Monday, April 18, 2005

Review of Lent thus far and thoughts on the burial of Archbishop Iakovos

My blogs have become rather more spaced out since the start of Lent. The connection is rather indirect: tests and papers seemed to coincide with Lent this year - pretty much all the way to last week.

So far, Lent has followed its usual pattern: it's had a good number of rough spots, but overall it has been a wonderful chance to work on some of my shortcomings. Yesterday we finished the current series of adult education classes at my parish assignment. Overall I am happy with the outcome. It can always be better, but for a start it was pretty good in terms of interest and actual participation in the discussions. God willing, we'll continue next year.

The biggest event on campus last week was the interment of Archbishop Iakovos, who had led the Greek Archiocese of the Americas (at the time) for 37 years. I have not had the chance to learn too much about his life, but from the little I know, I have come to have a significant amount of respect for him as a man who tried to be true to his convictions. The presence of his body in the chapel and the ceremonies were moving and beautiful.

One thing that I didn't quite understand was why the Presanctified Liturgy celebrated just prior to the interment was performed overwhelmingly in Greek (the only exceptions being the Our Father - done bilingually - and about three hymns sung by Fr. Seraphim in English). Personally, I don't mind the Greek; I like the language enough that I work at it and have gotten to the point where most of the time I can make at least partial sense of what is being said even if I haven't heard it before (psalms, prayers, etc). The thing that makes me wonder is that the service was recorded and there were guests who were not of Greek background. It is not even so much that they would not understand what was going on. My thought is that using predominantly Greek in the service paints for the guests (and for whoever may view the recording) a false picture of the current status of the archdiocese. There are still some predominantly Greek parishes (e.g., around New York, Boston, and Chicago), but that is no longer the rule. The Greek Orthodox Church Archdiocese of America is becoming, albeit slowly, more and more an American church.
I was talking with a friend yesterday about this and he remarked what a wide variety of people we have on campus: Greeks from Greece, second and later generation Greek-Americans, a large number of converts, and a fair number of international students. There is diversity within the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese; I guess I would like that diversity to be more visible, especially on those occasions where the archdiocese becomes (even momentarily) a part of the general American consciousness.

Now for New Testament reading catch-up.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's a reason it's called the Greek Archdiocese. They shouldn't be careful about using "too much Greek" just because there are people there who don't know the language. Why should everyone change their ways and be self-conscious when it comes to pleasing whiny Americans? Maybe Iakovos explicitly said beforehand that he wanted his Liturgy performed in his native tongue.

5:42 PM  
Blogger Virgil Petrisor said...

If Archbishop Iakovos stated so, then so be it. However, the main point of my post was not that there are 'whiny Americans' (and fellow Christians, often non-Greek spouses of Greek Orthodox Christians - one statistic I saw indicated a 65% intermarriage rate in the archdiocese) because of whom we should be self-conscious. That is an entirely different matter, on which our points of view are probably rather different. Maybe that will be the subject of a later post.

In this case, I was merely trying to say that the overall perception of the Greek Archdiocese in America is something to keep in mind. I believe that the parishes of the Greek Archdiocese are, on average, not as Greek as the services for the Archbishop might have suggested. Thus, what I was pointing out was that, for someone from outside the archdiocese, attending the services or watching a broadcast/recording, they could help reinforce the image of the archdiocese as an ethnic enclave.

Given the efforts put forth by many parishes (and the archdiocese as a whole) towards making Orthodoxy known in America (e.g., radio programs, ecumenical dialogue, participation in local community activities), I think that image is no longer very accurate.

6:32 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

I can't stand the Greekness in the the Greek Archdiocese. I want to become Orthodox not Greek. I have nothing against Greeks, my grandmothers second husband (who I knew as my Grandpie) was Greek. Sts. Methodius and Cyril didn't bring Greek to the Slavs, no just the opposite. The Greeks in America who think the church needs to remain Greek are like the Franks in the slavic Countries saying the Mass must always be in latin, the same Franks that fought against Methodius and Cyril. The Greeks are making the same mistake the Western Missionaries made in America, trying not only to convert people to a religion but a culture. St. Herman didn't do that with the Aluets. He helped maintain the native culture in the context of a Christian World view.

