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Orthodoxy, southern style

posted by awelborn

From Mississippi:

Over the last 30 years, Orthodox churches in the southern United States have multiplied from a handful of congregations located mainly in Florida and Texas to more than 60 churches and missions stretching from Virginia to New Mexico.

"In the Florida area most churches developed from the families from the North," said the Rev. Seraphim Hipsh of the Diocese of Dallas and the South, explaining transplants from such states as Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey — where immigrant groups created a high concentration of Orthodox churches — brought their faith south.

But after the Diocese of Dallas and the South formed in the late 1970s, new Orthodox churches and missions have sprouted throughout its jurisdiction, which includes Mississippi and 12 other states in the southern quarter of the country.

"The South has hands down the greatest growth," said the Rev. John Matusiak, a spokesman for the Orthodox Church of America. "Growth of the church simply mirrors demographics of the country. More people are moving South and West."

There are six Orthodox churches in Mississippi, including a century-old Antiochian Orthodox congregation in Vicksburg and a three-year-old mission in McComb.



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ambrose

posted July 18, 2005 at 12:02 am


And STILL I could not get any pierogies when I was living in Mississippi!



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David Kubiak

posted July 18, 2005 at 12:06 am


I am always personally offended when I see Polish names belonging to people who are not Roman Catholic. A big “Filioque” to you, Fr. Matusiak.



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Hunk Hondo

posted July 18, 2005 at 8:01 am


Ambrose, Mississippi has many charms, but cosmopolitanism about food and drink is not among them. I grew up in Jackson in the 60’s. We didn’t have a Mexican or Chinese restaurant, and Italian food meant spaghetti and pizza, period. (I was considered a gourmet because I knew about lasagna.) The situation is now much improved, but not to pierogi/kielbasa level.BTW, I knew Fr. Paul Yerger, a wonderfully holy man.



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WRY

posted July 18, 2005 at 8:10 am


And it is not just churches: The Greek Orthodox Church, for instance, has two monasteries in North Carolina. It’s wild. You go down this country road and there’s a ramshackle tumbledown barn on the left and an old field with some junk cars in it on the right, and big patches of woods and double-wides, and then you go around the corner and there’s a little sign that points the way to the Panagia Pammakaristos monastery down a little gravel road. The sign notes that it is Christian, in case the locals are wondering. And they’ve done a nice job so far too, with a church and guest house and landscaping around in a beautiful setting. They’re very Orthodox: they told me that as a Catholic I was not welcome to attend their Divine Liturgy, which was getting under way, but when I came out one day just to drop in they did show me their chapel, standing nearby the while (in case I was tempted to desecrate the place, I guess). I’ve often wondered if that monk sprinkled holy water all around, just to be sure, after I left. But I really don’t mean to be snarky because I approve of their presence and look forward to the day when you can see onion domes among the tobacco fields and we’ll all be in the same church. Well, you know, Flannery O’Connor and the shot of grace.



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Rod Dreher

posted July 18, 2005 at 8:26 am


WRY: They’re very Orthodox: they told me that as a Catholic I was not welcome to attend their Divine Liturgy, which was getting under way, but when I came out one day just to drop in they did show me their chapel, standing nearby the while
Hey monks, that’s a great way to try to reach people for the Gospel! I wonder what branch of Orthodoxy they belong to. I’ve only ever visited one Odox monastery, but they were very open to non-Orthodox (they had better be; not too many Odox here in Texas), and happy to talk about their faith.
Here in Dallas, I was surprised to see how many Odox churches there are. There’s a huge Greek Odox parish here, which has the reputation of being quite evangelical (meaning they are always reaching out to the community, trying to draw worshipers). The OCA cathedral is here, and its small congregation is 75 percent convert. Even the archbishop, Dimitri, is a convert. His name is Robert Royster, and he converted in the 1940s or 1950s, can’t remember which, from the Southern Baptist church. I met him once, and he’s an impressive man. He’s said to love hot sauce.



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LadyHatton

posted July 18, 2005 at 8:39 am


Thank you for sending this, it was very interesting. My husband grew up in Mississippi and you are all correct about the food :) Although in Oxford now there are some good restaurants (along with some pretentious ones), it is still hard to find good Thai food.
Anyway, I did not mean to digress about food. I have to humbly ask here, can someone briefly explain to me about the different Orthodox traditions and which ones, if any, are in communion with the Latin rite? I am ashamed to say, as a cradle Catholic growing up in NYC (60’s-70’s) I learned NOTHING about the different rites. Until I started reading on Catholic blogs like this one, I never really heard about them. Thanks!



