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Author Topic: Cultural Impressions of Orthodoxy  (Read 11117 times) Average Rating: 0
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truthstalker
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« on: April 03, 2009, 09:22:19 PM »

Outside of "Fiddler on the Roof" and "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" and reading some Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, I don't really have any exposure to Orthodoxy.  I know Franky Schaeffer went over, something I thought very strange when I heard of it: bells and smells and icons and Ivans.  I've heard some whole Anglican parishes have joined, and from browsing this forum there seems to be a lot of cultural insularity within national churches.  What do these things look like from within Orthodoxy?

Speaking of cultural insularity, one of my greatest fears about coming to an Orthodox service is seeing something I flat-out don't understand and cannot accept and running screaming from the building.  How does one overcome that? "Gee, this week it took me forty five seconds to run screaming from the building, an improvement over last week."  If I kept it up I am afraid they will put it in the liturgy....
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« Reply #1 on: April 03, 2009, 09:25:30 PM »

Speaking of cultural insularity, one of my greatest fears about coming to an Orthodox service is seeing something I flat-out don't understand and cannot accept and running screaming from the building.

Such as?  Are you referring to a teaching, a tradition, or something else? 
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« Reply #2 on: April 03, 2009, 09:28:11 PM »

Speaking of cultural insularity, one of my greatest fears about coming to an Orthodox service is seeing something I flat-out don't understand and cannot accept and running screaming from the building.

Such as?  Are you referring to a teaching, a tradition, or something else? 

I have no idea.  Movements. Half-caught phrases. Things we do not do in church and would never think of doing in church.  The only way to know is to go.
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« Reply #3 on: April 03, 2009, 09:35:27 PM »

Hi Truthstalker,

Well, I am in a way like you, just from the opposite end, so to say. I fear the moment when I don't see anything ethnic, anything "cultural" but instead everything homogenously "plastic" in an Orthodox parish...

I am a Ukrainian by birth, and a very adamant patriot of Ukraine (some might say, "nationalist"); and, as such, I love everything Ukrainian, including Orthodox liturgical prayers in Ukrainian, and the magnificent liturgical music by Vedel, Berezovsky, Bortnyansky (please-please-please do not believe and run away from anyone who, being utterly ignorant, will say that those composers were "Riussian" Grin)...

But I also love a lot of things "other-ethnic": for example, hearing people in my current Greek parish speak Greek and sing in Greek is music to my ears. I also love to listen to old English hymns sung in English, for example, "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent" - the hymn that a very favorite Russian Orthodox theologian of mine, Fr. Alexander Schmemann, considered perhaps the most Orthodox of all pieces of liturgical music...

I love all things genuine, authentic, deep-rooted. I don't worry when I don't rationally, verbally-literally understand them; I feel, sense them, they fill me, I savor them.

When it's beautiful, it's... well... beautiful, and I want to stay. You decide...

Best wishes!
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« Reply #4 on: April 03, 2009, 09:37:31 PM »

The only way to know is to go.

Indeed!   Grin
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« Reply #5 on: April 03, 2009, 09:51:55 PM »

there seems to be a lot of cultural insularity within national churches.  What do these things look like from within Orthodoxy?


You can get a beautiful glimpse of Orthodoxy's spiritual unity in cultural diversity at this website:
http://www.orthodoxmysteries.com

...it has Orthodox icons and chants from over 70 cultures around the world!
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« Reply #6 on: April 03, 2009, 09:57:35 PM »

I don't worry when I don't rationally, verbally-literally understand them; I feel, sense them, they fill me, I savor them.

When it's beautiful, it's... well... beautiful, and I want to stay.


Well said!  Smiley  I think the same thing every time I browse through the 70+ cultures/languages on the OrthodoxMysteries world-map.
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« Reply #7 on: April 06, 2009, 09:19:40 PM »

Dear Truthstalker,

I have been to all kinds of Orthodox Churches across the United States and my experience has been that churches west of the Mississippi are generally less ethnic and have more off-the-street converts than those on the east side of the mighty river. 

That having been said, it would be a good idea for you to do some homework before you charge into an Orthodox church. If you have not done so already, I heartily recommend reading Timothy Ware's "The Orthodox Church" and "The Orthodox Way." These two books by the now Metropolitan Kallistos Ware are probably the best introduction to Orthodoxy for a westerner.

I would also recommend the writings of Fr. Peter E. Gillquist (1938-) who is an archpriest in the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, and is chairman of the archdiocese's department of missions and evangelism. He is chairman of Conciliar Press (Ben Lomond, California), and is the author of numerous books, including "Love Is Now," "The Physical Side of Being Spiritual," and "Becoming Orthodox." Start with reading the Wikipedia entry on him and then decide if you want to go further. I recommend reading "Becoming Orthodox." I'll give you a hint: he used to be a leader in the Campus Crusade for Christ.

Whatever you do, do not go into this exploration looking for cookbook answers. You should open yourself to the Holy Spirit and accept that in this matter God's will is paramount.
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« Reply #8 on: April 06, 2009, 09:49:09 PM »

Outside of "Fiddler on the Roof" and "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" and reading some Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, I don't really have any exposure to Orthodoxy.  I know Franky Schaeffer went over, something I thought very strange when I heard of it: bells and smells and icons and Ivans.  I've heard some whole Anglican parishes have joined, and from browsing this forum there seems to be a lot of cultural insularity within national churches.  What do these things look like from within Orthodoxy?

Speaking of cultural insularity, one of my greatest fears about coming to an Orthodox service is seeing something I flat-out don't understand and cannot accept and running screaming from the building.  How does one overcome that? "Gee, this week it took me forty five seconds to run screaming from the building, an improvement over last week."  If I kept it up I am afraid they will put it in the liturgy....

