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Ludwell Orthodox Fellowship: South is Fertile Mission Ground

This article is a repost of “Tending the Crops: Believers Gather to Discuss Deepening Orthodox Christianity’s Roots in the South” by Amanda Goins. For more information and photos of the event, please visit The Philip Ludwell III Orthodox Fellowship – Nurturing the roots of Orthodoxy within Dixie's Land (southernorthodox.org).

I recently joined travelers from near and far gathering in Tobaccoville, NC, to attend the Ludwell Orthodox Fellowship’s Inaugural Conference. The Fellowship welcomed 125 attendees from 10 states, and the UK, to the sold-out event with Southern charm. It brought together Christians from varied traditions and jurisdictions. Speakers, both clergy and laity, covered an array of topics with the common theme of the South’s deep-rooted remembrance of traditionalism. Southerners have a long-held sacramental vision of life and Orthodox Christianity can bring about the fulfillment of this vision with sacramental religion.


The seeds of Orthodoxy have been planted in the South and the fruits have been ripening beautifully. However, it is important that these fruits are tended with care to bring about the most bountiful harvest. This is the purpose of the Philip Ludwell III Orthodox Fellowship – to nurture the roots of Orthodoxy in Dixie’s Land. The organization launched in 2021 with a mission of fostering the “enculturation of the Orthodox faith into the South’s unique ethos and ‘older religiousness.'”


The fellowship’s namesake, Philip Ludwell III, was the first-known Orthodox convert in North America. Ludwell was immersed in cultural affairs during the founding of our country, including helping to commission a young George Washington as a colonel in the Virginia militia. He also translated a number of Orthodox texts into English and his translation of Peter Mogila’s Confession was blessed by the Holy Synod of Russia. The fellowship states that “all Orthodox Southerners are the spiritual descendants of Philip Ludwell III.”


The event was Pan-Orthodox, drawing attendees from varied jurisdictions such as ROCOR, OCA, Antiochian, Greek, and Serbian Orthodox. Also in attendance were several Byzantine Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox catechumens and inquirers, all eager to “Come and See” the complementary relationship between Orthodox Christianity and the South.


The day opened with a prayer and welcoming remarks from fellowship co-founder and editorial director Dr. Clark Carlton and emcee Buck Johnson, host of the Counterflow Podcast. Then the speakers one by one took the stage, each distinct in their offerings. Their orations were educational, inspirational, and thought-provoking. One constant was the icon of The Most Holy Theotokos “Protectress of the Southland” placed prominently beside each speaker. The icon served as a reminder of the Mother of God’s love for and protection of Southerners and as a plea for her intercession.


First to take the stage was fellowship co-founder Dr. Donald Livingston with his speech titled “Why the South is the Most Religious Part of America.” Dr. Livingston is a retired professor of philosophy at Emory University and founder of the Abbeville Institute. He illustrated how the South has preserved a traditionally structured society longer than any other region of the nation through cultural memory. This culture carries a sacramental ethos and can be fulfilled through a sacramental religion which Orthodox Christianity provides. He explained that the alternative – modernity – has stripped God from the center of life and replaced it with sterile scientism.


Next to take the stage was Father John Whiteford, fellowship co-founder and rector of St. Jonah Orthodox Church in Spring, TX, who presented his speech: “Southern Agrarianism and Orthodoxy.” Fr. John reflected on how his appreciation of Southern culture was sparked in an unexpected manner while visiting Moldova. This Eastern European country has preserved a traditional approach to life with many parallels to the South. At the center of this Moldovan lifestyle is Christ through Orthodox Church, which has endured in that country through many great trials. Fr. John explained that the Moldovans’ remembrance of customs and folkways helped make this possible. He encouraged attendees to incorporate such aspects shared with traditional Southern living into their lives today, like maintaining connections with family and learning to grow crops as a food source. He also emphasized the importance of living a Christ-centered lifestyle in each moment.


After a brief Q&A session and as the closing speech before lunch, the crowd was addressed by His Eminence Metropolitan Jonah Paffhausen. Metropolitan Jonah is the rector of St. Herman of Alaska Orthodox Church in Stafford, Virginia, and is abbot of St. Demetrios of Thessaloniki Monastery in Spotsylvania. Vladyka shined a light on ways individuals have strayed from God and how society is drifting away from Him, and emphasized the importance of tradition and family in human development. Met. Jonah specifically highlighted the vital role a mother’s nurturing plays in the development of healthy and happy humans. But what impacted me most was his instruction on how we should approach others. He stated:


"Every human being [is] made in the image of God. Every human being bears the dignity of that image, and is of infinite value.


— Metropolitan Jonah Paffhausen


Vladyka further explained that no one ever strays too far for God to draw them back. He encouraged all attendees to approach each person they encounter as a child of God and to do so with respect for their current faith.


After Met. Jonah’s presentation was Dr. Carlton, who followed through on his promise to “ruffle some feathers” as he discussed infusing a local identity into Southern parishes, stirring conversation and raising questions concerning how to strike the correct balance between Southern identity and Orthodox tradition. Though challenging and perhaps a bit divisive, his speech “Ethnophyletism By Any Other Name …” was intriguing. We must make certain that the roots of Orthodoxy grow deep in the South, and Dr. Carlton proposed that the way to do this is by tempering the foreign elements with the addition of local customs and folkways.


Next, Father Mark Mancuso, rector of St. Elizabeth the New Martyr Orthodox Church in Columbia, South Carolina, and featured clergy in the delightful 2013 documentary “Orthodox in Dixie,” joined us to deliver his talk “Front Porch Wisdom Meets Holy Rus: Reminiscences of Archimandrite Damian Hart.” His speech was a tribute to his dear friend and mentor. Fr. Mark said that despite his imperfections, Archimandrite Damian’s Southern wisdom and Orthodox-centered heart served as a wonderful example as Fr. Mark entered the Church and subsequently the priesthood. His description of this Southern gentleman brought to mind fond memories of sitting on the front porch with my own grandfather as he shared stories from a past time.


The day’s final speaker was George Michalopulos, creator of the Monomakhos website, with his talk “Should We Take the Black Pill, or Can We Crawl Out of the Belly of the Beast?” Michalopulos started by vividly expressing ways he believes facets of society including government, media, healthcare, and culture are corrupted and have turned away from God. Though he painted a bleak picture, Michalopulos encouraged listeners not to take the “black pill,” prompting us instead to build community and develop a deeper faith in Christ.


The event concluded with a Q&A panel and then remarks of gratitude for co-founder Rebecca Dillingham, who was instrumental in bringing the dream of this conference to fruition. She invited everyone to attend Vigil at her nearby parish, St. Thomas the Apostle Orthodox Church. The beautifully reverent service was followed the next day with Divine Liturgy (served by St. Thomas clergy Father Mark Tyson and Deacon Daniel Brown, as well as visiting clergy: Fathers John Whiteford, John Filipowicz, and Boniface Carroll, Abbot Mark Kerr, and Protodeacon Patrick Mitchell) and a particularly hospitable Coffee Hour, both of which were the perfect conclusion to the blessed weekend. Many of the 115 in attendance gathered outside on the parish steps and lawn of St. Thomas, making new friends and reminiscing with old ones in true front-porch-style fellowship.


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