This is the article published in the March Torch, the monthly newsletter for St. George Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
It probably seems that the Christian Faith and our calendars don't really have a great connection. This observation becomes more apparent to me as a parish priest with each year that passes, but there is a profound connection between the two. To grasp this we can ask some elementary questions about calendars and Christianity. We’ll take calendars first.
What is a calendar? Yes, of course it’s the little paper product we hang up on our kitchen wall. We keep our appointments on it and we organize our lives with their aid. But calendars are a far more interesting than a mere organization tool. Calendars are really about time. They mark time and cycles of time. Why would man have even created such a thing? Why make a big deal about the passage of time at all? After all, day will always follow day in time’s continuous march.
We know that primitive man (and I tend to think that he was only primitive in a certain technological sense) created incredible monuments to mark time. Stonehenge in the Salisbury plains of England comes to mind. Apart from other things, we know that it marks the winter and summer solstice perfectly. I am a modern man and I honestly have to say that I can’t empirically tell you what day is the longest or shortest through the year. I know that days get longer and shorter, but it would never occur to me to try to calculate when those occur. Then to find a way to mark that using large stones is beyond me. “Primitive man” did it.
The movement of a single year was incredibly important because it marked planting and harvest seasons. The cycle of the year pointed to our nourishment and our full (or empty) bellies. So calendars began to be marked with seasonal changes, and these changes carried with them related festivals and celebrations.
There have been many different higher developments of calendars. The Jews developed one that is based upon lunar cycles. The ancient Greeks and Romans developed one that is based on the solar cycle. Months were created and the Romans, being ever so pragmatically logical, developed a fixed cycle of dates and months which we still use to this day. For the Romans the calculation of the ides (remember the old warning, “beware the ides of March,” which is March 15th?) was very important because it marked festival days as well as market days. Commerce and religion were intimately conjoined.
It was in this world that the Church started her life. She too began very quickly creating a calendar. The first day to mark the Christian calendar was Pascha (Easter). The paschal cycle is still the primary cycle of the Church’s year. Soon other festivals and commemorations filled the Christian calendar, along with their attendant seasons of fasting and preparation. Living according to the Church’s calendar also constantly enriches us and keeps us growing in the essentials of the Faith. We learn about the great heros of the Church, their heroic stands, their teaching, often their martyrdom. We experience the saving work of Christ over and over in the principle feasts and fasts of the Church. Christianity is made real through the Church’s calendar.
At the heart of this is the fundamental necessity of making our Faith organic in our daily lives. Our life will always be lived with a rhythm and cadence because we live in time. Man will always mark his life with events and celebrations that are truly important to him. You can tell a man’s true religion by looking at his calendar. What does he mark it with? What is truly important to him? Let me repeat, we mark our calendars with those things that we truly value and to which we commit ourselves.
So, let us look at our own calendars. Are they Christian? Do they look very different from our contemporaries who are not in the Orthodox Church? I would suspect that they look far too similar to our neighbors. The attendance at the Lenten services, while fair, certainly is not overwhelming or what I would consider ‘acceptable.’ Most folks haven’t darkened the doors of the church once for the evening Lenten services. What takes precedence in our lives will be the focus of our calendars and our actions.
Very soon we will reach the greatest feast of the Church’s entire year. It is the Feast of the Church, the Feast of feasts, the Queen of feasts—Pascha. But there is a conflict this year isn’t there? Spring break will come for many of us that weekend. Our values will be tested pretty hard. What will we do with our calendars? Will we be Christians first, or pleasure lovers? Is Christ’s glorious Resurrection from the dead really important to us, or have we placed our family and entertainment above him? Our Lord speaks painfully direct to this, “If any man comes to me, and hate not his father and mother and wife and children and brethren, yea and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26)
Christians will go through the profound and deep Holy Week. Christians will celebrate the Feast of Pascha. Christians will find this to be the greatest focus of their entire year and of their life. I hope and pray that we have a parish full of Christians.
Thursday, February 25, 2010
Last week I was invited to speak on a panel at Western Theological Seminary (they come from a Calvinist, Reformed Church Tradition) about the Orthodox Church’s understanding of baptism and communion. It was a lot of fun to be in that kind of environment again. This is what I presented. I publish it here in case it might be found worthy or helpful.
The only way to get to the core of the Orthodox understanding of Baptism and Communion, is first to get back to the core problem of human life. Unless we have this firmly in mind, then there is no way to see—much less to understand—their importance.
The problem is death. We no longer live with a sense of it anymore. We have anesthetized our society from it. Children don’t go to funerals for fear of hurting them emotionally. It wasn’t too long ago that the departed were laid out in the front parlors of their homes instead of creating a place to distance it from us. Funeral services don’t even mention death, but now it’s all about canonizing the departed a saint. We try to pretend death doesn’t exist. And yet it doesn’t work, because people still live in it. Our trouble is that we don’t understand death.
