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

Monday, March 19, 2007

Western "Eastern Orthodoxy" as Boutique Religion

A Long Overdue Rant

I used to be a spiritual tourist of Orthodox churches. The one shown above is a church of the Jerusalem Patriarchate in Felton, California, which is a splinter group of the Antiochene church five miles down the road. Once, when I first came to this church, a nice lady approached me in the narthex and asked me the most Protestant question I have ever been asked in my life:

"So, where do you fellowship on Sunday mornings?"

My Catholic brain almost blew a fuse. What the heck was she asking? I had to clear the desk in my brain of photos of humeral veils from Spain and Infant of Prague novenas in order to interpret her "Protestantese". "I think," I concluded, "she is asking me where I go to church on Sunday." So I told her that at that point I was going to a Uniate church. (Don't like the term, "Uniate"? Well if the shoe fits...)

That experience alone should have told me to stop sipping the Byzantine punch of icons and troparia, but I didn't. And now, almost four years later, after a changing rites, growing a rather impressive beard and becoming a monk, I can honestly say that I have learned my lesson. The Orthodox way is NOT the answer. If anything, it is for the most part an exotic spirituality that ignores the patrimony of the Western Church and seeks to replace the struggles at the heart of Christianity with escapism.

I will let other members of my small internet parish, of which I am a cardinal archbishop, tell the story:

From the Undercroft:

To "breathe together" - conspirare - is the meaning of "conspiracy". It's what like-thinking, like-loving human beings do as a matter of course. It implies necessarily no organisation nor formal statement of intent; no plan of action nor party line. It’s no more than the normal and natural way of things. It’s what we all do. The wildest and most radical of all conspiracies is of those who seek to breathe together with the Man-God in His Mystical Body.

From Go Sit In The Corner:

And as for spirituality (since I've already played the gender card, it's only fair that I play the race card now), my grandparents lived in a place and time where they had to pay to attend Mass and then were usually not allowed to sit. Other black Catholics in this time period were not allowed to even stay to the end of Mass, so as to avoid any contact with the white congregation. Many black Catholics in southern Louisiana actually had no place to attend Mass, as they were banned from the white churches. Forget whether or not they were spiritually nourished in a Latin Mass, for they were not allowed to enter the Church. Thus, they lost their faith. That is grievous error, that is a Church hierarchy completely and lackadaisically disregarding the lowliest members of the community. Thanks be to God that I live in a time where I am not banned because of my race from attending a Catholic Mass! Thanks be to God that I do not live in a time and place where I would have to worship Him in a cave and risk being hung upside down if discovered! Thanks be to God that He has given me the opportunity to be literate, and read volumes of books, if I so choose, about the liturgy! Praise God for giving me access to the internet, where I can come on here and praise Him or whine about His Church! Thanks be to God for sparing me the suffering of impaired fingers due to motor disorders as I sit here and type this, and for preserving my fingers from mutilation for believing in Him that I would have suffered in previous centuries!

From the Lion and the Cardinal:

...Apologetics require the consideration of Roman Catholicism in contrast to something else, and that is precisely the problematic perspective that I have been trying to correct with everything I do here. A big problem with Roman Catholicism since the rise of Protestantism is that many Catholics been so concerned with responding to skeptics that they have allowed the skeptics to shape the way that they consider the faith. This website is supposed to be a celebration of Roman Catholicism on its own merits.

Also I believe it a bad idea to seek religious guidance on the internet instead of in reality. I do not want to encourage this mistake by pretending to offer any. This is a Roman Catholic website; one of its purposes is constructive criticism of recent developments in Roman Catholicism. Its harshest criticism is based on the writings of Roman Catholic authors of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, none of whom ever left the Church. The foundational assumption of their criticism, and mine, is that the Church is indeed true. If it were not, it would not be worth the effort to discuss it. A man who does not hold that foundational assumption is welcome to read this blog and to offer his insight, but if he wants to know which religion to profess, he should ask the Holy Ghost, not some stranger with a pretty website.

The bottom line is that we love our Church. We think that it is the true Church. And we don't need mostly convert Orthdox to come along and whine to us about how bad our Church is. We know better than you do because we stay in it, and some of us see the worst of it week after week. At certain points in the history of this blog, I have said that this is an unhealthy thing, and perhaps it is. But if our Church is not the true Church, than no church is the true Church. This is the case since if God cannot make us work, He will not be able to make anything work. But He is God, so all things are possible to Him.

Eastern Orthodoxy will never, ever, ever take root in the Western soul. At best, it can sprout shallow roots until the next spiritual fad or tent revival comes along. The soul of the West speaks Latin, prays to statues, and fidgets with rosaries. The soul of the West is covered with side altars, wears lace, and sports a lop-sided birretta. And the soul of the West doesn't particularily care what was done one thousand years ago, or whether such-and-such a practice was precisely what the early Church did. A lifetime ago is more than enough for it, since the Holy Ghost was there too. Whether or not the West has been faithful to its own soul is another post altogether....

We chose to stay and fight. We chose to be an open conspiracy against the forces eating away at the One True Church of God. We will not build our small churches with twenty converts singing kontakia in bad King James version-style English. We will not get together for Lent in order to discuss homeopathic medicine over vegan cake and Boca burgers. We will not surrender our churches to the people who want to destroy them in order to dream of some Byzantium that never was. If we aren't the answer, then no one is. If we lived in Romania, maybe it would be different. But we refuse to place in doubt the Faith of our Fathers. Our ancestors were not heretics, our saints were saints, and our churches were the Houses of God and the Gates of Heaven, and we will fight to keep them so.

