Contrary to the cultural holiday called “Christmas,” the Christian Christmas is about the birth of the Son of God. Many Western Christians celebrate Christmas but give little thought to Easter. Hardly any think of salvation as deification, yet deification is an important part of our salvation. The Apostle Peter wrote about how Christians were to escape from the corruption of the world and become partakers of the divine nature.” (2 Peter 1:4)
Saint Athanasius, one of the great Christian saints and theologians, lived in Egypt in the fourth century. He wrote many books explaining the Christian Faith. Athanasius was keenly aware that Jesus’ birth in the manger would lead to his death on the Cross and to his Resurrection. All this was done for our salvation. Athanasius fought hard against the Arian heresy which denied Jesus’ divinity. This false teaching was dangerous because it undermined our salvation in Christ. If Christ was not fully divine, then we could not be saved from sin. Furthermore, if Christ was not fully divine, then we could not undergo deification. He wrote:
For therefore did He assume the body originate and human, that having renewed it as its Famer, he might deify it in Himself, and thus might introduce us all into the kingdom of heaven after His likeness. For man had not been deified if joined to a creature, or unless the Son were very God . . . .
For therefore the union was of this kind, that He might unite what is man by nature to Him who is in the nature of the Godhead, and his salvation and deification might be sure. (Discourse II §70; NPNF Vol. 4 p. 386)
After we have opened up our Christmas gifts and put away our Christmas decorations, let us contemplate the coming of Easter. Christmas after all is about the gift of new life in Christ. Let us, like the Wise Men, seek after the Christ Child and worship him (Matthew 2:9-11). And let us like the Virgin Mary reflect on what Christ has done for us and treasure them in our hearts (Luke 2:51). Let us reflect on the radical implications of the Incarnation for the Christmas story.
Where’s the Rice? – An Asian American Response to Kevin Allen’s “Ready for the Coming Evangelical Collapse?”
By Lopaka Iliahi
Kevin Allen recently wrote: “Are We Ready for the Coming Evangelical Collapse?” In it he notes that while the Orthodox community might benefit from Evangelicals migrating to Orthodoxy there are a number of troubling trends that need to be addressed. What caught my attention was the section: “Not Reaching Minorities.” Kevin Allen wrote:
We Orthodox are also “isolationists” by a wide margin when it comes to ecumenical, social interaction and evangelism, when compared to Protestants and Catholics. One glaring example: we are not reaching minorities. Despite the fact that now over 50 percent of newborn babies are no longer Caucasian, the Orthodox Church has only one African-American priest (so far as I know). There is an inner-city mission in Kansas City in an African-American neighborhood (led by a non- African-American priest). I am not personally aware of any Hispanic priests, though we do have one or two local Hispanic ministries (Los Angeles and Dallas) led by non-Hispanic Spanish-fluent priests. These are excellent, but small ministries. (emphasis added)
I agree with his observation that the future of American Orthodoxy lies with the non-Whites. But I was struck by the fact that Kevin Allen said nothing about reaching out to Asian Americans. They are among the fastest demographic group in the US having grown from less than 1 percent of the US population in 1965 to 5.8 percent in 2011.
Asians also comprise a significant part of American Evangelicalism. Once, while I was taking one of my larger classes at seminary, I noticed that Asians comprised about a third of those in the room. African Americans and Latinos combined made up about ten percent leaving Whites at a slim majority. I have heard there is a strong Asian presence at other Evangelical seminaries as well. This means Asian Americans cannot be overlooked as we consider the future of Evangelicals migrating to Orthodoxy.
Kids play on the Tadashi Sato glass mosaic entitled ‘Aquarius’ at the Hawaii State Capitol Rotunda. 12 March 2015 (photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat)
Asian American Mosaic
What may look like a monochromatic monocultural entity presents a far more complex reality. The 2012 Pew Forum released a survey of Asian Americans and their religious life. One striking finding was the religious diversity among Asian Americans. They are the biggest driving force behind the growth of non-Abrahamic faiths in the United States. The Pew survey also found that Asian Americans run the gamut from highly religious to highly secular. This may seem contradictory on the surface but makes sense when one looks at the various subgroups.
Filipino Americans – 69% Roman Catholic
Korean Americans – 61% Protestant
Chinese Americans – 52% Unaffiliated
Indian Americans – 51% Hindu
Vietnamese Americans – 43% Buddhist
Japanese Americans – almost evenly divided: Protestants 33%, Unaffiliated 32%, and Buddhist 25%
This means that stereotyping and generalizing about Asian Americans and their religious identity are dangerous and counterproductive. Some come from families that have been Christians for over a century. Some grew up with minimal exposure to Christianity or any religion. The best approach is to start with the individual and to view people as being on a spiritual journey. They may not be Christians now, but some may eventually in time become interested in Christianity.
