African-American Orthodoxy and the Native American Model



African-American Orthodoxy and the Native American Model

One of the reasons why some African Americans are not becoming Orthodox is that we feel that it is someone else’s faith and culture and not our own. I have read some discussions on other sites as to where some of us wish to mix other doctrines into the Church to make it more relevant and appealing to black people. Rather than post what I was typing last night, I will share with you an idea that came into my head this morning.

What do Native Alaskans know that we African-Americans need to learn about being Orthodox Christian and culturally yourself?

The native Alaskans became Orthodox during the time when Russia claimed the land as their territory. Russian fur trappers shared their faith (in good and bad relationships) with the Natives to a point where the missionary priest found Orthodox Christian communities already existing with lay leadership. Rather than force them to adopt the Russian language and culture, men like Sts. Herman and Innocent translated the scriptures and holy books into the Native languages and blessed the best of Native culture. American Protestants and Catholics forbade the Natives to use their language and tried to impose their denominations and English on the people. The Alaskans saw that if they wanted to be Christian and still be who they were as a people, the Orthodox Church was the best choice. It is still said by some, “To be Native is to be Orthodox.”

So, here is my idea. Let’s learn from the Native Alaskan Orthodox Christians how they manage to be true to their culture and members of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. After all, they faced racial prejudice and were looked down on just like us. They didn’t want to see their language and culture disappear. Orthodoxy honors who they are. But how? Are there places in the Divine Liturgy that they used a Native musical tone rather than Byzantine or Slavonic? Do the Native preachers speak with a certain vocal pattern that reaches the people in ways sermons from others cannot? This blending of faith and culture is not the result of a bridge of modern doctrines made by non-Orthodox clergy. Orthodoxy in Alaska is over 200 years old. They must be doing something right up there.

No doubt, people of the race of Jackie Robinson and James Farmer of the 1950’s and 60’s ought not be afraid to go to any church in 2015. No doubt, too many Orthodox parishes are still infected with a cold ethnocentrism, even towards potential catechumens that look like themselves. But, if there is going to be a bridge to help more blacks become Orthodox, the Native Americans of the north may have some proven ways on how to be Orthodox Christian and yourself at the same time. I think that it was Malcolm X who said something like this:

“If you have a problem, look at your neighbor who had the same problem and see how he solved it. Once when you learn how he solved his problem, you are well on your way to solving yours”.


African-American Orthodoxy and the Native American Model


Una carta de un cristiano ortodoxo a nuestros Hermanos Nativos Americanos ╰⊰¸¸.•¨* Spanish


Una carta de un cristiano ortodoxo

a nuestros Hermanos Nativos Americanos

El 16 de septiembre de 2009, vi un documental en la televisión que presenta la vida de una de las tribus indígenas que viven en la región amazónica. En Grecia, sabemos muy poco por estas tribus: sólo que son antiguos, que sus antepasados eran sabios y valientes guerreros, con naciones bien organizadas y civilizaciones notables, y que desde el siglo 15 en adelante, varios señores de la guerra blancos llevaron guerreros vestidos de armadura fuerte que vino del mar y que masacraron a los habitantes de estas tribus, saquearon sus tesoros, destruyeron sus ciudades y aldeas, y se apoderaron de sus tierras. Es en esta tierra que fue arrebatada a los indios que ahora nos encontramos con todos los países que están en el continente conocido como “América”: Norte, Centro y Sur.

Nosotros, los griegos han pasado por más o menos lo mismo. Nosotros también teníamos guerreros sabios y valientes, con estados bien organizados y civilizaciones importantes, y, a partir del siglo 13, varios señores de la guerra blancos llevaron guerreros vestidos de armadura fuerte que vino de la tierra y el mar y masacraron nuestro pueblo, saquearon nuestros tesoros, destruyeron nuestras ciudades y aldeas y tomaron nuestra tierra. Estos señores de la guerra tenían exactamente las mismas banderas como los que destruyeron las vidas de nuestros hermanos, los nativos de América.

