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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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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

First new Russian Orthodox church built on the West Coast in more than 70 years?


First, I must say...I've always loved Archbishop Kyrill's mustache. There, I said it. Here's the article from a local paper. There are a few things in the article (as is often the case when the media tries to report on the Orthodox Church) that I would question. But, this one in particular:

Russian Orthodoxy in the U.S. claims about 10 million members
Ummm....Russian Orthodoxy? I'm not sure that ALL the Orthodox Churches in America can claim 10 million souls - I think the largest estimate I've ever heard was 5 million.

In general the article tends to give the impression - very much our own Orthodox fault - that we are dealing here with another ethnic church intended for Russian immigrants. We have to get past this folks...even ROCOR does, I think we all know this, right? It would have been nice to make mention of converts for while retaining its Russian roots, this tree none-the-less is growing (hopefully) in American soil now.

Anyway...you have got to love this line from Father Seraphim Cardoza: "It will be very beautiful, very traditional...We don't want it to look like a gymnasium or a classroom — forgive me — like most churches look like. This won't be a place to come and play basketball. It's a place to worship God."

Anyway, it is my hope that we can generate news articles in local papers like this for our Mission...hopefully for our future building plans when (God willing) they come to fruition), but also for feasts like Theophany that tend to bring us out more visibly into the public.

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 7:45 AM [+]
+++
19 comments


19 Comments:

I think Fr. John might know Fr. Seraphim...


sf

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:18 PM  

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I asked a Mormon co-worker of mine what his church building was like. The Answer:"Oh, man! Matt, you would love it doesn't even look like a church. It has a fireplace room with books, a big kitchen and dining room, and the main meeting room converts to two basketball courts! We play every Thursday and Saturday night. Wanna come?"

"No, I don't have time, but that seems like a very practical set up."

Practicality. But as an American-born religion, what else is to be expected?

By Blogger Matt, at 11:50 PM  

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I have seen many many front page splashes about theophany, with color photos and such, in American newspapers. I have to respectfully challenge whether such coverage really would help a local church, or the local readership.

For one thing, the media will always place coverage of such a ritual in the category of "ancient church" or "ethnic church". In other words, the text backing up stories on Orthodoxy always verges on "news of the weird."

Second, is Theophany really meant to be the public face of Orthodoxy in the 21st century? Was that the intention of the blessing of waters?

Finally, your blog talks about needing to get past the ethnic identity, but when a reporter avoids the ethnic angle, other problems emerge, like triumphalism. E.g., some local priest will claim that such-and-such a ritual has been practiced for 2,000 years, or that we have 300 million believers, and the like. I guess what I'm saying is that I've never read press coverage that just treats us like a local church, and for some reason, when a camera is present, the person being interviewed feels the need to come up with "material" that makes me cringe. There's always a sensational or exotic narrative in play. I don't think it serves our interest to seek this kind of publicity. And it's really not our "interests" that matter. I'm just saying that in my experience with Christian (evang.) friends at work, people who know nothing of authentic Christianity aren't particularly impressed by these kinds of news stories. In fact, it just feeds their prejudices about traditional religion being, as Fr. Schmemann complained being a place for "ancient and colorful rites."

- Steve Knowlton

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:06 AM  

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Valid concerns I think Steve.

Second, is Theophany really meant to be the public face of Orthodoxy

MEANT TO BE...of course not. However, it IS. When we process, ring our bells, or wander down to a public waterway we are making our presence known - even if not by intent.

People will inevitably wonder: "Who they heck are those people and what are they doing?" Part of being a local church means that we will from time to time make coverage in the religion section of local paper...but based on what we do and believe we will thankfully never be just like the other local churches and so are going to be covered differently. I think we have to try and steer the coverage as best we can....our Mission is clearly NOT a Russian Church or ethnic/immigrant ghetto (a point that I think MUST come across in any coverage)...and yet that needn't lead to triumphalism (though, frankly, we all know everyone is going to have to eventually confront the claims the Orthodox Church believes about herself)

Some people reading such stories will be impressed some won't...but so what? I'm not sure the point is to wow people into coming..but to simply let them know we are here. I think this is a big part of being a part of the community here. Better that when people see us standing on the dock at Liberty Bay that they can say: "Hey...I read about these guys..." rather than "Who the heck are those nutjobs and what are they doing?" (Of course we'll never be able to prevent the latter comment from arising from the knowledge of the first...but oh well)

I've no qualms - in fact quite the opposite - in spreading the word that we are here doing what we do amongst the community.

By Blogger JamesoftheNorthwest, at 9:56 AM  

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James,

I recently heard a talk where the priest said that his mission made a special point of inviting his bishop, and doing a special outdoor blessing of the entire city. Lots of silk and hats and processing, singing, bells, etc. I don't think it was part of the Theophany observance, but it sounded similar in its public character of blessing something that belongs to everyone. It got full coverage in the media. The priest then expressed surprise that not one person came to visit afterward. Well, I wondered, why would a non-Orthodox person be particularly impressed? (And if "publicity" was somehow a motivator, why would an Orthodox person even want to attend?)

