Less Identity Than History

28 February, 2009

One of my favorite bloggers, Carolina (do check out the beautiful pictures she posts), asks:

do Eastern Catholics have an identity crisis? I sometimes wonder. Why is it that the creed in the Divine Liturgy isn’t changed to reflect the filioque? Being Catholic isn’t an ethnicity and liturgy is more than the nationalities of the congregation. Also, Catholicism is not a sum of it’s Romanism. It would seem Eastern Catholics go through a great deal of effort to distance themselves from the traditions of Rome so much so one wonders “why not just be Orthodox”. 

I don’t think “identity crisis” is accurate. I am absolutely not going to get into a West v. East, Eastern Rite v. Orthodox discussion here, but I think there are several things going on.

It’s uncontroversial that the Eastern Rite have far more in common with the Orthodox than they do the Latins. Go to nearly any Eastern Rite blog, and find links to Orthodox sites. As far as that goes, go to the web site for an Eastern Rite church, and you will find links to Orthodox sites, such as St. Vladimir Seminary Press. They’re Byzantines. They share that with the Orthodox.

From what I’ve observed, the Latins are blissfully unaware of the Eastern Catholics, even though there are lots of them here. When the Latins are confronted with them, which isn’t often, reactions are not always pleasant. And the history of Roman treatment of Byzantine Catholics in the United States isn’t always pretty. Certainly now, there is a Pope who is open to them and very respectful of Byantine tradition and theology, but this has not always been the case, and there is no assurance that it will be so in the future.

The Eastern Catholics are who they are: Byzantine. It makes perfect sense for them to purge Latinisms that have slowly crept in, otherwise, why be Eastern at all? The filioque is an issue for Byzantines, but not so much for the Vatican, so why not purge it from the Creed, especially since the terms of the union specified that they would not be required to insert it?

I can’t make the same decision for anyone else, of course, but for me, Eastern Catholicism made no sense. They exist for historical reasons that have nothing to do with me, and they have issues to which I am sympathetic, but which I would rather avoid. Orthodoxy is where I am, because it’s where I belong. I think it’s marvelous that some Latins do not ignore their Byzantine brethren, but from time to time attend the Divine Liturgy (see not only this article, but also the comment thread). The Eastern Rites can act as a bridge between East and West. But ultimately, I could not justify Eastern Catholicism for myself.



27 February, 2009

The headline will suffice (but feel free to click through): “Jesus was a reformed racist, says Anglican Church of Canada

How can anyone take the Anglican Communion seriously?

Confession: A Healing

26 February, 2009
Do not observe the sins of others, and do not behave inimicably, inwardly or outwardly, towards those who sin, but represent to yourself your own sins, and deeply repent of having committed them, considering yourself in every truth worse than all. Pray lovingly for those who sin, knowing that we are all inclined to every sin.
— St. John of Kronstadt

Do not be ashamed to enter the Church to confess. Be ashamed when you sin but not when you repent.
–St. John Chrysostom

Cry out, o sinner, with all your might, and spare not your throat; for your Lord is merciful and loves those who repent. As soon as you return, your Father will come out aforehand to meet you, and rejoice in you.

–St. Ephraim the Syrian


Maggie’s Farm posted an article about the decline of psychotherapy, to which I replied:

Call me old-fashioned, but I have a father confessor. We get together about once a week. It works for me.

Meanwhile, Fr Z — like Maggie’s Farm, one of my favorite reads in the blogosphere — again calls for more emphasis on the Sacrament of Penance. So after some thought, I decided to write about my experience with the Sacrament.

I am going to focus on the secular, because others could do a far better job of discussing the theological benefits, and because I don’t want to scare the Protestants, who distrust the Sacrament. And yes, Virginia, there really are such benefits.

I don’t merely go to confession. Many do, I realize, and that’s better than not going at all, but it seems that they miss an opportunity to get the maximum benefit.

I meet with my confessor regularly. Sometimes, we meet at the parish. Other times, we meet at a restaurant. When we do, sometimes we don’t get to the Sacrament that day. Because, you see, the Sacrament can be so much more than purging your soul.

It seems to me, anyway, that whether you are Orthodox, Catholic, Congregationalist, LDS, or Baptist, that it’s beneficial to develop a close relationship with your clergyman. He is many things: Spiritual guide, authority figure, counselor, and friend, but only if you take the time to sit down with him and talk.

