Friday, November 05, 2010

The Chopping Block

I pretty much stay out of “Church politics”. I find that focusing on and ranting about the “big picture” of anything is usually a distraction at best and a delusion that I’m actually influencing changing anything about it at worst. That doesn’t mean I don’t think that some of the antics at “the top” aren’t scandalous, sheer idiocy and even evil. I don’t surf the net looking for crap, but when ortho-sh-t hits the fan, some of it gets on some of the places I go. And I admit, instead of clicking on that little red “X” in the upper right of my screen, I read. And I’ve been reading about the current drama in the Antiochian Archdiocese and MP Philip’s alleged financial improprieties, his political demotion of his bishops, the attempted exile of the convert Bp. Mark to the Siberia of American Orthodoxy where errant priests and bishops are sent to do one’s ecclesial penance, and the removal of a convert priest for the stated reason he did not adhere to the Antiochian clerical dress code (which was intended at least partly to prevent zealous converts from monkabee exhibitionism under the guise of “Tradition”). Of course all of this has more backstory and Byzantine intrigue than an ecumenical council, but in the end it comes down to “what is ecclesial reality”. (Of course every archdiocese has its own brands of scandals, so I’m not flaming Antioch per se, they are just the scandal du jour in American Orthodoxy.)

I was introduced to ecclesial reality when I was 21 years old and attending a small private Bible college in Texas. The head of the Bible department taught several of the classes, he was an old timer and a survivor of congregational ministry. Every once in a while in the classes someone would raise their hand and say, "Dr. Smith (not his real name, he’s still alive) what do you really think about…" He would pause, slowly walk over and close the door, then walk back and sit on the front edge of his desk. He would look across the room as if he was our dad, and then say," Now boys…" And then he would give us the straight dope. 

We got a new college president one year and he began targeting the old-timers and people in positions that he wanted to fill with his friends. People were fired, retired or were offered positions in more menial positions over various trumped up charges, infractions, or there was no place for them in the new organizational chart (which was re-reorganized after they were gone) I lost my job and half tuition scholarship as editor of the school paper because I was editorially critical of his administration. (I was married and my wife was also attending the school fulltime, so it was no small loss. I had to work two part time jobs while taking 16-21 hours to pay for school.) Our professor and we all knew that he was one whose head was on the chopping block. One day in the Minor Prophets class it was perfectly legitimate to ask," Dr. Smith what do you do when you know something wrong is going on in the church?" He paused, walked over and closed the door, and stood behind his desk. He leaned forward and put his hands on his desk and looked up at us and said, "Boys, most of you are going to graduate with a degree in Bible and you're going to go out and get a job with the church and think you're going to change the world. But the world is in the church. There will always come a time when your elders will tell you “you will do this or you're fired”. And then you have to decide what your integrity is worth. If you have a wife and children they will have you by the balls and they'll know it. So my advice to you is before you go out and get a job with the church, you stay in school and get a practical degree or learn a trade. If you work for the church you HAVE to have a fuck you backup plan if you if you want to keep your integrity someday."

A few years later I sat in an elders meeting when we adopted our son and was denied a raise for something I don't even remember now. What I do remember are the words of Elder Jack. He said, “You don't have any choice. We all know that the only reason a man becomes a preacher is because he can't do anything else useful. You're lucky to even have a job here.” He was half right, I was lucky to have a job in 1981 in the middle of a big recession. But I did have a choice and I chose to not stop doing what I was doing and got fired. While I applied for jobs with two useless degrees, I worked for 10 bucks an hour sweeping floors, moving sheet rock and mowed yards. My wife did day care in our home. A few months later I ended up self-employed with my construction company.

So thirty years removed from my own situation, when I read about all the current issues I have mixed reactions. All the allegations about financial improprieties and ecclesial manipulation aside, a Bishop (or in my former case, my elder), regardless of how pious or impious he is, can do basically anything he wants to do with his priests even if it's unpopular. The bottom line is a priest is ordained, serves and is moved or removed at the whim of the Bishop. The Bishop does not have to give a reason to anyone for his pastoral decisions. Whether or not that is wise or expedient is another issue. And until that Bishop is moved or removed by a canonical process he can continue doing what he's doing even in the face of a riot. So faced with ecclesial reality, the question I have to ask myself is, “What am I willing to sacrifice to keep my job and ministry, and does the Bishop have me by the balls?“ 

