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Author Topic: 1000 Year Time Capsule  (Read 2410 times) Average Rating: 0
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Brian
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« on: October 10, 2006, 02:27:55 AM »

This is a hypothetical question.

Imagine you are chosen to be a member of a team that will travel 1000 years into the future to investigate the condition of Christianity in the future.  On the team are a mix of mainstream Christians - a Roman Catholic, an Orthodox, a Lutheran, an Anglican, a Presbyterian, a Baptist, a Methodist, and a Pentecostal.  Upon exiting your time capsule you see the world is much changed, much less populated and more wild.  Your team finds a nearby town and inquires as to the history of the past 1000 years.  Though the dialect is strange you find you can communicate, as if you were Shakespeare transported to the year 2000 from Elizabethan times.  To your dismay you learn that the world went through a cataclysmic upheaval and global war 200 years after your time, and then descended into a dark age surpassing the scale, duration, and intensity of all previous dark ages in human history.  You learn that nearly all books and libraries were lost, most scientific knowledge was lost, and people mostly forgot how to read and write in their struggle to survive in isolated bands.  However, eventually civilization began to return, and Christianity did indeed survive the barbaric times.  The world is now after 800 years beginning to recover, entering a kind of renaissance of learning, though most people are still illiterate and books, including Bibles, are rare.

Question:  What has become of each Christian sect?  How well did a given sect weather the storm, if indeed it even survived?  How comfortable would a member of that sect today feel upon setting foot in their church of the future?  Would they even recognize the services, the teachings, or other aspects of church life?  If so, explain why you think so.  If not, explain why not.

I am very interested to see what people think, and hope it gets a good discussion going.  Naturally I expect most here to think Orthodoxy would weather the storm nicely, but I'd really like to know why think so.

Enjoy.
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« Reply #1 on: October 10, 2006, 09:04:18 AM »

...Naturally I expect most here to think Orthodoxy would weather the storm nicely, but I'd really like to know why think so.

Because it already went through the scenario you described a couple of times during the last 2000 years and came out of it intact or even stronger, for example Orthodox Russia during the last century and Greece half a millennium ago.
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Brian
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« Reply #2 on: October 10, 2006, 10:42:43 AM »

That's a pithy non-answer that doesn't engage the hypothetical.  As the prospectus says, "Past performance is no guarantee of future results."  Wink

Anyway, by your criterion the Roman Catholics can claim exactly the same thing, so are you arguing they would come through just fine as well?

Cheers.
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« Reply #3 on: October 10, 2006, 11:20:24 AM »

What value -- spiritual, moral, intellectual -- should one expect to derive from "engaging" such a hypothetical? Seems like idle speculation to me...and rather boring at that.
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« Reply #4 on: October 13, 2006, 07:10:57 PM »

That's a pithy non-answer that doesn't engage the hypothetical.  As the prospectus says, "Past performance is no guarantee of future results."  Wink

Anyway, by your criterion the Roman Catholics can claim exactly the same thing, so are you arguing they would come through just fine as well?

Cheers.

I think the Orthodox and Roman Catholics would still be arguing their cases.

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Brian
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« Reply #5 on: October 14, 2006, 02:15:10 AM »

What value -- spiritual, moral, intellectual -- should one expect to derive from "engaging" such a hypothetical? Seems like idle speculation to me...and rather boring at that.

No offense, but since around 80% of the posts on this site can be characterized as "idle speculation" and/or devoid of significant spiritual, moral, or intellectual "value", I humbly reject your criticism.  If you and everyone else finds it boring then don't post, and this thread will simply go the way of other still-born threads - nothing wrong with that., happens all the time.  However, if you demand that every topic posted, including those in the "free discussion" area, be profound, then I humbly suggest you spend less time at sites like this where socialization and spouting off seem the greater virtues than truth-seeking.  Anyway, it is my experience that so-called "idle" speculation, though mostly chaff, on occasion can yield grains of wheat as well.  So when I ask someone to actually "engage the hypothetical", I am asking them to see if there is any wheat to it at all.  If not then that is fine, but I really dislike being put down for even making the effort.  Show a little Christian charity for those who may not be as "enlightened" as you - maybe guys like me just haven't progressed as far and so our questions and hypotheticals seem pointless to you.

