WAPO: Eastern Orthodox believers hit the streets

March for Life 2011Source: Washington Post | Julia Duin | HT: Byzantine, TX

To be on the Mall around noon Monday was to be confronted with a vast crowd of what appeared to be mostly Catholics assembled for the annual Right to Life March. There were students wearing hats and scarves bearing the name of seemingly every Catholic academy on the Eastern seaboard; crowds of nuns clad in all manner of habits and scores of dark-suited priests and seminarians waving banners and signs.

Closer to the stage one could spot several Orthodox Jews and several who appeared to be evangelical Protestants. Then the crowd parted and up on the stage marched a phalanx of black-cassocked Eastern Orthodox clergy led by Metropolitan Jonah, leader of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA). Carrying a bejeweled walking stick and wearing a white crown-shaped miter, the metropolitan and the five bishops lined up beside him provided quite a contrast to the informally dressed crowd.

Talking with these Orthodox afterward, I learned that Jonah had put out word that every bishop who could make it to Washington for the march was expected to be there, along with 80-plus seminarians from two Orthodox seminaries: Saint Tikhon’s in Pennsylvania and Saint Vladimir’s in New York. The seminarians and their friends stood in a large clump off to the side, waving a large Orthodox Christians for Life banner.

All of the bishops present belonged to the OCA, the second-largest of three major Orthodox bodies in the United States. I was told there was no official there from the much larger Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America nor from the third-largest body: the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America.

Unlike evangelical Protestants and Catholics, the Orthodox in this country haven’t been known for taking to the streets as antiabortion activists. What I did find on the official Greek Orthodox Web site was a statement calling abortion “immoral” and “murder.” Likewise, the Antiochans condemn it in this statement on their site, adding that church fathers from apostolic times opposed it as well. They also posted an encouragement to take part in Monday’s march. Plus, Frederica Mathewes-Green, one of the best-known antiabortion activists of any denomination, is married to an Antiochan Orthodox priest.

So, why weren’t higher-ups from other Orthodox bodies out there braving the 25-degree weather Monday? It might have to do with Metropolitan Jonah making it a priority. Not only did he show up at the march soon after flying back from a visit to Moscow, he also officiated at a Divine Liturgy Monday morning at St. Nicholas Cathedral on Massachusetts Avenue for those involved in the march. Standing in front of the congregation in elaborate gold brocade vestments, he challenged listeners to oppose abortion “whatever the cost.” He added, “being a Christian is not about what you do in church on Sunday.” One can perform the rituals, he said, “But if you don’t live according to the Gospel, that will condemn you to hell.”

I asked Jonah why he felt it necessary to call out the troops instead of leaving the heavy lifting to the Catholics and evangelicals.

“The church’s responsibility is to be the conscience for the culture,” he said. “The Orthodox Church in this country is emerging from being an embassy of foreign cultures to being an authentically American church.”

And there’s nothing much more American than taking part in street protests.


  1. “But if you don’t live according to the Gospel, that will condemn you to hell.”


  2. American Housewife :

    Finally, a Bishop who gets it! May God grant him many, many years as our Metropolitan

  3. George Patsourakos :

    The U.S. Supreme Court made a critical mistake in 1973, when it , in effect, authorized abortions in the United States. The Supreme Court must overturn this decision, and rule against abortions because abortion is really the murder of an unborn infant.

    Metropolitan Jonah of the Orthodox Church in America is correct in saying that being a Christian is not about going to church on Sundays, but living according to the Gospel. In fact, going to church doesn’t make a person a Christian, any more than going to a garage makes a person a car.

  4. I won’t have in my diocese. We do not take to the streets unless it is in sacred procession. Every Church member knows what is his relationship to God and all of life, it is sacred. We do not create a scene, a public display. We do not create distress for others by our actions. We are to support our government out of obedience, which creates humility, which is our part in the Salvific Event.

    • “We are to support our government out of obedience”

      Tell that to Metropolitan Vladimir of Kiev the New Martyr, who told the Orthodox to stand up against the Anti-Christ. Blind obedience, even to the Anti-Christ. Never!

    • Scott Pennington :

      Father Stephen-Anthony,

      Have you ever seen Triumph of the Will? In attendance at the main rally in the grand hall was the head bishop of an Evangelical Church. “We do not create distress for others by our actions. We are to support our government out of obedience, which creates humility, which is our part in the Salvific Event.”

      • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

        That sure is an interesting historical tidbit. Never knew that.

        • Scott Pennington :

          Fr. Johannes,

          Sometime ago I got the film after I’d heard that a number of more recent films based certains scenes and techniques on it. Also, I wanted to see what all the hoopla was about regarding Hitler being an inspiring speaker. When John Kennedy spoke in West Berlin, the West German authorities edited out a considerable part of his speech from the German television version. They said that they hadn’t heard anything that passionate and hypnotic since old Adolf and it scared them. I watched it several times and I have to admit, I don’t really get what turned the Germans on so much. I have an inkling, however, it just doesn’t captivate. Part of it may be the language barrier (and the cultural difference).

          In any case, Ludwig Muller, Reichsbischof (Reich Bishop of the United German Evangelist Church) is seated among the dignitaries and the camera focuses on him in one shot with a caption that gives his title. Admittedly, this was in 1934. However, as the film clearly reveals, they were preaching racism and preparing for eventual war.

          The Church should never be a “good German”.

          • Scott Pennington :

            By the way, I later tossed the film. I bought it because, of course, you can’t get it at Blockbuster. However, it really doesn’t look to good on your shelf.

  5. alexis banias :

    God bless Metropolitan Jonah! He is truly exhibiting the CHURCH MILITANT leadership role via his actions which vociferously proclaim, “FOLLOW ME!”

  6. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    Scott, when I was 25 I went to Germany for the second time (did the Eurailpass thing). Went into East Germany with a guy from Ireland. He got searched, I didn’t, he freaked and we spent only about four hours on the Eastern side. We were shuttled to Alexander Platz, the place they show all tourists and a few blocks beyond. It was all very controlled. I wanted to see more though and had read about the East Berlin subway system. So the next day I got a subway map on the Western side, went through the checkpoint thinking that if I got searched all they could really do was take my map and refuse me entry. I decided that if I was caught, I would act like a stupid American (I saw my share of American tourists like that). I got through without a search and spent the day riding all through East Berlin popping up out of the subway at any stop that looked interesting.

    It was fascinating and my first look at a centralized economy and also my first encounter with the dispiriting and dehumanizing effects of centralized planning. The city was in a time warp. The rubble from the bombing of Berlin had been cleared of course, but the buildings had been patched and repaired, not rebuilt. I also saw, unlike the shiny and new West Berlin, what a glorious city Berlin must have been before the madmen rose to power and the Allied bombs reduced it to rubble.

    Later that evening I met a passionate freedom loving German. I asked him about the Kennedy speech. He said it filled them with such hope that they felt like the wall would come down next week. It was not to be of course, not until Reagan, but it’s effect was electric and helped harden the resolve against the Communist oppressors.

    I saw Triumph of the Will years ago, in college I think. I was interested in the propaganda effects although at the time I remember noticing the exaggeration of the lighting, angles, poses and so forth. These were the earlier days of the movie industry and we see these affects in American movies too. They had a stage element to them that we don’t see anymore. Still, the exaggeration also had the effect of highlighting the ideological subtext that wove the images into a coherent whole. I sensed evil behind all those images of the sprightly young faces and athletic bodies of the emerging ubermenschen. It’s easy to see in retrospect but a discerning eye could have seen it even when the movie was first made I think. Whether any warnings of the impending evil would be heeded is another matter entirely as the martyrdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer made clear.

    But what causes a culture to turn towards such abject darkness, such moral depravity? It is a question that still intrigues me today. About 8 years after my trip I decided to find the answer and went for an MA in the religious history of Western Europe at Luther Seminary in St. Paul. I read a lot of German theologians (some really sharp thinkers there, BTW) and found my answer in Friedrich Schleiermacher. To cut to the chase, Schliermacher conflated Christian theology into German culture so that, in the popular mind at least, the two became indistinguishable. He had fierce critics, Karl Barth for one, but the damage had been done. I believe it was the failure of Christians that contributed to the German inability to discern the evil of Nazism and so the great darkness began.

    What troubles me is that is happening again. The accommodation of the Episcopalian Church to Progressivism is one example is where the German experience is played out albeit in a different time and place. What happens if we enter into very difficult times such as the Germans did under Weimar? Who can say if we will be able to discern evil if it comes when Christians today practice the same kind of accommodation that the Germans did?

