The “Old Country” Longs for … Arizona?

The “Old Country” Longs for … Arizona? March 15, 2009

Dear Father Joseph,

I have been listening to some of your podcasts and felt compelled to drop you a line. I am also a former Southern Baptist who became Orthodox. I am currently living in Saint Petersburg, Russia; prior to that I was living in Moscow and prior to that in Constantinople (aka Istanbul).

Your Orthodox White Boy podcast made me think a bit about the current situation here in Russia. In Russia, at least in Moscow and St Pete you can buy Orthodox books, icons, and various paraphernalia not only in the many churches which have blessedly been restored, but at the local equivalents of Christian bookstores, some of which are subway kiosks. (An 8×10 mass produced icon here is about $10, and the smaller ones can be had for less than a dollar.) Yet at the same time while the majority of the population is baptized and the churches are pretty busy, it’s definitely not the Kingdom embodied.

When my priest here found out I was from the United States he asked me if I’d ever been to Arizona. He wants to visit the monasteries there. I am not joking.

Usually people here are surprised but a little flattered to find out that I, an Amerkanitz, am Pravaslavnaya. Sometimes they say “well everybody here is Orthodox but no one goes to church.” In my observation, however, most of the churches here would not be quiet enough to please Fr Danislav Gregorio. Saturday we went to vigil in a church where it was practically shoulder to shoulder.

Anyway, despite that, there is a definite sense here that they lost a great deal during the soviet oppression and that heroic work is necessary to counter the materialism and debauchery that has come in the post-soviet period. What I find surprising is clergy, like my priest, admire the United States and see it as a moral example, not the source of contamination.

Constantinople is another issue. Most of the Orthodox I knew there were Arabs and Antiochians (I am Antiochian but am definitely a whitey), but they existed in tiny numbers. The church there often gets treated as a tourist attraction.

Anyway my thought, after living in two of the Old Countries, is that while we remain a tiny minority in the states — what the old countries offer is more an exchange of problems than a kind of salvation through cultural osmosis.

Thanks for reading, I love the podcast and thank you for it —


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