Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | July 18, 2012

A Gathering That is Humbled

When I first began my journey into the Orthodox Church, you could find any number of folks telling you where to go… and more commonly… where not. FWIW, I went off to one of those safe havens… the Antiochian Western Rite. If ever there were a backwater of the church isolated and segregated safely away from the storms of church life, this is it. And I have to say that as a place to put some flesh on one’s spiritual formation, to gather one’s self and begin peacefully breathe deeply of the Incarnation, it is a great place to come to one’s self and to spoon feed one’s Orthodoxy for a time.

But lights were not meant to be hid under a bushel… and so as our feet are planted, we come into the light of day, the wider church. And here we are, smack dab right in the middle of a full blown deal. No, not my life, not my struggle, not my career or even my “board membership” or council, but nevertheless, a part of me despite my reluctance to express engagement with it or any other church fight. It has joined itself to me of its own… and I feel it even in my sleep… it pervades a sense of rest and converts sweet repose to work, trading, and all sorts of things God would not have us do. Long ago, I used to hear folks lust for a church fight and wonder where there heads were at… and I continue to do so. There is little good in these things for the most part.

But then again, there is humility that is gained perhaps, and this is not just good, but as I read, we’re told it is a sign of God’s love. Indeed, there are those who positively yearn to suffer… knowing that it is indeed meant for their good. We’re such pikers… we prefer the painless, gainless religious life… don’t we? Sure we do. There’s the confession we give through effort, through conscientious self-examination… and painstaking effort, but it’s not the one we profit by. The one we profit by seems to be the one when we trash all that carefully managed scripting and simply throw ourselves before the Lord and just let it out. That’s the confession we pray for… but it comes of its own… perhaps even of the Holy Spirit’s gift to us…  rather than our choosing (or so I find or think I do).

And wouldn’t that be a sight… a Holy Synod and its Metropolitan in tears for the love of Christ… beating their breasts and falling before one-and-another’s feet for the love of each other, Christ’s church and His sheep.

There was a time a friend told me his experience in visiting St. Vladimir’s and St. Tikhon’s was that of an ignored outsider: “They were proud, and I wasn’t Russian, and that was it.” He ended up in the Antiochian Archdiocese, and like many suggested the OCA was rife with problems. For a while, I even sensed I’d be better elsewhere, too. But frankly that was a decision made for other reasons… coming in over the transom as we say. Yet as I grew more confident and my legs seemed to firm up in this crazy American Orthodox world, the open problems of others seemed less daunting… and maybe a course of tougher medicine would heal …. like the balm in Gilead bit. So I left my safe little hide-a-way, and sure, I look back a bit, but there is something here that needs good people, not because they add anything in themselves, but because there is an opening in weakness that isn’t there when folks get all riled up and “full of themselves and their destiny”… and they become more open to those of us who aren’t so Russian and all.

In so many places on the internet, there’s a hunger for an American Orthodoxy to offer something to our nation… as if we’re something special… and our voice sure to contribute that one thing needful. Right. And yet while I think we are in a way… special… just as every life is precious… but only in so far as it admits to its brokenness. And what we have to say is that this is who we are as we begin… busted… like anyone else. We are that E Pluribus Unum… and out of many we can pull together as one… and no other way. The rest is some evil fiction… all that we need is the courage to admit to our condition, and pull ourselves to our feet. So if this fall humbles our gathering church, then God loves us enough to chastise us, and Glory to God for it… that we may show Him our love and gratitude by lifting ourselves once more from his good green earth, gaze at the heavens and walk on our way.


  1. Sometimes I wonder if the “darkness” just seems darker to us because we haven’t really seen the Light yet. Internet Orthodoxy has yet to shed blood for or against anything. I doubt that any of our petty posturings in comment boxes will be remembered in troparia and kontakia 1700 years from now (much less five years) like the martyrs of the iconoclast era or St. Maximos’ hand and tongue being cut off for his confession. Ah the narcissism of current events.

  2. The dark may seem darker because we HAVE glimpsed a pinpoint of the Light in the Liturgy. I believe God weeps more than we do for the shenanigans His people create and roll in. May His mercy abound.

  3. When I discovered Orthodoxy I didn’t know the OCA from Antiochian but I converted and am a member of an OCA church. As in leading me to my wonderful loving parish, I believe God’s hand is in all things. I pray that healing will come to our church.

    • It’s the light in the eyes of God’s quiet ones in our churches that dissipates the darkness… not those of us more noisy ones! But somewhere they said, “…make a joyful noise…” and if we leave out that adjective…every now and then….ah… oops.

      I don’t know every jurisdiction’s liturgy, but I love the OCA’s inclusion of the Beatitudes as the Entrance hymn, and I love the prayer “…to sail with those who sail…” as I feel that as a personal pull. Orthodoxy pulled me in, as did the OCA…not by my choice or by my will, but ultimately the way love undoes all of us hard hearted souls – as in “how could I not..???”. And once in, you come to love more rather than less. What else is there? And yet, to the quip that all the language of God is silence and all the rest mistranslation, I’d add that some… indeed a lot… are inside jokes. We’re the unrepentant stallions that throw their riders… and yet wander back as if to allow the rider another go.

  4. Agree the Stairway to Heaven isn’t paved with comment box posts, nor blog posts, nor nothin’ (Norton). Even saw where someone suggested that the internet disproves the whole theory that a 1,000 monkeys typing over 1,000 years would ultimately, randomly produce the Complete Works of Shakespeare… current banana consumer included.

    Our narcissism…. hmmm. No end to where speculation on that runs as modernity just makes us so self-conscious …. the needed escape velocity is hard to reach…which feeds a reflection that it may be less and less that it is the prayers of our Holy Fathers and Mothers, our clergy and monastics and all our people… but their work, their “liturgy after the Liturgy” by which we are saved.

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