Thursday, November 2, 2017

So, You Want to Convert to Orthodoxy? Part III of IV

"I Knew Not Whether I Was on Earth or in Heaven."

St. Vladimir
There is a famous story of the pagan Prince of Kiev, Vladimir (Bear is going on memory, so details may be wrong, but the story is just as good) who wished to have a single religion in his realm. So he sent emissaries far and wide to discover the true faith.

All came back disappointed but one. He had been sent to Constantinople, and had seen the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom in a beautiful temple. "I did not know if I was on earth or in Heaven," he told his Prince. And that was how Russia became Orthodox.

Imagine you are seeing the  Divine Liturgy in a beautiful Russian church with a chandelier overhead to represent the heavens, and the silent witness of countless icons all around. Everyone is standing, but they don't seem tired, even though the service goes on and on. 

Yes, there is repetition, but it seems to be building toward something. The music is beautiful, some written by great Russian composers, and very moving. It seems like an organic part of the liturgy, not three banal hymns stuck into the Mass. The Liturgy is sung, of course, and that part you can't understand is probably Church Slavonic.

Even the Epistle is a Big Production

When it is time to read the Epistle, a teenage girl does not amble up front to gabble through it nervously.  A man, possibly a tonsured reader dressed in a high-collared black cassock that makes him, as a personality, disappear, separates himself from the congregation. He lifts high the gold-covered book of Epistles and disappears behind the iconostasis through the right door to the strains of the stirring Trisagion Hymn - Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us...

Behind the iconostasis, in the altar, things are busy. In the small place, the priest is assisted by two altar boys in beautiful vestments. They're important. One holds the censer, which is used frequently throughout, and kisses the priest's hand whenever he gives it to him. The other is probably holding a cross. The priest finds time to bless the unworthy reader for the important task ahead.

The reader emerges from the left door of the iconostasis, still holding high the big book, takes his place in the middle of the church and chants. Orthodox chanting goes from tones (similar to the Catholic Church) to freestyle. Epistles are sometimes chanted in the Russian "from the grave" style. Bear has included a sample for flavor, but the true "from the grave" chant by half-steps are is sung by Russian basses who begin several octaves blower than Bear.

Bear does not provide this as an example of perfection, just his feeble effort. Nonetheless, the words are clear, and, if done right, it is spine-tingling. And this is "just" the epistle! (Bear also has a chanted version of Catholic Lauds on Soundcould.)

By the end, when the Orthodox are singing the triumphant "We have seen the true light..." a non-Orthodox visitor is emotionally overloaded. This is how it's supposed to be! he thinks. He may feel like he has come home at last. This seems to be a common reaction among Orthodox converts.

Catholic vs Orthodox Worship

Of course, it's "right." This is human beings taking the worship of God seriously and bringing Him their very best. This is "vertical worship," not the "horizontal" hand-holding, hand-shaking, hand-wringing, banal, Protestantized Mass of, by and for humans. The Bear cannot help but sit there during Mass and think, "Whatever this is, it was designed by people who didn't know a thing about ritual and psychology, let alone theology. Or simply wanted to destroy it."

It is simply awful. The Bear tells himself if the Angel of the Mass (if anyone even believes in that, anymore) can stand it, and Jesus can come, then the Bear ought to be able to sit through a bad amateur theater act for thirty minutes.

There are no stained glass windows. They are clear so that, don't you see, they "let the world in." 

If any actual worship happens, it is purely by accident, or grace. It's nearly impossible when you arrive twenty minutes early to prepare and the old folks are chit-chatting away. The first "official act" of the Mass is the Reading of the Bulletin by some teenager, followed by the hokey "Greet your Neighbors" ritual Bear can't seem to find in his missal.

Then the priest processes up the aisle to some painfully dated song about, why, what do you know, us. Our traveling, our gathering, our blathering, if not our frolicking with the "Lord of the Dance," who might be Jesus or a Wiccan evocation of Pan. Bear is just not sure.

