Saturday, September 06, 2008

A Byzantine Word About Uber-Byzantines

A word on Convert Fanaticism SyndromeTM from the Orthodox England website:
Then there are the people who have been attracted to the Church through a discovery on holiday. I call these people 'Holiday Orthodox'. Their attraction is often not actually to Christ, but to a foreign and exotic culture - the more exotic the better. Living very humdrum lives, the Orthodox Church gives them something to dream about, usually their next holiday in Crete or wherever....

Then there are the people who come with their own agenda, often 'know it alls', who have read every book under the sun, but still have no idea of the letter A of the Christian ABC. And they come with demands which they wish to impose! 'Yes, I want to join the Orthodox Church, but only on condition that it has first been 'reformed' and 'modernised''! 'Yes, this is good, but I want to add in some Western hymns before the Canon'!, or 'I will only join the Orthodox Church when it has the same Easter as my Aunt Susan who is a Methodist'!, or 'Everything is perfect except that you use too many candles. Take away the candles and I will join the Orthodox Church'. 'I will only be Orthodox if you have an icon of St Francis of Assisi'! 'I will join the Orthodox Church on condition that everybody votes New Labour and goes on holiday to Tuscany'! [Or, "Have you seen the Missal I've put together? It's so much better than the approved Western Rite Orthodox...."- BJ] These are perhaps extreme examples, but they are all real examples. They are all examples of a lack of humility. No priest should receive such people into the Church for the simple reason that they do not love and accept the Church and Her Master Christ...

The attachment to externals can extend to foreign clothes, language, food and folklore. I remember in one Russian church in Belgium, you immediately knew who the converts were; the men had nineteenth-century Russian peasant beards and the women wore dowdy long skirts and seemed to be wearing tablecloths on their heads. You knew who the Russians were because they dressed normally. In a Greek church here, there were two priests, a Greek and a convert. You immediately knew who the convert was because he wore huge wide-sleeved robes and an enormous chimney-pot on his head. The Greek just wore an undercassock.

In another Russian church, the Russians always spoke about singing, Christmas and Easter, but the 'converts' (and that is what they were) spoke about 'chanting' and 'The Nativity' and 'Paskha'...

Some people can be so full of themselves! Some people can be very self-important and very puffed-up. They will first tell you - if you let them - their detailed life-stories and then all the latest gossip about Priest X, Bishop Y, and then Jurisdiction Z. Even though they do not know the ABC of the children's Faith. The thing is though, that Christianity, and that is what we are about, is about none of these things....

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2 Comments:

Blogger Vir Speluncae Orthodoxae said...

Amen to that!

On the other hand: there are those "natives" who think the Church is just a ethnic social hall, those CEO's (Christmas and Easter only) those OCINO's all who don't even know what page Genesis is on! They all sometimes make me want to go back to Rome (at least there you know who is in charge) but then I see what goes on in the typical Roman NO "Community" and it reminds why I left in the first place.

7:26 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

I don't disagree with the spirit of this essay, but there's one bit which has always bothered me a bit.

I remember in one Russian church in Belgium, you immediately knew who the converts were; the men had nineteenth-century Russian peasant beards and the women wore dowdy long skirts and seemed to be wearing tablecloths on their heads. You knew who the Russians were because they dressed normally. In a Greek church here, there were two priests, a Greek and a convert. You immediately knew who the convert was because he wore huge wide-sleeved robes and an enormous chimney-pot on his head. The Greek just wore an undercassock.

In another Russian church, the Russians always spoke about singing, Christmas and Easter, but the 'converts' (and that is what they were) spoke about 'chanting' and 'The Nativity' and 'Paskha'...

I understand what the writer intends to mean, but in all frankness how it has always come across to me is "You know the converts because they haven't modernized like the cradles." (One can also point out that which cassocks one wears is, to some degree, a matter of following the rubrics.) There's something problematic to me about that sentiment. I know that isn't what is meant, but it rankles a bit nonetheless.

(Convert disclaimer: I'm bearded but keep it closely trimmed and have very short hair. I see no point in wearing 19th century Russian peasant dress. I use "Pascha" and "Easter," as well as "Christmas" and "Nativity" interchangeably. I am the cantor/choir director at my parish, and tend to prefer use of the verb "singing" to "chanting," but it depends on the context. I very much dislike the word "chanter" because the appropriate word for this in English is "cantor". My wife usually covers her head in church, but with a modest headscarf.)

Richard

11:06 AM  

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