|No such Catholic church exists within our area|
With things there finally stabilizing, it was nice to take in the old familiar carols and liturgy. Since the Orthodox don't hold to getting over past divisions as much as some Catholics think, we are instructed not to take communion at a Catholic Church, whatever the Catholics might say. So we were away from Holy Communion during this time, but I must admit, it was nice being back.
The Orthodox are sometimes a tough nut to crack. Antiochene Orthodoxy is our particular church, though it it peopled as much by Evangelical and Protestant converts as cradle Orthodox. Plus, owing to the scarcity of Orthodox churches in the area, there are many from a variety of ethnic Orthodox traditions. The Liturgy is in English, but it is based on that of St. Basil and St. Chrysostom. It's a long one, averaging two hours for the Divine Liturgy alone. If you attend Matins beforehand, it can add an extra hour. After each Sunday Liturgy, there is a fellowship meal in the classic 'breaking bread' manner. In recent years it has slowed down, but for a while, each Sunday was a veritable feast - except during one of the million fasts the Orthodox have over the year. So expect a four or five hour commitment each Sunday.
While there is much to commend the Orthodox for, they are not without problems. Like all of Christendom, it has its share of up and comings who are asking to finally shuffle off this Gospel coil in preference for a good old Animal House approach to living. Plus when there are legit issues, the Orthodox make Ents look like Speedy Gonzales in terms of solving the problems. They still won't budge on the calendars, even though most Orthodox would happily see them modified to fit with the rest of the Christian world.
Then you have the Orthodox Monastic-philia. In Catholic tradition, monastic life holds a special place that Protestants have a tough time grasping. Orthodox, however, place Monasteries almost to the level that the Eucharist enjoys in Catholicism. They are almost the Alpha and Omega of all Church reality. Drop a quote, and there's a 99% chance it's from an abbot somewhere. Read a book or see a devotion, and you can bet it's from a monk or some hermit. Most of the Orthodox spiritual disciplines are based upon life in a monastic community. In terms of the near impossibility of living up to such rigors beyond the cloister, most believers are told to do their best.
Then there is the anti-Westernism. Much of the Orthodox Church still clings to the old sentiment that they would rather see the Muslim turban in the city than the Catholic mitre. For some Americans - present company included - it's easy to see the Orthodox's heavy critique of the West, including America, as some ethereal, spiritual, otherworldly insight gleaned from a closer walk with Jesus. Certainly criticism for the West, just like any civilization, can be warranted. But after a bit, if you pay attention, you begin realizing that some of the vitriol and venom that can make it's way from Eastern roots is as much cultural and societal as anything a Protestant waving the American flag could muster.
In fact, if I might make an observation, it's that the Orthodox seem to have scant interest in actually 'evangelizing' America, or the West. At least America. Some, particularly those associated with the Greek and 'American' Orthodox, tend to swing left as it is. The rest seem content with being Orthodox the way a Buddhist is Buddhist or a Oldsmobile man is an Oldsmobile man. There is no real effort to accommodate. There is almost pride in saying we do it our way, or there's the door. If the Orthodox fast is centered around the cultural diets of those in the Eastern and Middle Eastern worlds, so be it. If that makes it a massive burden on those in the West? So be it. It's the same mentality as those old stereotypical Protestant missionaries arriving in Africa, declaring all Africa as a great evil, and insisting Africa adopt all of Protestant norms, including those with decidedly cultural rather than religious roots.
So it's not all peaches and cream. I do tend to side with the Orthodox where doctrinal development is concerned. And now that the Catholics have Pope Francis, I'm reminded of the difficulties that the ascension of Papal supremacy is now playing in the Catholic Church versus the lack of such problems in the Orthodox Church. There simply is no single figure to call the shots or mess with doctrine. Heck, if the bishops all got together and changed the Faith now, the people could just say 'dumb bishops' and wait for the next flock.
Which brings me back to the Catholics. At this time of year, especially the Fall and Christmas, I admit the cultural and social disconnect with the Orthodox is tough. I find myself yearning for the good old Faith of the kindly West, whose liturgy and theology is more familiar to my Western ears, and whose culture and community reminds me more of the world I inherited and the traditions I cherish.
And yet, just when I begin tossing about ideas of swimming back across the Tiber, I run into something like this:
What? Why? Ms. Eden hasn't exactly been a milquetoast when it comes to blasting Catholics who criticize Pope Francis, or support more traditional ideals of faith and social norms. But then, this is par for the course. I've said already there is almost a collapse happening across the Catholic world, at least in the Dying West. It's like Moses parting the Red Sea - the Left lifts up its arms and immediately Christians split between those who will bow before it and those who won't. Catholics who even a couple years ago had issues with Pope Francis, or realized Feminism is not compatible with the historical faith, much less the growing use of Gay as the mark all must wear to buy and sell, or the broadening abortion culture, are suddenly throwing their hands up and apologizing for being mean and bad and wrong to anything left of center. Meanwhile they are turning the vitriol and rancor back on those still not convinced that post-Christian modernity is the answer for true Catholic living.