It is not essentially corporeal, the separation of the soul from the body. It is ontologically deeper. It is only the manifestation of the ancient triad of sin begetting evil which becomes death. It is separation from God himself.
God is love as St. John points out. We all know this, but we often forget our Lord’s words that he is the life. God is life. Sin is not essentially the breaking of a command but rather the breaking of a relationship of love, which is life. When we no longer have this communion, or unity with God, then we no longer have life, and then power and our passions masquerade as love. We are driven by our sinful passions and believe that to fulfill them is to attain our purpose, only to find that we are more empty than before.
This all began in the garden of course. Adam and Eve, innocent, not perfect, stood in the midst of it and enjoyed God’s presence. They had a certain communion with him that was perfect (without flaw), but not yet complete for God desired to give man even more. Our first parents decided to do it themselves and took the fruit, which they though would nourish them and make them like God, and eating it they tasted of alienation from him. They had not become like God, growing into him, but had made themselves gods of their own lives.
Life only comes from God, we know this from the Old Testament and it’s one of the principle reasons the Jews were given laws not to eat the blood, “for life is in it.” Sin separates us from God, which is an evil, and it is a living death.
So how baptism resolve this? The Orthodox understand baptism as our personal participation in the Paschal mystery. It is death, cleansing and new life. I should point out that for the Orthodox, our baptismal service includes three “mysteries,” or “sacraments”: (1) baptism, or immersion in water three times in “the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” [we do not accept inclusive languages rites as being true in any sense], (2) chrismation, or confirmation, and (3) holy communion. Our baptismal certificates only say “baptism” on them, but they always include all three. It is just understood. So it was in the New Testament.
Water itself has a profound character. All cultures use it for cleansing. All religions have some sort of cleansing rite or bath with water. It is universal. It also carries in it a darkness which is frightening. This was shown beautifully by the movie, “the perfect storm.” Water became a dark and terrifying personification of death. God used water in this way before in the flood. And he used it in the Exodus against the Egyptians. One of the most joyful hymns of the Old Testament is the song of Moses, “the horse and it’s rider hath he hurled into the sea.” But none of us can live without water either. Water carries in it three distinct signs: cleansing, death and life.
In baptism the Church blesses the water of the font, bringing to mind the baptism of Christ. This image to the Orthodox is not a moralistic one. It has nothing to do with following Christ’s example—how tepid. Rather, it is about Christ cleansing water in his baptism so that it no longer brings death but life. “Make this water like the Jordan,” we say. Make this water a new exodus, a new entry into the Kingdom of God, and entry into life and unity with God himself. Water is charged with the action and love of God through Christ’s baptism, no longer merely the agent of death.
But death is there. We enter the front three times. There is a multiple reality here, like so much of the Church’s life. This three is both for the three persons of the Trinity, and it is also for the three days entombment of Christ. We die with Christ. We voluntarily enter the font and set aside our lives. This was beautifully symbolized in the early Church, by the catechumen facing west and shedding his clothes meaning his old life. We still do this with infants. The old man is “hurled into the sea” and utterly drowned. We literally die in the baptismal font.
We are cleansed, our sins are forgiven. The nature of this cleansing is not simply that God over looks our pasts, or cherishes us in our brokenness. That is hardly being forgiven. Rather, God buries our broken, fallen, death-dealing natures and gives us a new flesh which shall not die but instead be transfigured. The past is completely washed away and no longer exists. That is not to say that we don’t still carry with us the consequences of past sins. For example, we will still be overweight if we have been habitually gluttonous, or we will still have the same bad habits that have gotten into our mess, or if we have killed someone through drunken driving he will still be dead and we will still be in prison. But our relationship to Reality himself itself will be altered.
In baptism we are given life. This stems from the very fact that our relationship with God becomes one of communion and unity. We are joined to him as part of our very being. And just as separation from him is death, so too union with him is life. When our bodies repose, we shall still be alive in Christ—provided that we haven’t estranged ourselves from him by our fall into sin and separation. (For that there is another cure, repentance, or confession which restores the rupture between God and us, and the Christian Church and us. Our sins are all personal and communal.)
We might think that Adam and Eve lived on this level, for they were once alive and had communion with God without sin. But the Christian is given more. We are ontologically greater. In fact, a Christian is higher than the Angels, for we are the priests of all creation and members of the Body of Christ. We become, through adoption, what Jesus Christ is by nature. This is not just some sort of a generic expression, it is fundamental because it changes who we are at our deepest core. Ecclesiology is not a secondary issue, it is right up front and center because it flows from Baptism itself.
