So, it has been revealed that the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” scenario was false and the city of Ferguson MO was discovered to have a problem with racial bias after a series of peaceful protest and violent riots based on that falsehood. Meanwhile, a black student in Charlottesville VA with a clean record and good reputation gets his face slammed in the pavement by white law enforcement officers for supposedly using a fake ID at a bar. And while these stories of racial clashes are broadcast all over the news, four black students on a historically black college campus were stabbed by black people in Baltimore MD.
Since 2013, I have been saying that there is a need for African-Americans and Americans in general to know the saints of Africa and turn to Orthodox Christianity. Then again, since I have no popularity or status, it is easy to ignore the words of a poor country preacher. I really don’t care to have a national spotlight. If someone else more noteworthy wishes to say the same thing I am saying and captivate the world’s attention, glory be to God. Because the continued ignorance of the brown and black (red, yellow, and white as well) skinned holy men and women and the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church they belonged to is not working.
The situation in Charlottesville is personal to me as my wife is from that city. My in-laws live there, I got married there, it is a home to me. Dr. William Black, and Orthodox missionary to Kenya and Chanter at St. Nicholas Ukrainian Orthodox Church in nearby Greenwood, recently spoke at UVA about the history of African Christianity on that campus. St. Nicholas hosted a series on the topic “The Surprising Story of African Christianity” (I had the blessing of being one of the speakers). With such a topic, there should have been a strong flow of traffic on I-64 to the church. The hall that Dr. Black was speaking in should have been standing room only. And had those police officers been in either audience, they may have learned that the very New Testament that they have was put together by a black man, Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria. They may have learned why blonde haired, blue eyed, Russians love St. Moses of Ethiopia as an example of humility and forgiveness. Maybe they did have reason to suspect that the young man they brutalized was up to no good. But, if these men had knowledge of the African saints (better still, been devout Orthodox Christians), they would have handled the situation far more peacefully.
The situation in Baltimore also grieves me as my wife and I have family there. Morgan State University is an historically black college like our alma matter, Virginia State University. It is bad enough that someone outside of our race commits violence against us. But, we haven’t even made our own communities safe places for ourselves. And for this to happen on a campus where our young adults are striving to have a better future is nothing short of horrible. In a place of higher learning, there should be more images of St. Anthony who is regarded as the father of Christian monasticism and St. Cyprian who led the church in Carthage during some of the worst Roman persecution. St. Perpetua’s diary is one of the oldest writings of a Christian martyr. But, even among our best and brightest, our youth and young adults are infected with the images of the likes of 2 Chainz, Nikki Manaj, Rick Ross (who is not the real Rick Ross), and that ilk.
And what is the response to these unfortunate incidents? A rally chanting “No Justice = No Peace?” I have heard it said that it is crazy to do the same thing and expect a different result. Equality and justice are good things to strive for. But, apparently there is something deeper plaguing our society than rouge cops in Ferguson and Charlottesville. That same rouge spirit surfaces in other places at other times. At Morgan State, the administration is asking students to promote the positive things that are going on at the school. There is nothing wrong with putting one’s best face forward. But, unless the oral issues are dealt with, putting on a great shade of lipstick will not hide the rotting teeth.
I believe the real issue is that the religious culture in America does not honor and celebrate the holy men and women that God has given to us as examples of how to live. We ignore their images, their role in establishing Christian doctrine, and their words of prayer and wisdom. Think about it, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated not with worship services, special chants and prayers, and special meals that keep with the Lenten Fast. Irish and non-Irish tend to honor this holy man by having parades, parties, and drinking Guinness Stout. The Feast of St. Nicholas is on December 6th (18th for Old Calendar Jurisdictions), not on Christmas Day. December 25th (January 6th) is reserved for the birth of Jesus Christ. St. Peter the Aleutian is not made known to Native Americans outside of the Pacific Northwest although his martyrdom is the first known on this continent. Unlike Protestant missions, the Orthodox faith was not forced on anyone and Natives took to the Church as they could keep their culture and language and be Christian at the same time. During the 1960’s, African-American Christians were too busy with the Civil Rights Movement to learn about the Desert Fathers, Coptic and Ethiopian Christianity, and the black saints. Painting Jesus with an “afro” or “dreadlocks” is not good enough! Too many black church leaders ignore the depths of African contributions to early Christianity, do not try to share what they know with their congregations, or try to mix true Orthodoxy with Protestant doctrines.
The Orthodox Church is also greatly at fault here as we have done a poor job of evangelism. The late Antiochian Metropolitan Philip criticized our willingness to stay in our own little ethnic ghettoes when the wave of Evangelicals came into the Church in 1987. But, we haven’t had too many parishes in working class, mixed race communities, much less the lower income housing projects and trailer parks since then. Archbishop Iakovos marched with Dr. King in 1965. It doesn’t take a lot of courage for cradle Greeks or Serbs to share a prayer of St. Macarius with someone that has never heard of him. The Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Church has the light of God of 2,000 years and we in America have kept it under a bushel basket for way too long. No wonder this nation is stumbling in the dark.
Let us make a stronger effort to share our faith with others. The first and best way for us to do so is to live Orthodoxy. Let us maintain the fasting, prayer rules, veneration of saints and their icons and love God and our neighbors as ourselves. We need not pester people. But, we can invite friends, neighbors, and relatives to our worship services. We can host special programs that focus interesting portions of our beliefs. Our Lord taught us that the harvest is ready, but the laborers are few. We make up a very small percentage of Christians in this nation. But, we can’t let that discourage us. After all, He did take two fish and five loaves of bread to feed thousands. Let us take what little we have and see the miracles God can and will do through us in healing America’s racial divide.