Local Potluck – Local Kine Grindz!
Being Asian in an Ethnic Orthodox Parish
After years of being an Evangelical and being part of a predominantly Local church, I found joining an ethnic Greek parish something of a culture shock. Whenever I step into the narthex or the social hall, I feel as if I’ve entered a foreign culture. This is especially true when all of a sudden, the priest switches over into Greek which throws me off and confuses me. After the Sunday service I go to the social hall for coffee. Most Sundays there is the usual fare of cookies, cake, chips, with some fruit. On special occasions Greek delicacies are served but after several years I began to ask myself: Where’s the rice? Rice is served from time to time, but it is a different kind not like what I grew up on. While still delicious, it makes me feel like I’m in some exotic culture far removed from Hawaii. I often wonder about the disconnect between the Greek parish and the local community.
I started asking this question when I visited a nearby ROCOR (Russian) parish. While standing in line for lunch I was pleasantly surprised to see a pot of rice just like my grandmother’s. It’s not that surprising considering that the priest’s wife is from Japan. I noticed that one significant difference was that the Russian parish often had potluck which allowed for all kinds of food to be served while the Greek parish stuck to food prepared in the kitchen. Where potlucks are diverse and inclusive, kitchen prepared dishes tend to be monocultural.
This ethnocentrism is especially evident at Easter. Following the Resurrection service there is a Vespers service where the Gospel is read in a variety of language to show that the Gospel is for all peoples. Following that, a Greek lunch is served! The juxtaposition of Orthodoxy’s catholicity and ethnocentrism is jarring to say the least.
The question: “Where’s the rice?” is not rhetorical, but rather a serious question. Food is like a language that unites people into a shared culture on the heart level. Those of us who grew up in Hawaii are familiar with the food dishes of our ethnicity as well as the food dishes of other ethnicities. We happily eat foods from other ethnicities. This shows our acceptance of other cultures. If someone is not familiar with certain foods, we will think: “Wassa matta you?!” or “What? You not from Hawaii?” Eating a meal together is one of the quickest ways to form friendships in Hawaii. A visiting professor from Australia once remarked, “People in Hawaii eat a lot” to which I replied, “People in Hawaii take food seriously.” Therefore, how a local parish serves food says a lot about their attitudes about culture and ethnicity, and about their attitude towards those outside the church. A multi-ethnic potluck sends a powerful message of welcome and aloha to visitors and those interested in Orthodoxy.
I’m not the only Asian in my parish. There are other Asian and Polynesian families there, but open acknowledgment of Hawaii’s ethnic diversity is rare. We have the annual Greek Festival, Greek dance group, and Greek language class. The San Francisco diocese sponsors a summer camp where children can learn about their Greek heritage. The silence with respect to other cultures, especially Hawaii’s local culture, sends a very powerful message as to what is valued and what is not. Much is made of the fact that one does not have to be Greek to be part of the parish. As a matter of fact, they welcome non-Greeks, however, there is the unspoken assumption that one will accommodate oneself to the Greek ethos of the parish.
“Local” depends on where you are. “Local culture” in the South is quite different from the Yankee “local culture” of the Northeast. An important first step for many local parishes is to be intentionally inclusive. My suggestion is that instead of having the women’s group taking sole responsibility for the food that the parish organize potlucks. The advantage of potlucks is that they are easy to organize and can easily reflect the tastes of the local community.
I recently visited an OCA parish in northern California that held a Glendi international food fair. As I listened to the report, I was impressed by the fact that they had different booths representing the various ethnic groups: Russian, Serbian, Greek, Eritrean, even American! This showed me that an Orthodox parish can include the American mosaic and not be confined to one ethnic community.
If Orthodoxy wants to reach out to minorities like Asian Americans, an important first step is for the Sunday Liturgy to be all in English. English is the de facto national language of the US. It provides a common ground where people from diverse backgrounds can meet and get to know each other. Many Asian Americans speak English well in order to participate in mainstream American culture. All English Liturgy will make Orthodoxy accessible to Asian American visitors.
It can help to have printed copies of the Liturgy and other services for visitors to follow. Some traditionalists discourage inquirers from using prayer books but if the inquirers find it hard to follow what is being said by the priest, then surely the commonsense response is let them use printed prayers.