God is called the “only lover of mankind” by the Orthodox, his is the philanthropos par excellence. He cannot cease to give himself to man. So he pours out his Holy Spirit, (pneuma, his breath) on man, recreating him into a living soul, just as he did when we created Adam. The new man is thus sealed by the Holy Spirit. He is ordained into the new priesthood, he is a part of a holy nation, whose life is God. Therefore the Christian is the only human being that is alive, for he is united to Life himself.
When a child is born, they are immediately given to mother to nurse. In baptism the new born (or born again) Christian is fed by Mother Church with food that no longer brings death. As once Adam and Eve ate of the fruit and they experienced death, now we eat the immaculate Body and drink the precious Blood of Jesus Christ and we have life. We no longer eat food that sustains a living death, but rather we eat food that brings us eternal life.
This Mystical Supper, this unbloody-sacrifice, is the height of Christian experience and worship in this life. In the Eucharist the heavenly banquet is spread for us. It is the marriage feast of the Lamb that is referred to in the Book of Revelation. And it is here right now.
The Church continues this mysterium tremendum as its continual anamnesis of the Paschal mystery. It is the constant un-forgetting of Christ, the constant re-membering or re-constituting the Body of Christ in our midst. It is therefore a solemn banquet of state, the Kingdom of Heaven. And our Lord desires that all mankind should participate in this sacrifice and meal.
Here we need to point out that this does not mean that everyone who comes to the Church on Sunday morning may receive Holy Communion. There are many who may not, and the Church still loves them. Communion really does mean unity with God and the Church. We must truly know that the Sacrament is genuinely the Body and Blood of Christ. It is no mere symbol. Christ said, “This is my Body,” This is my Blood,” not “This is like my Body,” “This is a symbol of my Blood.” The Greek language (in which the New Testament was written) can easily show metaphors and give incredibly subtle images. But the institution narrative is not one of those occasions. Christ makes this abundantly clear when he says, “I am the Bread of life… This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:35 passim)
There are some who will have quibbles about the Eucharist being a sacrifice, or as we Orthodox call it, the unbloody-sacrifice. We are experience the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ on the altar. Christ here again makes this clear, “this is my Body which is broken,” “this is my Blood which is shed.” The Body and Blood are the broken and crucified Christ. The sacrifice is the sacrifice of Christ himself in which we participate. It is not a new sacrifice, or a recapitulation, but it is the exact same sacrifice.
Christ being God and man exists fully in time, eternity and in “ever-existing,” that realm of “now” that God lives in that is beyond time and eternity and was not created. All of his actions were temporal and eternal springing from ever-existing. In Christian liturgy we are brought into eternity and become participants and contemporaries with the Apostles in the upper room. We are there at Golgotha, for Christ makes it present by his own power. Here is the sacrifice of the priest, to make the eternal sacrifice present in the Eucharistic assembly and join us to that sacrifice which redeems mankind.
But if the Eucharist is truly sacrifice, truly eternal, then we must be extremely careful not to participate in that mystery unworthily. Preparation is required. So we must pray, fast and repent of all things which have injured our relationship with Christ and with each other. Though our Lord wants all to be able to participate in the marriage feast, it will also bring condemnation upon those who approach unworthily (without genuine and specific repentance). The truth must also be held, dogmatic agreement with all that the Church teaches is essential too. John writes in his second epistle, “Any one who goes ahead and does not abide in the doctrine (didache) of Christ does not have God; he who abides in the doctrine has both the Father and the Son. If any one comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into the house or give him any greeting; for he who greets him shares his wicked work.” (2 John 9-11)
In Orthodoxy the terms “open communion” or “closed communion” have no meaning. Reception of the Eucharist is not a subject of hospitality, like a meal. I would not offer my wife to someone in an attempt to be hospitable, remember it is a marriage banquet. Either a state of communion exists, or it doesn’t. It goes without saying, that for the Orthodox, one must be a baptized Orthodox Christian to receive holy communion. The fact that other Christians cannot receive communion with us is painful and uncomfortable—even to us and it should be. It is the pain of schism borne, the scandal of disunity. In this way we are no different than the Roman Catholic Church who also holds that communion is only for those who are united to her.
Baptism, chrismation (confirmation), and eucharist are only the beginnings of God pouring his life into us. We shall go from glory to glory throughout all eternity. His life shall be so ontologically made ours, that we can dare to speak of deification which is the purpose of human life. That is another topic, so I’ll stop there.
Monday, February 22, 2010
Did you watch it? It was certainly hyped pretty highly. I didn't watch, but I hear discussions about it on the radio before it happened. Should he do it? Why? The discussion was pretty illumining... not about Tiger Woods and his transgressions, but about where we are as a society.
