Archive for September, 2007

I’m starting to wonder if Blogger is worth the trouble! But FYI, if you go to edit an article already posted in Blogger, the version Blogger puts up on your screen to edit may not be the current published version, but a previous version! So double-check the whole thing in detail visually before re-posting it, or else you’ll have lots more editing to do – your original version LOST! It may help to reload/refresh the Edit page, but even then, re-inspect the version the reload gives you, to make sure. You would think “Edit Post” would allow you to… EDIT POST!… not a previous version OF post… but they haven’t actually set it up that way in all circumstances at this time.

It seems it may be a better idea to compose offline and not bother with Blogger’s issues. But usually I don’t think of that until I’ve spent half an hour wrestling with Blogger, like just now!!!

OK, now I’m getting paranoid: Blogger posted this post without the body-copy, just the heading!

Blogger also seems to have issues regarding skipping a line between paragraphs: sometimes it doesn’t do it at all, and sometimes it throws in an extra skip, regardless of what the HTML would seem to tell it to do!

ISTM this is basic stuff that, if *I* were launching a blog-publishing service, even a free one, I’d make sure about in advance! “But that’s just my opinion, I could be wrong….”


The Synaxis of All Saints of Alaska – their collective feast-day (synaxis = gathering) – is commemorated today, the 213th anniversary of the ‘official,’ permanent arrival of Orthodoxy in the Americas, ie, via Alaska – highlighting the Martyrdoms of Missionary Priest-Monk Juvenaly of Iliamna and His Alaskan Indian Reader and Companion in Martyrdom whose name is known to God, and All Other Martyrs of Alaska Known and Unknown, and Lay Young Adult Peter the Aleut,* Martyr of California. (*–My Name Day! πŸ™‚ )

It’s now believed that individual lay Russian fur hunters started baptizing Alaska Native business-partners as early as before 1700, according to Native traditions (PDF). But Orthodox clergy didn’t arrive here until the Valaam Monastery mission of 1794, whose most famous member was St. Herman, the monk. (It was recently theorized or discovered – I forget which – that there was a priest present in the English-run, Greek-populated, virtual-slavery colony of New Smyrna, Florida, several decades before the Valaam mission to Alaska. But the residents, freed by the British royal governor, dispersed to the St. Augustine area, and did not continue as an Orthodox Christian community. For that matter, I believe there was a priest present in one of the Norse Orthodox settlements in Labrador or Newfoundland 1,000 years ago, who may have baptized several Indians, as well as Viking Orthodox children born there. But they, too, did not constitute a permanent Orthodox community at that time.)

Many, especially but not limited to “Westerners,” think Russian Orthodox made up the account of Peter the Aleut’s martyrdom, because we haven’t found his relics, and the Spanish missions in California didn’t have a policy of outright martyrdom. But I’ve studied the matter some, and there are actually more problems with the idea of a made-up story than with the actual martyrdom! I’m working on possibly publishing something. One thing, though, is that he may have been slain at or near Mission San Gabriel, near Los Angeles, rather than San Francisco; a recent article suggests that’s actually where the geography points. Also, in some icons he’s depicted as being bludgeoned to death, but that doesn’t accord with the versions of the story I’ve ever heard, where he had his fingers and toes cut off and/or was disemboweled. In addition, a sea-fur hunting party matching the description of his was detained by the Spanish near LA around June of 1815, so if we have the whole story, that would appear to be the time of his death, previously not pinned-down so closely AFAIK.

(I took his name at my Chrismation for his martyric witness on this soil, and his and my own rootedness in it as Indigenous North Americans.)

Some confusion surrounds St. Juvenaly and Companion’s martyrdom also, casting doubt on it for many. But the Native evidence – the recounting to St. Innocent years later, the recovery of a cross like Juvenaly’s – is hard to make up.

The other recognized Saints of Alaska at this time are the Monk Herman the Wonderworker, the Missionary Priest, Husband, Father, Widower, Bishop, and eventually Metropolitan of Moscow, INNOCENT,** and his Russian/Aleut co-worker, the Priest and Widower Jacob Netsvetov. (**–Contrary to some parish calendars recently, St. Innocent isn’t an Aleut, but an ethnic Great Russian born in Siberia.)

Someone I’ve highlighted here before is attracting popular devotion, Matushka Olga Michael, a Yup’ik Eskimo who only reposed in 1979. And since today is for ALL Saints of Alaska, not just recognized ones, she may be one of them.

Two other Alaskans’ stories I’m struck by. The first, Ivan Pankov, was chieftain of several Aleutian Islands, a church Reader who probably led prayer services in the absence of a priest, and a collaborator with St. Innocent. He taught Innocent the local dialect and helped him translate written materials into it.

