Monday, June 30, 2008

"DRESS UP" ORTHODOXY

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!

9 comments:

kpshorty said...

Is this a letter to the Father of the church. I'm sorry daddy but it seems very gregarious. Your point is not plain enough... if that makes sense. Otherwise, its nice to hear that you life at school is valuable and enriching. Can't wait to see you!!

Anonymous said...

Joe Rodgers said:

I totally know what you are saying here. I would slightly agree with kp, I don't know if an EXACT point was expressed. Having said that, your point about separatism (promoting temporary change by separation) vs. syncretism/synergy (promoting lasting change by struggle from within) was well taken. I think 1 of your points was that this group may be "pretending" or "playing dress up" syncretism (no real struggle or growth required!). This "pseudo-synergy" is what I have struggled with for a long time and has a great deal with why we have decided to be part of the historical church, instead of trying to reinvent it. Any lasting change that I think should be made will have to be tested from within, instead of without.

Barnabas Powell said...

Thanks both of you for your comments.

I guess I should have clarified what motivated me to comment. This response was written to a man who is part of a small "old catholic" group of churches that also try to identify themselves a "Orthodox." The fact is that this group is not in canonical communion with either the Roman Catholic Church or any of the canonical Orthodox Churches. It was my attempt to point out to him that I felt this misrepresentation of these new "churches" as Orthodox were a symptom of a deeper problem.

I am continually frustrated/amazed at the ability of our individualistic society to foster the fantasy that "I" can solve what "I" perceive to be the "problems/mistakes/shortcomings" of the Church if I just start one of my own and "Do it right" this time.

I have experienced firsthand the "dead end" that this mentality creates, and I simply want it on record that our limited perspective ALWAYS dooms our best intentions.

Not that I think I will be able to convince or change someone else's mind or keep them from learning this same lesson the "hard" way, but that when they do discover the weakness of this path, they will at least know they were not alone in making the same mistake.

I also want it to be clear to anyone who reads that I recognize the weaknesses and failures of the Orthodox Church, especilly here in America. I don't want to gloss over these weaknesses or needs. I want to quickly admit to them. But I also want to suggest that what we may think of as "weaknesses" now, may just turn out to be very helpful to us later after we've had the discipline/courage to throw our lot in with the timeless Church warts and all and discover the all encompassing wisdom of organic communion with the "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic" Church.

"Inside" is better and more productive than "outside." Disagee? OK. But I'm just speaking from the experiene of having been outside and inside. I'll let others choose to judge the worth and value.

Hope that clears up some of the confusion.

Lucian said...

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.

Or, in the words of Morpheus:

I've watched
them liquefy the dead so they could be fed intravenously to the living
.
:)
You're doing all this watching, I think they'll make You an overseer when You graduate from Seminary. :)

Barnabas Powell said...

Droll, Lucian, very droll! Full marks!

Fortunately, they only condemn the single priests to overseers, and I was wise enough to marry!

Thanks for the smile!

B

Anonymous said...

Hello Barnabas,

I am a former member of the EOC in Toccoa. I have since moved to Sweden and then returned, entering the OCA about two years ago. I listened to that interview with you and kept waiting to here about your transition to Orthodoxy through the EOC, but it never came.
I assume that this is the "Dress up" that you refer to. I visited your "Dress up Church" a few times and believe that y'all(southern) were doing the best that you knew how at the time. I have never seen so much zeal for Orthodoxy in all my life. (Even on hiking trip the "windows" were always with and quite possibly pinned on a hat!!) For me, the EOC day's were more of a preparation and a moving forward towards the Orthodox Church. I don't think I ever could have become Orthodox had I not gotten my feet wet first. I must say that in most of my years in the EOC, I always felt Orthodox in my heart and knew that I would eventually end up there one way or another. I guess what I am saying here is that God can use many differnt means for calling us into the Church. Some years ago a person had to struggle and fight just to be welcome in a Orthodox Church. Thank God that this has greatly improved. May God bless you in your studies. It would be great to catch up with you sometime!! Do you keep up with anyone from Toccoa these day's? Stephen W.

Barnabas Powell said...

Stephen,

You are the second person to comment about the missing EOC experience in my interview.

I have thought long and hard about this and I want to write an article about it that might expand my current thoughts.

Let me begin by saying that I certainly don't mean to diminish those days in the EOC, but I also don't want to over emphasize them either.

Someone asked me if I thought I would have come to Orthodoxy without my time in the EOC and I honestly don't know, but I do know that God rewards those who seek Him.

I think I might be ready to write about my EOC experiences soon and I can put that part of the story in perspective.

To be honest, there is still some real grief and sadness about that experience, and maybe a bit of anger as well. As I write, I will depend on those who travelled with me during that time to provide needed correction and perspective.

Thanks for the note.

B

Anonymous said...

Barnabas,

I would really like to hear your story and perspective sometime, regarding the EOC. It did become quite a big mess but so many of the issues were not my problem, meaning that many of the issues went way back and were of a more personal nature. Therefore I was able to step out of it and remain friends with many people involved. I must also confess that I was problably naive and oblivious to many things at the time, which may have been a blessing and a protection of my faith. So many things regarding the "Canonical Orthodox Church" were set up to look like a political mess that would make one stupid to want to enter in to. When I got a little distance I looked at the Orthodox Church and the richness of it's spirituality and wondered what the big deal was really about. Ego? control? Politics?(on a smaller scale) Let us pray that Christ our God will bring healing to those who truly seek Him and even to those who don't. At the moment I ask that you pray for me, as I have a deathly sick child. I am "awake" and find it hard to hold on to any bitterness for the time being. I am in the hands of Christ and must trust His will in all things. Life or death are the only choices. I choose life and the only way is through death (the life giving Cross). Again, May God bless you and continue to soften your heart towards Him.

In Christ, Stephen

Barnabas Powell said...

Stephen,

May the Lord show His abundant mercy to your child, and to your whole family.

I started to write some things but stopped because I want to put more thought into my words. It may end up being a series of writings since I think the subject deserves some attention.

We shall see. Just know that your detachment from much of the internal "stuff" in the EOC was a good thing and that the "boogey man" mentality created (whether purposeful or not) wasn't quite the whole story concerning the canonical Church.

But, of course, I write that after the fact that I entered the GOA and now am pursuing the priesthood through my work at Holy Cross, so my opinion can be dismissed as biased.

B