Loading...

Follow In Communion on Feedspot

Continue with Google
Continue with Facebook
or

Valid
In Communion by Steven Collier - 9M ago

By Pieter Dykhorst

Racism cannot be addressed in isolation. Racism at its root springs from human divisiveness and our fallen propensity for conflict across difference, any difference. Racism, like each and every ism ever created, is a manufactured, codified system of exclusion across some broken human boundary.

We often give lip service to fighting racism while we hide our bigotry in other places. It is common in the Orthodox Churches, for example, to utter condemnations of racism and ethnopyletic nationalism and then defend and deploy our religious, cultural, and civic nationalisms against all those we wish to exclude while pretending we are defending. This is apparent in places like the Balkans, Syria, and Russia and Ukraine, but American Orthodox are just as exclusive in this regard. It’s fine to speak against border walls running past somebody else’s property in another state, or for Antiochian churches to sponsor Syrian immigrants, but you aren’t a Christian in America until Latino migrants are sitting in your pews and serving at your altar.

We must unravel is the “otherism” at the core of human nature that infects all relations and from which racism springs. If we cut off the head of racism, the beast will grow a head of tribalism, culturalism, classism, civilizationalism, regionalism, fundamentalism, globalism, or some other damned thing to either keep out, kill, marginalize, neutralize, or convert everyone else to its own cause and make them in its own likeness. The inclusive circle we draw will always have someone standing outside of it. There is a hidden something that has poisoned our souls and from which all our relational divisions arise. It caused Adam and Eve to fear, deflect blame, and hide. It first appeared in the human heart the instant of the fall and has been there ever since. To quote Metropolitan John Zizioulas,

There is a pathology built into the very roots of our existence, inherited through our birth, and that is the fear of the other. This is a result of the rejection of the Other par excellence, our Creator, by the first man, Adam. The essence of sin is the fear of the Other, which is part of the rejection of God. This results in of all otherness. We are not afraid simply of certain others, but even if we accept them, it is on condition that they are somehow like ourselves.

A second Fall narrative is recorded in Genesis 11. God observes that all people spoke “one language and had the same words.” The word “language” and the phrase “the same words” is not a literary redundancy in the Hebrew text; rather “words” is a word with over a hundred renderings in English, including “acts, affairs, answer, business, commandments, conclusion, conditions, conduct, conversations, matters, obligations, order, custom, thoughts.” Essentially, the text says “they spoke one language and had one uniform culture and acted in complete harmony and conformity.”

Yet God also observed, with apparent alarm, that the oneness for which we were created had somehow become perverted, and so God mixed up our languages. The effect was the fracturing and scattering of humanity “across the face of the Earth” and the eventual creation of disparate histories and culture with seemingly little in common. Why would God do this? Was this a false unity, built something superficial like culture, language, or race? As Metropolitan John argues, unity that rejects difference is no unity:

When we fear otherness, we identify difference with division. We divide our lives and human beings according to difference. We organize states, clubs, fraternities and even Churches on the basis of difference. When difference becomes division, communion is nothing but an arrangement for peaceful co-existence. It last as long as mutual interests last and may easily be turned into confrontation and conflict as soon as these interests cease to coincide.

The effort to force unity across difference with the singular purpose of returning the world to one uniform rule and way of life has occupied us ever since the fall. Yet, in Christianity we are called to a deeper communion. St. Paul implores:

Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. (1 Corinthians 1:10)

There is hope for a true unity, just as we sing at Pentecost:

When the most High came down and confused the tongues,

He divided the nations; But when he distributed the tongues of fire

He called all to unity.Therefore, with one voice, we glorify the All-holy Spirit!

Since the reversal of the curse of division at Pentecost, Christians have understood that the only thing capable of undoing the evil that embedded itself in Adam and Eve’s hearts is a new kind of kingdom apart from the kind of unity humankind experiences in the world. Nothing human beings do outside God’s Kingdom to solve what is wrong in us will ever reverse the curse of division. No political agenda or social program will save us.

To overcome our fundamental divisiveness, we must ground ourselves again in the New Testament. St. Paul’s letters are a manifesto of unity. And when Jesus sent out his disciples, it was to the whole world and to every nation scattered therein that he sent them. At Pentecost, the meaning of the “salvation of the whole world” was made clear. “The healing of the nations” had come and would eventually include persons ransomed “from every tribe and language and people and nation,” which was the reversal of the curse of the fall and the fracturing of humanity at Babel. Or as St. Paul wrote:

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6)

  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

By: Lydia Kemi Ingram

After this I looked, and behold a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and people and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!”1 Revelation 7:9-10

Having come from every tongue, tribe and nation, the people gather together to proclaim great truths—that salvation belongs to God on the throne and that God is indeed theirs. The eschatological vision is clear. It is a culturally inclusive vision, one in which humanity is fully reconciled before the Lord.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that [Christ] has commanded.”2 The call to repentance and a new way of life is offered to all people—all nations, all ethno-linguistic groups, all cultures.

It would not be hyperbolic to ascribe microcosmic language to the North American context. Even when one searches the earliest annals of American history, one finds cultural and ethno-linguistic diversity. In Jamestown, we find Powhatans, Angolans and English. Their diverse histories, experiences and perspectives are woven into the foundational fabric of our nation. America is not and has never been a homogenous society.

Comprised of diverse subcultures and immigrant populations, the United States is a veritable laboratory, one in which the eschatological vision and the missional mandate are routinely tested. We are confronted over and over again with the imperfect reality of the “now and not yet.” Though progress has been made, we have yet to witness a fully integrated harmonious American society, one entirely free of ethnic strife. While we acknowledge the fallenness of our world and our own failings, we, the Body of Christ, are called to work toward that eschatological vision—where all people from every tongue, tribe and nation are gathered together around the throne of God. At present, this vision remains threatened. It stands in stark contrast to the reality of segregated American religious life.

Melting Pot or Salad Bowl?

 

While much of the current popular discourse has focused on the racial divide in evangelical and mainline Protestant churches, our Orthodox Christian communities are no less in need of an honest assessment. Regarding our own prophetic witness of peaceful and harmonious integration, how are we doing?

The cry of the assimilationist and the melting pot metaphor remain firmly ensconced in our descriptive language language, and yet, our national history attests to something more akin to a salad bowl. In the latter scenario, individual ingredients retain their distinctive characteristics — as opposed to melting into something entirely new. Ideally, cultures exist side by side—covered in dressing—united by an overarching national or civic culture.

We find throughout history, examples of intentional community formation, those working for peace and those hellbent on preventing it. We see celebrations of cultural uniqueness alongside attempts at forced assimilation. We see the formation of parallel communities in response to racism and cultural conflict.

“Whenever persons are rejected by society, the result is a loss of place, the result is Exile. Whenever a pattern of oppression persists from one generation to another and is firmly rooted in an ideology, the rejected ones become destined to a permanent state of Exile wherein they have no sense of belonging, neither to the community nor to the territory. Since it is necessary for persons to be nourished by a communal eros in order to be fully human, an imposed Exile necessitates the formation of a substitute community…”3

The American historical record contains many examples of predominantly African American substitute communities. These communities were formed in response to offers of second-class citizenship, the denial of inherent human dignity and a failure to acknowledge ethnic equality in the eyes of God. The desire to thrive in spite of pervasive racism, led to the creation of self-funded towns like Allensworth, California. In Tulsa’s Greenwood District (also known as Black Wall Street) African Americans built businesses, civic institutions, and raised families.

When faced with the prospect of receiving an inadequate education, they flocked to HBCUs (Historically historically Black black Colleges colleges and Universitiesuniversities). In these institutions, they found an affirmation of dignity and freedom to be themselves.4 The experience of marginalization in 18th Century century Protestant churches led to the creation of new ethnocentric religious communities like the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the AME Zion Church.

To the Jews, I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law, though I myself am not under the law…To the weak I became weak to win the weak, I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel that I might share in its blessings.5

The aforementioned biblical Biblical verse is often cited to support the need for gospel contextualization in missionary outreach. The idea of becoming all things to all people for the sake of mission is rooted in scripture, and an idea that has become important in modern missiological education. This has not always been the case, as Bria notes:

Too often those bringing the gospel to a new context made no attempt to understand and immerse themselves in the culture. They rather sought to uproot and radically change that culture without any regard for its positive values. We must repeatedly reassert that this is in contradiction to apostolic tradition.6

The sin of racism bids us to deny the truth—the existence of a single human race with a common ancestral heritage. Galatians 3:28 says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” It is doubtful that St. Paul intended for the aforementioned passage to be preached in support of a “decontextualized androgyny”—for clearly there are Jews, Greeks, males and females. Instead, the words of Galatians draw us to a new reality, one in which the various social distinctions are equally valued. These are Kingdom values to be applied on earth as they are in heaven.


Racialization of the Beloved Community

 

During a 1963 lecture at Western Michigan University, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King stated that 11:00 am on Sunday morning was the most segregated hour of American life. Dr. King envisioned an America in which the church would prophetically bear witness to Kingdom values. For King, this meant an integrated church where all ethnicities would worship together freely. Through non-violent direct action, he challenged America to uphold the biblical Biblical ideal. In 2018, however, we see just how far away we are from the full realization of Dr. King’s dream. Most American churches are still voluntarily segregated. We find even in “multi-ethnic” churches a single ethnicity predominance. There remains work to be done.

As Orthodox Christians, what do we believe about the salvific role of the church, the sacraments—about accessibility and incorporation?