The second is Ivan Smirennikov. This Aleut Orthodox tribal elder was known as a local shaman who cured illness and told fishermen where to find large catches, just as shamen had done throughout the Arctic since time immemorial. For this reason Pankov suspected him of backsliding into paganism, and shunned him. One day St. Innocent was making the rounds of their parish by baidarka or skin-boat, and was greeted by a crowd on the shore of the island where Smirennikov lived. When Innocent asked them how they knew he was coming, they said Smirennikov told them! Curious, Innocent asked them to take him to him. Long story short, it turned out Smirennikov knew things about the faith no human had ever taught him, and when Innocent asked how, Smirennikov – who had never seen an icon either – described two beings who resembled angels depicted in icons, who visited him most days and instructed him in Orthodoxy, and corrected him when he sinned!* Innocent decided Smirennikov should be considered not a “shaman,” with the word’s pagan associations, but a “prophet”(!), and be certain to credit God for his healings. But soon after, “Old Man” Smirennikov reposed.

(*–This also suggests traditional Orthodox iconographers might have it right in how they depict angels, somewhat but not entirely differently than traditional Catholic and Protestant painters. And why so feminine/androgynous? Maybe because they are androgynous, being bodiless, asexual, non-reproducing – I’m just guessing though. But they have men’s names? – or do they have angels’ names, that humans decided to give only [traditionally] to boys!)

The blogger from the previous post, Mr. Brooks Lampe in the Washington, DC, area, here tackles some heavy stuff, without it coming across too heavy! He’s reporting and reflecting mostly on a book by Philip Sherrard, whose writing can be extremely dense – well-planned, well-packed, making for downright oppressive reading, like much philosophy can be – but finally rewarding to the effort. It’s the sequel to Lampe’s article linked to in the previous post.

A few reflections of my own:

