Church Mice

“We Orthodox, particularly those of us who are Western converts,” Bishop Kallistos said, “are often in danger of becoming church mice. We just live inside the church and nibble at the crumbs in the church, but we don’t look outside at the presence of Christ in the world as well.”

“We Orthodox who live in the West are heirs to the entire cultural and intellectual tradition of the West, much of which indeed is profoundly Christian. We are heirs to Dante, to Shakespeare, to Milton, to Wordsworth,” Bishop Kallistos continued passionately. “Of course we have our own Orthodox interpretation of their work. But if we are to play our role as Orthodox in the Western world we must be willing to listen and to learn from the spiritual masters of the Western tradition . . . Because this for us, and I speak as a Western convert, this for us is our own cultural heritage. We must not simply reject it and say ‘I shall only read Orthodox authors.’ Sometimes Orthodox say to me ‘Oh, I’m not going to waste my time reading Dante; he wasn’t Orthodox,’ which is a pity: for, if they did read Dante, they might learn a lot. Well, perhaps some people should just read Orthodox books. But others of us must surely engage in a dialogue with Western culture. Otherwise we are betraying our roles as Orthodox placed here in the West as mediators and witnesses.

God did not put me in ninth-century Byzantium. He placed me in twenty-first century Oxford. There must be a reason for that.

Moreover, what is asked of us Orthodox is to listen as well as speak. All too often we carry on an Orthodox monologue. But we need to hear the voice of the other. Somebody said to a friend of mine (my friend is Christian, the person speaking to her was not): “The trouble with you Christians is you want to give us the answer before you bother to find out what our questions are!'”

I joined Bishop Kallistos in a hearty laugh. Then he continued, “Now, I think we could apply that to Orthodoxy in the modern Western world. Before we give them all the Orthoodx answers, which in any case we ourselves know so incompletely, we need to listen to what their questions are. We need to consider where these questions are coming from, what is the meaning of the whole experience of the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation, the Enlightenment? As a Westerner I should start from where they are.”

Kyriacos C. Markides, Gifts of the Desert: (New York: Doubleday, 2005), pp. 168-169.

About Fr Joseph Gleason

I serve as a priest at Christ the King Orthodox Mission in Omaha, Illinois, and am blessed with eight children and one lovely wife. I contribute to On Behalf of All, a simple blog about Orthodox Christianity. I also blog here at The Orthodox Life.
This entry was posted in Humility, Missions and Evangelism, Western Rite Orthodoxy. Bookmark the permalink.

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