Most people said that Tiger Woods didn't owe them an apology because he didn't sin against them. He sinned against his wife and children and he should apologize to them. Yes, he break his marriage vows and it immediately impacts his wife and children. There is no debate about that. Relationships are torn apart and sometimes can never recover and heal from such trauma. Some may immediately think that the only way forward is a divorce. But here I can speak for the children since I experienced this as a child, the wounds a divorce creates in a child can sometimes last a lifetime. Divorce may be the lesser of two evils for all involved, but it is still an evil that has a long tail. It is a nightmare that we go through now as casually as we go to the grocery store. Serial monogamy is destructive to all concerned.
Back to Tiger. Did he need to get right with America, with everyone out there? What I heard on the radio was a manifestation of a Protestant notion of sin, that he had only sinned against his wife and children. But that is not true. There is no such thing as a "private sin." Not if we're truly scriptural Christians.
Saint Paul points out that because of the sin of one man, Adam, the entire creation "groaneth in travail." Our sins effect not only those in the immediate vicinity, but the entire cosmos. When I sin, I trouble the stars. There was a time when the absolute connectedness of man was understood and taken for granted. One of the greatest poems in English literature (it has previously been a sermon) was penned by Rev. John Donne (do many remember that he was an Anglican priest?). "Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee." In every man's death, we die because we are connected. We have loss even if we never knew him. We are diminished.
The corporate nature of Tiger's sin was acknowledged, but not consciously. It was pointed out that golfers now have a much smaller purse and their endorsement contracts have diminished by at least 30%. This means that the families of other golfers have been directly effected by Tiger's infidelity. Does he owe them an apology? What about their children who will suffer as a result? It doesn't end there. We can take that circle out larger. TV networks are effected financially. Golf fans are effected in their enjoyment. Society is robbed in at least one case of an example of marriage. (Perhaps with the overwhelming failure of marriage in our country this is rather more like a pebble being tossed onto a rock pile, but it still adds its own weight.)
And I think there is more. It is much darker and more difficult. Some of you may think what I am about to say is all too alarmist, but it springs from the core of the Christian faith. When I fall into an impassioned and sinful life, not only do I effect the material aspect of the world as we've just pointed out, but I also effect the spiritual aspect of it. Have you ever experienced being in a room where every one is happy and laughing and having a good time, when some one new comes into the room in a foul mood. He doesn't say any thing. He just sits and glares. What happens to the mood of the room? It begins to fall apart and soon people begin to cease laughing and often begin grousing. We've all experienced it. Sinful lives create an environment of sin, making it easier for us all to fall. It is a chilling reality.
Do you remember in high school how generally good guys could be dragged into picking on others because some one else was already doing it? That in spite of the fact that was is entirely out of character of the good guy? Why does it happen. Sin begets sin.
There is a triad that is an absolute. Sin begets evil which begets death. They are all three always connected. Tiger's transgressions brought about death amongst us all. I'm not a golf fan, and I don't live in Florida, but I felt it. I can see the death that has been created through his actions and it effects me as much as it effecting every one else on the face of the globe because I have been diminished as a human being. The world I live in has become a little more contaminated, a little more inclined to sin, evil and death.
Because his sins became public and notorious also requires a public "confession." Even its publicity was largely caused by our sinful voyeurism, it has become public. (Simply another example of how sin effects us all! Why do we watch such disgusting tabloid reporting? We are creating death through this too.)
I did not watch Mr. Woods' confession. I heard from some that he seemed contrite and from others that it seemed contrived. God knows. I don't mean that flippantly. He does. And I hope that Mr. Woods' words were sincere and that we can soon see him begin to repair what he has broken. Just as sin effects the entire creation, repentance brings healing to the cosmos. The consequences are still there, the pain is still there, but true repentance brings a healing balm to the wound that has been opened. True repentance is a miracle because it partakes of the Resurrection of Christ from the dead. It takes death and gives birth to life. The memory of our Lord's crucifixion is still carried with us, but it is overshadowed by his glorious Resurrection. This is also the case with repentance. I hope that Mr. Woods' has given the gift of repentance to us all for all of our salvation.
There are at least two lessons here for us though. The first is about our own sins. We like to think of our sins as "normal." They are what every one does and are therefore not particularly bad. We tell a few white lies. We occasionally take some office supplies home from work, they didn't cost much and we feel justified in that because of the non-compensated work we are often required to give our companies. (Their sin begets sin.) Trouble is that is it my sin that will send me to hell and for which I am responsible, not some one else's. We need to begin to become consciously aware that there is no such thing as a private sin, that all of our sins infect and poison every one around us. We have brought about evil and death through our sins and we need to repent. (Is it too much to add that the normative and healthiest way of doing so is in the Sacrament of Reconciliation? It is Lent, let us flee in haste that we might be shriven and houselled.)