Frankly, I don't know what to make of the virtual complete silence of clergy on the Internet. I can honestly see that there is some wisdom in riding out the storm, sitting down and shutting up and waiting for the Bishop to die which realistically may be any day now. And then when happy days are here again you're still a priest, you're still serving your parish, you haven't put your family through hell (or at least any more hell) and ultimately, isn't that the goal. Sacrificing all that you went through to perhaps become Orthodox and then to get ordained for one public grandstanding act of conscience against a temporary situation perhaps just isn't worth it. However, I have to say I find it ironic that most of us ended up Orthodox because of a costly act of conscience in regard to the ecclesial weirdnesses of our former churches. But, on the third hand, I also have to say that when I was faced with the same situation it was hard for me to voluntarily look at going back to cleaning restrooms at the mall and washing dishes and sweeping floors after all I went through to be in the clerical position I was in in the Protestant church. And if I was Orthodox it would be doubly hard to think about giving up the black dress, the gold cross, the vestments and the respectable greetings in the marketplace. But that's just me being brutally honest with myself, I'm passing judgment on no one else.

Looking back, the other thing I wrestled with after my elders meeting was the idea that I can't get myself fired because my congregation needs me, and if I'm gone what will happen to them. Even then I realized there was an element of pride in that. The Orthodox word for that is prelest. And to be honest, I struggle with this also because for most of my Orthodox life, I have been a member of churches that suffered under bad priests and it is no picnic. I fully admit reality is there are qualitative differences between priests, and bishops for that matter. And a legitimate question is, should a good priest set himself up to be axed by a “bad bishop”, especially one that is possibly on his way out soon. And I see the wisdom of self-preservation in that situation. However, that said I look at St. Athanasius who was exiled six times and St. John Chrysostom who died in his seventh exile and I wonder how many times they struggled thinking, "Maybe it would be better for me to sit down and shut up because my church needs me and if I'm gone they will be left in the hands of evil men". But, what it comes down to is, in the Orthodox Church we are not Donatists, a parish doesn’t “need” a “good priest”. Anyone at the altar regardless of how good or bad a priest he is, can give us communion. A collar is not required for us to seek spiritual advice and wisdom from a man who is wise with or without a collar. Anyone can give us the sacrament of absolution and confession even if they don't understand a word of English. In reality God can raise up priests from stones if He needs someone at an altar. True ministry and priesthood is a function of all believers, and a robe or collar is a blessing, not a necessity. Personally, I eventually realized that when I thought of that as a necessity was when I ceased living in the present moment, I lost my faith in God’s providence, and I lost the authority and power to be a prophet to my people. 

So all that to say, being a Christian isn't easy. It never has been and sometimes it is the church that makes it hard. And sometimes when we hang being a Christian on having and keeping a function or a role in the Church, we make it harder than it really is. May God have mercy on us all.

(An addendum: Some FB comments have connected a couple dots that I think are worth mentioning.  Mp. Philip has forbidden clergy organizations to be formed or to meet.  Basically he has reinforced and is using to his advantage what I think is the intrinsic error of the American "congregationalist" mindset that has infiltrated the American Orthodox Church: if he can through fear of losing their congregational existence keep the clergy and laity from standing up with one voice as a diocese to him and the Patriarch, he wins. As long as the clergy see their ministry congregationally and are watching out for themselves and their parish, they have by default divided and conquered themselves and Mp. Philip's directive is moot.  Just a thought...) 


Anonymous said...

We're on the same wavelength, Steve. I wrote about this somewhat in my blog today as well. What I have heard and read concerns me a great deal. BUT, I know that this is what happens any time a human being puts their hand to anything. It gets messed up. But God can bring it around. That's what I hold onto.

Tim said...

Indeed, s-p, indeed. May the Lord have mercy on us all, teach us humility, and protect His holy Church.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the frank words.

VSO said...

Did your teacher really use the F-word? ;-)

Steve Robinson said...

VSO, yup. That's what made it so powerful and memorable.

Anonymous said...

this is the very reason my husband left ministry work for secular work. It's the worst kind of ugliness to be bullied and back-stabbed by those who are supposed to love you the most (this is not a comment on Metropolitan PHILIP, just the larger topic). We avoid Church politics like the plague now. May God have mercy on his people. I can relate to a lot of what you wrote. Raising a family under the magnifying glass of ministry was brutal and walking away (er, I mean, being kicked to the curb) was even harder.

Anonymous said...

