The primary goal of the Orthodox Christian is to struggle toward theosis—deification. The word theosis often conjures up images of a super hero like Thor or a Greek god like Zeus. When St. Athanasius proclaimed that “God became human so that humans can become gods,” he was not envisioning super-human strength, nor was he envisioning a life of moral perfection. To become like God is to love as God loves, which means, as Jesus proclaimed, even the enemy and the stranger. The struggle for theosis is one that entails a learning how to love. It is often so very difficult to love even our parents, siblings, friends—imagine now learning how to love the enemy and the stranger.
This learning how to love ultimately entails seeing all human beings as created in the image of God. This is not as easy as it seems. It’s one thing to declare that all humans are created in the image of God; it’s another thing to form oneself in such a way that such a belief is evident in our thoughts, feelings, actions—our very being toward the other person, especially the one who is different from us. (more…)
On March 15, 1965, something momentous occurred. Martin Luther King Jr. marched down the streets of Selma side by side with various important religious and social leaders to memorialize the deaths of two civil rights heroes. With him marched Archbishop Iakovos—the only white bishop who had responded to the call to march.
The three marches on Selma served to highlight the inequality and racial discrimination African-Americans were still facing at the time, even after the 1964 Civil Rights Act. These marches are said to have directly influenced the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a legal measure that sought to protect African-Americans from unfair voting roadblocks.
Now, over 50 years later, progress has been made. The icing on the cake is surely the eight years Barack Obama has spent in the Oval Office. A black president—elected and re-elected—surely must be the signal that racism, especially explicit racism, is a phenomenon of the past.
Or so we told ourselves until 2016. Continue Reading...
Martin Luther King, Jr., was born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1929, the son of Alberta Williams King and Martin Luther King, Sr., pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church. King’s childhood was happy and secure, though all too early he was made aware of the hurts inflicted by racism. Like his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, he entered the ministry, and throughout the years of his leadership in the civil rights movement, he remained a preacher, regularly occupying the pulpit for Sunday worship, and drawing upon the black church tradition in which he was formed for both the style and content of the political speeches he delivered at demonstrations and appearances in the public square. Courses in philosophy, ethics, and theology at Morehouse College, Crozer Theological Seminary, and Boston University provided King with the opportunity to develop an intellectual framework for systematic analysis of the relationship between Christianity and society, but the existential base for his commitment to social justice was already established in the tradition of black religious protest exemplified by his father’s and grandfather’s embrace of social gospel activism. Strongly attracted to the intellectual life, King might have combined ministerial and academic careers by choosing job offers at schools in the North, but in 1954 he chose instead to accept the fateful call to pastor Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. (more…)
In 2016, I began a series of interviews with African American Orthodox Christians in four regions of the United States. An integral component of a wider ethnographic research project (one combining participant observation and digital research) personal narratives offer a necessary depth of insight into an Orthodox community which still remains relatively unfamiliar to many.
While the number of African American Orthodox Christians appears to be growing, research on this particular group remains scant. Focused either on historical figures like Fr. Raphael Morgan, the first African American Orthodox priest— or on narratives gleaned from a “community of elders,” the most prominent exemplary African American Orthodox Christians, existing research can sometimes convey a single-story narrative, one not entirely untrue—but incomplete. There remains, therefore, much to be learned at the intersection of Orthodox Christianity and African American culture. (more…)