Then there are a few jokes by Father to "warm up the crowd." The homily is going to be off the cuff, and about whatever he did the previous week, but you can bet Bear is going to get beat over the head with "the Three Great Abrahamic Religions" stick at some point, and before Father winds down, Bear is going to hear about the last and next great ecumenical events with whomever.

In fact, after some homily about how wonderful the Lutherans are (never the Baptists, or Evangelicals for some reason) Bear wonders why the Hell he's here, instead of over at the wonderful Lutheran service! At least they're Lutherans acting like Lutherans, not Catholics acting like Lutherans. A little honesty goes a long way with Bears.

Contrast that to an Orthodox service and a homily more like; "Demons go into pigs and jump off cliff. What does this mean? Demons are real and you must be careful or go to Hell." In other words, about the gospel, and taking the Christian faith seriously.

Educated Catholics would sneer at that "pericope," like they sneer at the rest of the unreliable collection of folk tales we once thought was somehow "inspired by the Holy Spirit."

Ah, the Catholic Church. No longer disdainfully unconcerned with the age, nor even running up fifteen minutes late, out of breath, but complacently bringing up the rear holding onto 19th century Protestant scholarship long after many Protestants have moved on. And quickly making its peace with and creating a new role in a world that has never been more thoroughly occupied by the Enemy.

A Near Occasion of Sin

It is difficult for the Bear to write about these things. It stirs memories of some of the most satisfying periods of his life. No one knows better than the Bear all the reasons to convert from Catholicism to Orthodoxy. He wishes he were Orthodox every day. He spiritually aches for it.

The Bear wants to go back to Orthodoxy. There is an Antiochian church, mainly converts, just up the road, and his old Russian parish 20 minutes away.

Ah, but there were many gray heads there when Bear left southern Illinois and struck out with only his faithful Yorkie, Buster, as companion. He wonders what will happen when the old Russians all die off. Will there be enough converts to keep the lights on? The Antiochian church in the bigger university town on the outskirts of the Woodlands is the logical future of Orthodoxy in southern Illinois, but it will never be the same.

Small ethnic parishes, tucked away secretly here and there, for all their maddening charm, are not going to survive. It is very sad to imagine the beautiful little temple where the Bear reared his children as another abandoned ghost, its beautiful iconostasis and icons slowly decaying, stained glass windows broken by vandals.

The Bear will always be part Orthodox. But next time, he'll tell you why he's Catholic.


  1. I've been attending an Orthodox Church in America parish. It seems to be growing. They've even opened a mission in my hometown of Columbus, Ga. In the Seattle area there seems to be every flavor of Orthodox.
    I'm stuck between the banal protestantized Novus Ordo down the street and the independent sedevacantist chapel which insists women never wear pants and avoid natural family planning until their ovaries rot and fall out. I don't know where to go anymore. I don't want to nail my paw to the floor of a place my whole body and soul doesn't want to be.

    My son has undergone a huge transformation and now attends a non-denominational church where a giant screen leads them in singing refrains over and over again along with a fairly tight praise band before a blue jeaned guy gives a nice sermon.

    Seattle kim

    1. My own take is that in the usual Catholic vs. Protestant bashing that both sides engage in, each is overlooking the sophistication of the best in the other. If you think Evangelicals are just hand-waving goofballs, pick up a copy of Norman Geisler's Systematic Theology (if you can lift it) and work your way through quotes from St. Thomas Aquinas and devastating critiques of Calvinism. These are not all stupid big-hair mouth-breathers reading Joyce Meyer and thinking they've encountered something profound.

      Both sides place too much reliance on out-of-context proof texts instead of reading the Bible in its own context.

      The Catholic Church needs to get real and either connect the dots from Trent to today or admit its theology is bogus. The Bear is super tired of a constant stream of new ideas that appear out of nowhere, like weird subatomic particles. If an institution cannot even be honest, it gets really hard to think of it as legitimate.

      There are too many non-negotiables to allow either side to really combine with the other barring giving up its core identity. Ecumenism is, then, either self-congratulatory PR or trading truth for influence and worldly prestige.

