Wednesday, June 12, 2019

A Rose by Any Other Name...

Through the history of the Christian Church, the faithful have developed, and have been inspired by various kinds of devotions to God. 

Fasting, pilgrimages, bible study, silence, bodily mortification, prayer vigils, and many other practices, are kinds of devotion practiced in the history of the Church. No devotion, however, has been as influential to Christians as praying with beads or knots. 

Beginning with the earliest desert monastics, the practice of praying with knots or beads on a string spread through the Church with great devotion, mainly centered around the repeated use of the Jesus Prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." 

The point, of course, is not to have a repeated "mantra" to deaden the mind, but rather, to fill ones lips and, ultimately, heart with the name of Christ, and His glorious salvation of the world. 

The Eastern Church has maintained the practice of the "prayer rope," and the Jesus Prayer. The West, however, developed a devotion all its own: the Holy Rosary. 

The Rosary, unlike the Prayer Rope, is both a Christological and a Marian devotion. While most people who are familiar with the Rosary know that it centers on the recitation of the "Hail, Mary," what is less known to those who have never prayed it, the Rosary centers on the "mysteries." 

These mysteries are reflections upon 15 events in the life of Christ and the Mother of God. 

When we pray, for example, the Sorrowful Mysteries, we are meant to focus on the agony of Christ in the garden, the scourging of Christ, the crowning with thorns, Christ carrying His cross, and finally, His crucifixion and death. 

Many Orthodox Christians criticize the mysteries of the Rosary because they claim that to meditate on the Mysteries encourages the use of imagination in prayer. However, the intent is much more to focus theologically and devotionally upon what these events mean for us and for our salvation, as well as what they tell us about God, and His love for the world. 

So much more than simply creating mental pictures, the Rosary encourages us to contemplate the mysteries of the incarnation, the life, death, resurrection, and ascension, as well as the eschatological life of the believer, while asking the Mother of God to "pray for us, now and at the hour of our death." 

In other words, while praying the Rosary, we bring to mind the life of Christ, and ask His Mother to pray that these truths will be branded on our minds and hearts. 

A truly Orthodox devotion for the Christian who loves the Lord, His Mother, and desires to have the work of Christ always on our hearts, minds, and lips. 

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Anglo-Orthodox in the Eastern Church

When I decided to start writing this blog, it was, to a large degree, to get out my thoughts and express things that have been on my mind.

This is primarily because, as a western convert to Eastern Orthodoxy, these things often fill my thoughts.

In the coming weeks, I am going to be embarking upon a blog series which will be focused on Western Orthodox Saints going all the way back to the beginning of the Church. I'm doing this as an attempt to lay the groundwork for solid future discussions.

With this first actual post, however, I want to do something different, though.

I want to talk about something that really bothers me, and get it off my chest at the beginning.

I don't know if it is something that will resonate with other people, but I'm going to say it nevertheless.

Right off the bat, someone reading the title of this article would probably be a tad confused, and understandably so. In a discussion such as the one I intend to embark upon here, confusion can easily occur, so I believe that it is appropriate and necessary to make some remarks here at the outset concerning my meaning.

When I use the term “Anglo-Orthodox,” I do not mean that I am an Eastern-leaning Anglican. In my time in the Anglican Communion, which roughly ran from early 2006 to late 2011, I encountered many different types of Anglican devotion, practice, and theological persuasion, one as ridiculous and contradictory as the next. Many people are familiar with the Anglo-Catholic Movement (Oxford Movement), Charismatic Anglicans, Low-Churchmen, High-Churchmen, and Broad-Churchmen, etc… ad nauseam.

(As an aside, how a High Church, real-presence believing, Marian devotion practicing Anglo-Catholic, can share Communion at same Altar with a Low-Church, sacramental-symbolist Anglo-Pentecostal is simply beyond my ability to comprehend, but I digress.)

What might be interesting to some is that there are also quite a few Anglicans that identify as “Anglo-Orthodox.” There are many of those, and it’s really hard to take them seriously, to be quite honest. There is even a Society for Eastern Rite Anglicanism now, which is incredibly silly. It’s really an attempt on the part of “anything goes” Anglicanism to take upon itself something that certain individuals consider “neat,” and it doesn’t fit within the context of the culture of Anglicanism at all, which, as a whole and without exception is (and always has been) Western.