As you get to know your clergyman, he gets to know you. You build trust, and as you built that trust, you drop barriers. You find yourself telling him things you perhaps have never told anyone, relieving yourself of burdens for the first time, and the healing can begin.

As I implied at Maggie’s Farm, I see the Sacrament, or to be specific, not the Sacrament itself, but meeting and talking with my confessor, the process which ultimately leads to the Sacrament, to be therapeutic. I’m not saying that somebody with serious mental problems should ditch seeing his psychiatrist and see a clergyman instead; I am saying that in this era when nearly everybody seems to be shelling out exorbitant sums of money to see a therapist, perhaps they should think of saving some money and speaking to a clergyman instead.

Find a clergyman you like. Ask to speak with him. Meet for lunch. Forget the Sacrament for the moment. Reach out and start the relationship. Once you’ve begun, if you belong to a church that recognizes the Sacrament, go to Confession after you’ve spoken. You’ll find that your conception of the Sacrament will gradually change. We all had that image of the anonymous meeting in a dreaded confessional then kneeling for hours praying afterward, but the Sacrament should be personal, not anonymous, and certainly not dreaded. We should never fear the Sacraments, but welcome them as God’s immeasurable love, His boundless mercy, and His healing grace.

For me, the priest is there to help and guide me. He helps me see my weaknesses, and guides me toward my strengths. I can go to him with anything because I trust him, not only as a representative of the Church, but as a friend who is concerned about my spiritual health. But he is much more than that. He is also an authority figure.

Penance is an integral part of the process. Without penance, there is no healing. He assigns penance for a reason: To nudge me back toward living a more Christian life, and to focus me more on God and less on myself.

And I do view Confession as a process, a process which culminates in the actual Sacrament of Confession. When we talk, my priest will make suggestions, and these suggestions are penance. This is true even if you are a Baptist and have similar conversations with your pastor (although you may prefer to call it something other than penance). Why talk with him, if you are not going to take his suggestions seriously? If you believe you are as equipped as he to guide yourself toward salvation, why do you have a clergyman?

I should say that this transformation in how I experience the Sacrament happened only gradually, and was unintentional. Once I began talking with my priest, those talks became more frequent. The more frequent they became, the more I trusted him and let down my guard, and the more beneficial those talks became. It was only after some time that I started seeing those talks as part of the process leading to the Sacrament, and that’s when I saw Confession in an entirely different way.

I’m not saying we should adopt some sort of squishy guilt-free confession. At least for me, the process is far from guiltless. They are an exercise in repentance and forgiveness. I am saying, however, that it can be so much more than alleviating our guilt. The Sacrament can be freeing so we can become better Christians.

If you don’t believe me, try it. Meet with your clergyman for an hour or two at a time, and talk. Develop trust. Tell him you want his help to become a better Christian. No matter what your particular church, your clergyman is there to do much more than just offer services on Sunday mornings.

Then talk. And listen. And grow.


This Morning

26 February, 2009

I have an appointment with my priest. I will return.

The Theme

25 February, 2009

I’m getting old, and I have presbyopia (or however it’s spelled). These tiny fonts are ridiculous, so I may change the theme. It will emphatically not be light on dark. I am limited, however, to the themes provided, and unless I want to pay extra, I cannot edit the CSS, so we’ll see.

The Long, Strange Trip

25 February, 2009

To help you understand why I’m where I am now, we need to start at the beginning. So make yourself a cup of coffee and sit back.

I was born before Vatican II, into a mixed religious family (and I think mixed religious affiliations are a bad idea and should be discouraged). My father’s family was Roman Catholic. My mother’s family was Campbellite (which branch depends on which person). I was raised Catholic, and my First Communion was before the liturgical reforms, although for various reasons I won’t go into here, my father lapsed and began going to my mother’s church and taking me. My younger brothers were raised as Campbellites.

My paternal grandfather died when I was a teenager, and I was then old enough to choose for myself. I attended Mass regularly, but everything had changed. Gone was the aura of holiness and mystery, and replacing it was the self-congratulatory, secularized, Protestantized Catholicism that exists in most parishes today. I eventually lapsed for a number of reasons.