      It often feels like the Catholic Church is the best choice out of a weak field. And, it may be. We'll see when the Bear tries to explain why he is Catholic and not Orthodox.

    2. Have you ever discussed the above with Fr.? It is all causing your soul such would be good for his soul to hear the anguish. As scripture says, even the hardest hearted judge will answer the widow's pleas, even if just to get her to go away.

      In Owl's interactions with the Orthodox, there has never been a kind word said about NFP. Where OWL lives, NFP means Natural Family Prevention, more often than not. These two statements are not related to each other.

      Part of the problem is that there really is complete confusion on what exactly it is that Christians do on Sunday. That is very much playing itself out in your own life. All of our lives actually. Owl wonders what priests think they do on Sunday. Owl thinks we should all ask our local priests and compare notes.

    3. The new stream of ideas comes from how theology is taught at the academic level now days. EVERYTHING is geared towards "new ideas" not passing on what has been taught correctly. Remember, to get a PhD you need to have a "new idea".

      Owl could go on at length.

      You cannot get from Trent to today because Vatican II and the new Catechism contain elements pulled from Eastern Catholicism, which is not Trent in thought or approach to the Christian life.

      There is also the issue that the Western Church and the Magisterium of the Universal Church has largely abandoned NeoThomism as the underlying philosophical framework.

  2. I don't care how sophisticated a protestant's argument may sound, they're still heretics. Sure you can learn from N.T. Wright, but I guarantee it's been covered before without the heresy. Eastern Orthodox? They're in schism. Norvus Ordo nuChurch? It's the crowning achievment of Freemasonry, and ecumenism is from the pitts of hell.

    Go Traditional Catholic, or go home. Extra ecclesiam nulla salus.

    1. You must be new. Any reason you don't want to identify yourself in some way? It's the rule. Its simplicity should appeal to you. Next time, you get moderated.

    2. My apologies, but no need to get snarky about it.


    3. It was Bearishly pointed, not snarky. But, if you are going to be a Landshark, you officially have an ecological niche in the Woodlands. And the point was not about "learning something" and I don't know who N.T. Wright is. The point is that things are more complicated than many people are comfortable with and people tend to give fellow Christians less credit than they often deserve.

    4. Landshark I was going to agree with you. We went TLM, and find it an oasis, even though we miss our old NO parish community. We expect however, that at some point it too will disappear. Those men in Rome are fretting right this moment that some of us are enjoying ourselves at the TLM.

  3. Seattle Kim, do what I did and move. I left Bremerton for North Idaho and the FSSP. One of the best things I've ever done. Or, if you still live in the Seattle area, there are two FSSP options, St. Joseph in Tacoma and North American Martyrs in Ballard.

  4. I don't trust the validity of PaulVI's new consecration and ordination rites. I think they are doubtfulmeaning most Novus Ordo priests have questionable valid orders. The bishop consecration rite was especially mangled and if you don't have valid bishops , you don't have valid priests. The Orthodox haven't changed their rites so I would trust them to confect a valid Eucharist over an FSSP priest.

    Seattle kim

    1. Use Apostolicae Curae -- On the Nullity of Anglican Orders as a baseline for eliminating your doubt. Owl hates doubt. Owl hates Kierkegaard. Owl prefers Psalm 100:3.

      Let us know what you find.

    2. @Seattle kim: "I don't trust the validity of Paul VI's new consecration and ordination rites." THIS is what is so wrong and so harmful with the pre-VII mentality. So, Seattle Kim, I take it that all the Eucharistic miracles that have occurred post-VII, with the hosts having been consecrated by post-VII-ordained priests, are all baloney? Are you calling God a liar?

    3. Without getting into the merits of validity of orders, the Bear wishes the Church would subject Eucharistic miracles to the same exacting standards of the Shroud of Turin investigation. And even mainstream Catholic media is still reporting falsehoods like the Lanciano miracle was confirmed by DNA. (The last time it was made available for scientific testing DNA testing did not even exist.) The Polish miracle report merely said “human DNA” - from a host that has indisputably been handled by an unknown number of persons. Why not make the lab reports available? The Argentinian miracle was handed over to a professional miracle hunter who sells his books at presentations where he makes dramatic, but dubious, claims.

