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Taste-And-See Orthodoxy

Matthew Milliner, an art history professor at Wheaton, has written a beautiful account of a visit he made earlier this year to Romania, with a group of academics. [1] Excerpts:

So as I said, the monk, who has facilitated our monastic tour, has earned his sermon. He asks us in Romanian, translated by our host, a simple question: What is the point of our learning about key moments in the history of Byzantium or modern Orthodoxy, if we aren’t going to be transformed by these truths ourselves? And we, all of us with Ph.D.s in some aspect of Orthodox history, smile politely, because modern academia does not have an answer to that question, inasmuch as academia is premised upon a tacit agreement never to ask it at all.

That is such an Orthodox question, what the monk asked. I will return to it momentarily. But read on:

As we drive from site to site, the earth is awakening from winter as if to illustrate this resurgence. Between site visits, I am reading Laurus [2], the oft-discussed recent novel by Eugene Vodolazkin about Arseny, a fifteenth-century Holy Fool. Arseny can see into the future. Somehow, despite living in the Late Middle Ages, he steps on a plastic bottle, as if foreseeing the terribly littered landscape around me that still suffers from the communist years. As I’m reading, our academic host gets up on the bus to explain at last a story so many of us have been asking about. Who is this modern saint whose picture we see in every parish church and corner market? Like the protagonist of the novel, his name too is Arseny—Arsenie Boca (1910-1989). An artist [3] and persecuted priest, he helped with the Philokalia translation into modern Romanian, and was well established as an Abbot when communism arrived. We learn of the miracles, bilocation among them, unwittingly documented by communist authorities. For a moment, Vodolazkin’s enchanting novel does not seem so bizarre.

He’s right. I can no longer imagine what it’s like to read Laurus through non-Orthodox eyes — but here’s the point where I should say that two Orthodox friends of mine who read it after I urged it on them told me they didn’t get it. Anyway, reading Laurus, even the parts that we would call “magical realism,” I kept nodding and thinking, “Yes, that’s how it is. That’s how it is in our religion.” Orthodox believers (in general) expect miracle and wonder with a naturalness that I have never seen outside of Pentecostals. More:

The Romanian Christians I meet do not see their Orthodoxy through rose-colored glasses. Politically speaking, all of them are concerned about the territorial ambitions of Putin’s Russia. Among the clerics, many worry that similar ambitions by the Russian church might overwhelm the long-awaited pan-Orthodox council to be held this [4]summer [4]. Within the Romanian Orthodox Church itself, troubles of nationalism, phyletism, and complicity between church and state remain sources of concern. But its faithful also have recourse to the great cloud of witnesses that awaits them on every church wall, and the humble resilience that—alongside non-Orthodox Christians like the Reformed pastor László Tőkés—proved a match for Communism.

But at each of the places we visit, the question comes up again, from scholars, from monks, and finally—on the eve of Lent—from a bishop: Why, we are asked, are you interested in the history of Orthodoxy if you are not transformed by it yourself?

Read the whole thing.  [1]

Milliner’s piece prompted me to muse here on a thought that occurred to me this past Sunday, standing on the side of the nave of the Clear Creek Abbey crypt church, watching a solemn high mass celebrated with austere reverence by the Benedictine monks who live there. It was beautiful, it was holy, and I was privileged to witness it, and to pray with my Catholic brothers and sisters.

But at the same time, I thought: I guess I really am Orthodox now. As beautiful as this is, Orthodoxy is who I am now, and I am grateful to God for it.

Notice that I didn’t say, “Orthodoxy is what I believe now.” It’s much deeper than that. The difference is that I have been marinating in the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom for so long that it has soaked in and, to use social anthropologist Paul Connerton’s phrase, “sedimented into my bones.”

You might remember my writing last year about Connerton’s dense but powerful book [5]How Societies Remember [5]Here is an excerpt:

Connerton discusses three types of memories — personal (something in the past that the individual experienced), cognitive (something in the past that the individual knows from having learned it second hand), and habit-memory, which he defines as “our having the capacity to reproduce a certain performance.” It’s like muscle memory: we may not remember how we learned the thing, but we can recall it when necessary. Reading this, I recalled the experience of Father George Calciu, a Romanian Orthodox priest, who was able to celebrate the Divine Liturgy while in a Communist prison because he had committed it to memory. The liturgy reminded him of who he was and what was true, in a time and place in which the authorities brutally tried to force him to forget. Connerton calls this third kind of remembering “habit-memory.”

When a society really wants to remember something as a society — e.g., mythical, religious, or historic stories that tell a people who they are and what they must do — it invents commemorative ceremonies around those stories. It is not enough to tell a particular story; the story has to be “a cult enacted.” That is, the story must convey a metaphysical truth, and thus has to be granted sacred status as an event that is taken out of the past and in some mystical way re-presented in the present. This is, of course, what the Orthodox Divine Liturgy and the Catholic Mass do. Rites are ways that societies maintain a living connection with their past, and enter mystically into it. Connerton says that “performative utterances are as it were the place in which the community is constituted and recalls to itself the fact of its constitution.”

In simpler language, this means that the words spoken in a rite both bind its participants together and remind the people who they are, as a people. Further, the most effective rituals involve the body. Connerton:

To kneel in subordination is not to state subordination, nor is it just to communicate a message of submission. To kneel in subordination is to display it through the visible, present substance of one’s body. Kneelers identify the disposition of their body with their disposition of subordination. Such performative doings are particularly effective, because unequivocal and materially  substantial , ways of ‘saying’; and the elementariness of the repertoire from which such ‘sayings’ are drawn makes possible at once their performative power and their effectiveness as mnemonic systems.

The most effective rituals do not vary, and are removed in the form of speech and song from everyday life. And:

Finally, ritualised posture, gesture and movement, instead of flexibly combining to impart a variety and ambiguity of information as in what we conventionally describe as everyday situations, is restrictive in pattern, and hence easily predictable and easily repeatable, from one act to the next and from one ritual occasion to the next.

More:

What he means is that to remember who we are, our Story must be ritualized in some public ceremony, or ceremonies. Those rituals must not be simply commemorative; there has to be something more going on — “a cult enacted,” which is to say, an idea taking material form. And it must be not simply something we carry in our heads, but something that is in our bodies. It must be a “habitual memory” — something we carry with us without thinking about it. “In habitual memory the past is, as it were, sedimented into the body,” writes Connerton.

How does this work? Connerton’s explanation is complex, and hard to summarize. The essence of it, however, is that the Word must be made Flesh. We must live out the ideas in the Story so deeply that they become second nature to us — not ideas, but practices. The beginning pianist knows how to read music, but he cannot really play the piano if is conscious that he’s reading the notes. He becomes a pianist when he can play fluidly, without thinking about it. He has become habituated to music.

