Monday, December 18, 2006

It's all Greek to me?? Hardly...


Last Sunday I took my worship class on a fieldtrip to our local Greek Orthodox Cathedral here in Houston for the Sunday Divine Liturgy. The purpose of the trip was solely pedagogical, yet I could not help reflecting on the sad state of my own denomination, and my commitment to remain a part of the Anglican tradition.

Admittedly, the service felt a little alien to me at first, despite the fact that I was quite able to follow the liturgy, and even to respond in Greek somewhat proficiently. That being said, the liturgy was enthralling, and before I knew it I was musing that I could quickly get used to worshipping in this manner on a weekly basis. Then it hit me. I already affirmed everything they affirmed. I believed as they believed. There were no obstacles -- not doctrine, not icons, not piety, not the filioque -- standing in the way of my becoming Orthodox (with a "big-O"), that is, if I so desired. Nothing at all. So naturally I was faced with the question: as a "small-o" orthodox Christian, why remain Anglican?

On the way home that afternoon, I came up with three answers (only two of which I'm ready to share with my readers. The third, still provisional, will have to wait):

(1) I remain Anglican because the Anglican way of orthodoxy is something worth staying in and fighting for. In its best expressions, Anglicanism is a wondrously beautiful vehicle for the transmission of the orthodox faith. Not only do I believe it can be so in the future, but I believe it is so now in the present (albeit in limited contexts). The loss of Anglicanism to the cancer of relativity, God forbid, would be a loss not only for a few Episcopalians, but a loss for the whole Body of Christ as well. Some of my friends have suggested that the Western-Rite option in Eastern Orthodoxy could easily fill this void. My response: Anglicanism is a natural home for orthodoxy (small-o), but Orthodoxy (big-O) could never be a natural home for Anglicanism.

(2) I remain Anglican because I am culturally an Anglican Christian, and I see my culture as a heritage entrusted to me to pass on to future generations. Surely, some of my friends might object, "What profit is there in saving your culture only to lose your soul?" However, I think this is a false dichotomy. As I looked around at the mostly Greek congregation gathered in that Greek Orthodox Cathedral during its Greek liturgy, it was obvious to me that, for that particular congregation, being "Greek" and being "Christian" were practically co-terminous. Corporately speaking, culture is the soul of a church. The Christian Faith is fundamentally incarnational, and thus it naturally incarnates itself in culture -- be it Greek or British.

Simply put, I am an Anglican Christian, I can be no other.

Until next time.

P.S. I'm still pondering this question, of course.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

I find myself reading this after reading your later post on post-modern hermeneutics. I find myself thinking (phrased this way to be clear on not imputing such thoughts to you) that those of us who wish to continue in The Episcopal Church as it is are not, as some often allege, an enlightenment project but a post-modern project. As Barrera points out, to pursue a post-modern hermeneutic is not to abandon the critical learning of the Enlightenment, but to reflect critically on it and temper it with awareness of the fullness of the tradition, including what Barrera addresses as "pre-modern."

Now, I encounter voices out there that rail against all things "post-modern," that sound at first as if they wish to reclaim the "pre-modern." They seem to confuse humility and self-reflection with relatavism carried to the point of anarchy. My experience, however, is that this is not about relativism, but about hard reflection on the rules precisely because we take them seriously. (My experience of those "voices" is also that they are as heavily invested as others in a post-modern process, but seeking to deny their own enlightenment roots and expressions.)

Anonymous said...

I understand this sentiment, even though I left Anglicanism for Rome. I must admit, that the Catholic Church (especially in the US) lacks greatly in the area of liturgics and worship.

The Eastern Rites and the Eastern Church have maintained (for the most part) a beautiful, ornate liturgy that simply makes my mouth water. I mean, the Anglicans do it much better than we do now. I often worry about my children and them being raised during this time of poor liturgy in the RCC.

I guess, for me, I am the same as you, Dan... it comes down to Truth and principle. I have often told people that for better or worse I am western. That does not mean that I do not or am not able to assimilate to things Eastern... as a matter of fact, I consider myself eclectic when it comes to spritual matters... I like it all. I would consider myself following in the English Roman Catholic line (and Newman's since I am a convert, even though I shouldn't even be mentioned in the same sentence with him).

I long for the day for a beautiful liturgy and hope that the changes that are slowly coming down the pike will change things at least for the next generation or two so that my sufferings may bring about something better.

I liken it to a married man. He loves his wife dearly, but there is always a woman out there who seems outwardly more attractive, but she can never replace with her beauty the love and devotion of his wife.

Unfortunately, we all have SOMETHING to grip about in the Communion we are apart of. At some point, I guess, your identity in that Communion must be tied to something deep and spiritual; and that identity must be reciprocated.

For what its worth...

Anonymous said...

It seems to me (I am not an Orthodox Christian) that the fusion of national and ethnic identities in historic Orthodoxy with the particular forms of Eastern doctrine and discipline has severely limited its catholicity (or, as you say, “incarnationality”).