Orthodox people are more than welcome to read this blog, and I will try to post more in praise of Orthodoxy in the future. But this is a blog that thinks that our Faith is worth fighting for, and we will fight. We will refuse to be a small boutique next to the Hare Krishnas and Scientology. As St. Pius X said:

No, Venerable Brethren, We must repeat with the utmost energy in these times of social and intellectual anarchy when everyone takes it upon himself to teach as a teacher and lawmaker - the City cannot be built otherwise than as God has built it; society cannot be setup unless the Church lays the foundations and supervises the work; no, civilization is not something yet to be found, nor is the New City to be built on hazy notions; it has been in existence and still is: it is Christian civilization, it is the Catholic City. It has only to be set up and restored continually against the unremitting attacks of insane dreamers, rebels and miscreants. OMNIA INSTAURARE IN CHRISTO.

Notre Charge Apostolique

Not taking this in its most integrist reading, we can say that the West does not need Eastern Orthodoxy to restore it. It can surely help, but the West itself has all that is necessary for the restoration of the Church. All we lack is an ardent Faith and a firm resolve. May we pray to God that He might give us these things.


At 12:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I converted to Orthodoxy a few years ago. I was a member of a different Jerusalem Patriarchate parish. It was mainly a convert parish. I finally got fed up with the constant anti-Catholicism and left. I have come back to the Catholic Church. I have realized for me that if the Catholic Church isn't the True Church, nothing is.

At 6:18 AM, Blogger Fr. Gregory Jensen said...

While I was initially irritated by this post, on further reflection I would find myself in generally agreement. I do think that as Orthodox Christians we often do present ourselves as a "Boutique Religion." Though I would point out that this is not an unknown criticism of the Orthodox Church by Orthodox Christians.

But in the main, and Schmemman points this out as well, we prefer to define ourselves in opposition to the West in general and often (as in the case of the JP in Fenton, CA) in opposition to the Roman Catholic Church in particular. This is certainly not a right thing to do, and it is not even helpful.

At the same time, however, I would resist the rather final tone of the essay: "Eastern Orthodoxy will never, ever, ever take root in the Western soul. At best, it can sprout shallow roots until the next spiritual fad or tent revival comes along." Obviously I disagree, though I do understand why you say this. The Orthodox Church is taking root in the West--thought what the form of that will be is yet to be seen. What is really needed is a reconciliation between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.

I agree with Pope John Paul II argues, the Church breaths with two lungs, one East, the other West. For this reason, I think it is an overstatement to say that we do not need each other. I think we do need each other and that, shocking though this is to say, we are neither fully ourselves without the other. I will leave to better theological minds then mine how to work that out, but it seems to me this what we mean when we say that we are sister churches to one another.

Looking over what I've written I have no doubt that there are any number of objections that can be raised--an let them be raised by any who wish to do so. But again, we need each other. As I tease my bishop and say I pray in Greek, but I think in Latin.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

At 6:53 AM, Blogger Sean Roberts said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 6:57 AM, Blogger Sean Roberts said...

As the Metropolitan of Sugarloaf, I can say with great authority that your beard was never that impressive.

At 8:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You sure don't like Protestants.

At 8:35 AM, Blogger Arturo Vasquez said...


As Mitred Archimandrite of Boulder Bay, I have to object.

'Is outrage!!!!!!

At 10:46 AM, Blogger Arturo Vasquez said...

And by the way, I have assigned ranks to our virtual Vatican:

Mr. Mitsui is the archabbot of our massive monateries, artistic workshops, and schools.

Moretben is titular Patriarch of the Undercroft.

I am, of course, the Cardinal Archbishop of Berkeley and all of the East Bay.

And AG is Pope Joan.....

At 11:51 AM, Blogger AG said...

Yeah! I get to satisfy my childhood ambition to be pope, and I'm pregnant. Hmm.

At 12:43 PM, Blogger D. I. Dalrymple said...

Oh, you're such a firebrand, Arturo.

At 2:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, protestantism, bad singing, pseudo-science, and vegetarianism. That sounds almost as bad as the Novus Ordo.

At 3:43 PM, Blogger Albion Land said...


A very dear friend of mine spent his gap year between school and university teaching English in Nepal. While there he had the wonderful opportunity to spend a few days shadowing the Dalai Lama and doing a sort of photo reportage on him. Over that time, they got to know each other a bit.

My friend tells the story about how the Dalai Lama addressed a group of Western "seekers" who had come to immerse themselves in Tibetan Buddhism at the local retreat centre, or whatever it was.

His basic message to them was to go home to San Francisco, or London or Peoria, or wherever it was they came from, and thoroughly immerse themselves in the religious culture viz Christianity that they had never really got to know and were presumably leaving behind. Then, and only then, and after thoroughly considering and rejecting that culture, should they consider coming back.

At 4:17 PM, Blogger Arturo Vasquez said...

Mr. Land,

That is wonderful, absolutely wonderful! I would wonder if the Orthodox converts who read this blog have really given Western Christianity a shot. Maybe they should put down their Triodia and pick up the Book of Common Prayer again, put down their chotki/komboschini and take up the rosary, or put away their icons and get a statue of the Virgin of Sorrows.