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WRY

posted July 18, 2005 at 8:45 am


Rod,
They’re mainline Greek Orthodox, but of course the monastic orders are a lot stricter on some things. For instance, at the local Greek Orthodox church the priest himself told me I was welcome to some of the antidoron (the unconsecreated bread left over from the Eucharist), but one of the monks, when I asked him about that, said a non-Orthodox should not receive the antidoron. And I should add too that they were not impolite about telling me not to attend their liturgy, and expressed interest that I, as a Catholic, was interested in them.
The weird thing about the Orthodox is how they can’t get over us: I attended a tour of an Orthodox church nearby and the some of the patter took on a familiar tone (most of the people on the tour were protestant). Look at this icon of Mary and Jesus, the guy said. Unlike the Catholics, we always show Mary with Jesus. And unlike the Catholics, we only have two-dimensional art rather than statues. They always seemed to want to define themselves by how they are different from us. Many of their books of apologetics take the same approach. Unlike the Catholics this and unlike the Catholics that. I told one Orthodox friend that they’d sound a lot more convincing if they were less defensive. A lot of ‘em still go on about the Latins sacking Costantinople. What’s that saying? “The past isn’t dead – it’s not even past.”



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Ed the Roman

posted July 18, 2005 at 9:06 am


“Orthodoxy: playing Canada to the the Catholic USA for 951 years!”
Sorry, that was mean (snort). But seriously, defining yourself as “…not…” should always make you wonder if you’re missing something.



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LadyHatton

posted July 18, 2005 at 9:30 am


WRY–it was William Faulkner.
What, is today Mississippi day?



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Ronny

posted July 18, 2005 at 11:24 am


WRY,
The weird thing about the Orthodox is how they can’t get over us…
I’ve noticed the same thing, at least in writings or talks that I have read or heard. I have found myself multiple times hearing/reading something by an Orthodox believer talking/writing about Orthodox beliefs and practices in an interesting and informative manner that helps me to appreciate the beauty of Orthodoxy and see elements of our shared faith in it as Roman Catholics. Inevitably, however, the author or speaker feels driven to declare implicitly or explicitly how the belief or practice being discussed differs from the wayward West in some way. In my admittedly limited acquaintance with Orthodox thought, I have seen this phenomenon enough to make me marvel at the apparent obsessive need many Orthodox feel to shout “See, we’re not like those Roman Catholics!”



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Rod Dreher

posted July 18, 2005 at 11:58 am


Agreed, and it is a real turn-off. I appreciate Orthodox who truly wish to distinguish between their tradition and ours — I can imagine it must be frustrating to be thought of as “just like the Catholics, without a Pope” — but this obnoxious defensiveness is so unnecessary, and counterproductive. Too many modern Orthodox think the Catholics are the real enemy, thus showing that they have no idea about the world we actually live in today. As I wrote here.