Skip forward to the early 80s when we lived in Louisville. My better half is a cradle Episcopalian of the Anglo-Catholic variety, and the emptiness inside me drove me to search. I found the Episcopalians across the spectrum to be nearly impossible to take seriously, be it the ultimately faithless concept of “latitudinarianism,” their unique “apostolic succession as magic” concept, the inexplicable Anglo-Catholic devotion to Cranmer, the mainstram Episcopalian lack of orthodox faith, oh, the list goes on, and includes Barbara, the priestess who was very into liturgical dancing and attended one of the local non-denominational evangelical churches. I bring her up because she embodies the schizophrenia of Anglicanism.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that the Anglicans were a dead end.

Louisville has, along with amputees and hospitals, more Catholic churches than anywhere else I have experienced. There’s a Catholic church on nearly every block, including some very conservative parishes (and exceedingly “Jesus wore birkenstocks” parishes). St Louis Bertrand on Sixth Street, run by Dominican Friars. St Martin of Tours on Shelby near Germantown, and the very conservative Fr. Robertson (God rest his soul), who like Newman, converted as an Episcopalian priest, and was offering regular Tridentine Masses.

I went once or twice to Assumption, the Greek Orthodox parish in what looked exactly like a quonset hut (also on Sixth, if I remember correctly, and they have built a new church), but had no idea what was going on since every word was in Greek (nobody but the oldest congregants had any idea what was going on, to judge by the looks on their faces), and made the mistake of going downstairs after Liturgy. I got the “Are you Greek?” question and shook my head. I was promptly snubbed from that moment on.

Then, I went to St Michael Antiochian Orthodox Church, in the suburbs (Buechel). It is a large parish by any standards, but for an Orthodox church in the United States, is immense. It was wholly different from St George. It was pan-ethnic, for one thing (the meal after Divine Liturgy consisted of raw kibbeh, fried chicken, various curries, and kielbasi), and perhaps between a third and a half were converts. The Divine Liturgy was in English. The people were friendly and welcoming, as was the priest.

But there was a magnetic pull that is almost impossible to describe. Initially, it was the liturgy, but the more I found out about Orthodoxy, the more contact I had with this strict, disciplinary, but loving and kindly priest, the most contact I had with these rigorously Christian people, the more powerful that pull became. I couldn’t spend enough time there, and regretted that there weren’t services every day (there are now).

The fear of apostasy was there, of course, ingrained very deeply, but the light of Orthodoxy was strong enough to overcome it. I was Chrismated, and became Orthodox.

A year later due to fiscal considerations, I returned to Indiana to pursue a graduate degree. At the time, the only Orthodox presence was a very small ROCOR mission, led by the insane Father C and his equally insane wife.

I should say here that, although I didn’t know it at the time, Orthodoxy tends to attract odd people. All over the United States there are Orthodox parishes with American converts who wear babushka scarves and are more Russian than the Russians ever thought about being. I found that out at the mission. When the insane Father C dropped by unannounced to rummage though my refrigerator and make sure there were no prohibited items there, I had had it. I was done with Orthodoxy, at least there.

I began going intermittently to the conservative Catholic parish, but intermittent became infrequent, and then stopped. Not until we moved to Pennsylvania did I begin searching again.

The problem was that Pennsylvania had too many options. There is a conservative Catholic parish, several Eastern Rite (Catholic) parishes, and an Orthodox parish. My battle has been to decide between Eastern Rite and Orthodox, but I have decided.

I am Orthodox. I belong in an Orthodox parish. I understand the historical reasons the Eastern Rite exists, and am sympathetic, but Eastern Rite makes no sense for me. The Orthodox parish here is OCA, but is as free of nutiness and exclusionary ethnic clubness as St Michael’s is. The priest is a kind, loving man, whose first concern is the spiritual welfare of his parish, the people are welcoming and friendly, and there really is no reason not to go. For a while, I told myself that Metropolitan Phillip’s cumulative idiocy was too much for me to put up with, but that’s not a reason. It’s an excuse. The parish here isn’t Antiochian, if being disgusted with the Metropolitan were a reason to excommunicate myself, which renders that absurd. And I embraced the faith, the light of Orthodoxy, not the Antiochian Metropolitan.

I found my home in Louisville. I am returning home, and at an appropriate time: Cheesefare Sunday, and Great Lent.

Here I Am

25 February, 2009

I have a bunch of things to do, but I will be posting soon. First up: The long, strange trip it’s been.