For all of the talk of Western Christianity being rationalistic, is not the most rationalistic thing of all to put away the traditions of your ancestors for something totally foreign? T.S. Eliot could write a poem called "Ash Wednesday", he could never write one called "Clean Monday" (although I have, twice). For all of the talk of the nous and noetic knowing/unknowing (Palamas), there is an aweful lot of thinking/judging going on viz history and theology of one's forefathers. We might just let tradition drive us more than we as moderns are comfortable. To do the contrary might just be falling into the postmodern trap.

At 4:59 PM, Blogger D. Benedict Andersen OSB said...

All I can say is, very interesting post, Arturo. Though I'm not supposed to say so, I think you've hit the nail on the head.

At 5:05 PM, Blogger 123 said...

I have never posted on your blog, but have always enjoyed your cut to the chase, take no prisoners style. At the end of the day, there are a lot of weirdos out there, especially in the religions of both religion and anti-religion.

I have heard the Eastern Orthodoxy is not for Westerners argument before and it always strikes me as a paraphrase of what I imagine a number of good Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Russian, Bulgarian, Georgian, etc. mothers and fathers asking of their children that converted to some Jewish sect. "Isn't the faith of *your* fathers good enough? why do you need to follow some God from some weird little tribe in the eastern Mediterranean?" I also hear the same thing from the families of Christian converts in Asia and Africa - why even bother doing mission work? what was Jesus thinking when he said to go forth to the nations? why wasn't the faith of their fathers good enough?

Of course, that is all different than arguing that the Orthodox Church is the Church, that the RCC and all Protestants are heretical or schismatic, or that religion is even important at all.

If I was honest with myself, and I am now and again, I would admit that many Protestant converts to Orthodoxy are looking for a way to be catholic without being Roman Catholic. While God for you may speak Latin, God for the average Protestant thinks the Papacy has been corrupt and making things up as he goes for centuries - Orthodoxy allows a Westerner to think that not everything after the writing of Revelations is 'a tradition of men'. The ethos (not the specifics) behind the Orthodox and Protestant critiques of Papal Supremacy and Infallibility has quite a lot of commonality, so it is just as 'Western' (in the Protestant sense) to become Orthodox and not Roman Catholic when looking to be catholic and orthodox. (At one point one might look to the Anglicans, but that was usually seen by the non-English as a national and cultural Church not as a truly universal Church - and what with its recent history...).

At 5:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Eastern Orthodoxy will never, ever, ever take root in the Western soul."

If you mean any individual Western soul, that seems presumptious.

If you mean the West, I am bound to wonder why Rome has seen Orthodoxy as such a threat:

“When a leading Vatican dignitary was asked why the Vatican was against France during World War II [sic; should read World War I], he exclaimed, "The victory of the Entente allied with Russia would have been as great a catastrophe for the Roman Catholic Church as the Reformation was." [19] Pope Pius conveyed this feeling in his typically abrupt manner: "If Russia is victorious, then the schism is victorious."

At 6:03 PM, Blogger Anaxagoras said...

Well, I was born into an independent Baptist home and raised in a Baptist school, so I had to choose some form of apostolic christianity eventually or just stay in heresy... 'cause anyway you slice it, the official American religion of charismagelical bapticostalism that most people in the U.S. refer to when they say, "I'm a Christian" is a quasi-gnostic heresy. I don't mind saying I was in it for 20 years, but it isn't the Truth and it never will be.

I suppose when I made my "boutique religion" choice that I could have chosen Roman Catholicism instead. It sure would make my life easier since I am Hispanic. I just don't think it is where the fullness of Truth resides the same way that a Roman Catholic doesn't feel that Orthodoxy is where the fullness of Truth resides.

Call if "being catholic without the pope" if you want. Hell yeah that's what it is- because the pope has no business being where the Romans have put him. That's easy enough to determine unless you have swallowed the Latin Vatican I punch. I don't have any reason to believe it would be any less bitter to swallow than the Byzantine icon and troparia punch.

So if the Romans are wrong and the Byzantines are just supposed to be a little cultural sect that isn't allowed for anyone else outside of Eastern Europe, maybe we have all been wrong all along.

I remember reading something that Owen (the ochlophobist) wrote in one of his "uberfromm posts" about how a surprising number of converts to Orthodoxy apostasize from Christianity all together. Orthodox apologetics effectively cure them of Evangelical delusions and they also refute Roman assumptions very convincingly (for some people at least). However, when they turn around and see how freaking culturally irrelevant this little Greek/Slavic/Arab sect really is and how it is dying in many parts of the world, they start to realize that maybe the whole "invincible church" story is just that... a story.

At times I wonder whether they are really all that misled.

At 3:24 AM, Blogger Albion Land said...


Por favor. Me llamo Albion. Y que me tutees.

Soy un lector asiduo de tu blog, y solo lamento que no hayas econtrado tu camino en el Continuum.

Hablando de caminos, soy devoto del Camino de Santiago, y tengo ganas de volver. A ver si ti apuntes algun dia.

At 3:29 AM, Blogger Albion Land said...

Dear Readers,

Sorry for the digression into Spanish.

One of the things I was saying to Arturo was that I was sorry that his path had not led him to the Continuing churches (even though the cultural ethos there is traditionally English and not Hispanic).

For those of you who might be interested (Arturo is already a reader), I invite you to cast your eye over The Continuum (

At 5:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have some humility, Arturo. You’re not the only one whom the Church has made to suffer and, in the light of your own past aesthetically motivated denominational meanderings, you are no Petra either.