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Cat

posted July 18, 2005 at 12:35 pm


The weird thing about the Orthodox is how they can’t get over us: I attended a tour of an Orthodox church nearby and the some of the patter took on a familiar tone (most of the people on the tour were protestant). Look at this icon of Mary and Jesus, the guy said. Unlike the Catholics, we always show Mary with Jesus. And unlike the Catholics, we only have two-dimensional art rather than statues. They always seemed to want to define themselves by how they are different from us. Many of their books of apologetics take the same approach. Unlike the Catholics this and unlike the Catholics that. I told one Orthodox friend that they’d sound a lot more convincing if they were less defensive.
I wouldn’t mind such Orthodox comments at all if they were truly clarifying, but often they communicate misleading and even incorrect information.
Much is made, for example, of the fact that icons are two-dimensional. This is almost inevitably contrasted with (Latin) Catholic art. But it neglects the fact that Orthodox Christians can and do regularly make relief carvings and even 3D sculptures for religious purposes. I have a friend who actually collects Orthodox-made statues of a particular Russian saint.
Or consider the following passage from Demetrios Constantelos’ book Understanding the Greek Orthodox Church:
“There are several major differences between the Orthodox and the Roman [Catholic] Churches, including the following: The primacy and infallibility of the Roman pope; the Filioque clause, that is, the teaching concerning the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Son; the teachings on purgatory, and on the immaculate conception and the bodily assumption of the Theotokos (Mary the Godbearer). All these are rejected by the Orthodox.” (Constantelos Understanding the Greek Orthodox Church, [Brookline, Massachusetts: Hellenic College Press, 1998], page 130, emphasis added)
Here we have a concise list of differences between the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Churches in a book presumably written for people unfamiliar with Eastern Orthodoxy. But does this list, with the firm and decisive statement at the end, accurately represent Eastern Orthodoxy to Western Christians who may be unfamiliar with that Church? I do not think so. It is especially misleading to Protestants, who reject some of these things in quite a different sense.
Do Eastern Orthodox Christians really reject purgatory? See, for example, “Cleansed After Death.” They certainly reject the word “purgatory,” but the concept is very much alive in Orthodoxy, and certainly much moreso than in Protestantism.
Do Orthodox Christians reject the immaculate conception? Consider “Orthodoxy and the the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Theotokos.” There is no question that the Orthodox reject any dogma as defined by the pope, but many Orthodox do accept the essence of the doctrine (I think St. John Maximovitch is rather an exception than the rule here); and, again, certainly much moreso than Protestants.
Do Orthodox Christians reject the bodily assumption of Mary? Certainly not! How this is a difference between Orthodox and Catholics is quite beyond me. “Reject” is a strong word for a belief with explicit, longstanding Eastern support. Indeed, the same year Constantelos’ book was published, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press [Orthodox] published a volume of early patristic homilies related to the topic: On the Dormition of Mary: Early Patristic Homilies translated by Brian Daley! (At least three of the homilies printed in the SVS book –by Sts. Germanus of Constantinople, John of Damascus, and Modestus of Jerusalem– are cited in Pope Pius XII’s encyclical on the assumption of Mary, Munificentissimus Deus.)
An apologist should try to make issues clearer, not more complicated. There are differences between the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches which cannot be ignored, but these should not be exaggerated or presented in a way that is misleading. In fairness to the Orthodox, I consider many Catholics guilty of the same thing. For example, some Catholic apologists have gone so far in their defense of priestly celibacy that their conclusions contradicted the actual teachings of the Catholic Church (e.g. by making it sound like an actual doctrine rather than a mere discipline). Catholic and Eastern Orthodox apologists need to stop this kind of exaggerating and misleading.



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WRY

posted July 18, 2005 at 12:44 pm


I came across a book that made me laugh when I looked inside.
It was called “What the Orthodox Church Owes the West,” so I picked it up with great eagerness, thinking that at last I would read something about the West that the Orthodox liked; that I would read how in this way or that Orthodoxy should be grateful to the West.
But no: It turned out that what they “owed” us was the Orthodox truth as opposed to our grievous errors!



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Tom C

posted July 18, 2005 at 1:42 pm


Cat,
I’ve noticed the same thing before. I suspect that as the Orthodox Church in America continues to draw in former Protestants, the Church will drift in a more Protestant direction – e.g., rejecting traditional beliefs about Mary such as the IC and assumption, and Purgatory, even though such beliefs are completely “orthodox.”



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Ed the Roman

posted July 18, 2005 at 2:06 pm


If they then follow the Protestants into Unitarianism, in a couple of hundred years we’ll be about the only Christians left.



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Cat

posted July 18, 2005 at 2:11 pm


I suspect that as the Orthodox Church in America continues to draw in former Protestants, the Church will drift in a more Protestant direction
It’s something I warn my Orthodox friends about when I get a chance.



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BillyHW

posted July 18, 2005 at 4:17 pm


The trouble with all these protestant converts to Orthodoxy is that they bring a lot of their anti-Catholic baggage with them, which hampers efforts at reunion.



