Glory to God for All Things

The Crisis of Religion

The term “sacramental” means here that the basic and primordial intuition which not only expresses itself in worship, but of which the entire worship is indeed the “phenomenon” – both effect and experience – is that the world, be it in its totality as cosmos, or in its life and becoming as time and history, is an epiphany of God, a means of His revelation, presence, and power. In other words, it not only “posits” the idea of God as a rationally acceptable cause of its existence, but truly “speaks” of Him and is in itself an essential means both of knowledge of God and communion with Him, and to be so is its true nature and its ultimate destiny. But then worship is truly  an essential act, and man an essentially worshipping being, for it is only in worship that man has the source and the possibility of that knowledge which is communion, and of that communion which fulfills itself as true knowledge: knowledge of God and therefore knowledge of the world – communion with God and therefore communion with all that exists. Thus the very notion of worship is based on an intuition and experience of the world as an “epiphany” of God, thus the world – in worship – is revealed in its true nature and vocation as “sacrament.”

Fr. Alexander Schmemann in For the Life of the World

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Fr. Alexander’s argument may be somewhat difficult for my readers to follow – but his point is perhaps among the most central in our day and time. The quote comes from a lecture on “Worship in a Secular Age,” given in 1971, and published as part of his marvelous volume, For the Life of the World. The heart of his argument is the utter denial of secularism as a proper perception of the world. It is Schmemann who offers the insight that secularism is not the denial of God’s existence, but merely the separation of God’s existence from the world as we know and experience it. It is the division of the world into “real” and “spiritual.”

I have used the imagery of a one-storey versus a two-storey universe as a means of getting at the same point. When creation is removed from God and understood to exist and to have meaning as a thing in itself – then the world begins to lose meaning and to collapse upon itself as the product of chance and accident. Humanity collapses into the same randomness and absurdity.

Fr. Schmemann spoke about human beings as primarily understood and constituted as worshipping beings. In this, we are the priests of creation: we offer to God what has been given to us and within the life of worship know God and the truth of His creation as communion.

The “crisis of religion” in our modern period has been the utterly dominant success of the secular model. A wide variety of ideas and events contributed to this rise of secularism – but the divorce of God from our daily lives is the result. In our modern world, God is not seen in His Epiphany within and through creation – but primarily in and through the ideas and beliefs of those who accept His existence.

Thus believer and non-believer experience the world in much the same manner. It is the common arena of humanity whose differentiation is defined by choices and allegiances. A quiet peace can be created in such an arrangement. So long as there is freedom of “thought,” then the faith of the believer is considered safe. However, if thought and belief alone establish the religious character of things – then nothing is holy. At best, something can be “considered” holy by some. Whether such considerations are respected is solely part of our social compact.

The great scandal of Christianity is the Incarnation of Christ: the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Those who rationalize Christ’s incarnation are those who interpret its significance along primarily ideological lines. His incarnation (including His death and resurrection) are seen has having brought about certain theological realities (our sins are forgiven, etc.) but the event of His incarnation is not seen as revealing anything in particular about creation itself. That the Uncreated has become the created is, in such rational schemes, unremarkable.

This is not the faith of the fathers, nor the faith which has given us Scripture, Creeds and Councils, nor the life of the Church. That God became man not only says volumes about the love of God, but also says something about the nature of humanity. We were created in the image of God – though that image is not realized until the coming of Christ. Christ’s incarnation is an epiphany – a revelation of the truth of humanity, as well as the truth of the love of God.

Christ’s relationship with the created order, throughout His ministry, is revelatory of the nature of creation and the truth of its being. That “winds and seas obey Him,” raised questions for the disciples about who Christ was, but for us it must also raise questions about what the winds and seas are.

The offering of bread and wine in which we receive in return the Body and Blood of Christ is not a moment which exists parenthetically within creation: it is also revelatory about the very character of our relationship with creation itself. What we do with bread and wine is also what we must do with everything around us: “Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory!”

