive. The diasporan Greeks have preserved what Greece used to be, what it should be. I have been told this time and time again from Greeks who visit from Greece and witness firsthand what we have here. The "freight" taking second place as you put it, is not caused by the Greek culture, but by the American culture. Althought some blame is surely on the parents who do not lead by example, but that is true of any sub-culture in America. Why does marrying an Orthodox have any relevance to this discussion?

Whether you agree with what I said or not, I'm just stating a fact and I don't expect (althought I hope) people outside the Greek culture to understand. Its not about trying to exclude you and others from the Greek community and emphatically not about "don't they have their own religious heritage".

No one asked you to ante up your children, its your choice. I'm still not sure what you are afraid they will learn in a Greek Orthodox school that is so distasteful. Most Greek kids in the U.S. don't know much Greek, so how are your kids at a disadvantage or how would they be singled out as non-Greek? Personally, I wouldn't put my children in an Evangelical school even if it was free. They might understand the centrality of faith in the life of a person but only if its theirs.

I'm sorry you are bitter against us, forgive us for any wrongs we have done. Help us to have a constructive discussion.

By Anonymous George, at 11:04 AM  


Well, I would just like to comment that the Orthodox Prep Academy is not going to be a Greek Orthodox school. The steering committee has been emphatic on this point! It is going to be a pan-Orthodox school. Many of the people involved with the steering committee and various sub-committees are pan-Orthodox and wish to leave behind the ethnic issue.

It has been requested that all local jurisdictions have the blessing of their perspective Bishop for the school to proceed. This has almost been accomplished.

It also appears that the school will have its own building somewhere in the Seattle area, NOT at St D's. I know a lot about this because my wife is on the steering committee as an educator. They discussed the ethnic issue from day one.

Thought I fill in some of the informational gaps here.

By Blogger Jared, at 11:27 AM  



Sorry to upset. And very sorry to see you descend to apologizing for my bitterness. "I'm sorry you're so bitter..." That's the "when did you stop beating your wife" approach. If you want a constructive conversation, that's a heck of a way to start!

James mentioned that if we converts don't participate in the school then, when it turns out to be "Greek", we (converts) are the only ones to blame. My wisecrack about "ante-ing" up my children was to respectfully disagree. I do not accept his position on this, although he is inerrant on everything else! My position is that the leadership of the school FIRST produces a quality school, not just a binder, and THEN I can check it out. You can call that "bitter," I call it learning from one's mistakes.

I hope the Seattle school turns out great. I will rejoice if it turns out to be something other than Greek Nationalism, and I believe the sincerity and earnest plans of its organizers are beyond question. But it's not about sincerity, and intentions *can* quickly give way to reality. How many truly non-ethnic Orthodox schools have been established?

I don't have the low opinion of Evangelicals and Protestants, either, so commonly shared among Orthodox, so your point about them escapes me. The Orthodox speak in tongues with respect to Protestants: first they're pilloried for being too diverse, all over the map on doctrine, and then they're blamed for being intolerant of differences, as if they only accept friends with their "own" understanding. Both of them are myths which we use to great advantage. But which is it?

I have no idea why anyone would want to expose their kids to modern Greek. Classical Greek or perhaps Biblical Greek, but modern? I hope the Seattle School hasn't already caved on that point.

- Steve K

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:47 PM  



I do not mean to be accusatory, but I too find the tone of your posts to be bitter. Perhaps that is not your intention, but I do not believe George to be off the mark in getting that impression.

How does this affect your point? I don't really know, as I'm not entirely sure what your point is. But if there is a bitterness in your heart that corresponds to the tone in your post, ought not all of us (including myself, which is part of why I almost NEVER post, and my own blog has been doormant for the better part of two years) root that out before speaking on topics that inflame that same bitterness.

It seems to me that George recognizes that there are issues to overcome, but is suggesting that the way you have interpreted these issues is not entirely correct, and is begging your indulgence as they try and work it out.

Certainly WE must beg THEIR pardon as we converts in America try and figure out what Orthodoxy in America looks like (especially what it looks like lived in our own hearts).

What am I saying? I can attest from experience that to a large degree what George says is true. There is an issue here, but what each side sees it as is completely different. We are all doing our best to work out salvation, but we are all imperfectly doing so.

So rather than lament that they are not reaching out to you, let us rejoice that they are reaching out to someone. Let us thank God that they consider the church important enough to preserve, that IN THE END, salvation comes through the church, however imperfect her members are.

