Category Archives: Orthodoxy in America

Debating Christmas Day: Copts, Calendars, and the Immigrants’ Church

by Michael Akladios and Candace Lukasik

This essay is co-published with the Coptic Canadian History Project. A longer version is available on the CCHP website.

On December 11, 2019, Metropolitan Serapion and the clergy of the Diocese of Los Angeles, Southern California, and Hawaii wrote a statement pronouncing that Christmas celebrations will be held in the diocese on both December 25 and January 7 (29 Kiakh) to better serve the pastoral needs of local congregants. Yet the pronouncement caused a stir among Copts globally. Such debates are not new. Immigrant parishes in North America at one point in their early history routinely celebrated Christmas on December 25 to retain congregants and serve the needs of early Copts scattered across Central Canada and the North Eastern United States. At the heart of such debates, past and present, is the tremendous influence of Pope Shenouda and the many meanings of belonging to the Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt. In order to chart this history and offer insights on its contemporary significance, we begin with the challenges faced by early Copts in North America and then outline the changing nature of Coptic diasporic communities as a consequence of rising immigration from Upper Egypt, following the 2011 revolution.

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Under the Radar – A Hidden Diaspora: Growing Up Orthodox in the Episcopal Church

by James Rouman

Wash basin

I was baptized in a wash tub as were both of my brothers.  It’s true. I really was. My aunt Helen was married in an Orthodox ceremony performed in our house as well. I recall liturgies celebrated in our dining room with Fr. Chrysostom whispering words in a Greek language that seemed somewhat different from the one we spoke at home. I remember the decorative cloth depicting Christ that was spread on the table, along with a cross, a bejeweled book, and the hot water my mother always provided during every service. And there was plenty of incense burning too. Drowsy from having been awakened at five in the morning and without anything to eat or drink, I fidgeted constantly before receiving communion. After breakfast, I was off to school and to a world quite different from the one experienced only minutes before. That’s how it was three to four times every year during my childhood. It was, in fact, my introduction to Orthodox Christianity. Continue reading

Fr. Raphael Morgan, the First Orthodox Priest of African Descent in America

by Dellas Oliver Herbel

Some of the readers of Public Orthodoxy may have read my book Turning to Tradition: Converts and the Making of an American Orthodox Church. Those who have will have heard of Fr. Raphael Morgan. Others might not have read the book, but may be aware of him, perhaps due to his Orthodoxwiki entry or an essay by Matthew Namee over at orthodoxhistory.org. Morgan’s case is a fascinating one and one that has only become a bit more fascinating both because of what has been recently discovered about him and because of the times in which we live. I’ll first unpack some of his background and what’s now newly known and then offer a word of caution for the Orthodox Church as his story becomes more widely known. Continue reading

Seraphim Rose and David Bentley Hart

by Christopher Howell

One might not expect Seraphim Rose and David Bentley Hart to agree on much, but they do share one crucial perspective: that modernity is essentially nihilistic. However, while their diagnoses of modernity may be similar, their prescriptions are diametrically opposed. To stem the tide of modernity’s nihilistic encroachments, Rose rejected ecumenism as a modernist heresy, and he later promoted a patristic style of young Earth creationism against evolutionary biology. Hart, on the other hand, promotes instead ecumenical unity and the importance of creation as a philosophical and theological doctrine, not a historical event per se, that can be harmonized with science (provided science is rescued from its tendency to reductionism). Such distinct responses highlight the degree of variability within the American subspecies of Eastern Orthodoxy.

In Rose’s view, nihilism is the “root of the revolution of the modern age,” and this nihilism is not just a lack of faith but rather an active belief in nothingness: “No man…lives without a god,” and the god of the nihilist is “nihil, nothingness itself” (Rose 2001, 68-70). It begins with the rejection of God but manifests itself in four modern schools of thought: liberalism, realism, vitalism, and destruction. His clearest critique is on liberalism, which he describes as a more urbane nihilism—tempting, but ultimately flawed, because it cannot evade its own fundamental problem: its inability to justify its own existence (Rose 2001, 33). Likewise, Hart has written that the modern predicament is to “believe in nothing,” which he clarifies is not a faith in just anything, but rather “in the nothing, or in nothingness as such” (Hart 2009, 1-2). Hart shares Rose’s view that contemporary political liberalism is a “soporific nihilism,” but his discussion traces a different intellectual genealogy (Hart 2017, 323). Continue reading