Another barrier is the use of King James English. Many Asian Americans and other non-Whites who did not grow up on King James’ English often find it mystifying. King James’ English may be part of the WASP culture, but it is not intrinsic to the Christian Tradition. We need English translations that use contemporary English clearly and reverently. An overreliance on archaic translations can result in sonorous cadences that please one’s aesthetics but do little to stir up a living faith in Christ.
There are Asians in Hawaii who grew up Christian and who were exposed to the King James Bible. But for the unchurched Asians, the King James Bible is like a semi-comprehensible foreign language. Mastering the English language makes sense in light of the fact that English is the de facto mainstream language of American society. However, it is not fair to impose upon unchurched Asians and other minorities the burden of learning archaic English. The New Testament was written in the koine (common) Greek, something akin to the style of English used in the daily newspapers.
Another even more subtle language barrier is religious jargon. Christians cannot take for granted that visitors will share in the same understanding of God, Christ, salvation, resurrection, sin, eternal life as they do. As American society becomes increasingly post-Christian it becomes necessary for its members and clergy be able to relate Christian doctrine to contemporary social and cultural references. A closely related barrier is the elitist, exclusivist mentality that is indifferent to making Christian-talk understandable and accessible to the unchurched.
For Orthodox clergy, it means they should develop friendships among Asian Americans and other minorities and be open to learning about their life world and their frame of reference. I recommend clergy become an active member of non-church ethnic clubs, e.g., karate, taichi chuan, language class, cooking class, or a class at the local university on non-Western culture, e.g., Filipino history or Native American history, or Hawaii history. Encouraging their children to join local clubs and supporting their children’s club activities is another way of participating in local culture. The mentality should be that of: “Us going to them,” not “Them coming to us.” Usually there is a subtle power dynamic between the clergy and the visitor at church. The clergy needs to ask: Are they coming to me on my terms, in my space? Or am I meeting them on their terms, in their cultural space? Are they coming to me or am I going to them? What are my cultural assumptions? That is why clergy involvement in the general community is an important part of outreach.
American Orthodox, Local Hawaii Orthodox
Whenever I visit a local ROCOR parish, I hear in the closing litany prayers for the Russian motherland and for the Russian diaspora abroad. At the local Greek Orthodox parish, there is always Greek in the Sunday Service. Orthodoxy in America is going through a period of transition. The majority of its jurisdictions are identified with an “old country” through formal ties and language used in the liturgy. As the number of home-grown Americans grow in Orthodox parishes the time will come when parishes, dioceses, and jurisdictions will need to say: “America is our home” and “We are American Orthodox.” For Hawaii, we need to say: “Hawaii is our home! Our aina, our lahui, our ohana!” We need to critically examine Hawaii’s complex and problematic relationship with the United States.
This is not to deny the value of ethnic parishes but to point to the need for Orthodox parishes that identify with the mainstream of American culture. Many ethnic parishes live in a sort of twilight zone – neither here, nor there. Given the fact that many ethnic parishes find it hard to change, probably the better approach is to support the planting of Orthodox missions. Priority needs to be given to planting all English Orthodox missions and other responsive minority groups.
Metropolitan Philip Saliba – trailblazing bishop
Trailblazing Bishops and Priests
There are two kinds of priests: those for whom the parish is their world and others who look at the world as their parish. The former devotes much of their energies to taking care of the needs of the members of their parish. The latter spend considerable time out in the community meeting with people who are not members of their parish. They see the church as more than a building with four walls; they see the lost sheep in need of Christ the Good Shepherd. These priests need to be encouraged and support in their efforts to become part of the local community.
Likewise, there are two kinds of bishops: those for whom the local parishes and diocese priority is to preserve ethnicity and those who take seriously Christ’s Great Commission to evangelize the nations. Because Orthodoxy is a hierarchical church, the priest will follow the lead of his bishop. For American Orthodoxy to be an evangelistic church, we will need Orthodox bishops who are passionate about evangelism and church planting.
Bishop Benjamin enjoys shave ice!
If Orthodoxy is to grow and thrive in the U.S., then the hierarchs will need to affirm its American identity and the American mosaic. One notable example is Metropolitan Philip of the Antiochian Archdiocese who said: “Come home America!” on the occasion of receiving the 2000 former Evangelicals into canonical Orthodoxy. With this bold step Metropolitan Philip demonstrated that mainstream Americans can become Orthodox without being assimilated into ethnic Orthodoxy.
