Orthodoxy Where You Live

dragoncrushingI live in East Tennessee. It is an area of the nation famous for Davy Crockett (his descendants are still here). It is the place where bluegrass music originated. It was settled by Protestants – mostly Scots-Irish – which means Protestant Scots who had once lived in Scotland. It is a land of the Cherokee, though their impact is virtually invisible today.

It is an aspect of America that is hugely modern. An old city in America is 200 years old. There were places of human habitation that go back 10’s of thousands of years, but they yield very little information and they were not ancestors of my own people.

I contrast that to the time I have spent in England. There I was in my ancestral home. I am even aware of the names of Orthodox saints from those holy islands – for England was once among the Orthodox of places.

When I was in Palestine, the evidence of Christianity is simply as old as Christianity itself. I knelt in the very tomb of Christ. There are many other things in the Holy Land, many of them older than Christianity and yet related.

It is a question for me of Orthodoxy where you live. In some places – lands made holy by generation after generation of saint – the life of Orthodoxy is, or at least can be, a life lived in harmony with place and time. It is this strange aspect of America that to be faithful to Christ means to be unfaithful to the space and time in which I live. This modern land is Babylon. Almost everyone knows it other than Americans. I do not say this as praise for other places. There are worse things and places than Babylon. Some of my readers dwell in those places.

I take great comfort in the closing lines of St. Peters’ First Epistle: “She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings…” (1 Peter 5:13). Whatever city Peter was writing from (probably Rome), he identified as Babylon. It is more than “code language” it seems to me. It is Peter’s greeting from a place that seems profoundly foreign to the gospel.

The Christian is forced to remember that this world is not our home – or at least to remember that the land hallowed by the prayers of all the saints and the blood of the martyrs is no smaller than the cosmos itself. We breath the same air, and sweat under the same sun. Most importantly, we do not lose heart wherever we are. With ever icon erected, with every prayer prayed, with every Temple that is raised and consecrated, this place and all others become more fully what they were created to be – “Heaven is His Temple, the earth His footstool.”

Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
 If I ascend to heaven, thou art there! If I make my bed in Sheol, thou art there!
 If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there thy hand shall lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Let only darkness cover me, and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to thee, the night is bright as the day; for darkness is as light with thee.

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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20 responses to “Orthodoxy Where You Live”

  1. Theodora Elizabeth Avatar
    Theodora Elizabeth

    I’m in the Chicago area. Holy Trinity Cathedral (OCA) here was built through the efforts of St. John Kochurov who spent some years serving in Chicago. The cathedral was consecrated by St. Tikhon. The last Russian Tsar Nicholas II contributed towards the iconostasis. This all makes going to the cathedral (as I do several times a year – I belong to a suburban OCA parish) a special treat. This is the closest to “holy ground” I’m going to get in the Midwest!

  2. C L Avatar
    C L

    Orthodoxy where I live, is an old storefront turned Lutheran Mission, turned independent church and now an Orthodox mission ( the next closest Orthodox church being three and a half hours away) We are small, but blessed to have a dedicated priest who travels four hours to serve our small parish twice a month.
    Our Iconostasis is made mostly of canvas with the Icons of our Patrons, The Blessed Virgen Mary, Christ, and John the Forerunner. Soon this will be replaced by a brand new iconostasis, produced by a “nearby” parish, with matching Icons, including St. Raphael, St. George, Archangel Michael, and Archangel Gabriel, along the those of the holy doors and feast of the church.

    “from humble beginnings….”

  3. Lucian Avatar

    Orthodoxy: Coming Soon to a Church near You. 8)

  4. david peri Avatar

    Calling from Finland….There are 2 Finnish Orthodox churches that I go to. In my home town, services are once a month; The other Sundays I drive 42 kms. There is an English service once a month in Helsinki but that is a 140 plus km drive. Slowly, the Finnish is coming through even though my mother tongue is English.

  5. Margaret Avatar

    God bless you, Fr. Stephen, for this blogging ministry! I really needed to see that psalm excerpt this morning! (And for the encouragement in the remembrance of Orthodoxy here in America, thank you!)

  6. Joseph Hromy Avatar
    Joseph Hromy

    Wow I guess I am lucky I have 4 Orthodox churches in Bayonne NJ not counting the growth of Coptic Orthodox churches, but I like the NYC churches more. In NY there tends to be more young adults there and I like the diverse range of people you meet.

  7. Meskerem Avatar

    My church is St. Michael the Archangel in Louisville, Kentucky with about 900 members. We are blessed with a Chapel (St. George) located in the same property close by, built about 8 years ago. There at the Chapel daily services are given Matins and Vespers, thanks to our priest who makes it his mission to keep it that way and is open for people in need to pray.

    I was worried where we will go to church when I came from Ethiopia about 18 years ago. Ethiopia for people who do not know has 40 million Orthodox according to recent figures, 40 Archbishops, 400,000 clergy and 1000 Monasteries, dating back to the 300 to 400 AD. This makes it the largest of the Orthodox family of Churches after the Russian Church. I came from a city of hundreds of churches. This was because mainly the rulers were all Orthodox Christians until upto 30 years ago when the last King was ousted by Communist ruler, which by the way was the reason most left the country.

    I worried for nothing just to see our two boys grow up serving in this welcoming church thanks to the loving priest whom tirelessly tries to bring everyone together. Pretty much there is someone from every corner of the world at St. Michael’s, and blessed to throw an Ethnic Fair every year. We are Blessed from people from Old Churches and new converts who work tirelessly and serve in our church. For Pascha we say “Christ is Risen” in 7 languages and the list grows every year or two as Father asks how we say it in our Language and gives it to the Choir to study and then the people follow. You just feel like you are home.