The second lesson is that instead of gleefully watching tabloid news (perhaps gleeful is too strong a word, perhaps it's more an addiction), we should be shocked and broken hearted because the world has been hurt. We have been hurt. We should reach the point that when we hear such news we hear the tolls of the bell, for truly it tolls for us.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
I was told about a Carolina Governor who was carrying on with another woman and when it became public justified himself because she was his "soul mate." The term is used constantly now and it is unfortunately assumed that we should be constantly looking for this person whom we identify thusly. Utter rubbish of course. There's no such thing, well not in the sense we use the term now.
My dad taught me a great number of wise things before his untimely death, and one of them was that we don't fall in love with the "one person" who was created for us, what usually happens is that we reach a point in life that we want to have a family and the person who most closely resembles what our vision of a spouse is when we reach that point is the one we zero in on. There is a lot of truth in that. I've seen it over and over as a parish priest.
At one time that wasn't too bad a thing either. We generally kept around folks that had been raised with the same basic values and class that we had. Our families often had known each other for some time. Expectations were shared. Now, we only have four years of college (or a night in a bar) in common and our overwhelming lust. What a foundation. But we say we've met our soul mate.
Real love, the kind that really works and is good for us, requires love. Real love is sacrificial. It is not about self-actualization and self-discovery—that's therapy not love. Real love requires the Cross of Christ because God is love. That last bit is the tough part. We don't want sacrifice, we want romanticism instead. A person who is set on romantic love will never find love. The romantic is ultimately the sad, melancholic figure at the side of a cliff watching the crashing of the sea at his feet.
Love is self offering, and self oblation. Could it be any different? Christ himself, said that a greater love hath no man than to lay down his life. That is the ultimate definition of love. Most people immediately turn to Corinthians, but the Gospel comes first. Yes, love is patient and kind, etc. because that is the way we sacrifice ourselves for the other person on a daily basis. Love is the Cross embraced personally for some one other than myself. That is not an easy task. It is a struggle to do it, but it is actually the true Christian struggle.
Notice the assumption behind having a soul mate is that it is really oriented towards me. It is concerned with my happiness, my fulfillment, my completion. But as fallen human beings we are so fickle that what makes us happy this week will be bland next week. As long as I am the measure of love (my emotions and passions) then I will never find love. That is only found when we move outside of ourself and willfully, deliberately offer ourself to some one else.
The notion of soul mates makes crystal clear why marriage and love seem to be failing left and right. We are celebrating romanticism and narcism. Thank God we don't allow people to write their own marriage vows in the Orthodox Church because the ones I have heard are ghastly things that proclaim the opposite of love. "You are my fulfillment, my joy, my hope..." Yuck. Why not be really honest and talk about the act of the will to commit oneself to one's spouse. "I'm going to die for you everyday in little ways and big ones until God takes away my breath." That wouldn't wow them at Hallmark. How much better the old vows really are because they are about giving and not receiving (seems to me that our Lord might have said something like that).
Sentimentality goes hand in hand with this distorted notion of love and romanticism, because it is simply the syrupy side of self-love. It makes me feel good. To wit if we were honestly Christian we would have to reply, "I'm sure Christ didn't feel to good on the Cross, but he called that love. What do your feelings have to do with it?"
I hinted that there is perhaps a good use of the term soul mate. And I believe that there is. In a perfectly true sense, a soul mate is a person that joins us in the spirituality of sacrifice and oblation. This is done sacramentally and mystically in the Church. These two become true soul mates for their souls are directed together in the Cross which leads to suffering, death and resurrection.
The Governor lost what could have been his soul mate because he opted for romanticism and self fulfillment. He lost the possibility of real love. He traded happiness (something fleeting and undependable) for joy. "Joy cometh in the morning," that is after the dark night of oblation and sacrifice.
The critical moment seems to have finally arrived for Anglicans who hold the Catholic faith. They are being shown the door in England as well as in the United States, usually with smiles and expressions of endearment. “We want you to stay,” they say. It seems sadistic, “Please stay and let me torture you some more.”
Anglo-Catholics have been looking for a home for quite some time. One hears of an 1845 moment, referring to John Cardinal Newman, soon to be the Venerable. Some have looked to Rome. Some to the East. I went the latter direction in 1991.
I think it is worth describing a little bit of my personal journey and my experience for those who are looking around just now. This is not necessarily a recruitment article as you will see soon enough, but I hope it will illumine something of the lay of the land.
