Fr Alexander Schmemann, no enemy of mission, writes:
[T]there are those who believe that the old pattern of national and religious unity can be simply applied to America. The Church is Greek in Greece, Russian in Russia, therefore it must be American in America—such is their reasoning. We are no longer Russians or Greeks, let us translate services in English, eliminate all "nationalism" from the Church and be one. Logical as it sounds, this solution is deeply wrong and, in fact, impossible. For what, in their cheerful but superficial "Americanism," the partisans of this view seem completely to overlook is that the rapport between Orthodoxy and Russia, or Orthodoxy and Greece, is fundamentally different from, if not opposed to, the rapport between Orthodoxy and America. There is not and there cannot be a religion of America in the sense in which Orthodoxy is the religion of Greece or Russia and this, in spite of all possible and actual betrayals and apostasies. And for this reason Orthodoxy cannot be American in the sense in which it certainly is Greek, Russian or Serbian. Whereas there, in the old world, Orthodoxy is coextensive with national culture, and to some extent, the national culture (so that the only alternative is the escape: into a "cosmopolitan," viz. "Western" culture), in America, religious pluralism and therefore, a basic religious "neutrality," belongs to the very essence of culture and prevents religion from a total "integration" in culture. Americans may be more religious people than Russians or Serbs, religion in America may have privileges, prestige and status it has not had in the "organic" Orthodox countries, all this does not alter the fundamentally secular nature of contemporary American culture; and yet it is precisely this dichotomy of culture and religion that Orthodoxy has never known or experienced and that is totally alien to Orthodoxy. For the first time in its whole history, Orthodoxy must live within a secular culture. This presents enormous spiritual problems with which I hope to deal in a special article. What is important for us here, however, is that the concept of "Americanization" and merman Orthodoxy is thus far from being a simple one. It is a great error to think that all problems are solved by the use of English in services, essential as it is. For the real problem (and we will probably only begin to realize and to face it when"' everything is translated into English) is that of culture, of the "way of life." It belongs to the very essence of Orthodoxy not only to "accept" a culture, but to permeate and to transform it, or, in other terms, to consider it an integral part and object of the Orthodox vision of life. Deprived of this living interrelation with culture, of this claim to the whole of life, Orthodoxy, in spite of all formal rectitude of dogma and liturgy, betrays and loses something absolutely essential. And this explains the instinctive attachment of so many Orthodox, even American born, to the "national" forms of Orthodoxy, their resistance, however narrow-minded and "nationalistic," to a complete divorce between Orthodoxy and its various national expressions. In these forms and expressions Orthodoxy preserves something of its existential wholeness, of its link with life in its totality, and is not reduced to a "rite," a clearly delineated number of credal statements and a set of "minimal rules." One cannot by a surgical operation called "Americanization" distill a pure "Orthodoxy in itself," without disconnecting it from its flesh and blood, making it a lifeless form. There can be no doubt, therefore, that in view of all this, a living continuity with national traditions will remain for a long time not only a compromise meant to satisfy the "old-timers," but an essential condition for the very life of the Orthodox Church. And any attempt to build the unity of Orthodoxy here by opposing the "American" to the traditional national connotations and terms will lead neither to a real unity nor to real Orthodoxy.Excerpted from his essay "Problems of Orthodoxy in America: The Canonical Problem," which always bears rereading.