We have noted before the close kinship betwixt the Southern and the Orthodox ways of life. The Southerner’s view that his life and all the creation - time and space and all material things, living or not - participate in a mystery beyond themselves, in a great cosmic liturgy or dance, is another manifestation of this closeness. The Southern belief is beworded nicely in the poem below by the Tennessee poet, historian, etc. Donald Davidson, while Archimandrite Vasileios in the word-sharings that follow shows what the South is reaching for in her agrarian mysticism.
Now let us leave the gate unshut
On hayfields grown too ripe to cut.
That Adirondack will not change its pose,
And this northern light looks back before it goes
Till Kirby Peak turns rose.
Whoever asks the day of the week
Can hold the wind on his western cheek,
Walk, and find an unblazed road where Monday
Measures as good a blueberry mile as Sunday.
Lest we should sin by being fanatic
We let the red squirrel all the attic.
Knowing God is, we say our vows
When vesper deer come forth to browse,
Telling the beads of many a yesterday.
Nine shadows lined against the wood;
The tenth you cannot see,
But count that other shadow where the gray
Boulder remembers the glacial flood,
And that will make our rosary.
Ave Maria while the evening star leans low
Brings dew upon the head.
Our Paternoster’s said.
The lamp is lit within, and we must go.
We ask God for no better proof
Than that moss likes our shingle roof.
Locusts give shade; the sun will set;
Asters proclaim it will rise again.
The red ants know we will have rain
Though the merry cricket says, “Not yet!”
. . .
. . . So the red fox invades the lawn.
Bony and lean, he has a brush
Would serve Odysseus for a bush.
The little, naked red fox peers
With prayerful face and upright ears,
Then genuflects, with sweep of paw,
To mark the rigor of God’s law
And catch, of grasshoppers in riot,
His portion of a hermit’s diet,
Which, if it is not sacrament,
Owes naught to secular government.
Once and again a tantara
Hails like a distant Gloria.
. . .
. . . How could she learn, without research,
The Gradual of our mountain church
If not from logs of pine and birch
That lift from every morning fire
The plainsong of our primitive choir?
. . .
(Donald Davidson, ‘Gradual of the Northern Summer’, Poems 1922-1961, Minneapolis, Minn.: U. of Minn. Press, 1966, pgs. 8-10)
. . . everyone who has entered into the Liturgy sees the “words”, the inner principles of existent things, concelebrating with the one incarnate Word, the “One who offers and is offered” in the Liturgy of the whole world.
The life of the world, its creation and its history, are a divine Liturgy which leads all things to a blessed end. “Earthly things have become heaven” (Feast of the Annunciation).
One who is truly baptized into the spirit of the Divine Liturgy never departs from that spirit. He is always within the divine Liturgy. Everything is revealed to him concelebrating, voluntarily or involuntarily, with the one Word. And this person in every time and place is nourished by the music of heaven. He receives light from the Light which knows no evening. And he goes forward, while remaining in the same place, because his inner doxology and joy never stop. And he does not know whether it is rather that he offers joy and light to all, or that he receives gladness and rejoicing from everywhere. He finds himself part of a Liturgy concelebrated by the entire universe. He sees the whole of creation as a theophany, a burning bush which is not consumed: because through the Liturgy, “all things have been filled with light” (Archimandrite Vasileios, ‘“The Light of Christ Shines upon All” through All the Saints’, Dr Elizabeth Theokritoff, trans., Montreal, Quebec: Alexander Press, 2001, pgs. 23-4).
* * * * *
. . . [God] loves the whole person, and his freedom. And it is of great importance to approach God in freedom, when your time comes. It is important to take a risk at some point in taking your personal step. To dare to express your objections or doubts, as did the Apostle Thomas. To confess the truth. To hear the Good Shepherd calling you by name. To cross the threshold of fear and hesitation. To tear up the contract of slavery. To go forward in freedom. And to take the next step: voluntarily to enslave yourself to God. To say: My God, I have no confidence in myself. My true self is You, who created me, who love me and who call me to the dangerous adventure of freedom so that I can find my soul by deliberately losing it. This is why I ask and want Your will to be done, and not my own.
Then you begin to tread different ground; to fly on the wings of the winds of the Spirit. And divine grace cares for you as a hen her chicks (Archimandrite Vasileios, pgs. 13-4).
The Orthodox Church does not destroy cultures but brings about their fulfillment by pruning away that which is evil (idolatry, vices, etc.) and bringing into full flower that which is good. The South, still being pre-modern (to borrow Dr Clark Carlton’s word) in many ways, and thus sharing much in common with Orthodoxy, her pruning as it were would perhaps not be that painful.
Nevertheless, many Southerners no doubt hesitate about conversion to Orthodoxy. ‘Is it faithful to the Southern tradition, to the ways of our forefathers?’ To which we answer with our most solemn Yes. In the purity of the Orthodox Faith, a man becomes whole: All the wounds of sin, all the distortions of his nature, are healed. Any deviations from that Faith which Christ gave to His Apostles will not allow him to heal completely, to achieve full personhood, full union with God.
The same holds true for countries as well. For Dixie to be baptized into the Christ of the Orthodox Church would be for her to become most truly herself (‘My true self is You, who created me’); and that is the end any people strives for, including our own forebears from Robert Beverley to John C. Calhoun and William Gilmore Simms to Rev R. L. Dabney and Mel Bradford. Just as Spain was not truly Spain until she entered the baptismal waters blessed by the Orthodox Church, nor was England truly England, nor Russia truly Russia, and so on.
By all means, as Archimandrite Vasileios said, voice your doubts, ye sons and daughters of the South, but do not be afraid to cross the threshold into the Orthodox Church when the time comes, when the Good Shepherd calls. For God is our life, and anything that hampers our union with Him brings death to us. May our Heavenly Father bring the South life and joy and gladness and salvation through our union with the Body of Jesus Christ His only-begotten Son in the Holy Ghost, now and forever.