Friday, June 13, 2014

Bear Bolts for Orthodox Church

One time, when the cubs were small, the Bear grew very dissatisfied with the Church. He looked for a traditional Latin Mass nearby, but there wasn't one closer than two hours away. Like others, he felt the pull to Orthodoxy. It was an assured, masculine religion that had not watered down the faith or accommodated modern ideas in its worship.

So the Bear -- mistakenly, he hastens to add -- took his family out of the Church and into schism.

The Bear did not take this drastic step because of any moral failures in the Church. The Church is made up of people, and people are weak and sinful. It was Modernism that he was fleeing, as if from a house on fire.

Orthodoxy did not disappoint. We found a little church about forty minutes away. It was, as Prince Vladimir's emissaries reported, Heaven on earth. Every surface bore the image of a saint, or the Theotokos (God-bearer, or Our Lady). Every Sunday, the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom seemed to fly by, despite pushing two hours in length, almost all of it standing. (Pews are considered a decadent innovation by many Orthodox.)

We were very happy and active in the Orthodox Church for a number of years.

The Bear learned a lot about Orthodoxy. For one thing, Orthodoxy is a lovely mess. A particular church is inseparable from ethnic identity. One does not talk about the Orthodox Church as which Orthodox Church. A city might have a Russian Orthodox bishop, a Orthodox Church in America bishop, a Serbian bishop, a Greek bishop, and an Antiochian bishop. The Orthodox Church in America might not even be recognized by a given Orthodox body. While the people are friendly, there is the feeling that you are entering an ethnic club that you will never really be a part of.

There is a joke that an Orthodox man was shipwrecked on an island. His eventual rescuers were surprised to find he had build two churches, even though he was by himself. When asked about this, he replied, "That is church I go to," then made a sour face and spat as he pointed to the other church. "That is church I do not go to." Orthodox cannot even work with other Orthodox, so the Bear is not sanguine about an eventual reunion with Rome.

We were part of the Orthodox Church in America, which was wracked by financial and sexual scandals. So much for those who traded the Catholic Church for Orthodoxy on account of scandal. They simply traded one set of bad actors for another.

Another troubling aspect of Orthodoxy is the extreme nationalism. Not too long ago, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church was photographed blessing nuclear missiles. A nuclear attack submarine is named after a Russian saint. Orthodoxy is not so much a religion as an expression of national identity. The Catholic Church is at least truly "catholic" in a way the Orthodox Church can never be.

But all of these problems were far away, and our little church provided a safe haven for our children and us. While it was a mistake to leave the Catholic Church, it seemed justifiable at the time, and Orthodoxy is so close, and so beautiful, and so tempting it is easy to make light of the bedrock differences.

When I moved to a different city for work reasons, there was no Orthodox church close by, but there were many Catholic churches to chose from, including a national shrine of Our Lady. It sounds like the Bear just drifted back into the Church for the sake of convenience, but when he finally returned, it was on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, as he later found out. The Bear is satisfied that the entire move (the job turned out to be a dead end, rather than a sinecure for a weary old Bear) was providential. God brought the Bear to one of the most Catholic towns in the midwest and back into His Church.

The Bear has been active in the Catholic Church ever since, and his children have overcome their reservations, too. If there is a moral to the story, it is an old one: the grass looks greener on the other side. That and ubi Petrus ibi ecclesia. That is a bright line rule. The Bear may not be a happy attraction in this Roman circus, but it is the only show in town.

This is why the Bear is so adamant about staying in his "Novus Ordo" parish and refuses to call himself anything but a plain old Catholic. He has learned his lesson and nailed his foot to the floor in front of his favorite pew, where he hopes to die. For the Bear, it is enough to do what he can where he is at, and maintain an active spiritual and intellectual life beyond what little his parish offers. The Church still offers a lot for those willing to look. Association with a monastery as a Benedictine Oblate or some other sort of lay member is one way to tap into spiritual streams that still run deep, out of sight in the modern world.

The Bear does not think ill of those who prefer the traditional Latin Mass. Quite the contrary. And there is probably something of making a virtue of necessity in the Bear's attitude, as there is no Vetus Ordo Mass available. Traditionalist Catholics are fellow francs-tireur in the guerrilla war against Modernism. We think the same, but perhaps bears are better able to tolerate continual disappointment.

Whether you consider yourself a traditionalist or not, you can still wear a manly Orthodox beard, if you're a Catholic man. Perhaps this could be a secret sign of recognition for us: a full beard, not a neatly manscaped near-beard goatee.

On a serious note, the Bear strongly cautions anyone who is considering bolting for Orthodoxy. There is no denying the attractions, but it will not magically solve all of your problems. God has a plan for you right where you are at.


  1. Bear, I'm so glad that you decided to post again on your experience with Orthodoxy. Your account of it imparts strength, never more welcome. Am guessing that quite a few Catholics these days find themselves flirting with the idea of fleeing the debauched rumpus room that has nearly been made of the One, True Church, and seeking refuge in a sublimely-appointed Orthodox abode.

    But, it's perhaps a bit like the choice facing the protagonists of a certain science fiction movie [that I can't bring myself to name because to compare something like this with what happens in a movie is excruciatingly cheesy]. ANYWAY...I can imagine being cocooned in a beautiful and comforting illusion that differs from reality only by a twinkling gossamer thread, difficult to see and that much more difficult to grasp - but which, once glimpsed, exerts an irresistible attraction and, once grasped, exerts an irresistible pull because it emanates from the Real. Reality is the only medium that accommodates great deeds.

