Friday, January 07, 2011

Response to Christopher

(Please first read Christopher's comment on "A Journey To The Ancient Church" in which he comments on some problems in most Orthodox Churches he has been a part of.)

Dear Christopher,
You are right, and I believe Fr. John alludes to this too, there are lots of struggles within the Orthodox Church.  In my own experience, after an almost idillic journey into the Church, after a brief honeymoon period, I experienced the worst church conflict in my life.  The damage of that terrible period is still healing (almost 15 years later).
However, as one convert priest said reflecting on his own struggles, "It's kind of like Noah's Ark.  It's loud, messy, and crowded with creatures I'd rather not hang out with; but it sure beats the death outside.

And a further point I'd like to make.  Community is what you make it.  Over the last year or so I have been corresponding with a young mother whose family moved to a new area of the country where the nearest church is culturally very different from what she is used to.  The church they want to go to is a two hour drive away.  The local church is very uncomfortable for them.  The people seem strange and the priest alienates them.  

What should she do?

Here is what she has done.  After getting over the initial shock, this mother of toddlers decided that this is her church whether she feels welcomed or comfortable or not.  She began attending regularly.  She took the initiative to go up to people who seemed aloof and introduce herself and talk to them--again and again, whether they seemed friendly or not.  She began inviting people over for dinner or for children play dates (and there was at least one real dud).  She began to sing in the choir.  
Guess what’s happening?  Slowly, slowly, she is starting to make friends, to develop community.  She still doesn’t care much for the priest (she drives two hours every now and then for confession).  She still thinks most of the people are strange--although she is starting to meet and develop relationships with some people who not so strange as they first appeared.  

Bottom line: community happens when you make it happen.  


Jake said...

Fr. Stephen says:

"Interesting comment.
The honeymoon is over.
Church would be great without people kinda thing. Yet it has always been so, as Church History attests, indeed, even the N.T."

While this is all true, there is something else going on that I can't quite put my finger on. I used to think it was simply the "ethnic divide", and that certainly is part of it but not all of it.

At the end of the day I call it a "cultural" thing. There is something about the way Orthodoxy is not quite fitting in to my culture (and here I am talking about the positive aspects of my western culture). I was born and raised in Oklahoma, and I don't deny this has formed who I am. Who can deny their background, culture, and formation?

Some have said this is my fault - that I am clinging to this or that and Orthodoxy has nothing to do with it. I don't find that explanation right either. This goes back to the Orthodoxy "in" as opposed to "of" America. I still don't get why we can't sing the familiar western Christmas carols we all know by heart and which are a part of our heart. It's like we are clinging to aspects of Orthodoxy (like the music) which are extraneous to doctrine which saves.

This is just a working theory. I do think the divisiveness that I have experienced is at least in part due to something along these lines.

Thanks for your counsel Fr. Michael.

Fr. Michael said...

Dear Christopher I think you are right about the cultural otherness of Orthodoxy in North America. Orthodox Christianity is really a missionary movement in North America (when it is not merely a crutch for an Old World cultural ghetto). It takes centuries to make an indigenous Orthodox Christian culture. Personally, I'm all for Christmas carols (the pious, theologically correct ones) and our choir usually sings at least one after the Liturgy on Sundays leading up to the Nativity (while the people are receiving a blessing). What Orthodox Christian Canadian--or American--will look like, I don't know. But I am pretty certain (and I am not certain of many things) that the "ever-memorable founders of this holy temple" that we pray for in the litanies, are us. We need these prayers because establishing the Orthodox Church in a new culture is tough. We will suffer in ways that our great, great grandchildren will never know.

Jake said...

"We will suffer in ways that our great, great grandchildren will never know."

I had not thought of it in these terms...