Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Fr. Alexander Turner - "A Note on Vocations"

Fr. Alexander Turner, SSB.

Here's another message I posted a few days ago but got erased:

Fr. Matthew Thurman has posted a Fr. Alexander Turner's essay "A Note on Vocations": Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. Fr. Turner published this essay in the Summer 1959 issue of his journal, Orthodoxy, while he was part of the Society of St. Basil. The SSB was soon accepted into the Antiochian Orthodox Church and became its Western Rite, with Fr. Turner its first Vicar-General.

I found this quotation from Part 2 particularly worthwhile:

The Church is not an activity or an interest. It is a new life in Christ of which the priest is the elect vessel. And unworthy as he inevitably will be, he may not relax his effort or indulge his personal fancies or seek glory from it...

No throngs of eager converts await the magic of his words. No successful parishes have openings for him. No souls will be transformed automatically by the fact of his ordination...Tribulations of a different kind beset the American Orthodox missionary. They are subtler, prosaic, protracted. Often he must work in solitude for years with undeviating loyalty to his calling. Those who wire a building may not live to see the lights turned on. And in the new building which is America, those who feel called...can expect no glory, reward or fun. For they build for a future which they may not see.

The WRV priest must truly have the discipline of an athlete to resist the misunderstandings of misguided Byzantines, who tell him he's not "really" Orthodox, and the enticements of heterodox clerics, who preside over well-established parishes with endowments. We have unfortuantely experienced those who have sworn to trod the path of the Western Rite Vicariate, only to decide the trail to Byzantium was easier with a larger pot of gold at the end. Rather than follow their calling to a Byzantine parish, they have tried to force their change of heart on their WRV parishoners. In the process, they have scandalized the faithful and discredited the Orthodox faith, dissuading an unknown number of potential converts and causing some in the Church's bosom to apostasize. The priest does not represent himself but the Orthodox Church and, in his ordained capacity in persona Christi, the divine Lord Himself. If his words are untrustworthy, he casts doubt upon all of these. The blame for the damage done to the souls in his care, though, will not be distributed amongst them; it is his eternal burden to have offended one of these little ones. (And all Christians have "become as one of these little ones.")

I believe Western Rite Orthodoxy presents the Church's most promising missionary outreach to the West. "The New Faithful" have become fascinated with the Church. Many have discovered the works of Bp. Kallistos Ware and the beauty of iconography. However, they listen to Gregorian chant, pray Western hours, and appreciate Celtic spirituality (real or imagined). Currently, would-be converts must choose between the Orthodoxy they read about in books and the Western spirituality they can experience. In practice, this often comes down to an unwelcoming Byzantine parish and a barely theistic Episcopalianism. The Church has approved a rite where these would-be converts can truly be themselves. Many are longing for it, whether they know it or not. Infidelity to rite will deprive many of them a home in the Church -- and the priest a goodly number of devout souls.

However, the WRV priest, likely as not, may continue all his life tilling a small plot in the Lord's vineyard. That is his extraordinary privilege. Better to have a few who bring forth an hundred-fold than many barren roots. The results will not be apparent to him until the next world, where they will adorn him forever. However, he must remain true to his calling of stability to realize any of them.*

On another topic, for logophiles such as myself, Fr. Turner coined a term in Part 2:
ecclesiastitis, a sentimental attachment to the externals of the Church, a love of costumes, ceremonies and priestcraft which subconsciously amalgamate with a greeting-card spirituality to simulate a vocation.

There is no dearth of these today anymore than in Fr. Turner's day. Today's set are also particularly given to an interest in fanciful liturgical rites and dubious histories of the West. Thankfully, the Church has typically protected Herself against such and will continue to do so.

* - I wrote this spontaneously last week, and I can't remember a single sentence I wrote at the time. I merely remember the ghost of an impression that the older version was much better than this one. The one that got away...That would have raised the number of good posts on this blog to, one.

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