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Are You Greek?

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Written by Basil on 01/10/2009 4:21 PM. Filed under:


When I attended a Greek parish in New Hampshire, I was always asked if I was Greek. That is, if I was spoken to at all. After all, it does not take an ethnological genius to determine that the 6’3″ gentleman with fair skin and blue eyes is probably not of Hellenic extraction. While looking for Orthodox news, I stumbled upon this editorial, and I thanked the holy Trinity that no one in the Orthodox Church in America talks about Russian culture like this.

The inevitable consequence of converting Christians and non-Christians who have no Greek heritage is that the more successful the outreach, the greater the erosion of Greek identity within the Church. The only counter-argument made to this observation by many who support the conversion strategy is that, given the demographic challenges at hand, a larger, more inclusive Church is the only realistic way to preserve the Greek cultural heritage in America.

Modern Greek is a certain loser in the conversion scenario. The historical structure of Orthodoxy has been to have a Church based on a national language/culture headed by a national hierarchy which stands on an equal basis with other Orthodox entities. In that sense, the idea of “Americanizing” Orthodoxy is to adhere to the major Orthodox tradition, rather than continue with Greek American exceptionalism.

At its core, however, Orthodox tradition is culturally Hellenic. If the emphasis of the Church turns to conversion efforts, there will surely be parishes that will seek affiliation with, or form an Orthodox organization which prioritizes, Greek identity. Simultaneously, especially in areas with a limited Greek population, other Christian denominations supported by American friends will become increasingly attractive.

At present, the Greek culture of the Church is ebbing away, and the conversions come in dribbles. Just talking about the need to revitalize Greek culture or just talking about an evangelical mandate is not useful. What is required is a dynamic commitment by the Church to what it wants to be and do in this new century.

The future, and perhaps even the existence, of a viable Greek America is at stake.

Read more: The Ethnic Church and the Hellenic Identity – The National Herald (via Orthodox News, an organ of Orthodox Christian Laity).

Allow me a postscript to add that I have also had very good experiences with many Greeks. Specifically, the people at Annunciation Cathedral in Norfolk, Virginia, have always been quite friendly to me, as was the priest at St Sophia parish in New London, Connecticut.


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2 Responses to “Are You Greek?”

  1. Basil Says:

    A very good examination of some historical factors in the ethnocentrism noted above:
    Christianity and ethnicity. Highly recommended.

  2. Steve Hayes Says:

    Thanks for the link — I’ve added a link to the article at the end of mine too.