A few thoughts.
It seems to me the Eastern churches have been formed and grown in a specific framework and in a specific manner; that is always taking in and building on a received tradition. The obvious example is how Christianity was transmitted from the Byzantines to the Slavs. This transformation, because it was a mass cultural movement, trickled down in to and affected every part of society. The customs that grew up around the church formed an overall cultural context, or in other words a common reference part for everyone in the culture. These things made up a way of life, which I think is why it is so difficult to break down the church in to distinct components of “religion” and “culture”. They are intertwined at too many levels, and the small traditions as people like to call them are there to reinforce and compliment the big ones.
I think one of the many problems with the creation of “American Orthodoxy” (which to me has nothing to do with the use of English as a liturgical language) is it lacks the critical component of cultural transformation. What we are really talking about is co-existence, because Orthodoxy in this country is so small. So when the old world cultures that brought Orthodoxy to this country are removed (and I have heard this idea seriously proposed and actually put in practice), what will take its place? I have seen some of the effects of this, and to me there are some worrisome developments.
Now, before anyone stands up and accuses me of being a raging phyletist, I’m not. I’m simply saying we should not reject what came before us, but build on it. The customs that come along with the church can be one of the most significant ties that can bind a community together, and by extension reach those outside.
Two more things, then I’ll shut up.
Someone, somewhere, mentioned Alaska as an example of the church adapting to native culture. I would agree with that in the sense that the Russian missionaries took the right approach in adapting the church to complement and not crush native culture as happened elsewhere in the New World. The obvious example is the fact that they translated the religious texts the people needed. However, one need only go to Alaska today to find that even though it is a native church (and has been now for a long time) it is also still distinctly Russian in character and feel. It is still called the Russian Orthodox Diocese of Alaska. What they did was build on the Russian aspect of the faith, they didn’t throw it out.
Finally, related to the last point is the issue of language. I personally feel the language used should fit the needs of the community and should be able to be readily understood by those attending the liturgy. I find it no small irony that the jurisdiction most committed to ethnically cleansing the church to make it purely American, is also one that retains the use of Elizabethan English in all of its liturgical texts.