This has happened to me with Orthodoxy, to a degree that took me by surprise on Sunday. After I had been Catholic for a few years, Protestant worship (on the occasion I had to experience it) seemed so thin to me. Let me be clear: I am not making a judgment on the moral or spiritual qualities of the worshipers, only on the aesthetic quality of the worship, and the way it affected my response to it. Now, having been Orthodox for a decade, I have the same reaction to Catholic worship. Again, this is not to claim that Orthodox Christianity is more true than Catholic or Protestant Christianity (though I believe it is), but rather to observe that aesthetics matter when it comes to imprinting a particular way of thinking, of being, of experiencing a world.

It genuinely startled me how much the Orthodoxy liturgical life, as well as the modes of prayer, the fasts, and so forth, has formed me internally. Lex orandi, lex credendi. [6] And, to be honest, I probably wouldn’t have been able to say that until we started our little Orthodox mission here in Starhill three years ago, which required me to engage with Orthodoxy on a level I had previously resisted.

The question the Orthodox monk in Romania asked Milliner and his group — What’s the point of learning about Orthodoxy if you aren’t going to be transformed by these truths? — reveals a frame of mind that I recognize immediately as Orthodox, a mindset that has made an enormous difference to me personally. Of course one can study Orthodoxy from the point of view of an academic, and many do. The naive question the monk asked, though, tells you that Orthodoxy doesn’t really care if you know about Orthodoxy in your head; it wants you to know Orthodoxy in your heart, and to live it. Truth is not a proposition, not essentially; truth is a Person, and an experience of that Person. For the Orthodox, it’s wonderful to study theology, but if that study doesn’t lead you to a more direct, real, and transformative encounter with the living God, then it is a poor thing. Or at least a thing that is far less than it could be. It’s like living in a house isolated by a snowdrift, and having a shovel in your garage, but being so taken by the object of the shovel itself that you don’t pick it up and use it to dig your way out.

In my book How Dante Can Save Your Life [7], I talk about how the daily, hour-long practice of the Jesus Prayer, following the monastic tradition, was key to my healing, even though I didn’t quite see the point of it all when my priest told me to do it. Later, when I was healed, I asked him why he had assigned me that intense prayer rule.

“I had to get you out of your head,” he said.

Which is itself a very Orthodox answer. My priest could see that my knee-jerk tendency to abstract things, to separate myself from them and hold them up as objects of contemplation from a distance, was at the heart of my inner illness. As long as I bracketed the things of God off intellectually, no matter how strongly I affirmed them with my reason, I would always be on the margins, tormented by the analytical mindset. Father saw that it was far more important for me to experience God in prayer, and not prayer composed of a series of stated propositions, but simply being still in the presence of the All-Holy.

This is how Orthodoxy is. Or at least as I have found it to be. And I love it.

A couple of Catholics separately came up to me last weekend at Clear Creek, having heard me say that I am an ex-Catholic, and tried to engage me in a conversation that they plainly wanted to end in my return to Rome. Unless Catholics are hostile and persistent (these folks weren’t), I’m not bothered by these conversations. These people want the best for me, and to them, that means returning to Catholicism. I usually say, “Please pray for me,” and I mean it, because I do need prayers. But I don’t have the slightest interest in returning to Catholicism — and I’m not angry about it.

To the contrary, my extremely painful experience of losing my Catholic faith and being rebuilt, slowly, in Orthodoxy, has made me grateful to see folks thriving in Christianity as Catholics or Protestants. I would make a terrible Orthodox evangelist, because even though I would love for them to discover Orthodoxy and its joyful depths, I am incapable of engaging in apologetic arguments. It’s not that I believe apologetics are unimportant. Of course they are important! But I have no credibility to do them, given my erratic faith history, and besides, I don’t really want to get into it. Living a faithful, small-o orthodox Christian life is hard, no matter which tradition you do it in. I feel that I can better help folks by encouraging them, genuinely, in their own tradition, rather than get all up in their business and telling them how and why they’re getting and doing it wrong. That kind of intellectual arrogance led to my spiritual near-death experience as a Catholic. I was so full of pride in being Catholic, and so willing to talk about Catholicism as an intellectual matter, that I did not see how fragile I had left myself.

God broke me, or rather, allowed me to break myself on the rocks of my own rage and pride and arrogance. And He rebuilt me as an Orthodox Christian which, I suspect, has made me a better mere Christian. Why? Mostly because I have been delivered from the chronic intellectualism that made experiencing God more difficult. It will always be there, because it’s in my nature, but it controls me far less than it once did. Orthodox Christianity showed me the way, and not only showed me the way, but led me. I hope that all people will come and see what we have in Orthodoxy (though a single visit alone probably won’t be enough; I’d say come every Sunday for a month). But even if you don’t, or won’t, I would strongly suggest to every intellectually-oriented Christian of all traditions, including those who are nominally Orthodox, to think about the Romanian monk’s question in context of your own tradition: Why do you ask questions of Christianity if you don’t want to be transformed by Christianity yourself? In other words, what is the point of your intellectual inquiry? Having all the facts and arguments in your head will not help you when you are put to the test.

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49 Comments To "Taste-And-See Orthodoxy"

#1 Comment By Brom Bones On May 25, 2016 @ 1:43 pm

Judaism. I think the next step for you is REAL orthodoxy 🙂

#2 Comment By Bernie On May 25, 2016 @ 2:16 pm

We’re more wired for ritual than many realize, and the most supremely meaningful events in life are experienced through it. Weddings, funerals, graduations, etc. – all rituals.

I attended a funeral recently in a beautiful, old Episcopal church. The hymns, the homily and everything else were lovely. And then, at the end of the funeral, two members of the Navy slowly marched up the center aisle to the foot of the altar, one holding the folded American flag. The deceased had served several years in the Navy as a young man. As “Taps” was played, the slow, reverential unfolding and then folding of the flag took place. In their white gloves, the Navy members, through their demeanor, grace, discipline and respect, could not have conveyed more reverence. There had been a great deal of beauty throughout the service, but the tears of many did not flow until this final ritual. Not a word said, but it said everything. Christians who experience liturgy know the transcendent power of it.

#3 Comment By Will Harrington On May 25, 2016 @ 2:25 pm

Brom

Orthodoxy is a Greek word, not a Hebrew word. We Orthodox Christians are the REAL Orthodox. Orthodox Jews are just using a convenient word that kinda sorta expresses what they are because a lot of English speakers have a fairly large smattering of Greek, even some Yiddish, but Hebrew? Not so much, so they borrow the word. Not that we resent it, except maybe when people, after asking what religion we are and being told Orthodox, respond with “oh, Jewish?”.