It is not my intent here to get off on an Anglican-bashing rabbit trail, nor to apply any of this mish-mash of modern Anglican stuff to myself. Even though it is precisely this stuff that began to turn me off from the Anglican Communion to begin with.

Rather, by using the phrase “Anglo-Orthodoxy,” and applying it to myself, I intend to mean simply that I am an Anglo (white male, of western European/British Isles descent), living and worshipping within the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church.

I am not Russian, Ukrainian, Romanian, Greek, or Arab (though I am frequently asked if I am Lebanese), or any other ethnicity which is commonly associated with an Orthodox Country/Culture.[1]

I am an Anglo (of Irish descent for the most part), and I’m very proud of that. I am extremely proud of my ancestral history, and I acknowledge with gratitude to God that at some point my ancestors were Western Orthodox Christians.

I see around me, though, many fellow converts to the Orthodox Faith, who in their severe zeal and “convertitis” have taken on a persona, if you will. 

They have left behind their identity as Western people and have embraced a sort of pseudo-ethnic identity that matches their new found parish home. Since I am a member of the Orthodox Church in America, a jurisdiction with historical ties to the Russian Church, this typically means, in my experience, that a convert becomes a Russophile.

To be completely honest, this has never been of interest to me in the slightest, and I don't understand the attraction. 

I don’t know if it is because I have always been very independent, if it is because I have never cared too much what other people thought of me, or if it is my natural inclination to be contrary. Whatever the case may be, though, the ethno-centric convertitis never really set in with me.

To be completely and totally honest and transparent here, I really never stopped thinking of myself as a Western Christian. That is, after all, what I am, no matter what Church body I may belong to.

No matter what I do, I cannot cease being what I am.

And if the truth be told, I shouldn’t have to. This is, after all, how God created me.

I was born in the West, of Western ancestry, in Western Culture, I speak a Western language, and I think, act, reason, and speak like a Westerner, for good or ill.

I could go live in an Eastern country for the rest of my life, and it would not change the fact that this is who I am.

Why is it, though, that for so many, entering the Orthodox Church means sacrificing our own ethnic identities at the door?

Further, why is it that so many Western Christians are required to leave their venerable and ancient Liturgical and spiritual traditions at the door and embrace something foreign?

It was pointed out to me recently that at the time the Russians and Ukrainians stopped worshipping the pagan gods and embraced Christianity in the period around AD 988, the British and Irish had already been Orthodox Christians for hundreds of years. The Isles already possessed their own glorious liturgical tradition which predated the Russian one by a very long time, and reflected the same liturgical tradition in the West which can still be seen in the Old Roman Rite. 

When we look at this under the microscope of history and especially liturgical life, (or the so-called unaltered liturgical purity that many Eastern Rite people claim), that same Russian Liturgical Tradition is probably the oldest and least tampered-with that we have in practice today in the Eastern Church. This really isn’t saying much, since it was “changed” (a loose term in Orthodoxy) again during the period of the Nikonian reforms. The changes in the Eastern tradition are subtle, but they are definitely there, there is no denying it.

We could spend several dozen posts going over Orthodox Liturgical History, but what I'm trying to get across, in brief, is that the Western Liturgical Tradition (Pre-Vatican II Roman, and to some degree the Anglican) actually reflects an older unbroken liturgical tradition than the current usage(s) of the Eastern Orthodox Church, whether we want to admit it or not.

Why is it that we have to relinquish our native liturgical rites and ethnic identity again?

Unfortunately, the reality is that among many recent converts to Orthodoxy there is a reaction against the Christian traditions from which they came. Largely, this is because of certain heresies which cropped up in the Western Church. 

I would never deny the reality of these theological problems, and, God-willing, we'll address them at some point. 

However, I think it is problematic to simply throw the baby out with the bathwater when becoming Orthodox. It isn't healthy or wise to simply toss aside who we are and embrace something that we're not. If we are Western, then let us be Western and Orthodox in everything that that implies. 

