Loss of Ethnic Identity Does Not Equal Loss of Faith

December 8, 2017


So-called ethnic parishes which strenuously resist acculturating to their new surroundings, often wind up demonizing that host culture and tend to wage an unspoken “cultural war.”


“We are Orthodox because we are proud Calathumpians. It’s the Calathumpian flag first that we fly, and then comes the Cross!”


Ethnic parishes will remain “ethnic” and ought to remain “ethnic” as there will always be a need to pastor to the various ethnic groups migrating to Australia as a result of persecution or economic plight. Whether these parishes remain petrified as such or eventually transition and evolve over the generations, as the demography of the congregation changes, is another matter altogether that will not be taken into consideration in this brief article.


At the same time, there should be more inclusive parishes: Parishes that are particularly oriented towards serving the English-speaking community – now, not later. Thankfully that is now happening. The English-speaking Community in this case may be considered to include (1) English-speakers from non-Orthodox backgrounds who have converted to the Orthodox Faith (2) Offspring of Orthodox Christian migrants from the “old countries” who no longer speak the language of their former homeland and who no longer find that they have or feel any allegiance and affiliation with that particular ethnicity, but still want to very much practice their faith as Orthodox Christians.


The theory that a person will inevitably lose their faith, or cease being Orthodox Christians once they cease identifying themselves as Greek, Russian, Serbian…etc., is baseless.


Some ethnic parishes operate in Australia as an ethnic ghetto and have the “sitting on our luggage” mentality. That’s fine. They have migrated here for reasons other than mission and evangelism. They consider this luggage-sitting-lifestyle as a form of exile. While practicing their Orthodox Faith “in exile,” this luggage-sitting-mentality may not even be a conscious consideration on their part, but as a consequence of being Calathumpian. This mentality, unfortunately, treats their Church or local parish as a mere branch or sub-division of their overall ethnic make-up. The parish therefore doubles as their ethnic social club. This becomes problematic when more attention and focus is given to the ethnic culture rather than to the Faith itself. It is after all a church, not a club. The Church was not founded by Christ as an ethnic social club. If that were the case, Christianity would have remained an insignificant, Aramaic-speaking, Semitic-only, Jewish sect that would have never spread beyond the confines of first century Palestine.


An ethnic parish which tries to isolate itself and clone its pre-exilic glory days is no better than the English-speaking parish that tries to “euthanize” the (ethnic) past.


Whether they are ethnic parishes or English-speaking missions that welcome peoples of all backgrounds, all should honor and respect the past, the history and struggle that our spiritual ancestors went through, to bring the Light of Orthodoxy to Australia, regardless of the historical circumstances and reasons for migrating to Australia. Also, due respect and recognition ought to be given to the missionary imperative of the Church and to the fact that a variety of languages, including English, will by necessity, need to be used in the Divine Services - and that includes parishes and monasteries that use only English for their Divine Services.

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