Archive for August, 2007

For all the Orthodox Liturgy’s potential glory – the Glory of God – Orthodox have also often traditionally taken a more relaxed stance regarding it, than, say, the stereotyped pedantic, hyperactive Latin or High Anglican liturgist or Director of Religious Activities. We read of one very difficult time in the life of the Church in Milan, Italy, when, while serving the Liturgy, the Bishop St. Ambrose – an Orthodox Father of the Church – was passed notes several times about important things going on in another part of the city! He paused, read the notes, kept himself apprised of developing problems, then continued with the service. Today, at least early in the service, while people are still arriving, there may often seem to be a ‘holy hubbub,’ as some stand or sit in prayer and/or song, others cross themselves and bow, yet others pray and light candles, and even (hopefully discreetly if at all) greet one another. There’s a kind of ‘holy comfortableness’ that ideally doesn’t feel anything at all like a party or irreverence. Frederica Mathewes-Green’s point number 1 here says it better. Think of it as a comfortableness not lacking in highest reverence, like grandkids visiting the patriarch of the family – which in a sense we are, there in church. (Yes, I know, “God has no grandchildren,” but bear with me!) Or reverence that doesn’t have to be uncomfortable or alien to us.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I got the “kids” part of the last bit somewhere else long ago, but can’t remember where. But the “patriarch” part is mine, FWIW.)

You might also see or hear the priest interrupting himself to give ‘supplemental’ directions to the servers, or starting the wrong prayer, or the choir messing up, or whatever. Most of us “don’t have a cow, man.” Orthodoxy is very human, humane, even amid all the “smells and bells” and ancient Holy Tradition.

Wise, profound words on the heritage of the Liturgy as well as some of its aspects which perhaps grate on ‘modern sensibilities’ (I’ll name the source at the end):

We must not allow the adaptation of the liturgy to become an obsession. The liturgy, like the inspired writings, has a permanent value apart from the circumstances giving rise to it. Before altering a rite we should make sure that a change is strictly necessary. The liturgy has an impersonal character and also has universality in space and time. It is, as it were, timeless and thus enables us to see the divine aspect of eternity. These thoughts will enable us to understand what at first seem shocking in some of the prayers of the Liturgy – feasts that seem no longer appropriate, antiquated gestures, calls to vengeance which reflect a pre-Christian mentality {sic}, anguished cries in the darkness of the night, and so on. It is good to feel oneself thus linked with all the ages of mankind. We pray not only with our contemporaries but with men who have lived in all centuries.

These words were spoken at Rome’s Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s by the Melkite (Eastern) Catholic Patriarch of Antioch, Maximos IV Sayegh.

(Antiochian Orthodox Fr. Ted Pulcini, ex-Latin and ex-Melkite, says the Melkites are the least-Latinized of the Byzantine Eastern Catholics [Navigate carefully around this e-book, since there are some hiccups after their website redesign! If one link doesn’t work, go BACK and try another].)

Something I have read has reminded me how overwhelming it can be for people interested in Orthodoxy to be hit with ‘strong stuff’ early-on. Obviously some of what I have posted or linked to so far has been ‘strong stuff’! As my disclaimer says, this blog is not intended to be anyone’s sole introduction to Orthodoxy, but to supplement ‘the usual suspects,’ eg, Metropolitan KALLISTOS Ware, Schmemann, OCA and Antiochian websites and publications (and others where available in your language), other books from major publishers, Sunday and Feastday sermons, classes and conversations with local priests and laity and monastics (if available), inquirer email lists/message boards, etc etc etc. Not that “reading yourself into the Church” is all or best, but living it. But this blog takes the position – based on my own slow personal experience! – that here in the Catholic and Protestant (and “post-modern” if you like, or “diverse”) world, there’s a fair bit of information to be addressed that maybe isn’t covered so succinctly elsewhere, or maybe my own unique experience (Everybody’s experience is unique after all) gives me perspectives I don’t always see reflected elsewhere — How many ex-Catholic/seminarian/religious, ex-Quaker, ex-Mennonite Orthodox do you know?!! Not boasting, just saying. Plus, I share materials that have been helpful to *me.* They may not be helpful to you, or not right away, or whatever. (Frankly, God forgive me, Fr. John Romanides struck me as a crank the first time I read him in 1996 or so! But less so later. And I didn’t convert till 2002. Fortunately for me, God was patient, and allowed me the time I needed! Also, there’s “basic” stuff I haven’t read yet – no special reason, just the order in which I’ve come across them in my life.) I also sometimes offer my own reflections on things I have come across, as guideposts for you. But as a (small-F) friend always says, “Your mileage may vary.” Finally, I have a certain affinity and facility for “academic” material – not necessarily better, just not necessarily “typical” of convert reading assignments: I’ve been studying “theology” all my life, especially at the graduate level formally and informally since 1991. So my ‘stuff’ may reflect that aspect of my “journey” too. We’re all egocentric, and commend to others things that have worked for ourselves; they may or may not work for everyone else. I say this as lovingly as I can: take it or leave it… or come back to it in six years like I did!

But by all means, Go With God.

The journey of this 19th-century French Catholic parish priest and ad hoc historian reminds me of my own a bit. And here’s his e-book on the papacy of Rome, one of the reasons he converted to Orthodoxy (along with the poster’s helpful comments) – I haven’t read it myself yet: More for the to-do list!!

