Illuminator - March 1999
THE GREEK-AMERICANS ACCORDING TO PBS
By Phyllis Meshel Onest, Diocesan Director
I was so excited that our local PBS station was airing "The Greek-Americans" that I made sure the video deck was set a week in advance. I didn't want to miss a minute of it. By 8:00 PM that night the family was taken care of, the kitchen was cleaned up after dinner, the dog had been let out, and I was all comfy in the recliner. Nothing was going to disturb my viewing. For an hour I smiled, I cried, and I laughed out loud.
It was all there in the pictures and interviews. A group of people who left their homeland to seek a better life for themselves and for their children, just as my paternal grandparents had done. And indeed they succeeded in that goal. Not only were they hard workers, but they worked many hours to provide for their families. Some, if not many, in the first generation went onto college and most of the second. The ranks of doctors, lawyers, and educators began to swell with Greek names. What better catch for a Greek-American girl than to marry that Greek-American doctor or lawyer!
Those who immigrated to America also brought their Greek Orthodox Faith to these shores. They, like the Russian Orthodox, Serbian Orthodox, and Antiochian Orthodox who sought a better life, founded church communities, brought clergy from the motherland, and built churches, beautiful churches, like their Protestant and Roman Catholic neighbors. It was a struggle, but in the end they had something to be proud of - their churches and their families' successes.
I was so "proud" to be a Greek-American, an ethnic group that, according to the PBS program, was the best educated and the second wealthiest. What more could we ask?
What More Could We Ask?
That is an interesting question! Now that we as an ethnic group have reached such a pinnacle, what can we bequeath to our children, our Orthodox Church, and our new homeland?
First we need to look at a simplified overview of our history. The Ancient Greeks gave us philosophy, the ideals of Democracy, classical Art and Literature, the Acropolis, the Olympics, and more. The Byzantine Era gave us a rich Theology, magnificent Icons and Hymns, the Church of Aghia Sophia, and more. Then there was the Turkocratia - 400+ years of forced illiteracy and with it minimizing the teaching of the Faith, religious persecution, and martyrdom - our own Dark Ages. The West, on the other hand, benefited from the scholars and artisans who fled the Ottomans, i.e. the Renaissance.
Do we, in general, believe and live as our Orthodox forefathers before the Turkocratia, before the fall of Constantinople? 400 years of bondage does take a toll on a people. It takes time to undo such damage. Our Russian Orthodox brothers and sisters endured 70 years of persecution, and it is said that it will take a generation, probably two, to undo that damage. If that is the case, our 400+ years could take at least 5, maybe 10 generations!
The Orthodox Church Today
Many good things have happened and continue to happen in the Orthodox Church here in America, in general, and the Greek Orthodox Church specifically. Our ranks have increased with people who have embraced Orthodox Christianity as adults, most through marriage. The number of adults who embrace the Orthodox Church because they seek the fullness of Faith, unchanged Theology, and True Worship is also growing. They study before making the commitment, and they come with their children in hand. Some have even be called to serve as clergy.
There are more "cradle" Orthodox - those who are Orthodox Christians by virtue of their infant baptism - seeking "to know" as well. We can say that Orthodox Christianity is not only growing, but also becoming part of the American scene. We are becoming known - though slowly at times - for more than just being the religion that celebrates Easter/Pascha late or Christmas late or have great food festivals. The Orthodox Church is being taken seriously by other Americans who are sincere about religion and spirituality.
Could this be our legacy to our children and our homeland?
Our Legacy to the Future
I believe with all my heart and soul that offering a renewed, vigorous, and vibrant Orthodox Church to our children and fellow Americans is indeed our legacy. For this to happen we need Orthodox Christians who know their Faith and live their Faith and seek to accomplish God's will.
Where Can We Begin?
This Lenten season offers us the opportunity to get "to know" the Faith better and "to live" the Faith better by attending the services, increasing our prayer life, doing for others less fortunate, and reflecting on our lifestyles. This is the time to examine where we have gone astray from the teachings of Christ and His Church, and make mid-course adjustments.
There are so many books about the Orthodox Church available today, that there is no reason not "to know." Contact Light & Life Publishing (618-925-3888) for a catalogue that contains nearly everything written in English about Orthodox Christianity. (Note: It also carries non-Orthodox material.) If your parish does not have a bookstore, you can order The Faith We Hold and Feast of Faith (about the Liturgy) by Archbishop Paul of Finland.
I wish you and your families an enriched Lenten season, and a glorious Pascha!