That wonderful Christian attitude that leads to calling Americans whinny is why Greek Orthodoxy will be doomed to being a cultural country club devoid of faith. The attitude of the anonymous poster is not Orthodox.

4:10 PM  
Blogger Virgil Petrisor said...


I am not claiming to know or understand all that is going on in the Greek Archdiocese, but it seems to be a fairly complex situation. There are still have some very (Greek) ethnic churches - there is one nearby. If someone grows up in such a parish, he will likely see Greek services as the norm - and in such a situation Greek is indeed needed.

The way I see things is that discernment is needed and we all need to grow and adapt to each particular situation. In my experience there is an increasing openness in Greek Orthodox parishes. There are exceptions and these exceptions can indeed do harm to people who are sincerely seeking the ancient Christian faith.

Personally, much as the late Archbishop Iakovos said, I tend to look at the Orthodox Church in the US (and the Greek Archdiocese in particular) not as a diaspora, but as a local church, called to minister to everybody. Within that framework, I would say that there is an important ministry to the people whose native language is Greek. This is just my view of things, but from my discussions around the seminary, there are quite a few students and professors who see things in a similar way.

The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in America started as the church for the Greek immigrants in America. Each church in the archdiocese should be accessible to its parishioners and to those interested in learning about Orthodoxy. Especially where a particular congregation is Greek in language, it is important to have that church "remain Greek" so as to be accessible. It is also important that the priest of that parish be able to guide people to another Orthodox parish if they would grow better spiritually with a different community, without pushing them away from the Orthodox Church or refusing to admit that language can be an imposing obstacle.

A personal thought, if I may: we all fall short of the glory of God. Consequently, none of us can claim to have completely Orthodox attitudes on every issue: another reason we need to come together in community. In this context, the assertion that "the attitude of the anonymous poster is not Orthodox" seems to me to be an overly-general statement. A comment may not necessarily portray an entire attitude.

6:43 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

"we all fall short of the glory of God. Consequently, none of us can claim to have completely Orthodox attitudes on every issue: another reason we need to come together in community"

That sounds very Anglican.. ;>)

If I may share with those of you who aren't familiar the Eastern Orthodox churches in America are about the same place Scandanavian and German Lutherans were in the mid to late 1800's. It's interesting to me hear orthodox and non orthodox alike say that Orthodoxy is wierd or special because it is so different. It really isn't though, one just needs to look at other immigrant faiths in American History.

8:47 PM  
Blogger Virgil Petrisor said...

I would say that if the above statement sounds Anglican, then that's a good trait of the Anglican church (the first part is simply a quote of Romans 3:23). Christianity - as I understanding from my Orthodox experience, limited as it might be - is a communion. We come together at every Liturgy to become one with Christ and one another in the Eucharist. The Church is fully expressed in the Eucharistic community and that is the main driving force (as poor a wording as that might be) behind the Church as community.

It is in this community that, through the grace of the Holy Spirit, we can transcend our individual limitations: "where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them" (Matt 18:20). This is only a very brief description, but the conciliar nature of the Church comes from this understanding of the human person and of Jesus' promise. My words also come in this spirit.

I believe that this view of community - and, implicitly, of who a human being is - is a major difference between the Orthodox Church and most other Christian churches. The basis for this is, of course, theological, but the theology behind Orthodox anthropology is a topic for, perhaps, another post.

I think the ethnic character of the Orthodox churches in the United States is a peculiarity; an accident, rather than a fundamental difference. It can be endearing or downright annoying (much as a foreign accent can be), but it is not what makes the Orthodox Church different. If we limit ourselves to looking at this aspect, you are right - the Orthodox church structure now has many similarities to other "immigration churches" (Lutheran, Roman Catholic) 1-200 years ago.

In Christ,

10:43 AM  

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