1. You are a follower of the Orthodox religion. How does it meet your spiritual needs?
Although I would say that I should try to conform to the principles of my religion more than it should meet my needs, the rich history and theology of the Orthodox church is a very meaningful in my life. I believe it is the True faith, the original Christian church from the time of the apostles until the present. There are aspects of the church that are integrated into every part of my life - church services and daily prayers at home, ancient melodies sung in the services, and a history full of apostles, saints, angels and monastics that give modern Orthodox Christians an example of how to live everyday life. The idea of theosis - God becoming man (as Jesus) so that man can become God - is something to strive for in my spiritual life. No human can ever become truly God, but the pursuit of this, with the right intentions, can lead to a fulfilling spiritual life.
2. Is there a particular saint or icon that is especially meaningful for you? If so, why?
The icons in the Orthodox church are all beautiful and awe-inspiring, but for me especially the icon of Christ the Pantocrator. It is simultaneously comforting and intimidating. On the left, Christ raises his hand in blessing to show that he loves and cares for his creation. On the right, he holds the book of life to remind us that when our lives are over, we will also have to answer to him for the choices we have made. I also have a special place for St. Christopher, as a protector and the patron saint of travelers.
3. How does God and mysticism fit into today's culture?
Unfortunately, today's culture has strayed far from the ideal that God set up at creation - that we would be in dialogue with him, worship him, and care for His creation. Instead, today most organized religions tend to "box" God - to create their own personalized Saviour, and to pick and choose a religion that suits their ideals instead of the other way around. I believe that God has a rightful place in any society, past or present. It is my job to sanctify the activities that I participate in by giving God the honor and obedience that are already his. (Not that I have achieved this... it's much easier said than done.)
4. If you were to name two things about American society (not government), what would they be and why?
Hmmm...any two aspects of our culture? For one, I would say consumerism. Americans often take for granted all the amenities that are available to us. We're used to scouting out the latest electronic gadgets, buying the coolest brands of clothes, and sampling new restaurants. We're programmed to buy, and society tells us that more is better. I think that often we are so caught up in what we "need" or want that we forget that others are less fortunate, and also forget to be grateful for what we do have.
Another aspect that we offer, on the upside, is diversity. Although sometimes groups may clash in the U.S., it's interesting to see a country being built by people from so many different countries, cultures, and social backgrounds. The potential for language exchange, cultural awareness, and dialogue about world issues is exciting. The plethora of ethnic recipes, different styles of architecture and art are an added plus.
5. Is there an historical figure you admire? Why? Do you think our present society still can boast of some individual greatness? Who would some of them be?
I think that there is always potential for "greatness" in today's society, if you define greatness as some or all of the above qualities. There are a few people alive now that I admire, but their names don't often show up in the mass media. I think that Wendell Berry has a lot of good things to say in his essays and poems about reverence for the created world, and love for family. I admire Zana Briski for her passion for children in poverty, and her work in exposing their conditions to the public through things like documentaries and her Kids With Cameras program. But mostly I think that the potential is there in everyone. It's our choice to change the world or just watch it spin by.