I could easily turn my response into a political one, but hopefully I can avoid that.

As a secular democracy, the United States has possessed a degree of separation between church and state. Whether this is advisable or not is beside the point. What this has resulted in, is the American religious experience is removed from the American cultural experience (although I guess some would argue the nation was founded on Christian values...) in essence one's religious belief system remains separate from one's culture.

This quite simply does not exist in the countries with a majority Orthodox population (or for that matter majority Islamic populations in the Middle East). In such countries, religion is a key part of national identity.

I know many people I talk to online, encouraging them to visit a local Orthodox Church have replied "But Church X seems too Greek" or "People at Parish Y seem more interested in being Russian than being Christian."

Although such accusation may or may not hold water...one has to realize certain things. For example, in my parish the cultural background is Ukrainian. Many are immigrants and even more are the sons and daughters of immigrants. They grew up speaking "kitchen Ukrainian" and melding both Ukrainian and Canadian cultural traditions. Their time in church may very well be the only time that week that they may honour being Ukrainian. In such cultures, with family taking such a large role, holding onto being Ukrainian is very important to honouring their parents and other ancestors. To them being Orthodox and being Ukrainian is one and the same (as incorrect as that may be).

Also, in the orthodox Church, we place a high degree of emphasis on mystery....in Protestantism and Catholicism even...there is a burning desire to know WHY, to have an explanation for everything. For us, it is enough to simply say "We don't know why."
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« Reply #9 on: April 06, 2009, 09:54:45 PM »

Outside of "Fiddler on the Roof" and "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" and reading some Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, I don't really have any exposure to Orthodoxy.  I know Franky Schaeffer went over, something I thought very strange when I heard of it: bells and smells and icons and Ivans.  I've heard some whole Anglican parishes have joined, and from browsing this forum there seems to be a lot of cultural insularity within national churches.  What do these things look like from within Orthodoxy?

Speaking of cultural insularity, one of my greatest fears about coming to an Orthodox service is seeing something I flat-out don't understand and cannot accept and running screaming from the building.  How does one overcome that? "Gee, this week it took me forty five seconds to run screaming from the building, an improvement over last week."  If I kept it up I am afraid they will put it in the liturgy....

I could easily turn my response into a political one, but hopefully I can avoid that.

As a secular democracy, the United States has possessed a degree of separation between church and state. Whether this is advisable or not is beside the point. What this has resulted in, is the American religious experience is removed from the American cultural experience (although I guess some would argue the nation was founded on Christian values...) in essence one's religious belief system remains separate from one's culture.

This quite simply does not exist in the countries with a majority Orthodox population (or for that matter majority Islamic populations in the Middle East). In such countries, religion is a key part of national identity.

I know many people I talk to online, encouraging them to visit a local Orthodox Church have replied "But Church X seems too Greek" or "People at Parish Y seem more interested in being Russian than being Christian."

Although such accusation may or may not hold water...one has to realize certain things. For example, in my parish the cultural background is Ukrainian. Many are immigrants and even more are the sons and daughters of immigrants. They grew up speaking "kitchen Ukrainian" and melding both Ukrainian and Canadian cultural traditions. Their time in church may very well be the only time that week that they may honour being Ukrainian. In such cultures, with family taking such a large role, holding onto being Ukrainian is very important to honouring their parents and other ancestors. To them being Orthodox and being Ukrainian is one and the same (as incorrect as that may be).

Also, in the orthodox Church, we place a high degree of emphasis on mystery....in Protestantism and Catholicism even...there is a burning desire to know WHY, to have an explanation for everything. For us, it is enough to simply say "We don't know why."

I don't know about being seperate from culture: I find the Lutherans rather Teutonic (I was amongst them once), and the Evangelicals are very WASPy.  I recall a story of a Anglican parish who were thinking of going Wester Rite, but decided that was too ethnic.

And if you can't tell the difference between a Polish Catholic, a Spanish Catholic, a Mexican Catholic, an Irish Catholic and an Italian Catholic, I don't know what to do with you.
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« Reply #10 on: April 08, 2009, 11:09:13 PM »

Yesterday I visited the friendly neighborhood Greek Orthodox bookstore, which I had not been in before, and saw the elves from deep in the mists of time, or so I thought them, never having seen an Orthodox before.  Sam Gamgee I am, rustic, but the priest did not have an accent, nor pointy ears.

I have much to think about, and will try to be silent until I have something worth saying.
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« Reply #11 on: April 09, 2009, 09:21:55 AM »


This quite simply does not exist in the countries with a majority Orthodox population (or for that matter majority Islamic populations in the Middle East). In such countries, religion is a key part of national identity.

I know many people I talk to online, encouraging them to visit a local Orthodox Church have replied "But Church X seems too Greek" or "People at Parish Y seem more interested in being Russian than being Christian."

Although such accusation may or may not hold water...one has to realize certain things. For example, in my parish the cultural background is Ukrainian. Many are immigrants and even more are the sons and daughters of immigrants. They grew up speaking "kitchen Ukrainian" and melding both Ukrainian and Canadian cultural traditions. Their time in church may very well be the only time that week that they may honour being Ukrainian. In such cultures, with family taking such a large role, holding onto being Ukrainian is very important to honouring their parents and other ancestors. To them being Orthodox and being Ukrainian is one and the same (as incorrect as that may be).

I am not responding directly to Ukiemeister - but this post did make me think of something odd.