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HA

posted July 18, 2005 at 8:24 pm


WRY at 08:45 AM:
The weird thing about the Orthodox is how they can’t get over us….Look at this icon of Mary and Jesus, the guy said. Unlike the Catholics, we always show Mary with Jesus. And unlike the Catholics, we only have two-dimensional art rather than statues. They always seemed to want to define themselves by how they are different from us…they’d sound a lot more convincing if they were less defensive. A lot of ‘em still go on about the Latins sacking Constantinople…”
This is really spot-on, and goes to the main reasons why I’m not Orthodox (lucky for them), though I still give them a lot of credit for their position on the filoque. But while they might sound a lot more convincing to Catholics if they were less defensive, this kind of “product differentiation” might actually make them more successful in reaching out to those in the Bible-belt. “We got it all in one package — scripture, tradition *and* pope-bashing. Come on in, y’all!”
Which begs the question: have the Jack Chick and Tony Alamo people started handing out pamphlets informing us that onion domes are actually pagan phallic symbols designed to draw people to Satan?



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Cat

posted July 18, 2005 at 8:47 pm


have the Jack Chick and Tony Alamo people started handing out pamphlets informing us that onion domes are actually pagan phallic symbols designed to draw people to Satan?
Jack Chick maintains that Orthodoxy is one of the many blasphemous creations of Rome. At least this claim is much more reasonable/plausible than other things Chick regards as Catholic inventions (Islam, Freemasonry, Communism, National Socialism, the Ku Klux Klan, etc.).
In fact, when you consider the number of anti-Catholic movements Chick attributes to Catholic conspiracies, you begin to think that if you really followed Chick’s logic you must conclude that Chick Publications is itself a Catholic conspiracy.



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HA

posted July 18, 2005 at 9:48 pm


you must conclude that Chick Publications is itself a Catholic conspiracy.
Good point. Come to think of it, there might be something to that after all — some day, if things get too dark and hopeless, the sure and certain knowledge that I’m ticking off someone like Tony Alamo might just be enough to keep me me in the pews till the light returns.



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Matt

posted July 19, 2005 at 7:39 am


Sorry, Cat, but I can’t let a couple of your statements go.
1) There’s a lot more to purgatory than the word. While we do pray for the dead, we have no concept of purgatory as a place or stage on the way to heaven. Note that we do not have penances/indulgences, etc. as grew up in medieval Catholicism. If you go to confession and receive absolution, that’s it – no more satisfaction is required. Any penance is purely for self-discipline and has no “eternal” consequence.
2) I’m not convinced our definition of “immaculate” means that the Theotokos was born in a condition different from other women; the issue would be that if she’s intrinsically unique in that respect (and thus, somehow separated from the human race), then is Christ really as human as we are? From a Orthodox perspective, all dogma regarding the Virgin Mary exists only to protect the full humanity and full divinity of Christ.
The assumption of the Theotokos after her falling asleep is, to the best of my knowledge, not part of the official dogma, but yes, it is generally the Orthodox belief.
(And now you know why we have to be defensive about “not being Catholics” – because the Catholics keep saying we are ;-)



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WRY

posted July 19, 2005 at 8:48 am


Matt,
1)I think current Catholic thinking sees purgatory as a “process” more than a “place.” Does that make it any more palatable, or maybe more in line with how the Orthodox coceive of what they are doing when they pray for the dead? Aren’t we all helped, even in death, by prayer? Couldn’t purgatory be a name for this process of help?
2) I think I’ve read somewhere that the Orthodox believe that Mary became sinless at the Annuciation (although I think this is only a learned opinion and not a dogma). Incidentally, my take on the Immaculate Conception has been that it was to safeguard Christ’s true humanity and divinity as well. The idea, to me, is that Christ can’t be “really human” if some extraordinary process went on to protect His human flesh from sin in Mary’s womb; therefore, Mary was clensed (*in* an extraordinary way) in advance so that when Christ came along His flesh could “naturally” co-exist with His divinity. But I’m not sure this is realy Catholic teaching, just my way of trying to understand it.



