Sunday, February 08, 2009

Orthodoxy


  • Photo above: under an Orthodox heaven. Actually it’s a Ukrainian Greek Catholic church in upstate Pennsylvania with a Hollywood connection. This icon, ‘Old-Man Trinity’, I understand breaks a rule but many Byzantine Rite Christians use it. Both Russian churches here have a large image of God the Father as an old man; one has this Trinity on the ceiling as well.
  • 700 years of Ruthenian history... in 30 seconds.
  • Ichabod or ‘Elvis has left the Western building’: history according to the modern strip-cartoon version of Orthodoxy: I did find it curious that, at least in the eyes of the authors of (new) Byzantine liturgical verses, England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland had once been holy places, filled with holy men and women, until January 1st, 1052 AD at 12:00 AM exactly, when the Holy Spirit, “moving mysteriously its wonders to perform”, suddenly shot across the English Channel on a course straight for Eastern Europe, never to be seen in those parts again. From Mere Catholic Miscellany.
  • Having a go at ‘neodox’. Sorry, no links. I don’t mean to sound completely glib in my dismissal, but if we really face facts, the “Holy Orthodox Church” is about as old as Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain’s Pedalion (i.e. 18th century). Even now, it is hard to argue that there is an Orthodoxy: there is a Russian Church, a Greek Church, an Antiochene Church, etc., with some form of cohesion, but with very little interaction between each other. IIRC Cardinal Kasper said something like that.
  • The way most Orthodox in the West define their faith these days is no older than the 1950s or ’60s, the Greek neo-patristic movement and the Russian émigrés in France, both movements, by the way, depending in great measure on contemporary Roman Catholic patristic, historical and liturgical scholarship. Orthodoxy in reality is nowhere near as monolithic as some would like you to think.
  • What most Orthodox converts think of as “Orthodoxy” is probably no more than 50 years old. And take the case of icons, about which more nonsense than sense has been written in pop-theology circles. One will find Orthodox or Orthodoxophile writers going on about how the icons’ style of representation has to do with the “glorified” or “transfigured” reality: but the eminent historian of Eastern Christian liturgy, Fr Taft, has exploded that myth, showing that the Byzantines thought the icons were realistic portraiture, as we might think of a Sargent portrait. And some Eastern writers will only defend a political notion of iconic semiotic — that is, that the images are simply signs within the community which one salutes — while others will take an Ouspenskyan line, and say that there is a sort of “real presence” of the saint “in” the icon (a view which goes beyond the assertions of Nicæa II). So that’s where the idea of the icon as quasi-sacramental presence comes from! Not a bad one BTW. AFAIK Taft, a Jesuit Greek Catholic, is a bit off, one of those academicians big on the ecumenical scene (I immediately think of something 30 years out of date) who pushes the lie that V2 was easternising when it was really protestantising, something any non-degreed person, Russian, Uke Greek Catholic retired from the Pennsylvanian coal mines or Ohio steel mills, or traditional RC, can literally see!
  • That said... Yes, some variety of opinion exists on matters of speculative opinion and devotional discipline, but lest us not get carried away as if Orthodoxy is more protean than the American Episcopal Church! I mean, come on, there is substantive dogmatic content and devotional ethos shared by all Orthodox in all places and all times.
  • Putting the anti-Western rubbish from whitebread converts in its place: the bin. I certainly don’t mean to suggest that there is no such thing as the Orthodox Faith or the Orthodox Tradition. I just don’t think it’s as minutely defined as many Orthodox these days say it is. It’s certainly not the kind of slick almost systematic type of thing, say, the “Energetic Procession” dudes present. Whenever someone says “Orthodoxy teaches” or “Orthodoxy rejects” all sorts of alarms go off in my head. Really? Says who? The Baptist convert priest who taught your catechism class using a polemical paperback written in the mid-’90s by another recent Baptist convert? (BTW, this is what I call “Pop Byzantine”, or “ByzPop” for short: the regurgitation of talking-points about the vast differences between “Orthodoxy and The West” distilled very simplistically and uncritically from recent Orthodox academic theology. See, e.g. Frederica’s review of Mel Gibson’s Jesus movie.) I am extremely hesitant to say that Orthodoxy officially teaches much more than what’s contained in the Scriptures, the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, the Ecumenical Councils, and (last but definitely not least) the Liturgy. Everything else is just opinion — whether good, good, bad, crazy, irrelevant, whatever — no matter how widespread or popular among contemporary Orthodox theologians (or the local class of Orthodox catechumens) a particular idea seems to be.
