Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Lessons Learned from Rocky One to Rocky Three (Life in the Orthodox Church)

The one thing I've noticed about the Orthodox Church is that you will, ultimately, always find what you are looking for. Whether you are proactively searching for something, or re-actively running from something, you will find a place to land in the Orthodox Church. In this regard, one must always be mindful of being careful of what one wishes for - you will likely find it in the Orthodox Church.

Let me explain.

There is a profound difference between moving towards something when one approaches the Orthodox Church, and trying to flee from something. Moving towards something one finds in Orthodoxy is often born from an experience of the numinous or the sacred in the context of Orthodox liturgy, prayer, or praxis. The experience is more often than not qualitatively different than what one has encountered elsewhere and it sets in motion a pursuit of the numinous. Gradually, the experience instills a conviction that the numinous is found in the context of the Orthodox Church. It is not so much to disparage another Christian church, but to say that there is something qualitatively distinct in Orthodoxy that leads to the encounter with the sacred. More often than note, the Orthodox liturgical cycle is the primary facilitator of this experience, and when the wheels are in motion and one has embarked upon that journey, it becomes less likely that one will return whence one came.

If one is moving away from something, one is not necessarily moving towards Orthodoxy. The liturgy, prayer and praxis are secondary, if not tertiary concerns. The primary directive is to get away from whatever it is one sought reprieve from. Invariably, this motivation will lead to a collapse of one's Orthodox experience or abandonment of one's association with the Orthodox Church, through some direct or indirect encounter with whatever it was one sought to get away from.

In real life, as distinct from the internet and the blogosphere, I have met many people who joined the Orthodox Church from another ecclesiastical affiliation. It is a change they would never undue and the thought of reverting back to their previous affiliation is nearly disorientating. I myself would fall into this category. Much as I know the Latin liturgical tradition and appreciate it, it has become essentially impossible to re-integrate into the Latin liturgy after have grown accustom to the Orthodox liturgy. This is not to make any argument of Byzantine superiority. It is to say that as patterns of prayer and praxis are assimilated, the rationale behind one's former liturgical expression becomes obscure as it were. Part of this is no doubt caused by the low watermark of liturgical praxis in the Western Church. More prominent though is the influence of Byzantine liturgy's sense of the sacred. Every liturgy has its own internal logic and regular participation determines how well one begins to comprehend its own rationale. To comprehend the rationale of any liturgy requires one adopts the mind of said liturgy and begins to "think" like the liturgy. When one's liturgical thought begins to be dominated by a particular liturgy, one begins to see everything related to religious expression and understanding in this particular light.

Taking on the mind of any particular liturgy necessarily assumes the greater part of the psyche that is oriented towards liturgical expression. This makes sense, otherwise stable worship would be by and large impossible. In Orthodoxy, it is absolutely essential to take on the mind of the Byzantine liturgy. The Orthodox liturgy is rich, its seasons and expressions elaborately constructed (compared to Western praxis) and its celebration is, in my experience, all encompassing - there is little room for paraliturgical devotion.

When one is moving away from something and happens to land in the Orthodox Church, one never places oneself in the position to adopt the mind of Orthodox liturgy, prayer, and praxis. It is therefore unlikely that one will have much of tie to the Orthodox Church - it is little more than a spiritual way station or a sign post on the road ahead.

The majority of people I have met for whom Orthodoxy is a transitory phase would be described as "traditionalists", of a Roman variety. They have no particular desire to move towards the Orthodox Church - rather, they are or feel themselves to be displaced from their church of origin, spiritual refugees if you will. What they want, there inner most spiritual aspiration, is Roman Catholicism, Traditionalist Roman Catholicism. The Orthodox Church is approached because it looks like it will provide moral, liturgical, and perhaps doctrinal shelter while they continue to hold fast to their Roman Catholicism. More often than not, Traditionalist Roman Catholics seeking shelter in the Orthodox Church land in some variant of Russian Orthodoxy, either the Russian Orthodox Church, or ROCOR. This makes sense. Traditionalists have a very exclusivist ecclesiology and if you are looking for the same you will find it the closer you get to Siberia. Again, be careful of finding what you're looking for, because that more exclusivist strand of Orthodox ecclesiology found in Russian churches will invariably take aim at one's inner Traditional Catholicism. Those same Orthodox circles you frequented because they shared so much of one's own disposition will eventually start talking of re-baptism and how your sacraments were never real to begin with. You will have a visceral reaction, you will leave, maybe volley back and forth a few times, and then you will settle into prolonged paranoia, be it about our own salvation for having tainted yourself by going outside of the papacy, or be it with tales of all Orthodox Christians go into their church hall at coffee hour and snicker and sneer at "the Latins." You'll spend the rest of your life trying to universalize your mistake as entirely descriptive of the Orthodox Church.

I would like to think I'm one of those people whose reasons for entering the Orthodox Church were largely a case of moving towards something. There were theological and ecclesiological reasons. There was also the matter Italo-Greek ancestry running through my Calabrian and Sicilian veins (and the corresponding family history that tied my own bloodline to the original Orthodox churches of the region). The real clincher was actively attending Orthodox liturgy for approximately 3 years before formally experiencing the interest in being received. It was an experience - I was never able to return back to the Latin liturgy after getting acclimated to the Byzantine tradition. Nothing especially fancy here, but enough to set off a trajectory from which there was no turning back.

This is not to say the Orthodox Church is paradise. It's not, and anyone who tells you it is either isn't paying attention or is plainly lying. That rule goes for almost any religious persuasion. The reality is though, the good far outweighs the bad, so long as one knows what one is looking for. I for one was never looking for an enclave to nurture Lefebvre style Traditionalism, in lieu of an actual SSPX chapel, nor was I trying to find a community that would entertain another liturgical traditional other than their own. My experience of the Orthodox Church has been one where there is a very level headed view of the Patriarch of Rome and the varieties of the Western Christian tradition. Which is not say everything Roman is treated as equal - it is not and there are very real theological and ecclesiological matters that are deemed worthy of correction. Frankly, there couldn't be a genuine appreciation of the Roman Church if these points of discord (errors, plainly) were not highlighted.

I write this because in real life I have encountered a number of people who migrated from the Roman Church to the Orthodox Church and have found their home. It seems, however, the online world if comprised largely of malcontents  either a) prone to religious extremism and who sought the same extremism in the Orthodox Church, or b) were looking for an established church to play host to their variety of Catholicism after it had fallen out of flavor in Roman circles. As is often the case, the malcontents are often the most vocal. Everyone else has something better to do.

UPDATE: " More often than not, Traditionalist Roman Catholics seeking shelter in the Orthodox Church land in some variant of Russian Orthodoxy, either the Russian Orthodox Church, or ROCOR. This makes sense. Traditionalists have a very exclusivist ecclesiology and if you are looking for the same you will find it the closer you get to Siberia. ".....and yet again, my observation about "Siberians" seems to

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