And lastly, let us all do as St. Ignati implores over and over in The Arena, to consider all slights and wrongs as our glory, and to give thanks to God for them, for such is our cross, and in such we find salvation.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:24 PM  


Whether or not there is somewhere else in Seattle where children can learn modern Greek is beside the point. Why on earth would I want my children to learn modern Greek when their heritage is Serbian? I would think that the Russians, Romanians, Bulgarians, and plain old "Anglo" American would ask the same question. Since modern Greek is not much use in reading Classical or Biblical Greek, one must assume that the only reason it is being taught is to advance Greek cultural unity. While I don't begrudge the Greek community for trying to maintain their language (after all I support the same thing for Serbs), I hope you can see how ridiculous it is to expect people of other ethinc groups to help bankroll a school that is going to partially cater to only one ethnic group.

Looking at the document outlining the goals from the proposed Seattle Orthodox Preparatory Acadamy I came across this:

-Offer Modern Greek language courses and dance programs at all levels.

While one could argue that if a foreign language is going to be taught, Greek is no better or worse than French or German (actually better), I think it is the height of arrogance to expect people with no Greek heritage to be learning Greek dance. If this school truly believed in the goal of being open to all Orthodox people then why does it promote specifically Greek cultural heritage.
Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with the Greeks (or the Serbs, or the Russians) trying to maintain a cultural unity. But I have a really big problem when it is done at the expense of Orthodox unity and evangelism. How can we expect our children to grow in the faith if the liturgy is in a language they barely comprehend? How do we expect our children to grow in the faith when they spend more time learning traditional folkdances than they do learning how to present Orthodoxy to the world?
Were it not for the collaspe of Yugoslavia, the number of native Serbian speakers at our parish would be less than a dozen. While it is important to serve those people, we need to start facing out to the American society around us.

By Blogger Radoje S., at 7:52 PM  


James mentioned that if we converts don't participate in the school then, when it turns out to be "Greek", we (converts) are the only ones to blame. My wisecrack about "ante-ing" up my children was to respectfully disagree. I do not accept his position on this, although he is inerrant on everything else!

Tosh...flattery will get you little more than a beer. But, my point was NOT that you should ante up your kids to attend the school, but rather ante up your opinion, your input, your criticisms, your exhortations as a part of the PLANNING of the school...which we were all invited to do. So I think my point stands.

Steve does make a good point about the "reality" of things. Wealthy Greek benefactors (as do all wealthy benefactors) tend to have their way on such things. But, the "reality" needn't play only to that end - especially since we could have also been benefactors. (visions of Carpatho-Rusyn dances and plum brandy dancing through my head...)

Bitterness aisde - if there be any - I do think there is a time and place for someone to come a long and give the Church (be it Greek, Russian, Syrian, or Slovak) a great big kick in the butt. I do think it is fair Chance to voice criticism that this parish feels they may only, can only, or should only reach out to Greeks...that I believe is a grave error and very likely a sin. Not calling them on this point might also be a sin.

If I'm wrong, God forgive me for it. If I'm right...

Rade, Huzzah to: "start facing the American society around us"

And of course, we both know Serbian and Slovak folk dances are WAY better than Greek.

By Blogger JamesoftheNorthwest, at 8:46 PM  


And one more thing

Of all the things we may say about evangelicals, for certain their zeal for evangelism shames most of us Orthodox. Absolutely shames us.

But of course, we know, evangelicals have their problems with ethncity too:


By Blogger JamesoftheNorthwest, at 8:53 PM  


I am truly sorry if I sound bitter. This conversation has happened untold times, and its general form is rehearsed here once again. On one extreme are the sincere "ethnics" who realize that the "ethnic church" is somehow defective, but they really can't envision an "American Church." At the other end is the American convert who has found a home in an English-speaking parish. There all kinds of shades of people in the middle, including ethnic people who are tired of their own "ethnos", my wife among them, and -- incredibly -- converts who somehow feel like they're missing something if they don't have an "ethnos."

The conversation generally goes the same way, just as we have, it usually ends with the vague idea that we all need to be more "pan-Orthodox", which basically means to ignore the ethnic visions and pronounce them non-existent. But most people can see right through it, which is why almost no one attends the "pan-Orthodox" services, which are a peculiar way we have of simply advertising our differences and spinning them as a good thing. It occasionally becomes obvious, such as in the article which James quoted, that something is dreadfully wrong, but the universal response is to shore up the parishes with more Greeks or Russians or Lebanese or whatever.

The high water mark for Orthodox unity was back in the 90s, the Ligonier Conference, when the various American bishops came close to a Union. But the Old World patriarchates, and probably the laity in most parishes, had no taste for it.

Let's pray to God we get another chance at it someday.

Anyone seen what's going on the UK? They're caving in, slowly, to the same principle.