Another critical element is leadership familiar with American culture. One notable example is the late Archbishop Dmitri Royster who was born in Texas and raised in the Southern Baptist tradition before converting to Orthodoxy. Closer to home for me is OCA’s Bishop Benjamin of Berkeley who on a recent trip to the Big Island enjoyed shave ice. For the Locals in Hawaii shave ice is one of our favorite snacks and represents our unique Hawaii culture. When I saw the picture of his Grace with a cone of shave ice in his hand I thought: This is a picture of Orthodoxy accepting Local Hawaii culture!
A Three-Stage Missions Strategy
I see Orthodoxy, not as a static institutional presence, but as a dynamic missionary movement. This missionary impulse can be seen in the book of Acts. Acts begins with the Christians in Jerusalem then describes how the Holy Spirit pushed them to cross cultural and geographic boundaries throughout the Roman Empire. Orthodoxy in America is rooted in the missionary work by missionary monks like St. Innocent and St. Herman who crossed Siberia to reach Alaska. It also has roots in immigrants who fled hardships in Eastern Europe and the Middle East to find a better life in America for their children. These two movements are intertwined in American Orthodoxy making the present situation a complex one.
American society can be viewed as a big river with many tributaries feeding into it. Asian Americans and other minorities enter into the mainstream of American culture whenever they leave home for work, school, or the mall. But they reenter their ethnic tributary when they go to family get togethers or other special events. Similarly, there are many ethnic Orthodox who spend the work week in mainstream America and on Sunday find comfort in their Orthodox parish with the language and customs from the old country. The challenge is when Asian Americans and other ethnic minorities who are interested in Orthodoxy visit ethnic Orthodox parishes. In many instances the prospective Asian-American convert to Orthodoxy must wrestle with assimilating into yet another culture on top of mainstream White American culture.
We need to ask: How can American Orthodoxy extend beyond its ethnic tributaries into the mainstream of American society into the other tributaries: Latino, Asian, African American and others? Orthodox evangelism in America can be facilitated by identifying the kind of parish we belong to. American Orthodoxy has three kinds of parishes: ethnic parishes, mainstream parishes, and mission parishes.
Ethnic Orthodox parishes. We owe a tremendous debt to the immigrants who brought Orthodoxy to America. Thanks to them there are Orthodox churches all across the US. But the fact is ethnic parishes cannot effectively evangelize mainstream America. When inquirers visit ethnic parishes, they find the language and old-world culture an obstacle to their becoming Orthodox. This is not to argue against ethnic parishes but to point out that ethnic parishes are not well suited to evangelizing the American mainstream.
Mainstream Orthodox parishes. When Metropolitan Philip welcomed two thousand Evangelicals in 1987, he opened the doors for the White Anglo Americans to become Orthodox without having to assimilate piecemeal into ethnic Orthodoxy. Up till then it was largely assumed that converts to Orthodoxy needed to assimilate into ethnic parishes and learn the cultural practices of the Old Country. The Antiochian Archdiocese and the Orthodox Church in America have been on the forefront of planting Orthodox parishes that have all English Liturgy and reflect mainstream American culture.
It should be noted that Orthodoxy has only just begun to reach out to the American mainstream. We have mainstream Orthodox parishes in the major cities but not in the outlying areas. This becomes a problem when people interested in becoming Orthodox find that the nearest all English Orthodox parish is hours away and the only Orthodox parish nearby is a heavily ethnic parish that does the Liturgy in non-English and has a priest imported from abroad.
Fr. Turbo Qualls
Orthodox Missions to Minority Groups. St. Barnabas in Costa Mesa, California is a model of a bridge parish. While rooted in mainstream American culture, St. Barnabas embraces people from a wide variety of backgrounds. This parish’s ability to make people feel welcome and “at home” is something that other parishes can learn from. At present St. Barnabas may seem to be an exception but in the long run St. Barnabas can serve as an outlier for Orthodox engagement with America’s cultural mosaic. The Philip Ludwell III Orthodox Fellowship seeks to promote “the enculturation of the Orthodox faith into the South’s unique ethos and ‘older religiousness.’” The Fellowship of St. Moses the Black gives as their mission: “linking ancient African Christianity with the African American Experience.” Father Turbo Qualls, in an interview, discussed how he grew up as the only Black guy hungry for “identity.”
Then, there is missions outreach to the ethnic minorities. At present this is not on the radar screen of American Orthodoxy. Kevin Allen wrote:
To the best of my knowledge there is no “strategic vision” for reaching Latinos and African Americans in the Orthodox Church. Through the new social service agency FOCUS North America (Fellowship of Orthodox Christians United to Serve) members of the Orthodox Church are making the Church more visible, and interacting with non- Orthodox. While they are serving the poor and needy in a few major “inner cities,” overall our interaction with minority society and culture in general is negligible.