Sincerely In Christ,
Brian
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« Reply #6 on: October 14, 2006, 12:46:40 PM »

Well, I think that this is an interesting thread.  Then again, I read Science Fiction and one part of that *is* thinking of possible ways that the future might happen.  Have you ever read "A Canticle For Leibowitz" by Walter Miller?  Here is a link to an essay about it:
https://www.wsu.edu/~brians/science_fiction/canticle.html

SF writers are not just "blasters and rockets", fwiw.  There are many cases of taking an idea and postulating what might come of it.  I read stories about the abuses and uses of genetic engineering ("gengineering") for over 25 years. And they're serious looks at how it can be misused in come cases.

Ebor
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« Reply #7 on: October 17, 2006, 07:07:02 AM »

Thank you for your comments Ebor.  Indeed I have been a fan of speculative fiction since I first discovered Heinlein, Azimov, Lewis, and Tolkien as a youngster.  I did read Canticle back in my teens, and I remember I enjoyed it immensely.  More recently I have enjoyed Peter Hamilton's stories.

Back to the hypothetical I posed.  I've been considering it myself and have a few thoughts to offer.  Now before some of the more 'charitable' Orthodox (yes, that is a gentle chide) on this site jump on me for even daring to raise questions of this type, I should state that I am a Lutheran inquirer into Orthodoxy, and the purpose of the hypothetical is not merely to assauge a tendency towards imaginative speculations as some may think.  Rather, I think it is in fact a core question that any serious inquirer should consider.  For if there is One Truth that is eternal, and One Church with the fullness of that eternal Truth, then the One Church should exhibit characteristics of eternality, not just existentially, but essentially.  In other words, not only should the One Church continue to exist in spite of worldly disasters and trials, but it should also maintain the essence of the faith unchanged through time.  To me this is a critical element of the Orthodox claim to being that One Church, and I wished to explore that claim in more detail.  Unfortunately many here seem to have missed the point entirely, and that is probably my fault for not being more explicit.

So let me pose the question slightly differently.  Orthodox are fond of claiming that they have maintained the faith unchanged since Pentecost (well, at least since the 4th or 5th century, with the seeds of the traditions and doctrines going back to the Apostolic period).  If we accept this claim as true (and I basically do in my limited knowledge), then the logical next question the inquirer might ask is: what are the factors that have led to this amazing stability despite enormous changes in the world?  What factors within Orthodoxy make it uniquely able to withstand the 'slings and arrows of outrageous fortune', despite radical change in technology, government, literacy, culture, health, wealth, and all the rest?

As for the other communions mentioned in the hypothetical, I think it fair to say that a modern day Lutheran, for example, could not reasonably expect to enter a Lutheran Church 1000 years from now and instantly feel at home.  Certainly if the early Lutherans could come forward in time to our own day, they would find themselves in somewhat of a foreign world, though they would still recognize the general form and style and Lutheranism.  The same could be said to varying degrees of the other Protestant traditions.  As for Roman Catholicism, I think one could argue that doctrinally they have changed even more than many traditionalist Protestants.  Would a Roman Catholic from the year 1000 or 1500 feel comfortable in today's Catholic parish?  Would our time traveller be able to relate to today's Catholic attitudes and teachings?  Certainly the Catholic Church was able to weather the previous dark age fairly well, thanks in large part to its then strong monastic tradition.  But of course it was still united with the Easterns at the time as well.

Part of the reason that I have been speculating on this question is the witness of the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox communions.  After 1500 years of separation and persecution, sometimes near total separation, the two communions have maintained a remarkable constistency in spite of their separate historical tracks, to the point that one is hard pressed today to identify truly significant differences in doctrine and practice.  I think this is a testimony to the truth of Orthodoxy in general, not discounting that there are still significant and complex issues between the two communions.  I think for an outsider such as myself looking in, the example of the Orientals and Easterns is a significant clue as to where Truth really lies.