Secularism is the great religious crisis of our time (perhaps the definitive crisis of human sin). It’s critical temptation is the lure of religion – to carve out some small piece of our lives and our world in which we speak or think about God – leaving the rest of creation inert and unsanctified, bereft of the glory of God.

Within the Church this can occur by limiting the grace of God to certain defined moments or actions (sacraments) with those moments and actions serving not as revelations of the whole truth of our existence but serving only as a “sacralization” of unique moments. If the Eucharist is not a transformation of the world, then Christ’s death and resurrection are stripped of their power and significance.

We swim in the water of secularism – the modern world is utterly shaped and dominated by its perceptions. That Christians must become aware of this deception and proclaim the fullness of the gospel of Christ is essential in our modern struggle. Creation groans and travails for the reality made known to us in the fullness of Jesus Christ.

36 Responses to “The Crisis of Religion”

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  1. Seraphim says:

    Thank you so much for this post, Father. You could not have done better in drawing the line between sanctity and secularism. So many modern “death of God” (a)theologians have drowned in the water of secularism; one wonders at times what an Alitzer or a Nathan Scott Jr. even means by the term “incarnation”. The sacramental vision of the cosmos is like a breath of fresh air in today’s culture (not to mention the fact that, being an integral part of the Orthodox Faith, it is this vision which saves us). If only Father Schmemann instead of Schillebeeckx were read today in mainstream divinity schools and theological institutes…

  2. Bill says:

    It is always so hard to understand how creation longs for redemption, how creation is fallen because of us with death and disease, and yet there is the truth that heaven and earth are full of His glory.

    So, does the incarnation reveal something about creation, or change something about creation? Perhaps the wrong question.

  3. I don’t understand how Christ’s death and resurrection could ever be, “stripped of their power and significance.” Are these not the acts of a loving and benevolent God? How could anything we do strip an act of this God of its power and significance? Does his death and resurrection stand alone as an independent truth and reality?

    Please forgive my ignorance.

  4. epiphanist says:

    The world as an epiphany of God is a marvellous description, thank you for bringing it to us.

  5. November, objectively we of course cannot effect the power and reality of Christ’s death and resurrection. Your point is well made.

    My intention was to say that certain approaches diminish their power and significance within our understanding and fail to give a proper account of “height, depth and breadth of the love of God.” I should have worded that more carefully. Thanks.

    As an example of what I meant: in many places the Eucharist has been diminished in the understanding and practice of many Christians, almost falling into disuse. Baptism has also undergone a de-emphasis in many places. Christ’s Descent into Hades (which figures very prominently in the writings of the fathers and the understanding of the cosmic dimensions of Christ’s death and resurrection, is actually unknown as an event for many Christians.

    The atonement for some is Christ’s payment for our sins, turning aside the wrath of the Father. This does not do justice to the fullness of the account of the atonement in Scripture. It does not change the reality of what Christ did – but it certainly lessens the fullness of the preaching of the gospel.

  6. Antonio Arganda Hussa says:

    It is unfortunate that the origin of modern secularism is to be found in the writings of a ninth century Frankish theologian , Paschasius Radbertus. He posited the complete distinction between symbol and actuality and asserted that symbols are not real, but rather something on the order of metaphor or simile. His doctrine gained ground in the tenth century and eventually entered the texts of scholastic theology. His doctine gave rise to the theory of “transubstantiation”.
    What he never consired was that if symbols are not real , then neither is the spiritual realm.

    Father Schmemann correctly stated that symbols are real and that reality is symbolic. This is a given in Orthodox thinking, but not so in secular or Roman Catholic thinking.

  7. Seraphim says:

    “Father Schmemann correctly stated that symbols are real and that reality is symbolic. This is a given in Orthodox thinking, but not so in secular or Roman Catholic thinking.”

