Our Lady of Kazan and American Pluralism
Published on: March 2, 2011
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  • John Barker

    Through Mr.Berger’s efforts and other writers’, religion may become a subject of respectable and serious consideration by the intellectual elites. But does talking about theology lead to a faith that gives comfort and resilence in these troubled times? How do we go from the reading about to directly sensing the inner light?

  • Andrew Harris

    I don’t think that the Orthodox Church is out of its element in engaging with pluralism. Throughout the Church’s missionary history, it has sought to make the faith approachable by not only holding services in the spoken languages where it establishes churches, but also in translating its doctrine to be readable to converts. The greatest example of this was the introduction of the Cyrillic alphabet to the Rus Peoples from Byzantine missionaries in the 9th centuries. You can also find Orthodox icons with Mandarin characters from the brief period when the church expanded into China. The OCA is a natural progression in its history.

  • jbay


    St. Augustine “and maybe Lucian” defined the transliteration of religion as re-ligare or le-ligare. To re-read, consider, go over again and meditate on. Augustine “3rd century” also said that if you find something against your rational faculties you should see it as other than an irrational assertion. That the bible tells us how to go to heaven not how the heavens go.

    Eusebius and Arius are also worth reading should you find yourself wanting of perspective.

    “How do we go from the reading about to directly sensing the inner light?”

    ~Read, meditate, reflect and then pray. Read, meditate, reflect and then pray. Read, meditate, reflect and then pray.


  • John Barker


    Thank you for your note. I will follow up on your reading suggestions.

  • Michael Mates

    In many of its manifestations in the West and away from the “mother country,” Orthodox churches have retained the phyletic nature (“We represent and defend our people’s identity”)and sense of entitled monopolism that characterize them in Russia, Greece, Serbia, Romania, and many others. Several such churches that I have encountered in the USA have a sort of imported insularity which refuses discussion with outsiders, and thus isolates them from American religious pluralism despite all the Smiths and Joneses who worship in their chapels.

  • The transaction between God and man is not judicial but therapeutic…. so you say.

    But could it be that in order for it to be therapeutic, it must first be judicial?

  • Rev. Peters,

    Would you elaborate on what you mean by suggesting that the relationship with God must first be judicial before it is therapeutic, and why that contradicts the dichotomy present in Dr. Berger’s presentation?

  • Graham

    How did ROCOR fit into the post-Cold War dynamics of Russian Orthodoxy in America?

  • A Morbey

    Berger’s ‘two challenges’ do not bear close analysis. The OCA scarcely knows what fundamentalism might be – it is largely the invention, the bogey-man, of those whose pluralism is simply a shade of denominationalism or even relativism. The actions of the Moscow Patriarchate in bringing church order and administrative unity to factious diaspora need not be seen as naked colonialism and self-interest. And even if it were so, this is not the case with the OCA as the Patriarchate has often stated one way or another. In many ways the Patriarchate is the one Orthodox Church most demonstrably committed to pluralism (of language, liturgy and other forms of expression) within the Church (on the one hand) and in its institutional life vis a vis other Christian bodies.

  • Fr. Timothy Sas

    Thank you for the post, Dr. Berger. I found your written exposition very useful and I’d like to offer a couple of points.

    1) The 6.2 million Orthodox in the US, is really very generous. I believe it is accurate, but it includes a very large percentage of nominal and very unengaged Orthodox Christians. Approximately 5 or 6 years ago, Hartford Institute of Religion published some numbers which were sobering. In addition the (young but serious and reliable) Patriarch Athenagoras Orthodox Institute in Berkeley, CA produced some other research just 2 years ago, which also pointed out that the numbers of Orthodox Christians in this country is only about 1.5 million. The two institutions produced research with similar results.

    2) A few comments above Michael Mates says “…sort of isolated insularity which refuses discussion with outsiders…” a very accurate observation. As someone who has lived that exclusive glory/insular dysfunction I can both attack and defend it. The isolation was a result of both fear and pride. Fear of losing a much loved ethnic language and customs. Pride in the cultural and spiritual treasury of that same language and those same customs. In addition, the traditionally Orthodox ethnic communities in the US are much younger “Americans/Canadians” than the two you’ve mentioned. This is also worth noting.

    Lastly, I wonder if pursuit of God on the path of Orthodox Christianity, would necessarily benefit from being fully integrated in the “Hollywood” culture. 🙂

    I look forward to reading your blog frequently. Thank You.

