Kevin Basil (signature)

Blessing Our Heritage

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Written by Basil on 01/2/2007 3:54 PM. Filed under:


If you read books about Orthodox mission work, one consistent theme is that the target culture must be adopted and blessed, as well as challenged. Obviously, every human society will provide unique environments for sin, but every human society will also provide unique perspectives on the truth of God’s revelation. As converts, we sometimes forget that our own culture is a target of Orthodox missions. We forget about blessing our past and only remember to challenge it.

An article about Quaker celebrations of Christmas in the Virginian-Pilot reminded me about one theme that always seems self-evident to me: Simplicity as a feature of American Christianity. “‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free,” runs the old American hymn, which Copland used as a theme in Appalachian Spring. Whether we are speaking of the extreme simplicity of Quakers and Shakers or only the unreflective quasi-iconoclasm of American Christianity (Protestant and Catholic), the overwhelming aesthetic impression is one of simplicity, when compared to Eastern Christianity.

This is a stark contrast; Eastern Christianity is unsurprisingly quite Byzantine. It would take another, much longer post to explain my disdain for the various attempts to manufacture a Western Rite Orthodoxy. Without exploring that Pandora’s box, I do believe that Orthodoxy represents a call to return to apostolic roots for Western Christianity, in ways too numerous to count. Is it possible to simplify the Byzantine aesthetic without creating a Franken-rite? What might this look like?

The article also notes the Quaker emphasis on silence. One thing I appreciate about the services at New Skete is that there are moments when silence is given space. Before our parish was received into the Orthodox Church in America, we did the same (following New Skete’s example). After becoming canonically Orthodox, my experience of silence during the services has almost vanished — even in different parishes and other jurisdictions. When there is silence, it is pregnant with apprehension: Is something wrong? Is someone forgetting something? Who’s messing things up here?

But neither simplicity nor silence are foreign to the Orthodox tradition, historically; they have merely been neglected or forgotten. Is there a way to restore them without innovation?


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