The inner-city mission in Kansas City to African Americans mentioned earlier represents the frontier of Orthodox evangelism in America. Right now, much of the discussion has been about retaining ethnic Orthodoxy versus reaching out to the American mainstream. But as Kevin Allen noted the minorities are the future of America. Rather than wait for something to happen, we need to take the initiative. We need to support those who feel called by God to reach out to minority groups. Perhaps another approach is to support the planting of monastic communities in urban centers where the need is great.
Kevin Allen noted the need for more Latino and African American Orthodox priests but even that is not enough. What is needed are minority clergy pastoring minority Orthodox parishes. I know of several Asian American Orthodox priests who have adapted and assimilated into non-Asian Orthodox parishes. This is good but will not lead to a breakthrough in Orthodox missions in America that we need.
If Orthodoxy in America wishes to engage the American cultural mosaic they will need to: (1) identify areas with significant minority populations, (2) support the planting of Orthodox missions for that particular minority group, (3) support the training of minority clergy for these missions, and (4) consciously affirm the catholicity of American Orthodoxy.
Translations are part of the third stage of the proposed missions strategy for America. Many Orthodox saints have been involved in translation: Saints Kyril and Methodios, Saint Nicholas of Japan, Saint Innocent of Alaska. This means that Orthodox priests and local parish bookstores need to have available Bibles in Spanish, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese and even Laotian. The Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) recently published a parallel Russian-Laotian prayer book. This must be a priority in areas where there is a sizable non-English speaking population. The translation of Orthodox texts for minority groups in the US can be done injunction with overseas missions work.
Thus, we will need a national or global clearinghouse that can make available translations of Orthodox prayers and services. The main priority here is clear, understandable and accurate translations rather than translations that are aimed at the upper classes and difficult to understand by the majority. Translations of popular books on Orthodoxy are also needed. Translation of the lives of the saints or major feast days in the form of bulletin inserts can be helpful.
Prayer services in Asian languages or Spanish can play a critical role in the third stage of Orthodox evangelism. A sizable portion of Asian Americans use their mother tongue in their homes or with their close circle of friends and family. Because prayer comes from the heart it is important that Orthodoxy makes prayer books and Scripture translations available in their heart language. Orthodox priests leading Vespers in their mother tongue can result in a breakthrough among minority groups. Orthodox priests teaching people to do the Morning and Evening prayers in their native tongue can play a key role in church planting among unreached ethnic groups.
Language plays a powerful part in Orthodox missions. Saying the Lord’s Prayer in olelo Hawaii during the Sunday Liturgy will send a powerful message about Orthodoxy’s desire to be accessible to the peoples of Hawaii. Acceptance of Hawaii Pidgin, the de facto lingua franca of Hawaii, would send a powerful message to Hawaii Locals.
Chinese Dim Sum
In response to the question: Where’s the rice? I hope the answer in the future for Orthodox parishes will be: Right next to the grits, potatoes, tortillas, naan, pancit, poi, and chow fun! The future of American Orthodoxy lies not just with all English Liturgy but also with a diverse multicultural potluck meal afterwards. In response to Kevin Allen’s question: “Are We Ready for the Coming Evangelical Collapse?”, I would like to pose a different question: “Is Orthodoxy Ready for the American Cultural Mosaic?” Or, “Is Orthodoxy Willing to Embrace Hawaii’s Cultural Mosaic?” How we respond to this challenge will determine Orthodoxy’s future in the twenty first century.
The Hawaiians are known worldwide for their “aloha.” The word “aloha” has often been translated into the English word “love.” Aloha has also been understood to mean warmth and welcome, as well as kindness, sympathy, or compassion. The word can be found in other Polynesian groups: aroha in Tahitian, alofa in Samoan, or alōfa in Tongan. The origins of the word have been lost to the distant past. However, a scholar noted that the original meaning of the Maori word “aroha” may have been “love for kin” (Kanahele p. 196).
This article is a reflection based on George Kanahele’s “The Dynamics of Aloha.” I will try to give appropriate attribution to the sources.
In ancient Hawaii, the Hawaiians showed aloha by loving their children, even in the mother’s womb. Hawaiians surround their children with a constant flow of love and affection. The loving attachment Hawaiian parents felt towards their children can be seen in the saying: “Ka lei hā`ule `ole, he keiki” (A lei that is never cast aside is one’s child). They also extended aloha to children by adoption. In Hawaii the adopted child is known as a hanai child.
