“Let us imitate our Fathers: The lived in this place with much austerity and peace.” Abba John the Eunuch, from the Sayings of the Desert Fathers
“But some on’em would rather be shot than took, sir.” from A Desolate Place for a Defiant People
The runaway slave was among the bravest of our African ancestors. Some had no sooner arrived in America that they fled to the nearest swamp not having any familiarity with the landscape. Others used whatever skills they acquired to help them escape. Yes, many were recaptured. But, others were successful making their way up to northern states and Canada. Others remained in southern swamps and built solid communities for generations. These were the grand maroons. And there were petit maroons who fled and hid until their “masters” agreed to better terms for their return.
In these days of political and racial division, there are African-Americans that have absconded from the Christianity of this nation. Not only from predominately white denominations, some of us have left the black church as well. The teachings of our Lord in the scriptures and many believers of all races are full of compassion, love, and mercy. But, American Christianity has, for the most part, failed to bring us together as one in faith. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s painful observation of eleven o’clock Sunday morning being the most segregated hour in the country remains true today. Many white churches are still plagued with covert and overt racism. Black churches have often failed to meet the social and spiritual needs of people as well. As a result, non-Christian groups such as the Hebrew Israelites and Nation of Islam are growing in membership.
I am the product of the rural African-American Baptist church. My initial spiritual development includes some AME, Pentecostal, Roman Catholic, and even white evangelical/Southern Baptist influences. This is where I first met Jesus. But, I hit a wall in the scriptures and history. In Acts 13:1-3, two black and three Western Asiatic clergymen ordained two of their number to bring the Gospel to Europe. Four of the 12 apostles brought the Christian faith to Africa at the same time others went as far as Scotland and Rome even as others went to Persia and India. Malcolm X mentioned in his autobiography the importance of Africa’s Desert Fathers to the early Church. Seeing the spiritual depth of Orthodox Christianity and that my ancestors were among the first to receive the Gospel, I left what was made in America for what is universal.
For my fellows of the African Diaspora who have become disillusioned with the denominations and non-denominations of our country, I encourage you to become “Christian maroons.” St. Anthony the Great (a native Egyptian) and other men and women of Africa, Asia, and Europe set the pattern for us; set aside the frivolous things of this world devoting your life to spiritual growth among those who can be trusted. Spend time in prayer, read and listen to those who have committed themselves to becoming one with God and fighting against their passions. Of books worth reading along with the Bible The Life of St. Anthony the Great, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, The Philokalia Vol. 1 includes crucial teachings from St. Moses the Black (a dark skinned Nubian) and other monastics from different places of the same Christian spirituality. Learn more about our Great Dismal Swamp Maroon ancestors in A Desolate Place for a Defiant People and City of Refuge.
I believe the Orthodox Church is the home all people of all races should come to. With the toxic divisions we have in America, perhaps it is best to be grounded in our ancient Christian and independent American ancestors. Make intentional time for reading, thinking, and prayer. If you diligently seek the Truth, He will reveal Himself.