- Steve K

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:26 PM  


My only context for this Orthodox school when I first made my comments were those mentioned in the comments. So I had pieced together that this school was going to be funded by the Greeks and that other's were weighing the options of sending their children there to be educated in an Orthodox setting. If it truly was the case that this endeavour was to be funded by the Greeks, then they have every right to included classes in Modern Greek and dance (I'd love to see Serbian and Slovak dancing BTW). Now that we have found out that it is to be a pan-Orthodox school, then it would not be right to force a curriculum of Modern Greek and Greek dance on all students, although I don't think that the same as OFFERING Modern language courses and dance programs if you have the choice to take something else instead. (As an aside, modern Greek is actually very useful in reading and understanding Biblical Greek.)

I hope that the Seattle pan-Orthodox Academy turns out to be a successful endeavor and that all Orthodox will feel comfortable sending their children there. I'm jealous, I wish we had something even remotely similar in Ottawa.

Steve, I also don't have a low opinion of Evangelicals since my best friends, and in fact a large part of my circle of friends, are Evangelical. I agree with James, they put us to shame in their zeal for evangelism and they genuinely love God and desire/value intimate encounters with Him. These are all good things and I have learned much from my friends. But I do think that they are too diverse in doctrine, mostly because they are ignorant of doctrine and because they do not have Holy Tradition to guide their interpretation of Scripture. Anyways, we all know the drill. As much as I love my friends, I just think that an Evangelical school would do more harm than good to an Orthodox child.

By Anonymous George, at 7:04 AM  


George admits that Greek parishes have a problem with bigotry towards "xeni", but he treats it as an endearing little quirk, which only "bitter", ignorant converts would object to. Perhaps, despite all his knowledge of modern Greek, he fails to recognize the Author of the saying "I was a stranger [xeni] and you welcomed me."
Those of us who first learned Greek at a university, learned it in that context first, and were absolutely shocked to hear it whispered in a pejorative way by Orthodox Christians.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:55 PM  



I must say I'm shocked at the way you have characterized George, and it is unfortunate.

How do comments like...

"I apologize on behalf of the Greek communities that have shunned or ignored your presense within the church. Some of us are a particularly bigoted lot with "xeni" (foreigners). Believe me when I say we are trying to re-educate the bigots."

...communicate in any way that it is an "endearing quirk"? Or what about "forgive us for any wrongs we have done." Does that communicate what you characterized him as?

And your pot-shot about him not being able to recognize Christ's saying...well it's just sad.

But to the issue at large....guess what....the church has imperfect people in it, and sometimes they will act imperfectly even while they do their best.

You're all acting like it would be a sin for there to be an ethnic church at all, a church whose PRIMARY focus is a particular ethnicity. I hope you don't really feel that way.

Here in the Southwest, we have many ORTHODOX parishes whose PRIMARY focus (and yes, even language) is Spanish. Should we tell all those people to go to the Catholic church down the street, because "This is America".

To the extent that we intentionally exclude people because of their ethnicity (or lack thereof) it is a sin. We all know there is a problem. But before you go accusing actual people, a)make sure you are clean in your heart regarding the issue, and b)make sure when you accuse ACTUAL PEOPLE of a sin, you know they have actually sinned.

Is this not what Christ was saying when he said to remove the log from our own eye first?


By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:25 PM  


Thank you Chance for coming to my defense, twice now, I appreciate it.

I am sad that you think my comments are not heartfelt Anonymous. I hope that you can re-read my comments and perceive my apologies as genuine because they are. I don't see the issue of "xeni" as a quaint little Greek quirk, but a cancer of ethnic Orthodox elitism.

I welcome criticism, but maybe next time you will provide me with the courtesy of your name instead of hiding behind the shadow of anonymity.

By Anonymous George, at 2:25 PM  


I really don't want to get involved in this discussion, seeing as I'm a cradle Greek Orthodox (my dad is from Greece and I know that he would attend church whether he lived in Greece or the US... this is the man that everytime he goes to Greece he stops by Aegina to visit with his "friend" St. Nektarios).

Mostly I wanted to comment on the school... We have our own Pan-Orthodox school in Portland OR called Agia Sophia Academy. It is in the basement of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church. Next fall will be our 3rd year. And it is doing very well. It is a definite mixed crowd, with even some non-Orthodox attending the school! And they teach modern greek beginning in primer (kindergarten) then Latin beginning in 1st grade. The school is based on a Classical Education model and, as an educator, is the model that I would use to teach my own children. Most important, they teach everything in the context of the Orthodox Church... it's beautiful! My son is in the preschool. I hope and pray that your school in Seattle will be a success. We need more schools out there!