I do not know many – well…any converts who have successfully integrated elements of their own Christian heritage within their ordinary practice. On the other hand, the doctrine and discipline of the Roman church (I am not a Roman Catholic) seems more “universal” in this sense.

For obvious historical reasons, Protestant Christianity, especially its Anglican variety, has a spiritual connection to the Roman church; and were one to seek to establish himself upon the catholicity in his own tradition, he would “naturally” look to the Roman church as next-of-kin.

On the other hand, those converts to Orthodoxy with whom I am familiar do not share this familial bond with their new affiliation and consequently relinquish most of their own Christian ancestry.

Anonymous said...

Reason #3 isn't provisional, but about how difficult it would be making financial provisions should thou actually make that swim of the Great Horn towards Constantinople.

Anonymous said...

"I already affirmed everything they affirmed."

When the Orthodox affirm "One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic, Church" they do not mean the same thing you do. When they say it, they mean them..... the Orthodox. When you say it, you mean something broader. Your ecclesiology is fundamentally different, which would be a hindrance to your becoming Orthodox. Invisible Church or branch theory wouldn't fly there.

lexorandi2 said...

Yes, you're correct, Anon. When Orthodoxy confesses "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church" it makes a claim of ecclesial ultimacy, to a degree that even Rome does not make of itself.

The essential difference is ecclesiology, and there are three models that claim to be catholic: Byzantinism, Romanism, and Anglicanism. Of the three models, only Anglicanism makes no claim of ecclesial ultimacy and thus affirms the essential catholicity of the other two.

lexorandi2 said...

Anon (first one): In answer to your question, it would be very difficult, financially speaking, for me to make a move to Orthodoxy. And we'd be less than honest if we asserted that economics isn't a significant factor in the paths we take in life. Thanks for asking.

lexorandi2 said...

Anon (first "Anonymous" this time):

I think your observations are very astute. I have long admired Rome's internationality and criticized Eastern zenophobia. What is interesting is that Anglicanism, like Rome, has somehow been able to "incarnate" successfully in other cultures without the zenophobia, and yet remains at root a British-Celtic expression of Christianity. No doubt this has something to do with British colonialism. I wonder how different things would have been had, say, the Russians or the Greeks been a major colonial power.

lexorandi2 said...

Marshall,

I appreciate your thoughts. I sense from the care you take in making your comments that we are, in large measure, partners in this "post-modern project" as you call it, though we may indeed draw different conclusions on some issues. Let the dialogue continue.

lexorandi2 said...

Doug,

You said:
"At some point, I guess, your identity in that Communion must be tied to something deep and spiritual; and that identity must be reciprocated."

This says it all. Thanks.

Dan

Anonymous said...

"When Orthodoxy confesses "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church" it makes a claim of ecclesial ultimacy, to a degree that even Rome does not make of itself."

This is one of many reasons that I am Catholic and not Orthodox. The claim to the exclusive Faith is something that really bothers me. If the RCC was still in Reformation days mode I'm not so sure it would have been as attractive. I mean, untimately, I would have become Catholic, but it would have been with more angst.

I understand the claim and I realize that the Catholic stance is but one step away from the EO stance, however, this, along with the ethnic nature of EO, would have been tough for me to overcome.

I know several EO's who have to drive hours to get to "Western Rite" and/or Antiochian parishes so that they can fit in because of the ethnic nature of EO. To me, it's a shame. It would have reminded me of my days in Southern Califonia when I drove 1 1/2 hours to LA from San Diego to attend an REC parish so as not to attend (at least in my mind at that time) the "big, bad, going to hell" ECUSA.

In a generation or two this may not be a problem for the EO's in the US, but for now it has created a problem for many a Orthodox.

Anonymous said...

Xenophobia, of which many Orthodox in the United States are guilty, is merely an excuse for the writer of the original article which we are all now commenting upon.

What separates Rome, the EO, and the Anglicans is ecclesiology more than any other thing. If one was to believe that the Church is defined by the Pope that person would have no choice but to be in communion with Rome. If one was to believe in the ecclesial ultimacy of the EO that person would of course join the EO. If one wants to be eclectic or inclusive, they go to the Anglicans. The red herrings of molestor-priests in the RCC, xenphobia in the EO, or apostasy amongst the Anglican episcopate is really not relevant. Objectively speaking, either all three groups are wrong in their eclesiology or one of them is right. Your personal comfort because of socialization or a desire for a particular liturgy shouldn't trump or determine how you define "Church" as you confess it in the Creed.

If the writer had a firm allegiance to his ecclesiastial affiliation he wouldn't have even had the thought of switching; in fact the mere thought of joining something that defines out of the Church his entire tradition post-1054 would have been less than appealing. RC's and EO's don't daydream about being anything but what they are because they have a strong position on what they are confessing about "Church" in the Creed. Anglicans need to develop the same strength, but how can they when you can gather a group of conservative Anglicans and no two agree on the past or the future?