Tuesday, October 17, 2006

On Greekness and Ecumenicity

There are Greeks who wear their "Hellenicity" on their sleeve, yet they fail to act in a way that is true to the values of Hellenism. The ancient Romans called such Greeks "Graeculi', or "little Greeks". Such Greeks boast about the greatness of their ancestors, yet they do little to reflect their ancestry. Such Greeks also project an exclusive and particularistic view of their communities and even of the Church.

The point about "Greek identity" is that, Greek civilization once had an ecumenical significance. Since 1453, it lost that significance politically and gradually it lost it morally as well.

If Greek identity is to survive, it needs to be ecumenically significant again, that is non-exclusive. This is a challenge to Greek Americans to live up to what they profess. This is not a call for American Orthodox to become Greek. This is a call for the full realization of the ideals of Romaiosyni: a universal, ecumenical (in its Orthodox sense) ideal, devoid of racism and ethnic prejudice.

Romaiosyni was the culture of the Christian Roman Empire. This was also the culture of the Fathers of the Church. It was multicultural and multiracial. Romaiosyni included all and welcomed all, regardless of race. It could do this because it embodied universal values and abandoned particularism. It was a catholic identity.

Racism, ethnophiletism, and ethnocentricism were condemned as heresies in the 19th century by the Orthodox Church. Nationalism and ethnocentricism have hurt the Orthodox Church gravely in the last 200 years.

In the Church there is no room for ethnic difference. The identity of the Church was always catholic and ecumenical. The ethnic identities that have taken the Church hostage now must be transformed into catholic identities. For Greeks, this means returning to the traditions of Romaiosyni--a cultural identity that expanded and grew to give to all and to embrace all. After all, is that not the spiritual trajectory of the Christian life?


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