  • Orthodoxophilia is an escape religion. The only people persuaded by its narrative are former Anglicans and disaffected Christian Right political followers.
  • I think there’s a lot of truth to this. The latter group we often call “Eastern Rite Baptists” or “Baptodox”, or those who think that the Byzantine Church is the purest most primitive Baptist sect (see all of the references to “the New Testament Church” in the literature of Protestant converts to Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism alike). However, if I may, I would revise this to “Orthodoxophilia can be” or “is often an escape religion.” There are people who like Orthodoxy or who join Orthodoxy for different reasons, and who aren’t delusional or complete jerks about it. I became Orthodox because I found a parish I thought was interesting and it happened to be Orthodox (it was a Western Rite church listed in the phonebook under both “Churches: Anglican” and “Churches: Orthodox”!). There are many people who become Orthodox simply because they think it’s the place where they can best focus on working out their salvation.
  • The divisions in the Body of Christ are scandalous. How can the Slavic Greek Catholic churches best be a bridge to unity? An answer that’s concrete (not pious rhetoric — be good people, pray etc. which of course are good things).
  • American Orthodox reaction to the fall of Blagojevich. It seems that more people are interested in making fun of his hair than which church he doesn’t go to any more.
  • Recently ran across an example in person of the range of opinions in Orthodoxy you don’t often find online and was rather taken aback by it: lefty ex-RCs who are ‘into spirituality’. Oh, dear. They hate Pope Benedict and seem to have come from the same pool of boomers who become Anglicans or vagantes. Hope their priest sets them on the right course.
  • A friend’s small part in Anglican-Orthodox ecumenical relations: A convert 35 years ago from the Presbyterianism he was born into, he’s a good modern Central Churchman, the kind being pushed out by the gay-wedding juggernaut in his denomination. Anyway when that denom tried to honour St Tikhon of America and Russia by including him in its liturgical calendar under the title ‘ecumenist’ he was kind enough to correct them, knowing (as a longtime singer in a Slavic men’s chorus and newsgroup veteran) that this word is an all-purpose insult in the online Ortho-world rather like ‘fundamentalist’ is the discussion-ending f-bomb to enforce lefty conformity in his. (BTW historically in England Anglicanism was not a denomination but ‘the church’ in the old high-church sense rather like what Catholics understand but not exactly: the part of the church which happened to be in England was the Anglo-Catholic take on that. There were churchmen and there were RCs and Non-Conformists/dissenters.)
  • And now an intelligent conversation from the left: Huw’s experience. My pennorth.
  • Ukrainian Lutherans. I think their story is originally they were disgruntled (I don’t know why) Greek Catholics who switched in the 1930s. What’s fascinating is how byzantinised they are. False-flag advertising? (Locally an ELCA pastor was said to be offering to do паннихиды/requiem services for the Russians.) Possibly. That said they well could be born members whose approach is very like traditional Lutheranism’s to Western Catholicism, much ‘higher’/less Protestant than most think. (I understand from Larry that Arab Lutherans do the same thing; probably former Orthodox or former Greek Catholics as well.) Historically Russian Protestantism comes in two small forms, tiny persecuted home-grown sects like the Molokans (roughly, charismatics) or the respected 150-year-old ‘Baptists’ (really taking after the Mennonites).
  • Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee, part of the Triodion, specifically the Byzantine Rite’s ’Gesimas, the run-up to Lent.
Long story short, Greek Catholicism is sound but too often superior Novus Ordo rather than traditional, but I’d rather eat pierogi and holupki with them, and stand in the choir loft of the ‘lax’ metropolia Russian Orthodox church in a city neighbourhood or a coal or steel town singing Saturday Vespers with the local Greek Catholic priest who lives just a few blocks away, and afterwards go to the Italian diner nearby with him, the parish priest and one of the local Italian RC parish priests, than have much to do with online Orthodoxy. (A 1950s Anglo-Catholic curate who a few years ago retired, ’doxed, retooled and is now the local Orthodox curate comes as well.)

I’m glad my first in-person contact with this tradition was with a family of World War II displaced-person Ukrainian Catholics and not Baptodox or ‘into spirituality’ converts.

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