It would have been far easier for me, in many ways, to have remained a Roman Catholic. The carapace of traditional Roman Catholicism haunts my blood like a kind of spiritual malaria. There is probably no complete cure for this, but the best medicine is the wet slap in the face I get when I attend a provincial parish Novus Ordo, meet my Bishop, or speak to a random bunch of Catholics on street or Internet forum.

In my opinion, the Roman Church is mad. It has cut itself off from the rest of the Apostolic Church in an epic millennial sulk, and this haughty solitude has curdled its collective mind. I am not saying that there is no hope, but a genuine reform will probably take many generations to bring about. It certainly requires more than just another Apostolic Exhortation or even a formal liberalization of the traditional rite.

If the Roman Church didn’t make me say the filioque, and if it stopped claiming that the Pope is different in any essential way to any other Bishops, and if it first apologised for, and then actually banned, the Novus Ordo, I’d be back like a shot. I love “the plaster statues with the swords in the bleeding heart : the whisper behind the confessional curtains : the holy coats and the liquefaction of blood : the dark side chapels and the intricate movements” as much as the next man.

In the meantime, I need to keep my mind on the face of Christ and follow Him wherever He leads me, and however hard and alienating it will be. And I know it will be hard and alienating.

By the way, I’m sure that T.S. Eliot could have written an excellent poem about ‘Clean Monday’.

At 6:40 AM, Blogger 123 said...

By the way, I’m sure that T.S. Eliot could have written an excellent poem about ‘Clean Monday’.

Or, rather, "Forgiveness Sunday" since Lent begins with the Vespers of Forgiveness on that day according to the Sabbaite Typikon.

At 9:03 AM, Blogger Arturo Vasquez said...

"Have some humility, Arturo."

Mr. Bleaney,

I would read your comments again and see if maybe we both might need a shot of humility.


I am not saying that all of the Orthodox who are reading this should go back to Rome tommorrow (though I would have no strong objections to this). This is a rant, and as in all rants, there is some rhetorical exaggeration involved. (Although most of the anecdotes I witnessed did indeed happen in the ways described.) And I have known certain people who are perfectly in their skin as Orthodox Christians who were not Orthodox since the cradle.

Nevertheless, I cannot help but question the whole phenomenon of Byzantine Christianity in a Roman Christian world. Did St. John Cassian, when he went from Palestine, to Egypt, to Constantiople, to Rome, to Marseilles, feel that he had to drag a certain rite, a certian spirituality, and a certain way of doing things wherever he went, or did he just accept what was done at that local church? Of course, we can start inserting all of the doctrinal differences here, but the object of what I write is NOT to tell you what to do, but rather to make you THINK.

I have no problem with the Orthodox Church being the church in Russia, Romania, or Greece. But in France, Italy, Britain, or the U.S. I find that hard to swallow.

At 11:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

on the use of "drink the punch."

At 1:16 PM, Blogger 123 said...

I'm just not sure that I agree that this is a "Roman Christian" world. My Protestant family would heartily disagree - "Roman" was the problem and 500 years of Protestant history and culture can't be set aside that easily. So, perhaps due to my native Upper Midwesterness I should revert to Germanic and Scandinavian Christianity.

We are dealing with doctrinal issues here, and not simply the choice between Irish, Italian, or Polish, etc. Catholicism or Greek, Russian, Romanian, etc. Orthodoxy.

What would Orthodox Catholic Christians have done when finding themselves in an Arian German town - simply accept their faith and their rites? What of Donatist or Macedonian towns? What of Samaritans and Ebionites? The real question comes down to how important or 'communion breaking' are the doctrinal differences between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism and Anglicanism, etc. Are they 'the same' or 'close enough' for me to share communion with? If not, then we either stand up for what we believe to be the truth or we do not - perhaps also we cannot, in some cases.

At 2:14 PM, Blogger Arturo Vasquez said...

Wow, Christopher, you are truly sure that your heretics are the same as St. Basil the Great's heretics, aren't you? Good luck on that.

I gotta go. I have to go to my graceless heretical church with its totally invalid sacraments in order to recite the Filioque a hundred times while kneeling and shaving my beard. Maybe I'll eat some Matzo crackers just to be sure I got all bases covered on this one.

At 2:20 PM, Blogger AG said...

I would probably have used the term "Western Christian" instead of Roman Christian world, although the meaning is nearly the same - the Western tradition as it has developed in the regions under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Rome. When speaking of it this way, it matters not that Bach and Rembrandt were Protestants, or that Mendelssohn was Jewish, because they were nevertheless in line with the heritage of the Western tradition. Protestantism itself, of course, is a part of that Western tradition (without getting into the philosophical and political movements underlying the Reformation). There's still a gap then (in practice and some philosophy; doctrine is arguable) between Western and Eastern Christianity.

Part of my concern (I'm unsure whether it's A.V.'s) in the attractiveness of Eastern Christianity for some is the element in Orthodoxy that seeks to deny the Western heritage as anything except heretical and assumes the superiority of all things non-Western (or specifically Eastern); such motivations are no better than the irrational postmodernist hatred of the West. No Westerner can escape the fact that the world he/she lives in is a product of the Western tradition and 'hating' in this vein on Roman Catholicism (no Protestant denomination really makes the claims that the RCC does for itself) MAY be as much of a product of certain popular assumptions that the West is 'bad' as anything else, and an indulgence of self-hatred. That's why, if one believes the values and culture of the traditional Western world are important (and every Westerner really really should), the only solution is to look WITHIN the Western tradition for the answers, not to an entirely different tradition. The Western tradition is our soil, it is what is organic to us, and grafting the Eastern tradition onto it IS nothing but "boutique" and fetishism.