In the last couple of years I have sometimes thought that if I were to advise any future theology students, would-be clergy, church workers etc, it would be to advise them to find another profession that could put the necessary bread on the table and give them the freedom to act with integrity. (And, yes, there have been times when I wished that I had done that, although I can now also see the advantage of being in a situation where one just has to learn to trust God rather than one's professional qualifications).

One of the things that struck me about the Orthodox Church in western Europe is that it is generally poor and that priests very often had to have secular employment. I can't help thinking that there is something healthy about that.

Of course that doesn't resolve all the issues - there is still the spiritual issue of one's relationship with one's bishop, and the possibility of that being abused and what to do in that case. But it could go a certain way to excluding clearly unacceptable pressures as well as leaving people freer in other ways.


Athanasia said...

"If you work for the church you HAVE to have a fuck you backup plan if you if you want to keep your integrity someday."

My husband used to work 'for the church' as a pastor and also for a seminary. It was in those two institutions that he was treated the worst. The latter had ethical and financial issues which he needed to bring to the attention of the Trustees to say, "You all screwed this institution into the ground and here's how." It nearly killed him and took 6+ years for him to recover spiritually and emotionally.

He is occasionally called to speak as a visiting preaching at some churches and says, "It's amazing how freeing it is to preach when you are not dependent upon the listeners for your paycheck."

Like you we've done all sorts of things to keep food on the table and a roof over the heads of our children. But I'd do it again in a heartbeat for the integrity and truth of Christ our Savior.

May God have mercy on every one of us - none of whom are indispensable to the Church or any other place.

justjamey said...

Two things.

1. My friend Nate Larkin actually argues that the best situation is for all "full-time ministers" to have other jobs. Being a "professional Christian" does something to a person's perception of himself that is often unhealthy...

2. An elder brother in the faith I know specifically will not read up on Orthodox politics. I wish I'd known sooner, because I've copied him on quite a few emails spreading the word on the latest political intrigue! In his words, "For me I feel like for my theosis I am better off focusing on my sins and my local parish, which I love; and not get frustrated by Orthodox politics." I think he's onto something.

Cabbage said...

However, I have to say I find it ironic that most of us ended up Orthodox because of a costly act of conscience in regard to the ecclesial weirdnesses of our former churches.

keep in mind that not all of us are converts ;)

Steve Robinson said...

Cabbage, yes, that was a bit of a convert-centric statement, wasn't it? It was more an observation about the convert clergy that are out there who are strangely silent after blogging their fingers off about their "journey to Orthodoxy from...and all the crap they went through to do it". There's more than just a few of them and a lot more in seminary right now looking for the robe. Of course internet silence doesn't mean no one is talking at all among themselves. He might be able to ban clergy clubs, but I don't think even Mp Philip can ban phone calls and email. If "there is no fear in love" I'd have to say a lot of clergy, cradle and convert aren't "feeling the love" right now.

FrStephenLourie said...

Good post. Enjoyed it and these comments are not directly about this post.
Just a little frustrated that I read in other places (usually by people who don't even dare use their name) about the need for Antiochian priests to perform some sort of protest.
That will help.
Stop thinking like Americans, that we all have opinions that matter. Despota leaves no room of democracy.
And what exactly should I protest?
Certainly it appears there is a lack of the brotherly love that said despota mentioned so often in the 18 directives.
I certainly could think of different ways my brother priest could have been reprimanded, if in fact it was necessary. I certainly would hope I would be handled differently.
I don't know the whole story.
So I am supposed to protest to a bishop? An arch-bishop?
How? Why?
He has been given full authority for the entire archdiocese, only the Patriarch of Antioch can restrict that now.
Dismiss a priest? Dismiss a bishop?

From my Facebook post.

During the times of Patriarch Athenagora, some people went to the Elder and told him:

- Father, the actions of the Patriarch have made us very angry and we pray that he dies, so we may have our peace of mind.

The Elder replied:

- This is not right I also pray for him; I ask God to take days off my own life and give the to our patriarch, so that he may have plenty of time to repent.
-Elder Paisios

I pray for our Metropolitan, he wears a heavy crown. The fringes on the bottom of his epitrachelion represents all the souls he will give account for at the Judgment.

May the Lord have mercy on him and me a sinner.

Pray for the clergy, focus on your parish, love God and your neighbor.

This is what I remind myself. This is my protest.

Pray for me the sinner.

Fr. Stephen

Steve Robinson said...