Often on the internet (and once in person for me) I see an American or Canadian who is not of Eastern European or Greek descent (in other words someone whose ethnic background is decidedly not from a country of Orthodox identity) talk about feeling out of place because of the strong ethnicity of an Orthodox parish being, essentially, told to "get over it."  Usually along with an explanation like Ukiemeister's "being ethnic is important." 

Yet on the flip side of that coin when the same person is converting to Orthodoxy and tries to embrace Orthodoxy in a way that is (and how can it not be) heavily influenced by the ethnic make-up of the parish in which they are converting we're accused of "false ethnicity" and being "inauthentic."

Don't get me wrong - I have no problems with people holding on to their ethnic identity.  I think it would have been really nice if my German grandfather hadn't insisted that only English be spoken in his house (we lost a lot of our family history) but it was the 1940s and being German in the U.S. wasn't particularly popular, so I do see his point.

However, when you are trying to learn about Orthodoxy and you realize that how you live your life outside of the Sunday celebration of the Liturgy is part of being Orthodox (an odd concept to many Protestants and some Catholics) and that those traditions are all of an ethnicity you don't share ... you're kind of left hanging.  Particularly since there aren't any "American Orthodox" traditions.  So converts try to adopt traditions - which are usually ethnic.  Which makes us, apparently, look like ridiculous posers to many Orthodox.

And yeah yeah yeah ... I know ... "Stop saying you're a convert and just be Orthodox."  Sounds good in theory.  But again when so much of being Orthodox is about so much more than just attending Divine Liturgy on Sunday mornings that doesn't work well either.

Oh and if we dare to say, "I don't do ..." and fill in that blank with any ethnic Orthodox tradition common to your parish then you get the whole lecture about how being Orthodox means living it.

Converts - damned if we do and damned if we don't.
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« Reply #12 on: April 09, 2009, 09:48:03 AM »

I have had too very different extremes in my experience converting to orthodoxy.  In both cases, everyone was very nice to me and very polite.  I found that when I went to a Greek church, which I did for quite some time and received communion with them and my kids attended Sunday school and so on, but I never felt like I became a real part of their congregation.  I just seemed to get a lot of suggestions about where I should go that would be a better fit for me and my family - I eventually took the hint.  Now, in both the Armenian and Coptic churches I was welcomed with open arms, despite the much greater language barrier.  The first time I attended a Coptic liturgy, I was invited to someone's home for dinner, and very shortly thereafter I became an integral part of the congregation.

I don't mean to appear negative towards the Greek Orthodox as this was just one congregation and I cannot state whether or not this is indicative of all.  Furthermore, I have continued to maintain contact with the parish priest there, who I must say is a delight to talk to.
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« Reply #13 on: April 09, 2009, 11:14:12 AM »

when you are trying to learn about Orthodoxy and you realize that how you live your life outside of the Sunday celebration of the Liturgy is part of being Orthodox (an odd concept to many Protestants and some Catholics) and that those traditions are all of an ethnicity you don't share ... you're kind of left hanging.  Particularly since there aren't any "American Orthodox" traditions.  So converts try to adopt traditions - which are usually ethnic.  Which makes us, apparently, look like ridiculous posers to many Orthodox.

Unfortunately that's true... To Lesya and me, hardly anything is more ridiculous than an American guy with a long untrimmed beard and a huge cross hanging over his belly who dresses in something that looks like a combination of Russian peasant garb and Jewish shtettel fashion, calls his children Elpidiphorus or Anastasia, makes huge "metanias" in front of the people, and talks about "Holy Russia" based on what he learned from writings of some 19th century nutcase like Konstantin Leontiev. Smiley

As for the absence of American Orthodox traditions, though... Very many "mainstream" Americans are of English or Irish or Scottish ethnicity. Maybe they should recall the ethnic traditions of these ethnicities and remember that there were some great ORTHODOX saints who were English (venerable Bede?), Irish (St. Patrick?), and Scottish... It's just that Americans do not really value, cherish things ethnic, which is, I think, sad...

Converts - damned if we do and damned if we don't.

Actually, to me you guys aren't damned in any case.Smiley I am sorry if I sound like you are.
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« Reply #14 on: April 09, 2009, 11:38:27 AM »

As for the absence of American Orthodox traditions, though... Very many "mainstream" Americans are of English or Irish or Scottish ethnicity. Maybe they should recall the ethnic traditions of these ethnicities and remember that there were some great ORTHODOX saints who were English (venerable Bede?), Irish (St. Patrick?), and Scottish... It's just that Americans do not really value, cherish things ethnic, which is, I think, sad...

It could have something to do with the fact that so many of us are of a cultural mixture.  For instance my family background is:

Paternal:  German (Lutheran all the way back to the early 1600s as far as we know).
Maternal: French, Irish, Scottish, Native American = all by way of Canada

Which ethnicity should I choose?

Not to mention the fact that even if we choose something that an English/Scottish/Irish Orthodox saint did as a "tradition" it isn't going to be even close to similar to what the people in our parish are doing, which means they're still going to look at us as though we're crazy when we try to explain that we don't do X but we do Y instead because we're of nominally English/Scottish/Irish descent.

Oh and God forbid I should choose to do something that is "Western" or "Catholic" because then I'm "Latinizing."

I'll be honest - it's enough to make a person give up completely.  I don't completely agree, theologically speaking, with the Roman Catholic Church - but at least there I am not denigrated as being a "know-it-all" or "inauthentic" or "ridiculous" or any of the other slurs I've seen bandied about here in the past couple of months.
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« Reply #15 on: April 09, 2009, 11:45:07 AM »

^^That's a good point, about mixed ethnicity. Actually, I myself am of a somewhat mixed ethnicity - I have Ukrainian, Russian, Greek and German genes, but of course it's easier for me to identify myself with Ukrainians, simply because I grew up in Ukraine, and so did countless generations of my ancestors even though their ethnicity was not necessarily 100% Ukrainian. For North Americans, this issue is more complicated...