BTW... my sister, when she moved to Seattle, went to a Greek parish a few times. No one even said hi to here during coffee hour. And she's Greek (obviously, she is, if I'm greek). So it doesn't just happen to converts.

By Blogger Christina, at 3:03 PM  


I once witnessed an exchange that I though shed some light on the whole subject. A friend of mine was complaining to a clergyman about an element of the vepsers service that appeared to be a corruption. The clergyman agreed with the point, but claimed a practical obstacle: if he were to change it, the Greek ladies in his parish would skin him alive.

Mutatis mutandis, this very familiar vignette displays one avenue for progress for the Orthodox American "situation". It's not bitterness, it's about priorities.

- Steve K

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:39 PM  



Just for clarities sake. I have never said that you are bitter. I would never presume that, as I've never met nor spoken to you. What I DID say, is that your writing, as displayed in this thread, gives that impression.

Slinging mud at a particular ethnicity, especially when the problem being discussed is present in ALL jurisdictions in this country, it not kind or loving.


Considering your recent post concerning taking care of and hadling things locally, in our local economy, I would think what a particular parish 3000 miles away does or doesn't do would be totally off your radar screen. But to even HINT in a public forum that this same church MIGHT be sinning, with as little facts as you have from that article, well, it seems at best incongrous, at moderation failure to remove a plank (condemning "them" perpetuates the "us vs. them" false dichotomy/myth), and at worse....

Forgive me for speaking so boldy, but it seems there is a lot of wrong thinking and a severe lack of love for our BRETHREN in Christ. All of my posts have been directed at the latter, while allowing you to think as you wish on the former, though hoping we can correct with our love rather than coerce with our emnity.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:13 PM  



Yes, the ethnic principle does afflict most jurisdictions, some more than others. I by no means mean to single out the Greek. But don't get me wrong; I'm not particuarly interested in being "nice" about it. The whole issue needs to be addressed more bluntly, similar to James' original post.

There are some ethnic parishes in the OCA, but they and the Antiochians have an enormous number of parishes that are "convert" friendly. To say everyone has the same problem isn't true.

- Steve K

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:40 PM  



Who said anything about being nice. I certainly didn't, nor have I ever suggested we didn't need to tackle this issue head on, or bluntly perhaps as you've put it.

What I did say, and I want to be very clear here, is that we ought be LOVING when we do so. If you don't think that can be done, then I would suggest that perhaps you are not the person to deal with this issue. Again, to avoid misunderstanding, I am not saying you shouldn't discuss this, or anything for that matter. I don't know you from anyone.

What I do know is how you present yourself here, on this thread, and you have criticised people unfairly, and made accusations in an "us vs. them" fashion. I've been to a number of VERY convert friendly Greek parishes, and I know of both OCA and Antiochian parishes that were less so. That's my point. It IS a widespread problem, across all jurisdictions.

It is also a problem in our own hearts. So long as we look at "them", whovever they are, as the problem, rather than realizing that they have things to overcome for their salvation, just AS WE DO, and thus thinking of them as US (the Church of Christ), we will NEVER affect any sort of positive change, but rather will perpetuate the problem, for by doing so, we are effectively calling them "xeni".


By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:09 PM  


Fair enough. So addressing the original parish in James' post, how would you handle this with love, honesty, integrity, if you were a parishioner there?

Having been to several "ethnic" parishes, I know that the annual parish meetings are candid, very candid. What would you tell a parish that seems to be hopelessly blind to the "ethnic" trap they're in?

I well remember what Fr. Steve Tsichlis told the Greek youth group back in the late 80s. He was quite frustrated and told them they sounded like an Elk's Club meeting. The kids were borderline insulted. Now I call that tough love. We need more of that and less sentimentality, less negotiating. Otherwise things won't change.

I think a lot of pious and observant "ethnic" (really a horrible thing to call people, but what other word to use??) Orthodox understand in principle that the eventual American Church needs to reflect America more, and less the various ethnoi from which they come, that we all need to united, etc. But the problem is that the tough choices keep getting put off, there's plenty of immigrants to keep the church full and financially feasible. So we keep saying we want one thing, but keep doing the other. It's like an obese person that sincerely intends to lose weight, but he just keeps eating, putting off the diet, and the longer this goes on, the more ingrained the habits, the more hopeless the situation becomes.

At the moment, the various jurisdictions are actually competing, sort of like the obese person who actually eats more just before starting his diet.

Unfortunately, I see it as the converts' role to rock the boat a bit. It's not going to be pleasant. If it is pleasant, he's probably not rocking hard enough.

