More Good News from The Orthodox Observer?

A couple of months ago, I reposted an editorial by Metropolitan Isaiah Chronopoulos of Denver that was first published in The Orthodox Observer. The gist of it was that parishes needed to be more proactive when it came to evangelism, specifically more hospitable to non-Greeks and more understanding of the thirst for the Gospel that pervades America. I was stunned to see that it was published in the first place, since it did not fit into the usual happy-talk type of journalism that the official journal of the GOA was long notorious for.

Subsequent issues in TOO lead me to believe that this evangelistic narrative seems to be taking hold. Perhaps I’m being a little too clever by half, but I suspect that a new editorial policy is in place. If so, we should be most grateful. It is only by the spirit of honest introspection, even self-criticism, that Orthodoxy will grow in America. And wherever I see it, I will laud it.

As to why this is happening, we can surmise that the collapse of Greece, indeed of the entire pseudo-Hellenistic enterprise that has sustained Greek culture and the GOA, has been a bracing slap in the face. I believe we are seeing the end of Helladism, a pseudo-nationalist movement known only for its intellectual and moral poverty. At the risk of kicking a man when he’s down, this must be said: there is no way that men of any real integrity can continue to foist egregiously false nationalistic mythologies on a Christian populace and hope to be taken seriously. Orthodoxy is an Ecclesia which has incorporated the best of Hellenism, and which worships the Triune God, while Helladism is a Synagogue which worships a culture. It’s not possible for a theistic institution to honor both traditions. One is true, the other is false.

If this is the case, then congratulations to TOO.

A Tale of Two Eggs: A Lesson in ‘Philoxenia’

By Fr. Mark Sietsema

Source: Orthodox Observer

I will never forget a story that my Classical Greek professor once told about his friend from England, an archaeologist who traveled to Greece after World War II to study some ruins.

Alas for the Englishman! The Greek Civil War was just getting into full swing. One day while at work in the field, he was surrounded by a band of communist insurgents. They took him captive and led him bound to a nearby farmhouse. He was locked in a back room while the rebels in the front room gathered to debate his fate. Half of them said they should hold the foreigner for ransom; the other half argued simply to kill the intruder and be done with it. For hours on end the disagreement raged back and forth: murder or money? blood or profit? (The insurgents assumed the Englishman could not understand them, but in fact his grasp of ancient Greek allowed him to follow quite well their discussion of his dim prospects!) At long last the fierce wrangling was interrupted: another rebel was reporting back to base. His daylong search for food had turned up only two eggs. Now a new question was put to the group: who should get the eggs? In this matter, however, agreement was immediate and unanimous. The eggs must of course be served to the guest!

This story gives a marvelous insight into the Mediterranean ideal of philoxenia, “hospitality.” One of the highest ideals of the ancient world, and still one of the great virtues of Mediterranean culture, is the code of courtesy for guests, whether invited or uninvited. Whatever else might be happening in one’s life, the claims of hospitality take precedence over everything else whenever a guest shows up at the door.

Homer in The Iliad takes great pains to describe in poetic detail the treatment, good or ill, that Odysseus received from different hosts … and how the gods and goddesses rewarded those hosts for said treatment.

For the ancient Greeks, hospitality to the stranger was more than a civil pleasantry: it was a sacred duty enforced by the powers on Mount Olympus. In fact, the Greek gods didn’t mind exercising a little “quality control” over hospitality among humans.

There are many stories from classical literature of the gods taking human form and showing up on someone’s doorstep to test his reception of a stranger. Perhaps the most beautiful example is the tale of Baucis and Philemon, a wife and husband who entertained Zeus and Hermes. These aging spouses were the only ones in their whole village to show friendship to the disguised outsiders. The gods thereafter granted the couple’s wish to remain together forever in life and in death, transforming them into two trees whose branches intertwined in an eternal embrace.

Does this tale sound vaguely familiar? It should! One of the great icons of Ortho- dox Christianity is a depiction of a similar story from the Scriptures. It is called E Philoxenia tou Avraam, “The Hospitality of Abraham.”

It illustrates the story told in Genesis 18, when by the oaks of Mamre the LORD came to Abraham and Sarah in the form of three angelic visitors, who were received graciously by the aging couple. (The Orthodox Church uses this icon to express its belief in the Holy Trinity: one Godhead in three persons.) The hospitality of Abraham is contrasted with the attitude of the Sodomites. Two of the angels went to Sodom to see Lot, the nephew of Abraham, and Lot received them kindly. The other men of the city, however, clamored at the door for a chance to abuse the strangers shamefully. The quality of hospitality was rewarded in each case: Lot and his daughters were led to safety, while the Sodomites received fire and brimstone from the sky.

Our modern mindset often dismisses the story of Sodom and Gomorrah as a moralistic fairy tale. The Bible, however, has a more sober take. “Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby have some entertained angels unawares,” says the writer to the Hebrews (13:1-2). Jesus Christ Himself takes this idea one step further.

Not only do some strangers come as God in disguise; every stranger that comes into our life is potentially Christ Himself. And Christ will be the one to reward us in a way that matches our treatment of him (Matthew 25: 35, 43).