Or there was this:
What? No clue who that was. But Fr. James Martin, the leading advocate to push Catholicism into the world of the Episcopal Church and United Church of Christ and other dying denominations that put fealty to the Sexual Revolution over the Faith? A man not known for his coy humility when it comes to blasting those who dare point to the suffering and body count in and out of the gay community in the wake of this human disaster called the Sexual Revolution?
None of this is to say we should use insults, or accusations, or calumny, or any such things to attack people. But I'm seeing a whole lot of vitriol being aimed at those who still think the Western tradition is part of the unfolding guidance of the Holy Spirit throughout the story of mankind. Those who think God created our little universe, man and woman, and sent Christ to become the sole avenue of eternal salvation are now the targets of rhetoric not too far from that which these good Catholics are apologizing for. At the same time, those advocating for the heresies and blasphemies, slaughter and tyranny and persecution of Christ's church emerging in the modern Left are the ones before whom we must grovel.
If it were just these couple instances, I'd take them as similar to those leaders in Protestant circles who are following the St. Saruman approach to throwing down the spiritual weapons and aligning with the emergent Left. But it's a growing swath of the Catholic faith in general, in the pews and behind the altar and in the halls of leadership. Most Catholics no longer believe the Faith as it was known for the first 2000 years. They deny the Real Presence, they deny salvation through Christ, they implicitly - if not explicitly - accept a universalist soteriology, they may or may not have an opinion about the Trinity or anything historical related to the Biblical witness; they sure as hell don't give a rip about the Church's teachings about morality and sexual ethics.
And that's tough. For all the Orthodox have that needs serious improvement, they are - perhaps because culturally - more grounded in historical ethics and have a more simplistic acceptance of the Christian Faith and its doctrines as understood for thousands of years. Their faithful and their leaders really believe in miracles, and don't have to think twice about their acceptance of the sacraments or Holy Communion or the actual existence of angels and demons. Accepting things like universalism, homosexuality, abortion or even feminist ideals isn't worth discussing.
Again, there are strains in Eastern Orthodoxy, like everywhere, that are seeing the faithful abandon ship and join with the modern, post-Christian age. And yes, there have been some high profile leaders over the last year pull the old 'shame on us for being Christian, let's be nice to those kindly LGBTQ activists'. But here's the thing. In each case, the Orthodox around them have swept in and made it clear that those individuals are breaking from Orthodox teaching and should not be listened to. When a priest in the Antiochene church pulled the 'Open arms to Gays' shtick, the Bishop stepped in and issued a cease and desist. That suggests an overall fealty to the historical faith that is simply evaporating in so many traditions west of the Danube.
Compare this to someone like Fr. James Martin, who rampages across the fruited plains to the cheers of more and more Catholics and the turned heads of more and more Catholic leaders. That Orthodox tend to believe in their own traditions more than most modern Christian traditions (save fundamentalists and those always rascally Pentecostals), is a serious feather in their caps. This is especially true of the leadership, which is at best limp and impotent throughout so many Western Christian traditions today, if not in complete surrender mode.
I think the times are going to be more difficult than many Orthodox think. Having survived the Ottomans, the Tsars and the Communists, some appear to think they can take on anything. But this is different. Never in the Church's history has there been such a formidable movement dedicated to the Faith's eradication that has caused so many to jump ship. Nonetheless, I feel Orthodoxy is possibly the most likely to weather the storms that are hovering over the faithful even as I type.
I pray for the Catholic Church, if for no other reason than my oldest boy is still active within its ministries. But I also pray for it because of the storms that are beginning to water log the old Barque. Somewhere the Church went left when it should have gone right, or at least it should have stayed on the narrow road. But it chose to appeal to the broad majority and development of the latest progressive thought. Now it's paying the price.
It might be that the manner of its future will be clearer when the next pope is chosen. If it's another in the manner of Pope Francis, then there's a good chance that the bulk of the Church will continue down its path toward the graveyard of Mainline Liberal Protestant denominations. If not, if it's someone like Cardinal Sarah - despised and dismissed by so many good, white liberal Catholics - then there could be hope for the short term. I have no fear that the Church will altogether die. I believe that the Orthodox and Catholics are two estranged brothers from the same parent, who will be protected if but seven thousand faithful remain. But its problems may become so bad that it turns into a stumbling block encouraging people to abandon the historical Faith, rather than being an avenue for the coming close to the same.