Friday, 13 August 2010
Now this is subtle and easily misunderstood. Orthodox in the west are right to be wary of the Borg of western liberalism, (non Star Trek fans look it up in Google ... the Borg Collective's proud boast was:- "Resistance is futile, you will be assimilated"). Assimilation and intermarriage has often led to a falling away in faith commitment, a drowning in the fetid waters of post-Protestant secularism. This lies at the root of the fear of many pious Orthodox of immigrant backgrounds that the only alternative to seeing their children lost to the Church is to try and build an impregnable wall of piety and culture round about them ... and this of course the ghetto immigrant church community readily provides.
Of course this doesn't work but it doesn't stop the wall of separation being built taller and taller around a shrinking and ageing congregation. Within one more generation, or maybe sooner, such parishes will have disappeared. In the meantime the pious separatists become more and more confirmed in their view that those outside the Church are a threat, spiritually inferior dangerous influences. When this is compounded with those nationalistic identities which pit one ghetto Orthodox community against another (cloaked in ecclesiastical speak) then the idea takes root that we "here" are better than The Others "there". This is the little seed that grows into the ugly weed of spiritual racism.
Of course if one's only possibility of becoming Orthodox from a non-Orthodox background is to join such a community then putting up with an incomprehensible liturgical language and accepting that one will always be a second class proselyte "convert" (because one has not been raised in "it" and therefore one is at a permanent disadvantage) is the only course of action possible. Of course, if one really tries hard and affects an ersatz imitation of Greek / Russian / Arab / Serb / Romanian etc. culture and if this is really good and nearly indistinguishable from "the Real Thing", then some measure of equality and respect may be assured; but if not, watch out. You may be asked: "What are you doing here? The English Church (Ahem! They mean the Church of England!) is up the road.
Of course monocultural spiritual racism then also spreads like a virus to infect "convert" communities. If the English, the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish huddle together under the banner of Celtic Christianity or Saxon Christianity or some other such nonsense, then the same exclusivist monocultural spiritual (and sometimes not-so-spiritual) racism may prevail in these communities as well. Such Orthodox may be more than happy to organise conferences, retreats and pilgrimages but not be at all disturbed that the great majority of Orthodox from other "ethnic" (now a term of abuse) parishes do not attend ... although they may pay lip service to the regret that the "Cypriots fish and chip shop owners" have not turned up. After all, if they had come along they would have wanted big chunks of the Liturgy in Koine Greek or Church Slavonic wouldn't they. Honestly? Well, yes, probably, but at least then they would have been there as part of the one Body of Christ.
Which neatly brings me to the solution; the cutting loose of yet one more dead canine. We are ALL part of the one Body of Christ. No member of that body is superior to any other member by reason of culture, ecclesiastical precedence or accident of birth, (1 Corinthians 12:12-26). We are all Orthodox because we are in Christ. We are not Greek Orthodox because we are in Hellenism, Russian Orthodox because we are in Slavism or Antiochians because we subscribe to Arabism.
This is a spiritual problem you see. People need to be Christians in and out of the Church. It's quite simple really. In Christ there is neither east nor west and race, culture, gender and social class in all their rich diversities do not define our primary identity as children of God. If we are children of God by baptism and new birth then ALL origins, cultures, genders and social classes belong to us. Our "comfort zone" should not be amongst those who are like us but rather amongst those who are different from us but who bear as we do the image and likeness of God. This diversity must be fully represented in our church communities. If it is not then that is automatic evidence that something is seriously wrong and needs immediate attention. How does your church community stack up?