- Steve

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:28 PM  



Let me fist say that it appears we are having an honest dialogue; that is seems we all thus far desire to learn and grow, and for that I am very grateful. So often this sort of discussion devolves into a deconstructive polemic, and if I thought that would happen here, I'd have bowed out a long time ago. All that to say thank you for your responses and your input.

Now addressing the parish that started this discussion? I must be honest and say I'm not at all sure how to address it, because to be honest, I know nothing AT ALL about that particular parish besides what I read in a New York Times newspaper article. To go further, all the article really said was something to the effect of (I can't quote it because it askes me to log in now to re-read it, which it didn't yesterday...odd) "This parish has noticed it's numbers have been dwindling...They are looking for ways to being new people in...They have started trying to find ways to let the Greeks in the area know they are there...This area is an area that historically has had a massive Greek population, though it has dwindled over the years."

That gives me very little information to go off of to "handle it". I highly doubt that ANYONE could even say with any certainty what the exact problem is, much less offer any sort of remedy.

Let me ask you this, which is true, but I offer it to you by way of analogy. As I've stated previously, and no one has commented on, though I think it is highly relevant, I know personally of two...no actually three... Orthodox parishes that are Spanish language. Their PRIMARY focus is on the Latino communities around them. They do not ever serve in english, and aren't actively courting non-latinos. NO ONE here thinks it is a problem, in fact EVERY person I've ever spoken to thinks it's wonderful.

Why isn't it a problem? Based on what WE KNOW of that parish in NYC FROM THAT ARTICLE, there is absolutely no difference. So why immediately do we respond diferently?

Again, let me be clear here. In the Orthodox world at large, there can be no doubt there is a widespread problem. When we are clean in our hearts of that problem, and when we encounter it IN OUR OWN LIVES, then in the immediacy of that situation by all means, let's rock. Let us fight for truth in love. Love motivated Christ to upturn the temple vendors. Love may have motivated St. Nicholas to slap Arius. Love motivated Athanasius to defy the majority of the Orthdox world.

So let us examine our hearts, find them pure, and then act as boldly as they did. But we had better be right when we do so. Love also demands that we know a man's heart when we judge his actions. Love demands that we see things purely when we respond to them.

If you know of a way to lovingly correct this on a large scale, by all means do so, and Godspeed my friend. As for me, the only way I know (and I'm speaking only for myself here) to effect change at this point, and to do so in pure love, is the way we are doing so now, by confronting issues as I'm presented with them, and seeking to preserve the fulness of the Church here where I am. Even my 100% convert church has it's issues, and so I rock away, and there are definitely those who are uncomfortable with my doing so.

I hope you will continue to rock your local boat too when it needs it. And if you find a way to rock the boat lovingly, as it seem Fr. Steve did, again, Godspeed. But let us imitate his intimacy and his clarity with his audience too. He did not speak about those he did not know, nor those he did not love.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:30 PM  


First, there is an ENORMOUS difference between a mission to people who aren't Orthodox, and a bunch of, say, Russians, who come across the Atlantic and try to preserve an Orthodox ghetto.

The hispanic mission is TO the spanish-speaking heterodox. A Russian church could, perhaps should, be a mission TO Americans, among them their very own children. To do that, they need not just English, but a whole range of adjustments to get OUT of that ghetto. Otherwise, they will survive only on immigrants, as wave after of children are lost to the Church.

How many hispanic misssions are there? Two? Seven? With about 5 people in each? How many english-language Greek parishes are there? 300 at least, with hundreds of members in each. The magnitude of the difference is staggering. What you're essentially confusing is the fact that we must make the faith approachable TO Non-Orthodox, (the MISSION principle) with the temptation of keeping it comfortable to Greeks who are already Orthodox, but don't come anyhow (The ETHNIC principle). There can be no comparison.

In asking what you would say to the congregation first mentioned by James, I never requested a "global" solution. I asked specifically what you would do in that particular parish. For the sake of argument, let's assume it's just a simple situation: some old people who can no longer keep the church running, and feel the need to pick up new members. They propose advertising to Greeks. What do you tell them? Not a global solution, I'm looking for your loving specific way of addressing their problem. This is not a specific or unusual situation. It effects hundreds of parishes who don't understand why they're dying. You say my solution is wrong. What is yours??

Here is what happened to me on the Eastside of Seattle years ago from a different perspective. Metropolitan Anthony of San Fran told a small English-language mission of about 6 families (all converts) that he would NOT bless the mission until they picked up their numbers, and the only reasonable approach to this was to look up all the Greek surnames in the phonebook. Being a member of that mission, I heard it with my own eyes. The mission collapsed by the next morning, because all the members of the mission put their foot down and voted with their feet. In fact the whole reason they were starting a mission was to precisely avoid being stuck in a church which basically catered to Greeks. They pulled the plug and went elsewhere.