      The point is not to say these miracles are frauds. The point is IF the Church is going to “do science” on these miracles, it should respect basic guarantees of reliability and transparency. The very professional way the Church handled scientific inquiries into the Shroud of Turin shows it knows how to do it right. The problem arises when local authorities do slipshod work using highly questionable methods.

      The Bear did a couple of pieces on this that lays all the evidence and arguments out. Again, these may very well be miracles. But the scientific claims suffer greatly in comparison with the Shroud inquiry. That does not strengthen the Bear’s faith. In fact, it has the opposite effect. Bear wishes these miracles would remain a matter of faith unless they are going to be investigated credibly with lab data made available along with conclusions.Without being disrespectful, my hat has “human DNA” on it in testable quantities.

      Now, as to “validity of orders,” the Bear takes a pragmatic approach. Ultimately the legitimacy, the “power,” if you will, comes from who? Man or God? If orders are not valid, and the Catholic Church has no valid priesthood, it is because men have not followed the rules set down by men who came before them, if Bear understands the argument, and will even go further to say that those earlier men were inspired by God, and whatever changes that were introduced were not.

      What separates Bears from those who question things like this is that Bear cannot bring himself to believe that God would countenance a false Church with empty sacraments for entire generations of good-faith, trusting Catholics. Sure, the Church has problems, and, sure, during the End Times things are going to get dicey. But to believe God is defeated by the particulars of some ordination ceremony performed with the correct intention according to the official practice of the Church boggles the 450 gm brain of the Bear. God is probably capable and willing to make up for the changes and ensure a valid priesthood.

    4. Once you decide the entire Catholic Church has become a gigantic fraud that God has allowed to continue without correction to the damnation of countless millions of souls, then the hunt for “the real Church” begins.” Maybe it’s Orthodoxy. Maybe it’s the SSPX. Maybe it’s a sedevacantist group. Maybe it is outside of the sacramental system altogether. After all, if the Church is wrong now, why suppose it was not wrong before? So maybe the non-denominational church up the road is better.

      But, once you leave, you may find there is no place that you agree with 100%. You leave the Church on account of a footnote in AL and some rhetoric about divorce, and go to Orthodoxy, which allows multiple divorces.

      In the end, we must all place our trust somewhere. The Bear raises his eyes and places his trust in God. If he is saved, he is saved by God. If he is damned, he is damned by God. If he is damned by God because he trusted the Church God established, but turned out to be a gigantic fraud, then Bear will feel like he might have been a hard core Calvinist, because no matter what he did, it didn’t matter. Worse, at least the Calvinist had a theology based on God’s sovereign will. Bear will be in Hell because God is a cosmic practical joker and Bear did not figure out the puzzle of where He had hidden the “real Church,” which might be anywhere.

      Funny. Not all Catholics who deny the legitimacy of the Church agree on where the “real Church” is. That means most of them have picked Door Number Two, which leads only to Hell, because the real Church was hidden behind Door Number Three.

      Oh, well.

      If you ask for a fish from the Fisherman, you may get a spoiled fish these days. But it won’t be a scorpion. Scorpions are plentiful in the desert one finds oneself in while looking for the mirage of the “real Church.”

  5. "Once you decide the entire Catholic Church has become a gigantic fraud that God has allowed to continue without correction to the damnation of countless millions of souls"

    Why would I ever believe that? That belief is why in part I left the sedevacantist group. It was extra ecclesiam nulla on steroids.

    I'm praying and reading but making no commitments any time soon. The non-denom church has helped my son tremendously so I visit there with him occasionally. I sometimes go to a Byz rite Catholic Church too.

    Seattle kim

    1. The comments may have looked like they were directed toward you, Kim, but they were not. Probably a preview of an upcoming article. I think EENS is part and parcel of many of the more traditionalist Catholics who post around the blogs. And it is difficult to argue it was never Church dogma.

