The Christian Diaspora in America

Orthodox Church timelineSource: Orthodox Christian Laity

by Roy L. Snyder

There are almost 200 million Christian Diaspora in America.  However, none of them are Orthodox Christians.  The Christian Diaspora in America are the denominational (Roman Catholic, Liturgical, and Evangelical) and non-denominational Christians who need to return to their Mother – the One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.  They need to come home.

Most do not know where their home is – but they are looking.  Most do not even know that their home still exists – they’ve been told that it was lost in the mists of time.  Because they want to find their home, many seek to recreate it by piecing it together in an image they can only imagine, because they have never seen it.

Their home is not in the Old World – not across an ocean.  Their home is neither across some plain to the North nor across a mountain to the South.  It is not some geographical location.  It is not in some logical sounding philosophy or in some emotional state of mind.  It is not in some group of people who mean well, love God, and are very dedicated to Christ and his teachings.  Their home is here in the One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church – the Orthodox Church.

The trail that the searching Christian Diaspora has taken when they left the Church of Rome, or one of the many subsequent branches of Christian belief, ends in one of three destinations:  Universalism, Agnosticism, or back to the Orthodox Church.  Some searchers have been to all three.  Even if most of the Christian Diaspora are not searching or are comfortable where they are, there is a percentage that are still searching and heading to one of those three destinations – even a small percentage could equal millions.  More and more seem to be coming from Evangelical denominations or Non-Denominational groups. Wherever those searchers have ended up, they continue to hunger for their true, apostolic, Christian home.  Those who have found the Church (those who were not members from the time of their birth) have had to search it out.

We must let them know that the Church still exists.  That it was never lost, but it has been hidden.  The Orthodox Church is the “best kept secret,” because we have kept it from them or made it seem like some exclusive club.  This great American Diaspora can more easily be won via an American Autocephalous Orthodox Church[1].

There are now, and will continue to be, Greek, Russian, Serbian, Antiochian, Romanian, and other culturally Orthodox Christians who want to keep their parishes as they are.  This is understandable. They need to be cared for in ways that they have been accustomed to since their childhood in the Old World or their parishes here in the New.  However, there is another flock that needs tending – the future flock; a culturally American flock with no ties to any other land, race, ethnicity, or culture than the melting-pot of the United States.  When these converts from the American Christian Diaspora “come home,” they need to feel like they are at home and not asked to immolate a culture that is foreign to them.  We must create a comfortable, welcoming, accepting, and enlightening space for them.  They will need a culturally American Orthodox Church just as the transplanted Americans of Old World Orthodoxy need theirs.

How to tend both flocks will take wisdom, determination, and a great deal of empathy from and for all concerned. It will take the combined efforts of every Orthodox Christian Jurisdiction to reach out to the Christian Diaspora and to accomplish caring for a truly diverse American Orthodox Church.  It will take one autocephalous Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church in America. We can look to the Canons, as we should, and point out that our present situation is wrong.  We can look at the history of Orthodox Christianity in American and say that it is time, and it is.  We can look at the developmental and administrative growth of the Jurisdictions in America and say that it is deserved, which it is. But the greatest reason for an autocephalous American Christian Orthodox Church is because the American Christian Diaspora needs us to show them the way home and to create a place for them.  The American Christian Orthodox Church needs the combined resources (talent and finances) of all the jurisdictions to create a message and a media to reach out to the Diaspora.  The Diaspora will need to see One Christian Orthodox body instead of multiple jurisdictions that they will interpret as Orthodox Denominations.  It will take the combined wisdom and compromise of the present Christian Orthodox Clergy to find a way to meet the needs of the present laity with their own old-world cultural worship and the potential immigrating Orthodox Christians from embattled lands in the Middle East & Eastern Europe, while creating Christian Orthodox missions to attract the culturally New-World American Christian Diaspora.

It would be natural to ask what a Culturally American Christian Orthodox Church would look like.  In 1991, Metropolitan Philip of the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America stated, “We are not yet clear on what American Orthodoxy would look like because there is, as yet, very little Orthodoxy here that is indigenously, genuinely, visibly American.” [2]   That is not necessarily true today.  There are thousands of Americans who have converted to the Christian Orthodox Church from the Christian Diaspora.  It is from this well that information can be drawn to create a culturally American Christian Orthodox Church.  In order to create this new entity, the converts would need to be surveyed to discern what brought them to Orthodoxy, what were the barriers to conversion, and what do they think would make an effective, attractive, and viable American Christian Orthodox parish.  American Orthodox hierarches would need to have everything on the table (except for Church Dogma and Holy Tradition – The Tradition handed down from the Apostles and not the various traditions or customs created in the 18th and 19th centuries).  While the Western Rite may be attractive to some Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Episcopalian, and other groups; many, if not most, may prefer the Byzantine.  However, the same open-minded inquiry should be used to develop an American Rite Christian Orthodox parish model.  When asked what I think that would look like, I would answer that I don’t know, but that I have some ideas.

The ultimate goal of the Christian Orthodox Church in America – from the times of the Russian missionaries in the 1700s to today – is to convert Americans to the Christian Orthodox Church.  Every heresy that the early Church dealt with at every Ecumenical Council is alive and prospering today in the United States.  To combat that, we do not need to set fire to heretics on a stereotypical stake – we need to set fire under ourselves and reach out to our Christian Diaspora and let them know the truth and that an ancient, original, Christian alternative exists.  We have an unusual twist on the Great Commission – we don’t have to go to some far off mission field; we only need to step out of our preconceived old-world attitudes and ask:  “What would Cyril & Methodius do?”

[1] Gillquist, Peter and Metropolitan Philip (Saliba), Metropolitan Philip: His Life and His Dreams, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1991), p. 276.

[2] Ibid.,  p. 276.

Roy L. Synder is a member of the Board of Directors of Orthodox Christian Laity.


 

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