NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND by the Editors

This may well become the most important editorial that we ever publish. Please read it carefully.

In the past, to maintain the integrity of Orthodoxy in Dialogue, we have refused to publish articles anonymously or pseudonymously when asked to do so. Yet in the case of the following two emails we offered to do so, unasked by the author, for his/her very safety.

Here we have a voice crying out to be heard from the Orthodox underground, an underground that we are coming to understand is much larger than we could have first imagined—where Orthodox Christians in America live in fear of their brother and sister Orthodox Christians.

Let. That. Sink. In. 

The first email responds to an invitation posted in Orthodoxy in Dialogue‘s Facebook group for members to suggest topics on which prospective authors might consider writing.

undergroundI would like to see how, historically, Protestant theology has negatively influenced Orthodoxy. In Greece there have been considerable Protestant efforts at evangelization, as well as efforts by Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. The latter have unfortunately had considerable success. On the Orthodox side, successful efforts to combat Western influences in Greece have included the movement that Kontoglou started in Byzantine iconography and the works of Father John Romanides (who was at first rejected in Greece, but has now been accepted by most).  

What is more difficult to pin down is the contemporary influence that the large number of primarily Protestant converts is having on Orthodoxy in the United States. Of course, we are overjoyed to see so many people converting to Orthodoxy. But in many ways American culture and thinking offer poor soil for Orthodoxy to develop in.

Understanding Orthodoxy as it has developed for 2,000 years in Egypt, the Middle East, Greece, Eastern Europe, and elsewhere requires one to step outside of modern American culture. (All prayer, of course, requires us to step outside of “this world,” but American culture lacks the centuries-long relationship with the Church found, for example, in Greek culture, with which I have a personal history.) To appreciate the culture clash, one need only look at the many Facebook pages on the subject of Orthodoxy, where the majority of participants are American converts, some from Catholicism, but most of them from some form of Protestantism.

On one of these pages, I recently saw one participant say that he supported a woman’s right to choose regarding the issue of abortion. That is, of course, contrary to the Orthodox Church, and it is a thorny problem in American politics. But it was the “mob” reaction of the page’s moderators piling up against this fellow that struck me as particularly American (i.e. Evangelical). I spent ten years in Greece and was baptized there, and it is this “mob” spirit in terms of the way Orthodox people were treating each other that seemed foreign to me and frightened me—not the message, of course, but the self-righteous hostility. I’d always learned that patience was an essential virtue. Earlier in the FB discussion I had posted Giacomo Sanfilippo’s article about abortion [either this one or this one], but when I saw the initial reaction, I grew frightened and took it down. Then, when I saw that participant’s sincerity as an Orthodox Christian questioned, I immediately withdrew from the group. I know many figures in the Church who are not only much more knowledgeable than these people, but who teach compassion and humility.   

If I had found Orthodoxy in the US instead of in Greece, I doubt I would have converted.  

We replied to the sender asking for permission to edit her/his email for length and to publish it on our Letters to the Editors page. This would have required the use of his/her real name and city of residence. She/he responded as follows:

I am ashamed to say that I am chicken. I have to say no. I’m scared of those people. Forgive me. I feel quite isolated in the world of American Orthodoxy. I’ve been back in the US for less than 15 years, after 10 years in Greece. My spiritual father here left the area. Then I found another church and spiritual father, only to be more or less attacked (verbally, of course) by that priest, based on my FB postings. He said I believed in abortion (which I don’t believe I do, although I have questions) and in same-sex marriage (which I don’t believe I do, although I have questions). I have now found my way to another Orthodox parish and have a new spiritual father. 

This episode with the Orthodox FB page has really shaken me up. I am isolated because I have advanced MS, live in a wheelchair, live alone (on Medicaid), will probably soon end up in a nursing home, and have no family. The Orthodox FB page was one of the ways I fought the sense of isolation, and then this disappointment happened and I ended my relationship with them. 

I’m now scared of those people. I’ve been thinking about this ever since getting your email. I rewrote my statement twice, hoping to come up with a version I could live with. I failed. Please forgive me.

We wish to express our gratitude for our correspondent’s consent to publish this editorial.