I have many occasions to think about that English archaeologist and his two eggs.

(As it turns out, the rebels just let him go, after which he lived to tell his tale for years afterwards.)

Spiritual seekers are regularly calling, e–mailing, and dropping by almost weekly to check out the Orthodox Church. They come to visit our services. They come to observe our fellowship.

They come seeking a deeper experience of God.

How do we receive them? In the Church where The Hospitality of Abraham is one of the most treasured icons, how do we receive our guests?

Same question, but different wording: how do YOU receive these strangers?

  • Do YOU seek them out and welcome them?
  • Do YOU take them by the arm to coffee hour and sit with them?
  • Do YOU invite them to come back next Sunday?
  • Do YOU follow up with them later in the week?
  • Do YOU rejoice in the sight of new faces?
  • Do YOU support the use of languages in worship that accommodate the needs of our guests and not ourselves?

It’s not someone else’s job, it’s not just the priest’s job … it’s YOUR job. And you will be rewarded by Christ according to the measure of hospitality that you show. There was a time in the life of our Greek Orthodox parishes in America when, in the name of keeping things Greek, a non-Greek visitors would be received coldly.

One parishioner – of Greek descent! – once told me that as a college student she attended services at a parish for a year before anyone ever spoke to her. Unbelievable, and yet all too believable … for it is all too human to want to keep things to oneself, just the way they, familiar and comfortable.

Fr. Sietsema is pastor of Holy Trinity Church in Lansing, Mich., and a former editor for Merriam–Webster Dictionary. His e-mail is:

Also, you might be interested in reading this other essay by Fr John Bakas, the Dean of the Cathedral in Los Angeles. In it, he has some very strong words to say about superficiality of Hollywood. For a priest in Los Angeles, that’s almost an occupational hazard.

LA’s Bling Image

BY Fr. John Bakas

Source: Orthodox Observer

Yossi is a friend of mine. He owns a very upscale jewelry and fine art estab- lishment in the heart of Beverly Hills.

He invited me for a visit and a cup of espresso at his elegant store. Passing by security cameras and several two- way mirrors Yossi escorted me to his office where an assistant brought me the double espresso. Sitting behind his desk we chatted about life in general.

His desk was covered with an as- sortment of diamond rings, bracelets and watches. He treated them like a child playing with multicolored cray- ons. As the conversation progressed he handed me a watch and said: “put it on Father, try it out. It’s a Patek Philippe.” I put the rather plain looking watch on my wrist and didn’t think twice about it.

“I’ll let you have it for seven hun- dred and forty.” I thanked him for the offer and I told him I didn’t need a new watch and $740 was not a bad price. “No, no” he said with a smile. “It’s $740,000.”

At that point after the blood drained from my face to my feet and half–way choked on my espresso, I gently took off the watch and carefully returned it to him. “Yossi my Seiko tells the same time exactly as the Patek Philippe. Who would buy such a watch to tell time.

“Ah my friend, the people who buy these watches don’t buy them to tell time but to make a fashion statement.” It’s all about image in their circles of influence.

My heart was racing. I didn’t know if it was the price of the watch or the double espresso. I couldn’t believe anyone would spend $ 740,000 for the sake of image being everything. In the LA area a number of cottage industries have arisen out of the culture’s obses- sion with image, self–promotion and the desire for that illusive fame. Image is everything, but only if you are willing to pay for it.

You may not be able to own Hol- lywood’s runway at the Oscars, but you can borrow a designers dress by a company called Rent the Run for about $75. The owners of Rent the Run, say their business has tripled in a year.

Need some bling to go with that dress? Jewelry company Adorn will rent you a $24,000 diamond necklace for $260 and a pair of $8,250 earrings like Prin- cess Kate wore at her wedding for just $160 (yes, there’s a security deposit).

And Avelle, another company, will rent you a Louis Vuitton handbag (retail price $1,680) for just $60 a week. Of course, none of that will matter if no one’s looking. Image, after all, is a visual medium.

Why not head out on the town in style in a Bentley, Maserati or Rolls- Royce rented from Gotham Dream Cars? A Rolls Royce Phantom convert- ible will cost you $950 a day, which is chump change compared to its re- tail price of $427,000. And since the whole “image is everything” mantra was started in L.A., what does a fake celebrity need more than a pack of fake paparazzi?

Turns out you can rent them, too.

Celeb 4 A Day was founded in 2007; $499 will buy you four personal pa- parazzi to follow your every move and shout questions at you for 30 minutes. You can upgrade to the “MegaStar” package, however, and get a two-hour experience that includes six personal paparazzi, one bodyguard, a publicist and a limousine. So never mind the cost.

Remember image is everything. After all, how else can you explain Paris Hilton, the Kardashians and the vapid cast of Jersey Shore and their reality TV ilk – attractive people who are only famous for being famous?

Whereas celebrity used to involve a measure of talent, now it’s only about the bling…the false image.