If Eastern Christianity CAN take root in the West, it will most likely be in an entirely different form than it now exists, and yet I think (and in a few cases, know) indulging in things of the East is exactly what some Orthodox converts have a hankering for. This is a dead end.

At 2:36 PM, Blogger AG said...

Oh, and like A.V., I have no patience for the notion that for over a millenium, Roman Catholicism was nothing but heretical. Modern Catholics cannot make those statements about the Orthodox, so I have no idea (that's a white lie - I actually have a good idea) why the Orthodox delight in playing that card.

At 2:50 PM, Blogger Arturo Vasquez said...

You see, fellas, that's why I love her.

At 4:28 PM, Blogger D. Benedict Andersen OSB said...

What would Orthodox Catholic Christians have done when finding themselves in an Arian German town - simply accept their faith and their rites? ...

Yes. Precisely. That would have pretty much been the case. Some big towns would have had an Orthodox/Catholic conventicle and an Arian conventicle, in which case you'd have a choice ... but even then the common folk would probably not have understood the precise theological issues involved, apart from the catchy jingles composed by both sides to win converts from each other.

Jumping ahead several centuries, except in some places around the Mediterranean, Latin Catholics would not have any access to an Eastern Orthodox conventicle, nor Orthodox any access to a Latin Catholic conventicle. People just were what they were, and I can only imagine that they were largely ignorant of the ecclesiastical politics. They were just simple Christians who got baptized, confirmed, communed, married and/or ordained, and buried.

Assuming the opinion that the entire Western Church became deprived of divine grace and the Holy Ghost (a theory that shares quite a bit with Cambellite and Mormon theories of church history), I suppose one just has to say that those poor Italians, Germans, Frenchmen, Scandinavians, Spaniards, etc. just got the short end of the cosmic stick, being born at a particular time and in a particular place.

Yes, this might be an exaggeration, yet I do see it as a logical outcome of an exclusivist ecclesiology and a very narrow polemical / triumphalist reading of church history (both of which are by no means universal in Orthodoxy, though they do seem to be very widespread among American converts).

At 4:33 PM, Blogger D. Benedict Andersen OSB said...

I might also add that extreme exclusivist ecclesiology and polemical/triumphalistic readings of church history can be found on the Latin side as well.

I think we owe the schism, in large measure, to these attitudes on both sides.

Not to say that there are not legitimate doctrinal issues that need to be dealt with between East and West ... but we can thank the medieval polemicists on both sides for pushing each other to the extremes.

At 4:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That was the funniest comment I've read in a long time, Mr. Bleaney. Let me add two more things to the list: (1) the constant refrain of "As Aristotle, er, I mean Aquinas said," and (2) liturgical dance, oh and (3) "the new prot-angilization." Well, I guess I can't count.

Agreeing (slightly) with PI, I would say to both O and RC lose the damn greeters and the protlingo! Please. It is an unnecessary annoyance to the sensitive and easily scandalized. The last thing I want to do as I'm heading into liturgy at 9:00 in the morning is to paste on a fake American smile and have a chat about where I "fellowship." Take pity on an ocholophobist, at least give us until coffee hour before we have to endure each other.

If I could only find that three person church where the lion, the undercroft, and the sarabite worship in the spirit of traditional but contemporary Roman Catholicism, perhaps I'd reconsider. Rhetorical exaggeration goes both ways my brother!


At 8:26 PM, Blogger Anaxagoras said...

At first, I think all individuals coming from American Evangelical Weirdness(TM) to Apostolic Christianity are in a bit of a "shopper" mode. However, at least for me, there comes a time when apologetics become less and less interesting. You realize a lot of things.

You realize that no matter whether you had chosen Orthodoxy or Catholicism, you still suck at just following and loving Jesus. You don't love sin any less for having made the choice you made, and most of the people from the "other" tradition will always love Jesus more than you do.

You realize that there are really good arguments to be had on both sides. Yes, it takes faith to believe the papacy was always there. That is a leap of faith. Another leap of faith is believing that an ecclesiology as shady and weak as the Orthodox Church's could have ever existed in the first millenium of Christianity. If the Orthodox view of primacy were any more anemic, we would just be congregationalists (which is virtually what some Greek Orthodox parishes are in the U.S.).

And finally you realize that you aren't "Eastern Rite", "Western Rite", "traditionalist", or anything else. You just love Christ, and you loved Him so much that you wanted to be a part of what you consider to be His Body on earth. If someone asked me a year ago why I joined the Church and why I stay in it despite all the BS, I would have used a bunch of arguments from history, given them a couple of books and articles, and generally made a fool of myself. But if you ask me the same question now, I would just have to throw my hands up in the air and say, "Where else would I go? This place is home now."

At 8:56 PM, Blogger Ochlophobist said...

I felt this one might be coming. Yes, Orthodoxy is a boutique religion in the West. So is neo-Catholicism. So is traditional Catholicism. So is Continuing Anglicanism. So are those small conservative groups of wanna-be magisterial protestants like the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Hell, so are the Amish. What separates the Orthodox boutique from those other religious boutiques is that we are the most exotic, and we are currently still riding the wave of being trendy, and thus our boutiquers are, hands down, the most annoying, and thus deserving of attacks like this one.

