Archive for October 4th, 2007

The Theological Task of Orthodoxy in the West

October 4, 2007


I am grateful to Dan Greeson for this excellent quote.

 Orthodoxy is summoned to witness. Now more than ever the Christian West stands before divergent prospects, a living question addressed also to the Orthodox world… The ‘old polemical theology’ has long ago lost its inner connection with any reality. Such theology was an academic discipline, and was always elaborated according to the same western ‘textbooks.’ A historiosophical exegesis of the western religious tragedy must become the new ‘polemical theology.’ But this tragedy must be reendured and relived, precisely as one’s own, and its potential catharsis must be demonstrated in the fullness of the experience of the Church and patristic tradition. In this newly sought Orthodox synthesis, the centuries-old experience of the Catholic West must be studied and diagnosed by Orthodox theology with greater care and sympathy than has been the case up to now… The Orthodox theologian must also offer his own testimony to this world — a testimony arising from the inner memory of the Church — and resolve the question with his historical findings.” – Georges Florovsky, Ways of Russian Theology II, pp. 302-304

Conflicts Large and Small

October 4, 2007


I am certain that in most respects I differ in no way from other Christians. The vast majority of the conflicts I encounter are my own conflicts and they center around the Gospel and my obedience to Christ. Will I forgive an enemy? Will I turn aside a painful remark with kindness and generosity? I am sure that I could lengthen this list and that any of my readers could add to it as well.

There are other kinds of conflicts – those that are larger. Some exist on the parish level, some the diocesan or deanery level, some on the National or International level as well. Of course, the further removed the conflict the more difficult it is to take any worthy action. It is hard to steer a ship from afar, particularly if you’re not the one at the helm.

My experience as a clergyman within the Episcopal Church for some 17 years, was often one of great frustration and anger. Decisions were made of which I disapproved. Statements were made with which I disagreed. Every pronouncement from the National Church seemed to open the wound only wider. The result was never good for my spiritual well-being. It is one thing to start out one’s spiritual career with a notion that you will be among the “reformers.” This, in fact, is probably not good. The Church should exist to save us, not us to save the Church.

But it was also destructive to my spiritual well-being because I was frequently so deeply exercised about things over which I had no control. I could and did voice my opinion and even led one national movement that was engaged with structural change (we failed). But in such struggles other human beings can quickly become little more than adversaries – known by whatever name we know adversaries. Prayer without peace is deeply damaged prayer.

In early 1998 my family and I entered the Orthodox Church, utterly at peace with the fact that this is the fullness of the faith, Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. I also entered (perhaps because I approached everything so slowly) well aware of the skeletons in Orthodox closets and the conflicts that exist within Orthodoxy. But I did not come to reform the Church. Somehow I knew I couldn’t and that it was not my place.

Since the time of my conversion there have been conflicts to come and go. I am now Rector of a parish and I have been elevated to the responsibility of dean (and thus some small conflicts are now in my lap) but I believe deeply that one must always act with discernment and not with passion. Mostly, my life consists in doing whatever lies at hand: to conduct a service, teach a class, hear confessions, write, preach, run a council meeting – whatever; and that my salvation lies in doing these things with kindness and generosity, with forgiveness where required, with gentle rebuke where required. And that in all of these things, the good God who called me to this path of salvation will provide for me all that my soul needs in order to be conformed to the image of His Son. It is for me to struggle with faithfulness.

There are conflicts large and small, just as there is stewardship of large things and small – and we all must answer for our stewardship. I pray for those whose stewardship is so much larger than mine and I try to be faithful enough to say, “Yes,” whenever I am asked to take on a larger stewardship (not abandoning the small). Where the greatest difficulty lies for any of us, is finding where our stewardship lies and being faithful in that place and praying for and being patient with the others.

If you are in a place where you justify your role by being a “reformer,” I would seriously counsel you to consider whether this is a delusion. The Church should save you and not the other way around. The myth of the Reformation is alive and well – but it did not work then and does not work now. Almost every effort I can think of that is a matter of Church reform resulted in the creation of new denominations that quickly became everything that its founders fought against. Read a little history.

If you are called to a larger stewardship, then be sure you have a good confessor who is not impressed with the magnitude of your responsibilities but instead cares for the very least things in your heart.

We live in frightful and terrible times. In almost all places sin is “ever present at the door.” With the instantaneous character of news, we also all know too much too soon and in such a way that we can emote better than we can pray. Fear the press and the instantaneousness of our news. The fathers said that the devil cannot predict the future – he only seems to because he is fast. Beware the speed of news.

And be aware of the slowness of grace – not only in your own life but in those of all around you. Pray with mercy and act with integrity. What else can we do? We who are but human beings?