#4 Comment By mrscracker On May 25, 2016 @ 2:25 pm

A while back I was listening to a live broadcast from the Vatican on the radio & heard this absolutely beautiful, haunting music. I thought, wow, this is sure an improvement over the usual stuff Catholics have to listen to. And of course when they announced what we’d heard, sure enough it was Eastern Orthodox chant.
I’ve been once to a Byzantine Catholic church & several times to a Maronite Rite Catholic church. I don’t remember any different liturgical music on those occasions but the Byzantine Rite church was beautiful, welcoming, & definitely valued preserving a sense of the sacred. I think Latin Rite Catholics tend to forget how many other rites & traditions are out there.

#5 Comment By Daniel (not Larison ) On May 25, 2016 @ 2:28 pm

Beautifully written, Rod. And ultimately, a Christianity that isn’t transformative isn’t Christianity at all.

Many Christians might be nodding your heads at this, but we also need to understand what that transoformation is and what it is not. Many might first think of those who are nominal Christians, but they still live sinful lives without remorse of their sin. Yes, the transformation involves moral change–but that is not all (though manly old mainline churches preached that during the early to mid 20th century.)

Others might think of incorporating ritual in your lives–have devotions, daily prayers, etc. Yes, those are important, but they are not goals. They are not even to equip you for “real” goals–they are (or should be) natural manifistations of seeking God.

And the transformation isn’t even about being more loving. Sure, we need–desperately need!–to be more loving. But saying “I need a more loving attitude” looks at the Christian faith as a means of making you a better person–self help, by any other name.

No; what is at the center of the faith is seeking the presence of God–His Kingdom, in Jesus’ words. All else is detail ob the outworking of that.

And this is where an Orthodox blogger and a Reformed reader can stand together in faith.

#6 Comment By andrew On May 25, 2016 @ 2:37 pm

“Truth is not a proposition, not essentially; truth is a Person, and an experience of that Person.”

This proposition is true.

#7 Comment By Woody On May 25, 2016 @ 2:53 pm

I thought perhaps the new saint figure in the icon would be Valeriu Gafencu, the “Saint of the Prisons”, but I guess he has not yet been glorified by the Romanian Church. Maybe still too much Legion hangover. See this book review for more: [8]

#8 Comment By Mary’s Sister On May 25, 2016 @ 3:04 pm

I too have an “erratic faith history” having come to Orthodoxy almost as a last resort. In fact, I think that had I not found Orthodoxy I would not even be a Christian today. It (or rather God through it) rescued me.
All that being said, the little choir at Clear Creek reminded me of how much I miss western music! It literally brought me to tears.
P.S. I was the woman who interrupted your breakfast to have you sign my copy of Dante. Thank you.

#9 Comment By Woody On May 25, 2016 @ 3:08 pm

Also this site: [9]

#10 Comment By LeeD On May 25, 2016 @ 3:24 pm

Rod – I realize that many of the discussions on this blog are of a political versus purely religious nature – but your above post clarified my struggle with the tone and content of what you and others sometimes post.

You say “My priest could see that my knee-jerk tendency to abstract things, to separate myself from them and hold them up as objects of contemplation from a distance, was at the heart of my inner illness. As long as I bracketed the things of God off intellectually, no matter how strongly I affirmed them with my reason, I would always be on the margins, tormented by the analytical mindset. Father saw that it was far more important for me to experience God in prayer, and not prayer composed of a series of stated propositions, but simply being still in the presence of the All-Holy.”

This is quite moving, even if I have a very different religious outlook. In my own experience, mere analytical musings about religious texts and beliefs has been a real barrier – offering a fun sort of intellectual battle with others, but diverting me from the mental quiescence that can bring real peace and spiritual insight.

I would like to think that the above represents how you would really deal with others in the real world, no matter how angry and battle-hardened you often appear in other posts.

#11 Comment By Matthew Robare On May 25, 2016 @ 3:25 pm

“Finally, ritualised posture, gesture and movement, instead of flexibly combining to impart a variety and ambiguity of information as in what we conventionally describe as everyday situations, is restrictive in pattern, and hence easily predictable and easily repeatable, from one act to the next and from one ritual occasion to the next.”

That right there sums up the problems with contemporary Catholic liturgy.

#12 Comment By Anne On May 25, 2016 @ 3:47 pm

I’ve long suspected your form of evangelization for Orthodoxy is the Benedict Option. Isn’t that the perfect BenOp model — sacramental living within your little mission community at Starhill?

#13 Comment By smhouse13 On May 25, 2016 @ 4:25 pm

I’ve been reading your blog for four years now. I keep coming back for your religion and culture posts, but I have to confess that it is your posts on your personal journey that are unfailingly the most moving. By all means keep it up!

#14 Comment By Hound of Ulster On May 25, 2016 @ 5:16 pm

If Orthodoxy can speak to me, a high-functioning autistic/radical leftist/agnostic, it’s gotta be True, amirite ?. It was the liturgical music that first drew me in, along with the history of Byzantium, in all its wonder and majesty…Taste and see, that the Lord is Good.

#15 Comment By Darth Thulhu On May 25, 2016 @ 5:22 pm

Rod asked:

I would strongly suggest to every intellectually-oriented Christian of all traditions, including those who are nominally Orthodox, to think about the Romanian monk’s question in context of your own tradition: Why do you ask questions of Christianity if you don’t want to be transformed by Christianity yourself? In other words, what is the point of your intellectual inquiry?

In my experience, for many it is an aesthetic interest for intellectual tourism, for many others it is about picking at it until they don’t have to accept it anymore, and for many others still it is just idle curiosity … a kind of historical and philosophical logic puzzle.

As for “why do you not want to be open to being transformed?”, well, any deep exploration of any Faith always runs directly into Upton Sinclair’s maxim: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

Taking a Faith seriously significantly impacts one’s ability to a faceless cog willing to move anywhere to do any kind of work so long as the money is good. Instinctively, most people get that. Anything that might be a threat to the lifelong arc of the Blue Striver gets efficiently sidelined and corralled, lest it become a hindrance to ever-rising bourgeois “success”. Embracing some flavor of Prosperity-Gospel heresy is a good halfway point to observe the social forms and receive the status benefits without actually having to do anything difficult.

Having all the facts and arguments in your head will not help you when you are put to the test.

When one’s entire Life Plan for oneself and one’s family depends upon everyone repeatedly failing that test, having enough knowledge to rationalize and “justify” the failure is a psychic balm.