Those are my speculations to this point, and I would appreciate any thoughtful replies.

In Christ,
Brian
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« Reply #8 on: October 17, 2006, 09:38:55 AM »

Because it already went through the scenario you described a couple of times during the last 2000 years and came out of it intact or even stronger, for example Orthodox Russia during the last century and Greece half a millennium ago.

I don't think that Russia in the 20th Century or Greece under the Ottomans are quite the same as the scenario that Brian proposed.  There was still technology, literacy, and some churches left in Russia as well as a generation who remembered what things were before the Revolution.  (Not to mention all of those who fled Russia and rebuilt in other countries).  There were other EO Churches surviving outside of Greece during their occupation.  In both cases there were others who preserved the books and beliefs and knowledge: individuals, scholars and the like. 

One way that things are kept over a long time is when they are written down.  Some things may survive by word of mouth but others can be lost.  Just how did a grandmother make a particular recipe, for example.  She may have taught it to others, or written it down, but if not it might be lost.  Another example is "Fahrenheit 451" by Ray Bradbury in which books were destroyed *by* those in authority and people would "be" a living book by memorizing it.   

Another thing that occurs to me is  along with the idea that most libraries are destroyed is: this doesn't have to be the work of war or human beings.  Acid in paper has reduced some books to shards in only a few years or decades.  Then there's other media. No computers or electricity, then all of the stored e-materials are for all intents and purposes lost.  The Bible was written down and recopied over time as older manuscripts decayed or to carry the words to other places.  But compared to the millions of print Bibles that are easily made today, there were far fewer copies.

As a side note, some things from the past hang on a single sample.  "Beowulf" for instance is only known to us because a manuscript was collected and preserved by Sir Robert Cotton, who collected all kinds of manuscripts and books from monasteries after the dissolution.  Fortunately, other people wrote the words down as best they could as it was almost destroyed in the fire of 1731.   

So some questions are: What might each Church preserve?  How would it be done?  Where could it be kept safe?  In "Canticle" there are remnents of RC groups, as there are in other SF works such as "The Quest for Saint Aquin" by Boucher and "Babylon 5".

In reading your most recent post, Brian, I wonder if a person from the 3rd or 5th or 8th Century really *could* find themselves at home if placed in an EO parish in the 20th Century.  Language would be different in some places, I'd have to look up the dates for when the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom came into use, or someone else here probably has that date readily to mind. 

I'm not sure if I'm rambling too much here.  If so, I apologize.  but it is an interesting topic to ponder.

Ebor

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« Reply #9 on: October 17, 2006, 01:11:15 PM »

Instead of just being guided by imagination alone, I'd prefer a more concrete method of making this prediction (as have others here, clearly). A useful gauge would be to go back 1000 years (the larger the sample, the more accurate the prediction) and see how much each Church had changed since then.

I think the Orthodox would show minimal Liturgical or theological change, with a few lingering disputes about Calendars, choir lofts, and pews. The Roman Catholics would probably be almost as consistent, particularly if Benedict effectively dumps the rest of Vatican II.

While the Protestants most likely would find that their denominations had each split into several tens of thousands of different liturgical, theological, and scriptural traditions and that they could spend the rest of their days finding to which one they really belonged.
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« Reply #10 on: October 18, 2006, 05:18:22 PM »

Ah, but BoredMeeting, One thing that occurs to me is you say "the Orthodox would show minimal Liturgical or theological change" but what if, in this disaster there is little or no communication and great distances between them.  It could be possible that liturgically for example there might be some variation due to language changes, living conditions or the like. What if: wine is hard to come by, or impossible to make due to climate or growing conditions?  That might force some kind of change in the Eucharist, whether of frequency or material.  What of the lack or presence of Bishops?  There are many factors that could influence things. 

Just some random thoughts. More later maybe.

And no offense is intended in these thoughts.

