This past weekend, Friday November 21-Saturday November 22, 2008, the parish I serve, Holy Assumption Orthodox Church (OCA), Canton, OH hosted a "Called & Gifted" Workshop presented by Sherry Anne Weddell, who together with Fr Michael Fones, O.P., is co-director of the Catherine of Siena Institute in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Unfortunately, Fr. Mike had to fly to Eugene unexpectedly early Wednesday morning (11/19) to be with his dear friend Pat Armstrong who was gravely ill. (Please remember Pat and her loving husband Rich, and their family (which includes Fr. Mike) in your prayers) and so was not able to attend the workshop.
As I mentioned in an earlier post (Lay Spiritual Formation: An Ecumenical Opportunity), the "Called & Gifted Workshop" is a project of the Catherine of Siena Institute. It is "a program of the Western Dominican Province dedicated to equipping parishes for the formation of lay Catholics for their mission in the world." To do this, in their own words, they "provide innovative programs, resources, and leadership training that are faithful to Church teaching and will enable your parish to become a dynamic center of lay formation and mission.
The program itself was well attended with 50 participants (roughly equally divided between Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics). Among other joys, the rector of St Innocent Orthodox Church (OCA) Fr Michael Butler (and my college roommate) came down from Olmsted Falls, OH with 5 of his parishioners. My godson Chris ("Chrys" who comments frequently and eloquently on this blog) also came from Pittsburgh for the workshop. Given the rather miserable weather (the snow squalls were so bad we had white out conditions at several points) I was grateful that ANYONE attended much less that we had visitors from northeastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania!
Sherry asked me to fill in for the absent Fr Mike and so I found myself in the interesting position of explaining to Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians the renewal in Roman Catholic thinking that came about as a result of the Second Vatican Council. In addition to a more Eucharistic view of ecclesiology, the Vatican II also presented a renewed understood the vocation of Catholic laity in the modern world.
This renewal was in response was in response to challenges facing not only Catholics the Orthodox Church. This is especially the case for the Orthodox Church we move more and more into American culture.
This, I should add, is not a "covert" vs. "cradle" thing—but a natural part of our growth as the Church here in America. Precisely because, as Fr Alexander Schmemann would argue, Christian life is always "from above," from Heaven and not simply from below (i.e., from history or culture) we are always being challenged to see ourselves, the Church and the world around us every more clearly in the Divine Light.
It amazes me, for example, that people can be so attached to their vision of how a parish is supposed to be, that they would rather see a community fail rather than change (forgetting for a moment as St Gregory of Nyssa reminds us, the ability to change--and change often--is what makes it possible for human beings to become like the God Who changes not).
Thinking of Sherry's presentation, I am reminded of the words of Metropolitan Jonah at the All-American Council. To the degree that the Church becomes is an end in itself, to the degree that it becomes "just for us' and not "for the life of the world," to that degree we lose a part of the joy that should be ours. Or, as His Beatitude put the matter,
Secularism, our neglect of our baptismal call and the gifts we have received in Holy Baptism is antithesis of what we mean when as Orthodox Christians we speak about theosis, of our coming to participate in divine life. As iron in the fire takes on all the qualities of fire and yet remains iron, so we take on all the qualities of God and remain human. This is what we mean when we say, as Catholic or Orthodox Christians, that Christ has redeemed us. He has redeemed all of human life or none of it. Again, as Schmemann says, "the term 'sacramental' means that for the world to be a means of worship and a means of grace is not accidental, but the revelation of its meaning, the restoration of its essence, the fulfillment of its destiny." (For the Life of the World, p. 121)
There are many blessings that came out of this past weekend. One of the chief though is that it demonstrated, to me at least, that Catholic and Orthodox Christians can assist and sustain each other as we strive to be faithful to Christ and His call to us. Yes, certainly we disagree on some points. But there is much we share and that we can do together that does not betray our respective traditions.
Several of the Orthodox participants were so impressed that they asked if we might tailor the "Called & Gifted" Workshop for use in an Orthodox context. I spoke with Sherry about this and she is certainly open and supportive of such a project. My own view is that there is relatively little that would need to be done.
Hopefully, I'll be able to post a link to photos of the weekend on the parish web page. Until then, I would encourage people to take a look at the Catherine of Siena web site and its blog, "Intentional Disciples."