Thursday, December 10, 2009

Excellent Quote

This should be included in every inquirers and catechism class:

"This process of becoming Orthodox is not something that you can do just after 6 months of catechesis and a little bit of chrism on your forehead. It's a life-long process, because it's being transformed into Christ. And if we can keep our focus that coming into the Orthodox Church is not about joining a new organization; it's not joining 'the right church'; it's not 'joining the historical church or the apostolic church'; or it's not 'joining the right church instead the wrong church that I was in.'

"But rather, it's an entrance deeper and deeper into the mystery of Christ. Then I think we're on the right track. Because otherwise all we're doing is getting stuck in our heads and caught up in judgment and condemnation. In other words, we're just stuck in our passions and we might as well have not converted anyway, because we still haven't left the world behind.

"Our task is to incarnate that life in Christ that is not of this world. We have to be in the world, but not of it."

- Metropolitan JONAH, "Baptizing the Culture"

From his lecture at the 2009 Missions and Evangelism Conference.

The entire lecture can be heard HERE and the QandA HERE

H/T to Jamey


Fr. Gregory Jensen said...

BRAVO! Metropolitan Jonah!

Cameron said...

Wow. Good, challenging words.

James the Thickheaded said...

I am thinking I am doing 101 prostrations to this message. I'm not... but I should be.. or my "monkabee" should. :)

There's a very big risk in this "right worship" kind of a place of turning ourselves into just another group where no matter what, no matter who, and no matter what else we say... what we're really all about is: "I'm right and the rest of ya'll... okay... I'm not gonna say you're wrong or you're goin' to the bad place (but you are).. an' instead I'll be nice... let's just say I'm gonna pray for ya'll an' it'll count...'cause y'know... it does."

Ouch! And as my dad likes to say: "Who really needs another...?"

s-p said...

Yeah, this one's a sucker punch. If we don't do a prostration it will knock us on our knees anyway. "No matter what we SAY..." humble is always right, right doesn't always result in humility, right without humility is wrong, fake humility in the name of right is truly ego in "ortho-drag" (ie., wearing the dresses). Its a good thing to have as a MP someone who saw a parade of broken wannabe's and posers and sad lost don't know who they are people come through his monastery looking for themselves.

Anonymous said...

I keep thinking about this quote over and over. There's something brilliant about it, sure. But there's something wrong about it to.

I know what it is. It focuses too much on me. It acts like I'm the focus, my motive, my mind, me as an abstract individual set of crapped out motives.

This seems out of place for a corporately experienced salvation. I'm not saying that he's not correct in the strict sense of his words, but his words seem to neglect that this "entrance" is in a context which isn't isolated to my own experience.

My priest's prayers matter. They matter in part, because he's my priest. When you prayed for catechumen a couple of years ago in the Liturgy you were effectively (and I mean that the prayers were potent) praying for me and my family.

Our salvation is membership in the Church. There is some corporate dimension. So, as I said, he's not wrong, but he's missing why I came to Orthodoxy. Anyone claiming an interest in being a disciple of Christ could say what he said.

I could have just taken all the "wisdom", and ignored the ecclesiology and stayed a member of the Restorationist movement. Either the substance of the Church is consequential or it's not. Are we gnostics who don't think the body matters? Is there such a thing as "ideal" Orthodoxy that doesn't actually exist?

Or is Christianity real? Really here, really present, really "those people" or more specifically to me "my Bishop" and "my parish" around the table.

Is not ecclesiology intertwined with soterology in some manner similar to my suggestion?

If my salvation depends on me being Orthodox for "the right reasons" then I am indeed damned.

Moo! said...

Hi David, Knowing Mp Jonah and a lot of his teaching and essays, I don't think he would take any issue with your thoughts. The quote is said within a greater context of his thoughts and teachings, and also out of context as an excerpt from a bigger topic. I think the issue is we ALL come to the Church as damaged and deluded people, and to the degree that we truly enter the "life of Christ" which includes submitting our personal experience to the wisdom and direction of the Church and the mind of Christ, we will be healed of our delusions and ego and self created images. Just as the Trinity is One and Three Persons, we are indeed "corporately one in the Church" but also unique persons with unique damage to be healed by and through union with Christ. I think that is implicit in his words regarding our union with Christ through the Church. (And oops...I'm using Moo's account again. Sorry.)

Anonymous said...

I think the key to my comment is the "why I came." I came because I lacked potency. I am utterly dependent on the potency of the Church, if I am ever to know Christ.

This puts me in sympathy with some reactionaries (you have visited many of the same threads around the internet in the past few weeks that I have). Since I have no idea why any of this works or what to do if someone hides the salt, I feel threatened.

This is one mouse unable to manage if folks start moving the cheese. (Don't ask me to explain either the salt or the cheese references, they have no substance.) :)

There is never enough time to sit and talk and think in person with those whom I trust and depend. On-line can make this all appear more illusionary and therefor fragile.