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Cat

posted July 19, 2005 at 11:04 am


Matt, you should have actually read the linked articles before responding.
While we do pray for the dead, we have no concept of purgatory as a place or stage on the way to heaven.
Catholics don’t have to believe purgatory is a “place” either, nor that the cleansing requires any amount of time (which rules out “stage”).
If you go to confession and receive absolution, that’s it – no more satisfaction is required. Any penance is purely for self-discipline and has no “eternal” consequence.
Catholics don’t believe that any eternal consequences of sin remain after absolution either.
I’m not convinced our definition of “immaculate” means that the Theotokos was born in a condition different from other women
“[E]specially on the feast of her conception… is her immaculateness stressed: ‘This day, O faithful, from saintly parents begins to take being the spotless lamb, the most pure tabernacle, Mary…'; ‘She is conceived…the only immaculate one'; or ‘Having conceived the most pure dove, Anne filled….’ [References: From the Office of Matins, the Third Ode of the Canon for the feast; From the Office of Matins, the Stanzas during the Seating, for the same feast; From the Office of Matins, the Sixth Ode of the Canon for the same feast.]” Etc.
In neither of these cases do Orthodox traditionally believe as Protestants do. Not even close. Whatever the differences, Orthodoxy is more similar to Catholicism than Protestantism on all the points I discussed. It is, therefore, extremely misleading when Orthodox apologists make a blanket statement like “We don’t believe in purgatory” without clarifying that Orthodox do not believe as Protestants do, either.



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Tina

posted July 19, 2005 at 3:26 pm


I am a native of Vicksburg and have been inside St. George Orthodox Church, which is astonishingly beautiful. :) And the food at their annual Lebanese Feast is to die for. Kibbee anyone?
Growing up in the South, I always felt there was a certain solidarity between the Orthodox and the Catholics. I was good friends with one Orthodox girl and we always found ourselves banding together in religious debates with our Baptist friends. It really is such a different world in Mississippi.



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Chris Jones

posted July 19, 2005 at 11:14 pm


When Orthodox are trying to explain their beliefs and practices to people in this country, it is quite natural for them to do so by comparing and contrasting with Catholicism, because people are familiar with Catholicism. It’s simply working from something people are familiar with, in order to describe something else that they are quite unfamiliar with.
It’s not being defensive; it’s just a communications strategy. When I was Orthodox, I would respond to questions about Orthodoxy by saying “It’s sort of like Catholicism, only much better”.



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luke

posted July 20, 2005 at 11:21 am


What Chris Jones said. I often hear Internet Catholics say things like “The weird thing about the Orthodox is how they can’t get over us…” Well, I can’t get over how they think we can’t get over them. :) Really, folks, this is simple demographics. American Orthodox live in a RC/Protestant dominated landscape. It is only natural that inquirers to the faith want to know how we differ from that context. Take a native Russian enquirer/visitor to a RC church in Russia and see if there is any mention of the Orthodox there. Of course they will. They need to put themselves in context with the society. I wish people would be a little more understanding in this regard.
As for Orthodoxy growing in Mississippi, thanks be to God. I was born near Jackson and spent some of my childhood years there. I became Eastern Catholic and then Orthodox in another “fundigelical” stronghold..Tulsa. Oklahoma is only slightly more cosmopolitan than Mississippi. I have seen some pierogi here, but only rarely. Kibbe is more likely :)



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HA

posted July 20, 2005 at 7:42 pm


When Orthodox are trying to explain their beliefs and practices to people in this country, it is quite natural for them to do so by comparing and contrasting with Catholicism, because people are familiar with Catholicism… It’s not being defensive; it’s just a communications strategy.
If anyone thinks that what WRY describes in his posts –quite amiably — is not a classic case of being defensive (or something worse), or thinks that what he described was some isolated example, he’s kidding himself. True, no one is saying that all Orthodox apologists are the same, and we all know Catholics can be bigots, too, but let’s call a spade a spade.



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Jennifer

posted December 21, 2005 at 5:21 pm


About Orthodox Christians comparing themselves to Roman Catholics and Protestants in a derogatory way. Growing up in an Orthodox home in a community where most people think you are Jewish when you tell them that you are an Orthodox Christian causes a feeling of frustration at times and perhaps causes you to overcompensate when you are trying to explain your own unique identity. Media sources rarely speak about the Orthodox perspective on things and when they do it’s usually not from a full understanding of the Orthodox spirituality. Sorry to those who have felt our Orthodox pride and triumphalism. It is truly wrong. Check out Timothy Ware’s book “The Orthodox Way” if you are interested in learning about Orthodoxy. He makes a point at the beginning that the purpose of the book is not to compare Orthodoxy to other forms of Christianity but to just explain what the Orthodox faith and spirituality conveys. If you read it, I hope it inspires you to grow in your faith, no matter what you believe.



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