Dear Readers (both of you! :-))
Below is a response I recently wrote to an announcement about "two new Orthodox parishes" being established in the Baltimore area. It turns out that these are two Old Catholic groups wanting to advertise themselves as "Orthodox."
The reality of our current situation here in America is that of religious "entrepreneurial" chaos. In other words, every man can do what is "right in his own eyes." I prefer the chaos over government control, but that means that each of us must be diligent in knowing and living the fullness of the Faith. No automatic pilot allowed!
Here's my response. I offer it to you for your critique, response, and correction:
Fr. XXXX, please forgive me, but I spent (I won't say "wasted" but I want to) almost 10 years of my life playing "dress up" Orthodoxy in a group that desired the ancient faith without all that messy hard work of actually being in organic communion within the Orthodox Church.
I don't say that is what's happening here. How could I know? But I do know that any real and lasting work any of us do will have to be eventually brought to the Church in communion if it is ever going to be "fruit that remains." This "we are going to do Orthodoxy right" mentality is absolutely a dead end. If you and your Old Catholic group have charisms and talents, bring them to the Church. Perhaps the Church can put them to use, but more than likely it will be as it has been for me, a time when my own foolish notions of my gifts and abilities will be put to the test in the fire of the hard work of communion within the Church.
I also don't mean to engage in any lengthy discussion of the merits of this or that vision of communion and bringing America to Orthodoxy. I simply wish to share my own regrets for waiting so long to enter into the hard work of communion within the Orthodox Church. The fruit that this work has produced in my own life is worth much more than any of the perceived "gains" I thought I had outside of the organic and canonical communion within the Church. Please know that ever fear I had about the Orthodox Church was well founded.
There are many within the Church who see it as nothing more than a place to preserve yia yia's recipes and a few colorful costumes and dance steps, or some ultimately futile attempt to pretend they don't live where they live now. There are many within the Church, especially here in America, who are so narrow minded that you could put out both eyes with one bb! There are far too many who know so little about their faith that they resort to silly nationalistic (and sometimes racist) motivations for preserving the ancient traditions of the faith. The sad and overwhelmingly obvious results of these weaknesses is that these motivations will not preserve anything these folks want to preserve. These weak motivations are, after all, too small to preserve the timeless beauty of the Faith, and too irrelevant to keep any of the "old world" alive. All of these fears are well founded and certainly insist on an "eyes wide open" approach to entering the Church.
But in spite of these very real weaknesses, there is simply no substitute for the hard work of dealing with these shortcomings, especially with all the benefits that come.
Because, for every narrow-minded person I have encountered in the Orthodox Church, I have encountered a hundred sincere, faithful, and loving believers who, through patience, compassion, and love have guided me to a fuller understanding of the Faith. I have seen my initial impressions of some of the ethno-centric baggage of the Church as being too short sighted myself. I have found some of these cultural expressions (certainly not all) to be worthy bearers of deeper truths that have been helpful to me in deepening my own piety and faith. I have watched as so-called "cradle" Orthodox, grasping the deep healing given to them by the Faith, raise their children as committed believers and I've watched as so-called "converts" finally see the power of humility in living out a sense of gratitude for those who preserved the faith so they could receive it. I have watched as young men and women come to understand that if they first dwell deeply on the "sublime theology" of Orthodoxy, their children will want to keep alive those special cultural markers that allow them to display their Orthodox faith in a healthy and welcoming way. Their children want to learn the "language" not because of some foolish and shallow nationalism, but because that "language" best captures the precious nuances of the Faith they have come to love and has so transformed their lives. It has been worth the work.
My journey isn't over, anymore than I'm sure yours is as well. Here at seminary I am learning more than I ever dreamed, and much of that education is occurring not in a classroom but in the daily living with so many different people from so many different places. I have found my worst fears and my greatest hopes both confirmed in my canonical communion within the Church, and I wouldn't go back to my "dress up" days for anything!