#16 Comment By dominic1955 On May 25, 2016 @ 5:37 pm

I think there must be both, there absolutely needs to be both intellectual and contemplative. Now, not every individual needs both to the same degree but religion needs both.

Over intellectualizing things might be a problem, but so is over mystifying things. I joke about how this is annoying with the Orthodox when they respond to theological questions with, “Meh. Ees meesteery…” but Mormons I’ve encountered are much worse.

#17 Comment By Gregory Manning On May 25, 2016 @ 6:02 pm

Your struggle with head-knowledge is nicely addressed by Fr. Stephen Freeman today.

[10]

#18 Comment By Mike W On May 25, 2016 @ 6:20 pm

Thank you for this post. I am working my way through “Christ the Eternal Tao” and the section I read last night touched on the very subjects you mention here.

#19 Comment By JonF On May 25, 2016 @ 6:37 pm

Re: Taking a Faith seriously significantly impacts one’s ability to a faceless cog willing to move anywhere to do any kind of work so long as the money is good.

Really? Where is it written anywhere in Christian doctrine or Scripture “Thou shalt stay where thou wast begat”? There would be no Orthodoxy in the US if several million Greeks, Russians, Arabs, Bulgarians, Serbs, Ukrainians and Romanians hadn’t gotten on ships and come to these shores. And there would be no Christianity at all if the first Christians had not journeyed all over the Roman Empire, and beyond, spreading the Good News.
I’ve been Orthodox twenty years now, and it never stopped me from moving when I had to. The one non-negotiable requirement those moves did include was that I would never move where there was not an Orthodox church at some reasonable distance from me. At 49, I hope and pray my moving days are over– but that’s a function of my age not my faith. And if God and Necessity will that I have to pack up and go again, so I will.

#20 Comment By sickatheart On May 25, 2016 @ 7:20 pm

It’s a bit strange and perverse and unintentional by all parties – but whenever I read these types of posts by Rod I feel myself so drawn towards Islam.

[NFR: That’s interesting. Tell me more. — RD]

#21 Comment By Prester James On May 25, 2016 @ 7:47 pm

I agree with you on almost everything Mr Dreher, but I still bristle a little when you suggest that Orthodox worship is superior to Catholic worship. To banal Vatican II liturgy; yes. But not to the Mass of the Angels! I’ve been to Greek Orthodox services in Australia, and Russian Orthodox services in Siberia, and found them absolutely wonderful. They had a timeless feel to them.

However, my heart still lies with the Latin Mass. It isn’t even the Latin itself (though that is part of the charm). No, it is that every gesture is laden with meaning, every word reflecting a comprehensive theological system. I find it rather interesting that you were not attached to the Tridentine Mass when you were a Catholic, but now have wholly immersed yourself into liturgical life now that you’re Orthodox.

[NFR: You are reading more into my remarks than I said. I wasn’t putting down the Tridentine mass. But it is very different from the Divine Liturgy, in ways that made a big difference to me. As a Catholic, I went to the Latin mass a few times, but I didn’t really like it. It was almost Buddhist in its austerity. Ideologically I was a supporter of the Latin mass, and at the time (and still) I find it outrageous that so many in the Catholic hierarchy try to suppress it. But it has no appeal to me outside of the intellectual, except when there is Gregorian chanting (Clear Creek, Norcia), which is transporting. — RD]

#22 Comment By The Other Side On May 25, 2016 @ 8:45 pm

Rod, I will say that reading your blog inspired me to learn a bit about the Orthodox faith. What I’ve come across seems like what I thought the religion was supposed to be. I will say I find the liturgy extremely beautiful from what I’ve listened to.

Even if you never have the slightest intention of being Orthodox, I highly recommend you read The Orthodox Way by Kallistos Ware and if you have time watch or just listen to the Orthodox 101 Bootcamp series on youtube. For me at least, I felt like it allowed me to put the things I was very angry about in Christianity to rest. That should at least earn you a few extra feathers on the other side Rod.

Here’s a link to that Orthodox Bootcamp
[11]

[NFR: Thanks so much for this. For Protestant readers, I strongly recommend [12] a book written by a Protestant college professor that explains Orthodoxy to Protestants. I first encountered it a couple of years after I became Orthodox, and found it incredibly helpful — moreso in some ways than actual Orthodox texts. Why? Because it is not easy for a Western Christian to grasp the different way in which Eastern Christianity thinks. Though he talks to Protestants in the language of Protestantism, the author, James Payton, is really translating Eastern Christianity into Western terms. Though I had been Catholic for 13 years, and was mostly formed as a Christian in Catholicism, that book helped me to realize how different Orthodoxy is from both Catholicism and Protestantism. — RD]

#23 Comment By PG On May 25, 2016 @ 9:11 pm

Without diminishing anything Rod said about the ritual aspects of Orthodoxy, my own surprise about Orthodoxy is how the writings of this ancient faith, both past and present—while remaining faithful to the standard beliefs of Christianity—convey a level of depth, richness, and respect for mystery that is rarely captured in Protestant (especially evangelical) traditions.

[NFR: My experience has been somewhat different, but similar. I never fail to be amazed by how clearly the Orthodox saints express themselves, across the ages. It is deep without being obscure. I don’t know how they do it, but they do. — RD]

#24 Comment By Pionono On May 25, 2016 @ 9:52 pm

Rod’s most appealing posts, in my humble opinion, are almost always those which centre around his lived Orthodoxy.

‘Sickatheart’: Dreher has several regular readers in Islam, and I would guess that there is more than one who finds his descriptions of an attempt to live a serious and centred traditional religious life in the modern world not only interesting but inspiring in terms of their own praxis.

There might be several reasons why you feel drawn to Islam in this context, but for the sake of brevity, I will suggest only one. Eastern Christianity and Islam have several fascinating outward parallels, among the most noticeable being the emphasis on fasting and vigils, as well as the kneeling and prostrations in prayers. Generally speaking, Eastern faiths have maintained a stronger sense of the role of the body in the spiritual life, not to mention the role of ritual and ascetic rigor and the sense of continuity which flows from an emphasis on traditional orthodoxy. Muslims tend to be sensitive to that which is ancient and deeply rooted, as opposed to what is, in this context, the Western innovations.

More especially, Orthodoxy is the most open among the branches of the Christian tradition to a developed mysticism, including the doctrine of theosis and the Hesychastic way of prayer, particularly the Jesus Prayer, all of which find deep parallels in Sufism, the mysticism of Islam. I would recommend highly, for all those interested in these subjects, Paths to the Heart: Sufism and the Christian East, edited by James Cutsinger.