The Hawaiian family was built upon the love shared by husband and wife. This ideal situation is summed up in the phrase: “Ke alohapili pa`a o ke kā me ka wahine” (the lasting love of man and woman). Aloha in the marriage relationship meant fidelity to one’s spouse, the strengthening of marital bonds, not its loosening. Pre-contact Hawaiians did not condone flirtatious behavior despite what the early Westerners and missionaries had witnessed (Kanahele p. 199).
The early Hawaiians were known for their hospitality to strangers. This is the aloha spirt being extended beyond the ohana. The early Hawaiians would greet every passerby and offer them food and drink. There is an ancient saying: “`O ke aloha kuleana o kāhi malihini” (Love is the host in strange lands) (Kanahele p. 201).
Gods of pre-contact Hawaii
Nonetheless, there are some uncomfortable facts about life in ancient Hawaii. One is that many of the makaʻāinana (commoner) lived in fear of the ali`i. Pre-contact Hawaii was highly stratified and maintained by a strict, harsh kapu system. What bound the makaʻāinana to the ali`i was kūpa`a (unswerving loyalty). The ali`i were admonished to be kind and open-hearted to their people, but many took advantage of those under them. The pre-contact ali`i had the right to call on commoners to fight for him in times of war or to provide corvee labor in times of peace. The aloha spirit played a limited role in commoner-nobility relations. The dynamic can be described as: love often; loyalty always (Kanahele pp. 203-204).
The priority of loyalty over aloha also applied to the ohana. One could be loyal without having much aloha, but one could not have aloha and be disloyal at the same time (Kanahele p. 204). This points to an important fact about Hawaiian culture—the priority of the group over the individual. Modern Western individualism which prioritizes self-love is contrary to and corrosive of Hawaiian identity. The individual supports the group just as the group supports its members.
New England Missionaries Come to Hawaii
Hiram Bingham preaching the Good News to Hawaiians.
The coming of Christianity revolutionized the Hawaiians’ understanding of aloha and introduced a new understanding of the supreme God (Jehovah). The early Hawaiians believed in many gods but did not associate aloha with their many akua. The early Hawaiians offered prayers and sacrifices to avoid angering the gods and to obtain a good harvest or successful hunt or battle. Many of the commoners lived in fear of the gods. The closest thing to a benevolent relation was that between the ohana and its aumakua. The Christian missionaries proclaimed to the Hawaiians that Jehovah, the Supreme God, loved them. They explained that the Christian agape love was the highest form of love. Agape love gave without expectation of receiving anything in return. The best example of this was God giving his Keiki Jesus to die on the Cross for the salvation of all, including the Hawaiians. The bible verse John 3:16 talks about God’s great love (aloha nui) for us.
16 No ka mea, ua aloha nui mai ke Akua i ko ke ao nei, no laila, ua hāʻawi mai ʻo ia i kāna Keiki hiwahiwa, i ʻole e make ka mea manaʻoʻiʻo iā ia, akā, e loaʻa iā ia ke ola mau loa. (John 3:16; emphasis added; Source)
This teaching is summed up in the phrase: Aloha ke Akua (God is love). This short, simple sentence—which can be found in 1 John 4:8—is widely known and accepted by Hawaiians today, yet it is a revolutionary teaching. It enriched and deepened one of the core values of Hawaiian identity.
The Supreme God who sent his Keiki Jesus to save us was way different then the gods of old Hawaii. Jesus wen tell his guys:
I Da Guy Dass Fo Real. I neva come so peopo can take care me. I wen come fo take care dem. (Mark 10:45, Da Jesus Book)
Jesus Christ – Extreme humility
Jesus da Christ Guy wen mahke on top da Cross fo show how plenny love and aloha he get fo us guys. Jesus wen tell Nicodemus:
God wen get so plenny love an aloha fo da peopo inside da world, dat he wen send me, his one an ony Boy, so dat everybody dat trus me no get cut off from God, but get da real kine life dat stay to da max foeva. (John 3:16, Da Jesus Book)
Jesus do all dis cuz he love us guys. Jesus Da Boss not like da old kine akua. Befo time da Hawaiians had to make sacrifice to dea akua, but wen Jesus wen mahke on top da Cross all dat pau. No need make sacrifice. If we go trus Jesus God’s Boy den God goin hemo oua shame and make oua hearts come good insai.