Ebor
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« Reply #11 on: October 19, 2006, 09:21:03 AM »

...but what if, in this disaster there is little or no communication and great distances between them.
You mean sort of like it was during the first 1000 years of the Church's existence? Somehow, I think they'd pull through OK.

But regardless of what hypotheticals might be conjured up, the track record of the Orthodox Church is such that it should show the least amount of change of any Christian group.
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« Reply #12 on: October 19, 2006, 05:47:59 PM »

You mean sort of like it was during the first 1000 years of the Church's existence?

No, that is not what is being pondered.  The scenario is different.  During the first 1000 years, there were still large areas of civilization, empires east and west, libraries and communication, even if it took weeks or months to get from one place to another.  As I understand the idea in the OP this is after a break-down caused by catastrophes.  Persons on one continent who could not communicate with those on another for centuries.  That is not what it was like in the first 1000 years of Christianity. 

Ebor
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« Reply #13 on: October 24, 2006, 11:53:18 AM »

Such is the futility of hypothetical discussions.
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« Reply #14 on: October 25, 2006, 06:00:22 PM »

Well, I don't see how it's "futile".  I find it interesting and Brian did also enough to start the thread.  Who knows... it may go on, or not.  But sometimes, hypothesis do come true and sometimes, they can lead to causing things to happen.

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« Reply #15 on: October 26, 2006, 08:02:01 AM »

Ebor,

    I think if the world reverted to such a primitive state, that communication would be made difficult, it would put greater impetus on the OC to preserve Liturgical and Theological Traditions, rather than less.  The hope that our brothers in the remaining parts of the world would do the same (along side the history of our Church) I think would ensure relatively small changes in our Traditions.

     I also believe the simplest answer to the questions is that Orthodoxy would prevail against anything is in the fact that we believe we are The Church.  I know the RC's and the Protestants think the same (as do Jews and Muslims), but I am talking from an OC perspective.

     We would have to prevail, because we are His Church.
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« Reply #16 on: October 26, 2006, 05:11:41 PM »

Maybe.  But sometimes "what ifs" can hit upon things that have been so common or ordinary that they are not thought of, like my previous idea of "What if wine is hard to come by/not available?"  Grapes don't grow everywhere.  But wine is needed for the Eucharist.... at least here and now.  What might be some ramifications of little/no grape wine on the Liturgy?  Other kinds of fruit wine (if it's available)?  Less frequent DL/HE? Then there's the need for bishops to make bishops and priests and the lesser orders.  I'm interested in what Brian, the OP, thinks here.

Ebor
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« Reply #17 on: October 30, 2006, 08:52:34 AM »

Quote
"Such is the futility of hypothetical discussions."

Is that so?  It is my understanding that hypothetical thinking (including the hypothetical 'questioning' you seem to hold in such low esteem) underlies much of the scientific method itself - testable hypotheses and theories often begin with 'what-if' speculations about some phenomenon.  In fact, I often find in my own scientific (financial and economic) explorations that consideration of the boundary conditions, e.g. the point of catastrophic failure, no matter how unlikely we may consider them to be, can yield productive insights for analysis in normal conditions as well.  I also note that such analyses are an important part of various engineering disciplines, such as reliability and industrial engineering, and an important tool in business analysis.  Of course, as an economist I would naturally be attracted to the 'margins' of thought (note: bad pun alert!).  And as we say in finance, "One-in-a-million-year events seem to happen every few years."   Wink