- Steve

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:57 PM  


Chance...how many of the Greek-Americans in Greek O Churches speak english fluently? If they did not, then of course, a Church geared toward their lingual needs would be fantastic - e.g. the hispanic parishes you note. The problem is that they have linked their ethnicity with their religion...it's an easy trap to fall into - how tempted I am sometimes to feel like that by becoming more of a Rusyn I will also become more Orthodox.

Chance...I don't think you need to know anything about the specific parish! How about an Orthodox Church that gears itself to ministry to hip hop folk, and hip hop folk alone? Meanwhile, the guy who loves classical music next door to the parish is left to wonder: "What the heck are they all about?" Perhaps they even do a hip-hop language liturgy which the Bach fan could not hope to understand?

What's the difference? 99% of the time - much unlike the "evangelical ethnic problem" we are not talking about Greeks who have just stepped off the boat and can't speak of word of english. I'd wager that for the vast majority of them they have been here as long as my Slovak-Rusyn relatives have been here (two generations).

I'm sorry bro, but I think it is a HUGE problem if the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church cannot/will not reach out to their next door neighbor because of an ethnic/lingual barrier - especially when that ethnic/lingual barrier need not exist.

What does Catholic mean anyway?

As a side, the specific issue of this little Parish hit my radar because it was in the news - but more than that it calls attention to a bigger and widespread problem that we Orthodox need to ante up and deal with.

The specific Parish mentioned in the article isn't really the subject - rather it is merely a platform from which to jump and engage the larger issue. Of course I've got a big plank in my eye and of course my heart isn't pure - so with that in mind perhaps you could enlighten me to which issues I may take issue with? I mean, if only a pure heart affords one the ability to properly discern, then I reckon I ain't gonna be rockin ANY boats be they local, in New York, or throughout Orthodox Communities in North America.

BTW, the plank in my eye is causing me to start a Slavic-Hillbilly Parish on the Olympic Pennisula. We will reach out to that glorious diaspora of Slavic Hillbillies and Rednecks, for whom other, more, anglicized Orthodox parishes just don't "feel" right. We'll work out the language issues later.

By Blogger JamesoftheNorthwest, at 9:35 PM  


Long-live the Slavic Church of Orthodox Traditional Communally-oriented Hillbillies (SCOTCH for short...)!!!
Barring more political misfortune, there are likely to be no more waves of Orthodox immigrants to this country. As a result the "ethnic" Orthodox Churches basically have three choices the way I see it. Maintain themselves as ethnic enclaves, and thus die off in a generation. Begin evangelizing within their own ethnic group among the unchurched, a viable option in the short term (there are thousands of Russians living in the Seattle area but there sure aren't thousands of people at St. Spiridon and St. Nicholas (and [ahem] St. Nektarios)). Or focus their evangelism and growth efforts on the community, and I use the word community to mean first and foremost, those areas physically near their building. While maintaining a strong ethnic ministry is important, I don't think we can disagree that making it the primary focus will lead to the death of the parish.
The analogy between the Spanish-language parishes and the situation with the Greek parish in New york doesn't quite add up. THe efforts of the Spanish-language parish are a good thing because, leaving political issues aside, SoCal is full of people who speak Spanish. The parish in New York is casting a dragnet for Greeks, wherever they may find them. The real key is that the (among others) Greek college students they are looking for probably only speak a few dozen words of Greek, so what practical reason is there for them to attend a particular Greek parish and not say an OCA parish. Now I know there are cultural ties that are very important (I say this as someone whose Serbian heritage is very important to myself), but does it make sense to drive past several canonical Orthodox Churches simply to worship with "my people"?
This is the particular situation I have found myself in and it has troubled me for a while. When I attemp St. Sava, I drive past SEVEN Orthodox Churches. Does this make sense for me to do? Does it make sense for me to do so when i am bringing along my fiancee who doesn't speak but a few words of Serbian (and no Church Slavonic)?

Everyone seems to talk a lot about building a sense of "Orthodox Community". The only way it is going to happen in a sustained fashion is for us "ethnic Orthodox" to bite the bullet and admit that there must be more to our efforts than simply maintaining the culture of the "old country". And likewise the converts may have to bite the bullet, and if the closest Orthodox Church to them is St Slvxbgwxz Slobbovian Church (if I may borrow a canard from The Oniondome), then they need to attach themselves to it and become part of the community of faithful there despite the difficulties.

By Blogger Radoje S., at 7:07 AM  


Maintain themselves as ethnic enclaves, and thus die off in a generation

This is big part of my original point - if Greek Churches want to RETAIN Greek youth, they might consider that by reaching out to ALL who need Christ this might generate an atmosphere that Greek youth will embrace.