There are two missiological reasons for [an] emphasis on incorporation. The first is that only in Christian community can people participate in the life of Christ given by God. To be truly what they are meant to be, they must experience the grace of God. In Orthodox tradition this grace is transmitted to the people by the work of the Holy Spirit in the sacraments. In the Holy Eucharist, in particular, people partake of the spiritual nourishment needed to share in the life of Christ (cf. Jn. 6:53-58).7

When we acknowledge the inherited legacy of racialized community development, we are better equipped as Orthodox Christians to identify stumbling blocks along the path to peaceful incorporation. We see more clearly the importance of reaching out to (and integrating) those from every tribe, tongue and nation into our communities. For when we take seriously the biblical mandate, we follow in the footsteps of Ss. Cyril and Methodius, St. Innocent and St. Nina, sharing the treasure of Orthodoxy with those not of our own tribe.

If, by the grace of God, they decide to “come and see,” what do they find? Do they find the type of environment that aids in “the sanctification of the people’s characteristics, so they become truly themselves, develop their own voice and add their own contribution to the common doxological hymn—always in harmony with the praise of the whole church?”8 Or will they be introduced to a cultural hierarchy and offered second-class Kingdom citizenship?

Given the importance of the incorporation process and its relationship to human salvation, the existing barriers to full community integration must be acknowledged with humility. Once again, guided by that great heavenly vision, we must confess the various ways in which we as Orthodox Christians have placed stumbling blocks along the path to peace and reconciliation. Must one be stripped of one’s culture to become Orthodox? We need only look again to our mission history to find the answer.

To accept a truly orthodox Orthodox approach to outreach and incorporation is to accept the resulting implications. These implications prove challenging when applied to our heterogenous cultural context. Despite legal integration, American churches remain divided along racial lines. Given the history of substitute community formation, it would not be surprising to find ethnocentric parishes developing at the intersection of Orthodox Christianity and American subcultural contexts. At present, however, this does not appear to be happening—for Orthodoxy tells us that to create such parishes is to follow the way of heresy.

We censure, condemn, and declare contrary to the teachings of the Gospel and the sacred canons of the holy Fathers the doctrine of phyletism, or the difference of races and national diversity in the bosom of the Church of Christ.9

With ethnophyletism officially condemned as heresy in 1872, the intentional formation of canonical Orthodox churches for “those of other tribes” is not an option. When we keep both the truth of American history and the eschatological vision in mind, we find only one way forward—toward an American Orthodox Church free of cultural supremacy. A church where there are no second-class citizens.

A recent report published by the Southern Poverty Law Center noted an increase in the number of US- based hate groups and nationalistic organizations. Of course, the report was not without criticism. To some, the SPLC’s use of the term “hate group” appeared to be either arbitrary or biased. With that having been said, the report noted an increase in the number of both “black” and “white” hate groups. Inflammatory racial rhetoric has helped to catalyze white nationalist groups. The proliferation of these groups has triggered a reactionary response—an increase in black nationalist groups. Cultural insensitivity encourages hatred and hatred begets reactionary ethhnophyletism.


The Call to Heavy Lifting

 

“Build up, build up, prepare the way, Remove remove every obstacle out of the way of my people.” 10

There are always ambassadors for peace, those agents of reconciliation who, led by the Holy Spirit, seek to understand cultures, share the gospel, and remove stumbling blocks along the path. There are also glimmers of hope, glimpses of that heavenly vision on earth. We see it in events like the International Festival at St. George Orthodox Church in Pharr, Texas, where Greek, Russian, Romanian, Ethiopian and Ukranian cuisine are celebrated alongside Native American dancing and a Mexican mariachi band;. We we are blessed with a glimpse of it each and every year during Agape Vespers, when the words of John 20:19-25 are read in many languages.: reminders that there are no second-class citizens in the Kingdom of God. There are signs that point forward and bid us to join in the work of heavy lifting, remembering the truth of Galatians 3:28, and removing stumbling blocks along the path to reconciliation.

1 Revelation 7:9-10

2 Matthew 28:19-20

3 PARIS, P.J. (1985). The social teaching of the Black Churches. Philadelphia, Fortress Press, 59

4 Similarly, as continental Africans began the process of decolonizing the Christianity they received from Western missionaries, they began to form African Independent Churches. These new churches allowed for African cultural expression in a Christian context.

5 1 Corinthians 9:20-23

6 Ion Bria, Go Forth in Peace: Orthodox Mission Perspectives, WCC Mission Series. World Council of Churches, Geneva. 1986, 16

7 STamoolis, J.J., 1986. Eastern Orthodox Mission Theology Today. Minneapolis (USA): Light and Life Company, 54

8 ibid, 53.

9 Article I of the Decree of the 1872 Council of Constantinople

10 Isaiah 57:14

  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 
In Communion by Steven Collier - 9M ago

The following excerpt is from the Orthodoxy in America Lecture given by Professor Albert J. Raboteau at Fordham University, Bronx, New York, entitled, “In the World, Not of the World, For the Sake of the World: Orthodoxy and American Culture” on April 4, 2006. An Orthodox response to poverty and social injustice, the lecture goes on to elucidate the teaching and actions of the Church Fathers in obedience to the Gospel commandments. Below we spotlight an almost forgotten moment in American Orthodox history – when His Eminence Iakovos, Greek Archbishop of North and South America, stepped forward as an Orthodox Christian against injustice.

Permit me to use a visual epigraph to introduce this lecture: a Life magazine cover photograph of Archbishop Iakovos standing next to Martin Luther King, Jr., at a civil rights demonstration in Selma, Alabama. How this extraordinary juxtaposition came about requires some historical explanation.

In January of 1965, African-American residents of Selma, Alabama and surrounding “black belt” counties took the first steps in a campaign to gain the right to vote, a right denied them by a system of apartheid that had prevailed in Alabama for as long as they could remember. Mobilized by civil rights workers from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), increasing numbers of local black people risked their jobs, their homes, their physical safety, and their very lives for merely registering to vote. Rejected time and again by white registrars, they joined together in marches and peaceful demonstrations to protest their disenfranchisement, a persistent reminder of the intransigent rule of white supremacy.1

On February 17, Alabama state troopers, wielding billy clubs, attacked a group of marchers in nearby Marion. “Negroes could be heard screaming and loud whacks rang through the square,” reported a New York Times correspondent from the scene. When twenty-six year old Jimmie Lee Jackson rushed to protect his mother, Viola, and his eighty-two-year-old grandfather, Cager Lee, from being beaten, a trooper shot him twice in the stomach. He was taken to Good Samaritan Hospital in Selma where he died on February 26th. In response to Jackson’s death, SCLC leaders conceived a plan to march from Selma to the state capitol of Montgomery, a distance of fifty-four miles. On Sunday, March 7th, a group of marchers started across the Edmund Pettus Bridge toward Route 80, the highway to Montgomery. On the bridge they were met by a large contingent of Alabama State troopers and local police. After warning the marchers to disperse, the police charged the crowd with tear gas and billy clubs. Newspaper and television pictures of “Bloody Sunday,” as the event came to be known, stirred outrage across the nation. Martin Luther King, Jr., issued a nation-wide call for religious and civic leaders to come to Selma to participate in another march, scheduled for Tuesday, March 9th.

Among the hundreds of clergy responding to King’s invitation was Reverend James Reeb, a thirty-eight year old white Unitarian minister, who worked as a community organizer for the Friends Service Committee in the inner city neighborhoods of Roxbury, Massachusetts. Reeb not only worked to improve housing in poor black neighborhoods, he insisted on living there as well, with his wife and their four small children.2The second march was brief. Due to a temporary restraining order prohibiting a Selma to Montgomery march, King decided to march only to the point of confrontation with the police. Facing the state troopers and police forces again on the Pettus Bridge, the marchers turned and retreated to a mass meeting at Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church. There King asked those who had come from afar to remain until a final decision on the legality of the march to Montgomery came down from the court.

That night Reeb, and two other Unitarian ministers, were attacked by three white men outside a Klu Klux Klan hangout in Selma. Clubbed to the ground, Reeb suffered a massive concussion. His death two days later prompted a national uproar. President Lyndon Johnson went on national television to decry Reeb’s murder as an “American tragedy.” And in response to the public pressure, the Administration finally sent a voting rights bill to Congress. On Monday, March 15, a memorial service for James Reeb was held at Brown Chapel. White officials denied permission to hold memorial services at the courthouse, which would have symbolized the cause that cost Reeb and Jimmy Lee Jackson their lives. As the congregation waited for King to arrive for the service, distinguished leaders, who had gathered from around the country (including Archbishop Iakovos) eulogized Reeb and linked arms to sing “We Shall Overcome” and other movement hymns. The Archbishop spoke briefly about the meaning of Reeb’s death.

