Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | July 1, 2009

Ecclesiastical Polities

No, this is not what you’re thinking, but yes, there was once a guy named Richard Hooker. Once long ago in galaxy far, far away, I even thought he wrote a few things of value. By many measures, his standards… though perhaps wobblier than Orthodoxy, were certainly far more sure than much of what passes muster these days. But I have no intent to write as he did on Ecclesiastical Polity, but rather something more modest to unload.

I have only a sigh for the state we find ourselves this summer as we approach the season of conferences and conventions… even the celebration of our independence. For these days, my ecclessial home lies in Antioch, and given circumstances where our Patriarch has seemed to stretch his hand to help sort out our situation, I think I find the notions of “autocephaly” and “self-ruled” American Orthodoxy far less compelling, and the “threat” of rule from abroad less ominous or unacceptable than might once have been the case. For that matter, all the bother of whether the whole of the Diaspora should be under the EP seems secondary as well to whether such rule would be good, unify, and evangelize. Maybe I’m just a new guy… but it seems as if there are far too many assumptions, presumptions, and suspicions running around for me to feel comfortable that “goodness” … though always a part… is kept as the core focus in these doings.

And I like Fr. Mel’s notion that we seem inevitably to reach for the the escape clause that allows us to continue “as if” we were about anything other than God’s business “until”… and that’s until any number of subsequent events take place. So in whatever length we can stretch out of the meantime, we go about our business as if we weren’t required to change, or to include God’s purpose as part of our own. It’s handy.  And yet I’m worrying even now where taking this sort of notion seriously is really going to take me… eventually.  I’m not farsighted enough to see it yet., but yes,  I do know that eventually someday it will take me somewhere, and I’m sure I’ll love it, but likely it’ll involve stress, costs, and considerable “give up”. Thankfully, the Holy Trinity in its goodness keeps it hidden from me… so I can keep working on it “as if” to come full circle! Right.

I have enough shame to admit that when I first became Orthodox, I went for the “pure as the driven snow” jurisdiction.  These were the friendly folks who didn’t ask too many questions, demand too many “things”, or spook me with too many-meanies. I mean, I’d already fled a protestant denomination where we’d all gone positively wobbily…  and the warring parties made the Thirty Years War look like a walk in the park. So there seemed no sense in climbing into the middle of a food fight right at the start, or for that matter signing on to an endless do-list as if it weren’t something to contend with. So at least I can claim to have respected the challenge more than my ability to meet it…. but perhaps that’s a weak excuse for a plea for leniency or mercy or oeconomia. These days… I’d be happy to just plead for an economy… somewhere… anywhere… but that’s another story. What I will say is that I thought I’d found precisely the sort of Downy Soft flakes I was looking for: “Pure as the driven snow.”.. and I’d avoided the hot bread war of the folks next door throwing rolls with the best of them down at the Drones Club… only with an “edginess” more commonly associated with the likes of Spode rather than the Code of the Woosters.

And then like Monsieur Rick’s claim in Casablanca’s where “I came for the waters” meets with the resignation of “so… I was misinformed”, I’m finding maybe I fell into the wrong movie. The one thing I do know is that like Dorothy and Toto.. “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.”  And of course,  P.G.’s  Brits might respond, “Oh!” and “Indeed!” and of course, “Quite!” I’d throw King Kong and Faye in here, but I think it’s getting crowded.

And my guys are already throwing bread (and reaching for the heavy artillery)… while the other guys seem to have shifted their tune, and instead busying themselves “Putting Woolite… in their machine”.  It even looks like their new Metropolitan’s non-stop activities have seen a late substitution of Downy Soft with something more like “New & Improved Super Tide XK!” Yar. I think we’re starting on a case of bona fide “jurisdiction envy”.  Maybe. maybe not.

And so the slogging begins, and I’m given to wonder whether this isn’t some sort of test. Yes… a test of our Holy Synod, of our Metropolitan, our bishops, our clergy and laity… which of course means “moi”, too. And off on the sidelines, it seems more as if there’s a cheer of wonder reminiscent of an old campaign: “Big Boy…. will he stay or go?” And no… I’m not talking about our venerable  Metropolitan, but more like “moi”… or each one of us… I mean… the pond’s pretty small… and the silence is deafening.

And falls the afternoon’s thunderclap of a question:  “What does this really have to do with my salvation?” And I’m thinking that frankly… it doesn’t have much at all to do with it,  or that riling up the folks as some would seem to do is a good thing or likely to assure a more Orthodox spirit among the faithful (an irony, fairly,  not altogether lost on  the part of those agitating for this sort of “action”). And on this I can only pray that those who would lead us to and ostensibly through these Red Seas are as certain about the destination as they seem to be about the passage.