But, besides that, it just makes sense in the context of the Gospel preached by St. Paul (Pray for us on this your feastday!) who would willingly become all things to all men and told us there is no distinction between "greek and Jew"

By Blogger JamesoftheNorthwest, at 8:44 AM  


James, I agree with you bigtime on the crazy idea that we somehow have to be pure of heart before we can accomplish anything. Taken literally, no one can try to change the situation because no one is all that pure. In fact, integrity requires us to fix what is a Major Canonical violation. Perhaps we would become more "pure" by trying to maintain the Orthodox Tradition, even if it means a brouhaha. But more importantly, this is just a way of changing the subject from the real point, which is that until the laity in this country can somehow form a consistent and reasonable and yes, loving approach to the whole problem, the Old World patriarchates will continue to promote separate jurisdictions, and will find willing clergy and "ethnic" laity to support it. It's the easy, short-term fix, shown, yea, proven, to be a long-term loser everywhere it's tried. The laity, however, get "pacified" by various strategies: appealing to the love of octegenarian old Russian, Serbian and Greek ladies, who somehow can't stomach English, telling us we're not mature enough for our own Church (as though the Old World jurisdictions are an example of maturity), the formation of new ethnic jurisdictions (the JP's are now setting up shop, and I"m told the Ukrainians now have presence, and that we'll soon have Estonians). We also need a hierarch like Metropolitan Philip to make the point with more force. I'll never forget his speech several years ago where he lambasted the Old World Churches for preferring to just die rather than actually dealing with serious problems.

- Steve K

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:47 AM  


Sorry I haven't responded sooner, I've got some things going on here that needed attending.

I'm sorry to say it, but this is the reason I never post anything, because people take my words and go somewhere else with them than what I said, and I don't have the energy or quite frankly the desire to have to correct that all the time. I understand it's part of the territory here, but I'm not interested, but every once in a while I'm foolish enough to think it won't happen this time. My bad.

For the record, I NEVER said people must be completely pure of heart in order to accomplish anything. If I really thought that, then no one would ever get anything done.

What I am saying, is that people should be pure ON THE ISSUE THEY ARE ADDRESSING
. If one is bitter or harbors malice against someone, that person is not the person to try and correct the other, even if the other legitimately needs correcting. Our hardness of heart will get in the way on anything constructive.

That means, for me, there are things I will address, and things I will let others address while keeping my mouth shut.

I leave it to you all to decide which is which in your own lives.

I still maintain that none of you know anything about that parish, and as such are all unqualified to have any real opinions beyond "I hope they are reaching out to non-greeks too", for in fact none of you has any certain knowledge they are not.

Regarding the bigger issue...I encourage you to deal with it, if that is proper for you (again, I make no judgements as to whether you should or not) as you encounter it. If you see it in your parish...fight. If you see it in a friend...fight. If you see it in yourself...fight.

But airing dirty laundry here, well do what you want...what do I know. I think it has accomplished nothing...but what the heck do I know. Maybe some bishop or Patriarch reads this page and decides to call a Synodal meeting, or even an Ecumenical council...who knows.

Sorry to sound crotchety...I know I do, and for that reason, I apologize, and will bow out and go into lurker mode for another year. I only came out to defend George against unfair attacks, and maybe I shouldn't have even done that.

Please forgive me my brethren, and a blessed feast day to you all.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:40 PM  


You probably don't know or can't understand how weird a phenomenon it is for Greeks that people from a non-Orthodox background actually want to be (or are) Orthodox. Hence the "are you Greek?" question

Right. And a thousand years of Orthodox Christianity in Russia, Romania, Bulgaria,etc., etc., still hasn't convinced them that being an Orthodox Christian without being Greek is perfectly normal and acceptable. It's not only new converts who are faced with incredulity from ethnic Greeks. My Greek priest said I just needed to be patient. How much longer? Another thousand years perhaps? The idea of someone converting to the true faith is only "weird" if you don't really think is IS the true faith.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:37 AM  


which in the Greek case is difficult since for 400 years of Turkish oppression and occupation, we figured out that the only way to perserve our culture and language was to tie it to the church. It will take us a while to separate the two, so be patient with us.

How long? How many years, how many generations have there been since Greek independence? Shouldn't eight generations do it? Yes, Muslim occupation can warp a culture, but it's time to stop making excuses.

Also the elderly whose English is poor and prefer to worship in their native language need to be accomodated.