  • Fr. Gregory Matthewes-Green referenced there is the husband of Frederica Matthewes-Green, speaker, critic, and columnist about Orthodox and other topics, in person, in print, and on radio. They are the pastor and khouria (Arabic for priest’s wife [priest is khoury, like the surname], apparently pronounced like Korea) of Holy Cross Antiochian Orthodox Church in Linthicum, Maryland, near Baltimore.
  • Lampe blew me away by saying the following, even before getting to Sherrard! (emphasis added): To a large extent, in fact, I credit Western Christianity for leading me to the East…. [T]he West has always been introspective in trying to identify and return to the true faith where it perceives cracks in the truth. Anglicanism and the C.E.C. in particular, I believe, live out the agonia of a faith that has been partially damaged or compromised. For Western Christians, present-day Christianity in part means salvaging and rebuilding the Church. This is most obvious in terms of living in a world where the Church has been “broken” into multiple parts, but it is also evident in the liturgy and sacraments, where there is a sense that the inherited forms and meanings of the modern West are lesser versions of a former glory. In the minds of most high-church Westerners, that former glory can never be restored; as such, the best thing to do is stay the course and counteract the Church’s entropic tendencies. Western Christianity’s “agony,” then, plays a large role in protecting us against complacency (although skeptics and agnostics can become complacent) and in stimulating a desire for a seemingly unreachable ideal. In studying the particular theological differences between Rome and Orthodoxy, I am beginning to see that this agony is not the necessary dead end.
    • ISTM Rome itself might disagree with such a characterization, but one might see it in Rome’s, just like Protestantism’s, constant searching for new ways to express what it has of the tradition, or ways to say what it has better; hence all the ‘schools of theology’ throughout its history and their struggles and conflicts and politics (perhaps unfairly represented, for readers/viewers of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, by the great philosophical/theological question of the debate, “Did Christ own the clothes He wore?”).
  • Lampe points to the insight that even when we use the same words, Orthodox and Latins are often not saying the same thing. This is a theme of Fr. John Romanides as well.
  • Learning that the papacy of Rome – to paraphrase somebody in the musical 1776 (“John Adams”?) I think? – did not ‘spring full-grown from the head of Christ,’ but historically evolved from a local bishopric to doubt-worthy and damaging claims of universal jurisdiction, infallibility, and necessity for salvation, was key to my leaving it the first time in favor of the Quakers in 1991, returning to it ‘on my own terms’ in ’98, and thus in the background of my leaving it again for Orthodoxy in ’02.
  • Where Lampe/Sherrard(?) uses the word parish, IIUC I believe we Orthodox have to usually understand bishopric or diocese (of whatever title). Some early Councils use parish not in the modern sense of a subdivision or outpost of a diocese, but the whole, presided over by its Ruling Hierarch. In truth, the Whole Orthodox Church and Christ’s Body is indeed theologically present in every Eucharistic assembly, with or without the in-person presence of its Ruling Hierarch, but at least with his authorization… though this is true par excellence under his actual presidency: the Bishop, his priests, deacons, and other clergy, in the midst of the laity. This is why for us a Hierarchical Divine Liturgy is such a big deal.
  • This article points to the theological importance of the Local Church better than I’ve ever seen before, something with which the Latin Church wrestled after its Second Vatican Council, until ‘localizers’ were basically ‘pinned’ (to extend the wrestling metaphor!) by the “tag team” of John Paul II and then-Cardinal Ratzinger, his doctrinal chief, in favor of the papacy again, at least as far as official discussion is concerned. This is why the dribs and drabs that came out in connection with the “dropping of the title Patriarch of the West,” from Ratzinger – now Pope Benedict XVI – and others last March, were so unexpected, uncertain, unsatisfying… and untrusted! This presentation of Orthodoxy, and many others, starts with the Local Church; Latins instinctively look first to a “Universal Church” of which their pope is the merely-human head, and local dioceses mere outposts with an uncertain practical-theological significance, amid his universal jurisdiction even theoretically over every individual believer, even around that believer’s local bishop.
    • (NB: On the subject of Local Catholic Churches – or not! – I believe the concern expressed over the 2002 establishment of 4 ‘normal’ Latin dioceses in the Russian Federation, with one of them, in Moscow, as their ‘chief,’ has proved unnecessary. The Latin ecclesiastical province of “the Mother of God of Moscow” seems, like all other Latin ecclesiastical provinces in recent centuries, virtually toothless, and not an “innovation” such as an Orthodox autonomous metropolia. Each diocese’s relationship with Rome remains full and direct. The four bishops do form the Russian Federation Catholic Bishops’ Conference, which is for now as relatively powerless as all other Latin national bishops’ conferences. The four dioceses’ former post-Soviet existence as “apostolic administrations” is normally considered by Latins an interim structure, on the way to being made a diocese. [They are called “apostolic” because of their status as sort-of appendages of Rome, sometimes called by Latins “the Apostolic See.”] It’s true that few Latin bishops are titled “Metropolitan” as apparently their Archbishop of Moscow has been sometimes referred to as, but his formal title is normally just Archbishop; he is described as ametropolitan archbishop” to distinguish him from the relatively few Latin archbishops who are not the mostly-titular heads of these mostly-toothless “provinces.” I also note that Latins in the disputed Sakhlin Islands [between Russia and Japan] remain outside the “province” of Russia, within an undeveloped structure called an “apostolic prefecture,” though their bishop in Irkutsk, Siberia, is pulling double duty as prefect of Sakhalin. And the Latin bishop of Novosibirsk was named to serve also the handful of parishes throughout the country of Russian and Ukrainian Byzantine Catholics, but neither has received its own bishop otherwise either, and there are indications the Vatican has committed itself not to make a move that would be so provocative to the Orthodox. [This linked article is very partisan, but in many places throughout the world Eastern Catholics of one or more spiritual traditions remain under Latin bishops’ jurisdiction… and in some places Latins are under Eastern Catholic bishops!])
    • (emphasis added) …Sherrard articulates the Orthodox belief that “unity” or “wholeness” of the Church is not found in the sum of all the parishes together, but in each local parish itself. Each eucharistic center is the Church because even though the body of Christ is distributed in many parts, each part is whole and complete in itself:* “There cannot be one local church which is more catholic or more united than another, because one manifestation of the Eucharist cannot be more, or less the manifestation of the body of Christ than another…. Christ is equally present whenever his body is manifest {eucharistically}, so the principle of catholicity and unity is equally present. The local church which manifests the body of Christ cannot be subsumed into any larger organization or collectivity which makes it more catholic and more in unity, for the simple reason that the principle of total catholicity and total unity is already intrinsic to it.”
    • (*–ie, Just like the Communion bread itself!)
  • Not having read Metropolitan JOHN (Zizioulas’) well-known work on “eucharistic ecclesiology” – just some critiques of it – I can’t say if Sherrard is saying the same thing, or something different.
  • A key insight of Sherrard’s is something I have felt instinctively for a few years now (emphasis and brackets added): Eventually, Sherrard states explicitly that the Papacy is a misguided idea because {ironically!!} it destroys the eucharistic unity of the Church. If [Rome’s] Petrine doctrine is correct then the Church is not unified through the Eucharistic celebration, but in that central organ or instrument of government that is the Pope. The responsibility of guarding the faith lies ultimately with the pope and not with the laity and clergy, not with the body as a whole. In other words, the apostolicity of the Church is reduced from the whole body to its head. The local parishes cease to be the full expression of the Church because they in themselves lack that quality of functioning as an apostolic body.
    • In effect, Rome’s theology of primacy is exaggerated or overblown – “a one-man ecumenical council, even a one-man Church,” I have called it elsewhere – a danger to the reality and faith of the rest of its Patriarchate and anyone else “in communion with” it. IIUC, even Eastern Catholic (aka “Uniate”) patriarchates – Maronite, Melkite, Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, and Chaldean – have to have the Pope of Rome “extend communion to” their newly-elected patriarchs, apparently functionally equivalent to the “autonomous” status of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Constantinople’s Church of Finland, its Church of Estonia, I believe its Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada, and possibly some others of its jurisdictions. A requirement like this is apparently all that prevents communion between Rome and the Assyrian Church of the East (aka “Nestorian”), and also organic reunion between the Assyrians and the Chaldean Catholics, now that Rome and the Assyrians have concluded they agree theologically after 1,600 years apart. In addition, I get the impression from their own printed sources that at least some Eastern Catholic patriarchs function almost like ‘little popes’ over their own jurisdictions, sounding much less collegial, conciliar, or synodal than even the most centralized Local Orthodox Churches. Does this come from association with Rome? I don’t know enough of their history to say.
  • This article also contains an excellent description of Orthodox Church conciliarity like I’ve never seen it before (emphasis and brackets added): The conciliar structure of the East, on the other hand, reflects the body functioning organically, in agreement and unity with itself and without reducing any local parish to being a piece of the whole: “What is intended through a council is that the identity {ie, identicalness} of the faith manifest in each local church, and vested therefore in each bishop, should be affirmed and confirmed through the mutual witness of all the bishops. It is the fact that its pronouncements affirm and confirm the unity and catholicity of the truth established a priori {ie, from the beginning!} in the Church–and through the act itself of the Church’s foundation–that makes a council an authoritative organ of the Church…. It is the whole body of the Church that is the criterion of orthodoxy. It is the Church which determines the councils, not the councils that determine the Church.”
  • Orthodox are sometimes chided for ‘theologizing everything,’ especially for perceiving the Filioque even in Latin Church structure and discipline. But like I’ve said, Orthodox are very theological! That’s why we’re “o/Orthodox”!
  • In fairness to the Latins, Protestants often see more than Latins do in Latins’ “meritorious acts,” because of Luther’s errors. Technically in Latin salvation, positive virtue is optional; only avoidance of “mortal sin,” or sacramental absolution of it, is necessary. When I entered the high school seminary of a Latin religious order whose main task is youth work, I learned – and experienced – one of their key principles: If you keep adolescents too busy – not necessarily doing ‘good,’ perhaps just ‘morally neutral’ – they’ll have less time to sin! An idle mind, or body, is the devil’s workshop, I guess. But when I encountered what some call the “positive ethics” of the Quakers much later – not just or primarily focused on avoiding evildoing, but promoting good-doing, with their self-improvement, pacifism, social justice work, “mysticism,” “Divine leadings,” etc. – was when I felt liberated from Latin “negative ethics” for the first time… and also had less time to sin… but felt better about it!!! (From an Orthodox perspective I see more clearly the problems with both systems now. Quakerism risks self-delusion, eg, [1] the idea that I’m frequently, consciously, authoritatively experiencing Divine input into my thoughts, perceptions, words, or deeds, without more serious work on my passions, or o/Orthodox belief or membership in Christ’s Body the Orthodox Church, and [2] the idea that I’m progressing, even in humility[!], toward “the state Adam was in before he fell… even the state of Christ that never fell” [early Quaker, George Fox], ie, actual [not forensic] sinlessness and perfection even during life.)

by someone coming into the Church from the Charismatic Episcopal Church, is described really well here. Some good writing there!

Looks like I finished with Protestant seminaries too soon: I was not aware of the “Paleo-Orthodox” Movement as such! (The first one discussed at the link, not the second one, which just sounds like more neo-con Fundamentalism.)

Though something I can’t recall made me think the other day* that with Latin re-appreciation of Scripture in the last 50 years or so, what’s happened is they’ve just become as fragmented as Protestant Scripture scholars and preachers and ‘schools of thought’ now, all over the map, “like sheep without a shepherd.” Each new writer or professor believes they’ve discovered The Key, yet so few look back to those who first gave us the keys. This approach doesn’t bring Christians together, but drives them apart. What sense it would make for both groups to return to the men and women inspired by the vision of the Glory of God to canonize the New Testament, re-affirm the Old Testament, and “break open the Scriptures” in the ways that indicated the way to the Truth, the Way, and the Life.

If you open your mind, you’ll see that this is even “relevant,” “political,” “environmental”… though perhaps not in ways those “social scientists” or “philosophers” who may be unbelieving, are thinking….

*–UPDATE 23 SEPTEMBER 2007: I found what it was: a quote from the late Fr. John Meyendorff (from his book Catholicity and the Church) on a bookmark I just received from St. Vladimir’s Seminary:

There is no way to remain faithful to the Gospel without learning how the Fathers defended it, and without sharing in their struggle to make it accessible.


Did you know about this?! I only just found out about it by accident! But apparently Archbishop CHRISTODOULOS* of Athens, Primate of the Church of Greece, has been in Florida for a month waiting for a liver transplant: he has liver cancer and is “in critical condition.”

Holy Father, heavenly Physician of our souls and bodies, who have sent Your Only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to heal all our ailments and deliver us from death: visit and heal Your servant CHRISTODOULOS, granting him release from pain and restoration to health and vigor, that he may give thanks unto You and bless Your Holy Name, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

(*–His name means Slave of Christ. I’ve heard it pronounced kris-TAH-doo-los.)