I think Ebor raises some excellent points/clarifications of his own in discussing issues of literacy, Bible availability, wine availability, etc.  Indeed the worst-case scenario I had in mind was a dark age more severe (or at least more extensive) than any the world has experienced previously (though still not technically 'apocalyptic').  Think of the British dark age period doubled in length, or the dark ages of ancient Greece or Egypt.  The fact is that humans have a consistent and remarkable inability to judge catastrophic risk - we either assign sich risks a probability of zero (the "It Can't Happen to Me Syndrom"), or we assign them a probability of one (the "Chicken Little Syndrom", more recently renamed the "Global Warming Self-Flagellation Syndrom").  As we again say in finance, the distribution of possible events is 'fat-tailed', meaning that extremes are more likely than with a normal distribution (but still not inevitable).  We are constantly surprised and caught off-guard by sudden changes (like for example 9-11 or the collapse of the Soviet Union), and yet we continue to blithely assume that what prevails today will likely prevail in the future, even the distant future.  It is a useful heuristic for normal daily life, but not for planning or thinking about the long-term.  This is another use for hypothetical questions and worst-case thinking - they help us go beyond our usual prejudices to consider possibilities that we tend to disgard because the probability is felt to be very very small.  And yet again, those who have made a study of risk know that there is a world of difference between a probability of "nearly zero" and a probability of "zero".

Think of these historical examples of dark ages catastrophes extended to cover the globe for a period of five or more centuries.  In that time much of the 'old world' we currently live in would be lost, forgotten, or just passed by.  Imagining what societies emerging from such an extended catastrophe would look like is probably pointless (but might make for a fun novel) - we just know that they would be radically different from the world we live in now.  And yet Orthodox and other traditionalist Christians claim that their faith would remain a constant through such changes, since the faith is based on absolutes that are timeless and eternal.  In fact, this claim is usually at the core of the value proposition Orthodox make in defending the uniqueness of their faith.  Given all this, I think consideration of the basis of this claim is extremely relevant, indeed essential.  By subjecting the claim to various tests, both historical and hypothetical, I would hope to gain a better understanding of the institutional factors that make Orthodoxy robust.  Perhaps then one can understand exactly why it is proper to have strong faith in the biblical promise about the gates of hell not prevailing, yes?  Ultimately, as Ebor rightly points out, this sort of analysis, while not definitive to be sure, can certainly help delineate core from peripheral concerns.  For example, while Greek festivals and other ethnic aspects of Church life are nice, do they hold up as core practices under our hypothetical?  Clearly not.  On the other hand, does the institution of monasticism?  Indeed it does, and like with post-Roman Britian and Europe may arguably be THE critical component for maintaining the faith through a future catastrophe.

These then are my thoughts in very broad outline.  Now to turn to specifics.  I believe the following institutional structures all contribute to the robustness of Orthodoxy in the face of a changing world, allowing Orthodox to claim with much legitimacy that theirs is a timeless faith:

1.  Monasticism as the engine for the creation of saints and maintenance of legitimate and confirmable spiritual method.  In my limited studies this seems to be a truly critical factor.  Historically speaking, monastics have played an important role at times in correcting for excesses or doctrinal drift.  Furthermore, as the examples of Britain and Ireland show, monasticism played an important role in re-Christianizing areas that had collapsed into pre-Christian modes, and in preserving much knowledge.

2.  The Orthodox notion of theology being experiential rather than intellectual in nature.  In other words, the theologian is someone who has "been there" and is passing on direct knowledge of God (His uncreated energies at least) rather than someone who is just a believing philosopher or academic.  I think this is an important component since, as with science, there is a promise that through the application of a specific method (in this case a spiritual method) anyone may achieve a state of illumination.  As theology is based in experience, it is personally testable in a manner similar to the way scientific claims are testable, even though spiritual claims necessarily lack the objectively measurable character of most scientific claims.  Furthermore, by emphasizing experience (i.e., direct revelation) over indirect revelation (i.e., talking about what was revealed to someone else) Orthodox are less reliant on a single source such as the Bible.

3.  As many Orthodox like to point out, the liturgy is heavily Biblical, so even without regular access to a Bible most Orthodox would still be able to get the essentials.  Even if the priesthood along with the laypeople were largely non-literate, the liturgy provides a sound structure for preserving teachings without books.  In pre-literate societies ritual was an important means of transmission of knowledge, so any robust Christian tradition should have a strong emphasis on ritual and sacraments.

4.  Icons are an important means of preserving the Biblical stories in a format that doesn't require literacy.

5.  Historical depth.  I think it fair to say that Orthodox thinking is strongly historical, with its emphasis on the Fathers, the Councils, the Saints, and so forth.  This historical knowledge is well diffused among laypeople allowing for much to be preserved even in a non-literate world.

