Orthodox Christians in America must affirm their identity if they are to have a strong future amid a secularizing reality in the United States, a Greek Orthodox scholar said.
Orthodox Christians have "a message and a way of life" that they must present as "an alternative to the morally and spiritually down-spiraling contemporary American lifestyle," said Rev. Stanley Harakas, Archbishop Iakovos Professor of Orthodox Theology Emeritus at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology.
Harakas, a priest of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, made the comments last week during a keynote address at the "Sixth Annual Orthodoxy in America Lecture" at Fordham University in New York City.
His talk, titled "The Future of Orthodox Christianity in America: A Normative Approach," discussed the difficulties lying before Orthodoxy in the United States and suggested ways in which believers might address them.
Among the challenges facing Christianity in the United States is the secularizing spirit of Europe that will continue to spread in the fabric of American life, said Harakas, according to the university.
Speaking to a crowd of around 300 people, the scholar said secularization should not be considered the "essence" of America.
"It is one of many variant ideologies seeking expression in American life, but as a church and as Christians we must not succumb to it, but we need to engage with it," Harakas told a diverse audience of academics, clergymen, students and laymen.
He also expressed that Orthodoxy can be American, defining the American way as "accepting fundamental principles of freedom in community as declared in our Constitution."
"We must believe that we are free to be Orthodox Christians and that we will be good Americans if we affirm our identity as Orthodox Christians, while acknowledging that others have the same right," said Harakas.
"Freedom of belief, of worship, speech and political exercise are the only things that are authentically American," he added.
While speaking on preparations that needed to be made in Orthodox Christianity, the scholar emphasized building a strong Orthodox identity in children by fully immersing them in liturgical worship.
"It is not everything, but if we do not immerse our children in the worship experience, unconsciously, semiconsciously and ultimately, consciously, there will be only a tepid future for Orthodox Christianity in America," Harakas warned.
Following the lecture, the president of Fordham University announced the establishment of the Archbishop Demetrios Chair in Orthodox Theology and Culture as part of its Orthodox Christian Studies Program. The event was also attended by Archbishop Demetrios, primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America.