The Sarabite: Towards an Aesthetic Christianity

There is a continuous attraction, beginning with God, going to the world, and ending at last with God, an attraction which returns to the same place where it began as though in a kind of circle. -Marsilio Ficino

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Honest Ecclesiology

See this post (or rather a post-within-a-post-within-a-post).

This of course is originally from our friend over at the Ochlophobist blog, and it struck me as being incredibly honest and very true. I sometimes wonder why I am not Orthodox, and my only response is "been there, done that". I should say that I was rather a "Uniate" (I know, people don't like the term, but if the shoe fits.....). In any event, I could tell you how many stichera are supposed to be sung at Vespers tonight, whether or not it's a fast day, and how many canons have to read tommorrow at Matins. You know, the important things in life.....

Seriously though, having been a Uniate, I just have to say to any Orthodox reading this: don't do it, don't even think about doing it, and Rome can keep its organization, number, and prestige; it's all it really has anyway. Any liturgical, spiritual, or theological treasure Rome had was either thrown out the window or is now kept in the basement. (I should know, I have been to many liturgical basements.) If the Catholic and Orthodox Churches united tommorrow, why go to Divine Liturgy every Sunday when you can go to St. Anne's Catholic Community down the road and only spend an hour in church instead of three or four? If you don't do things the same, you aren't the same. That's just the way it is. If anything, Orthodoxy would just become one more corner in the Roman liturgical storage area: the people with the "funny-looking Mass."

Of course, I am not as certain as my blogger friend about the Orthodox Church being the one, true Church Christ founded. If it has any claim to this, according to my understanding of how history is, it is because it was kept stored up in a sealed box and emerged to the world only in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution. For me, the same isolation that has kept the Orthodox so pristine is also a symptom of a sin (or at least defect) of omission on its part. History for Eastern Orthodoxy ended in 1453, and they are having the darndest time starting up the clock again. Some time later, (when I have time..... which is very spare these days) I am going to post something on my experience with Orthdox theology, for better or for worse.

One thing I heartily agree with is the sentiment that the Church of the future will be small and strange. (Was it Flannery O' Connor who said, "the truth will make you odd"?) The whole urge of professional ecumenists to get us all in the Big Tent as soon as possible is very odd to me. "Ut unum sint" (that they all may be one) was not a command. Even if we take the Vulgate (sorry, I do not yet know Greek), the verb is in the subjunctive; it is a wish, not a command. What is commanded is that we hold fast to what has been handed down to us, that we presevere in our Faith to the end, and that we love one another. Anything that is not contained in these things is not urgent. It is not urgent that we have the same CEO on the masthead of our Christian "corporations", it is not urgent that we have the exact same press releases, and it is not urgent that we look organized, efficient, and effective as an organization. Maybe "unity" in the form we want it is not ours to seek, but rather God's to give. If we cannot receive it, it is because we are sinful. Just leave it at that.

Christianity, I am certain, as a mass phenomenon is dead..... long live Christianity! I recently read Chuvin's Chronicle of the Last Pagans. It was a sobering read about the decline and disappearance of paganism in the Roman Empire. It never really died out until about the eleventh century. In one city in what is now Iraq, there was still a remnant of the pagan, Neoplatonic schools that preserved the writings of Plato, Aristotle, and other Greek learning. It was from there that they were spread again throughout the Arab world, and from there to Europe, and the rest is history. Maybe that is how we will be. Christ said the gates of hell will not prevail. He didn't elaborate on what that means exactly. So just as these last hold-outs preserved Neoplatonic thought-forms, so maybe that is how we apostolic Christians (Orthodox, Anglicans, Catholics) will preserve the ascetical, liturgical and traditional Christianity of the ages. We just have to be another faithful link in the chain.


At 10:48 AM, Blogger Gina said...

Insightful stuff.

At 1:15 PM, Blogger Sean Roberts said...

I read the post from the Ochlophobist (a blogger I respect) and the whole thread that it was taken from on Pontifications. I don't know why, but every time I feel the need to leave the glories Eastern Catholicism and head to Orthodoxy, a simple encounter with the Orthodox polemic is enough to cure me of any desire to "swim the volga".

At 3:57 PM, Blogger Ochlophobist said...

Brilliant post Mr. Vasquez. Thank you.

Sean, I certainly hope that I have not lost your respect by my entering into that fray. Please trust me when I say that my heart goes out to Eastern Catholics. I have known several who were among the highest caliber of the human species I have encountered. Our Mr. Vasquez spent some years as one and while he may have seen all the bad that Byzantium can offer he is clearly someone who has a vision of beauty any right minded person would want to share. My sympathies for the Eastern Rite Catholics have to do with the fact that the Latins tend to parade them about in a condescending manner (as ecclesial tokens, which this post so eloquently suggests), and we Orthodox tend to hate them for reasons which are different from the ones we state, reasons which are, in fact, quite silly.

If you are among those Eastern Rite Catholics who holds to the Tradition of the Ancient Church in its essentials, then I consider you my brother, regardless of who your bishop decides to affiliate himself with. But perhaps that doesn't mean much coming from me as I am someone who would consider a man such as Mr. Vasquez my brother, despite his being an ecclesial troubadour. I know of Eastern Rite village parishes in Romania that have gone back and forth between Orthodox and Eastern Rite several times in the last two generations. Many of the faithful there could not tell you if they were in communion with Rome or not, for them, its all "Orthodox." Do you think that if I was in one of these villages at Pascha I would inquire which side the bishop was with before I took communion? Of course not. I try to be a faithful Orthodox and I believe what the Orthodox Church teaches. But lets face it. The Holy Spirit goes where He wills.

At 4:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a western, baptized Orthodox, and havng returned to Conservative, High-church Anglicanism, my beef with Orthodox has very little to do with dogma and everything to do with keeping the "tradtions." The more and more I learned about Orthopraxis (which is virtually the same for "unitaites") is that is ain't traditional at all, not even for Easterns.

Indeed, most of the warp and woof of contemporary Orthopraxis is the imposition of a a couple of medieval monastic typicons on laity, a very bizare practice as (1) higly regulated and organized cenotobic monsticism was a fairly late development in Christianity and cannot possibly represent the mainsteam Aposotlic way, and (2) in any event laymen aren't monastics.

The more I researched, the more I found that the Orthodox "Cathedral Rites," used in the nonMonastic churches were lost to Moslem invasion. But, the better 'liturigcal archeaology' suggests something much close to the Anglican Prayer-Book Tradition than the Monastic Typicon.

Finally, it dawned on me that the dogmatic truth contained of Greek Fathers (liguistically ) is the patrimony of all Christians, and that living out a psuedo-monastic livestyle is not essential, or even helpful, to taking advantage of thereof.

So, I suppose if I found myself in rural Romania on Pascha, I would attend the Christian Church I could, whether Orthodox or Uniate, and chalk it up as a visit to a psuedo-monastery!

At 5:43 AM, Blogger Ochlophobist said...

I can feel the love death bredon.

I am curious what you and Pseudo-Iamblichus think of the common practice among Orthodox in the West that has developed in recent decades. I agree with the analysis that the cathedral liturgy was surpressed by the monastic liturgy, though there is some debate on exactly what the cathedral liturgy entailed. Nonetheless in today's Orthodoxy you have a Divine Liturgy that rarely goes over an hour and a half, a Matins that is almost always under an hour, a Vespers that runs 45-50 minutes, and so on. In the OCA, which as the heir of Slavic Orthodoxy in the United States should have widespread use of the Saturday Vigil service (combined Vespers and Matins on Saturday night - I used to attend a parish that did this, when I first started going there the service was well over 3 hours long, then they cut it down to 2 hours, and before I left the parish they split the services and started doing a read Matins in the morning) far less than 10% of the parishes do this. In other words, through a snip, snip here and a hatchet there the Orthodox services have become more user friendly. Do you think that what we see here is a return to something akin to a catherdral liturgy, or do you think that this is simply monastic liturgy lite? I am inclined to think the former but I still see the development as a good thing. There was a time in my life when I could spend 3 1/2 hours in church 40-45 Saturday nights during the year, but that time has passed. With a toddler it is simply not feasible. I think that the trend to make the services shorter and more simple continues, and this brings both pros and cons. The pros relate to the fact that Orthodox worship becomes more accessible. The cons have to do with the fact that when you cut large portions out of a liturgical service what is left can become hodge podge and arbitrary. But, of course, Orthodox have been doing this for a long time as the Old Believers remind us.