Again, Carole, I am not the one to call you or any other non-cradle Orthodox "know-it-all" or "poser" or anything. You guys are valuable for us, just like we "ethnics" should be for you...
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« Reply #16 on: April 09, 2009, 12:56:23 PM »

It could have something to do with the fact that so many of us are of a cultural mixture.  For instance my family background is:

Paternal:  German (Lutheran all the way back to the early 1600s as far as we know).
Maternal: French, Irish, Scottish, Native American = all by way of Canada

Which ethnicity should I choose?

Not to mention the fact that even if we choose something that an English/Scottish/Irish Orthodox saint did as a "tradition" it isn't going to be even close to similar to what the people in our parish are doing, which means they're still going to look at us as though we're crazy when we try to explain that we don't do X but we do Y instead because we're of nominally English/Scottish/Irish descent.

Oh and God forbid I should choose to do something that is "Western" or "Catholic" because then I'm "Latinizing."

I'll be honest - it's enough to make a person give up completely.  I don't completely agree, theologically speaking, with the Roman Catholic Church - but at least there I am not denigrated as being a "know-it-all" or "inauthentic" or "ridiculous" or any of the other slurs I've seen bandied about here in the past couple of months.


I'm in the same boat you are with regards to ethnicity.  I come from a Welsh/English/Swedish background, but my ancestors have been in the US for a few centuries.  So I feel no more connection with Wales than I do with Russia or Greece.  I consider myself to be completely American, whatever that means.

While I have been in parishes that were dominated by Slavic culture, I can't say I was ever made to feel left out.  In fact some of the people who were kindest to me were babushkas.  Grin

It is unfortunate that you feel as if you've been denigrated either on this board or in the larger Orthodox world, but I can assure you that not all "ethnic" Orthodox take such a negative view of American converts.
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« Reply #17 on: April 09, 2009, 01:48:08 PM »

I am, again, very sorry if I said something that offends or denigrates "non-ethnic" Orthodox. That was not my intention at all.

Personally, I would very much prefer to be in an "ethnic" parish (ideally Ukrainian - but a Greek parish, like the one I am with today, is good, too). I just love history, authentic ethnic traditions, foreign languages (not to mention my native Ukrainian language), and I am, let me try to put it mildly, not always thrilled by interacting with the environment where there are no traces of old, ancient tradition. This latter kind of environment discurages, oppresses me, I am simply not happy, not fulfilled in it.

However, objectively speaking, in the USA everything becomes less and less ethnic. In my present parish, the ethnic "current" is kept alive mostly by the older generation, while the young Greeks in my parish do not speak a word of Greek (and do not seem to be bothered by that); perhaps if the Greek language or whatever Greek disappears from our Divine Liturgies or our priest's sermons or after-service lunch discussions, these young ones won't be too upset... Probably, in some 20-30-40-50 years all Orthodox parishes in the USA will be just like Heterodox American Christian parishes - sort of... hm... plastic. Smiley People will be busy doing "activities," etc. I won't be too thrilled, but then by that time I'll be "very old or very dead."  Grin
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« Reply #18 on: April 09, 2009, 02:34:04 PM »

I'm lost at what you find lamentable, Pan Heorhij.  I'm in a similar situation in that I'm in the middle generation between being "ethnic" and Americanised.  The Polish that I spoke when I was younger was just simple conversations with my grandparents to the point that American English is my sole native language.  To pretend that I'm Polish simply because my grandparents are from Poland would be a complete falsehood - I was born in America, have always spoken English as my native language, have grown up with American culture etc. 

I don't see why this shift shouldn't be reflected in American Orthodox parishes.  Beautiful translations of the Scriptures exist.  On the GOA website you can find some very nice recordings of chanting in English.  Of course, I'm completely opposed to forcing English and Americanisation on a parish where it wouldn't make sense, but I also don't see why it should be feared.  It is possible to use English, be a native English speaker and not be "plastic".
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« Reply #19 on: April 09, 2009, 05:54:28 PM »

^^Well, I did not intend to make it sound lamentable, sorry. Smiley
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« Reply #20 on: April 10, 2009, 03:18:39 AM »

^^Well, I did not intend to make it sound lamentable, sorry. Smiley

No need to apologise as I'm not one to take offense at an honest discussion.  Although I am curious, do you see it possible for something to be both American and not "plastic"?  I know exactly what you mean by that "plastic" mentality, but I also know plenty of Americans (hopefully myself included) who could not be accurately described as "plastic".  To be honest your arguments against americanisation sound nearly identical to the arguments put forth against using vernacular Ukrainian as a liturgical language - after all having a language that is only vaguely understood by the people is much more otherworldly.   
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« Reply #21 on: April 10, 2009, 09:29:06 AM »

It's a real shame that some people are never fully welcomed into an ethnic parish.  In my case, I didn't realize how accepted I was until I was voted into the board of deacons over an Egyptian who had been part of the congregation for many years.  Prior to that, at times, I did feel awkward but I gave people the benefit of the doubt, that because of the cultural barrier (and in some cases the language barrier) they did not necessarily know how to converse with me and vice versa.  I have found a similar situation in the other Coptic parishes I have visited as well.  I don't know if all Coptic parishes are this way or just Ontario ones, but it goes to show that not all Orthodox parishes will reject non-ethnic Orthodox.  Maybe it's just a matter of looking for a parish that suits you better.
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« Reply #22 on: April 10, 2009, 11:16:16 AM »

^^Well, I did not intend to make it sound lamentable, sorry. Smiley

No need to apologise as I'm not one to take offense at an honest discussion.  Although I am curious, do you see it possible for something to be both American and not "plastic"?  I know exactly what you mean by that "plastic" mentality, but I also know plenty of Americans (hopefully myself included) who could not be accurately described as "plastic".