We should seriously ask why it is that, given the history of the Orthodox Faith, and its presence in Western lands up until the Great Schism (and after in England and Ireland), we would have to embrace Russian, Greek, or Arab norms in order to be Orthodox, when there is already a deeply rooted way of being Orthodox in our own heritage?

I think it is time for a renewal. Not some kind of ridiculous charismatic renewal, like the garbage the Catholics put on. I think it is time for an Orthodox renewal. A renewal of Orthodoxy.

That means that in order for us to shine as Orthodox, we must let Orthodoxy shine! And Orthodoxy has always worked with, and embraced the cultures in which the Church found Herself. She did not demand cultural conformity, but rather found ways to allow the culture to be a window through which the Faith could shine brightly. 

My own ancestral culture produced some of the greatest Saints of the Church, and a liturgical and monastic life which rivaled even the deserts of Egypt. My ancestors were Orthodox, every bit as Orthodox as my Russian, Greek, Arab, Romanian, etc... brothers and sisters. 

The renewal I speak of must be one that permits the narrow-minded culture wars in the Church to fall away, and open the mind of Orthodox Christians to the reality of a diverse Church. A Church in which Irish and Russian, French and Greek, African and Asian can co-exist with all the wonderfully varied cultural and liturgical variations that come with these groups. 

This is why I will always embrace my western roots, and will never abandon them. 

I identify with and embrace fully the theology of the Orthodox, because they (I should say “we” since I am, afterall, an Orthodox Priest) possess the True Faith. But Liturgically and culturally I will always identify and deeply love the Western traditions: the Roman, English, Celtic, Gallican, etc... 

I guess you could say that I am, in my heart of hearts, an ex-Anglican who has found his home in communion with the East. 

I am Anglo-Orthodox. 

And if you're reading, following, and agreeing with any of this, I can only assume that you are too. 

Glory be to Jesus Christ. 

Benedicat vos Omnipotens Deus, Pater, et Filius, et Spiritus Sanctus. Amen. 

[1] I shudder, though, to use this idea of “historically Orthodox” countries. When people use that phrase, it is being used in a very modern context, and only applies to countries which are currently majority Orthodox. We forget that Ireland is every bit as much a historically Orthodox Country as Russia.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Western Man, Eastern Church

I haven't blogged for a very long time, but I thought that that the time had come to revisit the blogosphere.

Why am I writing this blog? It's not that I believe that I have anything particularly interesting to say, or that I have insights to share with the world that haven't been said before.

Quite the contrary, actually. I firmly believe that I'm probably incapable of a really original thought.

So, if I don't have anything earth-shattering to offer, then why am I spending time writing this?

The Answer is pretty simple.

I am writing this because I love my culture, and that culture is western.

I am a western man, nothing that I can do can change this, nor would I want to change it.

I deeply love my ancestral ties to the British Isles, and to Ireland in particular.

By way of full disclosure, I am a priest of the Orthodox Church in America (Diocese of Eastern Pennsylvania), a husband and a father.

I am also a convert to the Orthodox Church from Western Christianity. Since my conversion, I have, on more occasions than I would like, encountered something incredibly strange to me.

In my exchanges with other converts, most of whom come from western backgrounds, I have experienced a backlash against anything western. It's a strange thing to see men and women turning from their western heritage toward an almost self-hating attitude, one in which they feel as though to be truly Orthodox they have to take upon themselves an ethnic identity that is not their own.

Whether that identity is Russian, Greek, Arab, or whatever, some converts insist on taking on some kind of persona.

The real purpose of this blog is to encourage, in love, my Orthodox brothers and sisters who are of western heritage.

I am a western person living and ministering within the context of the Eastern Church, and I honestly have never felt that this was a problem. There is tension, sure. A little tension, though, can be a good thing. A little friction sharpens the blade into a razor.

With this blog, I hope to openly discuss the joys and struggles of being a western person in the Eastern Church.

Here, I will talk about conversion, missions, our common Western Orthodox heritage and Saints, being Orthodox in the West, and a great deal more (and, yes, I will even talk about the Western Rite).

I'll share insights and stories from others who have converted to the Faith, and, hopefully, show what is and always was Right with Orthodoxy in the West.