Campus a Microcosm of Changes in Greek Orthodoxy.
Conference explores the phenomenon of recent converts flocking to the
Massachusetts theology school that trains priests in the ancient faith.
by Staff Writer
Source: Religion News Service - Date: October 19, 2002
BROOKLINE, Mass. -- Twenty-five years ago, just about every
seminarian on this campus was a young man who spoke such fluent Greek
that he could pass for native in the cafes of Athens.
Today, more than 20% of students at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School
of Theology have no Greek roots. Graduates include the spokesman for
the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America: a 34-year-old, blond
former Southern Baptist preacher from Dallas who changed his name
from Eric to Nektarios Morrow when baptized into Orthodoxy seven
Seen in such light, this sacred training ground for priests who would
preserve Greek heritage through local churches has become instead a
microcosm of the changing face of Orthodoxy. A wave of fresh interest
in the ancient faith has begun to transform these church institutions
from protective ethnic enclaves into relatively diverse centers to
probe the essence of Christianity's longest-preserved tradition.
As congregations teem with converts in America and brace for the
spread of MTV in the Old World, Holy Cross recently hosted a
pioneering conference: "The Orthodox Churches in a Pluralistic World:
An Ecumenical Conversation." Top scholars from various denominational
backgrounds delved deeply into history, philosophy and theology with
a common goal: to help Orthodoxy thrive as one of many voices in a
"In a period of rapid globalization, in a world community that is
increasingly conscious of its pluralistic character, the Orthodox
Churches meet a great challenge," Archbishop Demetrios, head of the
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, said in his keynote
address. "The word 'challenge,' however, is not to be understood with
negative connotations, but rather in the most positive and optimistic
sense. The pluralistic world is not an obstacle to Orthodoxy. It is
rather an opportunity."
Parishes nationwide have already tasted some benefits of embracing
those who don't speak Greek -- or any of Orthodoxy's historic
languages. Since the early 1990s, "Introduction to Orthodoxy" courses
increasingly have filled parish halls with everyone from spiritual
seekers to newly married, interfaith couples to recent converts from
At Church of the Holy Resurrection in Allston, Mass., a flock of the
Bulgarian Orthodox Church hears an English-language liturgy from the
Rev. James Robinson, their Scotch Irish priest who converted from the
Episcopal Church 18 years ago. Hardly anyone in the pews, he said,
claims Bulgarian ancestry.
"They're mostly American kiddos like me," Robinson said. "In the
past, it was almost impossible to separate what was Greek and what
was Orthodox because the church promoted a connection between
ethnicity and religion. But for us, we didn't grow up with the
Orthodox Church, so we can ask what it really means to be Orthodox."
Successes with ethnic pluralism, however, have had a flip side in the
annals of modern Orthodoxy. When Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic
was purging Kosovo of ethnic Albanians in the 1990s, the Serbian
Orthodox Church seldom protested or provided a safe haven for
refugees. Archbishop Demetrios says the international press battered
the Serbian church with "anti-Orthodox bias."
But World Council of Churches General Secretary Konrad Raiser said
last week that the church fell silent because as the "guardian of
national heritage and ethnic identity ....Orthodox churches have had,
and still do have, great difficulty adjusting to a pluralistic
Without a lofty theological vision, many Orthodox communities have
tried to avoid the modern world with a "retreat to the glorious
past," said Petros Vassiliadis of the University of Thessalonike in
Greece. When confronting the outside world that came to its doorstep
on Sept. 11, 2001, or in 1989 when the Iron Curtain came down, for
instance, many have revived ethnic nationalism beneath a garment of
Alternatives to ethnic backlash seem to be working in some pockets of
Orthodoxy, at least in the American experience.
According to the Rev. James Katinas, co-director of admissions for
Holy Cross and Hellenic College, Orthodox Christian Fellowship groups
have become important sources of support across ethnic lines at Holy
Cross and other seminaries.
Today, he said, Orthodoxy is being prepared to shine for a world in
need of inspiration, but it first needs to shed a few layers of
national and ethnic pride that got stuck to it over the years.
Orthodoxy is "the saber-toothed tiger that's been deep-freezed and
preserved nicely over the centuries," Katinas said. "In speaking to
the modern world, it has a lot to say. But it's also like a beautiful
icon that's had soot all over it for years. To preserve that beauty,
you have to carefully take that tarnish off. Very carefully, you have
to take it off."