Are you Greek?” This is the question I get asked the most when I tell someone that I am an Orthodox Christian. At first, this question rankled, because I am not Greek. (I am, among other things, Lithuanian.) Mind you, I would have no problem being Greek. It’s a wonderful, ancient culture with much to recommend it. But what rankled was the sense that being Orthodox means being Greek.
It is a touchy subject for many Orthodox Christians in America, especially those who converted to the faith, because the implication of such a close identification of culture with faith implies that the faith is not really for people who aren’t from that culture. And no doubt it can also be touchy for the many Orthodox Christians in America who are from traditionally Orthodox cultures who are not Greeks. There are actually quite a lot of them—in America, there are Orthodox churches representing the Albanian, Antiochian, Bulgarian, Carpatho-Russian, Georgian (the Caucasian republic, not the southern state), Romanian, Russian, Serbian and Ukrainian traditions.
But I’ve come to see the question as mostly the fault of the Orthodox themselves, who have not quite figured out how to convey that Orthodoxy—being Christianity—is for everyone and doesn’t require a particular cultural identification. We eventually will figure it out, I think. Roman Catholics in America for a long time were pretty ethnicity-bound, as well (everyone knew which was the Polish church and which the Irish), but now hardly anyone expects a Roman Catholic to be from Rome. And it’s less than a century since the average American Lutheran church conducted services in German, Swedish, or Norwegian.
I also can’t blame the asker of that question too much, because recent demographic studies have shown that some 60 percent of Orthodox in America belong to the Greek Archdiocese of America. So, statistically speaking, “Are you Greek?” is a pretty decent guess, even if I wish it were irrelevant.