I live in East Tennessee. It is an area of the nation famous for Davy Crockett (his descendants are still here). It is the place where bluegrass music originated. It was settled by Protestants – mostly Scots-Irish – which means Protestant Scots who had once lived in Scotland. It is a land of the Cherokee, though their impact is virtually invisible today.
It is an aspect of America that is hugely modern. An old city in America is 200 years old. There were places of human habitation that go back 10’s of thousands of years, but they yield very little information and they were not ancestors of my own people.
I contrast that to the time I have spent in England. There I was in my ancestral home. I am even aware of the names of Orthodox saints from those holy islands – for England was once among the Orthodox of places.
When I was in Palestine, the evidence of Christianity is simply as old as Christianity itself. I knelt in the very tomb of Christ. There are many other things in the Holy Land, many of them older than Christianity and yet related.
It is a question for me of Orthodoxy where you live. In some places – lands made holy by generation after generation of saint – the life of Orthodoxy is, or at least can be, a life lived in harmony with place and time. It is this strange aspect of America that to be faithful to Christ means to be unfaithful to the space and time in which I live. This modern land is Babylon. Almost everyone knows it other than Americans. I do not say this as praise for other places. There are worse things and places than Babylon. Some of my readers dwell in those places.
I take great comfort in the closing lines of St. Peters’ First Epistle: “She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings…” (1 Peter 5:13). Whatever city Peter was writing from (probably Rome), he identified as Babylon. It is more than “code language” it seems to me. It is Peter’s greeting from a place that seems profoundly foreign to the gospel.
The Christian is forced to remember that this world is not our home – or at least to remember that the land hallowed by the prayers of all the saints and the blood of the martyrs is no smaller than the cosmos itself. We breath the same air, and sweat under the same sun. Most importantly, we do not lose heart wherever we are. With ever icon erected, with every prayer prayed, with every Temple that is raised and consecrated, this place and all others become more fully what they were created to be – “Heaven is His Temple, the earth His footstool.”
Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
If I ascend to heaven, thou art there! If I make my bed in Sheol, thou art there!
If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there thy hand shall lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Let only darkness cover me, and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to thee, the night is bright as the day; for darkness is as light with thee.