    I was raised Roman Catholic, and their teaching on the mysteries and on sacraments (in the broad, primary sense of the term of sacrament as “sign”) is the same as Orthodox teaching – I was taught that the body of Christ was really, physically present in the symbol of the Eucharist. “Transubstantiation” is simply the Latin translation of “metaousios”. I’m bewildered as to where Antonio got his impression that Roman Catholics don’t believe that.

  8. Seraphim,
    In medieval scholasticism, there was a distinction made between “real” and “mystical” in the R.C. Church’s response to Berengarius (according to Schmemann). He says that it was a mistake to use the language that separates the two (though the intention was to defend the Eucharist as “real”). Schmemann cites this a one of the places where the rupture between real and spiritual begins…just as Antonio was citing Radbertus. I personally think “smoking guns” are hard to find (usually because there are many of them). The modern liturgical movement in Catholicism has sought to repair this kind of rupture (in ways that sometimes agree with the Orthodox and sometimes not).

    There’s no argument that the Catholic Church believes that the sacrament is really and truly the Body of Christ. The question though is a much more subtle one: what does one mean by “really and truly”? It’s quite possible to have the sacraments and understand them as real – and yet do so in an otherwise bifurcated secular context. It is this that Schmemann takes Orthodox and Catholic to task on. The crisis is within modernity itself. Inasmuch as certain parts of modernity enter into the Church and the consciousness of its people, it makes subtle changes – such that “real” presence may be as problematic as memorialism.

    It’s less a question of formal doctrine and more a matter of an inner disposition – which is hard to acquire and a struggle to maintain.

  9. Michael Bauman says:

    Two books have greatly enhanced my appreciation of the unity and presence of God: On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius and the afore mentioned For the Life of the World.

    However, without the experience of the Divine Liturgy, the books would not mean much. In a way, I already knew what was in the books, they just expanded my appreciation. I was deeply troubled by the bifurcation of my own soul and came to the Church looking for a way to be made whole. Apparently, many people are not really troubled by it or don’t recognize it. That continues to astound me.

    How can the Church do a better job of spiritual formation so that more folks will come into the reality and those who are there can go more deeply in?

  10. Darlene says:

    Father,

    My husband and I were having a discussion about the Eucharist the other day and the subject of the Early Church and its practices came up. I read something a few yrs ago to the effect that the Eucharist was taken only seldom within the first few centuries of the Church. Is this true? If so, then why?

    Believing the Eucharist to be the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ is something with which my husband is currently struggling. He has spoken to two Orthodox priests about his struggle, so there is an openness to acknowledging he could be wrong in his view. There are a number of hurdles he would have to overcome in order to become joined to the Orthodox Church. His thinking is quite influenced by American secular Christianity, but I doubt he realizes it.

  11. Darlene,
    My understanding is that the Eucharist was taken quite frequently in the early Church. Frequency has varied in times and places, but the evidence of which I’m aware points towards frequent reception as the norm in the first couple or three centuries.

  12. Brendan says:

    Darlene –

    Would your husband be open to reading the early (very early) Church fathers on this? If you look at Clement, Ignatius, and Justin, it seems fairly clear that the Eucharist was the typical weekly Christian gathering, and I haven’t seen references to reception being rare during that period. The early fathers are also very useful for revealing what the understanding of the Church in the period was about the Eucharist. I posted a quote in the other thread, as an example, from Justin Martyr, who was martyred ca. 165, which was pretty clear about what the Church of his day thought about the Eucharist, as well as the frequency of reception implied by the deacons being commissioned to take the Eucharist to those who were not present at the liturgy (presumably the sick and others who cannot come to liturgy for serious reasons, as is also done in current Orthodox, and Roman Catholic, practice).

    Reading the early fathers on this is key, really, to understanding the practice of the early Church.

  13. James, the Brother says:

    Related to the Church Fathers and the Eucharist, I once read a pretty detailed list of how many weeks, months, or even years someone might be disallowed from receiving depending on the nature of the sin.

    I have been trying to find it and I can’t. It strike me though as a kind of back door way of demonstrating the great significance of the Eucharist.

