[ditty_news_ticker id="27897"] Hellenism Can Be Inclusive, Not Exclusive

Hellenism Can Be Inclusive, Not Exclusive

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Source: The National Herald

By Tony Glaros

When I think about my Orthodox faith, where I would instinctively head to gather my core, the road always led straight to the Byzantine structure with the Greek Orthodox sign. Given my Hellenic heritage, the subject of where I spent two hours on Sunday morning was not up for debate. My unbreakable connection to Greek denotes where my forebears sailed here from. It wasn’t Russian. It wasn’t Serbian.

Forty years ago, if I were to come across a fellow worshipper who dared to admit they were Russian or Bulgarian Orthodox visiting the Greek church, my finely tuned xenophobia meter would kick in. While I would feel compelled to drench them in feigned sincerity and warmth, that dark inner voice would be asking what they’re doing there. If that wasn’t disgusting enough, I remember when a Black family – probably Ethiopian Orthodox – showed up at coffee hour, the not-so-discreet stares began along with the murmurs. I was the worst offender.

Things are, at long last, changing for the better. The progress in opening wide an umbrella that has enough room for pan-Orthodox communicants is a reflection of shifting priorities, according to Father Louis Christopulos, the chancellor at the Metropolis of Denver. Many churches, especially those not in big cities, “have less of an immigrant population,” he explained, adding that there is also an explosion in mixed marriages. “Our neck of the woods needs Greek and uses Greek, but more and more, less and less is needed.” The goal, he explained, is not to brush aside a specific culture, “but to use it in an inclusive, not an exclusive way.”

The fact that Orthodoxy’s nationalistic roots embrace a wide swath of nationalities doesn’t mean the narrative can’t be recast in a changing American society, declared John Bourquin, a deacon at St. Luke’s, an Antiochian Orthodox parish in Colorado. “You don’t want to turn people off before they come in the building.” If a sign reads ‘Greek’ or ‘Russian’, he added, “they might say `I’m not Greek, I’m not Russian.’ Read the sign. Everyone needs to throw that away.”

In the six months I’ve called northern Colorado home, I have noticed there are at least two Greek parishes in this region that have dropped the ‘Greek’ from the name and replaced it simply with ‘Orthodox’. One is St. Spyridon, in Loveland, 20 miles north of where I live. The other is Saints Constantine and Helen, farther north in Cheyenne, WY, the state capital. That parish identifies itself as ‘Orthodox Christian;. An online check revealed that the pastor there writes, “we hope and pray that your journey of faith continues and opens the door to the Holy Orthodox Church.”

In all this flurry of the call for unity, I take my hat off to my Aunt Fran. She’s 87 now, living and thriving in a retirement community in Clearwater FL, still turning out the best cakes and pies in the known universe. Her down-home Protestant roots in Texas led to marriage with my Uncle Jim and the Orthodox church. If anyone preaches the call for Christian oneness, it’s this faithful gal. She took her outsider status, converted, and burst onto the front lines at her church, Holy Trinity, graciously taking on a flurry of roles, walking the talk.  But she is also a realist. People are creatures of habit, she said. While within the Orthodox framework it would be great to see tangible unity, she said, “I think we have a long way to go to convince other denominations to add anything that says ‘Orthodoxy is the way and the only way.’ Mankind does not bend easily, especially when it comes to their ideas about religion. We all need to wake up and believe that Jesus is the one to follow if eternity is our goal.”

My wife, who is also of Greek extraction, recalled when she was growing up in inner-city Baltimore in the 70s that her parish, Annunciation Cathedral, reminded her of a trip back to her parents’ villages in the Peloponnese. “If it was Sunday, it meant an all-day immersion in my roots. The Divine Liturgy was long and, at that stage of my life, boring. After the coffee hour, where aunts and uncles would squeeze my mine and my sister’s cheeks while munching on koliva. Then it was off to my cousin’s house for more ethnic immersion. At that age, I assumed every kid my age spent Sunday doing the same thing.”

Gradually, her sentiments have changed. “I don’t think Church should ever be about one ethnic group,” she declared, her voice firm and her message received loud and clear. “it’s about worship. It seems like a very outdated point of view in 2022.”

As the flowering of pan-Orthodoxy continues, advised Father Christopulos, “the idea is not to lose your  ethnic identification, but to make sure it’s [about]philoxenia – reaching out to others. Proud of your hospitality, love of strangers.”

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18 Comments

  1. George D. Karcazes on

    Tony,

    As the flow of immigrants from Greece, Russia, the Middle-East and Eastern Europe dries up, the “ethnic-identification” of Orthodox people living and growing their faith in the US will be American. “Hellenism” [i.e., modern Greek language and culture] is clearly not inclusive, but “Orthodoxy” by definition certainly is.

