An ancient problem, yet still fresh and relevant, stands as an unsurmountable wall in the face of the process of Orthodoxy in America. This problem is ethnic nationalism.
Nationalism is not an empty word. It is as true as the individual who is seeking himself outside himself. There is nothing authentic outside man, who is the image of God. However, the individual-wrapped up in his limited self-has the illusion that he might find his self where there is no real self; in the nation or the mass to which he belongs. The nationalistic man might be honest in putting his hope in his nation, because he is trying to establish his identity and find security for himself. Nevertheless, his point of departure is erroneous. Whenever we build the roof before the foundation, then the house is liable to fall. And the eyes cannot be placed in the back of our head, if we expect to move ahead and reach forward. Therefore, when we discuss nationalism, we ought to pose the real problem, in order to find the real answer; The problem is the meaning of Man. And any attempt to solve this problem outside this man-perspective is condemned in advance to failure.
Then, let us put the picture within its real frame. We shall essay in this short paper to establish the fact that man is not only more important than nationalism; but we shall state with assurance and certainty that Man is both the source of every meaning, and the end of all ends.
When God created Man in His image, He gave him both meaning and the force to grant meaning to every thing that is in existence. On one hand, man is not complete in himself; on the other, the world has no meaning without him. He is not complete because he receives his fullness in God; and the world was created for him, consequently, he is the meaning and the purpose of the world.
And Christ did not come to save the world, nor the nation - (what did His own nation do to Him?), but rather He came to save the Man. Thus He confirmed that which was already established by His Father: Man is the king of all creations. Not only is Man preferred to things, but also he is above even his own social ideas and political concepts. Which means he is preferred to Nationalism.
Man, as he is the meaning of the world, does not however create his own image, nor his own value. He receives it from God. Therefore, when he (Man) rejects God, he is, at the same time, rejecting his own meaning and superiority to all other creations. If Man is the meaning of the world, still God is the meaning of Man. In this perspective, Nationalism is a false shelter under which Man tries to take refuge in order wrongly to secure his being.
In Nationalism, Man loses Christ. Or rather, Christ ceases to be the prototype after which we are to become. Because, in baptism we put on Christ. And then we become the dwelling-place of the Trinity. And this gives us our meaning as human beings; consequently, if we search for meaning outside ourselves we would be denying the existence of God in us. Rather we feel the dreadful emptiness from which we try to escape; then we fall into the hades of Nationalism. Man can never be empty. If God does not fill us, then something else has to make us feel full. But are we really full when we replace Christ with Nationalism? Are we not then doing exactly that which the atheists do by denying God directly and completely? Are not we then denying our real self? What is left of us if our real Self is gone? And what is our self without Christ? Therefore, the danger of Nationalism is far more destructive to our Faith than what we normally think it can be.
One might think that I am eliminating the loyalty that one has to have for his country or nation. God forbid! I am not treating here the relationship of Christ to the State or Country. This is a topic that can be handled from another scope. All that I am saying here is that Christ comes first and before my Nationalistic feelings. The matter is one of order or preference and not of exclusion. Christ is. My nation is. Which one is first, not which one should eliminate the other. What is a Nation? It is-in a very simple expression-a group of human beings. Now, what is a human being? He is the image or the temple of God. Hence, God is first, not the Nation or the national structure.
To what am I leading? To this question, I answer: I am a Christian Orthodox. Ultimately, Christ only is the meaning of my being. Therefore, I say I am Orthodox, then I mention my nationality as a frame, a social structure, no more. I can be without a country, without nationality. But, I can never be without being. And in being, I am the image of God, not of a nation. I am the temple of God, not of a nation. I, with other beings, form a nation. So the nation acquires its existence and identity by me-and thou, and he- not from itself. A nation does not exist in-itself, for-itself. I give the nation meaning. And I draw my own meaning from God. Therefore, God-and I-we come before Nation, and we are more important than Nation.
If we, Orthodox, want to be really Orthodox, we have inevitably to consider Orthodoxy in its authentic context: Jesus the Christ. Then, you are Russian and speak Russian, I am Lebanese and I speak Arabic, but, we are both Orthodox. Then no language, no nationality, no customs, no traditions can divide the one Faith that you and I have in Christ.
When Jesus sent out His Disciples to preach the Gospel, He did not limit them to any nation nor race, nor language, nor country. "Go ye to all nations, preach to them and baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit." This is Christianity that Christ wants. And this is the Orthodoxy that we ought to establish all over the world, especially in America. We Orthodox in this great land are scattered and dispersed like sheep without a shepherd, like lost little children in the wilderness. Empty we are of Christ, because we do not adopt Him as our unifying power. We do not want to be Christian first, and Americans second. As a matter of fact, we could not yet become Americans, because we are still hanging and clinging to our former nationality. Two things are required of the Orthodox people in America:
But, and before these two requirements are fulfilled, we have to be committedly aware that we are Orthodox. Because, to be a good American one has to be a good Orthodox (I am speaking as an Orthodox): but the reciprocal is not necessarily true.
What Orthodoxy, in America, needs now and right now, is that all the Orthodox become Orthodox.
Who is going to do it, and how to do it?
I leave the answer to our faithful and to our spiritual leaders.
Are they willing to perform this magnificent task?
From the June, 1969 issue of Word Magazine of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese.