Back Home (sort of)


I have spent the day traveling down to South Carolina for a short family visit, and to connect with one of my daughters to help her in buying a car (just the joys of being a parent). My last couple of posts have been dealing with our relationship to place – in settings such as Church or home (or city). There are larger spaces, such as being in your home state, or being in another country.

Last summer, though I had never been to England before, I found my time there to have some strange sense of “Home,” even if it’s just that my ancestors there and their descendents, have some of the same ideas as my ancestors here and their descendents. I still think England has done it better (as far as space goes). We seem to have had so much space at our disposal that we haven’t had to think as much or as well about its use.

There is probably something to be said about the mystery of place – although St. Gregory of Nyssa thought that it was just as possible to stay put and encounter Christ as it was to go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem and encounter Him. Indeed, perhaps an even greater possibility. Except for making the journey.

I thought last summer of how my own view of England was distorted by traveling there in 8 hours instead of months (with sea-sickness). By the same token, crossing the Smokies and traveling into the mid-state of South Carolina takes so little trouble today that I did not even think to bring a musket.

And where are we when we are “on” the internet? Space has been radically re-defined.

Except that human beings are creatures of time and space, and even when we meet electronically we still find the need to describe ourselves in space and time. Thus at the moment, we are on my blog. It’s amazing how many of us fit here at one time!

There is a very slow work of evangelism that Orthodoxy is engaging in across America. The number of new temples erected in the past decade is rather staggering, when one considers previous decades. And the buildings are frequently buildings that define space in a particularly Orthodox fashion. One uncle of mine, a Presbyterian, when attending the wedding of one of my daughter’s (it was in a Greek Orthodox Church), said to me, “When you have time, explain the architecture and the icons here. I have a strange sense that this is something that belongs to all of us.”

His insight was quite accurate. It was indeed a common heritage, though one that had been lost to his ancestry many years before. But his openness to the reality that this is somehow the common inheritance of Christians is remarkable – and one that we do well to remember. The divisions that separate most Christians today from Orthodoxy are real – and yet they are most often not consciously chosen (as over and against Orthodoxy). My uncle is a Presbyterian largely because that is what he was born to. This does not make him not a protestant – but neither does he deserve my opprobrium. He is a Christian who is well disposed to be a friend and wants to know more about what he sees. That deserves a kind, and well-disposed answer.

The space we all share, finally, is a biosphere given us by the One God. We inevitably have more in common than we know, and more possibility for conversation than we often allow. But I hope as more Orthodox “shaped” Churches dot our landscape that the conversations will be plentiful and fruitful. It is an architecture that has much to say, and I will, in time, have more to say about that architecture.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.



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2 responses to “Back Home (sort of)”

  1. fatherstephen Avatar

    The photo, of course, is Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow, not a Church in South Carolina. Although, Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Columbia is soon to build a new temple. Perhaps a new dome will rise over Columbia so that something other than the storied dome of the State House will grace that skyline. The sooner the better.

  2. Roland Avatar

    Fifteen years ago I spent seven weeks living in England. I felt more at home there than I ever have in Washington, DC. I was living in a village of 3,000 people 70 miles north of London. My new acquaintances at church constantly apologized for how flat, rural, and agricultural the area was. But those were among the very things that made this Indiana farm boy feel right at home!

    I was living in a 500-year-old hotel that was originally built as a guesthouse for the Bishop of Lincoln, one of whose palaces was across the street. It gave me a profound sense of place to know I was living in a place that already existed when the first Englishman set foot in the New World.

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