A few years ago I picked up a blue half-sheet of paper after an Inquirers’ Class at St. Philip’s Antiochian Church in Souderton, Pennsylvania (the one with the great choir!), on which were printed the Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”), the Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian used during the Great Fast/Lent, and one called the “Morning Prayer of the Last Elders of Optina.” (Optina is a famous monastery in Russia about 120 miles southwest of Moscow. “Elder” in Russian is starets, plural startsy, referring to a monastic spiritual father, like Elder Zosima in The Brothers Karamazov. The Greek equivalent is geronta [masculine in gender despite ending in A] – the source of the English word “gerontology”… and the brand name Geritol! Optina is once again an active monastery and center for pilgrimages and retreats, since the decline of Communist rule.)

As you can see here, I’m not the only one who has been disturbed by the line in the Optina prayer, “all is sent down from Thee.” But ISTM the two priests toward the end of the current Comments at the link have some helpful things to say about it, especially Fr. Matthew. Reminds me of a line from an old Philadelphia Quaker* traveling minister, Hannah Whitall Smith, in her famous 1875 book The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life, that however something bad started, by the time it reaches you, God means it for your good. We say God is always trying to bring good out of the bad people do or have done. But often that’s hard for us to perceive because of our limited perspective. “Your Arms Too Short to Box with God“! But eyes of faith might learn to see. Actually I’d forgotten that the line from the patriarch Joseph (he of the technicolor dreamcoat!) was his: “You meant this to me for evil, but the Lord meant it to me for good.” It was paraphrased by St. Raphael of Brooklyn in reference to a persecution that temporarily drove his parents from their hometown of Damascus to Beirut while they were expecting his birth in 1860, and the incident is alluded to with that paraphrase in Oikos 1 of his Akathist, where I’ve re-encountered it.

But since I wasn’t sure how well Mrs. Smith agreed with Orthodoxy, I’ve unfailingly read the prayer repeating the line from the previous paragraph, “subject to Thy holy Will,” instead of “sent down from Thee”! (I *am* the worst of sinners, to second-guess Holy Elder-Martyrs of the Bolshevik Yoke!!!) It’ll take some adjustment, and swallowing of pride….

(*–Ironically, Smith was an “Orthodox Friend”… no, not like some of these folks! In the 1820s-’30s U.S. Quakers split into two branches, each believing it was truer to the spirit of the first English Quakers of the 1600s, and thus to true Christianity: one branch sought to retain a theological ‘peculiarity,’ but soon tended in a Liberal Protestant direction, while the other sought a more ‘evangelical’ Protestant theology, and came to be called “Orthodox” in a sense not unlike the later “Neo-Orthodox” movement in Protestantism. Hence, perhaps, the Smiths’ later involvement with Holiness movements in the U.S. and Britain. In fact, a majority of the world’s Friends today are Evangelical of one tendency or another, and not very much like the Britain/Philadelphia stereotype – liberal, quiet, inclusive, non-evangelistic, pacifist – anymore. In fact, around the turn of the last century the Inupiat “Eskimos” of northwest Alaska – north of the Orthodox Yup’ik “Eskimos” – were converted from their Native faith to Pentecostal Quakerism!)

I offer this one from Fr. Stephen Freeman not because I get it, but because I don’t get all of it. Let me ponder it….

Out-of-season, but not in all ways, since I’m here ‘talking about Orthodoxy’ and all… and Neo-Pagans are always somewhere around! I’m not sure about all the alleged facts on this page, and take strong exception to one Commenter’s endorsement of the genocide of the Aztecs no matter what they are alleged to have been doing. But the general thrust of Fr. Stephen Freeman’s article and many of the responses is helpful for me. And yes, I’m still drafting my own “faith journey,” but I’m afraid it’s gonna be terribly ‘cerebral’! πŸ˜‰

(Not that anyone’s asked…! Or needs to…. I think the blogosphere is like the saying I once heard: “Some people can speak at the drop of a hat; he brings his own hat!” And no, it wasn’t about me… then!)

(Oh, and about Pagans… maybe that’s one reason they’re called Neo-Pagans? But there are some who claim to be “Orthodox Pagans,” though I haven’t studied them at all, just saw it on a T-shirt once, I think at a Louisville Irish Fest at Bellarmine College – er, University! – in Kentucky about a decade ago, over with the Society for Creative Anachronism folks; maybe that should tell me something?!! Of course, Fr. John Romanides would say pre-Judeo-Christianity IS “religion,” and the Gospel – Old Testament and New – is its CURE…. Maybe a different perspective, different topics of discussion, different contexts, etc. Or maybe that’s just the kind of thing to expect from a half-pagan Irish Catholic/ Native American “both/and” Orthodox like me!!! πŸ˜‰ )

A new friend, Destination Macedonia has left a new comment on [my] post “Liturgy: On Second Thought…“: I am curious to learn how the Orthodox Church has seen the Hellenic culture. So I’ve suggested some readings on my blogsite. Could you help me with your comments? Thanks

and on [my] post “Pope’s Regensburg lecture“: I am curious to learn the Orthodox Church link with the Hellenic culture. So I’ve suggested some readings on my blogsite. Could you help me with your comments? ΞˆΟΟΟ‰ΟƒΞΈΞ΅

Dear Friend,

Thanks for your interest from all the way over in Thessaloniki! Please forgive my lateness in responding. Between Pennsylvania’s heat waves this summer and my own health problems, I’ve been off my computer most of the last four months. Also, if you don’t mind, I’ve taken the liberty to make my response a separate article, so if you’re inclined to post comments, please do so here rather than at your original comments, or on your own site, since I can’t monitor your site. Thanks. And I pray you haven’t been harmed by the fires!