Yes, you are right - I guess I generalized without warrant. It is possible to be American and not "plastic." It's just that my wife and myself often interact with younger Americans (quite a lot of our students) who seem to have no clue about their family history, and do not care to even find out. For example, we once talked to a young woman who suddenly said that her grandparents were from Lithuania. We said, oh, how interesting, that's not far from Ukraine... and she became very defensive, sort of almost insulted; she said, how am I supposed to know where all these old European countries are and what they are? I am American, period. I don't care about this old dumb stinking Europe. Smiley

To be honest your arguments against americanisation sound nearly identical to the arguments put forth against using vernacular Ukrainian as a liturgical language - after all having a language that is only vaguely understood by the people is much more otherworldly.   

And again you are probably right. The language of the younger generations of Ukrainian Americans or Greek Americans or Irish Americans or whoever IS, indeed, English...
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« Reply #23 on: April 10, 2009, 01:51:03 PM »

Everything is ethnic! Certainly you translate say the tropars from Church Slavonic into English and then sing them in Galician tones... it's still Ukrainian Ethnicity-wise.  You do that in Kievan or Obikhod it is still Russian...
That aside things that are lost that I consider to be part of an ethnic tradition at least in my experience would be; pysanky, the whole Pascha meal eaten at home by large numbers of family and having the baskets blessed.. those little traditions that add up to give an identity to any community. 
Those little traditions knit the community together and make them feel like a family.  In many areas where I see this happening I also see the parish community becoming more disconnected from each other.  The gathering together of the people to say make the Christmas Holy Supper or make pysanky vanishes.  Church becomes a place you go to on Sunday and people barely say hi in the parking lot to one another. 
The thing is while many people snicker and sneer at things they deem ethnic they forget that any small tradition is a tool of bringing the community together.  Remember I'm not talking language here.
What do you replace those community binding tools with?  Can you replace them?  What do you replace them with?  Joshua trees, bbq with hot dogs and hamburgers are as American as can be, so that's replacing one ethnic tradition with another.  Surely a sign of the life of the church too, if you have people coming together to share in any tradition that means life, once they vanish and the parish hall is silent and devoid of activity then can we ask ourselves is that the indicator of things to come.
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« Reply #24 on: April 10, 2009, 01:59:35 PM »

I agree. Those Ukrainian/slavic traditions are so beautiful, so precious, even if I'm not slavic myself. I'm so deeply grateful that I was introduced to these traditions at a young age; they've become an natural part of who I am. Come Easter, almost automatically I begin thinking about gathering together pascha bread, eggs, swiss cheese, sausage etc. I remember when I became Orthodox a Ukrainian baptist friend of mine said in stern alarm, " I hope you are not going to adopt this pagan Orthodox notion that Easter is somehow pascha bread and eggs!" I was deeply hurt by this remark, because I didn't see it that way at all...I think there's nothing wrong with converts appreciating and adopting these customs.
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« Reply #25 on: April 10, 2009, 02:09:40 PM »

I agree. Those Ukrainian/slavic traditions are so beautiful, so precious, even if I'm not slavic myself. I'm so deeply grateful that I was introduced to these traditions at a young age; they've become an natural part of who I am. Come Easter, almost automatically I begin thinking about gathering together pascha bread, eggs, swiss cheese, sausage etc. I remember when I became Orthodox a Ukrainian baptist friend of mine said in stern alarm, " I hope you are not going to adopt this pagan Orthodox notion that Easter is somehow pascha bread and eggs!" I was deeply hurt by this remark, because I didn't see it that way at all...I think there's nothing wrong with converts appreciating and adopting these customs.

Exactly.. it's about sharing in the tradition of the community.  If one joins a community and doesn't participate in the small traditions that bind the community together than one may in a sense alienate him or herself from the community. 
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« Reply #26 on: April 10, 2009, 02:18:57 PM »

I agree. Those Ukrainian/slavic traditions are so beautiful, so precious, even if I'm not slavic myself. I'm so deeply grateful that I was introduced to these traditions at a young age; they've become an natural part of who I am. Come Easter, almost automatically I begin thinking about gathering together pascha bread, eggs, swiss cheese, sausage etc. I remember when I became Orthodox a Ukrainian baptist friend of mine said in stern alarm, " I hope you are not going to adopt this pagan Orthodox notion that Easter is somehow pascha bread and eggs!" I was deeply hurt by this remark, because I didn't see it that way at all...I think there's nothing wrong with converts appreciating and adopting these customs.


Growing up in Western PA, I was always surrounded by the Slavic customs but my family, being dour German Catholics, didn't really indulge in them (but I did get to do some things here and there thanks to Rusyn cousins).  It's one of the things I love most about attending a Slavic parish (aside from the actual Orthodox praxis that goes on, of course!).  It just feels right and, while I know that's not a real criteria for accepting and living the True Faith, it's definitely a comfort to be able to participate in "Pascha bread and eggs". Smiley
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« Reply #27 on: April 10, 2009, 02:30:58 PM »

Many American Orthodox are doing what America does best, borrowing from the best of the ethnic ideas and making them American. For example, there is nothing in Native American Culture  or even early English/French colonists about a Christmas tree yet Americans have a very popular trandition about Christmas Trees that came to us from Germany thru Victorian England. 

