Antioch Now: Multiculturalism and Church

Multiculturalism. The word means many cultures, not one amalgamated culture. At best it refers to the appreciation of many cultures by a singe entity. Where in “multi-culturalism” is there unity?

Christian. What does this word have to do with culture?

To be sure these two questions are a bit unfair for you can find America to be multicultural society of some sort of unity and Christians have always existed within culture. However these two questions reveal that there is no necessary kinship between these concepts. Multicultural unity is difficult to preserve and a being a Christian does not necessarily imply a certain culture. Culture itself is a difficult concept, certainly in part to the wide variation of uses that we have for the word. Culture in light of the multi-tude of cultures I will roughly define as: a way and habit of life shared by a group of people; a commonality of the expectations of living. Is there such a thing as Christian multiculturalism?

My kind father-in-law brought up ancient Antioch as an example of Christian multiculturalism, or at least the Christian response to a society of many cultures. He pointed out that the city of Antioch had quarters or ghettos for it’s ethnically diverse population. An Antiochian Arab would remain distinctively Arab though he may trade with a Greek during the day and though he was “Antiochian”. His Antiochian identity mainly referenced his geographical residence, and had little bearing on the rest of his life: he ate Arabian food, married Arabs, and taught his Arab babies Arabian ideals. But if he heard the true gospel he would go to Church, where he would find himself next to the Greeks, etc. These believers needed a name for their supernatural commonality, so they named it after their savior and their new identity. And it was here that they were first called Christians.

Can Antioch teach us about how to live in today’s racially charged, ethnically diverse, and culturally clashing world? My FiL seems to think that history can help, and I agree – so let’s look further into Antioch, and compare it to what churches are doing today.

The apostles founded the church in Antioch (it’s in the book of Acts) and then gave it to Ignatius (see Eusebius). Ignatius on the way to his crown wrote several letters urging preservation of the unity of the Church before being fed alive to beasts (107 AD). He points to the mystical, that is to say incarnate but supernatural, Church of Christ. This is his body – and the head on earth and for there to be unity there has to be a clinging to the Bishop in all things. Christ is alive, but since He is not with us in flesh He has appointed these men to act on His behalf, and so we must revere them as being obedient to them is being obedient to Christ.

The main act of the Bishop is the unity of the Church, and this is found in the preservation of right doctrine, but primarily through the administration Christ to his people; that is to say the Eucharist. Unity is always found at the table, in this distinctively Christian act. We are Christians because Christ is in us, and we in Him. This act was instituted by Christ for our union with Him, as was baptism. The laying on of hands and anointing with oil is also a Christian act and through it we receive the Holy Spirit. These are the institutions of Christ, the work of His Body, and therefore the most visible act of a Christian. These things, particularly the Eucharist, are distinctively Christian.

These Christian acts are not cultural but trans-cultural. Like we will be when we are among the new heavens and new earth, we are worshiping together in a shared activity. We will not be taking turns being dressed up in suits, Hawaiian shirts, and tribal loincloths to worship for we will all be following the same principals and we will be radiantly clothed to present ourselves to God in our finest manner. The vestments for our worship now should follow those same ones in heaven, which are those that the ancient Antiochians used, and the contemporary Antiochians use today. We will not take turns singing electrified praise songs (especially “I can only imagine”), southern standbys, or grandiose hymns for we will be singing the thrice Holy hymn. We take part in the eternal chorus when we sing in our post-Babel words of the mercy of God and our reliance, and we have no cause to impose more of our culture or preference into this Divine Liturgy. There is a way to worship wrongly, and that is to worship according to preference.

There is a continual accusation levied against the Orthodox Church that it is not willing to dismiss cultural platforms for the sake of the essential Gospel. Though it is true that some people, and perhaps even several parishes are guilty of this it does not invalidate the Church’s position regarding cultural interaction any more than saying Orthodox people are proud invalidates our teachings against pride. The truth of the matter is that the Protestants are constantly dismissing what is essentially Gospel for the sake of cultural platform. They don’t see it because they don’t see the entire Evangelion, and miss the essential elements of the sacraments. “We don’t need the Eucharist” says Pastor Bob, “it is a memorial – an audio-visual aid. It is a vestige of the story, a vestige where we can replace wine with something less provocative. It is something that we can indifferently discard of after the illustration – for there is no incarnate Grace. We remember this illustration that our Lord gave every month or so, and we prepare ourselves so as to be worthy to participate in the interactive illustration of Christ’s passion.”

The mercy of God is present in His refraining from entering these elements, because otherwise the fire of the love of God would consume many unworthy people and Pastor Bob would have desecrated the God he longs to worship. By dismissing “Communion” as no longer communion with God, Protestants have destroyed worship. By neglecting Baptism and their inheritance in the Church for the 30 minute sermon the Protestants have time to fill full of arbitrary activities and on-the-fly prayers. Of course they’re run by preference, they have nothing else to guide their activities.