Can Orthodoxy take root in the West? It does not look that way now. Not at all. But neither does it look like any of the other boutiques are going to take root or retake root in the West and I am not so sure that Orthodoxy is so successful in distracting people with its eastern seduction that it is to blame for other groups' failures. Happy clappy stupidity and branded McReligion and tasteless old bureaucraticism seem to be what has taken nearly all of what soil there is left in the West. I am not so sure there is a West left to save. There sure as hell is no longer an East left to save. Everywhere one looks one sees rampant materialism, scary non-Christian pop religious forms, and lots of sex. Christians of all stripes want to fight old battles, culturally and ecclesially. They do this because they know how they battles play out and they think they can win them. But, culturally speaking, the battle has changed. The new enemy is unlike the Church's old enemies. In this I agree with Hart in his Christ and Nothing essay. This also means that the old battles between the Churches don't really matter in the same sense anymore. Nobody but the fetishers cares anymore, and the ecclesial battles will not influence the culture at large. I am not sure that the hand of the West has enough of the sense of touch left in it to feel the difference between a Baptist hymnal, a Catholic rosary, an Orthodox prayer rope, and a set of Tarot cards. The hand of the West does know how to feel for the remote control, the lubricant, and its own di#%, and that's about it.

Once a cultural uprootedness has lasted for several generations, there is no memory of rootedness to go back to. In such a context the quaintness of one's great, great grandmother's religious form is just as much a potential object of occasional fetish as something which is completely foreign. All traditional religious forms are fetishized today. This is all the more reason we need to learn to fight our new enemy. Traditional Christians are acting as if the evil one is calling different pitches, when in fact he has changed pitchers. And yes, to the extent that Orthodox fetishize, they do exactly as he wants. Others see them as only religiously sensual consumers of a faith product, and this acts a confirmation of the new evil order. We are living in dire times.

At 5:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Mr. Bleaney,

I would read your comments again and see if maybe we both might need a shot of humility."

Yes you’re right. My comments did lack humility. Also, please forgive me for getting ad hominem with you. I allowed myself to rant back at your rant.

For what it’s worth, here’s a slightly more poised exposition of my own position.

Firstly, I don’t think we should overplay the real, but relatively insignificant, cultural differences between different Christian denominations. I mean how “Eastern” are Greece or Russia really? “Eastern” Orthodoxy is certainly not Eastern in the same sense that, say, Chinese or Indian religions are Eastern. It’s still, I hope, recognisably European in most of its manifestations. Coptic is about as exotic as it gets, but even here an innocent Christian witness from a liturgical denomination should still be able to work out roughly what’s happening most of the time. One corollary of this is that no-one should be too hard on other Christian Confessions. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ in some sense. Who would presume to know where Grace can and can’t operate? Another corollary is that I don’t think we should judge Western converts to “Eastern” Orthodoxy any differently to, say, Baptists swimming the Tiber. If either is guilty of spiritual consumerism or "shopping", then both are. Now of course one could argue that we should all stay, unquestioningly, in the Church of our ancestors, but that’s quite a different argument …

Secondly, I don’t think we should underplay the real doctrinal divisions that exist between the various Churches. Martyrs had their bowels ripped out for fine points of dogma that seem quite silly to most modern ears! A corollary of this is that, given a certain level of inquisitiveness and ecclesiastical knowledge, it becomes impossible not to make a choice. Even deciding to stay put is a choice, whether it’s based on laziness, tribalism, or a genuine re-embrace of one’s existing Faith. The only people who do not choose are those who are genuinely uninterested in the finer points of their Faith. Blessed are they! Another corollary is that this having-to-make-decisions is an integral part of our Christian tradition (in the widest sense). It's the furnace in which our Faith was forged, not something that just started to happen in our own decadent, post-modern times, fuelled by the Internet and our own fetishistic imaginations.

At 7:14 AM, Blogger 123 said...


I am not actually saying that the RC and Anglicans are heretics or that they are graceless, but they are not Orthodox. Comparing Roman Catholics to Arians is obviously a maximalist argument to make, but it underlines the issue of religious choice IF one believes that there are truly doctrinal issues at stake that keep these communions separate from one another. However, IF these disagreements are believed to be simply matters of history, culture and theological preference, then it doesn't matter where one is/goes and one should probably stay where one was planted.

My point was simply that "God speaks Latin" - basically because our forebears spoke Latin in their churches at some point in the past - is not, in my opinion alone, a reason to be in the RCC. My family more recently spoke non-Romance languages that had their own non-RCC religious connotations and connections. The gods spoke Greek on the Acropolis, but that didn't stop the Greeks from following a Semitophone God from Palestine. That's my only point. Culture is no excuse for error, in my book, though culture is perfectly reasonable to take into account sans error.

At 7:53 AM, Blogger 123 said...


The argument between East and West has always struck me as quite similar to crosstown high school basketball rivals, as if there was a major difference between the kids at East and West Podunk. While I may identify as a Midwesterner when speaking to New Yorkers or Southerners, I identify more as an American when visiting family in England, as Christian when around Muslim or atheist friends, and as a Westerner when speaking with Chinese. Similarly, one can identify as an Eastern or Western Christian, but one is still a Christian; and RCs and Orthodox are both heirs of the church of the same Roman Empire, which fell by a thousand cuts in the 400-600s (West) and 700-1400s (East). That is a pretty common religious and cultural heritage, especially when looking from outside of Christianity.

