What Hooked Me

I grew up Catholic. I spent the ’90s with the Quakers and Mennonites, but then returned to Catholicism for a few years. So I always believed the doctrine that the Holy Spirit of God, One of the Trinity, was supposed to dwell in the Church. I grew up a Vatican II Catholic, so there was an even greater emphasis on this than before the ’60s perhaps. But even after Vatican II, if push came to shove the only person we could know for sure had the Spirit was the Pope of Rome; the Council maintained the doctrine of Papal Infallibility.

What hooked me about Orthodoxy was that it has always maintained a healthy, lively doctrine of the indwelling of the Spirit in the whole Body of Christ, not just one member. This was evidenced for me in the dictates of Orthodox Church leaders that were actually rejected by the faithful and monastics down through the years. It struck me that they believed this more than we did! And I thought that if the teaching is true, its true home was apparently the Orthodox Church, not the Latin Church, not even the Eastern Catholics separated from Orthodoxy.

How does Orthodoxy do this? Orthodoxy is very process-oriented; things take time in history. Even after the leaders decree something – which itself can take seemingly forever! – it still has to be “received” by the Church at large. Monastics and laity don’t resist episcopal teaching lightly, but when it seems to them the Spirit was not present when a given decision was made, they’ve been known to riot, to boycott, to organize and protest, to demand the replacement of their leaders, etc.

As some of the Orthodox Patriarchs wrote to a Pope of Rome in the 1800s, we believe the Bishops only teach the doctrine; the whole (Orthodox) Church guards the doctrine. Rome teaches that the bishops, and especially he of Rome, teach and guard, leaving no role for the faithful, ie, most of the church!

That’s not even very Scriptural. Orthodoxy sees the Church gathered at the first Pentecost, whereas Rome sees only a College of Bishops or Cardinals (leaving out the women present!), and of course a Pope.

So in short, what hooked me about Orthodoxy was its living doctrine and praxis of the Holy Spirit IN the Whole Church. Messy though it may be!

(That’s not to say we’re all instant mystics! Each of us is his or her own distance from God, in his or her own place on the path of Purification, Illumination, and Glorification. But we are to work hard for it, gradually, and hope in God’s Mercy.)

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