    If anyone can direct me to this writing I would appreciate it.

  14. James,
    What you are describing are the canons. A relatively modern collection is found in a book called the Rudder. I do not recommend it as reading for laypeople – it’s to easy for the enemy to condemn you or to misunderstand the character and the nature of canon law. But the most common discipline in the canons for certain sins was a period of time refraining from the Eucharist (there were other levels of penance as well). The years listed describe a “maximum” which can be mitigated in the light of true repentance. It is a discipline for the healing of souls, not for the punishment of sin. Thus it must be carefully applied by a wise priest, lest he crush a soul, or fail to cure an illness (of the soul).

  15. Jeremiah says:

    I was reflecting on how I initially found the history of the Orthodox Church an contradiction with its claim to being the Fullness of Faith. I likened it to how I felt about reading the Fall of Gondolin (Tolkien’s Silmarillion) or the Babylonian captivity of Israel. A feeling that something so beautiful need not have been lost.
    I realized that it was because of a secularist view of the world that I thought that way. The secularist view that is pervasive in Fundamentalist Churches.
    I, of course, rambled a lot more incoherently, and didn’t quite come to the spiritual conclusion you did, but reading this helped me connect the dots (as you have a gift from God for doing).

  16. davidperi says:

    Several years ago, I read Fr Schmemann´s book after I became Orthodox. I guess I have to read it again.

  17. Seraphim says:

    Father,

    I guess the difference boils down to John 6:59-63: “Many therefore of his disciples, hearing it, said: ‘This saying is hard; and who can hear it?’ But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at this, said to them: Does this scandalize you? If then you shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before? It is the spirit that quickens; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.’”

    In the secular/Protestant mindset, “spirit and life” means fake, imaginary, psychological, or metaphorical where the meaning of the word “metaphor” is reduced to “cliche”. In the Orthodox mindset (shared by the Roman Catholicism I was taught, that grounded in medieval monasticism), the spiritual or mystical means the more real, the more true, the meaning present in the symbol. The relationship between the mystical and the physical is that of the soul to the body – not two separate “substances” as modernity (since Descartes) is accustomed to thinking, but a true unity on two different planes. To say that the Body and Blood Christ in the Eucharist is present in the manner of a body (as St. Paschasius crudely thought) is as silly as to say that the symbol of the Eucharist is only a cliche or manner of speaking (though I don’t like the term “manner of speaking” either, since the Logos is a real incarnation).

    The Latin word “res” means “thing”. The “thing” we see in the Eucharist, which we pick up and touch, taste, or even if we wanted to analyzed chemically and would appear to be bread and wine. (I am avoiding the term “physical” with its Greek connotations of nature or essence – but using the English sense of the term “physical”, all the physical properties we associate with the term “thing” would be those of bread and wine.) By calling the Real Presence “mystical” instead of “real”, the Church was fighting the crude literalism of St. Paschasius (whose explanation of the doctrine never gained currency) just as much as the heresy of Berengarius. They were trying to make the same point you were, Father; the confusion comes from the translation. Many Latin words have subtly different meanings than their English derivatives – but the differences are important.

  18. Darlene says:

    For whatever reason, I couldn’t get through Fr. Schmemann’s book , “Life of the World.” My parish priest lent it to me and I’ve yet to read past the second chapter. And when I was reading it, I felt as if I were forcing myself to get through it.

    I admit, the problem may very well be with me. But, having an ed. degree in History, I’ve had to read many dry expositions on historical matters. It was literally an exercise of self-discipline to get through the material. In some way, this was my experience in my attempt to get through “The Life of the World.”

    Forgive me. As I said, I may be the problem. Perhaps I should try and read it again.

  19. James, the Brother says:

    Darlene,

    I might suggest when you read it again, put on your favorite hat and then tilt it slightly eastward. If that doesn’t work, cancel any pending order you have for anything by Vladimir Lossky.