    You see it the same way of course although we disagree on how best to address the question so I don’t want to get into that here. What worries me the most however is that the accommodationists exist in Orthodoxy too. I believe that many do not see how perilous the times really are and that their accommodation to the prevailing culture renders them impotent towards an evil that may show its face again.

    • Scott Pennington :

      “You see it the same way of course although we disagree on how best to address the question so I don’t want to get into that here. What worries me the most however is that the accommodationists exist in Orthodoxy too. I believe that many do not see how perilous the times really are and that their accommodation to the prevailing culture renders them impotent towards an evil that may show its face again.”

      Fr. Johannes, we agree on much. But I also think that in crisis there is opportunity. It may well be that we are entering into a period of severe political turbulence. Perhaps it was inevitable that the economic crisis would materialize as a political crisis first, before a moral crisis.

      Back in the 1970’s, America essentially hit a financial wall. Taxes were still very high compared to today. We would go from anemic growth back and forth to periodic recession. The word “malaise” described it very nicely. Economists actually invented a thing called the “misery index” to measure the degree of ill in the economy.

      So Reagan comes along and advocates dramatic tax reductions and spending cuts. Tax reductions were much easier to obtain from Republicans and “Reagan Democrats” than spending reductions. We ended up bringing in more money, but spending rose in excess of the rise in revenue. Nonetheless the economy took off. On average, from October, 1982 to the end of his term, the economy grew at 3.8 percent.

      Now we find ourselves with the biggest spending liberal in history in the White House who may actually succeed at having the US bond rating lowered because of the drunken sailor expenditure spree he and Congressional Democrats went on. The wall is back. And this time, it’s harder than the first. There’s actually no other possible course of action to avoid hitting it head on but to reduce spending dramatically. Still, one party is adamantly opposed to that and lives in la-la land relying on Krugmanomics which is almost comical in its convolutions and attitude of denial.

      But there is also a moral crisis looming. You can see it in the Philadelphia abortion doctor story, in the demographic winter that is slowly overtaking us, etc. It is a slower self destruction than the economic problem, but just as certain.

      In all of this, as you do, I am apprehensive about what type of government might emerge out of the disorder and national trauma. Germany emerged from the inter-war period of devastating economic depression to embrace a genocidal fascist. That’s a concern.

      But there is also an opportunity here. I do not hesitate to believe that there is a better form of government than our own. No form of government can succeed without the people embracing virtue. The real question is whether it is the government leadership that lead the people to embrace virtue, or the people who lead the government to be virtuous. Biblically, there is much evidence of the former (Abraham, Moses, the prophets) and little for the latter. I agree with many conservative Christians that there probably is no longer a “moral majority” in America, in the literal sense of the words. It’s spiraled down too far. That is why I do not think that “We the People” can right this ship. I do, however, think it can be righted. Eventually, it will be righted but, unfortunately, we may pass through a period of darkness much worse than the present before we get there.

      But, in the immortal words of Natalie Merchant of Ten Thousand Maniacs in the song Verdi Cries, “All holidays must end, as you know. . .”

  7. cynthia curran :

    Well, taxes at a certain level discourage growth, Sweden hit at 71 percent of Gnp down to 51 percent of Gnp. Swedes which are more productive can handle a large welfare state and be productive better than our population. The lowest unemployed states vary during this recession, North Dakota a state that Republicans like and Vermont a state that Democratics like. Most of the white states with exceptions like Kentucky have lower average unemployment. States with more blacks or hispanics usually have more employment problems since blacks and hispanics have less education and skills as a whole than whites and asians. Also, Hawaii which has the highest concenration of asians in the US has one of lowest unemployment rates in the States. Texas and New Mexico hispanic states not effective by the housing bubble as much do better than Florida, or Arizona, Nevada and California, the other hispanic states. Now people will mention that Texas regulates and Taxes less than California but Nevada has the highest unemployment and doesn’t have either a state income state or a sales tax. Regional factors are also seem to be a factor as well as taxes and regulation in the recession. Obama wanted his stimulus too much for green jobs, if you want growth and increase taxes, high miltary spending like World War two would work but the current Dems would not want to built more miltary hardware in the States like Scoop Jackson and some of the cold war Dems did in the old days.

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