I had never really given much thought to Orthodoxy in America until I began attending St. Aresenius Hermitage. It was then that I began to understand the sacrifices and commitment it takes to spread the Gospel, to break ground in a foreign land, to start from nothing.
That is just what is happening at St. Arsenius Hermitage. It is nestled in the hills and pasture of North Texas, a few miles outside of a small community that does not have an Orthodox Church. In fact, the folks of this community and surrounding areas have never even heard of Orthodoxy, much less encountered a monk in robs shopping at their local home improvement store. The newspaper did a bio, and Father Gregory’s picture was cropped among the happenings of small town Texas life. He looked out of place, but his warm smile fit right in.
I wonder sometimes how Orthodoxy will ever permeate this Texas culture, sometimes they seem worlds apart; Orthodoxy and Texas. And then I look at my family, and I have hope. Orthodoxy makes all things new, it takes a proud Texan like myself and makes me new…without requiring me to loose my twang. Although, a priest once commented after I had chanted during Holy Week that he had never heard anything like it. I did not know if I should laugh or be offended, I chose to laugh. I am what I am, and if Orthodoxy is truly catholic I know there is a place for me.
Trying to become Orthodox has required that we as a family make new traditions. And that is hard. We are constantly trying to balance culture with church. We are not Greek, and we are not Russian, or Arab, or Romanian. However, Orthodoxy has a way of getting in the cracks, and slowly we are becoming American Orthodox. What will this look like?…who knows, we have a LONG way to go. I know because I watch the work at St. Arsenius, and I can see the longevity of the call. How long will it take for this small community in Texas to embrace the monk in the country? Longer still will be the inclusion, the familiarity, the ease that signifies Orthodox community life. It is a long and hard work. We Texans are willful and self directed, I could think of no harder place to break ground.
The story of St. Arsenius Hermitage is very inspiring. A family of twelve, a husband and wife and ten children have opened their hearts to the call. They labor alongside Father Gregory, and it is back breaking work. When I look at all they have sacrificed to help bring an Orthodox presence to this area I am truly humbled. They have given land, money, and labor. But, it is the sacrifice the family makes that breaks my heart. To begin this work the family has given up time, a resource that can never be renewed. All I can offer is my understanding, support, and heartfelt thanks. We help when we can, and I wish we could do more. It is a hard work.
We (my family) are a mission field…our community is a mission field…Texas is a mission field…America is a mission field. Orthodoxy is young in America. I am ok with that, and I understand that my conversion is also in its infancy. I am starting to see and learning to accept that becoming Orthodox is a long and hard work, but one that is full of life and reward. Lord have mercy.
For a good read on Orthodoxy and the South go here…
Orthodoxy and the Christ-Haunted Culture of the South