  20. Seraphim says:

    Seraphim,

    In his Apostolic letter Orientale Lumen in 1995, John Paul II said that all Roman Catholic Christians were to seek out the “venerable and ancient tradition of the Eastern Churches” and that the “first need for Catholics is to be familiar with that tradition, so as to be nourished by it and to encourage the process of unity in the best way possible for each”.

    Canonical unity is a beautiful thing, but it is unity inspired by the Holy Spirit that is eternal (and of course beautiful).

  21. Seraphim says:

    Seraphim (nice name by the way),

    Orientale Lumen was one of the most beautiful documents I ever read.

    I pray that the Holy Spirit may bring us all to canonical unity, in humble obedience to Christ’s prayer that we may all be one.

    I tried to post something earlier today but it didn’t work for some reason.

    Glory to Jesus Christ!

  22. Seraphim says:

    I am going to try posting my earlier comment again.

    Father,

    I guess the difference boils down to John 6:59-63: “Many therefore of his disciples, hearing it, said: ‘This saying is hard; and who can hear it?’ But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at this, said to them: Does this scandalize you? If then you shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before? It is the spirit that quickens; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.’”

    In the secular/Protestant mindset, “spirit and life” means fake, imaginary, psychological, or metaphorical where the meaning of the word “metaphor” is reduced to “cliche”. In the Orthodox mindset (shared by the Roman Catholicism I was taught, that grounded in medieval monasticism), the spiritual or mystical means the more real, the more true, the meaning present in the symbol. The relationship between the mystical and the physical is that of the soul to the body – not two separate “substances” as modernity (since Descartes) is accustomed to thinking, but a true unity on two different planes. To say that the Body and Blood Christ in the Eucharist is present in the manner of a body (as St. Paschasius crudely thought) is as silly as to say that the symbol of the Eucharist is only a cliche or manner of speaking (though I don’t like the term “manner of speaking” either, since the Logos is a real incarnation).

    The Latin word “res” means “thing”. The “thing” we see in the Eucharist, which we pick up and touch, taste, or even if we wanted to analyzed chemically and would appear to be bread and wine. (I am avoiding the term “physical” with its Greek connotations of nature or essence – but using the English sense of the term “physical”, all the physical properties we associate with the term “thing” would be those of bread and wine.) By calling the Real Presence “mystical” instead of “real”, the Church was fighting the crude literalism of St. Paschasius (whose explanation of the doctrine never gained currency) just as much as the heresy of Berengarius. They were trying to make the same point you were, Father; the confusion comes from the translation. Many Latin words have subtly different meanings than their English derivatives – but the differences are important.

  23. Seraphim says:

    I think the internet is giving me trouble. I am going to break up my post into individual paragraphs.

    Father,

    I guess the difference boils down to John 6:59-63: “Many therefore of his disciples, hearing it, said: ‘This saying is hard; and who can hear it?’ But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at this, said to them: Does this scandalize you? If then you shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before? It is the spirit that quickens; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.’”

  24. Seraphim says:

    In the secular/Protestant mindset, “spirit and life” means fake, imaginary, psychological, or metaphorical where the meaning of the word “metaphor” is reduced to “cliche”. In the Orthodox mindset (shared by the Roman Catholicism I was taught, that grounded in medieval monasticism), the spiritual or mystical means the more real, the more true, the meaning present in the symbol. The relationship between the mystical and the physical is that of the soul to the body – not two separate “substances” as modernity (since Descartes) is accustomed to thinking, but a true unity on two different planes. To say that the Body and Blood Christ in the Eucharist is present in the manner of a body (as St. Paschasius crudely thought) is as silly as to say that the symbol of the Eucharist is only a cliche or manner of speaking (though I don’t like the term “manner of speaking” either, since the Logos is a real incarnation).

