Word Magazine June 1967 Page 22



Father Vladimir Berzonsky

Holy Trinity Church, Parma, Ohio

It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground,

is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up

and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches,

so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” (ST. MARK 4:31)

An early Christian saint and scholar, Clement of Alexandria left a record of how he was brought to the Christian faith. Born pagan with a desire to learn the truths of life, he searched the world for teachers. Of the six philosophers in as many countries who influenced his thinking prior to his conversion, two were Christians one was from Assyria, the other was from Palestine.

These two men taught Clement the traditions which they learned directly from the apostles Peter, James, John and Paul. Clement wrote: “In this way the ancestral, apostolic seeds were handed down to me.

How proper it is to understand apostolic tradition as a seed! Seeds are powerful, compact molecules filled with life and pregnant with the potential to burst forth in a new, living thing. Life is the summary of the past, yet distinctively new.

Church tradition is for us a seed planted here in America con­taining the heritage of “All those in Faith who have gone before us to their rest,” yet at the same time peculiarly American. The Orthodox Church in this country must become, not merely an extension of Russian, Greek or Near Eastern culture transplanted, on new soil, but characteristically American.

For example, when Russia became Christian, at first it was only the Byzantine Church transplanted in Slav areas. Once the seed was planted, a new Church sprouted up that was like all Orthodox churches of Christendom, yet peculiarly Russian. The new converts gave the Church an identity uniquely their own—a mystical piety which did not break with tradition, but blended into and beautified the Orthodox Church of our Fathers.

Something of a similar nature is occurring in the United States. At present, we are undergoing a refinement of our tradition, a purifying of the past.

Experts are working in the artistic fields of iconography and liturgical music to remove the dross of Western influence that had covered the churches in the past few centuries, in order to rediscover the sterling purity of the original works of art.

Now, nearly every Orthodox knows the difference between an icon and a secular picture: (at least they know a difference exists). Landscape scenery and portraits of saints in profile are rarely seen anymore in our churches.

The Russian composers influenced by baroque and rococo opera are being replaced by purists working in the traditional Kievan, znamenny, Bulgarian and Byzantine styles.

We are in the springtime of a new era for the Orthodox Church in America, which will challenge a new generation of our faithful. As the first generation came to plant the seed of our Faith, and as the present generation is now at work pruning, weeding, purifying and refining, so we are ready to challenge a new era of Orthodox who are indigenous to this land, to make the Church American, without violating the riches of tradition handed to us from our living past.