[NFR: About the use of the body to pray, especially to indicate deep reverence to the Almighty, yes, that’s absolutely true. This past Lent, during an evening service in which I, like everybody else in the church, was face-down on the rug in worshipful prayer, I literally thought, “This is one thing about Islamic worship that Muslims absolutely get right.” This complete submission to God, demonstrated in the body. There is nothing like it in the West, not that I’ve seen. — RD]

#25 Comment By Erin Manning On May 26, 2016 @ 12:37 am

Rod, when I read this earlier today I thought that finally I understand what made you and me different even when you were Catholic: it is just what you wrote here, only for me, Catholic is who I am, not merely where I worship or what I think about religion, etc. By your own words, and unless I am mistaking your meaning, this was never the case for you–you never thought of Catholic as “who I am” in the way you think of Orthodox as “who I am.”

But for me, “who I am” is Catholic. It’s not solely because I’m a cradle Catholic, either; I’ve met plenty of converts who have internalized the faith better than I have in my 47 years of living it. It’s not even because I really do believe in the truth of Catholicism, that is, that the Catholic Church is the Church Christ founded as the ordinary means of salvation for all men. It’s because I have (not by my own efforts, but by God’s grace and my parents’ unfailing care and the holy examples of too many people to mention) acquired the habit of being Catholic, of being sort of permeated in some way by the faith I share with my ancestors which surrounds me anew every morning when I first begin the prayers and work of the day–yet it’s not just prayer, or just work, or just culture, or just habit; it’s a confluence of those things that also somehow transcends and illuminates them as light transcends and illuminates candle and wax and wick and even the conflagration itself.

It’s hard to put this into words. Those who have experienced it understand it, perhaps.

[NFR: Well, sort of. I really did experience Catholicism as “who I am” — which is why I can say without qualification that the three-year process of losing my Catholic faith was the most painful thing I’ve ever endured. More painful than the deaths of my father and sister, because it felt like a part of me was dying. I don’t feel that way anymore. Maybe I can explain it in terms of a failed marriage. Years ago, a good friend’s wife left him. It shattered him. I was one of the ones who helped him through it, though one of us moved after a few years, and we lost touch. The pain and confusion and lostness he felt then, and that he expressed so vividly that it’s hard to think about it today without tears welling up in my eyes — that’s the only thing I can compare my experience to. I don’t know if he ever remarried, but let’s say that he did, and he found real and lasting love with his new wife. I don’t think it would be the case at all that he would say, “My first marriage wasn’t who I am, but now, with this second marriage, I’ve found my true self.” After all, if his first wife hadn’t left him, and things had gone well with them, he never would have had cause to meet and fall in love with his second wife. And if he met his first wife again, and they were able to be friendly to each other, and even, miracle of miracles, could enjoy each other’s company, my friend would almost certainly not be tempted to leave his second wife to remarry the first, even if that were an option. The point I was making in this comment was simply that the experience of Orthodox liturgy and prayer has gotten so deep into me that it has healed the sense of longing for my lost Catholic faith that I had back when I started this journey. I was really and truly Catholic, once. Now I’m really and truly Orthodox, and I think (I hope, I pray) that this is more rooted within me, because I have learned a lot from experience, and have protected myself in various ways from falling into the traps that snared me as a Catholic. One thing I definitely don’t do now, and strongly advise any of you readers, whatever your faith, to avoid: taking your faith for granted. You might think it is solid as a rock, but you won’t know until and unless you are put to the test. One way to make it more likely that you will pass the test is not to assume that because you’ve got a good handle on the theology and you just can’t imagine being anything else but ____, that you’re safe. You’re not. Trust me, you’re not. — RD]

#26 Comment By Prester James On May 26, 2016 @ 12:41 am

[NFR: You are reading more into my remarks than I said. I wasn’t putting down the Tridentine mass. But it is very different from the Divine Liturgy, in ways that made a big difference to me. As a Catholic, I went to the Latin mass a few times, but I didn’t really like it. It was almost Buddhist in its austerity. Ideologically I was a supporter of the Latin mass, and at the time (and still) I find it outrageous that so many in the Catholic hierarchy try to suppress it. But it has no appeal to me outside of the intellectual, except when there is Gregorian chanting (Clear Creek, Norcia), which is transporting. — RD]

Ah, I see. Personally, I rather enjoy the austerity of the Latin Mass, particularly the Low Mass (though my Oratorian parish specialises in the bells and smells of the Solemn High Mass). I was reverted to the Church by the Carmelites, so I have a great deal of appreciation for the silence, coupled with the esoteric gestures and rituals up at the altar. A faith of whispers, and magic.

I get the same experience at Divine Liturgy as I do at High Mass. It’s so busy! Easy to get into a rhythm of movement and action and prayer, but not enough time for contemplation, for me at least. Though I appreciate the aesthetics of it all.

Interestingly enough, I am rather drawn to Buddhism, particularly the Tibetan form found here in Mongolia. Not that I believe a whit of it, but you do feel something rather ethereal when shuffling through a dimly lit temple whose walls, covered with demonic visions, throb with alien chanting. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but as an experience it is quite unique.

#27 Comment By Erin Manning On May 26, 2016 @ 1:47 am

Well, fair enough, Rod. The difference for me as a Catholic though is sort of like the difference for a validly married Catholic whose spouse leaves him: he knows perfectly well he can’t marry again, that if he simulates a marriage it will never be anything but damnable (literally) adultery, no matter how nice a person his new “wife” is. If I lost my faith in Jesus Christ which happens to be inextricably linked to my belief that He intended to found an actual Church and that that Church’s fullness today is the Catholic Church–well, I’d either join Charles for the laughs, or become one of those bitter atheists who can’t shut up about their ex-relationship with God. There simply are no other options.

So, naturally, I pray to be kept from the trials and to remain within the Church. Even when I’m a bad Catholic I’m still a Catholic (and I know where the confessional is). That’s not meant to sound triumphalist or anything: it’s just that I could not become any other sort of Christian, being convinced, as I am, that Catholicism is true because her founder is Truth.

Granted, Orthodoxy has a special relationship with the Catholic Church; granted, the last several popes have wished very much for reunification with the East, which may eventually come in some form or other, and which is one of my daily prayer intentions. I still could not be Orthodox. Widespread acceptance of divorce and contraception are just part of the reason I could not believe Orthodoxy as it is lived and practiced today contains the whole fullness of truth (and, yes, economia, etc., but it’s still too much for me).