People who have spent 40 to 60 years in an English speaking environment and have mastered English well enough to run extremely successful busnesses can handle English worship, especially when they have children and grandchildren who cannot follow the services in Greek

A friend of mine, an enthusiast of Greek ethnicity who had a classics degree from the University of Athens, said I was wrong to feel that my young children were being excluded, since the Greeks mostly couldn't understand the language of the church services either. What's wrong with this picture?


By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:51 AM  


Airy dirty laundry is sometimes the only way to start the cleaning process...ummm...or something like that.

Again, I would say that the issue here has little to do with the specific Parish in NY. And an personal "attacks" whther real or imagined detracts from what I believe is an important issue we American Orthodox need to deal with.

I do not know of any hierarchs who read this blog - though I do get occassional hits from Istanbul (heheh). That being said, the problem as it exists is mainly the fault of the laity. Certainly they are the ones driving the issue, and thereofore I believe it is perfectly legit for us to openly engage the issue, because odds are this is something that will change from the bottom up - very much in line with historic Orthodox praxis.

Fact is, we HAVE seen it in our own Parish and in our own diocese. Two Paschas ago at our afternoon Vespers before the big feast we had a large contigent of visitors - perhaps as many as 15 people who were clearly of Arabic descent. None of us had EVER seen them before.

They had come NOT to check out our Parish or even to feast with us, rather they had come to convince Bishop Joseph (who was visiting) to let them start their own parish.

I have no idea what Bishop Joseph's response was to them, but I know what MINE would have been (yes, I get to have an opinion): "You stand in a perfectly acceptable Parish right now. Feast with them."

If we wish to talk about a "us" vs. "them" situation, well there you have it.

By Blogger JamesoftheNorthwest, at 8:00 AM  


Every convert I know has cherished the idea of their kids being "cradle" Orthodox. Keeping and bringing back the stray Greek and Russian second and third generation IS important. Yes, fossilised parishes don't help converts but they don't help their own young people either. Sons and Daughters of Greece Club? No. Sons and Daughters of Holy Greece... Yessssssssss. I am not Greek btw.

By Blogger Margi, at 9:48 AM  


And I have to agree with George, when I was a kid growing up in the Russian diaspora, we thought converts were weird... nice but weird. We had *cringe* pet converts. They were all married to Russians or Slavophiles of some sort, no-one EVER thought they would become ordinary and the bread and butter of Orthodoxy. Myself I married a Jew so I knew all about being a convert and if you think Greek Orthodoxy is hard... well...

By Blogger Margi, at 9:52 AM  


I like that Luz, nice but weird.

Hi Xenia,

I'm don't know your particular parish, but I do know that in mine we have a wide variety of people who are not of Greek descent and are equally accepted as Orthodox and part of our church community. (Just to give you a flavour we are the only Greek Orthodox parish within a 1 1/2 hour drive in any direction, so you would expect us to be staunchly Greek) To give you an example our priest permits a convert from a Baptist background to oversee bible studies in his absence. Also when our priest goes on vacation he has a *gasp* OCA priest perform services. The OCA priest in turn respects that we do most (maybe 1/2 the liturgy) in Greek and so he puts in the effort to do some of the liturgy in Greek (with a very good accent I might add). Some of the elderly don't like having an OCA priest, but our priest supports the OCA priest and our elderly are slowly getting used to it.

Those who are not of Greek descent in our parish accept that our language and culture are important, so they understand that some Greek will be spoken during liturgy and social gatherings. All of our literature is in both languages and our priest often does homilies in both languages, although they are longer in English.

You are right to ask how long will it take the Greeks (and other ethnics) to separate our culture/language from Orthodoxy. Please don't think I am making excuses, I am merely point out how tightly knit these various aspects of ethnicity are woven together. And you can't count the generations from independence since most of those generations lived in Greece where it is acceptable to tie culture, language and church together. We need to measure from the time they immigrated to the New World. Having said that, the American Greeks have been in the New World much longer (3 generations) than those in Canada (1 generation), so I would have expected them to have separated these threads of ethnicity by now. Why they haven't done so I can't say since I don't personally know any American Greeks to ask them. In contrast, most of the Greeks in Canada are first generation so the ties to Greece are much stronger. Again not that it is an excuse, just a fact. I think we will see the change in this generation of ethnics. It all starts with the youth and I know at our parish our priest has done a good job of encouraging pan-Orthodox events and stamping out the "xeni" attitude.

As for the services being in Greek, I think having them completely in Greek is a bad thing since as you say, the majority of people cannot understand. I do think though, that having them completely in English is not the right answer either since it robs the elderly (which in our case, some are straight from Greece) and those who really like to say "Kyrie eleison". What's the right mix? I guess it should be whatever is acceptable to the parish community.

By Anonymous George, at 10:43 AM  


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