Dr. Vigen Guroian delivered a talk on “Youth, Unity and Orthodoxy in America” at the 20th Anniversary Annual Meeting of Orthodox Christian Laity in Glenview, Illinois, in November. The theme of the OCL conference: “The Need for a Great and Holy Council.”
Here’s Dr. Guroian (an advisor to AOI) on Orthodox youth:
The college or university is a synecdoche — a metaphor – representing in microcosm the diverseness and pluralism of America. Likewise, the Orthodox students who arrive at our colleges and universities represent a microcosm of the entire Orthodox presence in America in all of its variety. They come to college for many reasons, with little thought, however, about joining in the great experiment of Pan-Orthodoxy and church unity.
Unlike their immigrants forebears who came to America, these young people do not bring to college all of the institutional paraphernalia of their churches. They do carry, however, an Orthodox identity that they feel a need to share and explain to others. Ethnic or jurisdictional belonging does not inhibit them. They act out of a sense of pluralism and voluntarism that is also distinctively American. They voluntarily join together as Americans to form not a Greek Christian fellowship or a Ukrainian Christian fellowship but an Orthodox Christian Student Fellowship.
How did they get that idea? I don’t think we taught it to them in our parishes. Rather, they learned it from the culture, from the presence of all of us in this American culture. They read it out of the culture as Americans. I cannot stress this enough because this is also a clue to the future of Orthodoxy in North America.
A high theory of the unity of church, frequently pronounced by our Orthodox church leaders and theologians, cannot constantly rub up against a contradictory reality of theologically indefensible institutional divisions and exclusionary habits of belonging and win the day.
As time goes on our piety is misshapen and the log in our eye blinds us. Good old American pragmatism rooted in practical living wins out and we are left bereft of the Orthodox faith. The signatories of the Ligonier Conference stated emphatically that they could “not accept the term ‘disapora’ as used to describe the Church in North America, [that] “the term is ecclesiastically problematic [because] it diminishes the fullness of faith.” They were right. Habits of speech have a way of taking over our lives and determining behavior. Language has its consequences.
As long as Orthodox Christians think of themselves as a disapora, neither unity nor mission is possible. If one is in a permanent state of diaspora there can be no compelling reason to have unity since one’s real home is somewhere else. When a church thinks of itself as in disapora, it also looses its sense of mission. Yet without unity and mission the church does not exist.
Read the complete text of Dr. Guroian’s presentation to the conference, and those of other speakers, on OCL’s news site.
Visit Dr. Guroian’s site here.