  25. Seraphim says:

    The Latin word “res” means “thing”. The “thing” we see in the Eucharist, which we pick up and touch, taste, or even if we wanted to analyzed chemically and would appear to be bread and wine. (I am avoiding the term “physical” with its Greek connotations of nature or essence – but using the English sense of the term “physical”, all the physical properties we associate with the term “thing” would be those of bread and wine.) By calling the Real Presence “mystical” instead of “real”, the Church was fighting the crude literalism of St. Paschasius (whose explanation of the doctrine never gained currency) just as much as the heresy of Berengarius. They were trying to make the same point you were, Father; the confusion comes from the translation. Many Latin words have subtly different meanings than their English derivatives – but the differences are important.

  26. Seraphim says:

    Now, to respond more fully to the other Seraphim:

    I wholeheartedly believe that the first step to restoring Christian unity (hopefully on a deeper and closer way than the pre-1054 unity, which failed) is for Roman Catholics to be nourished by the Eastern tradition. Some of us (me!) were so captivated that we pretty much never came back. (I am a Byzantine Catholic – Orthodox in communion with Rome.)

    I also think a huge step toward unity would be for Orthodox to understand Roman Catholic theology and dogma. Roman Catholicism is not nearly as un-Orthodox as many Orthodox think it is; the real Catholic teaching falls on the Orthodox position on many supposed differences I read about from Orthodox sources. This should in no way be a bad thing, from an Orthodox perspective – if it turns out that Roman Catholics are not nearly so heretical as we originally thought, then… great! Orthodoxy is not compromised by fewer people departing from it. It was Bishop Fulton Sheen who said that few people reject Catholicism, but many reject what they think Catholicism is. If Catholicism were understood correctly by the Orthodox and vice versa, we would be very close to ending the unity without compromising an inch (the nasty temptation we face with ecumenism).

    It is true that the theological perspectives that theologians such as Lossky, Ouspensky, Fr. Staniloae, Fr. Schmemann, and Elder Sophrony (Sakharov) bring are not emphasized as strongly in the West (though they are found there implicitly, and explicitly on occasion), and this is why many Westerners have turned East for their spiritual growth; I would not be surprised if Western theology turns increasingly to the East to replace the old Scholastic formulation which is more difficult for the modern, secular West to understand, since we have lost the underlying Aristotelian/Platonic world-view upon which it was based. Frankly scholasticism doesn’t make a whit of sense to me; I don’t understand it.

  27. Seraphim says:

    Seraphim,

    Good points. Canonical union is not a pre-requisite to Eucharistic union. Scholasticism seems to “elevate” the personality (what appears to be real in the world) while the Incarnation reveals the hidden person (what is true and spiritual). In Eastern theology each person contains within themselves the undistorted image of God.

  28. Brendan says:

    I would have to say, as someone who was raised RC, was an active RC as an adult (CCD teacher, too) and someone who spent a few years in the Eastern Rite, that I can’t really agree that Roman Catholicism is closer to Orthodoxy than most Orthodox think.

    Over the years, I have come to understand this by means of what we each view, in religious terms, as our “relevant other”. For Roman Catholics and Protestants, the “relevant other” is each other — that is, the world is divided between “Catholic and similar” and “Protestant and similar”, and generally speaking for both Catholics and Protestants alike, Orthodoxy gets placed in the “Catholics and similar” box. There are a couple of reasons for this. One is that the indicia used to determine whether something falls into the Catholic or the Protestant box tend to be the fulcrum of issues that have divided the West — faith and works, grace and faith, sola scriptura, sacraments, priesthood and so on. When looking from the “outside in” (as well as from the Eastern Rite churches), Orthodoxy looks like it fits, more or less, into the Catholic box — Catholics in particular will recognize differences between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism, but will generally minimize them or at the very least claim that these pale in comparison to the differences between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. I think this happens because Protestantism, and not Orthodoxy, is currently Catholicism’s “relevant other”.

