He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God. - Aeschylus

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Fair Questions: What did I learn from visiting an Eastern Orthodox parish regularly?

For a couple of years, I attended the Divine Liturgy at the local Eastern Orthodox parish on average at least once a month, sometimes more.  It was and still is an Antiochian parish, whose Patriarch is currently John X.  I met many very kind people there over those two years, and I recently attended the elevation of one of them to the rank of Proto-deacon.

It was a beautiful liturgy presided over by the current bishop of the diocese, whose name is Anthony.  One of the things I learned from attending the parish was an appreciation for the ancient liturgies, whether it was the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom that was the standard at the parish, or the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great which was used for Great Lent.

It spurred my interest in learning more about the Divine Liturgy of St. Gregory the Great (which most people know as the Roman Catholic Mass) and the Divine Liturgy of St. Mark (an ancient liturgy used by our Coptic brothers and sisters).  I really enjoyed the opportunity to study the ancient liturgies of the Church, and also the opportunity to remedy some of my ignorance of Eastern Christianity in general.

I began having a pronounced interest in iconography after being exposed to the wonderful icons at the parish, and that has lead to a wonderful deepening of my knowledge of both Byzantine iconography in particular and Christian art in general.  I have been giving a plethora of icons as gifts since then, spreading the faith through beauty.

I'm very grateful for these opportunities to learn more about Eastern Christianity, and it was of great value for me as someone who was really only viscerally familiar with Western Christianity prior to this point.  I was raised in Protestant denominations (initially Church of Christ and then Pentecostal) and entered the Catholic Church by way of the Roman rite.

One of the important things I learned is that the virus of modernity is beginning to infect the Eastern Orthodox communities in the U.S. as well.  I had thought that they were resisting it, but as I've become more connected to them both in-person and on the Internet, it's become obvious that they are facing much the same struggles the Catholic Church has been facing, albeit on a delayed timeline.

The push for a greater role for women in the liturgy is alive and well, and this is especially focused on the role of deaconesses much as it is in the West currently.  Laxity is a problem for many, as it generally is in the convenience-oriented and consumerist American culture.  In both cases, it's not clear how things will play out over the long term.  I certainly hope for the best.

I also learned that Byzantine chant is rather different in important ways from Gregorian chant.  I've been learning to chant the propers for Mass for the last couple years, and I notice that while Western chant and Eastern chant share a common heritage, they have become somewhat distinct musical traditions over the past two millennia.

I've also learned about the similarities and differences among the monastic traditions of East and West, and the theological and ecclesiological disagreements that help cement the schism between the Eastern Orthodox intercommunion and Catholic communion.  I've seen the efforts at bridging the schism and reaching toward a re-unification, and of course I pray that we may all be one.

Perhaps most importantly, I've learned that restoring the unity of the Church is not primarily a matter of policy or theology.  It's the local integration of the communities, and the love between them, that most needs to be cultivated in order to re-unify what is now only partially in communion.

And it's us as individual members of our respective parishes that have the power to bridge the divide between the East and West, bringing full communion a little bit closer in our lifetimes by recognizing that we aren't one yet, and that we need to humble ourselves in order to become truly one body.

Related:  Why am I not Eastern Orthodox?

The above picture is one I took of an icon of St. George, the patron saint of the parish I attended.

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