Thursday, August 13, 2009

Is there a future for Orthodox and Catholics Together?

I want to address a few of the observations made by Orthodox Christians regarding the way we Catholics "experience" God, by ourselves and also when in community. Then I want to draw a couple of conclusions and maybe sketch what road lies ahead for Orthodox and Catholics together.

Let me tell you a bit about my own experience. When I worship the Lord, at Liturgy (at Mass, or when praying the Hours) I am not reading lessons from Aristotle or St. Thomas. When I worship, I am not absorbed in the contemplation of syllogisms. I am certain that I am in dialogue with Someone and this Someone is True God and True Man; and this dialogue is enabled by Someone who is Personal Spirit that empowers me to say to God, "Abba, Father."

Orthodox apologists often accuse Catholics of holding to a cold kind of faith, riddled with this pagan Aristotelian philosophy and weakened to the point of gracelessness by the cryptomodalism contained in the "filioquist" heresy of the West. It is strange though that I never experienced God as Orthodox apologists say I experience Him solely on the basis of my flawed Catholic understandings.

That did open a crack, small at first, in the claims of Orthodox exclusivity, which then became a chasm.

I like to think that my faith has deepened quite a bit ever since I started to pattern it on monastic practice. Praying the Liturgy of the Hours regularly was the first step; making oblation as a lay Benedictine - an Orthodox father of East and West - was another step in that direction.

We both, then, hearken to our monastic heritage in the way we understand and express the faith, and this is as much true in the West as it is in the East, whether or not most Catholics share that appreciation is another matter.

My point, and also one of my goals in having written Twelve Differences Between the Orthodox and the Catholic Churches - more than likely unconsciously held: I just thought that the time that we should go beyond the caricatures we hold of each other is finally here. That it took a Catholic revert - and an Orthodox deserter at that, who in the eyes of many, may have never really "converted" - to open the gates and energize a grass-roots dialogue, well, I think that says something.

One thing I can say in defense of the "modern" Catholic Church is this: there is more willingness to right ancient wrongs and to reopen old dialogues anew in the Vatican than in the Phanar, Athos, and all other Orthodox centers. Now more than ever there is an inclination to listen to what the Orthodox Church has to about herself, in her terms. Alas, there is no reciprocation from the Orthodox, at least from the traditional custodians - the bishops, the monks - of Orthodox Tradition, and that also tells us something.

There's a lot of recognition and purification of our historical memories that need to occur before reconciliation even begins to occur. Perhaps the way to proceed - and this would only work between the Catholic and the Orthodox Church, and no one else - is to accept at faith value the claims we make about our respective faiths, and then reflect what such a self-understanding would mean to the other. The more traditional approach - let me first define you and then let me tell you why I don't like you - has ran is course, it is sterile, graceless, unable to grant life.

I have despaired as a Catholic - as I once despaired as an Orthodox - of this traditional way of "dialogue." I have posed to myself the question what the Orthodox viewpoint brings to my self-understanding as a Christian and so far, I haven't felt the least violated by the insights gained and I am also surprised that my identity as a Catholic remains intact. I can't be a good Protestant and a good Catholic but somehow, I can be a good "Orthodox" - yet not in good standing with the Orthodox Church, I admit that - and a good Catholic.

It's true in a sense to say that I have achieved that because deep down I perceive that I am lacking something. Well, yes. Not all deprivations are morally onerous. Catholic teaching tells me that I am OK being "only" a Latin-rite Catholic and I accept that and yet, I feel more complete, more "Catholic" when I integrate the Eastern Christian insights into my outlook and deep prayer life, absent any desire to "return" to an Orthodoxy that is already my inheritance.

I wonder if Orthodox Christians, in those moments when they can suppress their historical animus against the West, don't feel the same and if the bluster with which they affirm Orthodox exceptionalism is an old defense mechanism to hide that feeling. Are the Orthodox Christians "out there" pining to pray the rosary the same way I pray the Jesus Prayer with my tchotky? I bet there are and the fact that is easier for me to pray the Jesus Prayer than an Orthodox to pray a the Rosary also says something.

Finally, while our bishops, theologians and academics work out through the high-level issues, we at the grassroots level should be engaging in a different kind of cooperation. Secularism has become quite militant lately and perhaps a common front of Orthodox and Catholic Christians, joined together to face it down is in order. I think this the Spirit is now pushing the Churches toward this cooperation: a joint engagement in the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. Joint prayer may or may not be practicable, but mercy can't wait. In this we have to work together.

I've rambled enough. Thank you all for your comments. May the Lord bless us richly.