A partir del siglo 15, lo que sobró de nuestra tierra fue tomado por otros guerreros bárbaros que vinieron de Oriente, y que, nuestros hermanos nativos de América no habían enfrentado. Ellos también se había apoderado de nuestra tierra, a pesar de que constantemente rebelamos contra ellos, hasta 1830, cuando una gran porción de ella fue liberada, poco a poco. Sin embargo, todavía éramos débiles y desgarrados por las guerras civiles entre nuestros propios señores de la guerra (valientes, pero no sabios; por suerte hubo algunos sabios), y así, en vez de ser verdaderamente libres y fuertes, caímos en las manos de nuestros soberanos anteriores, que nos colocaron bajo su autoridad- no con las armas en esta ocasión, pero con astucia conocida como política y diplomacia.

Incluso en nuestros días, todavía estamos luchando para liberarnos y para recuperar la sabiduría y la valentía de nuestros antepasados.

Por lo tanto, mis hermanos indígenas, creo que puedo entender sus tribulaciones, suficientemente para dirigir unas palabras a ustedes. De alguna manera, yo soy uno de ustedes.

En el documental que he mencionado anteriormente, vi algo que profundamente herido mi corazón: algunos indios estaban de pie en la orilla del mar, en el lugar donde los invasores blancos habían desembarcado del mar y habían plantado allí una Cruz gigante, justo antes de comenzar su “trabajo” de exterminio de los indios. Los indios de hoy le dijeron a los cineastas que estaban preparando el documental: “Este es el lugar donde los hombres blancos comenzaron a apoderarse de nuestra tierra. La Cruz es el espíritu de Continue reading “Una carta de un cristiano ortodoxo a nuestros Hermanos Nativos Americanos ╰⊰¸¸.•¨* Spanish”

A Letter from an Orthodox Christian to our Native Americans Brothers


A Letter from an Orthodox Christian to

our Native Americans Brothers

On September 16, 2009, I saw a documentary on television presenting the life of one of the indigenous tribes living in the Amazon region. In Greece we know very little about these tribes: only that they are ancient, that their ancestors were wise and brave warriors, with well-organized nations and noteworthy civilizations, and that from the 15th century onwards, various white warlords led armor-clad warriors who came from the sea and who slaughtered the people of these tribes, ransacked their treasures, destroyed their cities and villages, and seized their land. It is on this land which was seized from the Indians that we now find all the countries that are on the continent known as “America”: North, Central, and South.

We Greeks have gone through more or less the same. We too had wise and brave warriors, with well-organized states and important civilizations, and from the 13th century onwards, various white warlords leading armor-clad warriors came from both land and sea and slaughtered our people, ransacked our treasures, destroyed our cities and villages and seized our land. These warlords had exactly the same flags as those who destroyed the lives of our brothers, the natives of America.

From the 15th century onwards, what was left of our land was seized by other barbarian warriors who came from the East, whose like our native American brothers had not confronted. These had likewise seized our land, even though we constantly revolted against them, until 1830, when a large portion of it was liberated, little by little. However, we were still weak and torn by civil wars among our own warlords (brave, but not wise ones; fortunately there were a few wise ones), and so, instead of becoming truly free and strong, we fell into the hands of our previous overlords, who placed us under their authority – not with weapons this time, but with cunning known as politics and diplomacy.
Even in our day, we are still struggling to free ourselves and to regain the wisdom and bravery of our ancestors.

So, my Native Americans brothers, I think I can understand your tribulations, enough to address a few words to you. In a manner of sorts, I am, so to speak, “one of you”.

In the documentary that I mentioned previously, I saw something that deeply wounded my heart: some Native Americans were standing on the ocean shore, at the place where the white invaders had disembarked from the sea and had planted a giant Cross, just before beginning their “labour” of Continue reading “A Letter from an Orthodox Christian to our Native Americans Brothers”