Some days I just want to move in next door to my priest and only go out of the house when I see him leave his house and simply follow him around.

s-p said...

Hi David, I believe everyone comes to the Church (as they understand it, which is never perfectly) to make something right that they know is wrong within them (as they understand it, which is never perfectly). Indeed the Church and our participation in its life, worship, sacraments and relationships with both our spiritual directors and our fellow Christians and the world all come to bear on our infirmities. And we engage all of those things imperfectly. It is a long, arduous, dangerous, humiliating, humbling, painful, joyous and strengthening process to encounter and submit our whole self to the whole of Christ in His Body. You are blessed to have a priest you would love to follow around all day. I have to say the priests I had for the first few years being Orthodox were disasters as human beings, but I took their sacraments. But looking back now, I needed to engage the Church's "dark side". I did it imperfectly, and I have a lot of things I regret. But in the end I didn't change the priests or the Church, it was me who changed in the process of me living out my former ego delusions and learning that my issues were more about me than the Church. The mentally ill, addicted priests were part of the salt of the Church in the meal I was given by the Church to eat, they weren't hiding it. They were my medicinal cheese because through them I was healed in a way I could never have self prescribed. The "idealized Church" created in our own images whether it is "traditional" or "original" or "bougouis" is not what heals us, it is the Church we engage and yes, even criticize, try to change and imperfectly try to bring people into. But even in those processes we eventually find the "real Church" and in it, our true selves.

Anonymous said...

I would go further and say many of the people we think are spiritually healthy simply suffer from "preferable" delusions.

And I am quite sure that not for the grace of God my parish would be worse off for my conversion. But that's the point isn't it... the grace of God is active and redeeming of my sins. He turns my failures into His successes.

Obviously this doesn't excuse me to sin.

I have no ideal image of the Church, but accept it as I encounter it. My spiritual father is by no means perfect, but even if he were an alcoholic and abusive I would still want to be near him, because he is the father "that I have".

To misuse a quote: I don't think Christ came to make mean people into nice people, but to give the dead, life.

I entered the Church when my own parish priest was worried that the OCA might actually cease to be. That was plenty to ward me off of any idealization and force me to love it how it is.

The Hermit said...

His Beatitude's thoughts on this matter are particularly timely--especially when no one wants to talk about the 50% attrition rate of adult converts to Orthodoxy 5-10 years out. Of course, considering that the majority of adult converts to Orthodoxy came in a mere 20 years ago, the trend is fairly new. (Although, to give credit where credit is due, Fr. Gregory Jensen has been brave enough to talk about this from time to time.)

I have an online Orthodox pal who calls the current "standard" 6 months of catechism "the catechu-minute." I think it's stunningly apropos, when you consider that the ancient standard was no less than 3 years as a catechumen; and that St. Paul spent 5 hours a day in Christian instruction to the newly converted.

On one of the OLIC interview shows you did with His Beatitude when he was still Abbot of St. John's, he said something that has haunted me since I heard it: that conversion to Orthodoxy, for man, is just another identity mask. And, he predicted the emergence of a sort of pop-culture Orthodoxy; being a moderator on an online Orthodox forum, I can tell you, I've seen evidence of that myself. It takes more than icons, incense, and venerating the Theotokos to make the average Protestant into an Orthodox Christian--I think we've forgotten that the purpose of the catechumenate isn't to instruct in history and theology (although it should do that too), but to re-form the human soul, re-orient it toward God. Or, as St. Paul put it, to "Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts,and be renewed in the spirit of your minds,and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness."

s-p said...

David and Hermit, It is true that "preferable delusions" work two ways: In one way for those who are "posing" in some "Orthodox manner" and also for those who buy the illusion put forth because of their own personal delusions. A person can go a long time and a long way on a "false self" because it is a vicious circle: my "ego based false self" is validated by people who are looking for what I am posing as. I truly don't think many people "get" how lost for identity our culture is even though I remember talking about this kind of phenomenom in the 70's. Of course outside of Christ ALL identities are masks and false selfs. In some ways as The Hermit said, we think if we throw some information at human beings and engage them in the right forms that is "catechesis", but in the end it is an exchange of concepts and a new set of acts. Whether or not those things are making us "Christians" is the issue. I have seen people lost on both ends of the process. IT happens in the beginning because their depth of brokenness was not discerned and their knowledge and zeal were mistaken for piety. And it happens at the end after a year or five or more because their depth of brokenness was not discerned and because they had the outward mask so well crafted no one suspected it became a burden to great to bear, or a toy that had gotten old and worn and was discarded. And no one seems to have a list of "Ten Warning Signs of Orthodox Burnout/Flakeout" yet. I don't think just sending people to the monasteries is the answer either, I've been around them enough to know even the monks are fooled by the well crafted illusions. Most of the Abbots and Abbesses know even they are part of the systemic false world people build for themselves (Mp. Jonah has the benefit of knowing that first hand). It is a tough issue, hopefully coming to the front of our view of what it takes to truly engage the life of Christ through the Church.

