Thursday, April 2, 2009

Hyperbole and Gordian Knots

I am thinking that Archbishop Demetrios could do with a new English-language speechwriter.

This is why.

(Incidentally, I think Mr Bush already tried the Gordian knot approach, without much success.)

16 comments:

orrologion said...

Agreed, though I think most of what the good Archbishop says and does is playing to a certain internal constituency that cares about Alexander the Great.

I think most Americans who think of Alexander the Great think either the library in Alexandria or gay soldiers or 'that movie with that guy in it' and probably mistake Brad Pitt in "Troy" for that English guy [Colin Farrell] in "Alexander" the flop.

Still, ghetto pass retained, which was likely the objective anyway.

Felix Culpa said...

You'll notice that someone shouts out "honorary Greek!" during the laughter.

My first thought, though, was that the Alexander reference had something to do with being bi-racial!

orrologion said...

Everyone that has seen 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding' knows that Orthodox Baptism is what makes one Greek.

I am always amazed at how 'honorary Greek' and similar phrases are given as compliments, when most Americans really don't care to be anything but themselves - or to pick and choose from their own ethnic heritages (some days I'm English, others Irish, others German, other French, and every now and again I'm also Native American; but, really, I'm just American and none of the rest anymore).

Perhaps when Pres. Obama meets a Russian hierarch someone will make an impolite, improper reference to him and Pushkin.

Felix Culpa said...

"You are the new Pushkin, the new 'Peter the Great's Negro!'"

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_the_Great's_Negro

Felix Culpa said...

And I always thought that the "you're a Greek now" line in "A Big Fat Greek Wedding" came not because he had just been baptized, but because he was covered in oil!

orrologion said...

Er, perhaps too explicit for those of us on this side of the Atlantic... However, that was the point of genealogy I was referring to.

On the Alexander point, my neighbor across the hall in my building is a Zoroastrian. They blame Alexander for the destruction of their culture and have some name for him like Alexander the Destroyer or some such. He's their Attila the Hun or Lenin.

Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

Yes, but President Bush didn't have the kind of fan club that President Obama has.

Likewise, I don't see the big deal about the Gordian Knot reference. Note that it was the presumption of the president to take the referent imagery and induce that he'd "been compared to Alexander the Great". Don't blame that ego on Archbishop Demetrios!

But anything Greek is a punching bag in some circles, these days....

Chris, you may like to remind your neighbor that it was (and still is) the Muslims who destroyed the Zoroastrian/Magian supremacy in the Persian lands. It was alive and well and thriving, in fact, through the entire Sassanid period. Of course, it may not be safe for them to say such in their homeland, so picking on the dead Westerner is certainly safer.

Felix Culpa said...

The Gordian knot reference is no big deal, just a rather strange image, especially for Mr Obama, given that it often is taken to refer to solving a problem with force rather than skill (driving through it with a sword rather than patiently untying it).

Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

In general American usage it's come to mean (of course) the quickest and most efficient solution. This is an example of push-button mentality eisegesis. It's recreated the image according to its own needs: efficiency instead of martial strength. The original story of the Gordian Knot, as all of them about Alexander, was loaded with an entirely unsubtle martial violence that brutalized its way even through intellectual obstacles. And this, to those authors, was a good thing. That's why he was called "the Great" after all, for his military victories, not for his voter base.

orrologion said...

I just think referring to an ancient Greek hero is so on the nose and obvious. That's my only beef. It's just so predictable. If it were simply the Greek Ambassador, that would be one thing, but this is the leader of a Church that claims to be universal and without 'nationalism' - he gave a poor witness to that and came off as simply an ethnarch. That makes me sad, as an Orthodox Christian.

Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

Chris, I think that's because you're currently (overly?) sensitive to such issues. Most literate people won't make the same connection. Alexander the Great is an historical figure for the entire world, not an obscure ethnic character whose mention by a Greek Archbishop should be considered counting ethnic coup.

orrologion said...

Overly? Yes. Definitely. Pray for me and the Church. I do not think mine is an uncommon reaction though, even if such a reaction is wrong or unintended.

I am less 'passionate' regarding other ethnic Orthodox equalizations of Orthodoxy with their own culture because I have less interaction with those cultures, but it is still a problem for me. If I moved somewhere where there was only a heavily ethnic Russian or Romanian church, I think I would develop the same feelings - though I am more of a russophile than a grecophile, so perhaps I'm wrong, though I cringe at more and more of the language coming out of ROCOR, for instance, that conflates the mission of the Church with Russian culture, in their parishes.

I think you are right regarding Alexander, generally, but not when the reference is made by a Greek Archbishop on Greek Independence Day speaking for the Greek people.

Perhaps it is too much to ask that the representative of the Ecumenical Patriarch in the US not be put forward as the leader of the Greek people on such a day - but I would love to see the bishops' better able to defer to the more important hat - the hat of Bishop of the Church - and allow someone else to speak on behalf of the Greek people. But, we all refer to the GOA and its parishes as "the Greek church" (same with other ethnic jurisdictions), so perhaps there is no solution.

Speaking of Gordian knots...

Felix Culpa said...

What's wrong with the ranking Greek Orthodox bishop being put forward as the leader of the Greek people in this country?

Felix Culpa said...

Chris, I'd suggest you revisit this post:

http://ishmaelite.blogspot.com/2008/04/convert-and-cradle-iii.html

orrologion said...

If I were not Orthodox, I would think that the Greek church is primarily for Greeks or those of Greek extraction. I would assume - and this is the most common critique I hear from many an 'interested' inquirer into Orthodoxy - that the Orthodox Church is really just for people of particular ethnic groups. This is a common opinion for a good number of ethnic Orthodox themselves.

While there is nothing wrong, per se, with putting him forward as "as the leader of the Greek people in this country", because he is a highly regarded member of the Greek community, it just underlines the ethnically (rather than theologically) 'Greek' character of the GOA. As the largest single Orthodox jurisdiction in America - and one that claims (perhaps rightly so) that it is the proper jurisdiction to unite and lead all Orthodox in America - this reinforced the impression that the Orthodox Churches are merely ethnic churches and not churches for 'all nations'.

Actions speak louder than words, and while the words explaining the Universal character of the Orthodox Church as the Church of Christ, actions that mix-up purely ethnic concerns give an impression at least at odds with that explanation.

I think ethnic Orthodox - laity and clergy - underestimate how excluded most non-Orthodox feel in their churches and the degree to which culture is felt to predominate over God. Were Orthodoxy merely a part of the Roman Catholic church, then this would not be an issue - it would simply be a number of 'styles' of being Catholic - but the Orthodox Church claims to be The Church for all mankind. Many of a pastoral choice in the 'diaspora' and abroad is felt to undercut this claim - including acting as ethnic representative.

However, Kevin is 100% right. I am overly (and not just currently) sensitive to this issue and need to stop. Pray for me.

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