Επιστολή Ορθόδοξου Χριστιανού προς τους αδελφούς μας Ινδιάνους


Επιστολή Ορθόδοξου Χριστιανού

προς τους αδελφούς μας Ινδιάνους

Απόψε, στις 16 Σεπτεμβρίου 2009, είδα στην τηλεόραση ένα ντοκιμανταίρ, που παρουσίαζε τη ζωή μιας από τις αυτόχθονες φυλές, που ζουν στην περιοχή του Αμαζόνιου. Για τις φυλές αυτές στην Ελλάδα ξέρουμε πολύ λίγα: ότι είναι αρχαίες, ότι οι πρόγονοί τους ήταν σοφοί και γενναίοι πολεμιστές, με καλά οργανωμένα κράτη και σπουδαίους πολιτισμούς, και ότι από το 15ο αιώνα διάφοροι λευκοί πολέμαρχοι οδήγησαν σιδηρόφρακτους πολεμιστές που ήρθαν από τη θάλασσα και έσφαξαν τους ανθρώπους των φυλών αυτών, λεηλάτησαν τους θησαυρούς τους, κατέστρεψαν τις πόλεις και τα χωριά τους και άρπαξαν τη γη τους. Σ’ αυτή τη γη, την αρπαγμένη από τους Ινδιάνους, βρίσκονται τώρα όλα τα κράτη της ηπείρου που ονομάζεται Αμερική, Βόρεια, Κεντρική και Νότια.

Εμείς οι Έλληνες έχουμε περάσει περίπου τα ίδια. Κι εμείς είχαμε προγόνους σοφούς και γενναίους πολεμιστές, με καλά οργανωμένα κράτη και σπουδαίους πολιτισμούς, και από το 13ο αιώνα διάφοροι λευκοί πολέμαρχοι οδήγησαν σιδηρόφρακτους πολεμιστές που ήρθαν από τη στεριά και τη θάλασσα και έσφαξαν τους ανθρώπους μας, λεηλάτησαν τους θησαυρούς μας, κατέστρεψαν τις πόλεις και τα χωριά μας και άρπαξαν τη γη μας. Οι πολέμαρχοι αυτοί είχαν ακριβώς τις ίδιες σημαίες με εκείνους που κατέστρεψαν τη ζωή των αδελφών μας, των ιθαγενών της Αμερικής.

Από το 15ο αιώνα ό,τι είχε απομείνει από τη γη μας το άρπαξαν άλλοι βάρβαροι πολεμιστές, που ήρθαν από την ανατολή και που δεν τους γνώρισαν οι Ινδιάνοι αδελφοί μας. Και κράτησαν τη γη μας, παρόλο που επαναστατούσαμε συνεχώς εναντίον τους, μέχρι που, από το 1830, κομμάτι κομμάτι, απελευθερώθηκε ένα μεγάλο μέρος της. Αλλά και πάλι ήμασταν αδύναμοι και σπαραγμένοι από εμφύλιους πολέμους ανάμεσα σε δικούς μας πολέμαρχους (γενναίους αλλά όχι σοφούς – ευτυχώς υπήρχαν και αρκετοί σοφοί), κι έτσι, αντί να γίνουμε αληθινά ελεύθεροι και δυνατοί, πέσαμε στα χέρια των προηγούμενων κυρίαρχων, που μας Continue reading “Επιστολή Ορθόδοξου Χριστιανού προς τους αδελφούς μας Ινδιάνους”

Fr. Simeon de la Jara from Peru: On a righteous path from Peru to Mount Athos, Greece






Fr. Simeon de la Jara from Peru:

On a righteous path from Peru to Mount Athos, Greece


When Miguel Angel de la Jara Higgingson was seven, his mother had a vision. She sensed that her son would some day leave her for a “far away place, like an island, there where people of solitude lived who pray all the time and rarely step out into the world”. Even she, however, could probably not have imagined just how far from his native Peru, both physically and spiritually, his life’s search would take him.

Now he is Father Simeon the hermit, an Orthodox Christian monk of Eastern Orthodox Church who lives on Mount Athos, a self-administrating, all-male monastic community on the Athos peninsula – the eastern most of three jutting peninsulas in the northern Greek prefecture of Halkidiki in Greece.

However, it’s not just his Peruvian origins that make Father Simeon such a well-known figure among visitors to Mount Athos; it’s also his radiant presence as an artist, poet and painter that makes him so sought after, especially by the young.

His journey began in 1968, when at the age of 18 he left Peru to discover the world. After travelling through Europe and Asia for over two years – during which time he was exposed to eastern philosophies and religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism and yoga – he finally settled in Paris, where he lived for the next three years.

It was in Paris that he first met a GreekOrthodox monk and learned about Orthodoxy, a meeting that was to have a profound effect on him. For the next two and a half years he studied hagiography (icon painting) with Leonide Ouspensky, while his interest in Orthodoxy deepened.