Fairly,  I have no doubt that this test bears in many ways on the salvation of our hierarchs, and by reflection on our own as we are part of each other. Only I don’ t know exactly how these parts fit together or how they bear… it’s simply beyond my ken. But I can and do care… about  each of them, as well as pray for the leadership of godly men and for the repentance and salvation of those who are not… and all that.  But I’d make no pretense at reversing the course of spiritual fatherhood as if we could positively contribute more than presumption without attending first to ourselves. And in this, it seems the gift we might give… and the sort perhaps most needed and required… might not be adulation,  nor revolution… nor even the rise of a “champion” so much as the witnessing of the progress of their flocks continuing to move in love toward salvation… and one another together… and toward them as well. Maybe that’s too mawkishly sentimental… or  too tall an order… but if it is, I’m not sure what else it is we’re supposed to do.

I could no more choose sides without a lot more information than I could presume to read into the heart of another person.  No, I’m not ducking jury duty… I’m just saying that maybe jury duty isn’t what we’re about so much as using the gifts God has given us to discern these things in their course. And it would seem that one of those gifts is time, and God given leadership in our bishops, our Holy Synod and the rest. Maybe at least for now, giving the progress of things, we could and should allow more time to pass for these to work their magic. Pray, and trust God to work out his purpose. If we’re called to play a role, play it. I’m not hearing that call just yet, but perhaps it will come. In the meantime, it seems there may be more wisdom in simply praying that the grace of the Holy Spirit illuminate the hearts of His loving and faithful hierarchs in their time together and apart.. that they may find a solution well pleasing to God.


Responses

  1. given circumstances where our Patriarch has seemed to stretch his hand to help sort out our situation, I think I find the notions of “autocephaly” and “self-ruled” American Orthodoxy far less compelling, and the “threat” of rule from abroad less ominous or unacceptable than might once have been the case. For that matter, all the bother of whether the whole of the Diaspora should be under the EP seems secondary as well to whether such rule would be good, unify, and evangelize. Maybe I’m just a new guy… but it seems as if there are far too many assumptions, presumptions, and suspicions running around for me to feel comfortable that “goodness” … though always a part… is kept as the core focus in these doings.

    I think this is very important. We’re all under someone in Orthodoxy, and it’s as easy to dismiss NYC and DC as being ‘over there’ as it is to lob the same complaints at Istanbul, Moscow or Antioch.

    The real question is whether the pastoral and evangelistic needs in America are being addressed, whether the church’s are reserved for certain ethnic elites over the salvatory needs of others, whether the churches here are fleeced to fund activities back home where the ‘real Orthodox’ are. The question isn’t local or foreign obedience, it is whether Orthodoxy is Orthodoxy, whether America and ‘the diaspora’ are used by the mother churches (and the governments and social movements that often control them).

  2. Forgive me, but I read this post and haven’t a single clue what it was about; however, we do have a role. It is to remain faithful to the Church, Her teachings, and pray for God’s mercy on us all. The latter three words being rather significant no matter what is being lobbed by whom against whatever.

    “Keep thy mind in hell and despair not,” said St. Silouan the Athonite to his spiritual children. Not a bad thing to do, thus avoiding being hit in the head with whatever is being launched at the moment.

  3. The Cliff Notes version of your most excellent post is my spiritual father’s advice when I asked him what I should do with all this “information”:
    “Forget all that crap, and pray.”
    I think I’ll stick with him instead of the internet.

  4. Athanasia:

    Forgive my rambling obtuseness. There is a presumption in this piece of awareness of postings elsewhere regarding the doings in our humble Antiochian Archdiocese, as well as noises being made regarding roll-up of our USA’s jurisdictional mess into a form of unity under the EP.

    I read what folks post, and I hear their cases… all of which have weight. There are also other conditions which attend and not as easily dismissed as might seem warranted. For my part, I tend to wonder what it is that makes us rush to respond to these things, and just listening to the internet… sometimes the characterizations, the categorizations of folks and their responses and the manner of some respondents… it all sets my teeth on edge… and I can’t keep silent as often as I vow to. Like all the others, I profess to see life somewhat more broadly, and resist pigeonholes… but then according to my Mom, I’m am also just naturally a curmudgeon. My wife calls it my “Mule” streak… so there you go. And maybe this makes me less coherent at times. My apologies, but thanks for your patience and kind words.

    S-P:
    Exactly!

    Orrologion:

    Fabulous points. I haven’t seen as much written on these as should be. At times it makes one wonder whether the Church is not all that different from the market where we used to ponder the difference between a “stock market” and “market of stocks”. I don’t mean to compare commerce with worship… but simply to acknowledge that as I become more aware and read more, it seems there is more than one Orthodoxy (ref. Kallistos Ware on this among others)… and as the Church recovers her identity from various 19th and 20th century captivities… these are still being sorted out. Leaves one firmly in the presence of “The mystery of the Church… ever one-and-the-same… and ever new.”


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