I know you don’t want this to get into a doctrinal debate, but I think that a glance at various ex-Catholics of history will illustrate that more of them go on to be nothing than go on to Orthodoxy or Protestantism or any other faith. It’s probably true of many cradle Orthodox too.

[NFR: You are not allowing for the possibility that you could still believe in Jesus, but not in the claims that the Church of Rome makes for herself. That was the situation I found myself in. Because you’ve never been in a position like that (and I pray you never will be!), I’m betting you can’t imagine what that’s like. I couldn’t have either until it happened to me. Though I have to concede this: after worshiping as an Orthodox Christian for a decade, if suddenly every Orthodox church in America disappeared, I would not be able to go back to church. Even though I believe that Roman Catholic churches have valid sacraments, and Catholic priests would graciously welcome me to partake of them, and I might be able to find an Orthodox bishop who would permit that under those extreme conditions … I still doubt I would re-enter into the life of the Catholic Church. It’s not because of any hostility towards Rome, but because of the same phenomenon you point to about yourself. That I was able to enter Orthodoxy after losing my Catholic faith may be a sign of how intellectual my Catholicism was, without my realizing it. I don’t know. I don’t think too much about that anymore. I am sure, though, that it has a lot to do with the intensity of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. There’s nothing like it in Western Christendom, in my experience. Everything else — even the very best of Everything Else — pales by comparison. We mustn’t forget that no liturgy is an idol, and no Church. If praying the Latin mass, or the Divine Liturgy, is the end goal, or being a Roman Catholic, or a Russian Orthodox, is our telos, then we are no better than idol worshipers. Only unity with Christ, through which the liturgy and the visible Church are our portal. — RD]

#28 Comment By Charles Cosimano On May 26, 2016 @ 1:51 am

Prester James, there is some evidence that Vajrayana Buddhism cross-fertilized with Orthodoxy and some of the physical practices are remarkably similar.

#29 Comment By John S On May 26, 2016 @ 7:57 am

The monk’s question is just as Catholic. And there is a disturbing lack of interest in the intellectual content of the Faith in this post which I suspect is quite un-Orthodox. At least, such is what disputes over the Filioque and the nature of the Petrine Office, for example, would lead me to believe. The “transformation” the monk encourages I would like to believe is not about “experiencing God.” It is about loving God, and showing it through a life of virtue. We cannot “experience” God. Impossible.

[NFR: The last two sentences of your comment reveal that the monk’s question is not “just as Catholic.” Orthodoxy really does see this stuff differently. — RD]

#30 Comment By Rob G On May 26, 2016 @ 8:09 am

~~~I joke about how this is annoying with the Orthodox when they respond to theological questions with, “Meh. Ees meesteery…”~~~

My Catholic friends needle me about this regularly. I generally respond along the lines of the blessing of not being driven to dot every I and cross every T. 😉

~~~For Protestant readers, I strongly recommend “Light From The Christian East,” a book written by a Protestant college professor that explains Orthodoxy to Protestants.~~~

I’ve not read that book, but the one that had a similar effect on me is Hymn of Entry by Archimandrite Vasileios. I didn’t read until I was five years or so into Orthodoxy, but I wish I would have discovered it earlier on. Only a little over 100 pages, but truly eye-opening, at least for me.

[NFR: Frederica Mathewes-Green’s practical book “Welcome To Orthodoxy” is also a must-read for inquirers. — RD]

#31 Comment By John S On May 26, 2016 @ 9:41 am

“Orthodoxy really does see this stuff differently.”
Perhaps we are using the word experience differently. How is what you are describing different from the mystical experiences described by St. Thomas Aquinas, St. John of the Cross, or St. Theresa of Avila?

#32 Comment By mrscracker On May 26, 2016 @ 10:20 am

John S,
I think we definitely do experience God. God is love. And we more experience Him rather than intellectually understand Him. Because-I think-that would be impossible, at least fully. Our intellect is so very limited.
But anyone can experience God. He generally chooses the simple rather than the academic to reveal Himself to.
Religion isn’t an enemy of the intellect but sometimes our use of the intellect creates a barrier to truly experiencing God.

#33 Comment By Trump Rocksss On May 26, 2016 @ 10:43 am

Whatever floats your boat, as long as it leads you to the final destination.

#34 Comment By Trump Rocksss On May 26, 2016 @ 10:48 am

A religion reflects the mentality of those who created and molded it through the centuries. If some seem thin, overly cerebral and unaesthetic, it’s because the people who massaged it through the centuries had that mentality.

#35 Comment By DeclinetheEnjoy On May 26, 2016 @ 12:32 pm

Because you can be transformed by any hard ritual done over time and assented to, and it’s a little scary how that can be done regardless of the truth of the actual thing you are ritualized by. This is why we get cults whether religious or secular, and why we have boot camp, which is all ritual and no real metaphysical truth (and some would argue here changes and imparts character as much as any religion.)

As with boot camp too, another scary aspect is that the goal of this ritual is to pound you down and reduce you to a vessel of the ritual’s teachings and for its performance. If the religion makes sure there are clear boundaries that indicate you as a person are valuable and worthwhile, and this is merely training to self-actualize in a sense it’s fine, but it can be really dangerous if not. Specially if like an increasing number of us, you have some brand of mental illness in the mix.

Maybe this is moral cowardice, but a wariness of letting the mechanical processes of a religion transform you happens.

[NFR: Tell us about the liturgies that have transformed you. You don’t think you’re immune, do you? — RD]

#36 Comment By John On May 26, 2016 @ 12:33 pm

There is a lot to comment on here but I will restrain myself as far as possible.

Rod, you remark ‘My extremely painful experience of losing my Catholic faith and being rebuilt, slowly, in Orthodoxy, has made me grateful to see folks thriving in Christianity as Catholics or Protestants.’

– Surely this claim about thriving in Catholicism, Orthodoxy or Protestantism is a liberal Protestant, not a Catholic or Orthodox, position?

– The overlap between Orthodox and Roman Catholic belief is very considerable, and it is hard to say exactly where they disagree except on the question of papal supremacy (which the Orthodox do not entirely deny; on the filioque, a dispute which not twenty people in the entire world fully understand, see e.g. Boris Bobrinskoy’s discussion). If you completely accept Orthodox belief you then hold more of the Catholic faith than a large majority of the Catholics you will ever have met.

– On the liturgy; the so-called ‘Tridentine’ rite, which in fact was substantially completed by St. Gregory the Great, is recognised as a sacred liturgy by the Orthodox, and a translation of it is in fact used by some Orthodox groups (see e.g. [13], [14]). It may not be to your taste but it cannot be said to not be Orthodox by Orthodox standards; it is not an Eastern liturgy, that is all. The respective Western and Eastern liturgies antedate any division between Catholics and Orthodox for many centuries after all.

