Friday, May 08, 2009

Robert's Comments and the Psychology of Jurisdictionalism

Let me switch gears here and return to filling in a bit more of the psychological content of jurisdictionalism. These comments are offered in response to something that Robert posted a few days ago. He writes:

Without naming names, it would be helpful to take this discussion out of the theoretical and into the practical of our present day situation. Veiled references to a minority group of broken and wounded individuals just leave me a bit puzzled.

First, forgive me for being unclear. I do not have a discrete group or groups in mind when I speak about a minority of individuals within a parish, diocese or jurisdiction.

Rather, I think that in any community, whether we are talking about cradle Orthodox, converts, laity or clergy, there are broken individuals whose attraction to Orthodoxy while often sincere is also mixed with an attempt to avoid intimate human relationships.

To be stereotypical, think about a parish composed primarily of converts in which the vast majority of the community's energy is focused on keeping a strict liturgical cycle. Or, and again to traffic in stereotype, think about a a community of cradle Orthodox that is internally divided into self-selected factions based on village or geographic region from the "Old Country." In both cases the people substitute a formal category external to the person for a bond of love which is always person.

So in the first case, the deal we make is this, we'll have a beautiful liturgical life, but we will never speak to each other except superficially and then only in insofar as we must to arrange the service schedule. In the second case, we remain indifferent to those parishioners who are not from our region (or our families) in the Old Country. Again what matters is not person but some standard external to the person. In effect, the parish is not a community of persons but a mere association of strangers whose interactions are purely formal and always mediated by some structure external to the person.

You see this kind of behavior in families in which there is some type of abuse—physical, sexual, emotional or chemical. In order to keep the painful truth of Dad's alcoholism, for example, at bay we speak about anything else and everything else. Yes, dear old Dad might be asleep drunk in the middle of the living room floor, but we simply walk around him. (And when I worked in mental health, I heard just this story more than once.)

What I'm getting at is this, while we need to care for these individuals, we must be attentive that we not allow those who come to the Church to avoid healthy, intimate human relationships to set the tone and the agenda of the Church. And under no circumstances should they be placed in lay or ordained leadership positions.

There are, sadly, some people who are so psychologically wounded that normal, healthy forms of human intimacy are painful and even impossible. When these people seek out the Church, they often do so not for healing but in order to find in the formality and structure of the Church as means of escaping intimacy and love. What they seek is not communion but collusion.

If given the opportunity to do so, they may very well create for themselves a well ordered, theologically sound, liturgical perfect community that is, tragically, spiritually dead. Or they might create, as the late Fr Alexander Schmemann would have it, a museum to the past glories of Byzantanium or Holy Rus, But again for all its beauty and fidelity to history, it is not a living community but a diorama.

I know this sounds harsh but we need to guard against what I see is a growing tendency to emphasize tradition over person. This is simply wrong. Why? Because instead of being lead by Holy Tradition into an ever deeper encounter with God and neighbor, they use Holy Tradition as an escape, a shield from what they (wrongly) perceive to be a hostile God and a hostile neighbor. When this happens, rather than being a hospital for sinners, the Church becomes a source of new and deeper wounds.

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

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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