A Smaller World – A Larger World

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I posted an addition to my blogroll today, an Orthodox Blog in Macedonia (former Yugoslav Republic), Digital Areopagus. I added this link both because it seems a good site, and to return the favor of being added as a link to his site. The internet has a way of making our world both smaller and larger.

Digital Areopagus found its way to this site through the postings of Fr. Dorin Piciorus on his Romanian site, Teologia Pentru Azi. Father Dorin has been a very good friend of Glory to God for All Things, and has offered words of kindness on his blog that go far beyond anything I deserve.

The sum of such contacts for me is both a smaller and a larger world. Orthodoxy, though characterized as an “Eastern” Church, is, in fact, a global Church (there is even an Orthodox Chapel in Antartica). Though here in the West, Orthodoxy is frequently accompanied with an ethnic adjective (Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Romanian Orthodox, etc.), in truth there is only one Orthodoxy which rightly respects the cultures in which it dwells and incarnates the gospel in those very places. The “ethnic” aspects of Orthodoxy in America are sometimes bewildering to those on the outside – but some of that is because many of us imagine America to be “American” (meaning, mostly Anglo) when in fact this land is filled with many cultures and one culture (e pluribus unum). 

I never realized how “ethnic” my own background and experience as an Anglican was until I became Orthodox. My congregation today contains Anglos (like me), Greeks, Russians, Macedonians, Romanians, Japanese, Chinese, Filipinos, British – and the Anglos aren’t really that simple – they are a mix of English, Scots, Irish, German, French and you-name-it. We have cradle Orthodox and convert and stories that make each a fascinating world in itself.

My world becomes smaller when nations that are far away are personalized through contact with particular persons – with other Blogs – in internet language. To know as I write, that my words will be read not just in America, but elsewhere across the globe, occasionally even in translation, makes my world ever so much larger when I write, and yet ever so much smaller. It makes me know that to be Orthodox does not mean to be American, or Greek, or Russian, or Romanian or Macedonian, or Serbian, but to be human. But it is also to remember that to be human always comes with a very specific, personal, even ethnic flavor.

It is like the Gospel itself. God who could not be contained has become contained in the man Christ Jesus, who may be described, even cirumscribed in icons. But He who is depicted in icons is also “He Who Is,” the One who is beyond the ability to describe or circumscribe.

So, too, the faith is beyond our ability to contain. We are contained by it. And yet we only know and experience it in its particular forms, whether in America, Greece, Russia, England, China – wherever it has become incarnate. Thus we contain the mystery and the mystery contains us.

Glory to God for All Things!

7 comments:

  1. Father bless!

    What you say is so true. When I was first exploring Orthodoxy, several years ago, I was concerned about its “ethnic” character. I had been Episcopalian, and someone did me the favor of pointing out that there are few things in the world as ethnic as the 11:00 Sunday service at a typical Episcopal parish. I just didn’t notice it because it was “my” ethnic.

    Today I am in a parish which is made up of American converts of all backgrounds, Russians, Greeks, Romanians, Lebanese–it’s far more diverse than any Episcopal parish I was ever part of. And none of these distinctions can diminish the fact that the Church is our true ethnos.

  2. That is the way the “ethnicity” of the Church should be understood. Dostoevsky says that for him the term “Russian” is equal to “Orthodox”, and “Orthodox” is equal to “Russian” – but that doesn’t exclude the other nationalities in any way. Actually, the idea of this “equation” is that every nation becomes a “real” nation, blessed-by-God nation – only through the fullness of the life in the Church. The same thought has the Serbian saint from the 20-th century – Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich.

    Still, this conception of “ethnicity” and “nationality” is often ignored in the “traditional Orthodox” communities, where the idea of “nationality” is often placed above the Christianity. This “putting of the things in their blessed order”, i.e. the way the ethnicity is understood by the Orthodox Christians on the West – is one encouraging testimony about the “realism” of the Orthodox Christian concept of ethnicity. It is really possible to be in the same time “in this world” and “not from it” – to be “ethnic”, and still to stay free of any kind of exclusive “nationalism”. An it is possible to be done only through the complete Eucharistic ascending “above it”. As St. Bishop Nikolai Veimirovich says, Christ is always “above” the logics of this world (the same though is strongly underlined in the thought of Fr. Alexander Schmemann as well). Being one with Christ – we can also be “above” – in this world, and still – absolutely free of its measures.

  3. Having come to Holy Orthodoxy out of a Lutheran background, I do not recall anyone declaiming or complaining about the typically German and Scandinavian ethnic expressions. If anything, some may not have enjoyed the sauerkraut & ludafisk as much…

  4. In all of this, I am overjoyed when, as an Orthodox, I have been welcomed in the many jurisdictions! It is something I always point out to people with questions about the Church and those who may be exploring. Although there are a number of jurisdictions, all from ethnic roots, we are joined at the altar in the Divine Liturgy.

    Essential unity is already present, and working its way into daily life in this country with its “multi-ethnic” roots and heritage.

    Glory to God in all things!

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