An American Orthodox tradition likewise is developing but is still in the merger level at present. For example, my largely convert Antiochian parish has the Slavic Paschal Baskets but does not do the Holy Supper.  It has the Greek Kolliva not the memorial bread that one finds in some Syrian, Lebanese, and Palestinian parishes.  On Meat Fare week it holds a community Bar-B-Que.  It seems to me that the American Orthodx Church is developing its own traditions as we have in all things by borrowing the best from those who have emigrated to America---not taking all but taking that which is meaningful to us.

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« Reply #28 on: April 10, 2009, 10:42:26 PM »

Maybe a true American Orthodoxy would have lots of....plastic...and... sales....and...activities Grin
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« Reply #29 on: April 11, 2009, 12:27:01 AM »

^^Well, I did not intend to make it sound lamentable, sorry. Smiley

No need to apologise as I'm not one to take offense at an honest discussion.  Although I am curious, do you see it possible for something to be both American and not "plastic"?  I know exactly what you mean by that "plastic" mentality, but I also know plenty of Americans (hopefully myself included) who could not be accurately described as "plastic".

Yes, you are right - I guess I generalized without warrant. It is possible to be American and not "plastic." It's just that my wife and myself often interact with younger Americans (quite a lot of our students) who seem to have no clue about their family history, and do not care to even find out. For example, we once talked to a young woman who suddenly said that her grandparents were from Lithuania. We said, oh, how interesting, that's not far from Ukraine... and she became very defensive, sort of almost insulted; she said, how am I supposed to know where all these old European countries are and what they are? I am American, period. I don't care about this old dumb stinking Europe. Smiley

To be honest your arguments against americanisation sound nearly identical to the arguments put forth against using vernacular Ukrainian as a liturgical language - after all having a language that is only vaguely understood by the people is much more otherworldly.   

And again you are probably right. The language of the younger generations of Ukrainian Americans or Greek Americans or Irish Americans or whoever IS, indeed, English...

Well now Heorhij, I am a bit offended (not really, I don't easily get offended). If I understand you correctly, you tie people who have little to no connection to their ethnic/cultural background to the "plastic" element of American culture. What happens if you are like me, a Euromutt (of English, Irish, Scottish, German, French, Spanish, possibly some Scandinavian, and who knows what else) from many generations ago - I'm 8th generation Canadian and parts of my family go back to the 1600's in the USA? While I do happen to know some elements of my background simply because I am fascinated by such "stories", they are otherwise meaningless to me, especially when we occasionally stumble across e.g. some very old document that reveals to us that a particular line of our Irish ancestry turned our to be German. Plus, most of those available family stories are from our New World experiences - little if any of the Old World stories exist now, being lost in the mists of time and all. How can someone like me possibly connect to any other culture (other than "adopting" another culture by virtue of marriage, friendships, going to church - although some on this board would criticize that too) other than a Canadian/American one? Am I therefore doomed to plasticity? No hope for me at all??? I just can't win now can?  Wink

Sorry, but, being surrounded by various "ethnics" on a daily basis, the regular accusation that I have a terribly boring/shallow culture does get tiresome, even if it does ring true sometimes. Hey, Canadians were actually voted worldwide as being the second, most boring people on the planet - the Finns won the most boring contest - and as an aside to that, I knew a Iraqi Jew many years ago who came to appreciate living in boring ol' Canada after living on a Kibbutz in Israel for a year. The jews gave him a hard time because he looked Arab and the Arabs threw rocks at him because he was Jewish. And there is that Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times..."

Okay, so maybe Canadians are more boring than plastic, but since I am so heavily Canadian and American (not that I've ever met any of my American relatives), I guess I have to settle for being both...

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« Reply #30 on: April 11, 2009, 12:32:29 AM »

This is curious to me as when I wrote americanisation, I think I had a very different idea in mind than others.  I meant simply switching to English over the decades.  But that doesn't mean getting rid of the lamb roast, ouzo and the other customs that have become entrenched in a parish.  I agree that it would be very sad to loose those.  


Yes, you are right - I guess I generalized without warrant. It is possible to be American and not "plastic." It's just that my wife and myself often interact with younger Americans (quite a lot of our students) who seem to have no clue about their family history, and do not care to even find out. For example, we once talked to a young woman who suddenly said that her grandparents were from Lithuania. We said, oh, how interesting, that's not far from Ukraine... and she became very defensive, sort of almost insulted; she said, how am I supposed to know where all these old European countries are and what they are? I am American, period. I don't care about this old dumb stinking Europe. Smiley

I've seen the same thing except in reverse: I do quite a bit of English tutoring for recent immigrants from the former USSR.  Most of them are from smaller ethnic groups and were forcibly moved all over (from their ancestral homeland, to Central Asia to Russia).  A lot of the younger people just call themselves "Russians" despite not even looking anything like an ethnic Russian, being practicing Muslims etc.  I also met a few people in Central Asia who were half Korean, half Kazakh (and other similar mixes), only spoke Russian and just for the sake of simplicity called themselves Russian.  So I certainly sympathise with people who come from a varied or turbulent background and just want to assimilate somewhere.  

