Orthodoxy at the Emmys

Not that I watch awards shows more than perhaps once every five years or so (and I didn’t see this one, either), but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this is the first time that Orthodox Christian monastic enclave Mount Athos was mentioned in an Emmy speech. This is Jonathan Jackson winning his fifth Emmy.

Readers may recall my interview with Mr. Jackson shortly before he and his family were baptized into the Orthodox Church earlier this year.

I know that some may greet this sort of thing with skepticism, especially since fame is not exactly conducive to salvation. The value of these kinds of moments, though, is that Orthodoxy is making its way into the public square.

Of course, this can be done badly, and fame can be a temptation in at least two ways: The first is the more obvious, and that is that fame can destroy humility. I’m not sure that many Orthodox people would therefore argue that acting, politics, sports, writing, broadcasting and almost anything which puts one’s work into the general stream of the culture should all be professions avoided by Orthodox Christians. (Some would, I’m sure.) I talked about the intersection of Hollywood acting with genuine faith and its problems for humility with Mr. Jackson in my interview with him. That, for me, was one of the more fascinating parts of the talk.

The second temptation that fame gives for the Orthodox Christian is like unto the first, but moves in a different vector, and that is to cheapen the faith by turning it into a selling point or an exotic accessory for the media personality. That can be done, and I think it’s probably happening in countries where most people are at least nominally Orthodox Christians. (Think, for instance, about the accusations Russian politicians get when they are visibly photographed in church.) But there is also a way publicly to witness to the Orthodox faith without cheapening it, even if that witness is sometimes only a hint. You may not agree, but I think the above video is a good example of this more genuine approach.

I honestly wonder (and I don’t say this in some sort of romantic way) how many folks watched Mr. Jackson’s speech and asked themselves who the monks of Mount Athos are and what it means that they pray for the salvation of the world. And perhaps a handful of them googled them, and perhaps a smaller handful started to read about their faith.

It’s possible.

Update: As I imagined could happen, this post got a spike in hits over the past few days, mainly from people searching for some combination of “Jonathan Jackson” and “Orthodox” or “religion.” It seems he got a few people wondering.


  1. On the other hand, a more visible presence could mean that Orthodoxy also comes under the miscroscope of political correctness. Anonymity has its perks.

      1. I was thinking more in terms of the persecutions that Christians already face…wondering if saying that “only an Orthodox Christian can receive Orthodox sacraments” would open up Orthodox clergy to criminal charges of discrimination…and frankly, exposing the Truth of Orthodoxy to the same ridicule that is visited upon Catholics and evangelicals. Christians all tend to get painted with the same brush, regardless of their actual commitment to their faith. While I am confident that a truly open mind would welcome being introduced to Orthodoxy – I’m far less confident that there are all that many truly open minds in modern America.

        1. All signs indicate that the 1st c. Roman Empire wasn’t too open-minded, either. Christian doctrine and practice were frequently misunderstood and mischaracterized (e.g., the accusations of cannibalism and incest).

          And of course Orthodoxy, while preferring to live in peace with the civil authorities, should never have a problem being liable to criminal and civil charges as a result of faithfulness. Indeed, experience shows us that persecution tends to be good for the Church.

          1. I’m aware of that – just don’t want to see Orthodoxy exposed to the same nonsense that hammers others. The Church will certainly survive, and, as you note, even thrive; but, as a priestmonk of blessed memory once put it to me, the Church is so beautiful and so perfect that he didn’t want to see it assaulted in any way.

          2. I can’t say I’d like to see the Church “assaulted,” either. But I am quite interested in those who ostensibly belong to the Church beginning to wake up and to take seriously both their faith and the command from Christ to evangelize the world.

            It may well take some form of “assault,” sadly enough, because collectively we don’t seem terribly interested in actual engagement, with a few notable exceptions.

          3. I dread it, I confess; I know I’m not up to the task; but with God’s help, I hope to make it through. It will be our priests, and their families, who suffer the most, as they did during Communist times.

  2. I say it’s high time Orthodoxy had its time in the spotlight. Right now in America everyone thinks it’s all about the Protestants, and the more vocal and decidely shallow “evangelical” right wing types at that. Catholics had their time in the 50s and 60s…so now perhaps it’s time for the Orthodox to once again show forth in the American lands…and not just in some chick flicks about 30-somethings getting married? Quite possibly.

  3. Thanks for posting this, Fr Andrew. I don’t watch the Emmys, or much TV for that matter, and otherwise I’d never see this.

    I took away 2 main points from watching Jonathan Jackson’s brief awards speech:

    (1) His experience testifies to the reality that Orthodoxy in America is truly beyond the ethnic boundaries that it once knew here. Sadly, some hierarchs and nominal Orthodox Christians may be much slower to realize this, but future Orthodoxy in America rests not with the Greeks or the Russians or the Serbs or the Arabs, but with we “run-of-the-mill” Americans who struggle to live out the faith from day to day. Jonathan Jackson may be a Hollywood star (though before your piece on him, I’d never heard of him) so he may not be truly “run-of-the-mill,” but his brief words could just as easily have been spoken by the winner of a town bake-off or by someone being honored by their local school board or by the winner of any town’s local 5 K race. It’s the truth of Orthodox Christianity as demonstrated in our own American context.

    (2) The other-worldliness of Orthodoxy can be so attractive to our culture, even if they have no idea what Orthodox Christianity is. Our culture is starving for it. Jonathan made the sign of the cross, he mentioned monks praying for the world — even from a devout Roman Catholic or Protestant, I don’t think we’d ever hear or expect to hear or see things like this in the public sphere, especially these days.

    1. My experience is that the Greeks, Russians, Serbs and Arabs in most of our churches here in the US are indeed mostly “‘run-of-the-mill’ Americans.”

      In any event, I think predictions about the future of Orthodoxy are notoriously difficult to make accurately. Our history here bears that out in spades.

  4. I think Jonathan Jackson is a great witness for Orthodoxy. He is genuine and has a strong faith and belief in God, which we heard from the interview you did back in February, Father. I thought his speech was spot on. It wasn’t overly done, nor understated, but just right. God bless Jonathan and his family. May He continue to guide them on their journey as now Orthodox Christians.

  5. Well, Tom Hanks converted to Orthodoxy because of his wife Rita Wilson but who knew until the movie “MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING”, which they co-produced came out. Now I enjoyed the movie up until they gave a false presentation of Baptism but especially Chrismation. Of course they are Greek so maybe the Greeks do do it that way……..NOT!

    1. Interestingly, according to movie trivia on imdb.com, My Big Fat Greek Wedding’s “Greek baptism” the outdoor church shots are of the Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and the indoor church shots are of Toronto’s St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church.

      1. Yes, I remember noticing this the first time I saw this movie in the theaters years ago. This is probably only of interest to the nerdy Orthodox moviegoer, but I thought it inconsistent that at what was supposed to be a Greek Orthodox church, the outside of the church shown in the film was topped with a Russian/Slavic 3-bar cross — a cross which is part of Slavic Christianity (both Slavic Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic), but which isn’t used in the churches of the Greek tradition. Thank you for confirming that yes, indeed, it was a Russian style church that was pictured in the movie!

  6. I think the speech was humble without being too preachy as some Evangelicals might have done….:) I am SURE most people have no idea where Mt. Athos is so they did learn something!

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