Anonymous said...

Is it really the answer to extend the catechism? My understanding was the catechism was so long in those times because of Christianity's sudden social boom. It wasn't about properly making someone a Christian, but weeding out the people who just wanted to become Christian so they could hold a public office or be seen with the right people for business.

I am naturally repulsed by this idea, because it seems to set up one's baptism and charismation to be something it isn't. Perhaps the problem isn't that catechism is too short, but that priests (and other spiritual leaders in the parish communities) stop seeing the newly illumined Christian as needing focused, deliberate and conscious pastoral attentions.

"Oh your 'in' now, let's make you a Reader and get you teaching Sunday school."

I heard someone once say that we are all converts, even cradles. If that's true and if repentance is not an event but a life that is lived in the Church, then the lack of proper catechesis seems a much smaller problem as our very lives become catechesis for the Eschaton.

In my most opinionated moment, it occurs to me that we are all far to busy (particularly our priests, who do many things that should be done by others so they can concentrate on their pastoral duties) and that we have far too few shepherds for the flock.

How many priests simply have coffee individually with all their parishioners, even once a month? (I'm not suggesting salvation via Starbucks here. *grin*) How long can the sheep survive when the shepherd has no time to look out for wolves?

s-p said...

David, Precisely my point in a round about way. If the people responsible for "catechism" and reception into the Church can't discern who is prepared either sooner or later and does not have a relationship (or the pastoral skills) to discern spiritual issues then long or short catechism isn't going to cure anything except weed out the impatient (which is not the worst spiritual problem we can have). I am not saying a priest has to be clairvoyant or able to forsee the future, heck even the Apostles baptized people who apostasized and I know monks who have left monasteries after being tonsured by Abbotts who are known as "clairvoyant". But, that said, if we lose people due to negligence or lack of effort that is whole 'nother thing. Indeed quick tonsures and responsibilities feed the beast of delusion for the individual and those who end up following them as "blind leaders".

The Hermit said...

"It wasn't about properly making someone a Christian, but weeding out the people who just wanted to become Christian so they could hold a public office or be seen with the right people for business."

I'm not sure where this idea came from, since, in the earliest days of the Church, Christianity was illegal. Note the number of holy martyrs who were people of some social standing in the Roman Empire who died a martyr's death for confessing Christ.

I'm not saying that a longer catechumenate is some kind of panacea, either; rather, I am saying that the catechumenate should be about helping people acquire the phronema of the Church--not completely, obviously, since there are those of us who have been in the Church a few years now and will tell you, we still don't have it down, but, just from my personal experience, I have seen too many people who were received too soon, too drunk off the incense (as it were)...and as soon as the "new toy" aspect of this strange new faith wears off, or when they discover that being Orthodox is hard work, they move on. And then, we certainly haven't done them any favors.

S-P, even clairvoyance must give way to human will; after all, God gives us the freedom to not do as we ought. But, for those out there wearing epitrachilia, there is some warning here; everyone can be fooled by a good actor, but if a priest is not doing his level best to make sure that a person is ready to be received, that epitrachilion could become a millstone pretty quickly. In that respect, fully agree with David here that priests who don't have time for parishioners are a serious problem. If it is the case that there are too many sheep for one shepherd, that's one thing; but if it is willing neglect, that is something else altogether. I confess, the last year or so, I've seen the truth of something Fr. Thomas Hopko once quoted one of his colleagues at St. Vlad's saying of candidates for the priesthood these days: "Few are called, but all are chosen."

Anonymous said...

Obviously I'm talking about the catechumate after Christianity was accepted. I'd love to see some numbers how many years it took to convert Georgia or Arminia.


Fr Hopko (and others) have complained about the "quality" (in fact I remember him bluntly calling into question the fitness of most of those he met in seminary) but don't seem to have done anything about it.

Where's the movement among the Bishops for more and better search for candidates? Where's the push to vitalize the deaconate and make sure each priest has at least one to help in the duties?

How about a limit of 20 families per priest or something along those lines?

Or possibly the addition of more duel vocation positions? (Of course I think we need many more Bishops too, but even with booming monasticism ... at least in my diocese ... there may not be enough monks to go around).

I still think the longer catechumate is a red herring, or at least, I'm every bit as convinced that as long as the spiritual pastorship doesn't stop at charismation, you probably have more tools and better medicine for someone who's in the Church than someone who's sitting on the steps outside.

Personally, my catechumate was a terrible time for my spiritual growth. I didn't want to mention this, because I didn't want it to be about me. Although one thing was very good that no one seems to do anymore... "catechumans depart"... we did and it made all the difference.

But there's little in my experience I'd want to institutionalize. :)

So I'm not really disagreeing, I'm just saying that it would be good to consider that the catechumate as the "the short time when the priest works with you on your spiritual growth" is a terrible tragedy.