On the other hand, I really enjoy talking about Eastern Europe.  In 2007 I had the chance to visit my grandparents home village in Poland and meet a bunch of extended relatives.  These days it seems I speak more Russian than English between writing a thesis for which I'm using mostly Russian sources, most of my friends of russophone, my work deals primarily with people from the former USSR.  Maybe I'm just an oddity  Smiley    
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« Reply #31 on: April 11, 2009, 12:41:58 AM »

Oh, I just had to add - my Russian husband and all his Eastern European and Georgian buddies actually don't think I am boring or plastic in the least (I guess I should be flattered, eh? Or maybe they are just being nice)
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« Reply #32 on: April 11, 2009, 01:10:25 AM »

Well...for some of us finding a suitable cultural expression of Orthodoxy in the American context is easier than others.  I for one, though a convert, am 100 percent unreconstructed Southron Orthodox...and if we ever again win our freedom the day may yet dawn when the Patriarch of Orthodixie meets with his brothers in Beatitude among the rest of Orthodox. Of course it will be a duck hissy free for all trying to determine if the Patriarchal throne should be located in Dallas, Atlanta, Birmingham or Memphis.
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« Reply #33 on: April 11, 2009, 01:15:48 AM »

heya - I've relatives in Memphis (part of my family came from there too). I do say y'all 'cause my grandma who spent every summer with her Southern cousins did...
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« Reply #34 on: April 11, 2009, 01:50:01 AM »

Outside of "Fiddler on the Roof" and "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" and reading some Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, I don't really have any exposure to Orthodoxy. 
That's more than most! Congratulations!

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I know Franky Schaeffer went over, something I thought very strange when I heard of it: bells and smells and icons and Ivans.
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  I've heard some whole Anglican parishes have joined, and from browsing this forum there seems to be a lot of cultural insularity within national churches.  What do these things look like from within Orthodoxy?

There's a lot of ethnicity in many Orthodox churches, but you are bound to find WASPy and non-WASP converts as well.   


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Speaking of cultural insularity, one of my greatest fears about coming to an Orthodox service is seeing something I flat-out don't understand and cannot accept and running screaming from the building.  How does one overcome that?

I totally get how you feel.  I am a convert myself. There are several strategies of dealing with this 1) ask an Orthodox friend to explain stuff to you before you go.  Don't know anyone?  Don't worry, neither did I.

 2) use our friend the Internet-- Check out Frederica Mathewes-Green article on 12 Things I wish I had known before going to an Orthodox Church or Deacon Michael's podcasts on Ancientfaith.com.  He has a 12 things as well.  (There is a section for inquirers' podcasts there.)  There is even a thread in this category (but it's not as good).

 3) Read a book written by a convert.  We got Timothy Ware (Anglican), Matthew Galletin, Peter Gillquist (both evangelical), Micheal Welton (Roman Catholic) or James Bernstein (Jewish)--these were all normal and very committed people who are smart and knowledgeable and ended up in the Orthodox Church.  Even if the church seems weird to you --they won't.

 4) read about Orthodox theology -  Everything in the service makes sense--if you understand why.   Relatively easy book--Orthodox Dogmatic Theology.  I didn't say it was a page turner, but the books above are.   

5) don't take it too seriously - relax, enjoy the bells and smells.  Stay for coffee hour.  Have fun with it.  And, by all means, don't miss the food.

6) visit again.  One of my friends didn't like it at first, but kept coming.  She is now totally into it.

Blessings to you on your journey!  Let me know if I can help.
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« Reply #35 on: April 11, 2009, 02:47:19 PM »

You want ethnic? My family were heavy irish republicans from the feniens to recent 'troubles.'
How heavy? They were excommunicated by the RC. My parent's divorce found me in a very anglican flavoured episcopalian parochial school with a loving orangeman vicar who taught me even more irish history. My option was to be lutheran through the other family branch.
I tell you, lutheran casseroles will probably become the next paleoanthropology dating tool if a way to cut them is ever discovered.
I found myself at a houseparty in San Francisco while in university. The 100 year old leader of the local Red Branch Knights ( think IRA american legion) was on one side telling me about my great grandfather and a uilleean piper on the other smoking my brirt PLAYER navy cut cigarettes.
This lace curtain matron came up and cleverly checked me out asking after a RC priest in my area. I didn't have a clue. finally the IRA man explained I wasn't RC. She took a step back crossing herself and asking if I was orange! No, he explained I was old green. old green? yes, hes a druid. Now she took even more steps back and crossed herself again. But he's from old republican stock. She came forward, pushed the uillean piper aside and began tellling me which lasses were sadly single and needing a husband.

Ethnicity is both a joy and a obstacle. You just need to smile and do end runs around the lace curtain matronms.
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« Reply #36 on: April 11, 2009, 02:59:02 PM »

Sorry, but, being surrounded by various "ethnics" on a daily basis, the regular accusation that I have a terribly boring/shallow culture does get tiresome, even if it does ring true sometimes.

Kmm, I am sorry. I feel that I really offended you and perhaps many others. I have to admit that I just do not know what the American culture is. It is my fault only. I never got it, never learned. I have lived all these ~19 years as a foreigner in the USA and I never really felt, experienced anything "American."  Embarrassed
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« Reply #37 on: April 11, 2009, 03:47:09 PM »

I think a lot of people would like to have the kind of deep cultural experience expressed by some on this thread, wherein church and family and social activities are intertwined and laden with meaning and tradition and custom.  Many of us are caught between several worlds, or between East and West, or cultures or traditions, and feel lost, rootless and drifting. It is no surprise to me that someone would adopt an identity, feeling alienated in his own culture, when he adopts a church. You see Muslim converts growing beards, changing their names and adopting Arabic dress.  So someone falls in love with black bread and borscht and calls his wife Natasha. Somewhat amusing, but also something you should have empathy for.  Someone joining a church joins its culture. A church can erect a barrier to joining inadvertantly by demanding that one be properly ethnic and fault the convert for leaping the barrier.
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« Reply #38 on: April 11, 2009, 03:57:02 PM »