I came from Saint Timothy Episcopal Church in Fort Worth, Texas, mentored by Fr. George M. Acker, SSC. It set my vision of the Church and her liturgical life. I have never left that original vision behind—except briefly because of a temper tantrum. Saint Timothy was, and largely still is, an old-fashioned missal mass parish. We continued to live in that lovely world of Ritual Notes and the old liturgical dispensation of the West. I still cannot think of anything more beautiful: daily mass, a line for confessions on Saturday, Stations of the Cross and Benediction on Fridays in Lent, Solemn High Mass every Sunday, the All Souls’ Requiem Mass with orchestra and choir in Latin… It gets down deep into your bones. The magnificence of the meter of Elizabethan English for liturgical prayer. As I said, it is still my heart.
When I was soon to go to Nashota House, I found I could no longer call the Episcopal Church home. There was a new Western Rite Antiochian Orthodox parish in Dallas, Texas and I joined it. The vision that I heard for the Western Rite was exactly what I had lived for those years before.
Why Orthodoxy? Very pragmatic answer. I felt I had a vocation to the priesthood, since confirmed by the Church, and I was married with three children. The Catholic Church was not a possibility to me at that time because there was no Anglicanorum Coetibus which could potentially allow for married seminarians to be ordained. And there was the Western Rite. Now that’s not a glowing endorsement I know. But it is certainly where I started. And I think it is often where many an Anglican starts. Where can I find a home that I can live the faith I have received, practiced and cherished?
The necessity of unity with the larger Church is absolutely necessary. Anglicanism can never mature if it remains separated in its own little pond, it must be united to the rest of the Church Catholic (I’m referring Orthodoxy and/or Rome here). We have watched the Oxford movement grow, thrive and now become almost extinct. It’s arguments are increasingly unsupportable because it is connected to those who espouse heresy. There have only been two legitimate directions for Anglo-Catholics to go: (1) Rome, or (2) Orthodoxy.
Let’s take up the Western Rite in Orthodoxy first because I know it personally. I do have to point out that many former Anglicans have become Eastern Rite and absolutely are at home there, but I don’t think that most will find that a fit so I’ll not spend any time with that at all.
Western Rite Orthodoxy, sometimes called Western Orthodoxy, is a disorganized collection. It has been tried in virtually every jurisdiction at one point or another with varying success. In the United States there are primarily two jurisdictions which have a Western Rite, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) and the Antiochian Archdiocese. Between the two are several different visions of what a Western Orthodoxy should be. In ROCOR it seems that each of their five or so parishes have a slightly different take on it and they take shots at one another about which one is truly Orthodox. The same happens to a degree in the Antiochian Archdiocese but it is not as pugilistic. Not being in ROCOR, I won’t spend any time reviewing their experience or expression because I really can’t speak to it with any honesty. God bless them. About the Antiochian Western Rite Vicariate, I can speak since I have served it in the past and still support it. It is by far the larger group of the two.
Let me warn you though, my analysis will not be for the weak of stomach because it’s not a pretty picture that I’ll be painting. The picture of incredible potential but very little hope of achieving it. On paper it should be very much like what the Pope has presented in the Anglicanorum Coetibus, but it doesn’t work out that way and here is where this might be instructive to those who are considering either option.
The Western Rite Vicariate (WRV) technically is supposed to be an honest-to-goodness vicariate under the Metropolitan Archbishop, with a Vicar General who administers it on his behalf. Unfortunately there is a tense struggle (I wouldn’t call it an all-out war) going on about whether or not the WRV parishes are of a Vicariate or if they are diocesan. It causes tremendous problems. Bishops receive communities different according to their own requirements—which is appropriate in dioceses, but it divides the witness and consistency of the WRV. Some communities are easily received, others are not and it seems to outsiders as being arbitrary. Furthermore, Eastern diocesan bishops do not know the liturgical life of the WR, so how can they keep the discipline of these parishes? The great temptation is to “byzantinize” the WRV parishes. This has happened occasionally for several reasons. Orthodoxy is not the only one who has suffered such on a minority rite, just ask the Eastern Rite Catholics about their experience of the Latin bishops in the first 50 or so years of the twentieth century in the U.S. I’ve seen pictures of their parishes without iconostasis and the priests wearing surplices. Thankfully, Rome’s Apostolic Constitution is much clearer and more precise on this count, so those who are wanting to go to Rome this will not be an issue. Those who are considering the WRV, know that it really is. The tragedy is that it doesn’t have to be.
In our WRV administration has been absolutely awful if not downright destructive. The previous Vicar General seemed to deliberately thwart the work he was supposed to promote, safeguard and grow. The current Vicar General—a very dear personal friend of mine—is impossible to reach and he doesn’t return phone calls. He has an assistant, wonderful man, who is a full-time teacher and mission priest. Surely Rome will have better administration than this, they seem to be able to organize much better than we.
