A Reflection Unrelated to St. Patrick’s Day

In an earlier post on this web-log, I remarked that a portion of American Orthodoxy comes down to LARPing, especially among converts. What I did not get into were the possible reasons for this, the most likely being that putting on the appearance of a Russian peasant, Athonite monastic, etc. helps those living in a decidedly postmodern, geographically western environment to feel “connected” with an iteration of Christianity which, for many centuries, has survived as a particular ethnic-cultural expression with obvious, but fading, ties to the glory days of the Byzantine Empire. As amusing as this phenomenon is from the outside, I must confess that I can sympathize with the desire to feel rooted in something concrete, particularly in America where fluidity and superficiality reign supreme. Still, in the long run, such posturing won’t do much for American Orthodoxy except make it appear even more as a museum piece than it already is. The possibility of a living, breathing, and vibrant Orthodoxy—the hope and dream of some of American Orthodoxy’s brightest lights—appears to be on hold at the moment while the national mother churches of America’s overlapping jurisdictions battle it out over trivial slights and ecclesiological innovations.

Greek Catholics living in the geographic west, by and large, cannot escape their environment with fanciful appeals to the alleged ways and means of the “old country.” Nor, for that matter, can they deny that their Eastern patrimony has had to find a way to survive in a primarily Latin environment. Although some Greek Catholics may exercise the LARPing option or, worse, exempt themselves from Catholic teachings they don’t like under the banner of being “Orthodox in Communion with Rome,” most desire to retain their particular identity without denying that they live in a liturgical, theological, and spiritual tension between East and West. It is a tension that has existed since the days of the “Unia,” one that made Greek Catholics out to be the second-class citizens of the “Roman Church” before the slow, and often interrupted, process of self-assertion and reclamation began. And as often as Greek Catholics today may speak of being true to themselves and their Byzantine-based heritage, part of that truth includes the reality that for centuries their forebears connected with, adopted, and internalized aspects of Latin Christianity that helped draw them closer to Christ.

Having come of age during a time when the Greek Catholics of Eastern Europe were beginning to breathe freely again, I can recall praying and worshipping in a still heavily Latinized Greek Catholic environment; it would take some time before the higher level theories of “authenticity” being discussed in certain academic circles would begin to trickle down to the parish level. Even today my tiny, perhaps even unremarkable, parish retains several Western-style icons and an Infant of Prague statue all the while serving the Divine Liturgy in a manner indistinguishable from how one might find it served in the Orthodox Church in America or the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese. There are still pews, though most people today stand throughout the entire service except, perhaps, at the anaphora where a few still kneel. Some still cling to Rosaries, others to prayer ropes. Mnohaya lita is sung at the end of the liturgy in honor of birthdays and anniversaries, followed by reciting the Latin recensions of the Pater, Ave, and Gloria for the intentions of the parish. I don’t know what “purists” would think of all of this, but I don’t really care either. My parish, like so many others, does what it can to be true to itself, to what has been handed down and kept alive over the decades. If that doesn’t fit within a LARPing vision of what “pure Greek Catholicism” ought to be, then all the better.

Speaking only for myself, having been back in the Catholic fold now for some six years, I have found living ecclesiastically between East and West to be…refreshing. Having had little exposure to the Roman Rite growing up outside of banal, if not ridiculous, Novus Ordo liturgies that I was compelled to attend from time to time, I found great profit in immersing myself in the Tridentine Mass and setting aside my Horologion in favor of the Roman Breviary. I do not want to say that I was “on vacation” from the Byzantine Rite that I had known for many years, but in a way I was. The last thing I wanted to maintain was a ghetto mentality, and when I saw that I was developing a new one through an over-exuberant embrace of traditional Latin Catholicism, I did what I could to take a few steps back; survey the terrain; and recommit myself ecclesiastically to where I had come from. This choice, though by no means easy, has done more to sustain my faith through some extremely trying times than hiding out in a liturgical shack somewhere. It has also refreshed my sense that what is truly good, beautiful, and pure in Christianity transcends peculiar historical developments—and those developments must be judged by whether or not they continue to convey what is good, beautiful, and pure in Christianity.