Monday, November 23, 2015

Latter-day tribal Christianity


Last month, interestingly from Canada: The Pier’s patriarch: Waterman enthroned to head church. African Orthodox leader “man of great compassion.”

Sincere vagantes. Vaguely high-church but either creative or ignorant about the traditions they borrow piecemeal.

And interestingly this outfit isn't the real African Orthodox Church but a more liberal splinter; I understand the original doesn't ordain women.

Mike Myers' Linda Richman of "Coffee Talk" character: "The African Orthodox Church is neither African nor Orthodox. Discuss!" It's true. The original is a 1920s black ex-Episcopal offshoot of Marcus Garvey's movement in America. An Episcopal priest got vagante episcopal orders from some ex-Old Catholic and set up his own thing, interesting-looking in America's golden era because it looked just like a small version of Cardinal Spellman's Catholic Church but it was all black. 25 years ago I met one of their bishops, a dignified old gentleman dressed in choir habit (cassock, zucchetto, mozetta, lace rochet, and chimere) just like Archbishop Lefebvre. (By the way, older black men are the only ones in Philadelphia who still dress like me; they do it on Sunday for church.)

Vagantes often call themselves Orthodox because they know it means Catholic without the Pope. They have no connection to the real Orthodox so they aren't recognized by them (actually the Orthodox don't recognize anybody outside Orthodoxy) and they usually don't follow those rules any more than they do ours.

This crew, while not Byzantine by any stretch, goes one further, though: just like the real Orthodox, they've essentially made the tribe their faith. We inculturate so the church is very local: Italian, Polish, and Melkite Catholicism are each unique, for example, even though most national Catholicisms share the Roman Rite. (For us, it actually doesn't start with the Pope; the church's basic unit is the diocese, gathered around the bishop as in apostolic times... who is in communion with the rest of the world's Catholic bishops, who of course include you-know-who in Rome, who has a unique, indispensable job in the church. There. I think I've got it covered.) But when you're worshipping Greekness or blackness (or whiteness; why Catholics aren't Nazis), you've got a problem. Franciszek Hodur did it with Polishness; his tiny church still exists in America but is on life support.

I think the real African Orthodox Church has the church named for John Coltrane, whom they canonized. That says it all.

Nearly 70 years later, troublemaker ex-Catholic priest George Stallings basically reinvented the wheel, starting his own version of this church; I think he and it are still around, but like it very small. Stallings also paralleled Hodur: troublesome but a bishop gave him a chance, sending him to seminary and ordaining him, then he bit the hand that fed him.

Reminds me too of another founding reverend father in America's vagante scene, Carmel Henry Carfora, an Italian-born ex-Franciscan priest an ex-Old Catholic, de Landas Berghes (a European nobleman who eventually came into the church), jumped up to bishop, so for decades he both imitated the church and railed against it at the same time (a lot like Hodur, a liberal wack in Catholic garb). Italian folk Catholicism and Italian anti-clericalism (we revere the office of the clergy but know priests too well to worship them) all in one go!

Religion is by nature serious but it sure can be fun sometimes.

1 comment:

  1. As I recall, the AOC made inroads in Africa in the 30's & 40s and a portion of that group made contact with Alexandria and are now in the fold of the PoA.

    I once perused the collected newsletters from the early years leather bound tomes at The Ohio State University library. It had a thriving and dynamic early few years.

    Groups like the AOC, PNCC, Evangelical Orthodox & Charismatic Episcopal Church always fascinated me. The early years are often rather brilliant and robust - in direct proportion to the founder's charisma & lifespan.

    These ecclesial outliers are a fascinating study in organizing & enrollment. Replicating historic church structures newly with actual parishes & parishoners... It's fascinating. "Yes, we need patriarchs, bishops, sacraments, liturgy... But not from those guys over there from whence we get these ideas!"

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