The Christian message “Aloka ke akua” transformed the Hawaiian monarchy. Many of the rulers in the Hawaiian kingdom were devout Christians who sought to promote the welfare of their subjects. In the Hawaiian kingdom the ali`i were morally obligated to the commoners, unlike modern Western values which often left ordinary people to their own resources with tragic results. Inspired by the spirit of philanthropy the ali`i would establish Queens Hospital which would meet the health needs of Hawaii’s population, Lunalilo Home which would tend to the needs of the elderly, and Bishop Estate which would educate the Hawaiian youths.
While love can be found in cultures all over the world, the spirit of aloha has a distinctive unique flavor. The uniqueness of the aloha spirit has been used as a powerful marketing tool for tourism. There is the danger that the commercialization of aloha may lead to the hollowing out Hawaiian identity and Hawaii’s spiritual impoverishment. Hawaii’s physical beauty stripped of its spiritual beauty—the aloha spirit, would be tragic. The aloha spirit lives in the hearts of the kanaka maoli.
The Christian message came from the West, from North America and Europe. The Protestant Calvinist missionaries were sincere in what they taught the Hawaiians, but what they did not realize was that they were also imposing Western culture upon the Hawaiians. By the early twentieth century, especially after the 1893 Overthrow, the Hawaiians became strangers to their land, their culture, their language. Many even became strangers to themselves, having become ashamed of being Hawaiian. Thus, Western Christianity was a mixed bag for the Hawaiians.
The Christian Message can also come from the East. The East is where the sun rises and where the ancient cultures of Asia and Polynesia can be found. Christianity originally came from the Near East. Jesus and his followers were born and raised in Palestine. Many of the church groups in Hawaii are part of Western Christianity. Their roots go back to the mainland USA or Europe. In the case of the New England Calvinist missionaries, their roots only go back five hundred years. In contrast, Eastern Orthodoxy has roots that go back two thousand years. Eastern Orthodoxy has roots that go back to the first century, even to the Book of Acts (Acts 11:26, 13:1-3). This website, LocalOrthodox.com, seeks to present the ancient wisdom of Eastern Orthodoxy to the local residents of Hawaii. The spirituality of Ancient Christianity embraces the body and the spirit. It is respectful of the natural environment believing that the aina is a gift from Akua and that we are called to be caretakers of the aina for the glory of God. Orthodoxy believes that God is love and that it is the spirit of aloha that connects us to God, to one another, and to the world we live in.
We would like to say to those visiting this website: “Mahalo!” and “Hele mai e ike!” (Come and see!).
Icon of the Resurrection – Jesus Christ Bus Up Hell and Tie Up Death
Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!
For Orthodox Christians, the highpoint of the year is Easter Sunday when we celebrate Jesus Christ’s resurrection. Easter is more than one man coming back to life. It is about the Son of God dying on the Cross for us, then entering into the realm of death to liberate the departed souls from the power of Death. The resurrection icon (picture) shows Jesus Christ inside Hell. He has shattered the doors of Hell, tied up Death, and grabbed hold of our first parents, Adam and Eve, to save them from the power of Death and from the control of the Devil. To be with Jesus Christ means being saved and having eternal life.
In Pidgin we say: Christ come back alive! And den, Fo real He come back alive!
Dis da Good Kine Stuff From God, God wen send his ony Boy fo come jalike us guys. Jesus wen suffa plenny and mahke on top da Cross fo us guys. He wen go down to Hell and bus um up jalike da picha show. Den on da numba tree day Jesus come back alive!
Insai Fo Da Hebrew Peopo 2:14 tell:
Now, God’s kids get skin and blood cuz dey peopo. Dass why Jesus wen do da same ting fo be jalike dem, with skin and blood too. He wen do dat so dat wen he mahke, he wen hemo all da power from da Devil, da one dat get power fo kill peopo.
Paul, da worka guy fo Christ, tell how Christ goin make us guys come back alive. He write dis insai his letta Fo Da Rome Peopo 8:11:
God da One dat wen make Jesus come back alive afta he wen mahke. If God’s Spirit stay tight wit you guys, den he goin make you guys come back alive, yoa body, everyting, jalike how he wen make Christ come back alive. His Spirit goin do dat fo you guys, no matta yoa body gotta mahke.
