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Homily for 8/6/06 - P8 - Different cultures

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  • Fr David Moser
    1 Cor 1:10-18 From apostolic times, there have been tensions within the Church between different local traditions. Sometimes these tensions even existed
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 6, 2006
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      1 Cor 1:10-18

      From apostolic times, there have been "tensions" within the Church
      between different local traditions. Sometimes these tensions even
      existed within the same local parish as different parties within the
      community would dispute within themselves about the relative value of
      their own preferences. In today's epistle, we heard how the Holy
      Apostle Paul corrected the community in Corinth for just such a problem
      saying to them, "I plead with you... that there be no divisions among
      you, but that you be perfectly joined together..." He instructed them
      to set aside their differences and to work together for their
      salvation. The arguing factions in this case were the groups who were
      baptized by different apostles -- there were those who were baptized by
      Peter, by Apollos, and even by Paul. Each group argued for its own
      importance. There were even those who rejected all of their "heritage"
      and claimed only to be "of Christ". The Holy Apostle swept all this
      aside reminding them that indeed we are all baptized into Christ, but
      also that those who did the baptizing were themselves in Christ. Christ
      is not divided and so that same unity must become evident in the life of
      our parish community.

      This type of conflict has not gone away, but is evident even today as we
      see the tension between the different national self governing Orthodox
      Churches (what we in this country refer to as "jurisdictions"). Among
      these differing "jurisdictions" there is sometime friction between the
      different groups. When this occurs, we find that there are similar
      statements to those mentioned by the Apostle. Instead of saying "I am
      of Cephas"; "I am of Apollos" or "I am of Paul" we hear such things as
      "I am Russian Orthodox"; "I am Greek Orthodox" or "I am American
      Orthodox" each time with the unspoken implication that my Church is
      better than your Church. We even have those who will try and set
      themselves above all the others simply saying "I am (Eastern) Orthodox"
      implying that all this ethnic identification is not only sinful and
      detrimental to the life of the Church but silly and useless. (I want to
      mention here that I have not often heard such comments among the various
      Churches of our local Orthodox Community) It is not wrong to maintain a
      connection to our ethnic heritage, however in doing so, we must remember
      that we are all part of the One Body of Christ and that our ethnic and
      national heritage does not endow superiority or a better form of
      Orthodoxy than those of other ethnic and national Churches.

      Even within our own parish sometimes we hear the same kinds of things.
      This is especially evident when the issue of conflicting ethnic heritage
      comes up. All too often there arise conflicts between those of Russian
      heritage and those who are American. The conflict usually focuses on
      how much, if any, of the Russian character of the Church should find its
      way into our lives. Like the Corinthians, each party considers itself
      to be slightly superior to the others because they hold a better,
      higher, deeper kind of Orthodoxy. Sometimes we hear references to the
      ethnic customs as "superstitions" and "old wives tales" and other
      dismissive and derogatory comments. On the other hand there are also
      comments made about Americans who are "ignorant" and Russiophobes" We
      must be on guard against these attitudes for they provide a swift and
      sure entry for the demonic forces to inflame the passions of pride and
      self love and create division within our parish community. This is
      something that we must constantly guard against, not only in our
      interactions with others but even in our own private thoughts so that
      these seeds of division do not take root and grow while we are not looking.

      How then do we look on the fact that this parish -- although an American
      mission -- is a parish of the Russian Church. Should we somehow
      "cleanse" ourselves of the Russian enthnicity? Should we become purely
      "American"? Certainly this seems logical on the surface for are we not
      in America, are we not all "Americans" -- all part of the great cultural
      "melting pot"? But when we even just scratch the surface of these ideas
      we see that they are flawed. Our American culture does not have
      sufficient foundations to fully support a unique Orthodox culture. Some
      things in our popular culture are inherently antithetical or
      antagonistic to Orthodox life. The building blocks of a pious and
      effective Orthodox life are insufficient within our popular American
      culture and society. So there is a defective foundation upon which to
      build and insufficient building materials. How then are we to build our
      Church, how are we to make up for that which is missing. For this we
      turn to those cultures which are thoroughly Orthodox -- to the Russian
      culture, to the Greek culture, to the cultures of Serbia, Antioch,
      Bulgaria, Romania and the other Orthodox nations and peoples. From them
      we "borrow" the necessary materials and we supplement our American
      foundation with elements of theirs so that a truly Orthodox life can be
      built. Because this is a parish of the Russian Church, we draw upon the
      Russian history, culture and tradition to strengthen our own American
      foundation and to find the necessary building materials for our Orthodox
      life. We do not "become" Russian, but rather we embrace the Russian
      supplements to our American lives so that we might become Orthodox.

      The Orthodox Faith is not simply a system of belief, it is not a set of
      dogmas and doctrines with the associated rules of behavior. Orthodoxy
      is the path of salvation, it is the means by which we are cured of the
      sickness of sin and death. Orthodoxy is a way of life and as such it
      cannot be separated from our own daily way of life. Thus it is
      impossible to have an Orthodoxy that is not linked to culture, that is
      not linked to society. There is no such thing as a "pure" Orthodoxy
      that is divorced from ethnic or cultural influences. Orthodoxy is woven
      into the very fabric of our personal way of life and so influences the
      very culture which we create for ourselves. Because we have drawn upon
      the wealth of the Orthodox culture of Russia, our own culture begins to
      take on Russian characteristics -- but it does not become Russian. The
      Russian Church is our "Mother Church" and just as children resemble
      their mother without becoming their mother, so our American parish of
      the Russian Church resembles her Mother Church without becoming the
      Mother Church. There are others who draw upon the Greek or Arabic or
      other Orthodox cultures and so their customs take on some of the
      characteristics of their "Mother Church". And while there are many
      different "Mother Churches" there is only one Father -- the One True God
      incarnate in our Lord Jesus Christ and so each of us, regardless of the
      cultural, ethnic, national heritage that shape the expression of our
      faith, resemble our Lord Jesus Christ.

      I encourage all of you to go home today and to take the time to read not
      just the small portion of Paul's first letter to the Corinthians that we
      heard today, but the Apostle's entire treatise on the unity of the
      Church contained in the first 4 chapters of this letter. Pay particular
      attention to the description of the Church as building in which one
      person lays the foundation while others may build upon it and all is to
      the glory of God. Remember that we are all part of the One Body of
      Christ, that we have one foundation that is Jesus Christ our Lord and
      that together we build on that foundation with the eternal material of
      gold and silver and precious stones which are virtues, rejecting the
      temporal passionate and sinful materials of wood hay and stubble. In the
      end we do not belong to the "Russian" Church or the "American" Church or
      even the "Orthodox" Church, but we belong to the Body of Christ. As the
      Apostle reminds us later on in the same letter "let no one boast in
      men... for you are Christ's and Christ is God's."

      Archpriest David Moser
      St Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church (ROCOR)
      Homilies: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/propoved/
      Ask Fr David: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/frd_private/

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