Word Magazine February 1977 Page 6/20
IDENTITY AND TOLERANCE:
ON THE ANTIOCHIAN HOLY YEAR
Joseph J. Allen
Before we all get taken up with the historic visit of our venerable Patriarch Elias IV, and all that rightfully accompanies such a great moment for Orthodoxy in America, we had better get our heads and hearts in order. If the theme of this year is, indeed, “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord,” we cannot neglect the pastoral question: “To whom does he come?” In other words, it is a time for us in America to ask: “WHAT REALLY ARE WE AS ORTHODOX CHRISTIANS?” It is a veritable “identity” question in which we address ourselves, and it is crucial for us, in a land of tolerance, to turn our attention to the Orthodox Identity.
We should say, from the beginning, that this question. “Who are we as Orthodox Christians,” refers to no one particular person; not a child, parent, teacher or priest.
We can, furthermore, say that our Orthodox identity depends not on the DENIAL of any national identity: it overrides nationality for reasons which we will soon see, but this Orthodox identity needs not one to deny that he is an Arab, Serb, Russian, Greek, Ukrainian. convert — or anything! This is certainly continuous with the nature of our Antiochian Archdiocese.
The Orthodox identity, then, is a FAITH identity; it has a CONTENT and the content is basically this:
Jesus Christ is the Saviour. God the Son, Who came out of God the Father, Who lived amongst men (even though He also existed BEFORE the creation of the world, although not in ‘the flesh ‘), Who died on the Cross in order to pass through death, and to bring life out of death in the Resurrection, he was born of God through the human womb of the Theotokos, and when He Ascended, he promised the Holy Spirit to the Church, of which that Holy Spirit was received at Pentecost, and which makes the Church his Living Body throughout all ages:
Thus, in His Body, we are ORGANICALLY LINKED with Him: we are NOT followers, but we live in Him. This all has to do with the Orthodox Identity; it forms up most of our Creed, so it is nothing so strange!
OUR AMERICAN PROBLEM
. . . Now, our Identity problem happens because we, as Americans, want to be TOLERANT of others — and that is a wonderful thing — tolerance. We are blessed to live in a country where there is such tolerance. But we must know this: TO BE TOLERANT IS NOT TO LOSE ONE’S OWN IDENTITY! In fact, there is no need to be tolerant, if there are no differences.
It is easy to be confused here; we wish to be “sociable” with others, not to “offend” them, not to appear to be “arrogant” — and we can all understand that!
Indeed, it surprises nobody that there are many points of continuity with all religions — with both Christian and NON-Christian (Thus, I am bothered when someone says. “What is your religion,” since every man has some “religion,” even if it is himself, or the gold in his back pocket! I much prefer to speak of what is my FAITH!)
So then, given these points of continuity with all religions, what precisely makes the difference? It is Christ who makes the difference, and what we KNOW about Christ! It is Christ who makes it all DIS — continuous — and it is upon Christ that our distinct Identity rests! You see, ultimately, “Who am I,” depends on how I see things, what I believe, what I will live my life as, with whom and with what I will live — what values, what visions, what hopes, what faith, what trust. We can never separate the Identity question “Who am I.,” from these qualities.
IMPORTANT AREAS FOR ORTHODOX IDENTITY
Now that seems quite elementary. However, a problem of tolerance arises, and this problem must be faced honestly and with courage. You may say, “Okay, now what? What does all this have to do with secular tolerance?” There are seven distinct areas in which Identity and Tolerance cross, and we will list them now.
1) To be a member of a Church is not to be a member of a secular club in which we pay our dues and get our name on the books and vote! You know, “pay ‘n pray!” Secular clubs are one thing, the Body of Christ quite another. Elias IV, Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, is not visiting a secular club!
2) Yes, there IS one God! But “faith” has to do with what happens BETWEEN God and man — and once we say “Yes, there is a God,” the next question must be asked, “What about it? What is it that we believe about God? What about this relationship between God and man?” THIS is a question of faith and this is DIS-continuous.
3) Jesus is not only a good, pious, humanitarian man, as some other Christians and NON-Christians would have us believe. Jesus the MAN was Christ the SAVIOUR: divide Jesus from Christ, and you have changed everything!
4) We are a TRINITARIAN Church; God is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and if anything changes there, our faith changes!
5) The Orthodox Christian is not one who “conveniently picks” what he “likes” about the Church, and scraps the rest! The Protestant Reformation is built upon picking this and scrapping that, depending on what “suits” one’s arbitrary wish. (Let us not forget that the American Constitution is basically derived from one such Protestant Ethic — thus, let everyone “do his own thing!”). The Body of Christ, in which we are certainly individuals, with our own uniqueness, emotions, thoughts and bodies, is a COMMUNION — a KOINONIA — a community, through which one lives his life and to which one surrenders in love. This is NOT a mass “collective” which wipes out individuality, but is rather a community which gives “contour” and “form” to individuality. There is a tremendous difference between collective and communion.
We must clarify this last point.
This means that when we commune, we are communing with each other, the Priest, the entire Orthodox Faithful who have lived and died in that same Faith. This is the “Catholicity” of our Church.
Communion is thus a FAITH experience and affirmation. It is NOT medicine, not magic, not only social. It is not separated from the Liturgy (in which one walks in the back door and gets in line to receive Holy Communion — that makes it magic!). If it is an ONENESS of Faith — a COMMON UNION of all those who are of one faith, it cannot be for those who are not of that same faith. That is illogical. Nor can the Orthodox be in common union with those that he is de facto not in common union with! That is improper orthopraxis (practice) which does not go with Orthodoxia.
What all that means is that we are to receive only Orthodox sacraments and give Orthodox sacraments only to Orthodox Christians. It is NOT a dis-respect to others — in fact, it is the greatest respect for both, one’s own identity and the other’s own identity.
6) The Orthodox vision of what is the Church is NOT an extreme individualism in which NOBODY BETTER TELL ME WHAT TO DO — No priest, no bishop, no deacon! I believe what I want — and it is all personal only! The next question, of course, is, What does it mean to belong “with one mind, one heart, one accord” to the Church?
7) During this Antiochian Holy Year, we as Orthodox parents and teachers must teach our children that Orthodoxy has CONTENT, and that that makes a difference. We must teach them that they are NOT the same as everyone else (and that doesn’t mean that others are bad and that we are arrogantly judging them). But we must teach them that they are indeed different as Orthodox Christians. They are not “half Protestant and half Catholic.” They are not a sect of Judaism; they are not “religious” in some sort of “general” sense.
WHAT WE MUST LIVE FOR
In short, we must come to realize that we are an “inheritance” — a people — we are indeed Orthodox: “Oh Lord save thy people and bless thine INHERITANCE!”
And that Orthodoxy is not only to be bearded — or black. It is not dress or diet. It has NOT to do with a cuisine or various brands of incense.
It has NOT even to do with priests’ vestments, or IKONS, or olive oil.
It is not a masquerade, or costume party. It is not “blowing of the mind” with mystic avowals or any artificial drugs.
It is not an arbitrary picking of what we want — “I believe and it doesn’t matter what I believe — just as long as I believe.”
What it is, indeed, is the faith of the Creed, the faith of the Catholic mind (and not the papist type, but “KATHOLIKI”), the faith of our Fathers.
It is the faith for which millions have died: under the Turks, the Moslems, the Communists, and the Romans,
They would NOT surrender one ounce of what Christianity really was, of the Trinity, of the Faith.
That is what they died for — and that is what we, in this Antiochian Holy Year, must live for.