  • Jim

    I am disappointed that a scholar would not do more research before mouthing old stereotypes about Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Most Americans can fathom a chairman and board, Orthodox call it a synod, which Lutherans also know something about. Using public statistics, the number of Orthodox come to more like 1+ million faithful participating at least once a month and giving to their parish a couple of times a year. Each jurisdiction puts out listings of parishes, number of full-time priests, etc. times public numbers of average attendance.

    More seriously, the OCA began to use English ideologically after WWII, and it only became the prevailing norm in the 1970’s – after autocephaly. The split with ROCOR began in the 1940’s along with wider movements of American patriotism with roots in the 1920’s and 30’s. See the Greek Archdiocesan organization AHEPA. The struggle over switching all parishes to the Augustan calendar in the 1980’s marked the end of forty years of “Americanization.” Considering that St. Innocent of Alaska moved the headquarters to San Francisco in the 1840’s and it again moved to New York in the 1870’s, it is bizarre to paint the process as simply something the Paris school dreamed up. They weren’t in this country until the mid-1950’s and only really established their position at St. Vladimir’s Seminary in the 1960’s (again, freely available information in books).

    Fr. Andrew Morbey certainly is right that Moscow seems to have little interest in the OCA. You are correct that Moscow seems quite a bit more interested in the parishes of Western Europe. Fr. Andrew is quite charitable in describing the past decade as simply restoring order to the Church in Russia, as a reading of Russian coverage of legal moves makes clear. The Patriarchate has actively inserted itself into the public schools, military and regional cases of Protestants trying to recover property. The WikiLeaks discussion of the American Chancellor with representatives of the patriarch is an instructive brief.

    As for pluralism, you have conveniently omitted the four hundred years of Church organization before the Church became the official religion of the Roman Empire, under Theodosius in the 380’s and not under Constantine. The basis structure of national churches with governing synods can be seen in embryo (although not historically determined) in the First Council of Nicea in 325, well before the state could conceive of the kind of involvement you describe. The Roman Empire was emphatically pluralistic at this point and until the mid-380’s. More details were clarified in the First Council of Constantinople in 381, before the Theodosian laws restricting Hellenic sacrifices and Judaism.

    It is disturbing that an otherwise informed scholar would join a discussion without research for purposes unknown. The Greek Archdiocesan seminary happens to be in Boston, so library resources even of such an inconsequential religion should be handy. The Oxford book for young adults by Rev. Dr. John Erickson certainly is mainstream and relatively recent. St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press and Holy Cross in Boston have excellent web sites. You also might want to consider the writings of Ramsay MacMullen and Frank Trombley on Christianity in the Roman Empire for context. It seems a pity simply to spread hearsay.

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  • I found this blog after reading the reposted text of it on ocanews.org. It’s well written. I don’t agree with everything that Rev. Berger said, but I’ve rarely read anything by a non-Orthodox Christian about an issue inside the Orthodox Church that was this close to right. I doubt that I could write about the Lutheran Church nearly as accurately or perceptively. 😉

    This article reminded me of somebody who was very important to me right at the beginning of my journey to Christianity — another Lutheran pastor. While I wouldn’t say that I owe my Christianity to him, things that he taught me proved crucial time and again at critical points through the years. I blogged about him this evening.

    Thanks for a good article.

  • G Comney

    Chrysustolm Homily I on I Timothy I: “Questioning is the subversion of faith.”

    You guys can try to talk around his anti-Semitism, but this quote
    proves the dark evil inside the man who wrote your liturgy.
    You ain’t nothing but a muslim, spewing crap with slime
    You ain’t nothing but a muslim, spewing crap with slime
    Go crawl into the habit of your abbott, you ain’t no citizen of mine
    They said you all were Christian, buddy that was just a lie
    Called you all Christian, that was just a lie
    Go crawl into the habit of your abbott, you ain’t no citizen of mine
    They said you all were Christian, buddy that was just a lie
    Called you all Christian, that was just a lie
    Go crawl into the habit of your abbott, you ain’t no citizen of mine
    You ain’t nothing but a muslim, spewing crap with slime
    You ain’t nothing but a muslim, spewing crap with slime
    Go crawl into the habit of your abbott, you ain’t no citizen of mine

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