    Your Aunt Fran had to “become Greek,” leaving her American roots behind in order to assume leadership roles in her new parish home. With increasing interfaith marriages and converts to Orthodoxy in the US, the Orthodox Church in the US will either become American or its “ethnic jurisdictions” under the control of foreign synods will continue to decline, and the descendants of the immigrants will be neither Orthodox nor Greek (nor Russian or Bulgarian, etc.).

    We are fast approaching the tipping point where the decline in all of the jurisdictions may be impossible to reverse. The Assembly of Bishops that has been meeting for more than a decade needs to act on unity before it is too late.

  2. If you haven’t noticed, the Assembly was formed under the control of foreign bishops. SCOBA was not! The formation of the Assembly of Bishops was neither necessary nor wanted, but imposed by the Greeks. + Bart won’t allow unity in North America unless it is under him. The OCA will have none of this. The Russians will have none of this along with others. After Iakavos, + Bart has done everything he could to destroy any REAL unity of the churches and certainly not in an autocephalic church. FOREIGN BISHOPS CANNOT HAVE A DIOCESE OUTSIDE THEIR OWN TERRITORY. – Orthodox Canon Law. The U.S. is the “cash cow” for foreign monarchs. + Bart just left the U.S. with at least $100MM.

  3. George, I believe Orthodoxy, especially the GOA, has moved beyond the “tipping point”. The GOA is in a state of terminal decline. Ethnic churches will continue to decline. The only hope is prayer and repentance. No change or renewal will come from the hierarchy.

    • Peter Ray Millman on

      Hi JK,
      In my humble opinion, the Antiochians seem to be pretty good. Like the Greeks (with the exception of the monasteries) at least they’re not fundamentalists, unlike the other jurisdictions.

  4. Peter, I agree. The Antiochians seem to be more open to evangelizing the broader public and generally use much more English liturgically.

    • The Antiochians have made a good effort, however, their head hierarchs are still overseas – foreign bishops. You can put as much lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig. In 1970 when the OCA was created, ALL of SCOBA agreed to join an autocephalous church in the U.S. and even agreed on the name, The Orthodox Church in America. The bishops would all sit in a synod with a Primate to lead. Each bishop would head up their own ethnic diocese. The Romanians joined the OCA, the Bulgarians and others, but the Antiochians & Greeks reneged. Originally, Met. Philip was all for joining the OCA (or so he said) and then turned 180 degrees. (Probably due to pressure from overseas) Now, if Met. Philip and Archbp Iakavos joined the OCA in the 1970’s, Orthodox unity would have been assured today. Instead, we have an Assembly of Bishops controlled by overseas bishops –NON CANONICAL–

      • Peter Ray Millman on

        Hi Nikolai,
        That’s a very interesting viewpoint. The fact you frequently mention canon law aroused an interest in me to research the divisive matter. The Byzantine response was that the Russian Orthodox Church could not grant a Tomos of autocephaly in America because it was uncanonical. To further befog the matter, the Russian Orthodox has kept some Russian Orthodox Churches in the US. In essence, everything about the manner of granting autocephaly was uncanonical. This is only my opinion, but the Byzantine response seems extremely strong. I’m also confused by the whole issue. In 1970, the Russian Orthodox Church was still infiltrated by Communists. There are very few churches that accept the autocephaly of the OCA.

        • Well Peter, here we go again with this. First, show us what Canon says that ONLY Constantinople (Istanbul) can grant autocephaly? There isn’t one. The ROC established the Orthodox Church in N. America in the 1790’s as a mission. Eventually, the head of this church was moved to San Francisco and then to NYC in 1900. The ROC gave money, priests and bishops to support this church and ALL nationalities. When the Revolution in 1917 dried up all support from the ROC, all the ethnic Orthodox turned to their own homeland churches for support. Thus, these missionary churches eventually grew into dioceses of foreign churches (non-canonical). With the Revolution, the Pat. of Russia told all of its missions worldwide to act as any autocephalic church, ruling themselves. It wasn’t until SCOBA was formulated in 1961 that ALL the canonical bishops in SCOBA decided to correct the non-canonical anomalies within their churches and establish an autocephalous Orthodox Church THAT THEY ALL WOULD JOIN. The bishops decided to ask Fr. Alexander Schmemann, Dean of St. Vladimir’s Seminary, to help them in this endeavor. He approached Constantinople (Istanbul), but they rejected this idea. They told him, “Go to your mother church to obtain autocephaly.” So, he did and HE DID! (Regarding your comment of the ROC being uncanonical is baloney). The ROC mission, the METROPOLIA, announced its recognition by its mother church of being granted AUTOCEPHALY as Istanbul said it should. The Bulgarians joined, the Romanians joined along with others, but the Greeks and Antiochians reneged on what they promised. YOUR understanding of what happened is wrong. The ROC was allowed to keep some of its churches in the U.S. until they found it proper to join the OCA. The autocephaly of the OCA is DE FACTO recognized by ALL Orthodox Churches around the world – the OCA is in communion with ALL Orthodox Churches. +Bart still wishes not to FORMALLY recognize the OCA’s autocephaly since that would mean all the Greek churches in the U.S. would have to go under the OCA, cutting off monies going to +Bart. He just left the U.S. with $100MM

          • Peter Ray Millman on

            Well, Nikolai, I don’t think I’m in a position to make any pronouncements at this time. I would like to study this matter much more thoroughly. At this point, I’m simply confused. Thank you for your kind correspondence. I appreciate it.

