Ask Fr. John: Understanding ethnicity and orthodoxy

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Why do people think that Orthodoxy is an ethnic thing?  — B.A.

Christianity is not of this world. It is about heaven. It is about a tangible encounter with the living God. Thus, the more connected to Christ himself and to the fullness of belief and spirit, the more it will seem foreign to the worldly, regardless of ethnicity.
As we know, the apostles and their disciples went to different countries and proclaimed the good-news of Christ. As semitic people, they must have appeared foreign to all they met, but this external didn’t prevent the people.
As a result of massive growth, gatherings of Orthodox Christians continuing as the ancient church, became identified with nationality. Thus, the orthodox believers within the nation of Greece, became known as “Greek Orthodox.”
We know that the Greeks were the missionaries to Russia. They proclaimed Orthodox Christianity and naturally had a Greek “flavor.”
It would have been easy for Russians to think, “Oh, that’s that foreign religion. We don’t go there.”
Concern for externals was laid aside and much of Russia converted. In time, the church in Russia matured enough to take on its own identity, complete with unique flavor, and became the Russian Orthodox Church. It is similar to what is happening in America.
We must have a realization: Orthodoxy Christianity is beyond ethnicity.
All freely find a place in Christ and his body. In American Orthodoxy, it’s “ethnic” only in as much as it is a “new” project.
American Orthodoxy resembles the culture of the apostles less and less. An example is Los Alamos’ own Orthodox Church, St. Dimitri’s.
The majority of the congregation are converts. The priest is a convert. All of the people who were raised in particular ethnic Orthodox churches, consider themselves both American and their heritage group.
Our name may reflect Russian roots, but the people are as American as apple pie.
That said, since orthodoxy is beyond ethnicity, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, neither make nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus,” Gal. 3:28, the church remains the home for Greek, Russians and all orthodox.
All have a home in Christ.