      FWIW, Bear has concluded there is little sense to be made of any of it and yer pays yer money and yer takes yer chances. No one has superior historical bona fides than the Catholic Church. The Bear does not believe his own PR and Bears are suspicious of all institutional narratives. You may have noticed that when it comes to these things, the Woodlands is welcome to all creatures of good will and the Bear does not advocate for any particular solution, other than a Bearish stubbornness, and not even that anymore. Even so, if he has to be some damn thing, he will be Catholic. That’s what was on his dog tags and he will probably drop dead of a stroke in an ugly modern Catholic church at a Mass that Wiccans could have designed better if they understood what it was about when Father says “Three Great Abrahamic Freaking Religions” one too many times.

      Bear does not care if Kim is a sedevacantist or a SSPX or Novus Ordo or Lutheran. on non-denominational. He still loves her all the same and is not here to criticize anyone’s choice in strange times. Does that make him a heretic? An Indifferentist? He personally retains a grudging preference for the Catholic Church and will share his reasons. But Bear freely admits he would not pass the smell test for any of the super-Catholics out there. This has never been St. Corbinian’s blog. It has always been his pony-thrill-killing Bear’s blog. His opinions are his own, and he knows the difference between those he knows he’s right about and those he holds much less certainly.

      But he can say one thing.

      The Catholic blogosphere is a Heironymous Bosch painting and we’re all dancing to the Devil’s tune, with the Bear leading the parade on his bicycle. If we wrote the precious name of Jesus as often as we did Francis, the world might be a different place.

      Bear is disgusted with himself. He thinks Francis is unwise if not demented. But, somehow, Bear does not plan on getting divorced and emailing Cherry Blossom Brides for a May-November wedding. Scripture and tradition are pretty clear about this, no matter what any pope says. Good Christians will think long and hard about it, no matter what any pope says. Other Christians will get divorced and remarried regardless.

      Bear could not give a what-he-does-in-the-woods about tedious arguments anymore. Francis is the Pope and Trump is the President and Bear just wishes everyone would get the what-bunnies-do-to-make-little-bunnies over it. If you are saved by the Council of Trent or Ecumenism or Faith or Paul or Apollos or Francis or all the Piuses pit together, great.

      Bear figures if he is saved, he will be saved by Jesus - somehow - or not at all.

      Catholics are not out of their minds. In fact, they spend far too much time there worrying about crap they have zero control over and God can fix when He wants to. He might even use some blogger as a new prophet. Maybe some well-known Blogger of Absolute Certainty is writing exactly what the Holy Spirit wants everyone to know this very minute.

      Bear doubts that. Bear knows it sure as Hell isn’t Bear. But maybe, if we can have Crunchy Cons, we can have Cranky Catholics. Just fed-up, pissed-off, suspicious of the PR, embarrassed to be associated with the clowns in high office, but hanging in there, fixing our eyes on the Eternal Christ for the instant we have in this world, offering someone encouragement as a mortification when we want our little thrill from the latest scandal from our favorite blog.

      Screw it.

      Things are going to be different from now on. Bear is Bear and can write damned haikus here every day if he wants. If nobody wants to read SCB, fine. The Church wiill probably survive with one less bitchy little know-it-all.

    2. You put a lot of pressure on yourself. You're conscientious, and you write a heck of a good blog. You make intelligent and humorous commentary, and you're just darn likeable, as is your entire menagerie and family. We're all feeling it at different moments, blast those apostates in Rome.
      Jesus will help us, He will not leave us abandoned, although it may feel like it at times. If He returns tomorrow, if the clouds part and Gabriel blows his horn, we won't need this Church any more anyway. There will be no use for it. Off to the Church Triumphant we will go! Until that moment, onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war.

  6. I forgot to add this. Until August, I was attending a sedevacantist chapel with very strict guidelines for modesty of dress.

    In September I visited the Vatican and got the shock of my life. It was freakin full of naked male art in both statues and paintings. There was even a painting of God's buttocks--seriously! Our tour guide was happy to point it out.