"I came to this memorial service because I believe this is an appropriate occasion not only to dedicate myself as well as our Greek Orthodox communicants to the noble cause for which our friend, the Reverend James Reeb, gave his life; but also in order to show our willingness to continue this fight against prejudice, bias, and persecution. In this God-given cause, I feel sure that I have the full and understanding support of our Greek Orthodox faithful of America. For our Greek Orthodox Church and our people fully understand from our heritage and our tradition such sacrificial involvements. Our Church has never hesitated to fight, when it felt it must, for the rights of mankind; and many of our Churchmen have been in the forefront of these battles time and again....The ways of God are not always revealed to us, but certainly His choice of this dedicated minister to be the victim of racial hatred and the hero of this struggle to gain unalienable constitutional rights for those American brethren of ours who are denied them, and to die, so to speak, on this battlefield for human dignity and equality, was not accidental or haphazard. Let us seek out in this tragedy a divine lesson for all of us. The Reverend Reeb felt he could not be outside the arena of this bitter struggle, and we, too, must feel that we cannot. Let his martyrdom be an inspiration and a reminder to us that there are times when we must risk everything, including life itself, for those basic American ideals of freedom, justice, and equality, without which this land cannot survive. Our hope and prayer, then, is that we may be given strength to let God know by our acts and deeds, and not only by our words, that like the late Reverend James Reeb, we, too, are the espousers and the fighters in a struggle for which we must be prepared to risk our all.”3

Eventually King arrived and delivered the main eulogy. Just as he finished speaking, Ralph Abernathy announced that the U.S. District Judge of Mobile had ordered Sheriff Jim Clark to permit a march to the courthouse. As the congregation moved to exit the crowded church King and the Archbishop (who had met briefly in Geneva ten years earlier) shook hands. Iakovos “wore afrozen look. [Perhaps not knowing what was next.] A small black girl took him by the hand and said not to worry.”4At 5:08 pm the crowd of some 3,500 began the procession to the courthouse, which Clark had locked, and a twenty-minute memorial ceremony was held on the front steps, with King laying awreath for voting rights martyrs Reeb and Jackson. A photographer captured the ceremony for the next cover of Life.(In his biography of Iakovos, George Poulos noted that some southern Orthodox took offense at this picture of their Archbishop fraternizing with civil rights agitators.)

Years later, the retired Archbishop Iakovos told King biographer Taylor Branch that he had decided to go to Selma “against the advice of his clergy and staff, who worried correctly that he would be called traitor to the quest of marginalized Greeks for full acceptance as Americans. Not a single member of the Orthodox community, he reported, appeared for scheduled events at his next stop, and he found himself alone in a Charleston hotel room ... telling hostile callers nationwide that he was compelled to Selma by formative memories of Greek suffering on his native Adriatic islands under harsh occupation by the Ottoman Turks.”5

Black demonstrators deeply appreciated the presence of white religious leaders in Selma, even though they were keenly aware of the disparity between the national outpouring of publicity and grief over the death of the white James Reeb and the sparse attention devoted to the death of the black Jimmie Lee Jackson. A few days after the memorial a Federal Court Order was issued permitting the march to Montgomery and the nation watched as white and black Americans joined in the “high water mark” of non-violent southern protest in the Civil Rights Movement. That movement… has served as a paradigm of religious activism for social justice in the public square, “the arena,” as Iakovos called it, alluding to those ancient arenas where martyrs died for the faith. Though many saw it as merely political, King, and those who agreed with his vision, interpreted the movement as a moral struggle, a “God-given cause,” as Archbishop Iakovos put it, to achieve social justice for those denied “human dignity and equality.”

As much as his words, the Archbishop’s presence at Selma was, as his critics perceived, a powerful symbol of an Orthodox commitment to social justice….

Iam haunted by one detail of Archbishop Iakovos’ visit to Selma: the moment at Brown Chapel when that small black girl took his hand and told him not to worry. I wonder what the Archbishop thought. Did he perhaps recall Jesus’ words: “for of such as these is the kingdom of heaven”? We sometimes forget that children were an integral part of the Civil Rights Movement, filling, for example, the jails of Birmingham and other cities in the South. Two little girls, Sheyann Webb, aged eight, and Rachel West, aged nine, lived in Selma and participated prominently in the daily demonstrations in 1965. (Perhaps it was one of them who took Archbishop Iakovos by the hand, since both were present at the memorial service in Brown’s chapel.) Years later they wrote about their experiences, including their response to the death of James Reeb. In Rachel’s words:

Me and Sheyann used to walk about the church there and look for some sign that would tell us the Lord was on our side, that He was watching us. We’d look and we’d see a leaf falling, and we’d say that was the sign. And we’d know we were winning. We’d see the moon shining down some nights and we’d say that was the sign. And we’d say we were winning. We’d hear the wind blowing or hear the thunder. That was the sign, we’d say. We were winning. So this night, very late, the night James Reeb died, we were out there with all these sad people, and so many of them were still crying. So we walked about the crowd looking for a sign, because we needed that assurance. And we’d heard somebody – one of the ministers or nuns – say that when a good person dies the Lord hangs out a new star in the night. So we looked up for a shiny new star...but the sky was full of clouds. And I said to Sheyann, ‘There ain’t no sign tonight.’ And she says, ‘Keep lookin’ Rachel, ‘til we see it.’ So we kept standing there, with our heads turned upward like that. And all of a sudden it started raining...right in our faces. And I yelled, ‘Shey, there ain’t gonna be no sign.’ But she’s still looking up like that and all of a sudden she says, ‘The rain’s the sign. The rain is.’ And I looked up again, letting it just splatter all over my face and in my eyes. The sudden way it had started made me agree that it surely must be the sign. So we sat on the steps of Brown Chapel...shivering and praying there. And we were convinced that this rain meant that even the Lord in Heaven was sad by James Reeb’s death and He was joining us in our sadness, in our weeping.6

Professor Raboteau’s full lecture can be read on-line (or watched in video) here.

1. The following account of the Selma campaign is drawn from Taylor Branch, At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years 1965-68(New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006); Charles E. Fager, Selma 1965; The March That Changed the South, Fortieth Anniversary Edition(Fayetteville, NC: Kimo Press, 2005); Sheyann Webb and Rachel West Nelson, Selma, Lord, Selma: Childhood Memories of the Civil-Rights Days, as told to Frank Sikora (Tuscaloosa, AL: The University of Alabama Press, 1980).
2. Gustav Niebuhr, “A Civil Rights Martyr Remembered,” The New York Times,April 8, 2000.
3. The “Complete Works” of His Eminence Archbishop Iakovos,Volume Two, Part 1, 1959-1977, ed. by Demetrios J. Constantelos (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1999), pp. 198-199.
4. Branch, p. 108.
5. Branch, p. 106
6. Selma, Lord, Selma,pp. 117-118

  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

The second seminar of the commission “Truth, Justice and Reconciliation between Russia, Ukraine and the EU” was held at Kiev on October 2 &3, 2018. It took place at the Saint Thomas Aquinas Institute and Saint Sophia Open Orthodox University with the participation of the College of the Bernardins, of the Saint Clement Center, of the “Memorial” Society of Moscow, of the Mohyla Academy of Kiev, of the Ukrainian Catholic University and the support of Oeuvre d’Orient and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Below is the report of the commission.

A Peace among the Churches in Ukraine and Russia is possible

The armed aggression against Ukraine has already been going on for more than four years, claiming victims every day, not only in the ranks of the military but also among the civilian population. The participants in the seminar treated, above all, the question of the Churches, of war and peace, as well as the conflicts between the Churches of Russia and Ukraine, notably in the context of their relationships with Rome and Constantinople.

The Gospel commandments enjoin the Churches to be artisans of peace among parties or states which are in conflict. They cannot carry out this task if they do not seek to faithfully speak the truth in a language that can be understood by the societies of the two parties in conflict.

Unfortunately, we must recognize that the Russian Orthodox Church bears a heavy part of the responsibility in the appearance of an ideology of confrontation and in the refusal to recognize the sovereignty of the Ukrainian nation and state. However, at a time when, in Russia as in Ukraine, the official representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church refuse to carry on a dialogue with the Ukrainian party which would be respectful of the rights of each, this responsibility falls upon Christians as the faithful of the Church of Christ and as representatives of civil society.

Aware of our responsibilities as regards the future of our peoples and our Churches, we should use all the possibilities of dialogue with the conviction that a stable reconciliation and peace comes about though a joint search for truth and justice.

At the end of our reflections on the complexities and tensions which have marked the history of our Churches, we arrived at an agreement on the following issues:

1) The granting of canonical autocephaly to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine is the natural result of its millenary development. In the present situation, this decision is determined by the preoccupation for ecclesial unity on the part of the Ukrainian Orthodox faithful. Such a unity would enable a fruitful
development of the Kievian tradition of Christian openness, of diversity and of an authentic pastoral attention in the service of the people. At the same time, the believers who do not want to join the local independent Church should have the right to freely choose their canonical jurisdiction, including the option of remaining under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Moscow. We also believe that the constitution of a local Ukrainian Church will have a beneficial influence on the Russian Orthodox Church, that it will enable it to reconsider its history and rid itself of an imperial ideology and will create the necessary conditions in the future for a dialogue among the Orthodox faithful in Ukraine and in the world.

2) The path towards the unity of the Ukrainian Church and the constructive cooperation among the Churches will not be accomplished with the simple remission of the Tomos of autocephaly to the Orthodox Christians of Ukraine. It is necessary that the dialogue be continued with the great centers of Christianity: Rome, Constantinople and Moscow. These centers, in their turn, should not look upon Kiev as an object of discord, but as a partner, enjoying equal rights and not envisage Ukraine as a battlefield but rather as a pace for dialogue and constructive collaboration.

3) The various historical stages of the tradition of the Churches of Kiev should be reinterpreted in order to heal old wounds and find responses to the challenges of modernity. Unfortunately, neither the Russian Orthodox Church, nor the Ukrainian Orthodox Church depending on the Patriarchate of Moscow have, up to the present, admitted their participation in the tragic events which, in the 20th century, led to the interdiction and the attempts to liquidate the Greek Catholic Church of the Ukraine, nor have they recognized their collaboration in other crimes of the totalitarian and atheistic Soviet regime directed against liberty of conscience and human dignity.