He first visited Greece in 1972, where he accepted the Orthodox faith, before returning to stay in 1973, originally joining the monastery of Agios Georgios (St George) on the large Greek island of Evia. When, in 1974, the entire monastery relocated to Agios Grigorios (St Gregory) on Mount Athos, Simeon followed, living at the Agios Grigorios Monastery until 1987. He subsequently became a hermit, moving to the old hermit’s cell of Timios Stavros near the Stavronikita monastery, where he built a new dependency and formed a complex.

On first meeting Father Simeon, one is struck by his youthful passion and joy – qualities which, as he says, “one cannot hide”. A compassionate listener and gentle speaker, he responds to questions with spontaneity and rigour, without ever becoming dogmatic or distant. Behind his piercing eyes is an inquisitive mind, forever seeking ways to express the love and joy he wants to share with others.

After 24 years in Greece, Father Simeon declares a profound love and admiration for Greek culture and language, saying he prefers writing in Greek to even his native Spanish. To his extensive travels he owes a rich and varied experience, as well as a love of French Surrealism, tatami mats, Japanese food and Chinese art. And to his Peruvian family he owes his love of art.

According to Simeon, it is the need to tap into the inner joy in all things which Continue reading “Fr. Simeon de la Jara from Peru: On a righteous path from Peru to Mount Athos, Greece”

The new face of Mayan Christianity – Orthodox Holy Week & Easter of Mayans in Guatemala


The new face of Mayan Christianity

Orthodox Holy Week & Easter of Mayans in Guatemala

Christianity among the Mayan Native Americans is undergoing a dramatic change in places like Guatemala and Southern Mexico. This shifting of religious identity is part of a larger trend that is enveloping much of Latin America.

According to the Pew Research Center report, published in November of 2014, “historical data suggests that for most of the 20th Century, from 1900 through the 1960′s, at least 90% of Latin America’s population was Roman Catholic.” Remarkably, however, in just one lifetime, the Pewsurvey indicates that only “69% of adults across the region identify as Roman Catholic.”

Up until recently, Orthodox Christianity did not play much of a role in this changing landscape. Most of our parishes consisted of immigrant colonies, established mainly to perpetuate the customs, languages  and traditions of their respective ethnic cultures  and mother churches in Europe.

The title of a recent article in the Huffington Post by Carol Kuruvilla, however, announces a major shift in this approach to the church’s mission: “The Greek Orthodox Church In Latin America Is Not Very Greek.” Embracing this change and adapting to this new reality, Archbishop Athenagoras, since his 1996 appointment by Patriarch Bartholomew to shepherd the Central American Church, has reached out to the indigenous people of this vast region, encompassing Mexico, Central America, Columbia, Venezuela, and the Caribbean Islands. Of his 52 active clergy, only 3 are of Greek descent. The enthusiastic reception by His Eminence Athenagoras of many thousands of Mayan Christians into the Orthodox fold has transformed his church into a unity of diverse people, sharing one faith, but speaking many native dialects, as on the day of Pentecost. On a recent visit to the village of Aguacate, he was able to begin Holy Week with the Mayan faithful, who now comprise the  vast majority of his growing flock in Central America.



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Native American Pathways to Orthodoxy – Marriane Poulos


Native American Pathways to Orthodoxy


Marriane Poulos



I first felt the words of Christ come to life on a Pueblo Native American reservation in New Mexico, at “Ok’Ay Oh Ween Geh,” (Place of the Strong People.) The first time I stepped into the home of my Pueblo friend I was told, “This is not just my home, it is yours, too. And know that you always have a place to come home to, no matter how long it takes you to return.” How Christ-like this Indian elder was. The more our friendship grew, the more I was able to admire his goodness. Once I even saw him give the last of his money to an enemy. I also began to learn more of his people’s history. When the Spanish first came to the Southwest they called the Native Americans pagans. By force the colonizers converted them to Catholicism. They severely beat and hung many tribal leaders unless they allowed themselves to be baptized, immediately. They were made slaves. They were given Spanish names. “The Pueblo,” as a name did not exist yet. To themselves they were simply known only as “The People”. So it was in this atmosphere of evil The People were introduced to Christ, for the very first time. Despite the surrounding cruelty in which the Word came to them, they accepted it anyway. And this is what made the Native Americans such great Christians – they forgave their enemies.

