Saturday, July 20, 2019

Assimilation is the death of Eastern Christianities in America


"When the grandkids aren't Greek anymore." Small steps forward amidst a massive decline. For every "Go East, young man" convert story of the seekers who should be coming to Eastern churches in America (the Orthodox had their convert boomlet), there are legions more like Rova Farms in New Jersey, just sold to the township, closed about 10 years ago (I was last there about 20 — stately little '50s restaurant and a bar that had become a biker hangout). Here's a story of that Russian community's fascinating history but also its fall... in 1977. Thought of it as I was considering going to ROCOR's big festival at the church still there (pictured) for the Sunday celebrating St. Vladimir's Day, the prince who converted the Ukraine, which spread to Russia; me: "Russia was consecrated when St. Vladimir was baptized." (No, I won't go to Liturgy twice; I just won't go to Communion, which is my usual way anyway.) I just picked up this expression, "civilization lasts three generations," which reminded me of my saying, "Eastern churches in Western countries fail in three generations" due to assimilation. You can try to wall off and speak only Russian. You can have English services and a great Sunday school and youth camp. The kids and grandkids still leave. I don't have an answer.

And regarding "Eastern," for the newbs, there is more than one kind of Eastern Christianity. The biggest and best known are the Orthodox. They and their lesser-known Byzantine Catholic cousins are in various ethnic jurisdictions. Then you have the other rites, such as Coptic and Armenian, which also have representatives in the church. Rival one true churches to both Catholicism and the Orthodox based on alleged Christological heresies. Culturally very similar to Orthodoxy (traditional liturgy, married priests). Estranged Catholics or non-Christians with bishops and a liturgy? The church recognizes their orders as we do the Orthodox. The Maronites are all Catholic, and alas, Novus Ordo-fied, as are the Nestorians' bigger cousins, the Chaldean Catholics.

Valid orders define what I call the great Catholic family: trinitarian theology so basic the Nestorians and Miaphysites, non-Byzantine Easterns, pass ("Do you believe that Jesus is God? Good!"); unbroken claim to apostolic succession; and uninterrupted true teaching about the Eucharist (sorry, Anglicans: we take your framers at their word, so no Mass, no orders). Catholicism is the church but the others are still sacramentally a part of us. No one-on-one proselytism of born members, but bringing these churches in together and leaving their rites alone are imperative.

Byzantine Catholicism in America is endangered, not even getting the temporary boost of more planeloads of immigrants that the Greek Orthodox, the biggest Orthodox group in America, do. (Either they eventually return home, which is fine, or the assimilation cycle starts over.) A suggestion overheard: it might help if the Ukrainian Catholic Church in America admitted that most immigrants from the Ukraine speak Russian more than Ukrainian.

That Byzantine Catholicism is very much not perfect is a sign we have a lot of work to do. And an opportunity: go to the Orthodox for Vespers or Vigil! Not to preach; to (learn how to) pray.

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