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.
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