The wise Old Testament King Solomon who tried all things and ex- perienced all thing and pleasures life had too often ended up saying: “all is vanity and a chasing after the wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.” His father, the great King Da- vid, wrote in his Psalm 103…“As for a man, his days are like grass; As a flower of the field, so he flourishes. For the wind passes over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.”

What matters to God is not the im- age we create, but His own image in us. God cuts through all the appearances and masks we love to wear for each other, and looks deep into the real self that’s often hidden under all those layers of makeup, material things and make-believe roles we play. The image of God is everything. We were created in God’s image for a purpose. Each of us is chosen for a purpose that has nothing to do with fame, fortune or face time on TV.

Our purpose is to reflect the image of God in us and no other, and to live as people who authentically love and are loved. God defines our true identity as His created and loved image, and then calls us to live out that identity in community for the whole world. Ap- pearances can be deceiving. God looks at the heart.

The only image that matters is God’s image in us. Few, if any of us will ever be famous to the rest of the world, but we are all famous to God. It’s God’s picture of us that is the most clearly focused and long-lasting. May we be people who skip the bling and instead, strive to be the picture he cre- ated us to be.

Fr. Bakas is dean of Saint Sophia Cathedral, Los Angeles and a faculty member of Loyola Marymount Univer- sity, School of Theology.

Anyway, the stars may be aligning for a more sober journalism., one that speaks to the foibles of our churches. Let’s hope they keep it up.


  1. The first article reminds me of two experiences with Greek churches — one of my own, the other of a friend.

    The friend, a well-educated gentleman now perhaps in his eighties, wished to attend service one Sunday at the local Greek Orthodox parish. Location: The South. Parish Welcome: A row of men on the front steps, arms folded, who demanded to know what he wanted there, and who sent him packing. Minor Detail: My friend’s epidermis featured far greater pigmentation than that of his prospective hosts. . . . It took many years before he tried again to become Orthodox, this time successfully, at a second local Orthodox parish. (This is where we met him.) Last laugh is on the original parish, where our friend eventually served on the parish council and as manager of the church bookstore.

    My remembered experience occurred at a Wisconsin Greek Orthodox parish in the mid-1980s. As I was travelling, I was dropped off before the Liturgy began. Throughout the service (conducted entirely in Greek), I quietly sang the choir responses and those of the hymns which I knew, in Greek which I have been told by others (Greeks) is of good quality. After the service, I stood outside the building for nearly an hour-and-a-half, waiting for my ride to come by. From the moment of my arrival, to the moment of my departure, not one person spoke to me.

    Surely matters have improved since these two incidents!

    On the other hand, I had an overwhelmingly positive experience at a Greek Orthodox parish when it mattered most. I was a college senior, in the throes of spiritual crisis, and had concluded that my last hope was to place my trust in the Orthodox Christian faith. A Greek Orthodox parish was within walking distance of Duke, so I hesitantly, yet determinedly, made my way there one early fall morning. Despite the 100% Greek environment — (The only other non-Greek was the German fiancee of a Greek medical student.) — the “yiayia group” adopted me with support and open friendship throughout my year there as a catechumen. I retain affectionate memories to this day of that parish.

    • Monk James says

      For what it’s worth, I’d like to say that even as a blond-haired, blue-eyed, non-greek boy I was welcomed at the greek orthodox parish near my home. The yiayias sort of adopted me. I remember that the first greek word I learned was diples, since they kept feeding me sweets.

      Although my sense of myself is very ‘russian orthodox’, my cordial relationship with greek-american Christians went on through my college years and after, until I entered monastic life at age 30, and has continued so ever since.

      I have no reason to disbelieve people when they say that they’ve been treated unkindly by american Greeks at church, and I regret that such things have happened. It’s just that this hasn’t been my personal experience. Not at all. Never. Nowhere.

      • Diogenes says

        “For what it’s worth, I’d like to say that even as a blond-haired, blue-eyed, non-greek boy I was welcomed at the greek orthodox parish near my home.”

        I can’t imagine why!

  2. “A couple of months ago, I reposted an editorial by Metropolitan Isaiah Chronopoulos of Denver that was first published in The Orthodox Observer. The gist of it was that parishes needed to be more proactive when it came to evangelism, specifically more hospitable to non-Greeks and more understanding of the thirst for the Gospel that pervades America. I was stunned to see that it was published in the first place, since it did not fit into the usual happy-talk type of journalism that the official journal of the GOA was long notorious for.”

    Do you have a link?

    • George Michalopulos says

      Nicholas, look for the first picture of Met Isaiah below. Click on that.

  3. cynthia curran says

    Well, what is interesting is La because of its high hispanic population doesn’t rank high for being into looks. Its the upper class whites that give it that image. Here the stats of the city: 48 percent hispanic, 28 percent non-hispanic white and 13 percent asian and about 9 percent afro-american.

  4. Jim of Olym says

    I recall that the Antiochians at one time had a Spanish language mission station in El Ay back around 30 years ago. Evidently it is muerte now. Anyone else doing missionary work there? I’m a Southern Californian born and bred, and lived there until 1991 when we moved to the PNW. Interesting place to visit but I shudder at the thought of actually living there again.