Ecclesia Is Downstream From Culture

Without getting too specific, let me summarize my Christian life by saying I have  observed and participated in numerous iterations of Christian worship, theological doctrine, and church governance over my lifetime. Over the decades, I have observed a single constant, as unchanging and timeless (though not, theologically, as significant) as the Our Father taught by our Lord Jesus Christ himself:

Ecclesia is downstream from culture which is downstream from ancestry.

Prove me wrong. You can’t.

Christians–humans–prefer the faith of their fathers. If you don’t believe me, change the 1928 Book of Common Prayer and see what happens. Or, transplant any ethnic group to another country and see where they go on holy days. We gravitate to the familiar, and public worship of our God (the Ahtman, the Tao, Allah, who or what ever) is about as fundamental an expression of Who We Are as it gets. Over years of inter-generational succession, the ecclesia (the body of the faithful, the liturgics, the aesthetics, etc.) reflects the ancestral culture which temporally generated it. If it’s not, then it’s just an individual affectation.

Now granted, at a given time Christianity will be Year Zero for somebody somewhere, but that’s temporary. The Russians followed the Byzantine forms to which they were introduced, and then 400 years later they had their own. This tale repeats over and over, with moralistic Germans and pig-headed Anglos deciding to leave Rome and develop their own liturgics. Celtic hillbillies in the Appalachians forged their own way, as did African slaves after them, and on and on.

This is not a new thing. The Egyptians left for their own Coptic Church to get out from under Byzantine imperialism very early in Church history.

In Guatemala, Greek Orthodox missionaries have started Mayan Orthodoxy.

mayan orthodoxy2

Not Guatemalan Orthodoxy, and not Roman Catholicism which has been there for 400 years, but Mayan Orthodoxy. Exarch parishes are being established in the United States as well. It’s a good cultural fit for these people, and they are on fire with the True Faith. And they are going to carry it as part of their national heritage respective of the State where they may reside. This is not for a lack of extant Orthodoxy anywhere. The United States is already home to three well-established jurisdictions: the Greek, the Russian (OCA, or ROCOR, and that’s a whole other topic) and the Antiochian (Middle Eastern).

Incidentally, the Antiochians have a monastery in Guatemala. There are a number of Middle Eastern diaspora in Antiochian parishes in Central and South America. I am told they are culturally Latino at this point and do not bother with the Arabic language. Here, for example, is the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires’ Facebook page.

The Antiochians in the United States probably have two more generations before they become largely indistinguishable from the “mainstream” American Christian sects. Middle Eastern Christians tend to outmarry easily into the dominant Anglo-American population. The more insular ones tend to drift to the Catholic Maronite and Melkite exarchates.

The extant American Orthodox jurisdictions could easily set up Spanish-language missions but the mestizo/indigenous Central Americans already have the bit in their teeth. They are not Spaniards, they are not Anglo-Americans, and they want their own Church. After all, ecclesia is downstream from culture which is downstream from ancestry.

If the traditional Orthodox dictum of unity in diversity and diversity in unity is appropriately expressed in a Nation for every People and a Church for every Nation, this debate disappears. Instead, we are told that the Church model is ecumenical and an ethnic exarchate in the US would be phyletism and hence heretical. But we already have multiple overlapping Orthodox jurisdictions in the US because people cling to the faith of their fathers. Of course, it would be an excommunicable offense to call for an Anglican Orthodox jurisdiction to reflect the ethnic heritage of Anglos.

Or would it? Maybe that’s what the Western Rite is for.

I expect the Western Rite and, eventually, the larger jurisdictional debate to become less of an issue in the New World over time. For example, nobody would mistake the below wedding ceremony (with the groom in a Colonial America suit and the bride in High Medieval-inspired design) for an Orthodox service in Russia. Antiochian choral directors are already experimenting with Gregorian and even American folk arrangements so the Western Rite vicariate will probably be absorbed into its parent at some point. Ecclesia is downstream from culture which is downstream from ancestry.


4 thoughts on “Ecclesia Is Downstream From Culture

  1. In my experience the OCA is essentially an ethnic American church, carrying a Byzanto-Russian torch. Of course there are a lot of immigrants, but it’s Americans at the helm. Certainly a lot of parisoners whose parents or grandparents were immigrants, but American culture is shallow enough that these people are essentially part of the American ethnos at this point. It’s almost funny, living in a major city, the time I’m around the highest density of Americans is when I’m at a Church founded by Russian refugees!

    I’ve thought that if you wanted to get more blacks into the church, you’d informally have black priests start missions in black parts of town. I’ve seen it a few times, pious blacks find the church, get baptized but then, you know, they’re the only blacks there and they kinda end up going somewhere else. That’s got to be hard. the onus is on blacks at the end of the day, but you can be sure the leadership would find it scandalous to informally encourage de facto black orthodox parishes.

    Anyway I don’t see anything special myself about western rites. The Russians got the liturgy from the Greeks and made it their own. I think we should do the same. I’m just some convert who spends too much time online, but I feel on firmer ground staying with St. Chrysostom.

    Liked by 1 person

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