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.
Reader Christopher Orr has a very intriguing post that I must recommend. I will give you a preview of one portion I found particularly insightful - especially for new or potential converts to Orthodoxy who may be struggling with the "foreignness" of Orthodoxy:
In many ways, the very foreignness of the Byzantine Rite helps to take it outside of cultural ownership allowing me to focus on the message and meaning. I have no cultural baggage associated with Byzantine vestments, with icon styles, with chant/choir styles in the same way that a black robe vs. cassock vs. suit vs. casual clothes would send strong cultural signals in a Lutheran congregation. The Byzantine form has become universalized in its particularity, for me, as long as I can understand most of the things being said. It's only language that makes an Orthodox service 'foreign' to me; a Mass of the Western Rite served in Latin would be just as off-putting and foreign - heck, a non-denominational praise service in Spanish would leave me feeling out of place.
Thanks for the shout out, as the kids say. I've been wracking my brain trying to remember in what regard I had heard and imbibed the idea of universality in particularity. It must have been in a Theatre History or Theory class in acting school. It is definitely something we see when we enjoy a classical Greek play, Shakespeare, Moliere, or anything 'foreign' - which is itself dependent on what culture one is in to begin with. Brecht (or his wife, if one is to believe recent criticism) brought this to theoretical perfection, though his plays and theory (and Communism) have gone out of fashion.
I think it is something we all understand intuitively in relation to film and theatre - and even music - but lose sight of when it comes to religion.
Unfortunately, I think many/most of us (unconsciously?) treat religion as a piece with family, language and culture; that religion is a totem of the tribe, a flag of our 'group'. Since family, tribe, etc. are 'familiar' anything that is not 'familiar' must therefore be false or 'not for me'. The yearning after truth, of universality is actually denied because only my own particularity is accepted as valid, for me.
There are really two lines of argument against particularism: one against the ethnicism within the Orthodox Church that seeks to relegate religion to a cultural totem and the other against relativists that see all paths as valid. The fact that God became man in a given culture, and the Church matured in a given culture, was spread to other certain cultures in ways that did not require cultural and linguistic conformity tells us something important, and permanent, about how we should be Orthodox in yet other cultures and languages.
Then again, the ethnic conclave that is the GOA (and MP/ROCOR and the other ethnic jurisdictions benefiting from immigration post-Communism) seems to be doing quite well, as are the relativists. Perhaps I am wrong. Then again, perhaps only a few hundred of us have not bowed the knee to Baal. Time will tell. Come, Lord Jesus.
I just keep thinking back to how foreign this 'Christian' Judaism was to the Greek and Romans and Syrians in the first centuries AD; about how different was the faith of the Romans compared to the pagan rites of the Rus', the Germans, the Celts, etc. Cultural foreignness and the "I am a Westerner' argument against conversion to Orthodoxy is an argument against evangelism of any kind - it is an argument against Christianity and for one's tribal gods over the One, True God; truth itself or Himself is the only criteria of religion, if one is truly a Christian, truly a believer in any religion not tied to ancestry (Judaism) or relativism/syncretism (Hinduism).