The question becomes whether it is possible for people to fall into a remain in error for extended periods of time. Animists and Buddhists have believed the same thing for generations, should we not evangelize them because it is unthinkable "that for over a millennium" they were in error - thus arguing for the veracity of their faith?

I am not arguing about whether the RCC, the Anglicans, Protestants, Copts or Orthodox are in error, i am simply arguing that it is all a big misunderstanding and we all believe the same thing, or that there are valid issues that keep us from communion. If there are valid reasons, then culture is not an argument. If it is all a big misunderstanding, then be in whichever church you prefer - the difficulty then comes when one is a member of a given denomination that believes there are, in fact, serious issues when you disagree with that contention.

At 8:54 AM, Blogger Arturo Vasquez said...

Hello everyone,

Owen, glad to see you entered the fray with your usually insightful comments. I agree wholeheartedly with your post, up to a point.

I think that the "Mad Max" ecclesiology that many of you are advocating just doesn't sit well with people like AG and myself. Just because we were born ten years after the promulgation of the Novus Ordo Missae does not mean we have lived entirely secular lives. In fact, what I have been posting lately has been my experince growing up in a Mexican Catholic culture. AG has had some brilliant posts on growing up in a city like New Orleans in a historically Catholic black family.

Just because many of you grew up in the Protestant suburbs does not mean that the Catholic / traditional Christian ethos had died the death everywhere. It means it died the death where YOU were. And to be frank, that sucks for you.

One should be questioning the abnormality of suburban, middle class Protestant life in this

In any event, I am not advocating that all of you Orthdox "pope" tommorrow. I am just asking for a little more humility please, especially when posting on my blog. If I have offened, I ask for forgiveness. In fact.....

At 12:35 PM, Blogger Kassianni said...

I don't know quite what to say. your hyperbole leads me to question your sincerity. there is a lot of blanket generalizing here, which I gather, is meant to inflame the sensitive reader, but I guess I just don't see the point.
I would find it hurtful coming from somebody I actually knew, but since this is just the blogosphere, I can shrug it off as yet another inflammatory blog rant that makes me reconsider the medium every time I log on.

At 12:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My view is there is no massive East/West divide in terms of the faith. So I tend not to agree with some of my co-religionists on a number of issues (I also probably don't have a typical background). I see two variable expressions of one common core, so in turn I see no reason why a person cannot acclimate to either side. I also don't think geography is a meaningful way to understand the different expressions of the faith either. On the theological side, I have seen and heard the type of Anti-Western Orthodoxy adopted by at least it seems some significant portion of the convert world here in the U.S.; including a great deal of what comes out of the convert literature industry. It is a dangerous trend in my opinion.

I don't see Orthodoxy as a boutique religion in the West per se. Through emigration or movement away from political persecution many groups have come to both Europe and the Americas. These have certainly in many places formed what I would consider authentic faith communities, grounded in a real history and tradition. I do agree that Orthodoxy in convert heavy environments (from what I have personally witnessed) do approximate being religious boutiques, or what I have termed Byzantine Disneylands. Certainly there are others. The small Russian Catholic Church in this country strikes me distinctly as being a boutique church.

In general I am not a proponent of the convert experience. I don't enjoy hearing convert stories or much like to know about struggles particular to converts. I dislike apologetics and find the conversations that most make me want to pluck my eyeballs out are the ones between Catholic converts and Orthodox converts fighting over getting more converts. I also tend to find Catholics and Orthodox have been acting like vultures vis-à-vis the recent issues among the Anglicans.

At 7:56 PM, Blogger Father Aristibule Adams said...

Really, I think this is the same argument that many of us Western Rite Orthodox have been making - JJ Overbeck up through the present, and even including such Eastern Orthodox as Fr. John Meyendorff. We say we are truly Catholic, which means one must be truly Orthodox - but also one cannot betray the soul of the West. However, I'm not sure the soul of the West is so monolithic or narrow as to only have identity in 19th c. Baroque Mediterranean spirituality. We also have our own tradition of spiritual 2D liturgical art, a tradition sans lace - but of embroidered linen, and as well where birettas may be of a longer lasting more durable form (English or Spanish style.) We're 21st c. Christians and "It wasn't X in 19th c. Russia" is as nuts as "It wasn't X in 19th c. Italy". Of course, that may be what has come of Nordic Catholicism (ie, the Celtic, Germanic, and Scandinavian lands) - we were fragmented into Old Catholicism, Protestantism High and Low, Modernist Catholicism lapsed or dissident ... and then those Western Rite Orthodox who don't care for such rigid Ritualism that turns its nose up for not having the right pom-poms, fins, lace, or what not.

Really - that *is* what we are about: giving Western Christianity a shot, but without isolation and separation from the Universal Church (which we would argue visibly includes and resides in the East.) Of course, part of our argument is that English Catholicism was and is just as Catholic (and Western, and Good) as Irish, French, Polish, Italian or Hispanic Catholicism. All of this flows from what we are trying to really trying to do; respond to God. Of course, we have to begin from where we are at, and can only go where both frailty and grace allow.

At 8:36 PM, Blogger D. Benedict Andersen OSB said...

those Western Rite Orthodox who don't care for such rigid Ritualism that turns its nose up for not having the right pom-poms, fins, lace, or what not

Ari - If you can find any WRO folks who do obsess about such things, please let me know.