Because it wants to break the chains of the past, we hope to hear the local Church of Ukraine pronounce these words: “We pardon and we ask pardon” addressed to the Sister Churches in Ukraine as well as to those situated outside of the national borders.

We are convinced that a sincere contrition and the pardon of offenses should prevail over the actual official rhetoric of the Patriarchate of Moscow which does not want to recognize the evident discrepancy between its position, and, on the other hand, the Gospel and historical truth. In order that peaceful coexistence and the cooperation and intercommunion of Churches might become a reality, we should reject the ideological myths and come together to sort out, in a Christian spirit and with all the necessary scientific objectivity, what is so extremely confused in the history of the relations among Churches, the states and peoples. In this respect, the reconciliation among the Churches and peoples of France and Germany and then of Germany and Poland can offer a meaningful example. We are convinced that the reconciliation of the Churches offers a solid foundation for peace among, Russia, Ukraine and all the peoples of Europe.

FIRST LIST OF SIGNATORIES
Russia
Nikita Petrov, Historian, Memorial Association, Moscow
Sergei Chapnin, Journalist, Doctor of the Faculty of Theology of the Free University of Amsterdam.
Konstantin von Eggert, Journalist, TV Dojd’, Moscow
Alexandre Soldatov, Russian Journalist residing in Kiev, protal-credo.ru

Ukraine
Bishop Borys Gudziak, Historian, President of the Ukrainian catholic university,
Bishop of the Eparchy of Saint-Vladimir-the-Great for the Ukrainians of the Byzantine Rite living in France.
Myroslav Marynovych, Member of the Board of the Ukrainian catholic university at Lviv.
Constantin Sigov, Philosopher, Professor at the Mohyla Academy of Kiev.

Father Georges Kovalenko, Philosopher, Rector of the Orthodox Open University Saint Sophia of Kiev, Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Patriarchate of Moscow.
Bishop Evstrati Zorya, Orthodox Bishop, Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Patriarcate of Kiev.
Bishop Alexandr Drabinko, Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Patriarchate of Moscow.
Andry Yurash, Ministery of Cults in Ukraine.
Father Bohdan Ogulchanski, Orthodox Priest of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Patriarchate of Moscow) at Kiev.
Oles Kulchynsky, Ph. D. in Linguistics, Candidate in History, University of Istanbul, Institute of Turkish Studies.
Father Michael Dymyd, Professor at the Catholic University of the Ukraine, Lviv.
Taras Dmytryk Institute of Ecumenical Studies at the UCU, Lviv.
Andri Dudchenko, Orthodox Priest teaching at Premudrist (Wisdom) on line.
Father Ivan Gounia, Greek Catholic Priest, Military Chaplain.

European Union
Antoine Arjakovsky, Historian, Co-Director of the Department “Politics and Religion” at the College of the Bernadins; Founder of the Institute for Ecumenical Studies at Lviv.
Woicekh Surowka, Polish Philosopher, Saint Thomas Institute at Kiev.
Marta Titaniec, Catholic Intelligentsia Club at Warsaw.
Cecile Vaissie, Professor at the University of Rennes.
Bernard Marchadier, Translator and Specialist in Russian Thought.

 

  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 
In Communion by Nicholas Sooy - 10M ago

by Fr. David Kirk, of blessed memory, founder of Emmaus House in Harlem.

When I was a young man of eighteen, working with Dr. King in the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, I read these words as a newly baptized and chrismated Orthodox Christian, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” I set out joyfully, like one of the seven dwarfs, like the Gospel said to me; I gave away my possessions and set out to serve the poor.

But I had no idea what the cost of discipleship could take from me. I had no idea that forty years later I would be a battered man, crushed again and again, but never broken; crisis, day in and day out, but never giving in, never giving up. I had no idea that the words I prayed at the holy table would become real: “This is my body broken for you.” I had no idea how my health would be broken again and again at Emmaus for 25 years. It all became very real.

I had no idea that eventually, even as I rode out each storm, I would be battered by those I had accepted and loved and they would try to crush me, the final knife of the Evil One; but the strength of God was always there with my weakness, and I never gave up and never gave in. Snakes still slither through the grass waiting to attack, but the Mother of God keeps stepping on their heads, and the poor still get the Good News of new life, the hungry are fed, the homeless housed, the sick cared for, the mercy of God still shining like a light on a hill.

If I had known what was coming would I have followed him? I don’t know, but I believe that I would still have chosen this way, because I know that resurrection is just around the corner, if only I can just make it around the corner. I knew that whatever task He asked for me to do, there was sufficient grace to do the task—just enough grace—and that there would be plenty of joy with the suffering. I always saw this life, this world we live in and love, as a terrible struggle between good and evil, and for the good to resist evil meant self-sacrifice.

And when I was young, I was crazy and would take any risk. That was why I was beaten up by white guys and left in a lonely ditch for dead. But I crawled out, ready to go again! And in Selma, Alabama, when I was being interrogated, and all the policemen spat in my face, the face of the white nigger-lover, and only grace kept me from spitting back—grace plus common sense, for I knew I would have been a dead white nigger-lover. I sat in Birmingham jail with Dr. Martin Luther King as he wrote “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” And I sat in jail in New York with Dorothy Day, when the city demanded all go under desks for a nuclear attack rehearsal. We knew no desk was going to save us and so instead we just sat out in the open on the benches of Washington Square Park until they arrested us. And in our first year at Emmaus, the Black Panthers came and asked us to work with them, saying, “We’ve heard you the only white preacher who might work with us.” Big, big lugs with Afros almost as big; and I was scared, but history told me that I had to take the risk. And I fasted for a month on water with Catherine DeHueck Doherty and Abbe Pierre on the steps of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on behalf of the homeless...

I knew somehow that to take up a cross and follow Jesus meant risk and perhaps even death, because Christ Jesus had come to show us how to live, and how to die. I knew that our early Christians for four hundred years, Orthodox Christians, were often martyrs who went against the system of their time, a system based on evil rather than God. Most of our early saints were jailed, killed, beheaded, frozen in lakes, eaten by animals, and they bore their cross, their suffering, with joy.

Carrying the cross may take many forms. It may mean “bearing your brothers burden,” it may mean renouncing everything and living with the poorest of the poor, the worst afflicted, and the hungriest of the hungry. It may mean “if any man comes after me and does not hate his father and mother and yes, his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” A hard saying, but it means to me that I left my family at eighteen and traveled a different road, a road that most of my brothers and sisters hate. “Look at you, living like a bum! You got all these degrees and you have no money and live among criminals and addicts. What a waste!”

It may mean that you will be persecuted and your name reviled. But let me tell you: If you are persecuted with evil slander, you have found your cross, you are a Christian: The Kingdom of God is yours. The Church is the salt of the earth, but too often it has lost its taste. The Church is the light of the world, but too often that light is so dim you cannot see it.

Real Christianity is not cheap; it costs and it costs a lot. Your feel-good, happiness-and-prosperity churches demand no cross. They are selling the Gospel cheap. Don’t reach for the cheap churches — they demand no metanoia, no repentance; they demand no discipline; they will not ask that you pray three times daily and fast; they offer forgiveness without acknowledging your sins. What you have seen so far in this ancient church of Antioch, Jerusalem and Africa is the exterior. The treasure is hidden in the field. You have to dig and dig and dig.

To discover the pearl of great price, you’re going to have to leave your old ways and sell all you have to buy it. It is protected from the world and its ways. It is not thrown to the dogs. Jesus said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” So let’s become the Church of Jesus Christ here at Emmaus as it is in the radical Gospel and as it was lived out in early centuries. Like Mary Magdalene, let’s become saints. Like Peter, even if we fall down over and over again, jump up and start again the next hour. Like Stephen, instead of getting stoned on drugs and alcohol, let’s be willing to be stoned, even verbally, because we live out our faith. Like Zaccheus, let’s stop coveting things and instead hunger for justice. Let it be said about us what they said about early Christians, “See how they love one another,” not “see how they pass the buck,” or “see how they water down the gospel.”

“You’re either busy being born or busy dying,” sings Dylan. Let’s get busy, as Arsenio used to say, “dying to our old ways and being reborn.”

Don’t count the cost; pay your dues, carry your cross.

Amen.

  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

By Lydia Kemi Ingram


After this I looked, and behold a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and people and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!”1 Revelation 7:9-10

Having come from every tongue, tribe and nation, the people gather together to proclaim great truths—that salvation belongs to God on the throne and that God is indeed theirs. The eschatological vision is clear. It is a culturally inclusive vision, one in which humanity is fully reconciled before the Lord.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that [Christ] has commanded.”2 The call to repentance and a new way of life is offered to all people—all nations, all ethno-linguistic groups, all cultures.

It would not be hyperbolic to ascribe microcosmic language to the North American context. Even when one searches the earliest annals of American history, one finds cultural and ethno-linguistic diversity. In Jamestown, we find Powhatans, Angolans and English. Their diverse histories, experiences and perspectives are woven into the foundational fabric of our nation. America is not and has never been a homogenous society.

Comprised of diverse subcultures and immigrant populations, the United States is a veritable laboratory, one in which the eschatological vision and the missional mandate are routinely tested. We are confronted over and over again with the imperfect reality of the “now and not yet.” Though progress has been made, we have yet to witness a fully integrated harmonious American society, one entirely free of ethnic strife. While we acknowledge the fallenness of our world and our own failings, we, the Body of Christ, are called to work toward that eschatological vision—where all people from every tongue, tribe and nation are gathered together around the throne of God. At present, this vision remains threatened. It stands in stark contrast to the reality of segregated American religious life.

Melting Pot or Salad Bowl?