– Your point about Gregorian chant is interesting. The Latin liturgy did not develop as a spoken rite for which music was made up afterwards; words and music were developed together as a unit, so an evaluation of this liturgy must look at this unit.

– You are aware that a number of Catholics use the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, such as the Ukrainians. I myself go to an Ukrainian Catholic parish with a married priest when in rural Manitoba.

#37 Comment By John On May 26, 2016 @ 12:35 pm

– I should also have added that the theology and structure of the monastic life is largely Eastern in origin and is acknowledged to be such; St. John Cassian, the principal Western guide to the monastic life, takes his doctrine from the Desert Fathers.

#38 Comment By John On May 26, 2016 @ 1:12 pm

On the closeness of Catholic and Orthodox, belief, see e.g. this Orthodox catechism by Bp. Peter Mohila:

[15]

#39 Comment By JonF On May 26, 2016 @ 2:13 pm

Re: I get the same experience at Divine Liturgy as I do at High Mass. It’s so busy! Easy to get into a rhythm of movement and action and prayer, but not enough time for contemplation, for me at least.

I’ve been doing the Divine Liturgy, and also Vespers, for twenty years now and they are ingrained in me. When that’s the case there’s plenty of room for contemplation during the services. The less common services, not so much as I do find myself, er, distracted by the service itself.

#40 Comment By John S On May 26, 2016 @ 2:28 pm

@mrscracker
I am a believer in the mystical experience, as all Roman Catholics are. But that kind of experience is not the same as the experience provided by the senses. I can be pretty certain that the sky is blue as I trust my own eyes. However, the mystical experience is not so easy to be certain about. What do you tell a man who says he has experienced God, and as a result he believes that God is not a Trinity but a Quaternity? (I actually know someone who believes this.) What you tell him is that he needs to go back and study his catechism. Doctrine is the measure of the mystical experience, not the reverse.

#41 Comment By mrscracker On May 26, 2016 @ 3:45 pm

John S ,
No, I agree. We can be misled spiritually.That’s why we have a Church guided by the Holy Spirit. Otherwise we’d each be our own pope.
I just meant we *can* experience God. Not that every experience may be valid.

#42 Comment By mrscracker On May 26, 2016 @ 4:32 pm

Saw this article online:

“Eastern Christian spirituality is the round peg that will fit in the round hole in the soul of Western civilization,” he said, quoting G.K. Chesterton’s insight that “mysticism is what keeps men sane.”

“Let’s face it, in modern Western culture we have a lot of insanity,” he said. Western Christianity is more “cerebral” in its approach, Father Loya said, while the East is much more experiential. And while the West has a mystical tradition that engages the five senses in its liturgical life, “the East does it to a further degree” with mysticism permeating its liturgy, art, architecture, and teaching.

“Mysticism is living in the both-and: something revealed and something hidden at the same time,” he said. It helps teach people that God is both “righteous judge” and “lover of mankind” — transcendent from creation but intimate with human beings — when the Western mindset would rather put those concepts in opposition to each other.

But Father Loya said today’s challenges of evangelization in the West just show how much the West and the East need each other’s gifts, working together as the “two lungs of the Church.”

He said, “The East needs the gifts of the West, but the West also needs the gifts of the East.”

Read more: [16]

#43 Comment By James C On May 26, 2016 @ 5:27 pm

Erin, you’re right. I have the same relationship with the Catholic Church as you—it’s literally unthinkable to imagine a ‘divorce’ of sorts. Unimaginable. And it doesn’t really come down to the Church’s audacious truth claims and great moral teachings (though I believe them). That’s mere intellectual assent. It’s not about superior liturgy or spirituality or better this or better that. Even the rich Latin mystical tradition, which is an immense treasure so little appreciated by many Catholics today (little wonder that Eastern Orthodox apologists ignore it as well) is not something I can point to and say, “This is why I’m in the Catholic Church.”

A Catholic is what I am, to my depths. She is the blood that runs through my spiritual veins, and I couldn’t ‘run’ on any other type. She is the unique and irreplaceable way I relate to, love and be loved by, and become more like Jesus Christ.

Yet little more than a decade ago, I was a new Christian searching for a church to join. I gave Anglicanism a long, admiring look. I went to “come and see” Eastern Orthodoxy, as its apologists told me to do. I attended the Divine Liturgy, joined the OCF on campus, everything. I even made enquiries about getting re-chrismated or re-baptised (depending on which jurisdiction I was looking at entering). But I stopped.

It was a beautiful experience and I gave it every chance, but I couldn’t pull the trigger. Perhaps I became the Catholic I already was.

Happily, my becoming Catholic did not require me to disavow anything I already believed about the Orthodox churches and the real grace flowing therein. In the words of John Paul II’s encyclical, Orientale Lumen, the light shines truly from the East. But it also shines truly from the West. And my soul faces West.

#44 Comment By Erin Manning On May 26, 2016 @ 7:19 pm

James C., that’s beautiful.

Rod wrote: “You are not allowing for the possibility that you could still believe in Jesus, but not in the claims that the Church of Rome makes for herself.”

Well, no. Because part of what I believe about Jesus includes the following: that He intended to found a Church, that He intended that Church, through the mystical presence of the Holy Spirit in the sacraments Christ instituted, to nourish the Divine Life within the faithful to strengthen us for the journey, heal us when we sin, and call us unendingly to repentance and true communion with Him and with each other, and to, in some unique way, keep His promise that the gates of Hell would not prevail against His Church.

I believe, further, that Jesus told us specific things about this Church and that we see her taking shape in the Acts of the Apostles and already existing in a recognizable form by the first century after the Resurrection.

With all the respect in the world possible to my Protestant brothers and sisters, then, from my present vantage point I see only two possible claimants to be that Church; that is, only two entities have even remained recognizable especially in terms of the sacraments: Catholicism and Orthodoxy. I repeat, because this is important–from my present vantage point, that is, as a faithful Catholic.

Now here’s where it gets tricky: the Catholic Church herself recognizes the unique place of Orthodoxy, her continued (for the most part–there may be odd historical exceptions I’m unaware of) apostolicity, and her valid sacraments. The two Churches were one until 1054, and may (God willing) be one again. So how can I be sure that it is the Catholic Church that is the Church which Christ founded in all her fullness?

I could trace various scriptural and apologetics arguments. I could point to historical realities. I could (and do) look at the areas where Orthodoxy has, I sincerely believe, failed to be a prophetic moral witness (and, yes, again, contraception is a big deal here, because contraception IS a big deal in terms of traditional sexual morality). But in the end it comes down for me, as it does for each believer, to a matter of faith, of believing that Christ did intend to found a Church and that that Church still abides with us and can be found and recognized–and I recognize her in the Catholic Church.