All of these factors deal with the preservation and transmission of institutional knowledge, which I think the Orthodox excel at compared to most other Christian sects.  The multiple means of preserving knowledge - monasticism, the liturgy and sacraments, icons, the Bible, etc. - all covered under the heading "Tradition", create significant redundancy and thus robustness.

In addition to institutional knowledge, the other aspect that should be considered is ecclesiastical robustness.  How well could the Church structure withstand the loss of mobility and communication?  How well would the Church be able to withstand societal chaos and changing political authorities?  I have a few general thoughts on factors affecting this as well.

6.  Size and Geographic spread.  The Orthodox represent the second largest Christian sect worldwide, after the Roman Catholics.  In a global catastrophe one would expect size and dispersion to be mitigating factors for risk.  While other traditionalist Christian groups, for example the Amish, may have robust means for transmitting knowledge across generations without change, such groups are often small and geographically concentrated.  These increase the risk that they may not survive at all in the upheavals imagined.

7.  A networked hierarchical structure based on conciliarity.  Orthodox ecclesiology seems to me to be a combination of top-down and bottom-up organization.  It is neither too democratic nor is it too centralized.  In a dark age world where leadership is pushed down to the local level, but where strong and charismatic leadership is definitely needed, the Orthodox approach seems likely to breed good local leaders (i.e., bishops) at need in a crisis - at least in theory.  And yet the conciliar tradition of obedience to synods, councils, and apostolic succession should act as a check on strong leaders who might otherwise be tempted to abuse power or promote heresies - again at least in theory.  Orthodox are already used to a certain organizational flexibility even as they also embrace a healthy respect for authority - these qualities lend themselves to organizational robustness I think.

These then are some of my tentative thoughts on the question I posed.  I have some other thoughts but no time right now.

In Christ,
Brian
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« Reply #18 on: October 30, 2006, 09:09:34 AM »

It is my understanding that hypothetical thinking (including the hypothetical 'questioning' you seem to hold in such low esteem) underlies much of the scientific method itself - testable hypotheses and theories often begin with 'what-if' speculations about some phenomenon.
Actually, I was referring to situations which are non-testable or discussions where someone can just say "but what if this condition is true?" once the discussion has started, leading to an endless discussion without any concrete parameters.

As to your in-depth analysis, I find it quite interesting and far more detailed, although in agreement with, my earlier statement.
But regardless of what hypotheticals might be conjured up, the track record of the Orthodox Church is such that it should show the least amount of change of any Christian group.
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« Reply #19 on: November 04, 2006, 06:55:01 AM »

Actually, I was referring to situations which are non-testable or discussions where someone can just say "but what if this condition is true?" once the discussion has started, leading to an endless discussion without any concrete parameters.

I suppose one could call that approach 'hypothetical', but not in the sense as used by strategic planners, legal thinkers, philosophers, and so forth.  I would just call such behavior "avoiding the issue" or perhaps "seeking a position that cannot be defeated."  I haven't been to law school but I think the use of the hypothetical as a teaching aid is commonplace there.  The purpose of real hypotheticals is to help one think, to train the mind, and to produce insights that one might not otherwise have.

Quote
As to your in-depth analysis, I find it quite interesting and far more detailed, although in agreement with, my earlier statement.

Here's a follow-up question that is not hypothetical.  Given the discussion above, what implications does that have for the question of what American Orthodox should emphasize going forward?  For example currently Orthodoxy is just a small part of the American religious tapestry.  There are limited resources of time and money and many demands, where should those resources go?  Should the emphasis be on establishing a strong geographic presence across the continent, or on evangelism, or on quality over quantity, or on establishing a robust and uniquely American monastic culture, or on jurisdictional harmony, or on social outreach, etc.  I would be very interested in hearing people's thoughts on this.  What is the core?  What is peripheral?

Sincerely in Christ,
Brian
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