(That page includes links to a number of other briefer essays which look promising.)

A note on the biography page: It says (unclearly) that either then, or now, a Latin priest couldn’t normally be received into Orthodoxy as a priest… but I have read elsewhere that that is indeed done at least by some jurisdictions, or has been. FYI.

Greetings! I’m not quite ‘back’ yet: heat waves, errands, drives in the country, etc etc, have kept me off the computer for a couple months now. In fact, if anyone emailed me between mid-June and mid-July, it appears AOL did not retain it, so please write me again, as I’m trying to be better now(!). But I dropped in and felt I’d add this:

A little while ago, a court fight involving a southern New Jersey parish of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) made it “front page, above the fold” in the Wall Street Journal of all places. I only saw it in a newsstand in rural Pennsylvania, didn’t open it up, didn’t buy it, so I don’t know all the particulars (and very little of the WSJ seems available online; that’s Wall St. for ya!), but it involves a priest’s widow who resists the reconciliation with the Moscow Patriarchate (MP), and is holding Reader’s Services in the parish, which currently lacks a priest, and most of whose parishioners are said to be attending nearby parishes.

There *is* disagreement within ROCOR to the reconciliation. In fact a small number of clergy, parishes, and monastics have bolted in protest. ISTM they don’t think the MP has reformed enough from the Soviet Era. I have no independent information, but it seems the overwhelming majority of the jurisdiction accept the MP, and their ‘autonomy’ within it, and their participation with it, after 80-some years without (and vice-versa). At least one active ROCOR Bishop has voiced strong opposition, but also his continuing commitment to the jurisdiction, in a statement published on their own website… which also seems to indicate continuing dissenting activity even within ROCOR.

As for Orthodoxy as a whole, we hold that it is possible even for councils and synods of Bishops to err, but not the Orthodox Church as a whole, in the whole of which dwells the All-Holy Spirit of God as Christ’s Body, here and now as in Palestine 2,000 years ago (and indeed, in Christ’s Resurrected, Glorified Body in Heaven today also). And so, frustrating and unclear as it may seem, it is good for things like this to work themselves out as God wills, not we, over some amount of time. Nearly all Christendom, or at least its leadership, was Arian at one point, and Monothelite at another, but for the “dissenting” Truth defended by St. Athanasius the Great and St. Maximos the Confessor (with others) respectively. Are the dissenters disobedient, recalcitrant, sectarian, heretical, schismatic, extremists? Are the Synod and the Patriarchate without Grace or Apostolic Succession, heretical or schismatic, truth-denying ecumenists, compromisers with Antichrist? Time will tell. Although the rest of Orthodoxy maintains Communion with the MP, and now also with ROCOR. It’s a weighty thing to stand against so many Orthodox, but Saints and God-See-ers have felt they must in the past, and we have seen they were right. (OTOH others have also done so, and we have seen they were not right.) I certainly am not in a position to judge about today; in God’s Mercy I have yet to see Uncreated Light (lest I be burned forever), and must hold myself to be the worst of sinners. To paraphrase – or rather to better-focus – the bumpersticker: Orthodox aren’t perfect, just repentant.

What does one who finds himself or herself actually in the midst of this conflict do in the meantime? Follow a good, true spiritual parent, as always, and think lightly of his/her own fallen human reason. Humility, as always, is the path of salvation, whether one is a Bishop, a cleric, a monastic, or a layperson. God’s Spirit in the Whole Church will prevail, because the Gates of Hades will not. He has before, and He shall again, unto ages of ages, Amen.

I admit this is very different from Catholic and Protestant churches and movements in which one must always ‘know,’ and firm lines must always be drawn, and objective ‘reality’ be available to every “inquiring mind” on every “disputed question.” I’m sure this problem has been better-treated in Orthodox writing, I just haven’t come across it yet. How about this?: ‘Our pope is God, and He doesn’t “throw the book” at us.’

Actually, it reminds me of the question of why God entrusts the world’s salvation to a Church, rather than make a plainly audible announcement Himself from the sky (or wherever). One of the reasons is that salvation isn’t just intellect, but relationship; not just status, but a Way, a process; Faith is a person learning and changing. Even the Apostles only slowly came to see Christ as the Truth; this is said to be a major subtheme of the Gospel of St. John the Theologian. ‘Yet’ their salvation was provided for by the Lord (except for Judas who rejected it). As Orthodox, too, our Hope is in Him, not ourselves. So just like we don’t rule out the salvation of people who haven’t yet heard or embraced the Truth, ISTM we must believe God knew what He was doing when He decided all this would take place in time rather than all at once… even Orthodox Church conflicts. The Orthodox Church, Christ’s Body, is a Mystery; Christ-in-time is a Mystery; Salvation is a Mystery; Conciliarity is a Mystery.

Let us pray that in this as in all Orthodox Church conflicts, God will “calm the dissensions of the Churches,… root out the risings of heresy, and frustrate them by the power of the Holy Spirit,… [i]llumine with the light of grace all apostates from the Orthodox Faith, and those blinded by pernicious heresies” – whoever they (we) may be – “and draw them to Thyself, and unite them to Thy Holy Apostolic Catholic Church,” leading all to and along the Way of Salvation to the Truth and the Life, forever and ever. Amen.