The Emergent(ing) church has rejected the cultural preferences of modern conservative Protestants and what is left is a slew of people who play golf with their buddy and call it church because they speak of Jesus and the Cross. The truth is that Western Europe, and especially White America, has a skewed picture of Christian activities, and it has had a tragically predictable influence in their version of Christianity.

The fear is that if the Orthodox dress in vestments and sing songs written in the 8th century they will no longer be “relevant”. The Church has been and always will be the most relevant people worshiping in the most relevant manner because it will be in Spirit and Truth, and nothing is more enduringly relevant than that. The Church is a hospital, and the funny clothes and the very un-fun activities are for your healing. Oh God be gracious unto me a sinner and have mercy upon me.


Learning how to party

I had spent the whole night repenting and praying for mercy. Still I was unworthy, and I knew it. The moment of crisis was at hand for I was to take Christ into me, and that communion means both a gracious love and a true love. And as truly as I am not holy I fear the judgment of God’s fiercesome Love.

As I took the Holy Mysteries on Holy Saturday my mind was turned to those words from our service; that I may be “worthy although unworthy”. And as I returned “like a lion breathing fire” from the table my soul rose – Let our mouths be filled with Your praise, Lord, that we may sing of Your glory. For thou hast made us worthy to partake of Your holy mysteries… Alleluia. I have endured the crisis, I thought to myself, by the Grace of God – Lord have mercy.

I had experienced the fearful moment of communion with Christ, the microcosm of my salvation. And I went home to joyfully repent once more, because now I have to live with Christ inside of me and I am a sinner.

When I returned to Church at night for the Paschal service I found the comfort of my repentant habit taken from me, and I was handed instead, a feast. This was suddenly very awkward for me. It may be difficult to understand, but for me this was akin to the awkwardness I feel when I’m given a gift or an incredible compliment. In my morbidity and my unhealthy self-debasement I don’t receive things I don’t deserve well. I am more comfortable receiving undeserved crap from a “cruel friend” than an undeserved gift. It often makes me feel that I have lost some control in the relationship: I want only what I can earn and so I choke on the festal food. What a shameful sin: a gift is a wonderful thing, and denying it and failing to rejoice with it is a saddening thing to the giver and a harmful thing to my soul.

It may be better to give then to receive, but I found that I have grossly neglected my ineptitude at receiving good things. Before this Pascha I have regretted my ineptitude solely on the awkwardness it caused between me and a couple nice people. It always seemed to me that that is the side that one wants to err on; overthanking for gifts, shocked at unwarranted kindness and love. It used to seem that it would be far more beneficial for my soul if I was to make sure to stay on that side of the fine line.

But as a Christian, and after this Pascha, I’m not sure that I can say that anymore. What a more tragic thing to do but to be unable to accept things that we don’t deserve? Isn’t that the main activity of the Christian? Everything that predicates my relationship with Christ is built on His gigantic generosity. Everything, from the startling nature of the night sky, to the depth in my lover’s eyes are things I don’t deserve. More particularly Christian are the gifts of the Grace in the sacraments, in prayer, and the Church. How can someone who is too self- concerned to accept a free coffee be free to accept the Son of God incarnate and bleeding on the cross for them? To be able to accept these gracious gifts is to Love God – and without the proper acceptation of them there can be no relationship with God.

“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn, is just to love and be loved in return” is the mantra from Moulin Rogue. Though it is a manta it is still truthful, particularly because it shows the circuit of Love as a whole. Thus it is the greatest thing (singular) and not the greatest things (pl) that we’ll ever learn.

Accepting so great an undeserved gift is truly an art, and it cannot happen without a pure heart. So we must work on being malleable and sympathetic creatures that can with one harmonious heart cry out “Lord have mercy,” understanding the fragility of our goodness and the hopelessness of out state while simultaneously having the confidence to reach out for that heartily requested mercy when it is given to us. These holidays are the joyous rest stops and guide maps of our life, so let us model our behavior to those saints in the feast that we recall.

Today rejoice! I have been given life! How the disciples must have felt when Christ appeared to them, in a moment reversing their sorrow into sincerest victory! How their mournful vigilance was swiftly about-faced, sling-shooting them into the blessed joy!

I am a sluggish worshiper, I have arrived at Lent just in time for Pascha. I have much to learn from the Holy Day. Lent has been long and trying – so long that it seemed like forever ago. Still, and with all my fervor I am late for Pascha.

St. Seraphim of Sarov reached the point where everyday was Pascha. Everyday was Holy for he could repent and rejoice together without whole season – and I’m sure he could still have a more genuine response to both than I have mustered this year.