I gather from your website that by “Hellenic culture,” you mean pre-Christian, or Classical. And I don’t know if I can tell you anything you don’t already know, living over there and everything, but I’ll try my best.

The first principle of Orthodox Christianity in this question is to seek to persuade people outside the Orthodox Church to join it, called evangelization or spreading God’s Good News (Greek euangelion). Orthodoxy doesn’t rule out the possibility of salvation for non-Orthodox, but encourages others to take advantage of the ‘full information/training’ available in the Orthodox Church if possible. (And of course today the Orthodox Church is alot more widespread, geographically, than ever before!) In ancient times Orthodoxy did this almost completely nonviolently, as opposed to the much more violent spread of Western Christianity (ie, Catholicism and Protestantism) later, after it became heterodox.

As for persons already in the Orthodox Church, the ancient Orthodox Fathers of the Christian Church are divided on whether Christians should acquaint themselves with the philosophies and religions of their non-Christian ancestors, eg, the ancient Greeks. Some said there was only spiritual danger there, but others – even the great Saint Basil – thought there could be some intellectual benefit to academic students at least. In fact, in some Greek Orthodox temples (churches) even today I am told you may see murals that include Classical Greek philosophers in the vestibule (without halos), calling one or more of them “the Moses of the Greeks” (ie, of the pagans), because some of their philosophy came close to basic Christianity, or prepared the Greeks for Christianity, as Moses did for the Israelites. But certainly the Orthodox Fathers of the Church opposed embracing non-Christian religion as apostasy, requiring Baptism and Chrismation anew if someone who did so later returned to Orthodoxy. (This practice differs from Catholicism and Protestantism, which don’t believe baptism can or may be repeated.) (Ironically, the pre-Christian Roman Empire took a similar stance: one of the charges typically levelled against Christians in the persecutions was atheism, because they ‘apostatized,’ turning to the worship of an ‘unapproved’ God, or rejecting worship of ‘approved’ gods! [Sound familiar?! πŸ˜‰ ])

(It is frequently said here in the West that Orthodox theology is heavily influenced, even “in thrall to,” pre-Christian Greek philosophy. This is ironic for two reasons: [1] It is actually Western Christian – Catholic and Protestant – theology that is so, as a result of the Rennaissance of Classical Greco-Roman culture in Western Europe, without a similar “rennaissance” of contemporary Byzantine-Greek Orthodox thought in most of the West; and [2] Although Orthodox theology clearly echoes pre-Christian Greek thought, the Orthodox Fathers and Mothers of the Church make clear that Orthodoxy’s teachings are the result of God revealing His Uncreated Divine Energies to them, and not Christian Greek “philosophizing.” See below.)

I believe I have read that as late as the 7th century AD, there were significant pockets of the old Greek paganism in the Byzantine Empire; in fact, the Orthodox Byzantines used the word Greek or Hellene pretty much to refer to paganism, and called themselves Romans or Romaioi (because Roman citizenship had been bestowed upon all subjects of the Empire in AD 212, ironically a century before Emperor Saint Constantine the Great), and often the words Roman and Orthodox in their usage were synonymous, and sometimes the Empire of the Romans was called instead the Empire of the Orthodox. Furthermore, a small minority of the Empire’s academics remained ‘fans’ of the paganism, both of the philosophy and even the religion (though not practicing it – as far as mainstream histories know anyway); it was these in part who, fleeing the Empire, sparked the “Rennaissance” of Classical Greco-Roman culture in then-largely-illiterate and impoverished Western Europe among Catholics and even eventually Protestants, in part leading to the Protestant Reformation, the American and French Revolutions, and the whole Modern Era as it is thought of by Westerners and others under Western influence (post-1500), with its revolutions in science, skepticism, philosophical speculation, economic “rationalization,” the Industrial Revolution, (small-R) republicanism, Civil-Law human rights on the Continent of Western Europe and subsequently in modern international law [Arguably the basic rights doctrine under English/American Common Law does not derive from this but is far older.], Communism, Nazism/Fascism, secularism, “post-modernism,” Evolution, the presumption of “progress” in history, anti-traditionalism (ironically perhaps), mass warfare, ideological politics, modern technology(!), etc etc etc.