    Why should I trust the Roman Catholic when the mothership looks like a super fancy gay nightclub?

    Seattle kim

    1. The Sistine Chapel was a scandal when it was first painted. Now, Bear draws a distinction between artistic nudes and pornography, but art has been a great excuse for softcore porn - Victorian master Waterhouse’s underage nymphs to topless 14-year-old-girls tossing rose petals in the original silent Ben-Hur (and nudity/bondage in other early Biblical epics). There was a reason for the Hayes Code.

      The Catholic Church is Exhibit A for iconoclasts. One appreciates the philosophy behind icons when looking at Great Catholic Art. Bear was creeped out by Robert Barron before it was cool when he was way too interested in the erection depicted in a certain painting he spent much time on during his Catholic Cosmos program with your host, Fr. Carl Sagan.

      On the other hand, styles change and art is art for the most part, and the West does have a cultural patrimony deserving of preservation. And the Vatican has a great collection of art from classical times on.

    2. P.S. Bear thinks the linked article is B.S. “Discovering Gay” is a cottage industry, and it is The Guardian. The author no doubt believes the thorn in the flesh of St. Paul was his homosexual urges, too.

  7. There's even a gay art tour of the Vatican now.

    I think gay art flourishes there after the priestly celibacy laws went into effect.

    I haven't noticed what I would call homo art in Orthodox Church art, but I could be wrong. Investigating now.

    Seattle kim

    1. The answer is no. Kim, seriously. This is some stupid gay blog reporting some unofficial gay art tour of the Vatican where somebody leads homos around pretending run-of-the-mill paintings and sculptures of nude men are somehow gay. What, you just learned Western art is full of nudes from the classical ideal on? So, I guess Reubens' big rosy naked ladies means Reubens was a lesbian?

      Im all charity, I promise you that you have better things to do with your time than reading nonsensical gay propaganda about the Church. You can read a book explaining all about how Abraham Lincoln was gay, too. There is probably not a historical figure of any significance that someone pushing an agenda has not claimed is gay on the flimsiest of evidence.

      Oscar Wilde. He was gay.

      CNN's Anderson Cooper is gay.

      Oh, and Kevin Spacey. He's gay too. And a sexual predator, but, after all, he's gay, or so he seemed to say.

      Sir Ian McKellan (Gandalf) and Sir Elton John are both gay. Gay and English go together like tea and crumpets.

      And, a lot of lists of "most famous gay men" written by gay men say Abraham Lincoln was gay, too.

  8. That no popes bothered to correct the soft core gay male porn adorning the Vatican (save the one pope who had some paltry fig leafs placed over statue wieners) is just proof to me that the whole pope thing is a crock. Vicar of Christ on earth--my arse. Sorry--my Vatican visit was the nail in the coffin of my Catholic faith.

    Seattle kim

  9. Your logic is (a) the Catholic Church is full of gay art; (b) a Real Church would not have permitted this; (c) therefore the Catholic Church is not the Real Church.

    Bear visited the Vatican. He had a wonderful time, even dragging twins all around Rome in a double stroller. a babe in arms, and an 8 year-old. Bear thought the Vatican museums were super and St. Peter's was breathtaking. He does not remember a single piece of art that made me think, "damn, that's as queer as a football bat." Not one.

    Of course, that was before the Gay Explosion, when everyone and everything had to be gay.

    Bears have gaydar thousands of times more sensitive than humans have.

    But, since you have bought into the "Vatican full of gay art" fallacy, then your reasoning will never be sound. For God's sake, if you're done with the Church, please find many other far better reasons than something this ridiculous.

    The Church and the West are inseparable. Western art is full of nudes. It has nothing to do with being gay any more than all the nude females have to do with being erotic. As a former institution of the West, the Church is naturally going to reflect art trends through its long history, right down the utter CRAP called art today.

    We've spent enough time on imaginary gay Vatican art. You have much more interesting things to contribute.

  10. Once again, we've spent all the time we're going to spend on the Vatican gay art subject. As in Bear is throwing all further comments in the darkest pits of moderation.


Moderation is On.

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