To many Native American elders, the Word and the Way of Christ seemed so much like the teachings the Great Spirit had given to them. When they heard the scriptures they were convinced of Jesus, but they wondered why these bringers of his worWord were so unlike him – searching the Southwest for the mythic “Seven Cities of Gold,” My elder friend told me, “We knew where the gold was, but, you see, in an Indian way it would be bad for the people. It might make us greedy or start fighting, so we just left it buried there. In the Indian way a person’s worth was not determined by what he could accumulate, but by how much he could give.” Another Native friend of mine once told me, “Our ancestors grew up fearing the cross.” To them it had become a symbol of violence and death, comparable to the swastika.

One can only wonder how it would have been had the Pueblo Indians been introduced to Christ through the Orthodox Christian church like the Aleutian peoples of Alaska. The Aleuts, who were not mono-theistic, were taught the Christian gospel over a period of then years, and not so much by teaching and preaching, but by personal example. The life of Orthodox Saint Hermen of Alaska was one of humble service to the Kodiak people. His miracles of healing and prophesies concerning the future confirmed the Sugpiaq faith in Orthodox Christianity.

Today Alaska has become the home of four Orthodox saints, all who have been canonized by the church. This includes the martyred Kodiak Aleut Peter who died under torture in California for refusing to renounce Orthodoxy, after being captured by the Spanish. (Alaskan Missionary Spirituality, edited by Michael Oleska) Perhaps there are many pathways to the Giver of Life, Who is Everywhere Present, Who Fills All Things.

But the question remains, can one reject Christ and still achieve spiritual wholeness? The famous medicine man Black Elk believed the Indian tradition had been given by God to prepare the Indians for the revelation of Christ. (Michael Streltenkamp’s Black Elk, Holy Man of the Oglala, University of Oklahoma Press.) In comparing the various Native American Traditions to the mystic heart of the ancient Orthodox Christian Tradition (the original persecuted Christian Church of Christ,) we can find several corresponding links supporting this very idea. In both traditions we begin prayers by offering sweet fragrance to our Father in Heaven, or in the Native American tradition, to “Sky Father.” The Native Americans honor The Great Mystery in all the directions, and pray facing east, just as we Orthodox face east in prayer. The Bishops of the Orthodox church face east, south, west and north – to honor the Sun, Jesus Christ, rising in all the directions.

The traditional Native American idea of the Creator is expressed as The Great Mystery, and The Great Spirit. The Orthodox Church also shares the notion of God as Mystery, expressed beautifully by Bishop Kallistos Ware in his book,The Orthodox Way. He writes how the Greek Fathers “liken man’s encounter with God to the experience of someone walking over the mountains in the mist: he takes a step forward and suddenly finds that he is on the edge of a precipice, with no solid ground beneath his foot but only a bottomless abyss…our normal assumptions are shattered… And so it proves to be for each one who follows the spiritual Way. We go out from the known to the unknown, we advance from light into darkness. We do not simply proceed from the darkness of ignorance into the light of knowledge, but we go forward into greater knowledge which is so much more profound.”

And if the Holy Spirit, as the dynamic, as opposed to the still, aspect of God, in Orthodoxy, can be equated to the Native American concept of The Great Spirit, then perhaps we have reached the point where Christianity can be presented as the fulfillment of Indian tradition – in a new aspect of God. God as Person. A God who came to us to show his humble love for us. A God who experienced manhood out of his deep sympathy. “In his ecstatic love, God unites himself to his creation in the closest of all possible unions, by himself becoming that which he has created.” (Bishop Kallistos Ware)“Behold, I make all things new.” (Rev. 21:5) This does not mean we replace or destroy the old. Many aspects of the Orthodox tradition correspond directly to the ancient beliefs of Native Americans, and perhaps this ancient window can also provide us with a greater scope of the deep Christ Heart.

One of our old, old holy men said,“Every step you take on earth should be a prayer. The power of a pure and good soul is in every person’s heart and will grow as a seed as you walk in a sacred manner. And if every step you take is a prayer, then you will always be walking in a sacred manner” (CharmaineWhiteFaceOglala Lakota).