What you posit, then, really is unthinkable for me: that I could continue to believe that Christ did intend to found a Church and that this Church can be recognized by certain marks or characters–but that the Catholic Church, through and in which I learned all of this, is somehow *not* this Church, but some sort of sham, facade, or wicked trick. How could I then say to myself, “Well, I believe in Jesus, and I know He meant to found a Church, so perhaps I should look around and see if any of these other Churches is possibly the true Church…”?

The dilemma is that if I lost my faith in the Church I truly believe to be Christ’s, how could I trust anything she ever told me about Him? How could I, in fact, believe that He meant to found a visible, sacramental Church at all? Would it not be just as easy at that point to believe that He never meant to do any such thing? There are plenty of Christians willing to say that the “sham, facade, or wicked trick” goes all the way back to Constantine (thus including the Orthodox) and that the whole point was to create an institutional, self-protecting and self-perpetuating power structure. Why is that a less compelling proposition than the one that says, no, Christ did intend to found a Church, only Orthodoxy is that Church? What makes Orthodoxy’s claims *more* compelling than Catholicism’s, in other words, such that a person who has had her Catholic faith completely demolished could begin to evaluate that claim rationally?

Now: I think any cradle Orthodox person reading this will understand where I’m coming from, even if your own faith leads you to believe that Orthodoxy is, in fact, the Church which Christ founded. I hope it is understood here that I’m not attacking Orthodoxy in herself in the least. But I’m saying that as a cradle Catholic, if my Catholic faith were utterly demolished, it would be hard for me even to go on believing that Jesus Christ is Who He says He is: because I have learned all of that in, through, and with the Church, and if she is not His bride as she claims to be, how can I even come to know Who He is without being led astray?

So: my faith in Christ is always inextricably linked to the presence of His bride, Holy Mother Church, who has been showing Him to me since I was a child. Destroy my faith in her and my faith in Him will not escape unscathed. So I pray for my faith to remain intact.

[NFR: Yes, but surely you believe that Protestants believe in Jesus Christ. I agree with you that absent the historical Church (as you lay it out), which authoritatively canonized Scripture, that belief is on much shakier ground than many Protestants realize. That said, it really is possible to have a real faith in Jesus without being Catholic or Orthodox. It’s just much more difficult, in my view. This is not, I hasten to say, an argument for indifferentism. — RD]

#45 Comment By Erin Manning On May 26, 2016 @ 8:53 pm

Well, of course Protestants believe in Jesus Christ. There may even be Catholics who have left the Church for Protestantism while retaining or even growing their faith in Jesus Christ. Most that I have known, though, have any one or more of these three things in common: weak or non-existent Catholic catechesis, bad experiences with clergy or other lay Catholics, and a “draw” to Protestantism that was at least partly based on relationships (the most common being the wish to marry a Protestant, but other relationships include those of Protestant relatives or friends who convinced them to check out their friendly, welcoming churches).

It is hard, if not virtually impossible, for a well-catechized, habitually practicing Catholic to become a believing Protestant. I won’t say it never happens, but it’s not the most common path.

Again: the problem for Catholics is that we can only separate our faith in Christ from our obedience to the Church by “divorcing” Christ from His mystical Spouse. Not easy to do, and with ramifications that go deep.

#46 Comment By dominic1955 On May 26, 2016 @ 11:37 pm

I agree with Erin here. My view on this is basically, if somehow Catholicism could be proven “false” or I lost my faith in it, to me, Christianity in toto is false. Like the old joke goes about Spanish agnostics talking to Evangelical missionaries, if we don’t believe in the One True Church, why would we believe your little sect?

This is one thing that frustrates one of my Protestant friends to no end. To me, the Church is the very Mystical Body of Christ so in a way, Christ and the Church are one. As far as I’m concerned, you cannot have a true faith (aside from being invincibility ignorant) without the Catholic Church. They are inseparable to me. You can’t have a “relationship with Jesus” without the Church. This non-Catholic Jesus is a figment of their imaginations.

#47 Comment By Shannon On May 27, 2016 @ 5:55 am

A view from a very different place…

I am not, and have never been, a Christian. I was, until a few years ago, an agnostic/atheist/anti-theist.

I am now a Pagan. Specifically, I am a member of the Druid order Ar nDraiocht Fein. It is, by Pagan standards, a very liturgical tradition. So much so that the joke about us is that we’re the “high church Episco-Pagans.” We have a very structured ritual format, based in a defined cosmology. So much so that our adherence to what we call our “Core Order of Ritual” tends to give a lot of other Pagans the heebie-jeebies.

What I have learned from this is that having a structured ritual system and a common liturgy is not “empty repetition.” There is a depth of meaning within a system of repeated ritual praxis that cannot be captured in a more freewheeling, eclectic system. (Which should not be read to denigrate spiritual traditions that do things differently… different humans will respond to different things in different ways.)

But for those of us who resonate to this kind of “depth revealed by repetition,” nothing else speaks to our souls in quite the same way.

Ritual matters.

Liturgy matters.

If I could accept the metaphysical and theological claims of Christianity, which I cannot and have never been able to, I’m sure I’d be a high-church Episcopalian, a Catholic, or Orthodox.

In this post, you have beautifully described why.

Thank you.

–Shannon

#48 Comment By mrscracker On May 27, 2016 @ 10:55 am

Wow. Southern US Catholics actually got some good press in the UK:

“The Catholic Church in England has lost its convert-making touch. Here’s how to get it back
The place we need to look for instruction is the American South…

There are some places, many places, where Catholics are making converts. According to a recent article from the United States, numerous conversions are taking place in the American South…:

[17]

#49 Comment By DeclinetheEnjoy On May 27, 2016 @ 8:23 pm

No, I don’t think I’m immune. I haven’t been affected, but that’s more due to a lack of liturgical organizations that would target me in my local area. So the intellectual phase passes without the reinforcing habits and rituals that would solidify it. You need that ritual in community for it to happen. In my life, it didn’t-most people here have liturgies, secular and religious, that has nothing to do with a person like me.

I could see it happening-both the rationalist and furry subcultures would have been catnip for someone like me, and served as secular liturgies. Christianity didn’t have much chance-the liturgical faiths where i live don’t give a damn about reaching out to anyone, and while fundamentalist protestantism did, it just wasn’t enough unless you are a very specific kind of person.

Definitely think it could, but mostly accidents of life have spared me from it.