Fr. Stephen, May God bless and keep you. You are ultimately correct, even if our "elder" is our "enemy" we are to love our enemies and pray for them. The "politics of change" in the Orthodox Church are nebulous at best. I've been involved in trying to change an intolerable situation at a parish and hierarchical level and it is not a cut and dried process, and frankly we converts have no clue what we really dealing with when it comes to ecclesial diplomacy in the ethnic archdioceses. It is a political and cultural nightmare. Period. The internal issues I pointed up weigh heavily on any priest (or layman) who wishes to serve God and His flock in a particular place. To lash out blindly in frustration and anger individually will perhaps assuage a sense of integrity but will accomplish nothing on the diocesan level. Until we lose the "congregationalist" mindset (and that is where I see an issue with your comment), fear will reign supreme. If one is alone, how will he stay warm... A rope of three strands is not quickly broken. And I fully acknowledge this is ALL sooo easy to say on a blog because I'm no longer under that gun... maybe just a paintball. You are all in my feeble and infrequent prayers.

Anonymous said...

Good writing! St. Brianchaninov wrote that it doesn't depend on the spirituality of a priest for the sacrament of confession to work, for example. We shouldn't let the problems we see upset us to marching out. After living in Russia for 8 years, the people here put up with quite a bit in the church here in Siberia, but they still go to church.
There are (thankfully) no parish councils here. If there are problems then people write to Moscow, but it seems rare that anything is changed. People have much patience here, and willing to endure in some ways. We don't have that American style political bandwagon church rankling. Sometimes bad monks or priest's in Russia get shipped farther East-into the depths till they get to Sakkalin, but I seldom here of a defrocking.
At any rate,yes, the worst experiences can happen through Christian organizations, which I've been in all my life. It becomes the law of the jungle-as everyone feels free in Christ to let the other have it, knowing God has personally given them a message to inflict something necessary. That seems to be the psychology no matter where one goes.
May God help the Church!

Noël Joy Plourde said...

Man, this definitely puts a spin on the grace needed for those called to remain in the priesthood!

Thanks for this, Steve, and thanks to all of your intelligent commentators. As usual, in situations like this, I think: "Put not your trust in princes, in sons of men in whom there is on salvation." Having been raised in a church that considers women as decidedly second-class, I've struggled long and hard over the years to put my energy into being faithful to my spiritual tradition and ultimately, to God. Not that I'm not dismayed by the problems of the Church. I am. but ultimately, I have to focus on where my true strength lies.

Great and thoughtful piece, Steve!

Apophatically Speaking said...

Fr Lourie,

I don't think the all or nothing approach is called for, nor prudent. Blind subservience or open rebellion - this is a set of false choices. False choices you have been duped to accept. There are plenty of ways lower clergy and laity can let our voices be heard. Insistence on a truly functioning (viz. Orthodox) local synod for one thing. Refusal to hide in the shadows and commitment to openess and transparency, for another.

Your voice doesn't matter? The value of one is not an American novelty my dear Father - it is the very heart of the Christian Gospel. "What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine ... and go after that which is lost until he find it"?

Kirk said...

ISTM, the difficulty for Americans in the Orthodox Church is not so much that we expect democracy as that we expect due process. Due process says that a person accused of wrongdoing will have the right to defend himself, and to appeal an arbitrary decision to a higher authority. St. Paul availed himself of due process when he appealed to Ceasar. There is room for due process in the conciliar model. After all, even the decisions of the great councils was not considered perfected until accepted by the people--the entire Church. Perhaps what is needed now is a refusal by the Church--laity and clerics--to accept the unilateral (and seemingly arbitrary) actions of one person.

Steve Robinson said...

Kirk, There is something like "due process" in the Church but it is pretty "Byzantine". :) The issue is as you noted, no single person can effect change, it has to be "the Church". There are stories of entire villages gathering around the house of a "bad cleric" and shouting "ANAXIOS" round the clock until he left town. Given our defacto American "congregationalist" view of the Church and priesthood, it would be quite an accomplishment to gather 400 priests and deacons and heck, why not a couple auxilliary Bishops and a few thousand laity to gather around an archdiocese headquarters and shout ANAXIOS for a few days or until the Patriarch gets on a plane and comes to talk with them. That would be "old country due process". :)

Kim said...

Steve, do you regret becoming Orthodox?

Steve Robinson said...

