Orthodoxy in Dialogue with America

This is the 18th blog in this introductory series to the Orthodox Faith.  The First blog is Orthodoxy in the World & Light to the World. The previous blog is Orthodoxy in Relationship to Christianity Worldwide.

Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, Dayton, OH

Orthodoxy entered into America as a true minority religion in an already Christian country.   Technologically the Orthodox came from inferior cultures as they came to North America.   Politically they often arrived  as almost powerless with their fellow Orthodox living in countries dominated by Islam or atheistic communism.    Their initial reaction was often to try to preserve their customs and practices in their small ethnic enclaves to protect themselves from the American culture, which they often experienced as hostile to them.

            During the height of the cold war, many Orthodox coming from communist dominated countries often felt themselves under suspicion of being spies and un-American, despite their frequently ferociously anti-communist stance.    The issues which occupied the Orthodox were often not the contemporary issues of modern America.    Feminism and the ordination of women which have been prominent in religious debates in America have played a very minor role in Orthodox discussions.  Part of this is the result of the fact that American Orthodoxy tends to take its cues on issues from the “old world” and there feminism is still a minor issue.   Orthodox  being very conservative and traditionalist in custom often brought to their meetings and discussions the structures and thinking that dominate in the old world –  not only were the questions “foreign” to Orthodox thinking, but they were calling upon Orthodoxy to make changes it was in no way prepared to make as it struggled (by trying to preserve its past, its tradition) to adapt to and to survive in the new world.

Protection of the Theotokos, Dayton

Orthodoxy in relationship to the American scene has struggled with:

–         America’s extreme individualism (as versus the Orthodox understanding of a human as a being always in relationship to others) – including notions that morality is basically determined by each individual not by society;

–         America’s unconstrained consumerism (as versus a spirituality which emphasizes self denial as the way to love) – including the sense that a constitutionally guaranteed pursuit of happiness means you should consume as much as you want and can afford;  

–         America’s love of things new (versus Orthodoxy’s constantly looking to tradition and the past to understand all things new) – including new ideas about God, morality, and truth;

–         America’s distrust of authority (versus a church which emphasizes hierarchy and tradition) – including a distrust of ancient or traditional ways of doing things;

–         America’s “meritocracy” (versus the Orthodox reliance on entitlement for those in positions of authority) – especially in relationship to bishops who traditionally commanded respect, not because of accomplishments but because of the office they held;  

–         America’s clear separation of church and state (as versus the Orthodox sense that there should exist cooperation, a symphony, between government and religion which are two branches of authority both given by God); and

–         America’s love of democracy and deciding most things by majority rule (as versus the historical Orthodox alignment with empires and kings in which there was not voting, but obedience to decisions handed down from on high) – including a modern tendency in American churches to vote on everything  from morality, to liturgy, to theology and thus to truth.

Next: Orthodoxy in the World: The Present Future