In a comment on the Church As Clubhouse thread, Sam M. makes this Evans-Manning-worthy observation:

[Quoting me:] “The great thing about being bound by a liturgy that’s extremely resistant to change, as we Orthodox are, is you don’t feel compelled to change it to suit you; rather, it changes you, at least if you’re properly disposed.”

It strikes me as interesting that your views on liturgy are so different than your views on “place.” The liturgical things you mention above are what many people feel about “community.” The schools are the schools. The jobs are the jobs. The food is the food. The books are the books.

My family (particularly the women) strikes me as very similar to the way you have described your sister. They intensely dislike church shopping, and they tend to view good cheese and world travel with equal skepticism. Prague? Who needs to go to Prague? Uncle Charlie is afraid to fly and Aunt Janet is broke so… vacation close to home so everybody can go together. Does the Catholic school offer the pedagogy that works for your kid? Who cares? It teaches the Beatitudes.

In other words, they say:

“The great thing about being bound by a community that’s extremely resistant to change, as we locals are, is you don’t feel compelled to change it to suit you; rather, it changes you, at least if you’re properly disposed.”

You don’t eat the food you like, you like the food we eat. You don’t find a job that fulfills you, you find fulfillment in the jobs available. You can’t necessarily be with the one you love, unless she agrees to convert to Catholicism. If not, you love the one you’re with.

Progress is possible, but in tiny bits and pieces, on the margins. Anything else is too disruptive, and best handled by the diocese or the chamber of commerce or the school board. You can volunteer or join the board to have your voice heard, but don’t make a nuisance of yourself. The bishop said no more Latin mass, and he’s the boss. Father Murphy agreed with him. That’s how a new order happens. Not on a personal whim.

In short, the community has a sort of sacred liturgy, too, and heretics are treated as such. Cheap beer and jello molds are not low brow comestibles; they are heritage and culture, transconfigured.

Communion wafers are really awful as far as bread goes. Nobody talks about using an artisinal recipe, because nobody cares if it’s good bread. It’s not really supposed to be bread.

Thanks for that insight. I hadn’t thought of it that way, and I think this is a fruitful way to look at this perennial issue.

I suppose the first thing that jumps out to me is the difference between what we see as absolutes, and what we see as relative (by “we,” I mean Alt-Trads like myself, and Prole-Trads of the sort you describe). I see the liturgy as being a fixed pole around which the rest of us move. Because we are orthodox in liturgy (and, more broadly, in the basic teachings of the faith), we are free to be relativists in other things. I can make an argument why my brother should prefer to eat like I eat, and why my way of preparing food is superior to his, but ultimately, I don’t care. I might find that his way of cooking jambalaya tastes better than mine, in which case I’ll start cooking his way, or at least try it. I really do believe that chicken raised the old-fashioned way is aesthetically and morally preferable to factory-farmed chicken, but these are not Ultimate Concerns with me. Similarly, I don’t care whether my brother prefers to vacation in Gulf Shores, or on the Amalfi Coast. All I want to know is, “Did you have a good time?” and “What did you eat?”

They see things differently, of course. Describing it as you have done, Sam, makes me see that they regard these everyday things — things I see as negotiable, according to one’s own preferences, and as part of the pleasing variety of life — rather as the core of one’s identity. The things that cannot be negotiable, because if they are negotiable, then our own identity, both individual and communal, is less stable than we thought.

Lex orandi, lex credendi. The law of prayer is the law of belief. By changing the liturgy, we inevitably change what we believe, and the way in which we believe it. I don’t believe that liturgy can never change; obviously it has changed, even the ancient liturgy we Orthodox Christians use. I do believe it must be changed only for grave reasons, and then only gradually, and with consensus. That’s because the liturgy tells us who we are, and how things are, at the most fundamental level. If a recipe for a traditional dish of my people is lost, that is significant, but only a relatively serious loss. To lose the liturgy is to become unmoored in a far more serious way.

Without question it is possible to have the liturgy but to remain unchanged by it, and aloof from it. I’ve met far too many fallen-away Orthodox who are in this camp. The liturgy must not be the object of worship, any more than Holy Scripture; rather, both are the most reliable roadmaps to union with our Creator. In the same way you wouldn’t muck around with your map if you were lost in the deep dark woods and trying to find your way out, you shouldn’t muck around with the liturgy or the Bible. When you change things, even a little bit, you run the risk of losing your way. Our way. The way of generations yet to be born.

Anyway, on the liturgical front, that ship has sailed a long time ago in non-Orthodox Christian cultures.

To return to your point, Sam, I think you accurately (and helpfully) describe these everyday practices as a kind of liturgy, and deviants from them as heretics. I think the Prole-Trads are absolutizing the relative, and relativizing (or at least risking relativizing) the absolute. One question that arises from this is: how do we define “traditional”? Is tradition what the community has decided to do? Yes, by definition. But if the community decides — actively or passively — to alter that tradition, when does the heresy become orthodoxy?

An example: If Jane makes biscuits according to her great-grandmother’s recipe, as opposed to using boxed mix (as her grandmother did) or buying frozen pre-made biscuits (as her mother did), is she recovering tradition, or defying it? I would say she’s recovering tradition, but I bet her grandmother and mother would not look at her act as something neutral (“Well, I guess Jane just prefers them that way”) or positive (“Isn’t it great that Jane is willing to put in the effort to cook biscuits like folks did in the old days?”), but rather as something threatening: “What, the way we did it wasn’t good enough for Jane?”

The problem with this is that people mix up their own personal insecurities into the maintenance of community tradition. Maybe Jane’s mother feels that her daughter’s choice to cook biscuits the old-fashioned way represents a judgment on the way she made biscuits — and this can get tangled up in all kinds of messy guilt feelings and resentments, projected onto the situation. Maybe all Jane really wanted to do was eat what she regarded as a better biscuit, but the old-fashioned biscuit acts as a kind of sacrament of her family’s pathology.

This is such a rich and complicated question, or series of questions. …