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“Like a Branch Rejoined”: A Journey from Eastern Orthodoxy to Catholicism


One pleasure of the Catholic life is receiving excellent news from the darkest locations. Few locations have appeared darker up to now yr than Ukraine, at the moment below brutal assault from Russia. The Ukrainian folks have proven exceptional braveness within the face of vicious aggression, however the army entrance strains should not the one location of warfare and bravado. The warfare in Ukraine has put the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and its Major Archbishop within the highlight. As a crossroads and frontier in Europe, Ukraine has lengthy been the venue of non secular and confessional battle, with Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants all looking for ascendancy.

The most up-to-date excellent news from Ukraine (as reported by The Pillar) is {that a} sizeable group of Orthodox have come into union with Rome. Some could ask, if the Catholic Church acknowledges Orthodox sacraments and orders as legitimate, why does union matter? Think of the tragedy of separated spouses—the ontological relationship between the 2 nonetheless exists, however is marred by the 2 not residing collectively. Or, St. Paul’s scriptural educating in regards to the department is apt right here: the Orthodox reception into communion with Rome is sort of a department rejoined to the life-giving trunk and roots.

The instance of the Ukrainians becoming a member of themselves to Rome is pertinent due to the persevering with attraction of Eastern Orthodoxy to some Catholics and Protestants coupled with a disdain of Western Christianity and tradition. I converse from twelve years of expertise that the East—for all its points of interest—is manifestly not paradise. There could also be issues we will study. Look no additional than the Servant of God Catherine de Hueck Doherty and her books on jap spirituality, however with one monumental caveat: she was in communion with Rome.

Disillusioned westerners fleeing eastwards might imagine they are going to be coming into a realm of wealthy, mystical liturgical life unerringly guided by Tradition and freed from papal tyranny. But the East will not be monolithic, and the neophyte’s expertise can rely largely on their entry level. Slavic or Greek? Arab or Ruthenian? Old Calendar or New? The customer can discover many differing practices, reminiscent of necessities for baptism and acceptance of non-Orthodox baptism, which language to make use of within the liturgy, variations in vestments and music, rigidity or laxity for confession and reception of Communion, and open-ness to converts and different ethnicities.

To be clear, the East will not be inherently perilous, until it’s severed from Rome. For occasion, the separated (Chalcedonian) Orthodox East has lengthy permitted divorce and re-marriage. There seems to be a rising acceptance of homosexuality and same-sex marriage, even to the extent of baptizing a homosexual couple’s baby. Orthodox non secular educating and practices reminiscent of aerial toll-houses and hesychasm could open the door to Gnosticism.

Other problematic points embrace the centuries-long unhealthy relationship between church and state within the Orthodox world. The Orthodox Church has scant expertise as one participant amongst many on a stage taking part in discipline. Instead, the Orthodox are accustomed to both actively bolstering the ruler’s supremacy (as within the Eastern Roman Empire), or being subjugated and maybe discovering a strategy to compromise with them (as within the Muslim world or the Soviet Union). In my very own expertise, I’ve seen the strict fasting prevalent in Orthodoxy verge on legalism. It definitely could cause friction between spouses, which hardly looks like the hallmark of wholesome Christian residing. Ethnicity is one other recurring concern within the East, with tradition typically substituting for religion. These three points could make Orthodoxy a tough slot in a multi-ethnic democratic republic just like the U.S. And that’s the place the heresy of nostalgia is available in. Orthodoxy is liable to sighing after the bygone semi-paradisical period of unadulterated spiritual perception and follow, such because the legendary golden age of 19th century “Holy Russia” with its non secular magnets of monasteries and each priest an exemplary non secular determine beloved by his household and flock. The reality is that Orthodox clergymen and laity alike in previous centuries in locations like Russia and Ottoman-occupied Greece typically lived lonely, impoverished and even squalid lives. Likewise at present, clergymen (normally married with youngsters) and lay persons are hemmed in by the identical forces impinging on all of us in post-modern society. Holding a Greek (or Russian, or Serbian, or…) pageant with meals and dancing won’t restore any of that.

Due to their rejection of the West, the Orthodox have a weak connection to the Great Tradition of Western philosophy and literature. For occasion, some Orthodox reject St. Augustine of Hippo as a “neo-platonic thinker” and never a foundational physician of the Church. That instance is very significant in my very own journey. I credit score Augustine as a part of the “workforce” that helped information me again to the West and into the Catholic Church. Also on that workforce are Medieval research, Tolkien, Pope Benedict XVI, E.F. Schumacher, Benedictine life, Sigrid Undset, and Catholic Social Teaching.

