Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Orthodoxy and Holy Stubbornness

The Bear's apostolate of holy stubbornness originates in his experience. Many years ago, he finally got fed up with the lame liturgies and phony homilies. There was no Traditional Latin Mass available (there still isn't for most, a fact many Traditionalists seem to be oblivious of). So the Bear visited an Orthodox Church.

This was it. The little church was crammed with icons and oil lamps and candles twinkled invitingly in the prayerful gloom. The liturgy of St. John Chrysostom was clearly superior to anything the Bear had ever encountered. He was transported to Heaven. Their faith was simple and as hard as rock. Here is the ancient faith, the Bear thought. This was the safe harbor, a refuge from errors, a place to rear children without them being exposed to Modernism.

It was also a masculine church, as evidenced by the beards all the men wore. That was appealing after the feminized Catholic culture of today.

The Bear retains fond memories of Orthodoxy. But beneath the attractive surface there were cracks in the foundation.

First of all, Orthodoxy is not only a religion, but an expression of ethnicity. You had to play at being Russian to fit in. Indeed, the very idea that someone who was not of Russian descent would wish to join struck the nice Orthodox folks as odd. When you see the Russian patriarch blessing the nuclear missiles that are pointed at you, it seems very odd.

Second, a beautiful liturgy is no protection against mismanagement. During the Bear's sojourn in Orthodoxy the Orthodox Church in America (which was considered a rogue body, and not even recognized by other Orthodox churches) was wracked with scandal and cover-ups, involving both financial and sexual misdeeds. 

But most importantly, Orthodoxy is not the True Church. Its beauty is that of the museum, cut off from the wild, weed-choked yet living Church of Peter.

When we came back to the Church (after one false start) everything was so different. Instead of a small, but enthusiastic choir singing beautiful pieces a cappella, there was a piano directly behind the altar, and sometimes a harp. The choir was up front next to the sanctuary, facing the people like performers. The music seemed more suited to Disney musicals than worship.

No doubt the average Catholic church could learn a thing or two from the Orthodox. Yet, after awhile, we grew used to it all. Sure, there was much to criticize, but we didn't, for the most part.

Then the Bear moved away for work, he found himself in a place that was very Catholic. There were many parishes to choose from. With the lack of subtlety typical of Bears, he looked up the closest Catholic church to his apartment, and that's where he went. No shopping. Now that he's back home, we go as a family to the same church the Bear and his wife were married at, and our 25 year old former Army paratrooper son goes with us.

And this is how the Bear discovered the virtue of Holy Stubbornness and the motto: "nail your foot to the floor in front of your favorite pew and die there." It has the virtue of being very easy: you just go to Mass (which you must anyway) at the church closest to your bed. It is an exercise in humility, because you are not insisting on your will. It is an opportunity to be salt and light (although you have to be clever and quiet, lest you be slapped down prematurely).

Finally, if anyone is considering Orthodoxy as an alternative, the Bear acknowledges its appeal. (Just writing this has awakened fond memories and even a bit of a pull back. The Bear will perhaps always be something of a Cathodox.) But please, don't go into schism. Also, there are things about Orthodoxy you probably don't know, and won't like. Don't cut yourself off from the living Church for a museum display. 


  1. What a beautifully written blog post. It is true that there is an unmistakable aesthetic appeal to the Orthodox Church. Even in the American Orthodox Churches, small though they may be, there is a distinct clinging to one's ethnic heritage displayed in the gold and stained glass, a refusal to conform to the modern and streamlined appearance of most American churches of other faiths.

    Perhaps if the Catholic church could learn from such stubbornness then bears wouldn't be tempted to explore these very different and alien structures. Who could blame the bear, however? Many animals are attracted to bright lights, shiny objects and strange smells, such as the Eastern European incense often wafting from these onion domed buildings.

    The bear came home, however, and that is where he will stay. In the end, for his faith, that is all that matters.

    Perhaps a spin off story of "The Bear Visits his Russian Cousin" would be an entertaining and educational narrative in the future.

    Keep writing. :)

    1. The Bear has bad memories of a certain circus in Kiev, sometime in the 1600s. He eventually escaped and made his way to the more civilized West. The Bear considers himself a Bavarian Bear and still maintains sporadic contact with a few remaining kin there, such as the Bavarian Bible Bear, and Herr Doktor Bear, who is an authority on everything (or so he thinks). They live in hiding because of the assassination of Bruno.


  2. Got it. Good points. However, according to the Vatican (NOT current Papacy, btw) the Orthodox Churchs are Churches, with valid sacraments, all seven! Yes, the are schismatic, and I wouldn't go near them, but it's not like they're Kevin Copeland!

    1. Yep, the Church considered Orthodoxy a Real Church. In fact, Orthodox are considered close enough that they can take communion in Catholic churches if need be, and Catholics can take communion in their churches. (Orthodox nix both ideas, however, so I wouldn't try it if I were you.) The Orthodox also like to remain fuzzy on the number of sacraments, for some reason. As far as the Bear can tell, the current Pope makes no practical distinction between the Orthodox and Kenneth "Name It and Claim It" Copeland. As far as the danger to Catholics, the Bear suspects few readers of his blog are likely to go over to Kenneth Copeland, but would not be surprised if one or two had gazed longingly eastward on a bad day.

  3. I should have mentioned that it will have been 38 years ago when we were married, this October. Our family tends to marry young, or at least we did, and our daughter, although the Bear suspects he is more likely to see the twins ordained instead of married (which would be fine by him). They all know the deal: 16 grandchildren, and we don't care how that gets distributed among them. Fair is fair.

  4. Right enough, especially on Copeland.


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