While much of the current popular discourse has focused on the racial divide in evangelical and mainline Protestant churches, our Orthodox Christian communities are no less in need of an honest assessment. Regarding our own prophetic witness of peaceful and harmonious integration, how are we doing?

The cry of the assimilationist and the melting pot metaphor remain firmly ensconced in our descriptive language language, and yet, our national history attests to something more akin to a salad bowl. In the latter scenario, individual ingredients retain their distinctive characteristics — as opposed to melting into something entirely new. Ideally, cultures exist side by side—covered in dressing—united by an overarching national or civic culture.

We find throughout history, examples of intentional community formation, those working for peace and those hellbent on preventing it. We see celebrations of cultural uniqueness alongside attempts at forced assimilation. We see the formation of parallel communities in response to racism and cultural conflict.

“Whenever persons are rejected by society, the result is a loss of place, the result is Exile. Whenever a pattern of oppression persists from one generation to another and is firmly rooted in an ideology, the rejected ones become destined to a permanent state of Exile wherein they have no sense of belonging, neither to the community nor to the territory. Since it is necessary for persons to be nourished by a communal eros in order to be fully human, an imposed Exile necessitates the formation of a substitute community…”3

The American historical record contains many examples of predominantly African American substitute communities. These communities were formed in response to offers of second-class citizenship, the denial of inherent human dignity and a failure to acknowledge ethnic equality in the eyes of God. The desire to thrive in spite of pervasive racism, led to the creation of self-funded towns like Allensworth, California. In Tulsa’s Greenwood District (also known as Black Wall Street) African Americans built businesses, civic institutions, and raised families.

When faced with the prospect of receiving an inadequate education, they flocked to HBCUs (Historically historically Black black Colleges colleges and Universitiesuniversities). In these institutions, they found an affirmation of dignity and freedom to be themselves.4 The experience of marginalization in 18th Century century Protestant churches led to the creation of new ethnocentric religious communities like the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the AME Zion Church.

To the Jews, I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law, though I myself am not under the law…To the weak I became weak to win the weak, I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel that I might share in its blessings.5

The aforementioned biblical Biblical verse is often cited to support the need for gospel contextualization in missionary outreach. The idea of becoming all things to all people for the sake of mission is rooted in scripture, and an idea that has become important in modern missiological education. This has not always been the case, as Bria notes:

Too often those bringing the gospel to a new context made no attempt to understand and immerse themselves in the culture. They rather sought to uproot and radically change that culture without any regard for its positive values. We must repeatedly reassert that this is in contradiction to apostolic tradition.6

The sin of racism bids us to deny the truth—the existence of a single human race with a common ancestral heritage. Galatians 3:28 says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” It is doubtful that St. Paul intended for the aforementioned passage to be preached in support of a “decontextualized androgyny”—for clearly there are Jews, Greeks, males and females. Instead, the words of Galatians draw us to a new reality, one in which the various social distinctions are equally valued. These are Kingdom values to be applied on earth as they are in heaven.

Racialization of the Beloved Community

During a 1963 lecture at Western Michigan University, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King stated that 11:00 am on Sunday morning was the most segregated hour of American life. Dr. King envisioned an America in which the church would prophetically bear witness to Kingdom values. For King, this meant an integrated church where all ethnicities would worship together freely. Through non-violent direct action, he challenged America to uphold the biblical Biblical ideal. In 2018, however, we see just how far away we are from the full realization of Dr. King’s dream. Most American churches are still voluntarily segregated. We find even in “multi-ethnic” churches a single ethnicity predominance. There remains work to be done.

As Orthodox Christians, what do we believe about the salvific role of the church, the sacraments—about accessibility and incorporation?

There are two missiological reasons for [an] emphasis on incorporation. The first is that only in Christian community can people participate in the life of Christ given by God. To be truly what they are meant to be, they must experience the grace of God. In Orthodox tradition this grace is transmitted to the people by the work of the Holy Spirit in the sacraments. In the Holy Eucharist, in particular, people partake of the spiritual nourishment needed to share in the life of Christ (cf. Jn. 6:53-58).7

When we acknowledge the inherited legacy of racialized community development, we are better equipped as Orthodox Christians to identify stumbling blocks along the path to peaceful incorporation. We see more clearly the importance of reaching out to (and integrating) those from every tribe, tongue and nation into our communities. For when we take seriously the biblical mandate, we follow in the footsteps of Ss. Cyril and Methodius, St. Innocent and St. Nina, sharing the treasure of Orthodoxy with those not of our own tribe.

If, by the grace of God, they decide to “come and see,” what do they find? Do they find the type of environment that aids in “the sanctification of the people’s characteristics, so they become truly themselves, develop their own voice and add their own contribution to the common doxological hymn—always in harmony with the praise of the whole church?”8 Or will they be introduced to a cultural hierarchy and offered second-class Kingdom citizenship?

Given the importance of the incorporation process and its relationship to human salvation, the existing barriers to full community integration must be acknowledged with humility. Once again, guided by that great heavenly vision, we must confess the various ways in which we as Orthodox Christians have placed stumbling blocks along the path to peace and reconciliation. Must one be stripped of one’s culture to become Orthodox? We need only look again to our mission history to find the answer.

To accept a truly orthodox Orthodox approach to outreach and incorporation is to accept the resulting implications. These implications prove challenging when applied to our heterogenous cultural context. Despite legal integration, American churches remain divided along racial lines. Given the history of substitute community formation, it would not be surprising to find ethnocentric parishes developing at the intersection of Orthodox Christianity and American subcultural contexts. At present, however, this does not appear to be happening—for Orthodoxy tells us that to create such parishes is to follow the way of heresy.

We censure, condemn, and declare contrary to the teachings of the Gospel and the sacred canons of the holy Fathers the doctrine of phyletism, or the difference of races and national diversity in the bosom of the Church of Christ.9

With ethnophyletism officially condemned as heresy in 1872, the intentional formation of canonical Orthodox churches for “those of other tribes” is not an option. When we keep both the truth of American history and the eschatological vision in mind, we find only one way forward—toward an American Orthodox Church free of cultural supremacy. A church where there are no second-class citizens.

A recent report published by the Southern Poverty Law Center noted an increase in the number of US- based hate groups and nationalistic organizations. Of course, the report was not without criticism. To some, the SPLC’s use of the term “hate group” appeared to be either arbitrary or biased. With that having been said, the report noted an increase in the number of both “black” and “white” hate groups. Inflammatory racial rhetoric has helped to catalyze white nationalist groups. The proliferation of these groups has triggered a reactionary response—an increase in black nationalist groups. Cultural insensitivity encourages hatred and hatred begets reactionary ethhnophyletism.

The Call to Heavy Lifting

“Build up, build up, prepare the way, Remove remove every obstacle out of the way of my people.” 10

There are always ambassadors for peace, those agents of reconciliation who, led by the Holy Spirit, seek to understand cultures, share the gospel, and remove stumbling blocks along the path. There are also glimmers of hope, glimpses of that heavenly vision on earth. We see it in events like the International Festival at St. George Orthodox Church in Pharr, Texas, where Greek, Russian, Romanian, Ethiopian and Ukranian cuisine are celebrated alongside Native American dancing and a Mexican mariachi band;. We we are blessed with a glimpse of it each and every year during Agape Vespers, when the words of John 20:19-25 are read in many languages.: reminders that there are no second-class citizens in the Kingdom of God. There are signs that point forward and bid us to join in the work of heavy lifting, remembering the truth of Galatians 3:28, and removing stumbling blocks along the path to reconciliation.

1 Revelation 7:9-10

2 Matthew 28:19-20

3 PARIS, P.J. (1985). The social teaching of the Black Churches. Philadelphia, Fortress Press, 59

4 Similarly, as continental Africans began the process of decolonizing the Christianity they received from Western missionaries, they began to form African Independent Churches. These new churches allowed for African cultural expression in a Christian context.

5 1 Corinthians 9:20-23

6 Ion Bria, Go Forth in Peace: Orthodox Mission Perspectives, WCC Mission Series. World Council of Churches, Geneva. 1986, 16

7 STamoolis, J.J., 1986. Eastern Orthodox Mission Theology Today. Minneapolis (USA): Light and Life Company, 54

8 ibid, 53.

9 Article I of the Decree of the 1872 Council of Constantinople

10 Isaiah 57:14

  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 
In Communion by Steven Collier - 10M ago

Aristotle Papanikolaou

The primary goal of the Orthodox Christian is to struggle toward theosis—deification. The word theosis often conjures up images of a super hero like Thor or a Greek god like Zeus. When St. Athanasius proclaimed that “God became human so that humans can become gods,” he was not envisioning super-human strength, nor was he envisioning a life of moral perfection. To become like God is to love as God loves, which means, as Jesus proclaimed, even the enemy and the stranger. The struggle for theosis is one that entails a learning how to love. It is often so very difficult to love even our parents, siblings, friends—imagine now learning how to love the enemy and the stranger.

This learning how to love ultimately entails seeing all human beings as created in the image of God. This is not as easy as it seems. It’s one thing to declare that all humans are created in the image of God; it’s another thing to form oneself in such a way that such a belief is evident in our thoughts, feelings, actions—our very being toward the other person, especially the one who is different from us.

On the surface, then, it would seem that, of course, Christians are against racism—we should never think someone is inferior because of race. But theosis calls us to a deeper level. The struggle to learn how to love is one that includes rooting out racism in our own hearts and in the very structures that constitute the political, cultural, and economic matrix within which we locate ourselves. The first requires incessant self-reflection; the second requires action.