The starting point of parochial life is its liturgical life. For that to happen there must be liturgical books. I am particularly sensitive to this because I’ve been involved with typesetting and graphic design work for a number of years now. (It is not enough to have the text printed it must be beautifully done.) To produce liturgical books requires complete authorized texts, not just a Canon. The entire liturgical cycle must be determined and authoritatively promulgated. This in turn requires a singular vision about what the liturgy is to be. In the WRV we have a great difficulty here, but I sense there will be something of a struggle ahead for parishes in the Anglican Ordinariates too.
Our trouble stems from an inherent Romophobia of some of our clergy, sad to report but it’s true. “If it’s Roman, it must be wrong ipso facto,” characterizes their assumptions. They are often still trying to fight the battles of the 16th century Reformation which are not categories for the Orthodox. Another temptation is to develop an archeologically pleasing rite. What existed before the Great Schism of 1054? Let’s re-create the Sarum use (this later will be one of the tugs I can see in the Anglican Ordinariates). The essential vision of what the Church is and what her liturgical life is rests at the bottom of the entire difficulty. I personally embrace the 1950s missal mass because that was a living continuous rite that our people have worshipped and prayed. When our WRV was established in 1957, that was still living in the West... it was not a strange use. We ought to simply continue what was authorized and not try to recreate a “more pure” version, something that is essentially a Protestant notion. Prayer is alive and liturgical prayer is received.
Publishing has been a major obstacle for our WRV and it may be one for an Anglican Ordinariate until there are sufficient parishes to fund the work of printing. We have needed altar missals and the one we have relied on, the English Missal, has been out of print for ages. Our Ritual, which contains Baptism and such, is poorly done, without pagination, table of contents or index. There is no Christian education material that takes for granted the different liturgical experience. Parishes need these things not only to grow but to survive.
I have often heard the misinterpretation that the WRV is simply a tool for getting Episcopalians into the Orthodox Church and then force them to become Eastern Rite. That’s not true. I don’t know of a parish that has ever been forced to change rites. The dirty truth is that clergy and laity get demoralized at having to create everything from scratch. They see their ER brethren and say, “it would be so much easier.” There is not a deliberate conspiracy, that would imply far more organizational skills to us than I think can be assumed.
But if Orthodoxy, specifically our Western Rite is tough, there are things that will make Rome difficult too. Obedience is one of them (that will be true with Orthodoxy as well). We can’t just make up our practices and our faith as we jolly well please. Frankly, for me that’s been a liberty, but if you’re in the habit it might be tough. It will impact marriages (more specifically remarriage), female deacons—what will Fort Worth do with them all?—all aspects of our life.
Liberal Catholics, an oxymoron, are well known. Pilosi and her ilk are everywhere. There are many within the Roman Church who are just as liberal as those in TEC, some more. The only difference is that while they might get some traction here, they can't get too high up the food chain of official support. The fights over essential theology will still occur as will fights over women's ordination. Of course, some would bring up the scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church, but I think that unworthy. All ecclesial communities and Churches have had this problem. It is a human problem, not an ecclesial one. The trouble is that we have failed to exercise proper discipline in this regard. It effects the Catholics, the Orthodox, the Baptists, the Methodists... God knows the Anglicans too. Enough said.
How will Anglo-Catholics handle Neo-Con Catholics, whose approach is largely philosophical? The rich traditional of mature Anglo-Catholicism has always been both theological with greats like E. L. Maschal or Francis Hall, and liturgical. The liturgical life has always formed a nucleus from which everything else rightly flows. Lex orandi, lex credendi. This is fundamentally an Orthodox approach, but one which Neo-Cons don't seem to be too interested, some exceptions are due of course. This will be one of the greatest struggles they will have to face and I hope that they can be the leaven in that lump. But it should be honestly pointed out.
I’ve painted a dark picture (at least of the Antiochian Western Rite Vicariate) but I don’t think it needs to be. It can be a marvelous flower too. It would take a group of parishes that could come in at the same time. I think as a group they could honestly present the incredible offering of the Pope to Anglicans and ask our Metropolitan if he would be willing to match it. I think if he could see a block of parishes like the former Evangelical Orthodox Mission, he would do so. It would certainly be the salvation of the AWRV. It would be an easier sale to the parishioners regarding the issue of marriages and such too.
Regardless of the direction that Anglicans go, one very difficult question will follow them. What is an Anglo-Catholic? They will not be able to shake that problem because they will need a unified vision of what the Church is and what her worship is for them to find a stable home. I hope they can all find home.
I don't like to be negative. I really don't. It's not nearly so fun, but sometimes you've just got to stand up and say the emperor has no clothes.
