Orthodox America

  ORTHODOX PRACTICE - Please, let's mind our manners!

Orthodox discussion groups on the Internet have been faulted for being too polemical. Some participants seem to have a penchant for argument, spoiling what is a potentially useful and constructive forum. "How" something is expressed can carry as much weight as "what" is expressed. As Christians, we are called to esteem others better than ourselves (Phil. 2:3), and to esteem particularly clergy (II Thess 5:13). Surely this should be reflected in our manner of communicating with one another. One can disagree without being discourteous.

In an apeal for better manners on the Internet, Matushka Anna Lardas writes, "You can tell, when you read a post, not just that the author disagrees with someone but that all civility is about to come to an end when (s)he starts dropping the Christian names and using only last names."

On the Internet, she points out, "we lose track, we objectify. Our language reflects that. Laymen become 'Last Name' or 'Mister Last Name.' Priests become 'Father Last Name.'" Or, what is worse, simply "Last Name." It should be evident that Matushka Anna's remarks are made within the context of Orthodox etiquette, and are not necessarily of general application. In the Roman Catholic tradition, for example, to call a priest Father (Last Name) is perfectly acceptable and respectful. Similarly, there are situations, even within the Orthodox context, when it is proper to address a person - someone older than we, or someone we do not know well - as Mr./Mrs./Miss, when to call them by their Christian name alone may show a lack of respect or undue familiarity.

We should all be acquainted with these basic rules of etiquette, which are part of any good upbringing. What is less well known - and often a source of uncertainty and confusion - is how properly to address various ranks of clergy in writing letters. Here, too, conventions vary. The following forms - for the envelope and the salutation - are standard usage in the Russian Church: