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The story of St. Andrew Romanian Orthodox Church in Terre Haute, Indiana and its closing.
Where Have Our Orthodox Youth Gone? – Rev. Fr. Charles Joanides, Ph.D., LMFT
Thank to Fr. Charles Joanides for this video. I find it interesting that the poem “And did those feet in ancient time” by William Blake ( best known as the anthem “Jerusalem”) was chosen to accompany pictures of the deserted and empty building. The last verse reads :
I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In Englands green & pleasant Land.
There is a mental fight, a challenge to our way of thinking to do that which the Lord asks. Beneath the poem Blake wrote the words from the Bible: “Would to God that all the Lord’s people were Prophets”: Numbers 11:29. This is the hope which the video raises, how can we together extend the Good News of Jesus Christ in the land we find ourselves so that it becomes as Jerusalem?
This is a particular problem if in fact we are attempting to enshrine a foreign culture in the land we are sent to impact. The locals see no need to adopt the outsiders ways and the children of the immigrants realise in time that to maintain them is to end up caretaking a museum.
As a convert to Orthodoxy I have utmost respect for the ethnic churches and their method of establishing themselves and caring for their flock in a strange enviroment. But I have no wish to become Russian, Greek or Romanian and if I did, I would have raised another barrier to the Gospel among my countrymen.
As an answer in the first instance, services in English are essential if a church desires to be more than outpost for the land from whence they came.
The unworthy deacon,
Michael’s response to Fr. Joanides’ video is well taken. And, I agree with him. I would add that other denominations are facing a similar dilemma. For example, the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago has already closed, and in some cases demolished, several old and historic churches. I’m sure that mainline Protestant churches and Jewish congregations are dealing with similar experiences of aging and declining memberships and youthful indifference. Therefore, the Orthodox Church is not alone in dealing with this crises.
I agree with Peter, religious institutions across the board are facing a decline. In some ways then, for me to say, “Speak English (you’re in America now ,or New Zealand in my case) is a bit of a cheap shot because clearly using the local language does not guarantee survival. But it’s a start
Orthodox churches in Western, English speaking countries need to do more than just translate services into English. They also need to change the idiom of worship from a provincial ethnic imperial Byzantine mode to one that is more democratic (participative) and pluralistic. This, however, will not happen anytime soon in major metropolitan areas in the U.S.A. The influx of immigrants from Eastern Europe and the Middle East is presently arresting progress in the use of English in the liturgy and in the reception and accommodation of present and perspective converts from other traditions, cultures, and most especially, from other races. Immigrants view the church as an inviolable ethnic community center where they can come to fellowship and network among their own and to seek social and financial assistance in the new homeland.
You are, unfortunately 1000% correct. We have parishes here in the Detroit area, which were more “American” 25 years ago than now; i.e. used MUCH more English 25 years ago than today. It’s a reality of immigration.
That said, i’ve long been of the opinion that each of the immigrant ethnic churches would be on the same glidepath to extinction, if we could adjust for that same immigration. It doesn’t matter if you are talking about the Russians in the late 19th century, the Syrians in the early 20th, the Romanians in the 20’s, or the Greeks of the 70s. Superimpose the immigration curve on the parish population, and they are all on a (what I would argue is a very consistent) glidepath to extinction.
Finally, your first point is also very accurate, although I’m not sure if this is what you meant. St Cyril, when he was “inventing” Glagolitic, and doing the initial translations into Slavonic, made a comment to the effect that, “the true genius in translation is NOT ONLY to translate the words and the essence of the meaning, but also to convey the poetry, cadence, and beauty of the original work.” I’m paraphrasing.
I would argue that there have been scores of (what I would call) mechanical translations. Some are sooo bad they make you want to hear the original Greek again! On the other hand, no one that I am aware of, has taken the time to follow St Cyril’s advice. And if the people in the pews do not understand what they are doing there, what chance is there that the children will stay?
Little and none.
I believe this has much to do with language, culture, communication and ultimately “missiology”. If we want to bring the Gospel to people we ought to seek to understand their culture and language and present the Good News in their tongue. But more than that we we ought to affirm what is good, true and beautiful in their culture, baptize it, bring it into Orthodox Christianity. Unfortunately there is sometimes too much Protestant, Catholic, “American”, “World” bashing going on. Where is the St. Herman of our day for this is not how he approached or worked with the original Alaskans. “Orthodox Alaska” is a great book by Fr. Michael Oleska along this theme.
I would like to add to the stimulating conversation some historical context from which this piece was made.
The video, “They Gather Here No More” was made twenty eight years ago (1985), with the blessing of His Eminence Archbishop Nathaniel, in the Romanian Diocese, OCA by a clergyman in the Romanian Episcopate and a layman in the Greek Archdiocese who was a TV editor and producer in St. Louis, MO. The technical assistance of the Media office of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis was sought out, offered and accepted.
The video’s purpose was to serve as an educational tool. It was shown to the delegates at the VATRA Church Congress (annual diocesan assembly) during the 4th of July weekend. It caused fireworks of sorts. There was an enthusiastic and overwhelming positive response. People were roused to attention and action.
Its author, working with His Eminence, sought to accomplish two immediate things with this video piece.
First, to help the Diocesan Assembly delegates determine what to do with St Andrew’s in Terre Haute, IN by showing the facilities poor physical condition, neglect and possible potential. Secondly, it was to serve as a “wake up” call to the faithful of the Romanian Episcopate to their missionary responsibilities to “local” peoples in a greater way in Canada and the United States. The Episcopate was already positioned and was tending to Orthodox Christian Romanian immigrates that were coming to North America before 1989 (fall of communist Romania).
In fact, St. Andrew Church and its property was cleaned up by faithful from sister parishes in Indianapolis, IN and St. Louis, MO shortly after the video was shown. Nuns from Transfiguration Monastery (Hermitage, PA) then moved into the facility. The church property served as the early home for the Dormition Monastery, ROEA, OCA which is now in Rives Junction, MI under the spiritual leadership of Mother Gabriella. After the nuns moved the property was sold.
With its “in house” purpose served long ago “They Gather Here No More” happily serves, in some sense, the purpose of continuing to arouse reaction, response and thoughtful reflection to the challenges and opportunities that the Church still faces today and all that this implies to which the above comments and reflections testify.
V. Rev. Fr. Dimitrie Vincent
To me the back story of this sad document is insular and self-referential parochial culture and a lack of prophetic leadership. As pastor of a parish bearing some similarity to St. Andrew’s, in my short tenure I am confronted with many of the same problems in a parish formed about the time St. Andrew’s closed, but already facing its institutional demise. In particular, the forlorn cry: “we all said it was our church, but no one would support it” stuck me as a motto of morbid apathy.
Are the loosely-affiliated dioceses, archdioceses and eparchies presently working in America capable of reading the writing on the wall?We have been measured and found lacking. Deaths of our parishes are the result of a collective failure of faith and vision. We should see in the Lord’s Parable of the Talents a stern warning.
So what do we do with that? In the last three decades have we shared this warning and taken strides to make sure that ‘after me, the fire’ does not become our institutional epitaph?
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