At 10:00 AM, Blogger Arturo Vasquez said...

Hello all,

Owen, my spiritual ecclesiological brotherhood is yours to reject. At this stage in the game, anyone who is passionately looking to live the life in Christ is my brother. That is the beauty of Anglican ecclesiological agnosticism. So I can take my theological lute and serenade fair damsels throughout God's kingdom without too many scrupples about if I truly belong there or not.

As for for the Pontifications blog, I don't think I even read the original post. I just really liked the Ochlophobist's response to it. I believe I have posted on Pontifications once, and then I had to go to confession afterwards. When there are posts like, "Why Pope Benedict has the best head of hair in all of Christendom," and 1,567 comments after it, I think I will take a rain-check, thank you very much. When these people are busy thumbing through their old copies of the Catholic Encyclopedia seeing if they can be more clever with Patristic quotes than their current theological nemisis-to-the-death, I would rather be in a shady grove reading the poems of Gabriela Mistral, at Evensong, or at least trying not to be such a jerk (I have a PH.D in jerk studies).

As for my Patristic Anglican friend, I have to say that I am much more Philo-Orthodox, but that is just me. I still liturgically fast, but nowhere near what the Easterns would consider fasting (no food before Communion, no meat on Fridays, etc.) Lancelot Andrewes was a great defender of fasting in an ecclesiological context. What I do not like is the absolute obligation to fast and a strict definition of fasting. Fasting is necessary, but the Gospel does not specify what it is or how to do it. This is highly variable then.

And I like all liturgies, warts and all. That's just how I roll.

At 1:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Greek Catholics of Romania, unfortunately-and I do have a first hand knowledge of them-in so many cases no longer follow the Byzantine rite, but a sort of hybrid rite, where Bzantine elements mix up with some Tridentine relics, all copiously spiced up with post Vatican II liturgical innovations and piety.
Most of these began after 1990. Prior to this, the only noticeable differences were those related to the liturgical language: the language used in the Orthodox liturgical books being full of Slavonic words (they sound very natural in Romanian, nonetheless), while that of the Uniate books was, and still is, less so, and thus "more Latin".
vecernie/serinda (vespers)
slavoslovie/doxologie (doxology)
pavecernita/dupa-cinar (compline)
polunosnita/miezinopter/miezinoptica (midnight office)
izbavi/rascumpara (redeem)
izbavitor/rascumparator (redeemer)
milostivi/milui/indura (have mercy)
Sfintul Duh/Sfintul Spirit
Hvalite/laude (Lauds)
svetilna/luminatoare (exapostilarion)

At 10:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I think we probably agree more than you think. I too just don't see the appeal of Pontifications anymore, now that Al has swum the Tiber and no longer give relatively impartial moderation.

Also, when I say "liturgical fasting," I mean by that required, strict fasting. Voluntary fasting that springs forth from a living Faith is wonderful and I fully endorse it -- be it litrugrically based or fairly random and spontaneous. With St. John Chrysostom, I say, let those who have kept the fast and those who have not joyfully keep the Feast.

--Patristic Anglican

At 10:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Although Fr. Paul Meyendorff (son of Fr. John), the liturigical expert, has proposed a the restoration of a neat "Cathedaral Vigil" -- Vespers plus portions of Mattins --for about a 1-hour Saturday evening service and a tighter 1 to 1 1/2 hour litrugy (skip some of the redundant litanies, and especially the mood-killling litinay the of the Pater Noster for heavens sake!)

I think these are great ideas and have attended a parish that does the Mattins resurrection Gospel in the abbreviated Vigil, (the Greeks and Arab are NEVER there to hear these beautiful Gospel readings), but unfortunately that parish really dragged out the Divine Liturgy (about 2 hours plus). Hey most of the Monks on Athos do the liturgy in 45 mins to 1-hour max!)

Hopefully, the nip and tuck approach, under the discerning and faithful scrutiny of Faithful men like Fr. Paul Meyendorff will continue and grow. This would essentially be the Eastern revival of the Cathedral Rite (Mass and Office Christianity) just as the 1549 BCP was for the West (or a small part of it).


Patristic Anglican


Do love your blog! Keep it up!

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