  8. fatherstephen Avatar

    I know your priest in Louisville, and he is a great man of God.

  9. Stephen W Avatar
    Stephen W

    David peri,
    out of curiosity. I am wondering why there would be English speaking Orthodox services in Finland? I would not think there are many English speaking Orthodox in Finland. I know that both Finnish and Swedish are spoken in Finland. Maybe if David does not see, this someone else could enlighten me on this one? Thanks. Stephen W.

  10. Meskerem Avatar

    Truly he is Father, we are Blessed. And I know it is because of all the Services he tirelessly provides. He knows everyone by name in this pretty good size church.

    He said he knows you too.

  11. Romanós Avatar

    I have heard that this place (modern America) is Babylon from others before, and they weren’t just Rastafarians (“Come we go chant down Babylon one more time” … Bob Marley), but a very holy and God-loving Episcopal priest who congratulated me on leaving (one of the times that my family moved back to Canada). Little did Father John Goodyear (may his memory be eternal) realize that Canada is even more Babylon than is the States. We came back here, of course, and have learned the hard way how to live as “citizens of another Kingdom” in the midst of the ruined Christian civilization of the Western world. Thank God for Orthodox Christianity. For all its faults, and weaknesses, through its humility God has preserved it among us. Let’s try to remember that (if we believe it, as I do) it is through our humility that God has saved us and is keeping our lamp lit in this present darkness. Else, if our leaders follow the way of earthly success and glorying in things they should be ashamed of (as has happened to most of the Western denominations), we will surely become at home in Babylon. God save us from this!

  12. kevinburt Avatar

    I know the priest at St. Michael, too. He is a great man…. he has made it possible for us to start our Mission in Bowling Green, KY! Meskerem, we thank you for supporting the Church that is making it possible for us to have Orthodoxy 2 hours south of you!

    I would not have thought, ten years ago, that I would spend my life in a town such as this. I had hopes of “more culture” or “deeper roots” or “older history” in the town I would call home. But now, with Orthodoxy here, and my Orthodox brothers and sisters working by my side to bring Orthodoxy to a small town where it has never been before, it feels like home. I guess the more accurate thing would be to say that I am at home in the Church, and the Church is now here, too.

    Fr. Stephen, as you said, the world is not our home. The Church is.

  13. Robert Avatar

    It is all to easy to fall into a false, misplaced “America is Babylon” mentality. Modernity did not invent Babylon, as it predates it by several thousand years. All of the world is Babylon. Better said, Babylon can be found here anywhere I am.

    But that is not the end of the story. “The world is not our home. The Church is.” Amen!

  14. Meskerem Avatar


    Congratulations on your new Church.

    Father is all for Orthodox Mission. I hope it grows big and becomes a home to all in need.

  15. david peri Avatar

    Stephen W The main reason for English services are for foreigners whose main or second language is English. These people could be refugees, foreigners like me who are married to Finns or foreign workers living and working in Finland. The Finnish language is very difficult to learn, and especially difficult when it comes to religious, philosophical things and the like.

    In bigger cities, like Helsinki or Turku, others too, there are significant number of foreigners living and working. The Lutherans have had English services for decades. Lately, the Pentecostals have followed along. All this is geared for christians whose mother tongue is English.

  16. Stephen W Avatar
    Stephen W

    David Peri, What a blessing you have! I lived in Sweden for 4.5 years and there were certainly no Orthodox services in English much less any in Swedish. Sweden and Orthodoxy is probably where the USA was 30 or so years ago. I asked the question before because I am always looking for solutions of places to live that would both satisfy my wife and myself. She would rather live in Sweden above everything and I have made a commitment to being as authentically Orthodox as possible. Sweden in my opinion was very liberal, cold and hedonistic. Is this the same for Finland? Also what would bring English speakers to Finland other than love interests or business? English speakers in Sweden were few and far between, at least where I lived. The refugees were from Eastern Europe or the middle east and were either Muslim or atheists.

  17. coffeezombie Avatar

    @Romanós: Your comment (particularly the last sentence) reminded me of a Nickel Creek song, “When in Rome.” The whole song is interesting, but I particularly like the last verse:

    “Where can a dead man go?
    A question with an answer only dead men know.
    But I’m gonna bet they never really feel at home
    If they spent their lifetime learning how to live in Rome.”

  18. handmaidleah Avatar

    “until upto 30 years ago when the last King was ousted by Communist ruler”

    hhmm… “ousted” is an interesting term for what happened. Didn’t they kill him? I was told it was pretty much the same as in the Soviet Union – Communists kill anointed Orthodox king. Would really like to know…

  19. Meskerem Avatar

    They ousted and then put him on house arrest. While under house arrest he died under questionable circumstances and was secretly buried. The whole country went into mourning. It was very difficult time people were afraid to do anything openly.

    It is the communist, no one knows what exactly happened. That was what was announced on the media that he died under house arrest. There was so much hatred from the regime, so it is possible he might have been killed.

  20. […] Church one-size-fits-all fantasy and begin to develop what Father Stephen Freeman refers to as Orthodoxy Where You Live, what I would like to call the Orthodoxy of Right Here, Right Now, and what Mark Thomas Hoyer calls, […]

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  1. Greetings, Father Stephen, Thank you so much for this reflection and all of the tremendous amount of work you have…

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