To be honest, I was pretty disappointed. Is this our vision of our role in local communities? Could this priest really not understand how impoverished his vision had become?

Since when were public processions ever meant to "advertise" our presence to people who haven't the foggiest clue what all the silk and bellringing are about? This seems like an innovation to me. Even if you "like" it, I think it needs to be defended on a deeper level. Is it traditional? Or are we using a public ceremony for a purpose never envisioned?

One reason I feel strongly about this is that I love the actual Theophany celebration, but it's kind of spoiled (for me) when the parish gears up for a "public" effort. I feel like I should be able to have a service at the lake or river with my church without there being cameras and reporters gawking at us.

- Steve Knowlton

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:14 PM  

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I see your point...none-the-less I don't have qualms in inviting people to spread the word about why we are there. Of course...it is not the intent or the motivation for doing it...God forbid.

But the community has a "right" to know and by golly it will indeed let people know we are here. I mean...why have your name and number in the phone book if you do not hope to have people know about you. Innovation? I don't think so...St. Paul preached in public squares over and over again and I'm not advocating for that - though maybe we should?

Two years in a row now we have had a booth at the Viking Fest. Last year - that we know of for sure - that exposure, simple and humble as it was - resulted in a couple becoming Orthodox. It started with them just knowing we exist.

We have a mandate to take the Gospel out into our community, now whether our processions and water blessings are to be used as partial fulfillment of that mandate...maybe, maybe not.

But it leads to an interesting question: So...what IS the purpose of our processions? What is the point of ringing bells far louder than the gathered community inside the Temple can hear? Why go out to waterways to bless them...as opposed to just a tub in the Church?

I'm not willing to say that any of these acts are necessarily devoid of bringing our light out into the community. But neither will I argue for it being absolutely the case.

In the end though...people are going to gawk at us whether we invite them to witness it or not. Why not invite a representative of the community (reporter) to inform the community a little tidbit of our reasoning and presence?

I guess I just haven't seen that preparation for the presence of media overtaking the true meaning and act of the rite. That would indeed be a bad thing...however...then again...if it inspires some serious intense choir practice...well then...

:)

By Blogger JamesoftheNorthwest, at 8:48 AM  

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If you're going to tell any neighbor about something your family is doing in the neighborhood, don't you exercise some discretion? It's kind of provocative to just process through a community with a bunch of vestments, throwing water, carrying pictures, ringing bells etc. and then to say "well, we can't control what people will think of us." Gimme a break. Note that I never said that the church should hide in a corner. You're trying to defend your position by mischaracterizing mine. Having a booth is fine, a phone number is fine, opening a soup kitchen, writing an editorial on behalf of the parish, i.e. speak to people in a way that you're actually communicating in their idiom. To liken a modern-day theophany celebration to St. Paul's preaching is a stretch. He was reasoning with people challenging their faith; the publicity around theophany doesn't accomplish that at all. Basically, I'm not hearing any reasoning other than "I think it's cool", and then an attempt to cover it by accusing the critics of quietism.

I earlier times, processions were carried out in Orthodox monasteries, villages, cities, i.e. in civilizations that were 99%Orthodox. There's a huge difference in context, James. Basically, you're just pretending that nothing has changed in moving the faith from Novgorod to Seattle. Isn't this just another version of the ethnicism you decry?

- Steve

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:23 AM  

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In earlier times, processions were carried out in Orthodox monasteries, villages, cities, i.e. in civilizations that were 99%Orthodox. There's a huge difference in context

So...should we not do processions or ring bells or bless the waters in public anymore? And we ought to ask again...WHY do we do it if we are no longer in the same context as Novgorod 120 years ago?

What do we believe happens when we bless the waters? Anything? Might it bestow some blessing on all people? Are we in some way "standing in the gap" as it were?

The religion section of the local newspaper I would suggest IS an idiom in which religious practices are communicated to the general public. I see it as a valid means of letting people know why they may be seeing and hearing us. To some, I expect they WILL hear a sermon in our blessing of the water.

There's a good deal of reasoning here, I think.

If we are going to do something in public...why on earth would we not take a little initiative to explain what we are doing????

By Blogger JamesoftheNorthwest, at 11:44 AM  

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Well, to answer your first question, I'm at a mission where we're constantly discussing the purchase of property. One of the dimensions of hte problem is that most small churches can't afford commercial real estate, so we end up looking for properties in residential areas. And it often comes up that we want to be able to ring bells in any neighborhood we move into. But this conversation generally makes me cringe. Why should we assume that other people want to hear our bells? What is the point of that? I would generally not want to hear another religious group's calls to prayer and such? Why would it satisfy us to make other people hear our bells? How is that in any sense "spiritual?"

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:32 PM  

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Now that's a very foundational question...I'm going to have to think about it.

By Blogger JamesoftheNorthwest, at 1:22 PM  

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Knowlton, knock it off. The Orthodox Church does what it does. To wait until the unfortunate inhabitants of a secularistic, pluralistic culture are likely to understand it is STUPID, pure and simple. More than that, it's just unbelief. Good Lord, man, get a grip on yourself.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:45 AM  

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I agree completely. If we assume that it is God who calls people to the Church, and the church should simply do what it does, and not try to INNOVATE based on its members' bizarre perceptions of what tickles the ears of the creatures who read the Religion Page, then why seek publicity? Who is betraying their unbelief here???

Can't we be faithful to what we've been given and not go down the road of publicity stunts and such? Can I attend a church where, once and for all, we dispense with the marketing?

And another point, it is precisely the secular people who understand, affirm, appreciate our colorful rites. They love this "stuff." The less sense it makes, the better. The "religious" people out there have long ago quit relying on newspapers for coverage of religion, for the same reason you do.

Whoever you are.

- "Knowlton"

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:57 AM  

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Secularists affirm, understand, and appreciate our rites? Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. If they want to indulge their journalistic voyeurism to fill up a couple columns in the community rag, so what? On the other hand, if they actually (in 1 out of 10,000 cases) hear something that clicks, it's worth it. What harm, exactly, are you so fearful of?

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:37 PM  

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I'm not "afraid" of anything, friend.

Nice try, though.

- Steve Knowlton

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:36 PM  

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Previous posts indicate otherwise. Not "trying," just reading. Oh well, there's nothing you're going to do about it anyway, so the point's moot. Of course, you could always switch parishes. Most Orthodox are closet Protestants, anyway.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:54 PM  

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Ouch.

- Steve

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:20 PM  

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And another point, it is precisely the secular people who understand, affirm, appreciate our colorful rites. They love this "stuff." The less sense it makes, the better. The "religious" people out there have long ago quit relying on newspapers for coverage of religion, for the same reason you do.

Actually, I think this is a very good point, but it is subtle. I heard about a fellow Episcopalian who was an absolute atheist and yet would find himself in church every sunday. Why? He just appreciated the ceremony of it all...so he said. The vestments, the hymns, the bells and whistles etc. So I think you are right Steve in that the vast majority of people who see the article will ever find it naively quaint or stupid.

However, that being said...it may also shake something free in someone. Perhaps someone considering Orthodoxy in the early stages who knew nothing of our existence or someone who'd been Orthodoxy and just needed a gentle and simple reminded of the Church still being available to him or her...who knows.

Really, I think ANY publicity done even "okay" is worth it. It cannot be our focus and I take your considerations Steve as worthy cautions. But we are not inviting spectators to join us in the intimacy of our community...not at least by direct means of our public liturgical actions. THAT comes when people show up at OUR doors, not when we exit ours and enter through theirs (the outside world, if you will). I don't wish to set up a false dichotomy between sacred and secular - but I think you get my point.

A healthy parish will properly catechize and demonstrate Orthodoxy to people as they do enter our community. I think we have an obligation to let folks know who and what we are. It's not a media event (Theophany), but it might be an event worthy of a little media coverage. The reporters and editors ultimately decide this...but the fact is, after any major Orthodox feast day the media is FILLED with pics from around the world.

We are going to be out there anyway...might as well let them know what we are doing it for.

By Blogger JamesoftheNorthwest, at 3:12 PM  

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So do you agree that the ethnic angle was wrong in the original article? The Russian Churhcman would argue that most russian churches are quite consciously NOT trying to be American. That's why they're calling themselves Russian. But the publicity succeeds in making the coverage more noticed by Russians, their target audience. So in pragmatic terms, it's "good" publicity, because they're letting the people they're targeting know of their existence in the community.

We tend to define ourselves by our public confessions and teachings. If, when a reporter approaches a Russian clergyman, and -- every time -- they emphasize their russian-ness, don't they rather "own" that identity?

- Steve Knowlton

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:42 PM  

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Well, I don't know much about that particular parish...it may have a definitive ethnic feel to it...and it may well be "the church where the Russians go."

I recall one of the priests up in AK told me he was not happy when the name of their diocese was changed to include the word "Russian" and he also complained that the former Bishop hammered away on them to try and "Russify" their practices and traditions...at the expense of long long held Aluet and other native peoples' practices and traditions. He was, in the opinion of this priest, robbing the people of Alaska of their by now indigenous faith.

I'm utterly opposed to any Parish not trying to reach the community around it for Christ. While that may sound protestant...it isn't...its absolutely apostolic and in keeping with the mission given to us by Christ.

Turning the Church into a Greek or Russian or Arab or even a weird-protestant-convert enclave is a betrayal of that mission, IMHO.

I'd be terribly grieved if a reporter reported about my Mission as a "church for Russians." And I'd go WAY out of my way to prevent it.

By Blogger JamesoftheNorthwest, at 12:59 PM  

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