Dear Heorhij,

It's okay - I do understand. While the attitude might bug me at times, being surrounded all the time by various "ethnics" has also given me a significant level of sympathy for the immigrant or ethnic who really is flummoxed and dismayed (often rightly)  by elements of the North American culture. Plus, even though I cannot do much about the fact I personally do not have a culture other than the North American one to hang my hat upon, I do love the opportunity to be able to experience other cultures. The problem is I'd look like a poseur if I adopted a lot of it. For instance, years ago I worked in an anthropology museum. Each year we had a pre-Christmas sale featuring a different part of the world, and one year it was India. My boss was Indian, and brought in a bunch of beautiful silk sari's for some of us to wear. I got to wear a different one each day for a week. I loved it - they look lovely and it does make a girl feel very lady-like. But I'd look ridiculous wearing one regularly, being a very WASPy sort and all (a WASPy colleague of mine does wear them on occasion to work, but her her Indian father-in-law keeps buying them for her, so she has a pretty good excuse).

That said, there are some things people are welcome to adopt where I live; Bollywood or African dance classes, etc. I have caucasian students who take Mandarin courses. And we all eat or cook various ethnic foods (better than "old" British). Dating/marrying people from other groups is quite commonplace. Where I live it's probably far easier than it is in many parts of North America. But you still can only get away with so much even here (again, it's the poseur factor - are you able to adopt another culture and look cool, or do you just look desperate, flaky, and throwing the baby out with the bathwater?).

I just wanted people to remember that some of us are American/Canadian through and through and cannot do anything about it (plus, there are good things about our cultures too - my husband may occasionally have some nostalgia for Russia, but he really does love many things about the Canadian culture over and above the Russian one). May we all take the best of our different world views (and then make them fit into Orthodoxy).



I do love Kav's Irish stories. I've heard ones like it from people before, and they sure can be doozies.
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« Reply #39 on: April 11, 2009, 03:58:10 PM »

I think a lot of people would like to have the kind of deep cultural experience expressed by some on this thread, wherein church and family and social activities are intertwined and laden with meaning and tradition and custom.  Many of us are caught between several worlds, or between East and West, or cultures or traditions, and feel lost, rootless and drifting. It is no surprise to me that someone would adopt an identity, feeling alienated in his own culture, when he adopts a church. You see Muslim converts growing beards, changing their names and adopting Arabic dress.  So someone falls in love with black bread and borscht and calls his wife Natasha. Somewhat amusing, but also something you should have empathy for.  Someone joining a church joins its culture. A church can erect a barrier to joining inadvertantly by demanding that one be properly ethnic and fault the convert for leaping the barrier.

I agree.
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« Reply #40 on: April 11, 2009, 04:43:59 PM »

The perfect expression of 'american culture' is a scene in the T/V movie THE LOST BATTALION

based on a true battle in WW1. A young american officer is negotiating with the german

commander, who explains his untenable position and certain destruction. The american sort of

smiles and explains he is facing a bunch of -----and lists every old, now PC incorrect word for

various ethnicities fighting together. That, is american culture.
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« Reply #41 on: April 11, 2009, 05:45:23 PM »

I would hate to think that American Orthodoxy would be watered down to the lowest common denominator.  What are churches that are mainly composed of converts doing to develop an American Orthodoxy?
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« Reply #42 on: April 11, 2009, 06:33:50 PM »

The perfect expression of 'american culture' is a scene in the T/V movie THE LOST BATTALION

based on a true battle in WW1. A young american officer is negotiating with the german

commander, who explains his untenable position and certain destruction. The american sort of

smiles and explains he is facing a bunch of -----and lists every old, now PC incorrect word for

various ethnicities fighting together. That, is american culture.

Sorry, I don't get it at all...
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« Reply #43 on: April 11, 2009, 06:35:16 PM »

Maybe a true American Orthodoxy would have lots of....plastic...and... sales....and...activities Grin

Yes, that's how I (maybe superficially and maybe wrongly) perceive the American culture, and that's exactly why I am repelled from it...
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« Reply #44 on: April 11, 2009, 06:44:23 PM »

Dear Heorhij,

It's okay - I do understand. While the attitude might bug me at times, being surrounded all the time by various "ethnics" has also given me a significant level of sympathy for the immigrant or ethnic who really is flummoxed and dismayed (often rightly)  by elements of the North American culture. Plus, even though I cannot do much about the fact I personally do not have a culture other than the North American one to hang my hat upon,

But then maybe you could try to learn? Actually, my wife and I grew up in the Soviet Union, where there was this constant drumbeat that ethnicities should merge into one big, happy family of "Soviet People." In all honesty, I succubed to it a little, until I met my wife. I grew up in the capital of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic and my parents were classical "Soviet People" who completely lost their cultural and ethnic identity. They spoke Russian and did not care much about anything Ukrainian. Yet, my wife grew in a smaller city in the Northwest of Ukraine (Volyn'), and her parents were extremely patriotic (albeit clandestine) Ukrainians. When she and I met - accidentally, in Moscow of the 1980's, in the absolutely "Soviet" capital of the then-still-gasping-its-last-breath "Soviet Union" - I suddenly discovered a much deeper, spiritually speaking, current of culture, historical memories, affiliations, sympathies, allegiances...

I do love the opportunity to be able to experience other cultures.

But is "your" culture in fact, in actuality, real? What is it? Can you define it, or are you, rather, like me in that drumbeat of the Soviet ideology I mentioned above?
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