Cross Cultural Experience

Perhaps where I’m going with this is that… the “cross cultural experience” does not begin in Moldova. It begins in dealing with the OCMC, because, based upon the materials they sent, there are nearly as many opportunities for cultural misunderstanding between me and them as there is between Georgians and I (and there’s a much greater cultural divide between myself and most short term protestant organizations than even between myself and Georgians). But it’s harder to talk about, because it’s unexpected.

Something I’ve learned from my time in Syria and Georgia, is that local bishops have their own ideas about what they want their guests to learn, and “mission teams,” English teachers, pilgrims, and pretty much anyone in the area for legitimate reasons is a guest. This is less true in Alaska, because it’s simply too large, but then I wasn’t much involved in the Orthodox church there, either. It’s almost certainly true on Kodiak. Now, the bishops I’ve encountered, even more than the other parishes, have their own stuff going on with their diocese, and the first thing they want (and they don’t seem to be any hurry to get past this stage; if their guests leave without ever making it past this stage, that doesn’t seem to be considered a problem) is to see how their diocese already is; it’s history, projects, people, and so on. And then they might let the guests do something as well, if that works for everyone. The St Innocent Academy sings, and Meopeh Isaiah is glad that they sing, and to have them do so everywhere they went — and everyone was especially glad when they learned Georgian songs — but it was pretty clear that he valued showing them the Georgian churches more than giving them time to practice their songs, and sometimes they seemed a bit hassled as a result. He would rather, it seemed, that they sing not quite so well if they got to go pray at an ancient monastery instead. He wants me to learn Georgian and Georgian dances perhaps as much as to teach English. Metropolitan Saba mostly wanted us to visit the churches, monasteries, parishes, diocesan projects, and even archeological sites, more than he wanted our help with anything in particular.

I don’t know how it is in Moldova, because it’s difficult to find information on the country, but I know that in Georgia, catechism may be some kind of priority (they teach church history in school, for instance), but not from foreigners, That’s something they seem to feel pretty confident about themselves. They do seem quite interested in seeing that there are serious Orthodox Christians even in America, and learning what that looks like — but their really most interested in having their own culture and traditions appreciated by outsiders. The Syrians were also interested in having their culture and history appreciated, and were also quite interested in converts to Orthodoxy, since that’s so rare in the Middle East. A good relationships with these churches may or may not involve helping them in obviously helpful ways, but certainly involves communicating admiration for their perseverance.

Now, when I think that our instructions feel a little cramped because it makes no mention whatever of what the Moldovan churches, and especially their bishop, are like, and how they look upon groups such as this one. Traveling in a mission team for a short term event can be a really good opportunity, because it’s small enough that things like adequate translation and therefore focused communication are more possible than with random well-meaning Orthodox folks, but in that case it’s all the more important to be able to articulate what the people there are saying, and how they feel about things like this, about you, how we can best learn from each other, and so on, rather than to get trapped in the little hole of My Own Journey.

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