Da Good Kine Stuff jalike one present from God. No need work fo get um. But you gotta take da present from God. Fo get da kine eternal life, you gotta stick tight wid Christ, God’s spesho Guy. You gotta tell Jesus, “I like be yoa guy and I like you be my Boss.” You stick tight wid Jesus Christ, den he goin take care you no matta you mahke. Dis cuz he awreddy wen bus up Hell and wipe out da Devil. Latta on he goin make us guys come back alive too. Paul wen write dis:
God’s Spesho Guy Christ, he wen come back alive afta he wen mahke! He jalike da first fruit dey pick from da farm, and plenny mo going come afta. Christ, he da first guy dat eva wen come back alive afta he wen mahke, an going get plenny mo mahke peopo dat goin come back alive bumbye, same ting. (Numba 1 Fo Da Corint Peopo 15:20)
Dass why Orthodox Christian guys go celebrate Easter! Dis awesome Good Kine Stuff fo tell everybody! Dis Good Kine Stuff plenny good reason fo come Christ’s guys!
Da Jesus Book is the New Testament translated into Hawaii Pidgin — the language spoken by about 600,000 people in Hawaii. Many locals in Hawaii have a hard time relating to English bibles that have unfamiliar words like: justification, sanctification, righteous, covenant, etc. For example, Lord is translated “Boss,” sin is translated “do bad kine stuff,” righteous is translated “get um right wid God, do da right ting, and “abide in Christ” is translated “stay tight wid Christ.”
Joe and Barbara Grimes came to Hawaii in 1989 to work with local people translate the Bible into Pidgin. They worked with about 20 people all over in their homes or in fast food places. I was one of the translator guys who worked with Joe and Barbara. The Pidgin Bible is a serious project. We started with the Greek text and sought to put the meaning of the Greek text into the way Hawaii Pidgin speakers would say it.
The Grimes were part of Wycliffe Bible Translators and translated the Bible into Huichol language for the Huichol people in Mexico. Joe was a linguistics professor at Cornell University before he moved to Hawaii. His wife Barbara wen mahke 2014. Joe and pastor Earl Morihara are working to finalize Da Befo Jesus Book (Old Testament).
Saints Kyril and Methodios – Orthodox Missionaries to the Slavs
Translating the Bible into local languages (vernacular) is part of the Orthodox Tradition. In the 800s, two Orthodox Christians, Kyril and Methodios, were sent by the Patriarch of Constantinople, Photios, to be missionaries to the Slavs and to translate the Bible and the Liturgy into the language of the Slavs. This approach to doing missions was different from the missionary strategy of the Latin West which insisted that worship be done in Latin and insisted that the Slavs follow only Latin customs and practices. When Orthodox missionaries came to Alaska, they sought to translate the Bible and the Liturgy into the languages of the indigenous peoples of Alaska and the Kodiaks. As a result, Orthodoxy is deeply rooted in Russia and among the indigenous peoples of Alaska and the Kodiak.
The Pidgin translation will play an important part in Orthodoxy’s outreach to Hawaii’s Local population. Pidgin is the heart language for many Hawaii Locals. Pidgin is very much a part of Hawaii’s multi-cultural society as Olelo Hawai`i (Hawaiian) is intrinsically part of Hawaii. If our Orthodox missions out in West Oahu welcome the use of Pidgin then we will send a powerful message to the Locals that Orthodoxy is not some weird outside religion, but God showing plenny love an respeck fo da Local peopo. That they no need come all haolified if they become Christians (Christ guys). That Jesus’ message for them and their friends and family all over Hawaii. Let us go ask God that this going happen real soon!
It’s great that there are a Greek Orthodox church and a Russian Orthodox church in Hawaii. But we also need an Orthodox church for the locals where the services are all in English and Hawaii’s unique local identity is affirmed. Many local people in Hawaii cannot relate to the ethnic Orthodox churches in Hawaii and because of that cultural gap they are not interested in Orthodoxy.
There was an attempt several years ago to start up an all-English Orthodox mission under the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese, however the attempt did not work out. Despite the disappointing outcome, Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese is still interested in establishing an Orthodox Mission on Oahu but is waiting for the right circumstances. Bishop Joseph of Los Angeles once said to Father John Finley, “We ought to be ashamed of ourselves!” Confused, Father John asked: “Why?” Bishop Joseph answered, “Because we don’t have a mission in Hawaii.” Father John told this story to remind us that we are not alone and that many are praying for an all-English Orthodox mission to be planted on Oahu.
This website has been set up for the purposes of informing people in Hawaii about Orthodoxy and helping to start up an all-English Orthodox church on Oahu. If you share this vision of reaching Hawaii for Orthodoxy and starting an all-English Orthodox Church, please contact us.
The purpose of the blog postings will be to report on our attempts to start up an Antiochian mission in West Oahu and to discuss Hawaii’s culture and religious situation from an Orthodox perspective.