Healing in the Breach of American Societal Crisis: Why Racial Reconciliation Matters to Orthodox Christianity in America

Archimandrite Chrysostom Onyekakeyah

Project Coordinator for Mission & Outreach Development

Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America


The soul of America is pained by injustice. It is hard to comprehend, but when injustice is left unchecked in our lapse to uphold the principles of equality and freedom, the soul of America is corrupted, left to decay before the American people, in our communities, and in our world. In our current moment, many, including myself, feel that America is in a crisis of identity as its ideals continue to be called into question by the damaging presence of racism, political polarization, and social injustice in our society that left great suffering and anguish in its wake. It seems that we are living through a war for the soul of America: we see suffering in our streets and sacred spaces of daily living on account of gun violence, political polarization in our houses of government on account of disinformation and warped perceptions of the American experience, and notable, the anguish among all peoples of color on account of racism and racial violence. In all, it seems as if the fabric of America, the beautiful multi-colored, textured, and luminous threads of our society, are being torn apart due to our collective inability and unwillingness to be presented with the sins of American and look to each other as one nation for repentance and reconciliation.

            In all this suffering, agony, and disunion, I feel that we must call out apathy as the most destructive and overarching of our nation’s sins. Apathy has left our nation unable to look into the face of darkness and death and say no more. Apathy has justified our dismissal to act against gun violence, disinformation, and racism for so long. Apathy has stripped our nation of our God-given capacity to act freely and erased the mandate of Christ to love our neighbor[1], forgive those who trespass against us[2], and lay down our lives for our friends[3] from our nation consciousness.

Nevertheless, we see people within our communities, from the young and innocent to the elderly and the wise, acting to bring about a national repentance for the sins of American and a reconciliation of American society, but more bridgebuilding, more encounters with the stranger, more policy reform, more action is necessary. I believe that the war for the soul of America is a struggle that is all encompassing and touches every American. The victims of this war are not only the innocent, the disadvantaged, the historically marginalized, or the racially profiled, but every American. Those responsible to end this war are not our nation’s politicians, civil servants, judiciary, social justice advocates, or corporations; instead, we, every American citizen and resident, is responsible for imaging Christ as the Physician of souls and bodies in our nation, soothing our collective wounds with the balm of repentance and binding those same wounds with the bandages of reconciliation, sealed by the love and mercy of God. It is in this mandate of healing that I fervently believe Orthodox Christianity in America is called to sustain and redouble its efforts in the arena of American society, advocating for the sanctity of life, the building of bridges, and the reconciliation of all people in Christ.

In calling for the repentance and reconciliation of the whole body of our American society, we all acknowledge the impossible prospect of reckoning with the national sins of slavery, racism, economic inequality, and social instability, but we are called to seek the genuine healing of America. In celebrating the salvation granted to all humankind by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Church offers up the world to God as His Creation, to transfigure it “in all and for all”[4], proclaiming that “[…] with God all things are possible”[5]. In our realization of all that is possible in God, Orthodox Christianity in America has advocated for the possibility of resolving the great and seemingly insurmountable obstacles of the American experience, not shying away from the challenging work of repentance, bridgebuilding, and reconciliation. I am reminded of the Church’s active support of the Civil Rights Movement which fought for racial equality and voting rights which was spearheaded by Archbishop Iakovos of North and South America who walked in stride with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma. Archbishop Iakovos, in a Pastoral Letter on Civil Rights from 1965, aptly distilled the Christian imperative to act against racism and for racial reconciliation when stating that:

We cannot be Christians in name, and not in spirit and action. If our most prized possession is merely the respectability of Christianity, then we bring to it nothing but disrepute and dishonor. Christianity is not a jewel for safe keeping; it is a living thing which struggles with the challenge of an evil, rejoices spiritually when the evil is overcome, and dies when the challenge remains unmet and the evil triumphs.[6]

The Church is called to act and protect all for the life of the world even when the Church may be “[…] persecuted for righteousness sake”[7]. Founded upon Christ’s redemptive act of trampling down death and sin by His death and resurrection[8], the ultimate act of selflessness, love, and justice, the Church retains a mandate to dispel suffering on account of selfishness, embrace all people in love without prejudice, and seek justice for the wronged. In that manner, I believe that as an act of healing, the process of racial reconciliation calls for us to reject the systems in our society that perpetuate the sins of racism and racial violence, that exist to victimize and oppress all people of color, and that seek the division of humankind over our unity. Further, racial reconciliation calls for those responsible to be brought to account for their trespasses so that all people may forgive those who transgressed against our common humanity. As such, the Orthodox Church rebukes racism and racial injustice in all its forms and disguises as sins that fray the fabric of America by obstructing the common cause of humanity to “[…] become a single[9] people in God the creator”[10].

            While the Church is called to the arena of society to struggle for the life of the world, the struggle against evil is never decided by a single battle. In this regards, Orthodox Christianity in America continues to commit itself to racial justice, a national repentance on racism, and racial reconciliation as long as such injustices persist. As we mark the two-year anniversaries of the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor on account of police brutality and racial profiling, it must be emphasized that the Orthodox Church has never left the side of the oppressed and marginalized. I am reminded of the notable statement made by His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros in his attendance at a march in Brooklyn protecting the death of Breonna Taylor in June 2020 and his call “[…] to stand in the breach together with all those who are committed to preserving peace, justice, and equality for every citizen of good will, regardless of their race, religion, gender or ethnic origin”[11]. The Orthodox Church remains in the breach of suffering, anguish, and division, shining the light of reconciliation on our nation’s sins, calling all to repentance and union. Consequently, the Orthodox Church, as the inheritor of the faith of the Apostles and the wisdom of the Early Church Fathers and a co-laborer among many in realizing the promises and ideals of America, must continue to call out racial injustice and violence, engaging in practical, pastoral, and prophetic efforts to lead its communities and American society at large to a more perfect union through repentance and reconciliation.

Still, I fear that this obligation will not be realized if the Church treated the wounds of nation without calling upon the whole body of Christ to effectively and expeditiously diagnose the shortcomings, blind spots, and acute sin found within our parish communities, our hierarchy, and our American community. To that effect, I believe the Church must call upon on people of good will, from all corners of American religious and secular life, to engage in processes of self-reflection and discernment to acknowledge our collective inadequacy and walk on the path of racial reconciliation. I pray and petition our Loving God to give us the hope and the strength to pursue reconciliation, that by our continual striving through tenuous barriers and obstacles, we may repair our nation and it a nation that is unity in upholding the sanctity and universality of human life. Through intentioned reflection and purposeful acts, we can be the agents of justice and witnesses of equality we so aspire to in our society, expecting our national efforts of repentance and reconciliation to bear the fruits which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. enumerates when identifying that “The end is reconciliation; the end is redemption, the end is the creation of the beloved community”[12].

[1] Matt. 19:19

[2] Matt. 5:44

[3] John 15:13

[4] Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, the Holy Anaphora (Offering)

[5] Matt. 19:26

[7] Matt. 5:10

[8] Apolytikion of Easter (Pascha): Christ is risen from the dead, by death trampling down upon death, and to those in the tombs He has granted life.

[9] John 17:21

[12] King Jr., Martin Luther, "Facing the Challenge of a New Age”, 30.