A friend asked why I’ve not blogged about my experience at the Monastery. My reply is that you only meet the good side of a divorce. To be clear, I don’t think anything bad happened, and as Fr Prior noted in his recent newsletter it was a peaceable departure. The final date was suggested by me as it would give me the chance to prepare food for the annual pilgrimage. I stayed, planned menus, cooked, and served rather a lot of food for several meals and it was a good thing. Those of you who know that I cook to relax will be amused at this story. I closed out my time at the monastery joyfully making an offering of my few gifts to people I love.
What started the departure was a conversation with a guest visiting from Texas, as we sat and watched the Bighorn Sheep on the mountain side. (The Date was 23 June – when I took the above photo.) I will not go into the conversation, but the end result was a few follow-up conversations with my parents and the discernment that I needed to be in the world working out my salvation. It was “taking care of my parents” and it was “doing community justice work” and it was not sitting in the mountains and enjoying the silence. That discernment was confirmed in the positive by a conversation with one of my Oblate Brothers, and in the negative by a conversation with a visiting priest. It was this priest that said, first, to me “Be the hands and feet of Christ in the world”. That phrase was repeated several times (as is their homiletical style) in a sermon by the preacher at the Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, GA (photo below, with my parents and President and Mrs Carter). When we got home, with me deep in thought from the coincidence, Mom said, “I hope you realized he was preaching to you.” Yeah, Mom. I got that.
Then I had to think long and hard. Because, let’s face it, Orthodoxy, in America at least, just doesn’t do much community justice work. There are a couple of places that do it, I know: One major one in Kansas City (Reconciliation Services), one in Toronto. Also I know that the Orthodox Peace Fellowship is cataloguing all the places, big and small, they can find. Yet with a number of good reasons – and a few bad excuses – many parishes do nothing like this. I think this is a reaction formation that may go away in a generation or two: many Orthodox are converts. Many converts are coming from mainline prot land where theology, Bible, and tradition were essentially replaced by social justice work which, devoid of Christian theology, became radically progressive. In time it diverged heavily from orthodox, historical Christian moral teachings especially in the areas of sex, marriage, and the dignity of the human person from conception to natural death. My own experience in ECUSA was like this, it is a reaction I well understand.
As an adult, wanting to dedicate the rest of my life to Christ in his Church, working out my salvation, however, I need all three gears of the faith to be in place: Teaching, Tradition, and Action. This is what drove me bonkers in Buffalo: it seemed as if I could get right teaching or right work. Why do I need to choose?
What I experience is that there is one place that does all three very well, manifested in nearly every Roman Catholic parish and institution. I know Orthodoxy has some theological issues with the Roman Church. However, I come from the Russian Tradition of Orthodoxy which is quite different from the Greek trad in this respect: the Roman Church is simply another Church, not a bunch of heretics. A Roman priest becoming Orthodox is simply vested in Byzantine Vestments, “Welcome to the club….” Coming into other branches of Orthodoxy as a priest is not so easy. Russia’s big issue with Rome is Territory – be that in the Ukraine or Moscow. Perhaps, that attitude softens my approach to the whole Roman tradition. This is one place where my theology becomes less Orthodox, I confess: I’m quite willing to buy into the “two lungs” idea. We have never officially declared them to be “without grace”. If that were so there would be an Orthodox Bishop of Rome. We’ve never gone there: that lack of action is a huge doctrinal statement. We in the OCA don’t fully Chrismate their converts to Orthodoxy (just anoint them once, on the head, with oil after saying the Creed without the filioque). They are, essentially, the Separated Brethren. What Rome most looks like to me is ROCOR, back in the days when the latter were “non-canonical”. Again, that’s not an official position or anything, but that’s how my vision has been formed coming in to Orthodoxy where I did. Yet, history backs me up: even intercommunion happened until rather recently. Among the Laity it ossified into the current practice only in the last 200-300 years depending on where you were. Intercommunion continues today in the Muslim lands where any Christian priest shows up and serves liturgy for everyone.
Since my parents moved here, I’ve visited the local Orthodox parish, which has Sunday liturgies, only. Nothing else happens save for a vespers service once a month for confession. The priest doesn’t live here. It’s a small parish, I get that. But visiting my parents from time to time, I’ve always been thankful that this was not my regular parish. So, when I got here for full-time living, I was really worried about what would become of me. I visited my parent’s UMC, and then I discovered St Anne’s Roman Catholic Church. After going for a while, sneaking in and listening to sermons and then sneaking out without shaking hands… I was impressed with the, forgive me, Orthodoxy, of the place as well as the social life, the justice activity, the spiritual life of the parish. While I have not been received into the Roman Church nor partaken of Sacraments, I have been “getting fed” at Holy Mass, adult ed, weekly Rosary, Bible study, and RCIA class. As an Orthodox Christian, I don’t need to do any of that stuff: Roman teaching is that I could take communion without “switching”. But I do not.
Being back in SF will mean I could go back to my beloved OCA Cathedral Parish for six months. But right now I’m feeling ambivalent about that: being in SF also means that I could attend a daily Latin mass or, at least, a weekly one at Star of the Sea Parish.
So, that’s where I am now. Right now what weighs on me most heavily is the fact that in 6 months at the monastery, I’ve only been to confession once – and not at all since leaving. I miss communion. I miss the sacraments.
I have not felt able to commit to social justice work either because all my energy has been devoted to the Job Search and I never knew where I would be in all that time, from week to week. It has been depressing, the only light being multiple weekly visits to St Anne’s. Now, thanks be to God, I shall spend 6 Months in San Francisco on assignment before coming back here. At which time I will make room in my life – as my Dad does – for homeless outreach and other things, being the hands and feet of Christ in the world.
Asking your prayers.