It is time to repent of my inability to rejoice – and then go out and do my best at a Christian response to victory. Behold all is ready, come to the feast! There will be singing and dancing, and all manner of graciousness – so sing with Christ and dance on the grave of Death.

This is Not Magic

Christianity, real and raw, is a hard sell to the modern man. The unfortunate truth is that the common modern man who assents to Christianity has either explained away the Biblical miracles and supernatural occurrences as a metaphorical or symbolic truth, or has been numbed to the powerful and incredible faith it takes to hold to the whole of Christian doctrine. To this man Christianity seems sensible, and he abuses the fruits of apologetics to believe the world is scientific, pragmatic, and secular.

This world is not secular – for it shouts of the glory of God and His marvelous and merciful will. It declares His nature and in its falleness reminds us of Christ’s sufferings. The world is upheld by His hand and will be revealed as itself, and as our blessing through Christ’s redemptive work and the mission of man as priest.

Plato – the lover of ideas and decrier of bodily loves – knows this more than modern man. “The world” is participating images that remind us of that deeper truth within: that there is something first, something before. It is the before that we know and love, some beckoning home, calling us throughout the world unto itself – the thing itself. These are the images of the world. And to the modern man the images became shapes, then fading colors, then perceptible molecules and atoms playing by “laws” of nature – and the shadowlands became a snowstorm of static and all was weary and one.

And I was anointed by oil. It was not, strictly speaking, the oil of gladness. This was reserved for those dear other next to me about to die in the form of baptism. It was the oil of my Christmation, and I, scared and with little faith, embraced what would seem to many a silly and unnecessary ritual. Anointed with the Holy Chrism all over my face, neck, hands and feet; I heard the priest repeat “The sign and seal of the Holy Spirit” and the people behind me echoed “SEAL!” This moment was pivotal in my life – and, though not in the moment itself, but closely surrounding the moment I heard a response other than the voice thundering the validity of an ancient and powerful Act. This voice was the voice of my friends, family, and my own doubt. It was the voice of the modern man and it told me that I was silly. Silly, not so much dangerously wrong or misguided as just silly. The voice told me that my concern for such ritual has revealed itself as petty, childish, foolish, and wrong. “Don’t you feel silly,” it said, “going around believing in Holy Chrism. You think you need it applied to your skin in some long and overly hyped ritual. I don’t even need to argue with you, your faith has revealed itself for what it is and it is simply and obviously silly.”

Do I think we are conjuring up the Holy Spirit? Do I think that we are limiting a member of the Trinity to our pseudo- pagan practices and faulty human institution? Should we be disappointed that heaven did not open up and visibly pour out the Chrism upon us?

Heaven forbid that we lack such faith. Heaven forbid that we demean the precious materials that God has given us to sanctify and doubt its good. This is not science, this is salvation. It is a cosmic act that necessarily occurs in the real cosmos, and to doubt it as such is to deny the reality of Christ and His good creation that is founded on Him. I was exorcised and I spat upon the devil. I was breathed upon and received the Holy Spirit. And as I knelt down and Fr. Michael put his stole over me and prayed the prayer of absolution I who was dead to sin was made alive in Christ – and my sins were nailed to the cross. This may look like magic to you, but it’s Christianity.

I understand it looks strange and perhaps even “phony” to perform the rites of the Church, it’s a normal response for modern man. But if you look askew at my death and life underneath the stole you must also look askew at Christianity and the Bible. If you look at the food of St. John of the Well and the lion of St. Zosimos then also look at the manna from heaven and the lions of Daniel. If you doubt the clairvoyance of St. Seraphim, the healings of St. John Maximovitch, and the vision of the Blessed Palamite then you should also doubt the dream-interpretations of Joseph, the works of the Apostles, and the vision of Christ’s beloved John. If you doubt that you doubt the Bible, the reality of the supernatural, and the redemption of the natural.

The rites of the Church affirm the pervasiveness of our salvation and the nature of our Savior. Individually they are powerful and important moments in our life, and collectively they manifest our faith and obedience. For the unchurched pagan my thoughts have very few points of contact, and the argument has little traction. But for Bible believing Christian the rites should convict them of the extent that one, and not the world, is secular.

Jesus instituted this Church and these Holy Acts, as seen in the Bible. It is not subtle that Jesus, the “pure and spotless Lamb” came to the Jewish culture to die for our sins. It should not be incredible to count Him as the proto-type of the animals slaughtered for our sins. “For there is not forgiveness of sins without the shedding of blood.” Before Jesus our sins had been cleansed through actual animal sacrifice and now it is through a more spotless victim. Our participation in the shedding of the vicar’s blood has always been mysterious, and it has always be realized through liturgia (work). This is not new, and it isn’t pagan. It is our inheritance.