Kim, absolutely no. As part of this blog post indicates, I've been around the "Christian block" a few times and there is nothing here that isn't everywhere else in the Christian faith. The Orthodox Church has its unique ways of doing some things but in the end no matter what the "process" is, if it fails it fails because of the same sinful human issues that cause failure everywhere else and are expressions of the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eye and the pride of life. In fact, I'd have to say even though I'm probably even more aware of the "human side" of the "church politics" now than I was back in the old days, I find I'm less affected by them and don't invest a whole lot of time and effort into thinking about them. There is a Psalm that we read regularly in the services "put not your trust in princes and the sons of men" and it is a spiritual discipline to do that in the face of human weaknesses and even evil in Church leadership, no matter what Church you are in. The Orthodox Church has been both challenging and given me the teachings and spiritual cure for my personal failures and weaknesses in learning to deal with challenges, not just in Church politics, but life in general. I honestly feel like Jesus' apostles in John 6 when He delivered some really hard teaching and asked them, "Do you wish to leave too?" and Peter answered, "Where else can we go, You have the words of eternal life." I deal with the hard stuff because I've found a depth of life here in a way I hadn't found it anywhere else.

Joseph Barabbas Theophorus said...

To get right to the point - as I always seem to do - a lot of this seems quite impersonal to me. Is the point of Orthodoxy to create some model diocese, where everything goes along in some predetermined way like clockwork? Is it to create an environment where everyone gets along with giggles and our very worldly "values" like "democracy" and "due process" are preserved? Is is to give us some security blanket wherein we can feel "loved" with a false love and safe within the arms of sinful men and their (and our) artificial constructs? In short, is it to create a kingdom of this world? No. That is the job of the antichrist. Orthodoxy is meant to save our souls, and not from "this sinner," "that bishop", or "that person over there who disagrees with me," but primarily from ourselves.

I get very concerned when I hear about a "system" being broken precisely because I used to think in such a way myself (and probably still due to some degree, which is my own fault). The Church is not some "system" that needs to be "fixed." We as people need to be healed. People do silly, even sinful, things. So what is new under the sun? I think our reaction to that may be even worse than the sins that were or were not committed in the first place. Are we up in arms because we want to win over the person's soul, because we love him and are willing to sacrifice everything for God and His Kingdom? Or are we ready not to die for Christ, but to kill for Him, to start a war because the reality that we see doesn't line up with our completely deluded idea of an impossible "Orthodox system?"

To be even more blunt, I'd say that the entire idea of trying to "accomplish" something on a "diocesan level" (what ever that means), "enforce" the fad of "openness" (and it is a worldly fad, for Christ-like openness begins with the "me," not the "they"), or "combat" "ecclesial weirdness" (and what about the Church is "normal" if I may ask), is all completely deluded. None of these things matter, in and of themselves. They are all about saving fantasies, ideas, illusions, not about saving human persons. I think what is lacking today is not the inability to stand up to others. We do this all the time: look at all the wars, the conflict, the politics, all the blasphemous nonsense out there. The problem is that we don't stand up to ourselves. We can't distinguish between the voice of God and our own. But in case there is any confusion, the will of God is not for us to have "rights" or develop some series of checks and balances to ensure a "proper" "Church government."

So, to end on a gentler note, let's not work on trying to create a more utopian system, which is not the work nor the spirit of Christ. I believe we should work on loving everyone, including our enemies, even to the point where we don't see anyone as an enemy. Maybe then all of this will appear in the proper context: we fight sin by loving, serving, and praying for each other, not by gossiping about, expounding on the intolerability of the decisions of, nor fantasizing about the demotion of each other. May God have mercy on all of us, for none of us are anything next to the holiness of the Lord.

Steve Robinson said...

Joseph, in many respects you are correct, our reactions to things are often more sinful and egregious than the thing itself. And at the bottom line there has never been and never will be the perfect diocese, patriarchate or parish (or Christian). On the fourth hand (continuing my thoughts from the post), there is "decently and in order" and the "human" structure of the Church is not for nothing. We need not look at it as restoring Eden, but I don't think it is unwarranted to expect it to work to some degree and at some level to promote unity, love, peace, good order and safety for its members. If all manner of disorders are to be tolerated or ignored in the name of "love" then its existence is pointless. Of course the tolerance level for the level of shortfall will vary wildly among people. Anon's note from the "Old Country" explicitly points up that the American tolerance level is much lower and expectations are higher than "the old country's" (though under certain circumstances even they still appeal for change). I agree 100% that I personally have not known the difference between the voice of God and my own more times than I will even blog about (I do have SOME sense of shame...:) and as I said, politics, church or secular, is usually a distraction or a delusion. The bottom line of the point of my post (and your comment) is "what will I do" in the face of "what is". And that requires a good, hard, deep look into your own soul and the courage to act on what you find there... and that courage MIGHT mean laying aside temptations and delusions of many kinds.