Racism today looks different that it did prior to the 1960s, when there were actual visible signs that proclaimed that Black persons were inferior to White persons, especially through segregation of bus seats, drinking fountains, restaurants, sidewalks, hotels, etc. Those signs are, for the most part, gone, but there are other, less visible signs such as the disproportionate incarceration rate of Black and Latino Americans—even when charged with the same crimes as White Americans—the continued segregation of schools, the continued and widening gap between White household incomes and the incomes of people of color, the decision of persons to opt for prison as a way of avoiding gang culture because there are no other options, or the need for high school kids in Chicago to train themselves to walk in the middle of the street in case of a drive-by shooting—one could go on and on. These disparities, as well as others, such as access to loans or the best public schools, evince clear signs of privileging of White persons, notwithstanding the fact that lower- to middle-class White persons have suffered economically over the past two decades. It also points to the reality that although the visible signs of racial segregation are not as evident, or that overtly racist actions are not as socially acceptable, racism is still operative in the complex social matrix in which we are embedded, and which undoubtedly forms and even deforms our judgments and beliefs in ways that we are not aware of. If that is true, then it requires incessant self-reflection in our struggle to learn how to love or to identify how we may be contributing to this structural inequality, even when we consciously condemn racism. This type of self-reflection may give us courage to act–to create structures that would facilitate for all people the lived experience of irreducible uniqueness—of being created “in the image and likeness of God.”

There has been much resistance to the slogan, “Black Lives Matter,” even (sometimes especially) by Orthodox Christians. The rhetoric of sweeping demonization—often against police offers—that issues from a few persons identified with BLM does not help. In our struggle to learn how to love—theosis—it is absolutely the case that “all lives matter”; those associated with BLM do not deny that “all lives matter.” However, BLM is attempting to bring attention to the fact that within the current political and economic structures in the United States– all lives, in fact, do not matter equally.

What our struggle for theosis most demands is a politics of empathy. What can this look like? We can, for example, attempt to imagine what it is like to live as a Black person in the United States of America. For some Orthodox Christians in this country, this imagining shouldn’t be difficult: Greek and Arab Christians living in the South once found Klan crosses burning in their own yards because of their dark skin. But black history, unlike Orthodox immigrant history, is in part founded on the back of slaves. There is no erasing that tragedy from our history, whose traumatic effects still endure. In imagining what it is like to be in the body of a Black person in the USA, perhaps we can see more clearly the structures in place that facilitate the inequality among persons. Those Orthodox Christians who say that Blacks should just “improve their culture” (yes—I’ve heard this), do not have a sufficiently theological understanding of sin and its insidious and lingering social effects. Is it really that easy, as an example, to will a better life for those who find themselves judged unemployable for a job or unworthy of a promotion because of their skin color–much as some Orthodox Christians in a not so distant past?

Racism has gone underground in this country in the sense that it has moved to the realm of the unconscious—with both personal impacts and structural effects. As Orthodox Christians, the challenge of our spiritual life is to incessantly self-reflect on what blocks our own growth in love of our family, friends, stranger and enemy. If that self-reflection is successful, then it will get us to see that there is, in fact, a privileging of White persons in this country; it will get us to see how we may—even unintentionally—be contributing to this privileging; and it will empower us ultimately to non-demonizing action that attempts to transform the structural matrix that facilitates treating all persons as being made in God’s image. That action may take many forms—prophetically calling attention to injustice, educating parishioners, mobilizing a parish, political involvement, participating in and facilitating racism training, to name simply a few. We must act to excise structural injustice in order to make America—in the immortal words of Martin Luther King Jr.—“to be true to what it said on paper,” to realize the ideals symbolized by the American Flag, in every crevice of American society, including our individual hearts and minds. King’s pursuit of justice for all, in the end, is grounded in the call to holiness, to become godlike, to love as God loves, which means to facilitate the lived experience of irreducible uniqueness—of being created in God’s image.

  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 
In Communion by Steven Collier - 10M ago

3.14.2018—Nicholas Sooy (“NS”) and Fr. Chad Hatfield (“CH”)

CH:

Well, this story that I’m about to tell is something that I shared here at St. Vladimir’s Seminary when OTSA was meeting, and I was asked to serve on a panel to discuss theology and politics. In fact, one sort of maneuvers through those things in different times and different places, and I actually shared a story from my own life of when my family and I—of course, this was “BC,” before conversion. We were Anglican missionaries serving in South Africa in the battle days of apartheid in the early 1980s.

Those were, of course, very difficult times in South Africa; but they were transitional times, as well. In 1983 was the first Tricameral Parliament, where people of Indian descent and people of mixed racial descent had their own branch of the legislative wing; but black Africans were, of course, still excluded. Part of life in South Africa in those days was that we were segregated by race in most contexts, except that in church, we easily broke out of that; and in church-owned schools, we did the same. By law, for me actually to pass into an area that was zoned for another race, I was supposed to go to the police department or station and get a permit. Early on, I decided I wasn’t going to bother with that just out of conscience’s sake. I thought it was ridiculous. I was actually only caught once—I got the red light when I was in an African township called Mamalode, and I flashed my American passport as ID. The guy asked me what I was doing there, and I said I had a meeting at a church. He said, “It’s very dangerous here,” and he gave me an escort. He didn’t bother even to look.

Where we lived was zoned by race. It was against the law for non-whites to live in a white neighborhood. We lived in a largely Afrikaans-speaking neighborhood; people were mostly of Dutch Reformed religious identity. I was really something kind of exotic there. They weren’t quite sure what to make of me. There were in the Afrikaans language a couple of words that were used then—swart gevaar, which is the “black danger,” and Roomse gevaar, which is the “Catholic Danger.” And, of course, they identified me as a Catholic priest because I wore a clerical collar and a cassock, and those kinds of things; so I was all part of the danger.

So one of the things that happened in that time is that I became acquainted with a young man whose name was Micheal. I don’t think I said it at OTSA, but his name almost ruined me for life. On his birth certificate, they flipped the “e” and the “a” for Michael, so his name was spelled differently than Michael is normally spelled; so almost to this day, when I write Michael, I have to pause and think which one to use. Micheal was African. His tribal group was Vadan, from up near the Mozambique border. He wanted to be a priest and go to seminary, but he needed to be tutored to sort of get up to speed for his studies. We arranged for Micheal simply to live with us. We had an extra room. When I say an extra room, by the way, most middle class/upper middle class South African homes were built with servants’ quarters. I’m not talking about putting Micheal in the servants’ quarters. Our servants’ quarters stayed basically as an empty attachment to the house. Micheal stayed in one of the bedrooms down the hall from us.

When I spoke to him, I said, “Well, okay, I can have you licensed as the gardener.” That would mean that he could stay there six nights during the week, but there would be one night when he was away. I will never forget his response, which was, “But Father, that would be a lie.” And I said yes, and he said, “But we’re Christians, and we don’t lie.” So I actually then said to him, “Well, yes. But Micheal, you know what will happen. If, in fact, we’re caught, I’ll soon be deported; but you’ll be arrested, and God knows what will happen to you or whether we would ever hear from you again. You could just disappear.” And he said, “That’s a risk Christians take—to stand on the side of that which is right.” Those were very humbling things for me. Because it was easy for me, you know, as a white guy with an American passport. For him, though, there could be a price; but you stood and did what was right. And not just what was right under the law, because the law was actually wrong; however, as a righteous Christian man, there are things that you do. And if you have to pay the price, then you pay the price.

We have a whole history of martyrs in our tradition. So Micheal was actually very bright. He picked things up very easily. He was very disciplined, very diligent. We were raided two times. Once it was at 2:00 a.m. And by the grace of God, Micheal wasn’t there; he was actually away visiting his mother. They’d picked the wrong time. Most likely our neighbors had turned us in, and that was just, again, part of life: people ratted on people. We know that from Nazi Germany, and from Communism, and from all of these things. This is what people did. The other time was—my wife should actually be here to tell this story—but it was something like 2:00 p.m. Micheal was at his desk, and my wife was in the kitchen. She looked out the front window and saw two guys coming up our front walk. She said they were always easy to identify because they always looked like Mormon missionaries. They were wearing navy blue suits and whatever else. And she thought, “Ah, here they are.” So she quickly grabbed the flour and threw it all over herself. She went to the door, and she put on her heaviest American accent. She only opened the door with the chain holding it, and she said, “I don’t know why you’re here; but whatever it is, you’ll have to come back later because, as you can see, I have a dinner party tonight, and it’s not going well. You’ll have to come back later.” And she closed the door. She then watched from the window, and they stood there a long time. Finally they just turned away. They were completely befuddled by the whole thing.

So there we are—both times. I suppose in reflecting on that in terms of theology, it’s kind of a classic example of lessons learned by people who are simply living the life under a regime like apartheid, which is so oppressive and so unjust. But there’s something deeper, I think, in that kind of experience, because there were a couple of times in which my life had become so comfortable in a church setting that I did forget; and I grew up hearing stories about parts of America where there would be signs that said “Whites Only” at the drinking fountain, or “Blacks Only” for a swimming pool, or something like that. So I was certainly aware of all of those kinds of things, knew about them. But I didn’t experience it until we moved to South Africa and began to see it, and at first it was very jolting.

