Western Rite Critic

A Balance to Contagious Enthusiasm

When Proof Texts Go Wild


It’s always easy to justify one’s personal agenda for the Church and Orthodox religion by creative placement of texts. Recently, for instance, we read a passage from [this blog] which makes a case for emotionalism in Orthodox pieties (something rare and generally foreign to our experience). It does this by presenting a lengthy description of events in Constantinople in the 4th century as of Great Thursday. In fact, they are in the main a description of Great and Holy Friday, the most solemn and sorrowful day of Holy Week, and a day of total fast. Whereas the text to which the quotation links makes this clear, the article citing it does not, putting only a header concerning Thursday above the quotation. It then boldfaces the portion about the “emotion shown and the mourning” before the cross on Great Friday which, of course, one can only expect.

This example is just one of many, but it illustrates the problem of scouring history for proof texts in an effort to recreate and reconstruct an Orthodox experience presumably now lacking in the attitude of contemporary Orthodox. This dialectic, misused, can actually be quite harmful, and is solely a matter for conscientious converts and ambitious academics (meaning, in both cases, theoreticians) who wish to rescue the Church from its failings by restoring to it a history they barely comprehend, deprived in fact from its full context. This is history as a tool rather than hagiology as a means of theosis. We really aren’t meaning to pick on the blog owner above. He asks for and receives quite enough flack. But since his is perhaps the ‘loudest’ example of the evangelical hermeneutic at work in the “Western Rite” theatre, his posts are typically replete with helpful examples of the matters that concern a sober mind about what is getting called “Western Rite”.

Again, to try to create a blanket justification of concepts or experiences detached from their context (by proof texts in the wild, or by any other hermeneutic) is a dangerous process to set loose upon a Faith. Its harmful effects have already been experienced in the history of the Roman Catholic and Anglican religions, which have become bywords for this error, and we find it a dubious undertaking for clergy of any religion in the name of winning an argument or scoring support for a private agenda. Besides, if that agenda is indefensible otherwise, then it should be rejected as lacking the very historical continuity it presumes to demonstrate.

Not all critical examination of contemporary Orthodox community life or investigation of historical precedent is a bad idea. Indeed, we benefit from it frequently. But it must be done in a mature and circumspect manner, with some sense of how the Church uses history in the first place, how it ‘places’ its thought within history, and how it’s Faith differs from the manufacture or “rediscovery” of concepts, as in Protestantism and archaism. The Church is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Our essential ecclesiology, our fundamental hermeneutical tradition, and our basic mysteriology must guide our consciences in our treatment of the Church’s history, Her texts, and Her sacred experience.

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April 28, 2008 - Posted by | Western Rite Questions, Western Rite Weirdness | , , ,

3 Comments »

  1. I no longer speak to that individual who is actually in the GOA but who “makes the rounds.” I have heard him, however, do his routine on “Russian pieties” despite the fact he also attends Liturgy in a Russian church.

    From one Antiochian source, yes, grateful then critical assessment of the Russian Church, but towards the Greeks, the individual was somewhat rabid, all the while “distinguishing” the Antiochians. The notion that the Church of Antioch was where the followers of Our Lord were “first called Christians” is also there on the website and within the name “Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church” in case people didn’t get it the first time… and it brings in enough Protestant-bred iconoclasts…

    You can hear all kinds of crazy things

    Comment by publican123 | May 12, 2008 | Reply

  2. Yes, this is the Episcopalian rubric. An Episcopalian friend of mine recounted how if one abstains from communion, it’s taken as a repudiation of the community and the church. They really don’t view communion the way the Orthodox do at all. We don’t take communion if there is any personal impediment, and that issue has nothing to do with everyone else, certainly needn’t be explained, and is worked out privately with one’s Father Confessor, which is precisely an indication that Holy Communion is continually tied to Holy Confession. Your catechist is teaching Episcopalianism.

    I take it he’s Antiochian? That’s generally the “Episcopalian wing” of Orthodoxy. Which is another way of saying, there’s more of the one thing than the other. You know, you put a drop of motor oil in a glass of water, and even though it’s a very small part, it really changes what you’ve got to where you wouldn’t wish to drink it at all. Nothing wrong with motor oil; it’s just for a different use, and doesn’t belong in our common cup. That’s about as generous as we can be about it.

    In any case, yeah, the ones that talk that way – “It was all basically (Episcopalian) until the Russians added a lot of stuff” – are racist bigots who should be deposed and disciplined by the Church. They have the dishonesty to want to gut the Church’s piety and replace it with their own alien experience, vain imaginings, and whoring with other religions, and yet to pretend that this is the “ancient” way – but to do it, they pick a scapegoat that supposedly tainted the purity while, in fact, it is they who are the taint. It’s a Protestant historiography. Substitute Emperor St. Constantine for the Russians, and you’ll see.

    I don’t listen to such men, or share the Mysteries with them, or remain in their gatherings. There comes a time when enough intentional deception at the hands of wolves in sheeps clothing is far in excess of some personal failing they may have. These are fake frocks. The moment some arse gets up, with mitre, pectoral, or seminary letters, and starts denigrating Russian piety, breathe and spit, and don’t come back. If they had any moral decency, they’d at least be honest about what they were up to. Instead, their minds are filled with slander and lies, and they are corrupting the soul of Orthodoxy like a putrescent wound.

    Comment by tuD | May 12, 2008 | Reply

  3. This is one of those posts that has become useful to me very recently. Take the question of frequency of Communion and Confession. I have heard a “cathechist” argue for Confession “no more than 2 or three times a year” backed up, it seems with General Confession maybe 3 pr 4 times a year. The refeence that the Early Church saw people making basically one Confession at the beginning of their conversion was used to support this, as well as the reference that the faithful received the Mysteries at EVERY Eucharist. Further refences were made disparagingly to Catholics as in the “We’re not Catholics” variety to emphasize our being forgiven apart from absolution… I have read another introduction to Orthodoxy wherein if those in attendance did not receive Communion, others there would be sure to think that the individual was a “lapsed Christian” since that would have been the case in the Early Church.

    This approach is also used to fan the fires of fear of “Russian pieties” “Russification”

    It seems this “historical” approach would do well to look at the present, historical context and do such a “thorough” assessment.

    Comment by publican123 | May 12, 2008 | Reply


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