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July 7, 2009

Take A Look Around, This Is What We Are!

Filed under: Culture And Society,General,Religion And Theology — Vasilios Theodorakis @ 6:00 pm

If you happened to walk into our house, you would be assaulted by a myriad of books – sci-fi, poetry, sociology, psychology, political science, teaching and extremely uncool encyclopedias.

Then there’s the vintage board games, toys and manual typewriters; the music collection with a who’s who of the 60s, 70s and 80s; DVDs galore – now that all the retailers sell popular titles and TV series for under $10.

There’s 30 years of PCs, Macs and software; furniture that spans 7 decades; a stucco house that was built in the 1950s and has barely changed; the Hills Hoist cloths line; a mixture of native trees, veggies and lawn; the second love of my life – my kayak – the first of course being my wife, Helen.

Finally, we both have long hair, wear daggy cloths, love architecture and good design but have never felt the need to possess flashy things ourselves – or maybe that’s because we’ve never had a lot of money!

We critique all things political within the Australian and Pacific context; love cartoons, sitcoms from the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s as well as British comedy; refuse to support the use, abuse and slaughter of other sentient beings and only consume nutritional food that has a minimal impact on the planet.

All in all, our culture is that of popular culture, yet there are those who look at my name and still presume my culture to be something altogether different. My identity is based on a mainstream (politically green) Australian footing and my moral/ethical boundaries defined by my Orthodox Christian religion.

At the age of 42, I am very comfortable with this combination. The amalgam of influences that has gone in to make the “me” is rich – a complex weave with many happy memories – especially from the 1980s and the last ten years of my marriage. I am under no illusions however that my culture is anything but popular culture, especially popular English speaking culture. I was born in Australia and bar three months of my life, have lived that entire time upon her shores. For better or worse I live the English language, think in it and revel in playing with its vocabulary and structure.

There is only one thing that is missing – my religion refuses to put down roots in this country and refuses to recognise the legitimacy of people like me. The Orthodox Christian Church treats us as though we are invisible.

All my life I have fought this attitude – it is dysfunctional and has a destructive effect on any well balanced human being. It asks one to denounce one’s actual experience and culture and adopt a culture that has no relevance to one’s everyday life. Needless to say, this has resulted in the bulk of my family and peers walking away from Orthodox Christianity all together.

Lets put aside the obvious hinderence for a moment, i.e. that its current liturgies are not accessible to English speaking mainstream Australians. The other major obstacle to participation is its ethnic based Churches and the bulk of it’s ethnic based people who are down right unwelcoming. The Church in Australia has become a closed club rather than the universal Church that Christ established – what an institutional mess!

(There are many reasons as to why this happened but the biggest contributor is that the Orthodox Faith did not establish itself in this country the way it traditionally established itself in other countries – i.e. through missionary churches.)

Unlike Bishop Kallistos Ware, who as an Anglican (in the UK) walked into an Orthodox Church and felt at home, if the average spiritually interested Australian walks into any of these ethnic based churches, at best they’ll get dirty looks, at worst they’ll be confronted and ushered out. So much for following Christ’s example of welcoming all! What is even more perplexing, is that this structure continues to baptise mainstream Australians into itself, even though there are very few places across the continent where English speakers can worship and even fewer places where they can experience a sense of belonging!

The only thing I take comfort from is that the current situation is a heresy according to Orthodoxy’s own dictum – Phyletism – which says that any church established in a new land should be operated in the language of that land – this principal has always been in our canons. The hope therefore continues to be, that in addition to these ethnic based parishes, missionary (English speaking) parishes will one day be built in this country. In a nation based on democracy and choice, one should be able to worship in the language in which they think – Indigenous, Slavic, European or English.

In the meantime, I am happy with who I am, love that I’m a product of popular culture drawn from more than five decades and that my first language is English. I have no intention of changing any of this to accommodate the short sightedness of the current administration controlling my religion.

Thus, were you to walk into our humble abode – you’ll find ABC’s Radio National blaring in the background not SBS; reruns of Seinfield and The Simpsons on TV not Inspector Rex and guitar based rock (from the 80s) streaming out of our CD player not suicidal Aegean music. You’ll also find numerous icons of the great martyrs and saints of the Church, crosses from holy places like Mount Athos and a sanctuary with an oil candle and incensor.

This is how my kind live – we do not live as Europeans, Brits or Asians, we live as Australians whose religion goes back 2000 years and is known as Orthodox Christianity – so get used to it, we’re not about to disappear anytime soon!

Copyright © Vasilios Theodorakis 2010

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