Wednesday, August 20, 2008

So, Two Pictures Are Worth 2,000 Words....

I know the blog entry was some time ago, but I couldn't forget those pictures of St. Gregory the Great's parish being changed from this to this. The images showing Fr. Alford and his congregation laboring to construct a reverent WR Orthodox church out of a former Pentecostal meeting house got me thinking. You could see these two pictures as graphic representations of the transformation of so many former evangelicals from Protestants into Orthodox Christians. It reminds me of this cartoon, actually. (Or read the archives of this blog.) No one can say how many, but over the last several decades, thousands have become Orthodox, either Eastern or Western Rite. This number includes not a few charismatics, perhaps not unlike the group that formerly owned St. Gregory the Great's building.

One striking aspect of Orthodoxy, both Eastern and Western Rite, is the palpable sense of God's presence that our architecture, our sacred space, conveys. This is not always obvious in the architecture of our souls. Because of our sins, whether "cradle" or "convert," Eastern or Western, we desperately need to change from within. This is not merely rearranging the deck chairs (though some saints had a high level of sanctity from infancy); for most of us, it is a major refurbishing. At various stages in our renovation into the image of Christ, our souls may look like this and even this. Someone may look around at the refuse and think to himself, "Things were better before I started this undertaking; all I've done is destroy the condition of my soul. At least before, everything was in its place." Yet we know if the inner man is to become what our Lord wishes it to be, if we are to persist in following His commandments, more renovation must take place, messy and unfamiliar as things sometimes become.

This difficulty is compounded by the fact that, not only can this stage of growth be mistaken for destruction, but a period of destruction can also confused for this stage of growth. This is most true when one destroys his previous background's tradition and replaces it, not with the Lord's commandments, but with self-confidence and his own wisdom. "There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death." (Prov. 16:25). This person may seek to avoid the clear moral teachings of Orthodoxy, but constructing with a faulty moral blueprint, however well reasoned, will lead only to chaos, artifice, or disfigurement.

More often, he tries to remake the Church in his own image. Such a person knows the Church's teachings but finds he has a much better idea. He has culled ancient (and often long-dead) canons, divorced them from their context, and insisted "true" Orthodox follow them. Or he has strung together a series of liturgical texts that run in a cadence he rather likes and may (or may not) have come from pre-Schism times, and so insists the Church must bless and allow him to use it; after all, he is merely "returning" the Church to her foundations. They begin to ponder: "Perhaps the Church has not considered...Perhaps I was converted for the very purpose of helping the Church discover (or 'rediscover')...." He has been given immense wisdom and insight, engaged in "monumental undertakings," and his light was not made to be hid under a bushel. He cannot! He will not!

However, the Church has a way of shrugging off proud suggestions and self-congratulatory "scholarship" (and often such "scholars" have no scholarly credentials to begin with). Thus, the person becomes angry, frustrated, and his superior canonical or liturgical knowledge (conveniently) allows him to indulge his anger and hatred of the Church herself. He alone (or with a group outside the Church) has preserved the fulness of Church tradition, which the Church has rejected. If She has done this, she must be opposed to...the Church! How apostate, even Satanic, the Body of Christ becomes in their reasoning! Somehow, in making this case, these people cannot understand who might motivate them to attack the Body of Christ in such a way. If such people join a canonical Orthodox Church, they may no longer be members of their former denominations. They become "Orthodox" in name but rejected the Church's plan for constructing their lives. They destroyed their former background and built a self-directed shack in its place, them helpfully placed a plackard advertizing them as "Orthodox" in the front...the better to discredit the rest of us.

There is no place for self-guided morality or canons. And so it is with the Western Rite, as implemented by canonical Orthodoxy. In matters of liturgics, as in matters of our theosis, there is no room for Do-It-Yourself schemes. Following our own preferences will introduce chaos into what should be a well-ordered system. And as those who know construction will attest, problems with one part of a structure affect other parts of the edifice, as well. Soon, our moral, sacramental, and prayer lives are built on self rather than Christ. We turn our churches, and our souls, from this to this.

We have much work to do to turn our soul into an abode worthy of the Lord; or rather, none of us is ever worthy. God has given us the remaining time of our lives to bring these boards, bricks, and mortar into proper arrangement, and the Church has given us the blueprint of our soul's moral, ecclesiastical, and spiritual construction. Rather than debate and gainsay it, exalt our own "scholarship," let's merely, humbly, anonymously go about following it. Yes, we may at times be confused by new doctrines we have learned that contradict our previous affiliations, moral standards higher than our habitual practice, a prayer regimen arranged differently than those we celebrated. But if we persist, we clear away damaged or rotten boards, build an unshakable foundation, and rearrange parts of our building that the blueprint tells us are sound but out of place. In time, this building comes into order. On the way, we would do well to make ours the supplication of that ancient prayer from the Gelasian Sacramentary, which is included in the Orthodox Missal's "Prayers Before Mass":
Purify our consciences, we beseech Thee, O Lord, by Thy visitation: that our Lord Jesus Christ Thy Son, when He cometh, may find in us a mansion prepared for Himself, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

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