Turning to modern Greece, it is this “Rennaissance” heritage of the West that led to Western romanticism over the Greek War of Independence from the Ottoman Empire in the early 1800s, and the high level of support for it there, even apart from Great Power interests in dismantling “the Sick Man of Europe,” that Empire, by supporting linguistic-ethnic separatism in the Balkans and the Middle East (the results of which, some critics say, we are still living with today, for better or for worse). As a result of this dynamic, there have been two schools of thought in Greece since the War of Independence, which may be characterized as neo-Classical or neo-Byzantine. While Orthodoxy has been the official religion of the Greek State, ISTM some Greeks view Greekness largely through quasi-Rennaissance (“neo-Classical”) eyes, and others largely through quasi-Medieval (“neo-Byzantine”) eyes… and perhaps some lie in between these two poles. Another, related way of looking at this – and I say this with some hesitation, but descriptively, not judgmentally – might be a “cultural” view versus a “theological” view. I believe this ambivalence can be seen even in the life of the Greek Church as such, both in the Eastern Mediterranean (ie, the Churches of Constantinople [mostly], Alexandria [mostly], Jerusalem [still largely], Cyprus, and Greece) and in the “diaspora”: some folks elevate Greeks’ ancient heritage and culture, and its outworkings in more recent Greek cultural manifestations, which we in the diaspora see at Orthodox parish Greek or Grecian Festivals; while others elevate Greeks’ Byzantine and Orthodox religious heritage over the former; and naturally, there has been some cross-pollination as well, as we are reminded of the Orthodox and Christian religious background to the more recent cultural manifestations, etc. The question of whether the two can be reconciled in modern Greekness, or even already have been, is a question for those more Greek-culturally-involved than I: although I have a couple Byzantine Emperors in my family tree, as well as an unnamed pre-Christian Greek concubine to a Mideastern potentate, I only found out about them in the last decade, and was raised mostly Irish-American, and also Native American (Indian)!

But then there is the question of Greek non-Orthodox, even non-Christians. Back to the history discussion, once the Byzantine Imperial throne was firmly in Orthodox hands for the first time, from the late 4th century AD, the Emperor came to be seen as protector of the Church and the Truth. In a sense his first responsibility was supposed to be his nation’s salvation, not in the same way as this is clergy and bishops’ responsibility, but he was supposed to take salvation into consideration when making policy. (In fact, IIUC, this was the choice offered St. Lazar, King of Serbia, going into battle against the Ottoman Empire – victory OR salvation. He chose salvation.) So increasingly, Jews, Heterodox Christians, apostates from Christianity, and I presume pagans in the Byzantine Empire, suffered legal disabilities, and some harassment. But the main interest of the Church here would not have been power for its own sake, but protection of its people from the perceived falsehood and temptation posed by these persons or doctrines/practices. We must remember that Orthodoxy doesn’t see itself as simply another philosophy or sect; ideally, it experiences itself, as do the Orthodox Fathers and Mothers of the Church, the Orthodox Saints, and other Orthodox spiritual fathers and mothers, as the cure of humanity’s fundamental problem of alienation from God’s Divine Energies. The late Father John Romanides of America and Greece, and other Orthodox writers like him, have compared Orthodox Church councils (synods) to meetings of the national psychiatric association (a better U.S. comparison, in part, might be to a state board of licensing), defining illnesses, prescribing therapies, endorsing practitioners, and proscribing “quacks.” Therefore it’s not just mere routinized “paternalism” when Orthodox Church leaders become concerned about their people and spiritual temptations to them, but real spiritual fatherhood and care for souls under their responsibility. True Orthodox spiritual fathers and mothers have God’s Wisdom to perceive dangers in the lives of their spiritual proteges.

But what if some Greeks (to focus on the question at hand, but applicable to others as well) wish to embrace other faiths, or none? As a “modern,” a Westerner, and especially an American, my impulse is that they should be legally free to do so in the eyes of the state. How would I feel if non-Orthodoxy were imposed on me here in America?! Furthermore, I grew up as an Irish-American Catholic with a strong sense of Catholics’ second-class status in their own Catholic-majority country of Ireland under British Protestant minority rule from the Reformation until the 1920s, and arguably continuing today in Northern Ireland under the rule of a slight Protestant majority since the Partition of the Island, as well as the history of anti-Catholic discrimination here in the Protestant-majority States largely until 1960, and in many places continuing to the present. In addition, recent sociology claims that all sects do better in a “religious free market,” in terms of adherents’ observance, than in a situation where one sect is legally favored by the State: they compare the relatively high level of religiosity in the U.S. to the much lower levels in many Western European countries having a legally-established Protestant or Catholic faith, even though in the last generation or more they have all ‘established’ individual freedom of religion – the implication being that even the perception of continuing governmental favor toward or involvement with one sect in particular is too much “socialization” (to extend the economic metaphor!), and hurts the whole “market,” and thus everybody in it.