There comes a time, especially when your world is very integrated and very secure, that you do become blind to that. No longer do the signs kind of glare at me. I had one experience that really jolted me back to reality, and it involved the equivalent of American eighth graders. I taught at the diocesan school for girls, which was a lovely experience for me. My wife and I both said if we had a daughter, we’d be proud to have her there. It went from kindergarten through high school seniors, so I had all grade levels. I had probably the coolest title I’ve ever had as a priest: I was the Divinity Master. But my group of eighth grade girls was totally integrated—I had girls of East Indian descent, girls of mixed races, African girls, English speaking white girls, Afrikaaners; and one Chinese girl; I had the whole mix—and so a rather outstanding class. The movie “Gandhi” was in the movies in South Africa, and so I said I would get an afternoon pass and we would all go to the movies together. And the girls did not say one thing to me. Not one word. I went down to the principal’s office to get the permission, and she sort of looked at me incredulously and said, “Excuse me, Father, but you forgot the theaters are not integrated.” And I was so humiliated as I walked back to the class because I’d forgotten, and the girls in class had probably all known. I went in, and I started to explain, and they said, “No, no, Father, we know!” And these were all eighth grade girls, you know, speaking to a priest. And they said, “This was a lesson for you because you forgot.” And by the way, the movie Gandhi—we did go to see it, but, the parts about his life in South Africa had been extracted in South Africa. Yes. So that was interesting.

Those kinds of things reflect theologically that sometimes in the church we can become so comfortable within our own sort of little arena that we forget what’s happening outside the walls of our church. And I’ve even said when talking with people about the church in Uganda that they are the poorest of the poor—Orthodox refugees who are trying to be resettled for the second time in 25 years. As someone who teaches missiology, I would observe that it’s easy for us as Americans to write a check and think we’ve participated and done a good thing. And I also understand that not everyone can go on a mission to Yemen. In fact, some might even say it’s ridiculous for Americans to raise as much money as it takes to have a mission experience in Africa or Central America, or wherever. But I do think the actual experience opens people’s eyes so that they become at least able to articulate the realities to the rest of comfortable American congregations when they return home. Simply writing a check gives us a bit of a pass. We actually have to do what our Lord is telling us to do in scripture. The word “compassion” in scriptural passages sometimes get translated as “pity,” and I think that’s a very poor translation of the Greek text. It isn’t that the Lord has pity for us, but rather that He fully identifies with us and so has compassion. And I think that’s what we are called to do as Christians when we’re looking at Matthew 25 where He talks about people being naked, and in the hospital… We have to identify with them and have compassion.

NS:

And so did Micheal ever make it to seminary?

CH:

Yes, and Micheal was not ordained, by his own choice. He married and moved to Cape Town, and he has a son who is named after me.

 

 

NS:

So on this last point about not being aware of what goes on, or what’s going on outside of our own little bubble, do you have any sort of advice or insights for Orthodox Christians, especially those living in America, who may not be aware of what it’s like to be poor or a person of color living in [a hostile environment]?

CH:

Sure. Well, I was for sixteen years a member of the Board of Trustees of our Orthodox Christian Mission Center in St. Augustine, Florida. For six years I was the Vice President. We’ve sent three mission teams since I’ve been here at St. Vladimir’s. So we do good work. But something that’s always frustrated me is that we’ve never been able, as Orthodox Christians in North America—and I include Canada—to get more than 25 full-time missionaries in the mission field. There’s something really wrong with that because I know of Protestant congregations that support more than 25 missionaries. One congregation! We have to have some kind of awakening to the fact that God has blessed us with so many resources and affluence in North America. We sort of toss little nibbles and bits and pieces out and think we’ve accomplished something. We really need a radical awakening to the way St. Paul, in scripture, put the call out to the church in Jerusalem to do something, to act. And not just in other countries. We have so many things—like gifts and insights—to give; and we hold back. For instance, in the former Soviet Union, in Russia and Eastern Europe, there are battles with alcoholism and addiction. We have a lot to contribute from our own experience here in America. We have a lot of experience as Orthodox in dealing with addiction. I know of one person in Romania who’s introducing twelve-step programs; but that’s one person. So somehow or other, we need to become a little more sensitized and aware that the parable of the talents is at work here, and we haven been given much, and there’s a judgment day coming when we’re going to be asked—and I think individually and corporately—“What did you do with that which was given to you?”

NS:

One of the things I especially love about the story you told is that you certainly had to deal with a political element; but fundamentally, what you did was about living with someone and forming a relationship, rather than taking political action. It was about actually having contact with people. And I think also in America there are so many issues with poverty and violence—even in the United States.

CH:

And we can be blind to it because we’ve become so comfortable in our own little place.

NS:

And this past week I was in Georgia talking with people dealing with the historical memory of lynchings, and it struck me that there wasn’t an Orthodox church for many, many miles. And some of the struggles there are very far from what we are concerned with, at least in the area where I go to church.

CH:

Yes. I was once invited to open the U.S. Senate with prayer, and I thought this was a great thing. I enjoyed the day. I’d thought I’d say the prayer, they’d shake my hand, and I’d be gone. In fact, I was the chaplain for the day. One of the things on the agenda involved hearings about the slave issue in Sudan. So I went. It was a privilege that I had for the day. But I did walk away embarrassed because here we were talking about Sudan, and the bulk of those people who were Christians involved in the slave issue there had identified themselves as Orthodox— Ethiopian Orthodox, Eritrean Orthodox. An Anglican bishop, a Roman Catholic bishop, someone from the Lutheran churches were testifying. And I thought, well, here they are dealing largely with our people, and there’s no one here. That’s another problem I think we have with Orthodox in North America: we’re not coordinated. We don’t speak with one voice. We’re in camps; we’re little tribes. And that makes us ineffective, in my opinion.

NS:

Do you have any advice for people today dealing with race and racism and what their faith might teach on how to engage these issues.

CH:

It’s a big challenge for Orthodox that many other Christian groups don’t have because as Orthodox, we are often so tied to our ethnicity. You can even see it on our signage- Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox. And people who might be visiting a church encounter this. “Oh you don't look Greek.” “Are you Arab?” 

We need to realize that we are catholic. Catholic means universal. We are a church for all. That's very important.

We are seeing some good steps, such as with the Brotherhood of St Moses the Ethiopian. We just opened a chapter here at St. Vladimir's, which helps address racism. The mere presence helps, along with the presence of our African students. Two weeks ago we hosted an African Lenten fundraiser meal. Orthodox are normally very proud of their heritage, but that meal in particular got people curious, asking “What are we going to be eating?”

It's not going to come as quickly as we would perhaps like, but we need to build a multi-racial Orthodox Church.

  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 
In Communion by Nicholas Sooy - 10M ago

Last year I was sitting with Fr. Andrew Louth and I asked him when do we as Orthodox Christians celebrate peace? Holy Peace, like Holy Sophia, is one of the titles associated with Christ. I also knew that on September 1, the Church’s new year, we celebrate creation and the environment. So when do we celebrate peace? Fr. Andrew suggested to me that the Elevation of the Holy Cross is the day most suited to reflecting upon divine peace, and the duty of peacemaking. The connection between the cross and peacemaking again returned to my mind when we had to choose a logo for the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. We wanted something that was distinctively Orthodox, but also recognizable as a peace symbol. The choice was obvious: the cross. Orthodox Christians often represent the cross with decorated ends. The ornamentation represents flower blossoms. From death comes life, from the wood of execution comes resplendent blossoms. There is no better symbol for nonviolence, which turns violence into peace.

Fr. John Behr also identifies peace as the central message of the cross. Commenting on the hymnography for the Elevation of the Cross, Fr. John says,

The Cross is the Weapon of Peace, we sing. Yet, despite the militaristic overtones, the Cross is not simply a more mighty or powerful weapon in some kind of divine arms race! No, it is the weapon of peace, it is a weapon which doesn’t resort to greater fire-power to blow apart our enemies in a cycle of violence, but rather brings that cycle of violence to an end, ushering in the peace of God for those who are prepared to live by it.

When someone strikes or offends us, Christ does not direct us to hit back or retaliate, but to turn the other cheek, to bear one another’s weaknesses, not so that we can be beaten some more for the sake of it, but to take upon ourselves the anger that is in the other person, to neutralize it, to put an end to it, as Christ himself did, the blameless lamb led to the slaughter, or rather going willingly, taking upon himself the sin of the world.

This is not simply a matter of being passive, but rather being passive actively, creatively, and being creative in the most divine way possible–for it allows God to work in and through us, rather than just doing whatever it is we ourselves can come up with.

But God can only work through us if we ourselves take up the Cross and live by it, for if we do so–dead to the world–we will already, now, be in the peace of God, untroubled by anything the world throws at us, and the peace that we will know will spread through us to all those around us.

Fr. John identifies the cross with nonviolence. Historically this is quite apt. In Christ’s day, they were expecting the Messiah to arrive victoriously, carrying a sword, and conquering whichever enemies were most hated at the time. This expectation was not simply eschatological. The Hasmonean Dynasty had fallen just about 30 years before the probable date of Jesus’ birth, meaning the memory of being conquered was fresh in the minds of those who raised Jesus. Instead of showing up with a sword an promising a glorious revolution, Christ proclaimed

If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and lose his life?

This is a very poor plan for revolution. Christ was literally telling his followers that they should be executed by the empire they hoped to overthrow. To add insult to injury, Christ includes a joke, “what does it profit the man who gains the whole world but loses his life?” The man Christ was referring to was, of course, Alexander the Great, who conquered the world and then immediately died. The answer is that this profited Alexander nothing. By drawing attention to this, Jesus made clear the empty promise that is military victory.

