Wednesday, September 9, 2015

"There's a'do'ins a'transpirin'!" A national Orthodox Hierarchy in the U.S., and Secularization Breaking Down the Ethnic Walls.

Note: "There's a'do'ins a'transpirin'" is apparently NOT a phrase actually used in the Southern United States. This having been noted, it seems to mesh well with a southern drawl.

Two points of interest that came my way, one of which may or may not be public knowledge and was relayed to me by a first hand account.

Patriarch Bartholomew allegedly exhorted Greek and other Metropolitans in the US to get the gears moving on establishing a single Orthodox Hierarchy in the US at his recent gathering in Constantinople...or Istanbul. This account comes from one of the people who claims to have attended the meeting and I personally cannot vouch for the accuracy. An interesting bit (if true) is that Bartholomew eschewed the idea of a national hierarchy divided up on ethnic lines. Presently, such a division has been a common working model among American Orthodox "in the know", thereby allowing for the preservation of Greek, Antiochian, Ukrainian, Russian, etc., ethnic identity, parishes, and property. If true, it would indicate Bartholomew is hedging towards a non-ethnic module for the United States.

Three points to consider:

Will there be a patriarch of America?

If this rumor is in fact true, is Bartholomew attempting to cut the knees out from under Moscow? Moscow has had an intrinsic role in establishing Orthodoxy in the United States.

Finally, all of the other patriarchs talk a good game about the canons and the tradition and how there needs to be a single American Orthodox church and hierarchy, but, really, which one of those guys in the old country is going to want to see their cash-cow in diaspora start wandering off west? I'll own up to my cynicism here: there is no real interest on the part of the old country to see the cash-cows of the diaspora unite into a single national church and turn off the financial flow back east.

Meanwhile, the Greek Orthodox Church in the United States is attempting to come to grips with secularization, recently appealing to laity to help them understand the trends that are leading to a decline in the sacraments. Perhaps more than any other branch of Orthodoxy, the Greeks go out of their way to cultivate an ethnic church that repels interest from anyone without said ancestry. Yet, the Greek archdiocese notes that a full 60% of its marriages involve someone who is non-Greek and/or non-Orthodox.

Orthodoxy, much to the consternation of Schmemann, has carved itself out a niche as the mystics church. Whatever it has to say with regards to theology and the practical Christian life is secondary to the perception that it is awash in mysticism, compared to the overly moralist or intellectualized Western branches. Orthodoxy runs into a wall when the appeal of its mysticism/spirituality meets the tendency of Orthodox Church to default into an ethnic enclave. One is forced to tolerate ethnic pep-rallies masquerading as sermons and church mission and the subtle alienation such a focus has on persons outside of the ethnos.

Ethnic identity can give a demographic boost - Antioch is benefiting from the flux of Arabs coming to the US. However, eventually ethnic identity dries up. Orthodoxy has benefited from the curiosity of Westerners looking for an alternative to Western Christianity, which has been battered by siding too often with the political right, cultivating an anti-liturgical mentality, succumbing to nominalism, materialism, and practically rejecting the supernatural. Orthodoxy offers an alternative, real or imagined, from the woes that have become almost endemic to Latin Christianity and its Reformation based offshoots. Whatever truth there is to this is muted by a few factors, one of which is that for Orthodoxy to become an integral Christian Church in the West, it must become Western, in so far as it must be able to integrate itself to the non-ethnics.


  1. This is where I see a greater role for the Greek Catholic Church in the West: less historical ethnic baggage; close ties to the Church of Rome; a spiritual vision that is authentically Eastern yet not clouded in faux mysticism; and a clearer understanding of what Tradition means in an authentically catholic (universal) sense.

    The problem is that Greek Catholicism has been crippled both by demographic shifts and, sadly, the Roman bishops who continue to distrust it (or at least want to keep it tethered in an ethnic ghetto).

    1. It is true - Greek Catholicism/the Byzantine Churches have, sadly, seemed to have entered the sunset of life. Part of it is the raging secularism in the West. Part of it is also, as you noted, the manner in which they've been treated by the majority Latin hierarchy.

      This being noted, I don't think the Latin Church will be in any place accept Greek Catholicism for what it genuinely is or could be until the Roman Church gets its own house in order. I don't know how that will happen. I used to think it was a simple as disavowing the liturgical reform and forgetting Vatican II. Eventually there was the sobering realization that it is not that simple. Certain things, however, can and do give me hope - but it will be a long process before anything comes to fruition.

    2. As I think about it, my observation has been that where Greek Catholic Churches have a steady influx of immigrants, they tend to have a stronger congregation. In my neck of the woods, many of the immigrant communities reached their zenith decades ago and their parishes are in jeopardy.