Three questions arise for me considering this just now: (1) Is the “free market” thesis even applicable to non-Western-European countries where Orthodox are in significant numbers or even a plurality or majority, such as Greece? After all, religious cultures are different. (2) From an Orthodox perspective, is the “free market” model a good idea, or spiritually responsible? A true “free market” would seem to require more than a token number of non-Orthodox. How many souls should Orthodox spiritual fathers and mothers be willing to sacrifice for the “benefit of the free market” in religion? Or is this like some other things the West has experimented with “market-wise” over the last couple centuries, only to discover that “the market” isn’t always the best provider of necessity, equity, or social justice? So, do Orthodox Church leaders simply have to find other ways to increase observance among the faithful, or at least concede that a lax, skeptical, or even scandalous Orthodox is still spiritually better-off than s/he would be as a Latin, Protestant, Jew, Muslim, apostate, atheist, Neo-Pagan, or anything else? (It’s common among Catholics and Protestants to consider that someone is better-off in a creed they care about, than one they don’t. But such “relativism” would be a novelty to Orthodoxy, I believe.) And (3), presuming ambivalence toward a “free market” in religion, what should the attitude of the Orthodox Church as such be toward religious “tolerance,” especially in a country that is officially or quasi-officially Orthodox? Should other faiths be allowed to build their own houses of worship, the question you raise at the end of this post on your blog? worship or preach in public places? proselytize? publish? broadcast? make use of historical sites for their own religious purposes? vote? hold public office? receive government support? be passed-on to children? be taught about in government-supported or government-run primary or secondary schools? Or should Orthodoxy call on the “Orthodox” State to protect the Church, the Truth, etc., and if so, how exactly?

In spite of all this, however, as well as how it may feel to you, my friend (and believe me, I am not without sympathy), the Orthodox Church does not rule Greece, any more than it ruled the Byzantine Empire. Orthodox theology strongly prefers a strict separation of powers between civil rulers, who are laity, and ecclesiastical leaders, who are Bishops – the Ottoman millet system, the Montenegrin prince-bishops, and Archbishop MAKARIOS‘ presidency of the Republic of Cyprus being exceptions more-or-less forced onto the Hierarchy IIUC. And throughout Orthodox history, Orthodox lay civil rulers have frequently done things that they considered politically or militarily expedient, if not exactly “Christian” or even “Orthodox.” Therefore it stands to reason that the lay civil rulers of Greece also, minimally, will do for non-Orthodox, including your Hellenic culture and/or religion, what seems expedient from time to time, taking into account internal partisan and electoral politics, the domestic legal and court system, Church relations, and international relations. I have no familiarity with these currently, so I can’t say how much hope that offers you; you probably have a better idea of that than I.

Finally, not to assign too much homework(!), but I’ve just browsed a recent statement by the Orthodox Bishops of the Patriarchate of Moscow, who work not just in Russia or the Commonwealth of Independent States, but also in the Western world in all sorts of legal and political contexts. It’s a bit long, and sometimes not well translated, as well as not fully-informed on certain points (such as constitutional monarchy), but I think may reward your attention as you seek to understand Orthodoxy’s position in your regard. I highlight for your attention in particular the first five chapters, and chapter XIV section 2 (scroll down about half-way). Again, it’s kind of general, and not too specific to Greece or pre-Christian Hellenic culture or religion, but it might help shed light on Orthodox perspectives for you.

I don’t imagine any of this will persuade you, but I hope you find my poor attempt helpful in understanding those around you in Greece.

Best wishes,

Leon Petros Foulaniou πŸ˜‰

I sympathize with the founders of this mission in Wenatchee (say “wen-ATCH-ee”), central Washington state: I’m not exactly a couple hours from the nearest parish like they may have been, but in an “Orthodox black hole” nonetheless, so I may be looking in on their blog from time to time.

(HELLO WENATCHEE! Some beautiful country out there in the Cascade foothills! [The dry side of the Northwest!] I attended a couple Quaker Quarterly Meetings at the Methodists’ Lazy F campground in nearby Ellensburg in the early ’90s, living in Spokane and Seattle. And of course, drove through that neighborhood a few times between the eastern and western halves of the state.)

Even Protestants, for most of Reformation history. See here from the blog of an Antiochian Orthodox missionary priest Down Under.

of Father Deacon Stephen Methodius Hayes, who turned around and started spreading Orthodoxy among South Africans of all races and ethnicities, and talking evangelization among Orthodox internationally!

This is his account of a grassroots pan-ethnic evangelization effort that became a parish, and later a continuing grassroots pan-ethnic evangelization effort, with outreach literally around the world! Lots of other interesting stuff there too.

(I also got the idea from him to try using blog tags to help spread the News!)

Canadian Orthodox fundraisers for the Orthodox Mission in China challenge U.S. parishes to do the same!

Hey, eat Chinese food, raise three grand for a worthy cause (and the Canadian Dollar has never been higher!)… and a recent edition of the magazine of the Orthodox Christian Mission Center in Florida says actively supporting overseas evangelization may be a key element in evangelizing here at home too, as a local mission that wants to be a ‘grown-up church’ “acts like one”!

Pass the hot mustard!

And one anticipated them!!