At 10:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"...our saints were saints..."

I thought Pope Paul VI dropped a whole raft of them.

At 8:11 AM, Blogger V and E said...

I have been sitting here trying to think how to dismantle your argument. Part of the problem is that you reference some valid issues in the Orthodox Church today - however, I cannot agree with your conclusion.

You say that the soul of the West is Catholic (except where it is rigidly and angrily anti-Catholic). You point out that grafting Orthodoxy onto a Western mind, a Western soul, simply doesn't work so well... The West has marinated in the theologies of Augustine, Aquinas, Bernard of Clairveaux, Luther and Calvin - and troparia, kontakia, and all the cultural accretions and preoccupations of the East (where they have marinated in Orthodoxy) do not gel but jar. It is like an attempt is made to graft an olive tree onto an apple.

What is the solution then? The solution is either for the Western to stick with the churches of the West (where his Western mind and Western soul will always have a home) or for the Western to join the Orthodox Church and, gradually, to cease to be Western.

That cessation sounds like "boutique Orthodoxy" to me.

Put another way, all culture must be baptized when it encounters the Church. This baptism by the Church is a slow process, to be sure, but it must be done. The Ukrainians may keep their rushnyky, and the Aleuts their soul houses... but all must be tested with a purifying, baptizing fire.

The Church baptized the cultures of numerous Eastern peoples. It also baptized the cultures of numerous Western ones. The West, however, has embraced a strange Gospel and it is time to rebaptize (I say this unapologetically) the cultures of the West.

And again, until that process is complete, we will look like a boutique faith.

- V.

At 7:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A very dear Russian Orthodox friend tells me that the future holds attacks on both Orthodoxy *and* Roman Catholicism. I agree with her.

Now, having said this, I understand that the divisions among Orthodox jurisdictions are disheartening and problematic, but what about the liberal/conservative split within the RCC? Come on, do you really think that concelebration between the New and Old Calender churches is as insurmountable as the two polarities in Catholicism coming together?

I don't know how one embraces the West, and all it's history, and practices Orthodoxy in all its fullness. Of course, how does one practice Christianity in a world always at war with Christ's teachings? (Not to mention our own natures.)

I cannot speak to Western Rite Orthodoxy. I am a "guest" in the Russian Church, which for me, at its best, exemplifies the teachings of Christ. Does it have problems? WELL, HELL YES! But as my previous sentence indicates, we live in a *fallen world.*

In a nutshell, I can respectfully disagree with a Catholic over the Papacy. I can still admire the person's faith and their adherence to their beliefs. What I cannot do, is to say "yes, I agree with your support of abortion, contraception, same sex marriage and women's ordination." Did those issues alone lead me to the Orthodoxy Church? No, actually they didn't. But it is no mystery why people are being drawn to traditional Christianity. If practiced though, without mercy and love for sinners, it will not sustain and only result in bitterness and self-righteousness.

Oh, and btw, yes, I AM a Russophile. Hey, it would be worse...

At 8:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a fantastic post. Thank you, I have learned a lot.

Much of what you observe is virtually inevitable.

Orthodox trappings are very exotic/strange to westerners. To choose Orthodoxy as a Westerner one has to turn away from ones cultural roots on the one hand but one cannot really change who one is on the other. So, you get Californians "playing" Orthodox while maintaining much of their original lexicon and being reconfirmed in their anti-Catholicism. Such anti-Catholicism is just as visceral and spiritually poisoning in Orthodoxy as it is in Protestantism. Spiritually anti-Catholicism is not too different from racism or anti-semitism.

At 6:17 PM, Blogger Xristoforos McAvoy said...

Brother Arturo Vasquez,

What you may not realize is that if you were to go into a time machine to the 800's you would find your carolingian and gothic/mozarabic christianity as exotic as what many current latin catholics find the eastern churches. What this boils down to is tradition pure and simple. Thats what people need, thats what they fear, thats how God has collectively given us the culture we know today even with all its secular humanist/pagan additions. Speaking as a Latin Catholic I will tell you that the problem with the church is that it lives too much with recent history. This includes the memory of the reformation and counter-reformation.

The fact that the Eastern Orthodox Church has maintained not only a stronger amount of continuity with its past but has also avoided any great christian heresy is a tremendous advantage. It is not absolutely necessary to take them as examples but it is foolish to ignore them too much or view them as exotic.

Because the attempt to focus on the first 1200 years of Latin Christianity and its culture is very difficult does not mean that it is not necessary. For me I think that the way you speak is as bad as the anti-western orthodox speaking. You are showing weakness and are giving up a facet of your heritage that is vital. Spain gave up it's mozarabic customs centuries ago. The world has not improved. The western popes of the 1st millenium looked upon the patriarch of constantinople as a brother and it shows from their "liber pontificalis" autobiographies. So to ignore western heritage is evil. To replace our ancient western traditions with the modern is also evil. The suppressed beneventan troped kyries and sequences in latin are no less exotic or different than greek prokeimenons of today.

Read "Lives of the Ninth century Popes" by Raymond Davie, "Pictorial Arts of the West 800-1200" by C.R. Dodwell and "Beneventanum Troporum Corpus" by Alejandro Planchart

Discover the past which 99% of latin catholics have little awareness. And I speak to you as a fellow Latin Catholic traditionalist.

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