Monday, June 22, 2009

Friendship and The Church's Witness, part 1

Over the years any number of my classmates, acquaintances or friends (and now SHOCKINGLY! former students) be ordained as deacons, priests and (in two cases) bishops (one Catholic, one Orthodox). Often men I have known since we were together in college are now serving as clergy and it always catches me a bit of guard when I see them vested and standing before God the Father at Christ's Holy Altar.

The Gospel brought with it a great innovation, if I may use that word, in humanity's religious nature. Religion, the spiritual life, was transformed “downward” from something extraordinary to something ordinary. In Greece and other titular Orthodox countries, it was not uncommon to see the village priest at work during the week as a cobbler or at some other trade. His daily labor was not a political statement as was the “worker-priest” movement among Catholic priests in France during the 1950's. It was not, as with the worker-priests, at attempt to reconnect the daily life of the faithful with the Church, but rather simply a playing out of the life of the Church. While not universal, there is still an intimacy between clergy and faithful in the Orthodox Church that a Catholic friend of mine describes (appreciatively) as almost medieval.

The joy of the Church in America is that because of our relatively small numbers and poverty, we have retained, or maybe recaptured, that intimacy. Our parishes tend to be small and our clergy married. While small congregations are common in the Protestant world (both Mainline and Evangelical), these are by and large non-sacramental communities and they have (or so I imagine based on my conversations with my Protestant friends) a different ethos, or feel, about them.

My point here is not to compare Orthodox parochial life to Protestant, but rather is meant as an introduction to my thoughts about an address recently given by His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah, Primate of the Orthodox Church in America. Given the title, “The 1917 Council and Tomos:
St Tikhon’s Vision Then and Now,” it is forgivable if American Christians (including I dare say, many Orthodox Christians) might dismiss His Beatitude's address as having little any application to their own situation.

But as is often the case in our spiritual life, on another, deeper level, I think there is much to in the talk not only for Orthodox Christians (who are after all the His Beatitude's audience) but also Christians in other traditions and indeed for women and men of good will who are interested in the place of religion in the public square.

We will tomorrow look at that talk and see what, if anything, it might say for the Church's life and witness.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory