I love the Orthodox too much to be Orthodox (or How I learned to stop worrying and love the atomic bomb of Holy Orders)Aug 10th, 2010 | By J. Andrew Deane | Category: Blog Posts
In a previous blog post, I wrote about the joys and similarities which bind together the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. As tragic as our lack of full communion with one another is, there is a bond which unites us even now while our sacramental reunion is mostly a hope for the future. This bond is so deep in my estimation that it is with much fear and trembling that I write this post. But to be honest to my conscience and to my understanding of the Apostolic Churches that are not in full communion with one another, I must state it loud and state it clear: I love the Orthodox too much to be Orthodox.
This paradoxical statement is not for shock purposes-it is wholly and entirely true. As one who is in communion with Rome via an Eastern Catholic Church, I find this to be an inevitable conclusion. Because my home parish has its origins in the Slavic people who lived around the Carpathian mountains, I appreciate the beauty of the East, for it is a beauty that I share in my daily prayer life on a personal level and at a Church level. A good portion of those who worship at my parish are ethnically descendants of the Orthodox who regained communion with Rome. This came after excommunications and ill will were put aside in the interest of unity and through an acknowledgment of the ministry of Peter that is given to the Pope of Rome. These dear people who were brave enough to put aside bitterness and seek to regain communion have a story and it must be told, never to be forgotten. There have been many historical tragedies of Churches ransacked and seized on both sides of the Catholic/Orthodox schism, and there has been much oppression of the Eastern Catholics by ungodly Communistic governments, but to recount these events with the purpose of stirring up anger would lose the vision of Our Lord’s. This vision has sought, is seeking, and shall ever seek oneness between His children. On the other hand, to recount the vision of union and a love that transcended the hatred and differences between East and West, this is a story that is ever upon my mind.
I have many friends and acquaintances who have seen the fractured world of Protestantism and have said, “Enough!” They have left their former Protestant abode for Eastern Orthodoxy, because it is a safe haven from the opinions of men each left to interpret the Bible on their own. But to many of us who are or were Protestants, we look on the outside and see that Catholics claim Tradition, Copts claim Tradition, Eastern Orthodox claim Tradition, Armenian Orthodox claim Tradition, et cetera et cetera. It is a fact that brings me to tears, that there are successors of the Apostles who are not in full communion with one another. And we as the faithful are suffering for this disunity. The crucial question to ask is-how should we view this disunion? Are we supposed to cast our lots with the most doctrinal bishops? And if so, who are they? If that were the case, how different would our adherence to Tradition really be, in contrast to Protestantism?
Let us consider the vision of the Catholic and compare it to those Eastern Brethren who share the same ultimate episcopacy but do not share the same chalice. We know that our Churches share the view that Christ left a visible Church, with Bishops leading the charge in the same vein as the Apostles. But we know that each group has an overall different view on the status of each other. It is never redundant to restate what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say about the Churches with whom she is not in communion.
1399 The Eastern churches that are not in full communion with the Catholic Church celebrate the Eucharist with great love. “These Churches, although separated from us, yet possess true sacraments, above all – by apostolic succession – the priesthood and the Eucharist, whereby they are still joined to us in closest intimacy.” A certain communion in sacris, and so in the Eucharist, “given suitable circumstances and the approval of Church authority, is not merely possible but is encouraged.”2381
One way of describing the Catholic view of holy orders is that it is an indelible mark, as Tim Troutman’s recent full length article stated. While the term “indelible” may sound medieval and mechanistic, there is a thread of understanding the sacraments in a similar way in the East as well as in the West. The Donatist controversy is one example, where the Church saw that the Donatists were too strict in demanding rebaptism of those who had fallen away. Other sources of patristic thought saw this to be the case. It evokes a stronger view of the sacraments that is ultimately objective. This objectivity is at the heart of the Christian sacramental practice, something that neither sin nor schism can erase. This view is so powerful (an atomic bomb, as my homage to Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove points out) that it transcends our lack of full communion with one another. The disagreements over primacy and jurisdictions did lead to schism, but they did not lead to a destruction of Holy Orders. This maintains the fullness of sacramental life with God in Orthodoxy, even though on a horizontal level we are fragmented from one another. It goes to the point of saying that if Church authorities were to approve of it, Orthodox could receive the Eucharist from Catholics and vice versa. Holy Orders is so powerful that it transcends the differing views on the papacy. It reminds me of a story that I was told by my godfather prior to my conversion. I quote one account of it from the New York Times:
During a frustrating argument with a Roman Catholic cardinal, Napoleon Bonaparte supposedly burst out: “Your eminence, are you not aware that I have the power to destroy the Catholic Church?” The cardinal, the anecdote goes, responded ruefully: “Your majesty, we, the Catholic clergy, have done our best to destroy the church for the last 1800 years. We have not succeeded, and neither will you.”
Whether this is an apocryphal story or not, this understanding of Holy Orders permeates the Catholic view both of herself and of those Churches who have not maintained communion with the Pope. It is so powerful that even those bishops who do not esteem us can ultimately be bestowed with just as much majesty and honor as we would give to our own bishops who have communion with the Pope of Rome, the first among equals. I have had the pleasure to greet Metropolitan Jonah of the Orthodox Church in America with a kiss on the hand, and that kiss was given with just as much fervor as I would give to a bishop with whom I am in communion. That is because I love the Orthodox too much to be Orthodox. Orthodoxy’s opposition to communion with Rome comes from circumstances both tragic and sad. But the often untold story that brings the title of this article to mind is the fact that at many points in history, Orthodoxy’s opposition to Rome has brought her to turn in on Herself. When the various and complex tragedies that led to schism between East and West unfolded, the majority of Orthodox adopted the idea that the mystery of Holy Orders is not indelible. A door was thus opened up that led to not only less love for Rome, but many times less love for Orthodoxy itself. Orthodoxy ties valid holy orders to both Apostolic Succession and Orthodoxy. This does sound like a higher standard that should lead to more purity, but what does Orthodoxy mean exactly? As you may imagine, there are varying answers to this question of what it takes to be fully Orthodox. And so, in many senses this “higher” standard actually lowers the love that one can have for the servants of God, the Bishops and those faithful in communion with them. One can end up only esteeming those bishops who are pure in one’s estimation as having the fullness of sacramental life.
A clear example of this can be seen in the life of the priest Fr. Seraphim Rose, who has fallen asleep in the Lord and is receiving the sort of veneration that could lead to an eventual canonization. Even at his conversion, we read that there was a gaping sacramental question that is still in many respects unresolved today. That is, when one enters into Tradition via Orthodoxy, if one was formerly a Protestant who was baptized as a Protestant, is rebaptism necessary? It is interesting because Fr. Seraphim was himself not baptized, having converted via Protestantism; however, his own practice was to rebaptize those who were not baptized via an Orthodox Church.
Throughout his life, Fr. Seraphim fought for what he called “true Orthodoxy”, which was in contrast to other groups–some of which (in his opinion) were too zealous for Orthodoxy and others were not zealous enough. In the case of those groups who Fr. Seraphim had wished would be more open, there was given the term “super-correct”. From his biography we read about the “super-correct”–they went so far as to call for rebaptism of canonical Orthodox believers who wanted communion with his Orthodox Jurisdiction-the Russian Orthodox Church that was not in communion with the Moscow Patriarchate (most widely known as ROCOR). In thinking about this struggle, Fr. Seraphim wrote:
“I know for myself that if I would have to sit down and think out for myself exactly which shade of ‘zealotry’ is the ‘correct’ one today-I will lose all peace of mind and be constantly preoccupied with questions of breaking communion, of how this will seem to others, of ‘what will the Greeks think’ (and which Greeks?), and ‘what will the Metropolitan think?”2
The deep issue here is not the particulars of whether Orthodox who are rebaptizing other Christians (Orthodox or not) are right or wrong. And in point of fact, the Russian Orthodox Church is more united today than it was then-as of 2007, ROCOR is back under the Moscow Patriarchate. Instead, I would argue that the underlying issue is Holy Orders, and the principles that provide the Orthodox Churches with a sense of who is Orthodox.
Later in the biography, Fr. Seraphim is quoted further on the struggles that he faced in reflecting on the disunity that he faced as an Orthodox believer.
“Throughout the year”, he wrote, “we have heard news of disharmony in the Church. In one monastery (Jordanville) the monks say ‘we are sheep without a shepherd’-and yet what would they do if the Abbot suddenly became stern and demanding in order to produce oneness of soul? In another monastery (Boston) there seems to be oneness of soul, but the impression is that it is not too deep and it is too dependent on ‘opinions’-opinions of the holiness of the Abbot, or the rightness of the monastery’s theology (and the wrongness of everyone else’s), of the superiority of ‘Greek’ to ‘Russian,’ etc. And everywhere-in parishes, in families and small groups-there burst out animosities for no apparent reason, and the best and meekest people are subjected to persecutions.
“Where is the cause to be found of this universal phenomenon today? Are true leaders vanishing in the Church? Or are the followers refusing their trust to those who could become leaders? Both things, of course, are happening, and in general the love of many is growing cold, and both leadership and trust are collapsing in a world based on revolutionary brashness and self-centeredness.
“What is the answer? To gain a position of leadership and compel obedience?-Impossible in today’s world. To offer blind obedience to some leader, preferably a ‘charismatic’ one?-Extremely dangerous; many people follow Fr. Panteleimon of Boston in this way, and the end of it looks disastrous, producing disharmony and friction on the way.
“To practice love, trust and life according to the Holy Fathers in the small circle where one is-there seems to be no other way to solve the ‘spiritual crisis’ of today which expresses itself in the absence of oneness of soul and mind. If one finds the mind of the Fathers, then one will be at one with the others who find it also. This is much better than just following what so-and-so says, taking on faith that he is somehow infallible. But how difficult it seems to find the mind of the Fathers! How many disagreements there are with others equally sincere! Or is this because we have not searched long or deeply enough?
“May God give us the answer to this agonizing question!”3
When I read this part of the biography, I was moved to great sadness for what the Orthodox faithful have suffered in trying to find unity and purity. There are many issues surrounding these problems, but again in my mind a key one is the predominant Orthodox view of Holy Orders. When Holy Orders are not indelible, there is a shifting perspective as to who is holy and who is Orthodox, even to the point of judging within Orthodoxy, not to mention Catholicism. Fr. Seraphim’s emphasis on finding the “mind of the Fathers” sounds wonderful (and it is truly the ultimate answer to all problems in the world), but of course his opponents would have said that they were doing the same thing. This shifting perspective sadly shares the subjectivity and individualism of Protestantism, as individuals or groups end up making different conclusions about the source of the Church when the standards are anything but Apostolic Succession.
Flying in stark contrast to this view of the Church is the view offered by Catholicism. This view holds that despite the flaws in our ordained leaders and those in communion with them, there is a gift of grace that cannot be wiped away. It is so powerful that despite the fact that some Orthodox would not esteem a Catholic as living in grace (Fr. Seraphim Rose himself wrote much against Catholicism, for example), the Catholic can turn the other cheek and stand upon Holy Orders, thanking God for the grace that comes to the Orthodox Churches. Please note that I wrote “can”–tragic failures of Catholics to appreciate Orthodox do not speak to our principles, but because of those principles I will say it again: I love the Orthodox too much to be Orthodox.
And so, it is the Catholic vision of the Church that most fully preserves respect and love for all Apostolic Churches. It is a broader view that leaves the mandates of either/or, and is open to a more complex ecclesiology that at times will emphasize both/and, which is true of its views on other doctrines such as the teachings on the relationship between faith and works. The Catholic view holds Her own sacraments to be valid, but She also holds the various Orthodox Churches to have the full sacramental life. Thus, there is a principled sacramental basis for saying that the Catholic loves the Orthodox too much to be Orthodox. Again I stress that not all Catholics do this–but our catechisms and councils beg us to do so. I am also not saying that there are no Orthodox who share this vision-I am thankful for those Orthodox who have spoken out in support of this thinking such as Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev of the Moscow Patriarchate. But in Catholicism there is an authoritative, principled basis for a mutual respect of the successors of the Apostles that springs from this view of Holy Orders. In relegating the Bishop of Rome and those in communion with him to something lower, there is a sense in which Orthodoxy has lowered Herself at the same time, tragically. May Our Lord raise us all through a growth in appreciation for His fellow children, each other. Through this appreciation, I pray that this fractionation would end and end soon, via a stronger love for Orthodoxy that comes from a stronger love of the mystery of Holy Orders. As for me, in my evaluation of Tradition, it is not that I did not see the Tradition in Orthodoxy. It was due to my love for the Orthodox that I entered into communion with the Popes throughout the ages through Catholicism. Our love for Orthodoxy provides a principled way for us to not only hear the call from above that is communion with God; it is a call that beseeches us to end the horizontal divisions amongst the Churches. May we all answer that call, to the best of our ability.