Below, a really good reflection from Orthodox priest Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick, on what to do when heartbroken Catholics show up at an Orthodox church door. Excerpt:
It will be easy for those of us in other churches to suggest to heartbroken Catholics that they ought to come to our churches instead. But I have three thoughts on that score:
- I believe that it would be both crass and cruel to exploit the scandal to entice Catholics to join our churches. Yes, I believe that everyone should be an Orthodox Christian, but I don’t believe that that is the right way to bring people into the fold, because it is a kind of deception. But I am sure that some are going to come on their own.
- We should not pretend that we are immune from these sins. At the same time, we should take what is happening in the RCC as a warning to be extremely vigilant in our own communities.
- If any former Roman Catholic wishes to become part of our churches, we ought to be sure that they will as time unfolds come fully to accept our own teachings and practices and not be offered merely a safe haven for those whose hearts are not truly with us.
If someone comes to our doors and asks to join our church — with whatever motivation that got them there — we cannot turn them away. But we can and must shepherd them just as we would anyone who wishes to become part of our community, assuring their full integration into church teaching and life. That will ultimately mean coming to believe and practice things differently from their former church.
We have to avoid the twin temptations of either 1) welcoming them without assuring that they truly are becoming part of our community in every way or 2) effectively turning them away because their broken hearts are not the “right” motivation that got them to our doors.
This strikes me as wise and kind. I say that as someone who was that heartbroken Catholic in 2005. “Heartbroken” scarcely begins to describe it. Shattered into a million pieces is more like it. You can’t imagine how hard it was for my wife and me to cross the threshold of St. Seraphim Orthodox Cathedral in Dallas for the first time. We felt horrible, but we were so broken and desperate. As I’m sitting here writing this, I can feel my chest tighten at the very thought of those days.
In my recollection, nobody at St. Seraphim treated us like prizes (“Ah ha! We’ve won some Catholics to our side!”), or put the hard sell on us to become Orthodox, or put any sell on us at all. They just loved us, and let us find our way. They answered questions, showed us which books to read if we wanted more, things like that. In retrospect, the Orthodox tradition of coffee hour after Divine Liturgy was especially moving to us. We had never had anything like that in a Catholic parish, where the usual thing was to leave as soon as mass was over. I remember walking out of our first coffee hour, and my wife, raised Southern Baptist, saying to me, “Now that’s havin’ church.”
Yes, we really loved the reverent, beautiful liturgy, and the teachings of the Orthodox Church, but looking back, it was probably the coffee hours that were the biggest factors in helping us to decide to convert. We came to St. Seraphim like the spiritual walking wounded, and people simply showed us warmth and kindness, with no love-bombing or any other kind of agenda. We needed that more than we needed anything else back then.
As bruised and as banged up as we were, if anybody had approached me in those early weeks to be triumphalist about Orthodoxy over Catholicism, I might have walked out and never come back. Come to think of it, at one point there was someone young — I can’t remember who it was, but I recall this — who learned after a few Sundays that there were a couple of Catholics coming to the liturgy, and who approached me to welcome me, and to congratulate me on getting out of that Roman mess. It upset me, but some others at the cathedral told me to brush it off, that the man was an ex-Catholic who had had a bad experience, and that I shouldn’t take his attitude as normative. They were right.
If you attend an Orthodox parish, and you have Catholic newcomers show up in these next weeks or months, please be humble and gentle. I promise you they are hurting. Don’t love-bomb them, and don’t hit them with apologetic arguments. Just do what you always do, and let the beauty of the liturgy, and the sweetness of the fellowship, speak for you all.
(If you want to know what Fr. Damick looks like and sounds like, check this out.)