        • May I add, Peter, this is not MY viewpoint, this is objective history. Istanbul continues to tout Canon 28 of Chalcedon as giving Istanbul rule over all churches everywhere – ridiculous! This canon ONLY gave Constantinople authority over churches around the Black Sea area in close proximity to Constantinople.

          • Cato the Elder on

            Nikolai,

            The authors of Canon 28 of Chalcedon were unaware of the existence of the Western Hemisphere. Moscow and Constantinople interpret it differently.

            Sadly, resolving the dispute was removed from the agenda of the Holy and Great Council of Crete even before Moscow and its minions decided to boycott the Council. +Kyrill and +Bart need to be locked in a room and not allowed to leave until they resolve their differences. Give them bread and water.. allow the Holy Spirit which is present everywhere and fills all things to come and abide in them.

            If that doesn’t work, replace them and repeat the process with their successors until agreement is reached.

            Or, try something new. The title of “First Among Equals” is just honorary.. simply means who presides at meetings (not who gets to call all the shots). Why not rotate the title biennially among all the heads of autocephalous “sister-churches”? Including the newly proclaimed Autocephalous Orthodox of North America.

            Just saying..

              • Cato the Elder on

                Why not?

                A few years ago the Ecumenical Patriarchate started rotating members of the Eparchial Synod from the US to serve on the Holy Synod in Constantinople. This was probably done for at least three reasons:

                First, it seemed to have successfully tested Turkey’s position that only Turkish citizens could be Patriarchs.. or serve on the Synod; second, having US Citizens serving on the Synod in Istanbul may give Erdogan pause in harassing or even going so far as expelling the Patriarchate from Turkey; and, third, it gave the appearance of US input into decisions of the Synod.

                If they can rotate members on the Synod, why not rotate the “first chair” among the heads of the Autocephalous Churches? Maybe they’d stop jockeying for “power” and “primacy”. They might meet more frequently and resolve the issues that really need to be addressed.

                Like grown ups.

  5. Peter Ray Millman on

    With OCL’s kind permission, I would like to quote Father Eusebius Stephanou about Hellenism, “Hellenism belongs to all Orthodox.” This lecture is on the web site of Apostolos Makrakis. Father Stephanou goes on to add, “But if Hellenism is ” nourishment and life” to secular Western society, how much more is it a sustaining ingredient to Orthodox Christians whether Russian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian, Rominian, Yugoslavian, Syrian, or Albanian.

  6. George D. Karcazes on

    Hellenism as used by the GOA, TNH and the Greek Foreign Ministry means: Omogenia (those of the same race). It means Greek language and culture. It has nothing to do with Orthodoxy.

    The GOA uses Hellenism to promote Greek dancing and food festivals; Greek parochial schools; Greek education; Greek national interests. They use Hellenism to refer to Greeks living in ethnic ghettos in the “diaspora” who may be called upon as lobbyists for the Greek government. Hellenism is a code word for resisting assimilation to maintain a Greek-American community to come to the aid of Greece when necessary.

    • Peter Ray Millman on

      Hi George,
      I think everything you have written is true. As an example of how dangerous hellenism can be for Orthodox Christianity, all we have to do is look at how disastrous Zionism has been for the Jewish people, and the United States. Because of the strong Zionist influence in the US, we are forced to send over $4,000,000,000 a year in military aid to the state of Israel. It’s downright un-American!

  7. George, I believe Hellenism uses the GOA to promote its objectives. Hellenism has nothing to do with the Gospel. The word homogenia must be removed from all references to the church. It is an affront to all converts to the GOA. A church is not meant to be an homogenia but an inclusive body meant to do God’s work among all people. A Greek club promotes language, food, Greek education and national interests. The GOA needs to decide if it is a Greek club or the Body of Christ, a church. Contrary to what many believe, it cannot be both. Our Lord stated, “you cannot serve two masters because you will love one and hate the other”. Much of the information from the GOA speaks of Orthodoxy and Hellenism – two masters.

  8. Peter Ray Millman on

    Hi JK,
    I believe you are correct. Take AHEPA, for example. Now AHEPA was ostensibly formed as a Greek civil rights organization to combat the Klan because they were burning and harassing Greek businesses. AHEPA is a very powerful organization that has many successful Greek businessmen as members. I think if you divorce AHEPA from the GOA, it would be less problematic, but it advocates for the EP, Cyprus, and Greece.

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