I have a problem with the Orthodox Church. Yes, I'm an Orthodox priest... but I have a beef and I don't think it's a trivial problem. For what I'm about to say, I will admit that there are some notable exceptions. However, I believe (through experience and living as an Orthodox since 1991) that this is largely true.
Okay. Here's the problem. As Orthodox our theology is magnificent. Our spiritual theology and ascetics are a blessing. Our liturgical life is inspiring (although I must admit that I greatly miss my western liturgical life which is equally true and Orthodox, about this more anon). But we seem too often to be like a marvelous luxury car set up on blocks in the garage. Everything is in working order, gas in the tank, but there are no wheels on the blasted thing.
Theology, spirituality, liturgy are absolutely an essential part of Christianity, but we also need to get up off of our depository muscles and get busy in the society and culture we find ourselves right now. There are countless people who need our guidance and our correction (that's not very popular, but there you have it). We don't speak out. More specifically, our bishops are silent. It chaps me no end.
Why can't we speak out about abortion, homosexuality, pornography, responsibility with our money (and I don't just mean auditing church accounts here, I mean what is the real Christian sense of money and how does that relate to stewardship, economic policies in the government, the banking world and what are our responsibilities as Christians?). Can Orthodox Christians support a government that provides funding for abortions? I don't think so. I think we need to work against that with everything we have. Murder is murder.
I'm told, and this may be one of those editorial rumors that are so common in the Church, but it has the ring of truth, that the Greek bishops won't speak out about this because so many of the very wealthy Greeks support abortion. What ever happened to the courage of Saint John Chrysostom who spoke out against Empress Theodora? The gospel demands more.
And we Antiochians are no better. I'm told that some of our hierarchs gleefully passed out bumper stickers for our current President when people visited them. I was scandalized. He had already publicly stated he would support abortion and proved it by aiding legislation in Illinois that would protect partial birth abortion. Can our bishops support such policies? They may not have approved of McCain (I wasn't overly enamored with him either), but to participate in the campaign of a candidate without even a caveat is morally bankrupt. There have been no statements since about condemning these policies from our hierarchs... any of them, and I love our bishops.
Homosexuality? Seems pretty darned clear in the Scriptures. The Orthodox Church (like abortion) has an absolutely clear and unsullied mind about it. But it took a bill in California to force our hierarchs to say anything about it. Why?
All of this is endemic to a couple of problems. We have lived comfortably in ethnic ghettos for too long, preserving a cultural identity and failing to bring the gospel to all nations. The Gospel is the love of Christ. It is Christ himself. And we must begin to make the light of Christ known in all areas of life. That's the commonest statement about Orthodoxy, it's a way of life. We need to put some wheels on it and let it out of the garage. Let's let Life enter this living death we call life and bring hope, truth, mercy and love.
Now, I'm not a liberal Christian whose notion is the social gospel. I'm familiar with that and too often that goes to far and loses its foundation in Christ becoming little more than social activism. But all of this is not optional stuff. It is essential to the Gospel itself. It is of the essence of the Church, for we are called to be the light of the world, to be in the world but not of it. When we fail to engage the issues of our day with the eternal light of the Gospel, then we fail to be the Church.
Yes, ontologically we are the Church. But our spiritual theology requires synergy with God in all aspects of our lives. There is no separation between the Church and our daily lives. That's functionally the heresy of Nestorianism. If we are not in monasteries, then our work will necessarily involve the world, the culture and politics of where we live. Ironically, the most incarnated priest I know of is a monastic priest who happily went to help organize concern for black gangs and illiteracy among hispanics. He is neither, but the Gospel requires his efforts. I said there are exceptions...
As Orthodox we must be given marching orders by our hierarchs to do the work of Christ in this world in all areas. When Christ said the gates of hell shall not prevail against his Church, it wasn't stated in a defensive attitude as though we would be protected. Rather, it is that hell has no protection against the movement of the Church!
We need to get out of our Cedar's clubs, and our Russian clubs, and Hellenic clubs and get on with being the Church right here and right now. Otherwise, we shall no longer be the Church and what we have shall be taken away from us.
Well, I thought it was a good idea to begin blogging. I've even read that the Pope has encouraged his priests to blog. So I started and didn't continue. Just two little entries. I've noticed that a lot of clergy start a blog and then take a long break. Well, I was worse. I started very modestly and then very quickly stopped.
I'm going to try to do better now. It's probably good for me (I'm not sure any one has ever even read a word that I've written, so I had to look at it that way). As a Lenten exercise I am going to write on my blog at least four days a week. They may be short pieces, but I'm going to try to do this. Maybe some time later I'll be able to figure out how to develop a readership too!