I was blessed to give a talk on Orthodoxy and Racial Reconciliation at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Virginia Beach. A greater blessing came from the sermon preached by Fr. John Manuel who expressed the deep need for Christians to look beyond differences of race and class to love each other with open hearts. I only wish that everyone could have heared and applied his words of wisdom to their lives over the past few days. The policemen in Tulsa would have benefitted from Fr. John’s words and not seen their victim as a “bad looking dude.” Perhaps, at worst, he’d be in the hospital with a non-life threatening gun shot wound for not obeying the cops.
Fr. John stated that a major problem in our society is that we look at each other as “the other” instead of “another.” When we see each other as “another,” that lends our thinking of each other as being possible alternatives to who and what we are. In Christ, there is no Greek or Jew, citizen or barbarian, slave or free. No matter what our ethnic or social status may be, we all share the love of the resurrected Savior as we are made in God’s image and filled with His Spirit. With that frame of heart and mind, we can love and treat one another as we would like to be treated. Jesus extended this love to a Roman centurion with a sick daughter, a Samarital with leprosy, a Syro-Phonecian woman who was willing to accept any blessing for the sake of her child. He would ultimately extend this love not for fighting and dying for the earthly nation of Judea. But, He trampled down death by His death and rose from the grave for the salvation of a great multitude from every nation, people, and language. Jesus put aside His Jewish ethnic earthly identity because He was God and had a greater kingdom for everyone to dwell in.
But, we constantly see each other as “the other.” This line of thinking leads us to believe ourselves to be more important or superior to those who aren’t like us. We become content to be seperate from them. This complacency gives birth to fearing them because we don’t know about nor interact with them in love and respect. Fear leads to disrespecting and hating them because they are not like us.
Even in the body of Christ, there as always been a sense of people wanting to elevate or seperate themselves from “the other.” James and John sought the left and right hand seats beside Jesus above “the other” disciples. The Corinthian Church had issues of one group of believers following one or “the other” ministers. Even in the midst of Rome’s 300 year persecution of the Church, rivalries arose between Carthage and Rome, Antioch and Alexandria. Jesus prayed that we would become one with the Father and Himself. The early fathers strived for unity in the Church. But, ethnic “the otherness” slowly crept it’s way through the Eastern Roman Empire up to the fall of Constantinople. Some divisions were certainly based on true and false doctrine. But, it was way too easy to assign “true” with people who look like you and “false” with someone who is ethnically “the other.”
The spirit of “the other” can be found in Eastern and Western Christianity alike. Jews and Roma (Gypsies) have been victims of persecution and (in some cases) slavery in Slavic lands. Today, Russian and Greek nationalist can be found harrasing, beating up, and killing ethnic minorities and refugees. Even in the midst of clear evidence of police brutality, blacks who are killed by cops are often blamed for their disobedience to law enforcement. It is true that Islamic terrorist are a world-wide threat. But, for Middle Eastern Christians to be harrassed and killed in America by Christians because they look like Muslims shows how self destructive this mentality is. Marginalization is a cancer that destroys humanity that is made in the image of God. Even when people aren’t killed, our complacency, fear, and hatred of “the other” makes us fit for hell becausse these three states of mind are opposite of of our Lord’s compassion, mercy, and love. Ethnic purity, nationalism, patriotism (as if any earthly kingdom is to be compared to or equated with the kingdom to come), and other excuses will not stand in the day when we are judged by the One who identifies with “the least of these.” Even in matters of self defense and maintaining order, we must realize that “the other” that we really must struggle against is not flesh and blood.
The Church must stand as the place opposite of “the other” mentality. We must show ourselves to be one with one another. Sure, some of our parishes lean toward one ethnic persuasion of the other. But, our customs and languages can be opportunities for hospitality. In fact, we can point out how someone of another background fits in to the overall family of Orthodoxy. There were Chinese Christians who were martyred for the faith during the Boxer Rebellion. Jacob of Alaska was a Native American who showed that one could be Orthodox and maintain the best of one’s native heritage. Ahmed the Caligrapher was a Muslim who renounced the religion and died for his belief in Christ.
There are icons of Christ, the Theotokos, and the saints in every hue and skin tone. There is no reason why we can’t have them in every part of our buildings and homes. The more of them we have, the more we can appreciate the variety of Orthodox believers through our 2,000 year history all over the world. Beyond our holy images of wood, paint, paper, and ink, God makes the greates images in His likeness, humanity in every sort. It is people that we are to revere as holy images not made by hands even more so than what we have in our prayer corners. Ours is a faith of “one anothers” being brought into the body of Christ, not of “the others” being marginalized from him.