    At the end of any day, what can give comfort like the Real? It's where illusion's elevator definitively stops.

    (Hey does goat's milk soap dissolve cheese?)

  2. If fidelity to the One True Church ranks high on the ladder of goods in this world, the Orthodoxy, for all the truth and beauty it has retained, must be classed as a non-good, or an attractive evil. Orthodoxy has the allure of antiquity and the beauty of a grand art museum, but it is ultimately a museum piece, a display of what worship used to be long ago and far away. I hate to sound harsh, but it is true. There is something, dare I say, *undead* about it. Even where it is the official religion -- the Russian Orthodox Church used to be (and who knows about today?) riddled with spies -- it does not seem to be reaching people where they live. Russian moral life is horrible, although at least they have not succumbed to homophilia.

    I still pine for Orthodoxy sometimes, and always will. Fruit can be all the sweeter for being forbidden. Sometimes I will go into one of my famous bear rampages and threaten to go back to the Orthodox Church, but I know I never will, because of the reason you state. Whatever Orthodoxy offers, it can never offer the Church in its full real-ness, even if the real is often maddening and ugly and ever about to be swallowed up by outright apostasy. Somehow, it never is, though.

    As families lose their ethnic identifications, Orthodoxy will continue to decline and the beautiful little churches will, sadly, wink out of existence, although they will probably still survive in big cities. The little church we went to is undoubtedly doomed. The congregation is old. The occasional converts are fervent, but meet resistance from the old ethnic guard to any change. Orthodoxy needs to finesse the filioque controversy, finesse the Pope, and come back into some sort of union with the Church. But from their point of view, why would they want to take on all the baggage of Vatican II? Never going to happen. If it does at the top, Orthodoxy will see major splits.

    I wrote the article because I know what a temptation it is. It is not the way to go, however.

  3. I've made the journey to Eastern Catholicism, the best of Orthodoxy and Catholicism. One day I'll blog about it.

  4. You are fortunate. They celebrated the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom at St. Meinrad Archabbey last semester and it was a beautiful reminder that the Catholic Church embraces the East as well as he West. Unfortunately, I would have to mak the same two-hour drive to an Eastern Rite church as to a TLM. Just curious, is there TLM available or do you just have a preference for the Eastern liturgy?

    Orthodox are able to go to confession and take communion in a Catholic Church -- we are that close. However, Catholics cannot take communion at an Orthodox church, and Orthodox taking communion at a Catholic church if frowned upon by the Orthodox.

    For those who might not know, there are Eastern Rite bodies within the Catholic Church that have the same beautiful and timeless Divine Liturgy as the Orthodox, but they are 100% Catholic.

  5. Alas, Illinois' Eastern Rite Catholic churches seen to be concentrated in and around the Chicago area (not too surprising, I guess). There are various websites that offer directories of limited scope...I'm intrigued, and will continue to search.

    Quite some years ago now, approaching the offramp to Palmerton, PA, I was surprised to see golden onion domes decorating the sky. Closer investigation, as I recall, revealed not one but two Eastern Rite Catholic churches. It seems that only St, Vladimir Parish, affiliated with the Ukrainian Archdiocese of Philadelphia, is active now. I do wonder what has become of the other onion-domed building -- both were lovely.

  6. Isn't there a Ruthenian church in St. Louis?

  7. Yes! St. Louis Byzantine (Ruthenian) Catholic Church is how I find it listed. 8300 Morganford.

  8. And the website of the Archdiocese of St. Louis also lists St. Raymond's Cathedral [Maronite, according to the St. Raymond's site] and St. Mary's Assumption Ukrainian Catholic Church. It also links to an Eastern Rite Church website.

    Now, this is probably a stupid question, but: how did the Eastern Rite Catholic churches manage to escape the "Spirit of Vatican II" ?

  9. They were probably too small a group to bother with, and they probably would not have stood for it. The Eastern Rite Catholics pour a lot of their identity into their Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, Jane. They were like the Shire in Lord of the Rings: a small, out-of-the-way place that escaped the notice of Sauron's aggiornamento. (And as I write these lines I am up this morning uncharacteristically early for a Bear, and can hear Jane our rooster crowing the Sun up.)

  10. P.S. let us know if you decide to visit an Eastern Rite Divine Liturgy. I still think we ought to have a meet-and-great at the Gateway to the West one day, although I can think of one esteemed blogger whip doesn't like to mix his real life with his blogging life ;-)

  11. A St. Louis meet-and-greet is a splendid idea! It would be a challenge for me, though, between being a squeamish driver and much in demand in my household as a buffer between Protestant husband and 95-year-old atheist aunt :-D.

  12. Sounds like all the more reason for you to get out lol

  13. Too right, as our Australian brethren say :-) This is where I call upon the help of my dear St. Jeanne Francoise Fremiot de Chantal, who handled challenging domestic situations with admirable grace and forbearance.

  14. Bear, as educated as you are, please don't end sentences in a preposition, a pet peave of mine. May God bless you, Ian

    1. A lot of people believe this is a rule, but it isn't, so it is something the Bear dispenses with.


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