    From the Orthodox point of view, and certainly something I have only gradually appreciated myself year after year after being received by the Orthodox Church, the similarities between Orthodoxy and Catholicism on the surface often mask substantial differences in the way each of us lives and experiences things in our faith lives. To Catholics these differences can seem subtle, and they may be compared to some of the more overt differences between Catholics and Protestants, but I can say that the way these “similarities” is experienced in the Orthodox Church is often quite strikingly different. I’m referring here not to the textbook theology, which is often also different, but to the actual experience of these things in the life of the Orthodox Christian. As I often tell my Catholic family members, Orthodoxy *looks* more similar to Catholicism, to Catholic eyes especially, than it actually is, looking from the inside out, rather than the outside in.

    A few words as well about the Eastern Rite. Please understand that I do not mean to offend you, Seraphim, with my words about the Eastern Rite. I was an Eastern Rite Catholic myself for a few years before being received by the Orthodox Church. I understand well, I think, the mentality of being an “Orthodox in communion with Rome”. Yet, this phrase is a non-reality on the ecclesial level. When the Melkite Catholic Synod declared that it saw itself as being Orthodox in communion with Rome (based, in that case, in the Synod’s assertion that its communion with the Vatican was in its own eyes in accordance with the way that worked prior to the great schism), both the Antiochian Orthodox Synod and the Vatican disagreed that this is a viable position currently. From the Orthodox point of view, being in communion with Catholicism reflects both (1) acceptance of Catholic faith teachings in full and (2) rejection of Orthodox faith teachings, insofar as these conflict with Orthodoxy, which they do in several places. The unity of faith is therefore lacking between Eastern Orthodox and “Orthodox in communion with Rome”. The Vatican similarly advised, diplomatically, that under the current conditions there was not a unity of faith (yet) between Catholicism and Orthodoxy so as to justify the kind of statement that the Melkite Synod made (and if I am remembering correctly, the Vatican’s response simply did not address the issue of the limits of papal jurisdiction implied in the Melkite Synod’s statement). So ultimately the concept of “Orthodox in communion with Rome” is something that is aspirationally understandable but currently not real. The real situation of the Eastern Rite churches is that they are adherents to all of Catholic theology (which is mostly Latin in character) at least formally while adhering to Eastern (mostly Byzantine, but there are other ones, too) liturgical forms and, to a differing degree depending on the parish, theological expressions insofar as these do not conflict with the Latin-based teachings that are considered “Catholic dogma”.

    I understand well that there are many fine people in the Eastern Rite churches. I also understand well the sentiment expressed by former Latin Rite Catholics who now attend Eastern Rite churches in that they feel like they are Orthodox in all but name, yet retaining their communion with Rome. But what I can tell you, quite honestly, as someone who has walked this particular path, and echoing what I said at the outset of this unfortunately long comment, is that Orthodoxy is more different from Catholicism — Latin or Eastern — than you probably think from where you are sitting. And that is regardless of how “Eastern” or “Orthodox-leaning” your Eastern Rite community is. I often am still startled, today, ten years down the road, at how very different Orthodoxy is, in experience terms, than my uber-orthodox Eastern Rite parish was.

  29. Brendan says:

    It should read “…rejection of Orthodox faith teachings, insofar as these conflict with Catholicism, which they do in several places …”

  30. Nick says:

    Brendan,

    I can completely identify with what you are saying. As a Roman Catholic, I took the charge given in Orientale Lumen seriously, and began to investigate the Eastern Churches. As a result, I also converted to Orthodoxy, having found that the spirituality and worship of Orthodoxy cannot be happily married to the theology of Roman Catholicism without developing a sort of schizophrenia – lex orandi sed non lex credendi, to warp a familiar phrase. Ideas have implications, and they have to be faced sooner or later. Without meaning to insult anyone, I find the position of the Eastern Rite Catholics to be untenable in the long run – something about having two masters, perhaps?

    Forgive me for not being able to remember, but at the introduction to Metropolitan Kallistos’ The Orthodox Church, he recounts the statement about Catholicism being A+ and Protestantism being A-, but both relate themselves to A, whereas Orthodox are B – completely unrelated. It remains a valid point that many Roman Catholics (including myself when I was one) do not understand.

