Tuesday, June 07, 2011

a life together: too ecumenical?

I'm a third of the way into a life together by (OCA retired) Bishop Seraphim Sigrist (2011 Paraclete Press) He reminds me of many of the mid 20th century Orthodox thinkers who were much more ecumenically minded than many of the writers of today.  By ecumenical, I do not mean that they advocate the obliteration of boundaries.  They do not, as they are sometimes falsely accused, argue that there are no important or real differences between the Orthodox Church and heterodox churches.  What they do argue is that the Christian mystery, transformation in Christ by the Holy Spirit, is not limited to the Church--and in worse case scenarios is hindered by some of the people in the Orthodox Church.   
Nowadays, there is a kind of backlash led in good part by some on Mt. Athos, insisting on the Old Calendar, baptism of all converts from any heterodox Christian background, and generally very strict observance of outward ascetic practices.  
I don't think one is right and the other wrong.  I think both charisms are within the Church and we only hurt one another trying to force a sort of Aristotelian "either/or" onto what sometimes seems to be the contradictory opinions of holy and faithful Orthodox men and women. 
The metaphor that has been on my mind a lot lately is that of the icon: the image and the materials.  The materials are used to form the image, and they share in the reality of the image, but they are not the image.  The materials are very important.  The correct materials make it possible to create the most perfect images, images that will last for centuries.  However, correct materials do not guarantee correct images.  In fact, the best materials can be wrongly used to create idols or images of demons.  Moreover, it is possible to produce pretty good images even with less than perfect  materials.  
What is my point?  It is that the image of Christ is the most important thing.  Yes, the materials are essential (doctrine, liturgics, ascetic tradition, etc.).  They are essential to form the image of Christ.  However, if Christ is not being formed, the same materials may be being used to form the image of deformity and pride.  Similarly, the heterodox, those with inadequate materials, less than Orthodox doctrine, very little ascetic practice, make-it-up-as-you-go liturgy, these can yet form the image of Christ in those who long for transformation.  Why?  Because the Holy Spirit is not limited.  He can use even a broken stylus to write on the human heart.  
Does this mean that the Orthodox Way is irrelevant?  Certainly not!  The  elements of the very Orthodox faith itself that survive within the heterodox groups, these are what lead them to Christ.  Orthodox faith is a light shining: don't put it under a basket!  In fact, Orthodoxy is such a light that it shines even to those trapped under the baskets of false doctrine and many the debilitating inadequacies found in heterodox communions.  "The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it." 
However, we put the light of the Orthodox faith under a basket when we ourselves refuse to be transformed into the image of Christ.  When the Fruit of the Spirit is not evident in our lives, how can the Light of the Holy Spirit shine through us to enlighten others?  We must glow with godliness, with the same love that led our Lord to lay down his life for the Pharisees, the Samaritans, the Greeks, the Barbarians and false believers and unbelievers of all sorts.   
Being right (Orthodox) means very little if we are not holy.  If Sodom and Gomorrah will rise up in judgement against Tyre and Sidon, I wonder if on the Last Day some Mormons or Buddhists or Moslems or Secular Humanists will rise up against me in judgement because I have not repented with my whole heart, given the wealth of Orthodox faith and tradition I have received.
May God grant me tears of repentance to cleanse my eyes to see the Image of Christ in every and any human being, even the most confused and the most deprived of light.


Jake said...

I wonder if the backlash is not deserved in the sense that the negative definition of "ecumenical" (there are no substantial differences, etc.) was what came to be used, particularly in institutionalized "ecumenism" such as that found in the WCC/NCC. These institutions are pretty much bankrupted as far as their mission goes. Years ago, before becoming Orthodox I was disturbed what I saw (and still see) of a certain naivete (as opposed to humbleness) in the "ecumenical movement". I still think Orthodoxy could be more wise as far as it's participation in it.

As far as trying to put limit's around the Holy Spirit, well it goes without saying. Orthodoxy triumphalism falls flat in the face of it's reality in North America alone...

Fr. Michael said...

I agree, Christopher. My role model for openness without essential compromise is St. Innocent of Moscow, Enlightener of the Aleuts. His openness to whatever was righteous in indigenous culture should be a model for us as we interact with the folk religions of our culture today.

Ostensive Lyme said...

Christ is in our midst!

Hello Fr Michael;
I've puzzled a bit over this post. Specifically the title.

Back in my early days I learned a lot about Orthodoxy through two friends (one, Marjorie Corbman, incedentally authored the book, "Tiny Step Away from Deepest Faith": http://www.marjoriecorbman.com/)

Bishop Seraphim as you may know has made pretty much daily posts on his livejournal blog for at least a decade I think.

I had a little 'parting of ways' with Marjorie over the issue of eccumanism, precisely. She is quite brilliant, and with full knowlege of all the arguments came to conclude that the Orthodox Church is not the One Church- R. Catholicism specifically (along with others) also are 'equally' the Church (as she summed it up for me succinctly once, "Do they have the Eucharist? Yes. So they have the fullness of Christ.")
Among others, she was substantially influenced by Bishop Seraphim Sigrist, whom I believe was in turn influenced by Fr Alexander Men?

So, all of this leads me to puzzle over your title, specifically the question mark at the end. I have not read the book of course. :)

Would you be willing to post specifically on the theological tensions we must hold, if we do believe the Orthodox Church is in some way "The Church," while also recognizing that "The Church" teaches an abundant overflowing of God's mercy, and a Holy Spirit who is "everywhere present and fills all things"?

Specifically, I feel I need a refresher on why I should believe that Orthodoxy is the 'True Church' in a some-way unique, some-way exlcusive sense?
Especially how I am to hold this in light of, say, Oriental Orthodox Churches, R. Catholic Churches, and Anglican Churches??

A very precise and clear entry on this- especially articulating the' logic' of the tensions- would be helpful for myself and I expect others.