The Portland Greek Festival will be happening this weekend. This is an annual event at Aghía Triás (Holy Trinity) Church in Portland, Oregon, that began the year I was born. It's been going on for sixty-four years! I've heard that it was the first of its kind in America, and that all other Greek Festivals stem from ours. Who knows if that's true, or just part of tradition. I've been ‘working’ at the festival every year since I was thirty-eight years old. I put ‘working’ in quotes, because what I do is not considered work by some of the Greeks around here. Why is that? Because I am an usher or guide in the sanctuary—I stay in the church and assist visitors in understanding what they are seeing there, and I also witness for Christ, without Whom there would be no sanctuary, and no festival.
The Greek Festival is successful for many reasons and in many ways. To some, it's the money that matters. For others, it's the whole community pulling together, each according to his or her ability, to roll out a huge welcome mat for others to see what the Greek culture is about, to practice "philoxenía" (hospitality, literally "love of strangers"), the most highly valued of virtues to the Greek mind. These people really do live up to this ideal, they are willing to help and to accept others, even incorporating them into the Greek kinonía if they want to be. But sometimes I wonder if they are too welcoming, too accepting.
I wonder if they are susceptible to a kind of Trojan Horse in reverse. They know that the world is patronizing them as a cultural and religious relic, a beautiful anomaly in today's world, a kind of harmless entertainment. It doesn't seem to bother them.
The sanctuary being open to the public has been a part of the Festival as long as I've been in this community. It symbolizes what is at the heart of any of the goodness we are perceived by others to have. The church tours we have are informative, and delivered in a spirit of modesty, tailored to the audience's background whenever possible, and kept from becoming confrontational. But to witness to our guests about Jesus Christ is left to the laypeople who man the sanctuary.
The clergy will tell you everything about the Church, its history, its culture, its tradition, even its understanding of scripture and theology, but that's the extent of it. People can listen and even ask questions and carry away just a little bit more knowledge about something beautiful and arcane, but what of Jesus Christ? Did anything they heard produce faith in them? Was the seed of the Word planted in them? Let's hope that it was and is, and may God give the increase. But are we just playing into the world's matrix, letting it turn our faith into a commodity, Christianity as religious artifact?
Take Jesus Christ out of the equation, and that's what you have, whether we're talking about Orthodox Christianity, or any other. Our form of church just has more tools than some of the others, but without Christ, those tools become mere toys, something for the world, or for us, to play with. For us, the "game of church." For the others, just more interesting artifacts to decorate their drawing room.
May it shock my readers to view the image below, from Phoenix Home & Garden magazine (July 2001 issue). Here is a room decorated with a collection of authentic icons, on the wall arranged in a cross-like pattern.
Notice the icon of the Resurrection is at the very bottom, near the floor. On the coffee table lie five icons just as artifacts to be handled (one of them in a glass frame). Let's hope they're not being used as coasters! (Of course not, that'd ruin the finish!) To the right of the arranged wall icons is an art piece of what looks like a male nude, and there are other objets d'art all over the room.
Brothers, this is where we are headed, if we don't reveal to the world the One in whom we live and move and have our being (cf. Acts 17:28), not just at the festival, but every day, wherever we are sent. The world will love us if we make it feel better, on its terms, but like the icons in an Arizona businessman's great room we may find ourselves hung, arranged in a cross, and ignored.
Without Jesus, welcome to the world "as it is."