Cattle Drive, Fort Worth Stockyards, April 2010

Saturday, July 10, 2010


The topic of universality is thorny for an Orthodox. At least  it strikes me that most Orthodox find it so. We're so comfortable in our own little communities. The Turks forced the Orthodox live in their own little ethnic ghettos and forbad them to evangelize. This was of course enforced by execution. The trouble is that it seems Orthodox have become too adapted to this truncated inauthentic life. Is universality really a necessity? And what is it?
   I would say that universality is posited in the Cross itself. As St. Paul said, there is "one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all." Eph. 4:4-5 The redemptive Cross--and therefore, our entire Faith--is universal. It is for all mankind. Universality is axiomatic with the singular Christ, who is the only lover of mankind. What does this imply? Surely one of the basic premises is that the Gospel is for all and the personal possession of none. The Gospel is the possession of Christ himself and we are simply incorporated into his life, his body, his Church. We become members of the new organic Adam, not the possessors of a subjective thing.
   It is very easy to fall prey to a hidden false notion of universality too. We can easily substitute the notion of a global existence for that of universality. Merely global existence is not universality. It is too small and far too narrow. For example, we can think of corporations that have global markets and offices around the globe. Every office is an extension of the "home office" and they carry--to a very large degree--the culture of the home office. For economic structures this has proven profitable and desirable, but this is not universality. The singular corporate culture of a FedEx is not a good analog of the Christian Faith. Christianity is a radical organic incorporation into the singular body of Christ. Global corporations extend into other markets by hiring of individuals (not incorporating them organically). The corporation receives the financial rewards of this extension, while the employees receive remuneration for their work.
   I am not at all anti-free trade, or mercantilism, or capitalism. It is a financial system that works. And when it has a moral compass, it works magnificently well for all concerned. Those who take the greater risks receive the greater rewards. Those who want more security (and security can never be guaranteed) receive only what they bargain for--their wages and some benefits. That's solid.
  But Christianity is not about putting forward an enterprise wherein the "home office" reaps the majority of benefits because it risked the most. Christ not only risked, he offered himself as a living sacrifice. Then he asks us to sacrifice ourselves in his love even for our enemies. He wants us to become lovers like him. This incorporation into his life is not limited to anyone in the world. They are not required to reflect the culture of a distant office because they are incorporated personally into the very source of the Church's life.
   This gets to the heart of what I think is difficult for us to grasp sometimes in the Church. Every culture is not simply allowed to bring in a couple of items from their heritage, but if they are going to be authentically Christian, they must bring in their entire cultural heritage. Some people get very nervous about this. "But, Father, some of these things came about after the schism!" Or, "Father, some of these things just don't fit!" Well, it seems to me that we can allow God to be God. Let's give him the freedom to be God and get that burden off of ourselves. In the parable of the vinedresser, and in the parable about the wheat and tares, our Lord clearly points out that it will be him who will divide the good and the bad. And he has repeatedly done that throughout the Church's history. There has been constant pruning. We don't need to be frightened or threatened for our goal is not any sort of cultural domination, but union with Christ.
   I have said before that I can't be an Arab. It doesn't mean that I don't love the Arabic culture (I do), it doesn't mean that I don't enjoy it (I do). I simply means that it is not my own and it can never be. To reject my own culture and heritage would be to reject and dishonor my father, my grandparents, and all of my family. They shaped me and made me who I am--for better and worse. I can not be other than who I am and to pretend to be other is to lose my own identity. I would never ask that of anyone.
   But our unity is found in the one Christ and in his one Body. We have the same Faith and everything else is open to us. The Church does the same thing in all places, but she does them differently. The Divine Liturgy is done slightly differently by the Russians compared to us. The Copts do it altogether differently from us. The Latins (and our Western Rite Orthodox) do differently still. But what they are doing is the same (because of the same Lord). It is only how they do it that is different. The Church should rejoice in this incredible diversity because it the sign of Christ's own universality. It is the sign the Christ calls all to unity with him from where they are. He does not call us simply to conform, but to be incorporated.
   The Church must remember her universality and reject a simple global vision. This is actually a dogmatic issue that is supported by the Creed, the Symbol of Faith, for every time we recite the Creed we say, "I believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church." Catholic is commonly translated universal. It is erroneously thought of as a simply collective term meaning "all christians". It means more than that. It is more than global. It is truly universal, reaching past time, space, and across all cultures. It must be so because Christ himself does so.
   I write this because I have often seen more of a global vision among we Orthodox. We seem pleased that we exist across the world and then we expect everyone coming to us to Hellenize, or Arabacize, or Russianize depending upon where the "home office (patriarchate)" is. This is a perversion of Christianity. We must re-embrace the universal mind again. We must be willing to risk and sacrifice ourselves in love of Christ and our neighbor. What I have been writing of late may well prove to be unpopular among some of my brethren. It may cause some friction for me--in part because I won't say these things anonymously with cowardice. Nevertheless, I believe these things come from the essential foundation of the Faith established by Christ himself. Let us all embrace that one Lord and each other.

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