To Bring Orthodoxy to America We Need More Than Rhetoric
by Fr. John Abdalah
To fulfill Metropolitan PHILIP's prophetic call to bring Orthodoxy to America, the Orthodox laity and clergy in America must be genuine Christians, well educated in the ways of God, and fervant in our witness of Jesus Christ. We must be Christians who love God and all those that God Himself loves. We must be servants; obedient to God and willing to do all that God calls us to do, even if He calls us to change or to grow. Anything short of this would make us disingenious, and if America discerns us to be less than genuine, He will justifiably reject us. To be authentic, we must be obedient to God and to each other, modeling relationships that reveal the living God in our midst. We must not live our hierarchical relationships in a secular or business way, but in the way God revealed them. Obedience in the Church is based on respect, service and love.
To bring Orthodoxy to America, we need to be American in our embrace of freedom, and Orthodox in our correct apostolic faith and worship. Our worship must be expressive of that which God has revealed though the ages, while palatable to the now indigenous American population. We must be able to distinguish between that which is of the faith and that which belongs to cultures of other countries where Orthodoxy has taken root. America has her own culture, deserving of our study and embrace.
If you understand me to say that the Orthodox laity and clergy in the United States have much work to do in order to be really prepared to bring Orthodoxy to America or America to Orthodoxy, you understand me correctly. We have a sacred responsibility that calls us to personal maturity and growth in our faith and spirituality. We must embark on a journey that will begin with our loving God and each other, and then calls us to witness to America, changing and transforming this land as leaven in bread dough. While we Orthodox in America have had trouble loving each other, we are called by God to grow past our short sightedness and to love everyone. That love from God will transform us, allowing us to share His love. When America sees our love and how God abides in us, America will notice. Americans are known for wanting the best of everything. Those things that are flashy or don't last sometimes fool Americans, but when given the opportunity, Americans want and find the best. We need to give America the opportunity to know God as He has revealed Himself and is calling her.
After loving one another, we need to learn real obedience. Such obedience cannot be reduced to blind adherences to every whim of authority figures. Christian obedience involves church leaders and faithful alike seeking to understand God, and then in a loving and trusting relationship, relate that which will bring the other into a better understanding of God's presence and will. All in the Church must be accountable to each other. Spiritual gifts are not reserved for clergy. God works in all who put Christ on and embrace God. We Christians must always be first obedient to God, and then seek God's direction for each other. This is a sacred responsibility shared by the shepherds and the reason-endowed Christians together.
I am not an advocate of reform for the sake of reform. I even oppose reform for the sake of relevancy; however, we must be sure that our worship and preaching make sense to those that we seek to lead to Christ. Our language and delivery of worship and God's message must be understandable to the ears that we preach it to. Our message must be God's message, and not one of an institution or group. Our language must not only be in English, read, spoken and prayed in understandable ways.
In America, we who seek to bring Orthodoxy to our neighbors face many obstacles from outside our community. America is rooted in a history rich with her own neurotic fears; including a fear of ritual, foreigners, icons and symbols. She is also proud, thinking that as the greatest nation in this world, she is self-sufficient and without need of anything.
If we Orthodox are to have a chance in meeting these real obstacles, we need to get our own house in order. We need to mature to the point of relating to each other, clergy and laity, in symphony. We also need to know and recognize Orthodox from other jurisdictions as authentic Orthodox with the same mandate from our Savior Jesus Christ to preach the Good News to the entire world. We Orthodox worship and honor the same God, regardless of ethnic origin or preference of typicon. We Orthodox in America at every level of Church life need to be even better educated, and we need to be generous, sharing the abundance of gifts and grace that our God has blessed us.