Instead, Christ proposed a nonviolent solution. By dying his followers would win and conquer. This is the meaning which Fr. John Behr focuses on. By turning the other cheek we conquer our enemies, not by fighting back. This creative, and actively passive response, which overturns the cycles of sin and violence, has gotten a lot of attention recently. The most comprehensive study to date of nonviolence has demonstrated that nonviolent methods are more than twice as effective as violent methods. Christians should be unsurprised by this result. The cross is always victorious over the sword. To win we must lose, to conquer we must be conquered, to live we must die. Not only is this the more ethical way, the “way of perfection,” but it is literally more effective. Nonviolence transforms violent situations into peaceful ones. Peace is thus the end and the means; “there is no way to peace, peace is the way.” This insight is precisely why Christ preached and practiced the cross. He conquered the world, sin, the Romans, and death itself by dying.

We find examples of creative nonviolence throughout Christian history. St. Basil the Great, for example, tells the following story:

A certain man once kept striking Socrates, the son of Sophroniscus, in the face, yet he did not resent it, but allowed full play to the ruffian’s anger, so that his face was swollen and bruised from the blows. Then when he stopped striking him, Socrates did nothing more than write on his forehead, as an artisan on a statue, who did it, and thus took out his revenge… [T]his conduct of Socrates is akin to the precept that to him who smites you upon the one cheek, you shall turn the other also.

By refusing to strike back, Socrates did not perpetuate the cycle of violence. However, by writing his attacker’s name on his head he was able to still address and defeat the evil. This is close to what Christ meant by the command to ‘turn the other cheek.’ The type of blow Christ was referring to, a strike on the cheek, was the kind of blow that a master might give to a slave, a slap with the left hand. The damage of this blow was not so much that it would bruise, but that it signified that the assailant viewed themselves as superior. It was an insult. But instead of striking back and escalating, Christ proposed a creative, and nonviolent, solution. Turn your other cheek to your attacker and invite them to hit you again. If they did so they would be forced to strike you with the other hand, as they would strike an equal. Thus if they escalate the violence then they will already lose, because they will have to admit to you a dignity they intended to deny. By turning the other cheek you leave them two options, either take back their insult with a second strike, or de-escalate the violence. In either case nonviolence beats violence.

But perhaps my favorite example of creative nonviolence is the witness of Metropolitan Kirill of Bulgaria during WWII. To quote Jim Forest’s account,

On March 10, boxcars were loaded with 8,500 Jews, including 1,500 from the city of Plovdiv. The bishop of Plovdiv, Metropolitan Kirill (later Patriarch of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church), along with 300 church members, showed up at the station where the Jews were awaiting transport. Kirill pushed through the SS officers guarding the area his authority and courage were such that no one dared stop him and made his way to the Jews inside the boxcars.

According to some accounts, as he reached them, he shouted a text from the Book of Ruth: “Wherever you go, I will go! Wherever you lodge, I will lodge. Your people will be my people, and your God, my God!”

Kirill whose protest had the blessing of Metropolitan Stephan of Sofia, the highest ranking Bulgarian Church official during the Hitler years opened one of the boxcars in which Jews had been packed like sardines and tried to get inside, but now SS officers stopped him. However, when one door is locked, often another is left open. Kirill next walked to the front of the train, declaring he would lie down on the tracks if the train started to move.

The story of this act of civil disobedience spread like wildfire throughout the country. In the end, the Orthodox Church was successful in its nonviolent opposition to the Nazis. At the end of the war, the Jewish population of Bulgaria was several thousand higher than it was at the beginning, making it the only country under Nazi rule to increase its Jewish population.

The historical and social meaning of the cross is clear. We should collectively pursue nonviolence, be peacemakers, and seek to end the cycles of violence in our society. But there is also a theological meaning and a personal meaning to the cross. Consider the words of St. Irenaeus,

Joining the beginning to the end, subsisting as the Lord of both, he manifested, the plough in the end, uniting the tree to the iron and thus cleansing the earth; for the Word being firmly united to the flesh and in this form fixed together, he cleansed the savage earth. In the beginning, the pruning hook was typified beforehand through Abel, signifying the gathering together of the righteous race of humanity…. These things were contemplated beforehand in Abel but were again proclaimed by the prophets and finally perfected in the Lord.

In this passage, St. Irenaeus is giving a reading of the phrase, repeated by several prophets, “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” Isaiah and Micah both repeat this dictum. Joel repeats it as well, adding the phrase “let the weak say, I am strong.” The prophetic message clearly attests to the victory of peace over violence. Irenaeus connects this tradition with the cross. Christ redeems the world by being fixed upon the iron and the tree. In this way, Irenaeus connects the wood and iron of the plough and pruning hook to the iron of the nails and the wood of the cross. Irenaeus sees the cross as the fulfillment of these verses. In the nonviolent way of the cross, the promise of overthrowing war is fulfilled. Christians will not study war anymore, but shall study the way of nonviolence. Irenaeus then takes this a step further. This message of nonviolence was prefigured first in Abel, who was killed in the first recorded act of violence in the Bible. The breaking out of violence in the world was the final moment of the fall, when we lost our blessedness and our growth became stunted. Peace was killed when Cain killed his brother. However, the prophets proclaimed that it would come again, and the nonviolent way of Christ brought about this peace.

Irenaeus therefore reads the whole of salvation history as the story of nonviolence overcoming violence. The spiritual destiny of humanity is thus connected to our vocation as peacemakers and the work of Christ “who is our peace.” As such, we may conclude that to become fully human, to be redeemed, requires nonviolence. This is perhaps something of the meaning of Jesus’ words when he said that “whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” The way of the cross and the way of redemption are interconnected. We thus have arrived at the spiritual, personal, and mystical meaning of the cross, the mysticism of nonviolence.

Perhaps the clearest teacher of the mysticism of the cross is the as of yet uncanonized modern day saint, Gerontissa Gavrielia.  Her central teaching, rooted in her philanthropic ministry, was love. But not just love that feels good, rather true and deep love, Christian love. She taught that true love requires self-abandonment. Appropriately, the cross is her ‘icon’ of love: “Love is only on the Cross.” This means that when we love, we must be ‘crucified’ in a sense. In our prayer to God, our very self must be obliterated such that we might say “I do not exist.” We must become like a drop of water encountering the ocean. In uniting with the ocean the drop ceases to be a drop and is absorbed entirely into the other. So it is with our love of God in prayer. We cease to be anything apart from love towards God, the true Other. As Gavrielia says, “To reach nonexistence, love, love, and love—and so identify completely with the Other, with every other. Then at the end of the day you ask yourself, “Do I want anything? No. Do I need anything? No. Do I lack anything? No.” That’s it!” We do not need anything because we have reached true kenosis, true emptying, true humility, where there is no longer I but only Thou. We do not need anything, for as the Gerontissa comments, “Three things are needful. First Love, Second Love, Third Love.” Even more radically, this is not just our relationship to the Divine Other. Gavrielia comments that we completely identify with the Divine Other, and “with every other.” This means that we must also be absorbed in love for every fellow human. Before our neighbor we must also abandon ourselves so that we do not exist anymore. We must become nothing but love, having nothing of the self, but only love for the other. To quote, “We must not exist before every image and likeness of the Other.” We must not exist before our fellows in humanity because they are the image and likeness of God. Thus to be absorbed into the Thou of the Divine is to be absorbed into the Thou of every icon of Christ, which is every person. True love, true peace, true nonviolence, consists precisely in this self-abandonment for the sake of the other. Indeed, “there is no greater love than to lay down your soul for your friends.” As St. Maria Skobtsova comments, this verse about laying down one’s soul in Greek properly reads as ‘soul’ and not ‘life.’ This means that while, yes, it is a prophecy about Christ’s voluntary execution, it is also a command to not just lose our lives, but to lose our very selves in loving the other.

With this we see the personal spiritual meaning of the cross. To take up one’s cross is to lay down one’s sword. This means that we should take up love and lay down hatred, take up nonviolence and lay down violence, take up forgiveness and lay down resentment, take up gentleness and lay down harshness, take up weakness and lay down strength. In every aspect of our lives we must do this. And then, when we have completely and totally given ourselves over to peace, nonviolence, and love, then we shall be redeemed for then we shall no longer exist in or for ourselves, but only in and for the Other. There shall be nothing more of us except love. In losing our self, we shall become our true self, which is love, and in losing our life we shall gain it.

Nicholas Sooy

Editor, In Communion

  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

Please consider supporting our new Cyprus initiative! Help us build a Sustainability Centre at Agia Skepi.

Agia Skepi is a long term detoxification community for adults in Cyprus. The therapeutic framework of the program inspires members in the spirit of fostering quality living through eliminating harmful substances.
 I
An integral part of the recovery process involves cultivating the earth and developing a profound relationship between nature and community. This bond is reinforced by member participation in farm life, which produces organic yields.The relationship between nature and meaningful work is essential in the difficult struggle of detoxification.
 I
The next step in furthering these goals is to renovate three derelict buildings next to Agia Skepi and turn them into a Sustainability Centre. This new effort will provide a practical demonstration of how the principles of sustainable living can be applied in this particular environment. We hope to exemplify the spirit of Agia Skepi through use of natural building methods, renewable energy systems and food production within a regenerative social and agricultural setting.
I
 l
To support this project, please donate here.  All donations made will go to the Agia Skepi Sustainability Centre. 



To donate by mail, please clearly mark all checks for the Sustainability Centre and mail to:
Orthodox Peace Fellowship
PO Box 959
Bronx, NY 10458

Read for later

Articles marked as Favorite are saved for later viewing.
close
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

Separate tags by commas
To access this feature, please upgrade your account.
Start your free month
Free Preview