Before I’m going on to explain my experiences, I wish to say that I’m grateful for my time in Orthodoxy, and that I met some great folks alongside the way in which. I skilled stunning liturgies and strong, virile music. I used to be uncovered to thinkers and writers not well-known within the West and, to high it off, cultural customs and meals I hadn’t beforehand recognized. But, like Pope St. Gregory the Great, as soon as a Western consultant in Constantinople, I returned house, appreciative, but additionally protecting of Western methods and prerogatives. The error of the separated Eastern Church is to think about itself because the genuine trunk and roots, moderately than a serious a part of the tree damaged off and therefore denied life-giving nourishment.

In my agnostic twenties, I studied Medieval literature, historical past, and artwork at college. Unknowingly, I used to be imbibing a liqueur distilled from the flowering fruit of Christianity. Also hidden from my aware thoughts was my nonetheless earlier and ongoing intoxication by the Christ-permeated books of J.R.R. Tolkien. I used to be being fashioned as a Catholic with out realizing it. After a pilgrimage via evangelical Protestantism and Orthodoxy, I yearned for a re-connection to the Western Great Tradition. I discovered it in, of all locations, the ultra-progressive and completely bizarre Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. In a category on sustainable economics, I delved into the works of economist and convert E.F. Schumacher, the foundational textual content of Catholic Social Teaching, Rerum Novarum, and a 2009 encyclical by Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate. I additionally appeared into the Benedictine roots of public administration and group, and skilled a little bit of the Divine Office at an area abbey I graduated in 2010 with a level in public administration and a rising curiosity within the religion of my French-Canadian ancestors, Roman Catholicism. The subsequent two years noticed my anti-western armor pierced, hire, and knocked to the bottom, not not like the hapless Don Quixote. My studying ranged extensively, together with Sigrid Undset’s heart-rending tales of sin and redemption set in completely Catholic medieval Norway. I used to be acquired into the Catholic Church in 2012. Due to my chrismation (affirmation) within the Orthodox Church of Antioch, I used to be acquired as a Melkite, the Catholic analog to that Antiochian Orthodox jurisdiction.

The story might have fortunately ended there, and now I’d be writing with deeper data and expertise of Eastern Catholicism. I thought of remaining Melkite, however as a result of my spouse and mom are Latin Catholics, I petitioned to have my “ascription” modified to Roman Catholic, and that request was granted by the 2 archbishops concerned. In the previous ten years I’ve broadened and deepened my data of Roman Catholicism and located a house—a refuge—within the Traditional Latin Mass.

East-West dialogue is commonly a thankless and/or fruitless endeavor. That is unlucky. There is way to be mentioned for the comparability of East and West to two lungs meant to operate collectively for full bodily well being. The two lung analogy is price exploring. Today, each lungs have (because it have been) obstructions, however a big a part of the Eastern lung is separated from the physique. On the floor (what we will see in iconography, artwork, liturgy, and group) the 2 lungs seem to have distinctive patterns, paths and emphases: the West emphasizes the Crucifixion, the East the Resurrection; the West locations St. Joseph subsequent in honor after the Blessed Virgin Mary, whereas the East the honors Holy Prophet Forerunner and Baptist John after the Theotokos; the West’s paramount models are household and parish, whereas the East arguably places a better worth on monasteries. If the West have been a e-book it could be The Story of a Soul by St. Therese of The Child Jesus and Holy Face, whose mother and father failed in spiritual life however have been fruitful and loving as a household. The East could possibly be well-represented by the solitary wanderer in The Way of a Pilgrim. Or, Western Martha, Eastern Mary.

A well-functioning physique wants its lungs to work collectively and never at cross-purposes. Any of those totally different tendencies turns into unbalanced and unhealthy if taken to extremes or promoted on the expense of the corresponding tendency within the different lung. The Western fault could be over-reliance on group and standardization; the Eastern overemphasis on disembodied mysticism can segue into Gnosticism.

The bifurcation of East and West is well-expressed in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamzov, one of many best works of world literature. Dostoevsky, who was suspicious of the West and its decadence, places in a variety of opposing pairs in his e-book (he was keen on utilizing doubles), however three that talk to this essay’s level: 1) Roman ultramontanism versus the Russian strategy; 2) two contrasting approaches to monasticism (Fr. Zosima in opposition to Fr. Ferapont); and three) the Church of the Grand Inquisitor ousting the Church desired by Christ.

