for my friend
We came. We saw. We conquered. This is most definitely the vibrato of an Orthodox convert, a recently converted I might add. I don’t feel so confident anymore. It’s been seven years since we took the road East. The war for truth is over, and now it is the occupation of being Orthodox that wages a different kind of war, a cold war so to speak. The hostility lies between who we are, and being Orthodox. This is the hard battle of an American convert, a battle between cultures, memory, community, and heritage.
Before becoming Orthodox I took for granted how much my heritage and culture were built upon my faith. When I became Orthodox I was naive enough, presumptuous enough, to believe that truth is a state of the mind, something I merely believe, and that if I change what I think I would be Orthodox. In reality, truth is much more…being Orthodox is much more…it is what we live…what we say…who we love….what we love. Truth is not a thing. It is alive, and it is woven into the fabric of our lives.
This is something we converts sometimes struggle with, we believe if we change what we think, we can easily change what we do. However, when we begin to change what we do, we have to decide if what we are doing is true to us. Like, giving our children Greek or Russian names, when we are neither Greek nor Russian. It may be something we think is true, but calling a child by a name that separates he/she from their culture, community, and ancestral heritage is no small thing. At least not for me.
I once spoke with my confessor about the struggle a friend was having. She believed Orthodoxy…but she could not live it…not in her family…not in her community. This inability to reconcile what she believes with who she is drove her from the Church. She chose, as a homemaker, to go home…to an American home. Orthodoxy has left her feeling conflicted. She regrets dividing her children from she and her husband, and she blames herself for fracturing her family. She regrets leaving behind her own traditions, traditions that held her family together for generations. She tried very hard to adopt the traditions of her new community, but in the end all she said to me was, “I am not Greek, and neither are my children.” This puzzled my confessor and he responded with a kind word, “Many times Americans feel their culture is void and empty, therefore they enjoy adopting the cultures of the Orthodox.” I understood what he meant. However, I did not identify with it. I am American, and I have a deep and beautiful heritage.
And so I linger in twilight. Unlike my friend, I have decided to stay…to try and forge a path for my children. “Like a pioneer,” my husband says.
American converts have a large task in front of them….a whole life conversion. We give up memory as an integral part of our being. Our pasts are filtered through a truth cloth, dissected and examined. We do not live our memory the same as our cradle Orthodox brothers and sisters. This is very hard for me…so much of the Evangelical and Catholic way is interwoven with American culture. I am certain there is no such thing as an American Orthodox. Not yet.
I wonder if I am required to give up my culture to be Orthodox? To be Christian? Some will have explanations, others will admonish that this is the sacrifice we must make for truth. Yet, in times of division and fracture I wonder about that. I wonder about truth and what it is and how to live it. I think about how truth brought division and fracture into a family. I think about my children, and memory, and traditions, and the things that make us diverse…what makes us a people…a community…a culture.
How shall we then live?