By Janice Bidwell
The color of my brown eyes will never change. My eye color is a constant part of me from start to finish, and most days I don’t give the color of my eyes a second glance. When I’m in a sea of blue eyes, my brown eyes feel very brown. As a child there was one place where the entire sea of eye color was brown: My Orthodox church was a brown eyed, brown haired church, which struck me as odd.
Today my Orthodox church reflects more of the surrounding American community, and with the assorted eye colors also has come a blend of Christian backgrounds. Together we constitute a vibrant and growing Orthodox faith within our American culture. Orthodoxy in America originated in lands beyond our Protestant American borders and went unnoticed by larger groups of American Christians for generations. Blending the historic Orthodox Church into a place within present day American culture is difficult, and takes a balanced and collaborative effort by laity and clergy.
Stepping inside an Orthodox church is an experience of “old world” worship in contrast to our modern surroundings. Divine Liturgy today is the same ancient service observed around the world for centuries, and the American Orthodox Church brings together a merging of Christian minds with an assortment of eye colors. If during the Divine Liturgy you sit (or stand) with your brown, blue, or green eyes closed you will experience this same ancient service no matter the language or setting. Yet within the Orthodox Church we stumble over our differences and overlook our similarities.
An Orthodox Christian Heritage
Both the color of my eyes and my Orthodox faith are a part of my heritage, and while my eye color is a permanent gift, my life as an Orthodox Christian is a personal choice. Orthodox Christianity exists as a part of my family tree far into the depths of its branches. But I choose now as an adult to attend an Orthodox church. The Divine Liturgy I attend on Sunday is the Divine Liturgy of my ancestors. I learned to understand my Faith from the Orthodox community around me as a child, and the traditions of Orthodoxy were passed to me by my family just as they learned them from their ancestors. Through the years and across the continents these traditions varied some, and today they remain a part of my family heritage passed from generation to generation.
A Blend of Orthodox traditions
In the American Orthodox Church today, the sea of eye colors mixes with traditions from an array of Christian heritages. Some laity and clergy introduce ancient traditions and customs which feel new and strange to those with deep Orthodox Christian roots, and there exists an imbalance within the Orthodox faith. If after years of travel along another path you have entered the Orthodox Church, then the traditions of Orthodoxy will find their way into your heart over time. You may eagerly embrace Orthodoxy and all its traditions, outpacing the dark brown eyes seated next to you in Divine Liturgy, but the Orthodox heart is not correlated with eye color, and this is not a race with your neighbor. As you pass the traditions of Orthodox Christianity along to your family over generations, you will establish deep Orthodox roots within the branches of your own family tree. Establishing the traditions of a blended American Orthodox Church takes years and involves a respect for all Orthodox Christians, including those with brown, blue, and green eyes.
Today while sharing and extending the Orthodox faith beyond our own church borders, we must not overlook those present here within the Orthodox Church. By focusing on those within our existing Orthodox parishes we promote Orthodox inreach and outreach. A growing American Orthodox Church must edify and merge Christians from varied backgrounds together with Christians from deep branching Orthodox trees. Within the walls of the American Orthodox Church we must strive for a unity of Christians with a richness of faith and worship. An emphasis on correctness divides, rather than merges, Christians within the Orthodox Church. The rightness of the Orthodox faith comes from within the heart and is not visible from the outside no matter how vigorous the exterior gestures. Working together over the years with balanced perspective and respect, the American Orthodox Church will bear more fruit from all its branching trees.