( Parts 1 and 2 again )
It is also about being Christian when one has mixed cultural roots. In an Orthodoxy which has tended, like Lutheranism, to define itself along national cultural lines, a cultural mongrel will inevitably be something of a misfit. As an Englishman in a Russian Church, with a strong European background, I can no longer fit into a simple ‘Russian only’ (or indeed ‘English only’) context. Ditto the Polish cleaning ladies who make up 30% of our parish. Ditto all the partners of mixed marriages. Ditto a large portion of the people whom we are supposed to witness to (in my carpentry class: Lorentino, half Belgian, half Italian, Joseph, Belgian with an Irish wife, etc. etc.). Slowly I find myself sliding towards a ‘Mount Athos’ solution, of a Christian culture that goes beyond nationality (one token of which might be precisely to operate in English, which is rapidly becoming the ‘super-national language’ of Europe). This seems to me to align better with the Christian calling to be ‘gathered from among the nations’ (Psalm 105,49, Psalm 106,2, 1 Peter 2.9) than any ‘national’ Christian culture, whether Orthodox or Lutheran.
All this begs I know, the question: why be Orthodox at all? And it is a very valid question for any serious Orthodox Christian outside the traditional Orthodox territories, especially as it is possible, in my opinion, to live an essentially Orthodox spirituality as a communicant member of the Roman Catholic Church (of the Anglican and Lutheran churches I am less sure). I do not believe being Orthodox makes you automatically a superior Christian to members of other churches. Yes, Orthodoxy has a rich spiritual tradition, which, when lived properly – by the spirit and not by the letter – can be very good and is a valuable contribution to the wider Christian world. But like everything good, it has its downside. And in this I include the way diaspora Orthodox communities quickly becoming in-grown, with fighting for ecclesiastical status (starting with the right to belong to the altar party and swan around in black cassock) taking precedence over a concern for holiness.
"Swanning around in black cassocks"
A not quite Orthodox illustration, yes I know.
Certainly, our witness to Christ in Belgium requires us to work with the other Christian churches. And yes, there will be inevitable questions of legitimate and illegitimate crossing of boundaries. Let us not be frightened by this. Let us have the honesty to say publicly that an Orthodox Christian is not damned by taking Roman Catholic communion (for example at a Scout camp), nor should an Orthodox priest be squeamish at occasionally and discreetly giving communion to believing non-Orthodox (like the many husbands of Russian wives).
This is our role: to be relevant Christians in Belgium. Not to wander aimlessly in a non-man’s land, using language and cultural difference as an excuse for inactivity. Do this and we are, in the Gospel words, “salt that has lost its savour, and is good for nothing than to be thrown under foot.” I hope we at St Nicholas do not become this.