In Book II of The Brothers Karamazov, “An Unfortunate Gathering,” a variety of characters collect at a widely known monastery in hopes of getting path on a wide range of points. On web page 56 (all references are to the Dover version of the e-book translated by Constance Garnett) there may be dialogue of ultramontanism and church-state relations. Should state change into church? Or church morph into state? Perhaps that is the kind of dichotomy that might usefully inform present debates about integralism and the reversal of secularization. Westerners who assume Russia presents a constructive mannequin of legislation and order implicitly endorse Orthodox collaboration with Mr. Putin’s authorities and purchase into the concept of Russia as bulwark in opposition to Western-led globalism.

At the identical monastery we meet no less than two sorts of monk:  the clever, merciful starets (elder) Fr. Zosima, but additionally Fr. Ferapont, a harsh, unloving, inflexible and works-oriented monk who could also be Dostoevsky’s illustration of the Western monastic type. Pope John Paul II, in his Apostolic Letter Orientale Lumen, asserts that “Eastern monastic communion has at all times been cautious to ensure the prevalence of affection over each legislation” (35). Orthodox monasticism is extra charismatic than the Roman Catholic system of well-regulated orders with their identities.

We get to the guts of the matter within the novel’s difficult story, “The Grand Inquisitor” (223ff), by which Ivan Karamazov–maybe below the affect of the satan–recounts a narrative about Christ showing in sixteenth century Spain, solely to be rejected by a Grand Inquisitor who informs the Lord how the Catholics threw out the Faith and changed it with a secular, earthly faith. Scholarly, creative Ivan tells his monkish youthful brother Alyosha, “The outdated man [Inquisitor] has instructed him [Christ] he hasn’t the suitable so as to add something to what he has mentioned of outdated. One could say it’s the most elementary function of Roman Catholicism, for my part no less than. ‘All has been given by thee to the pope,’ they are saying, ‘and, due to this fact, remains to be within the pope’s fingers, and there’s no want for thee to return now in any respect. Thou should not meddle for the time, no less than.’ That’s how they converse and write too—the Jesuits at any price. I’ve learn it myself within the works of their theologians” (227). The passage goes on to explain how Catholicism has no want for Christ and that individuals have traded their freedom for safety. The Inquisitor tells how miracle has been changed with surety, taking away the necessity for a Savior. Whether or not it reveals Dostoevsky’s personal beliefs, it’s a damning story about religion and despair. But the reality cuts each methods. Although historically Orthodoxy was a serious part of charity of their respective societies, Communism and Islam each severely broken that work. The Soviets couldn’t settle for any competitors, and shut down colleges, convents, monasteries, and virtually all church capabilities. Muslim rulers pressured the Orthodox into inferior roles, serving to solely their very own and nobody outdoors their faith. There can be little in the way in which of an express social doctrine in Orthodox educating. Catholicism, in contrast, has a very-well articulated physique of social educating which could possibly be of use in a re-united East. Ukraine once more gives an example.

It is finest to remember all through all these psychological excursions that East and West should not primarily or ontologically totally different, however they’ve developed alongside totally different (and complementary) strains. I’m happy within the West and assume there are various constructive options and practices that some who hope to depart to ostensibly greener pastures overlook. I can bear in mind my first whiff of incense and the tangible sacrality of the iconostasis on the first Divine Liturgy I attended. It was a grand journey and one I don’t remorse, however it was additionally crammed with people, all of them frail, wavering youngsters of fallen Adam and Eve, and the flawed establishments they constructed and sustained. Perhaps the reader can consider me as a journey information. My recommendation? Don’t idealize what you understand as unique and due to this fact higher. Even if one leaves house, journey needn’t go in a straight line. “We shall not stop from exploration/ And the tip of all our exploring/ Will be to reach the place we began/ And know the place for the primary time,” T.S. Eliot wrote in “Little Gidding.” My hope is that earlier than the department, which is Eastern Orthodoxy, withers and rots away, it may be re-attached to the life-giving trunk and roots of Catholicism. Without that department, the trunk can be incomplete and the tree will develop in a lopsided method. That can be to mar God’s valuable symmetry. That can be a failure of affection.



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