  31. Seraphim says:

    Seraphim,

    I think it was Abraham Maslow who said that if all one has is a hammer, then one starts to see every problem as a nail. I do not think a Christian can speak of his or her existence outside of the divine relational. We are irreducible: pre-denominational not non-denominational, etc. etc.

  32. Seraphim says:

    Brendan,

    What you said was very helpful. However, I would like someone to elucidate, if you can, exactly what these differences are. So far, every time that I’ve heard Orthodox complain about Roman Catholicism, I recognize Roman Catholicism what they portray as Orthodoxy, but not in the way they depict Roman Catholicism.

    It might help if Fr. Stephen devoted a couple of blog posts just into explaining this, though he might not be able to understand the differences enough without being a former RC. I don’t know. It’s rather far afield the subject matter for comments on this particular post.

    Seraphim,

    We are indeed pre-denominational, not non-denominational. The Catholic Church does not view either Catholicism or Orthodoxy as denominations, but rather as the Church, which subsists in the Catholic Church and (in a wounded manner, due to its separation from the See of Peter) Orthodoxy. Denominations are human inventions.

    However, if we are to really be one, enough to enjoy Eucharistic unity, it makes no sense to have canonical schism. I cannot see that as being anything other than hypocrisy – having a dual mind. If a priest accepts me as a right-believing Christian and gives me Holy Communion (and I would hope he would refuse me Communion if he thought me a heretic), then he needs to publicly accept me as such. He can’t secretly, “hiddenly” enjoy unity with me but reject me publicly. (Now, I do realize that all who are in the state of grace are hiddenly within the Church – but only God knows who they are.)

    Frankly, if an Orthodox priest were willing to give me Holy Communion, then as far as I’m concerned he’s Catholic. (Catholic – holding the integrity of faith – and Orthodox – right-believing – mean the same thing.)

    Nick,

    There is indeed tension within Eastern Catholicism – there are a lot of Latinizations which we would like to get rid of (pews, shorter liturgies, iconastases with grills that you can see through rather than solid wood, ommitting Orthros, etc.), but none of them are required or even implied by acceptance of the Catholic faith. And even though we call them Latinizations, they’re really more modernizations or secularizations or Americanizations than anything else, and many Orthodox churches unfortunately suffer from them as well.

  33. Seraphim says:

    Seraphim,

    Tim Cronin’s post on Divinization – Theosis is very enlightening and much in line with Lossky and Met. Kallistos:

    “We are very close to the chimpanzee by nature. What defines a human being is not its nature but its mode of existence. Not “what” we are but “how” we are, our ability to relate. We are respondents to a call from God. Adam chose not to relate to God by not obeying God. Since God obeys God (Jesus obeys the Father) man lost the image of God through this disobedience. Jesus Christ, came that we might again be restored to relationship and obedience in Him. Jesus restores not only our relationship to the Father but to everything else in the universe. Sin is ultimately not relating properly to God, man, or another creature. So what is key here is not substance-nature but mode of existence-how-person. A person who is led by nature instead of leading their nature has become like the animals. When we talk about the Eucharist in terms of substance we are not talking about what is key in the Eucharist. What Jesus does in the Eucharist is relate us back to the Father in His sacrifice and to one another. We thus become one body in Christ through a change in how we relate. Our divinization (Western) or Theosis (Eastern) is not accomplished through a change to our nature but instead in a change to how we are, our relation.”

    (The bold is mine).

  34. Brendan says:

    Seraphim –

    That’s fair enough. I will try to post something about it over at my own blog, rather than derailing this post any more than I already have (I agree that this conversation is a bit far afield from what Father was talking about here).

  35. Darlene says:

    Brendan,

    What is the name of your blog?

    The subject of unity often leads to sharp disagreement, I’ve noticed. May our Lord Jesus have mercy on each of us.

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