Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Psychological Roots of Orthodox Jurisdictionalism-Part I

While I think it is always intellectually dangerous to argue sociologically from psychological data, I do think that it can be done if we are careful. Given the importance of character and personality for not only the style of leadership but also the decisions made by leadership but personally and corporately, I think it is worth reflecting on what (potentially at least) how personality and character contribute to the pastoral situation of the Church here in America.

I will conclude this series of reflection therefore with an admittedly informal look at what I am calling here the psychological roots of Orthodox jurisdictionalism.

Egoism & Our Fractured Visible Unity . Whether we call it pietism or moralistic therapetic deism, it is not only Western Christians, but also the vast majority of Orthodox Christians in the United States, who have come to embrace a radically individualist approach to the Gospel. Ironically, it is as true for those self-professed adherents of “traditional” Orthodox as it is for the main body of Orthodox Christians (whether cradle born or convert). Surveying the Orthodox Christian landscape in America, I see this not only in the sadism and masochism of those who make pain the sine qua non of the Orthodox faith, but also in the current jurisdictional controversy that we now face in the Orthodox Church in the States.

Before I continue, let me make a theological observation. The lack of administrative or visible unity of the Orthodox Church in the United States (and indeed in South America, Western Europe, Asia and Australia) does not to my mind invalidate the fact that the Orthodox Church is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. The failure of Christians to live the Gospel fully does not mean the Gospel isn't true. “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”

Chesterton's observation is true not only about the Christian ideal, it is also true for the struggle for jurisdictional unity in the Church in America and in the other parts of the world where overlapping jurisdictions have simply become accepted as how we do things. We know how we are to live, we know what we are to do because we know what we have been given, but it is hard and we do not want to suffer it.

The historical reasons for our overlapping jurisdictions are well know to most Orthodox Christians (and observers of the Church as well). What worries me is that, fueled as they are by pietism and moralistic therapetic deism, if we are not careful the Orthodox Church will find itself facing schism. In the more irenic telling of the events that lead up to the Great Schism in the 11 th century, the growing cultural and linguistic estrangement between the Latin West and the Greek East is often sited as a prime cause of the division. This is not to minimize the real theological and pastoral difference between the two communities. Rather it is to highlight that the lack of a common spoken language and shared culture made reconciliation in the face of these more substantial difference difficult and indeed impossible.

To suggest a similar situation is growing in the contemporary Orthodox Church might seem alarmist, but having served in both the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese and the Orthodox Church in America, it amazes me the lack of real contact and understand between the clergy and faithful of both communities. The political freedoms and material wealth that the Church has in America has allowed us (and not only the GOA and OCA, but all the Orthodox jurisdictions) to go our own separate ways.

Oh, we do get together now and then—mostly on the Sunday of Orthodoxy—b ut that's not a real encounter. It is more like neighbors who wave to each other over the fence in the morning on their way to work getting together for a block party once a year. We enjoy seeing each other, eating each other's foods, but, well, ya' know, beyond that we get, uncomfortable.

This uncomfortable feeling, I would argue, is the sign that our different jurisdiction our a matter of our own individual and collective egos writ large. For no doubt understandable reasons, and whether we were baptized in the Church as infants or came later in life, we have used the Church and the Church's tradition to shore up our own rather frail sense of self (and again, both individually and collectively).

I will post tomorrow the conclusion of this series with some unapologetically psychological thoughts on why we personally and corporately, resist the establishment of an administratively united Orthodox Church.

As always, your comments, questions and criticisms are not only welcome, they are actively sought.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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