Alix said...

Having once been a member of a church that split over which brand of toilet paper the deacon board thought the pastor should buy and the brand the pastor actually did buy, nothing surprises me in the area of church politics. We live in a fallen world and we are none of us perfect.

The voice of Alix and the voice of God are all too often confused in my simple brain and usually in favor of interpreting the voice of Alix as the voice of God.

I have learned over many painful years to keep myself out of messes which are not mine to mess in. Between the Patriarch and the Metropolitan (neither of whom I have even seen, much less met or spoken to--though I HAVE met my Bishop and even spoke a couple of words to him--important to me, but one of many many voices over the years to him) I have absolutely no sway in the situation. I do however know how to pray for all involved (including the faithful) and I do know how to attempt to listen to all sides of a situation--and then ask God to mediate in ways that I cannot hope to.

Does church politics harm my faith? Neither church politics on the parish level or on the Patriarchal level have anything to do with my faith. Church politics as nasty as it can get merely proves to me that there is a reason we Orthodox pray Lord Have mercy so often. We need His mercy so badly.

(And for the record, I didn't care which brand of TP was purchased as long as there was some kind of Tp in the stall when I needed it!!)


Anonymous said...

I have been watching various discussions on various sites about the various current scandals, and this seems like one of the most balanced posts out there.

A couple of thoughts:

Of course, the best way to deal with this situation is to pray, pray, pray for all involved, with a spirit of humility and love for all.

Some of the things going on in the Church are, in fact, BIG DEALS that need to be addressed for the sake of the eternal salvation of all involved. The whole "the Church saves me, I don't save the Church" deal is not an opportunity to refuse any responsibility.

In many cases, the hands of ordained clergy are tied--they serve in the Church at the pleasure of their Bishops, and they are called to obedience in that relationship. To refuse to do what their Bishop says may, as has been said here, lead to a level of pain that laity do not face in this circumstance.

As a lay-person, I have a responsibility for how the Church functions. The Church is not made up of a Bishop and Priests--it is a Bishop, Priests, and the PEOPLE. (Clergy cannot, as Catholics can, celebrate the Divine Liturgy with no one else in attendance--that's how important the role of the laity is to the function of the Church.)

At every Divine Liturgy, I give my "Amen." If I practice blind obedience out of some desire to "stay out of it," I have, in fact, become a perpetrator of sins of omission. Though I must not participate in gossip, though I must treat all involved with love and respect, though I must always keep in mind my role as Chief Among Sinners, it is MY RESPONSIBILITY to only give my "Amen" when I can do so in good conscience.

At the "false councils" of antiquity, the people rose up and said, "Go back and do it again--that's not in line with the Kerygma of the Faith." Perhaps it's time for us to do the same.

Kim said...

Thanks Steve. I'm supposed to be prayed over tomorrow to become officially a catechumen, and lately I'm run into so much that discourages me about this decision. Last night I had a whopper of a "dream" that was pure spiritual warfare. I put dream in quotes because I might've been awake, but close to sleep, as I was able to speak Christ's Name which often is not possible in a dream (which I find interesting). I felt this heaviness and the desperate need to pray for myself and my family. It's been a long time since I've had an experience like that. I feel the weight of this decision closing in on me and reading this post was just one more thing the enemy might be using to discourage me. Did you go through anything like that when you were converting? Did fear and trepidation try to overtake you as it has me?

Melanie said...

This is definitely an important issue, especially for those outside of the church, who have yet another example of Christians not behaving as Christians. This current post makes me understand the previous "American Christians as Wusses" just a little more....

Steve Robinson said...

Hi Kim, Boy howdy... The week we were all set (22 of us) to leave our Episcopal Church together for the Antiochian Archdiocese about 12 years ago, the "Ben Lomond scandal" hit the internet. The parish split, Mp. Philip laicized several of their priests and deacons, some were moved to other parishes etc. We had been using some of their catechetical materials so we were somewhat familiar with them, they were allegedly the quintessential "convert parish". So yeah, I know. We jumped ship anyway. We just trusted that it was The Church and whatever happened, even if it was wrong, well... what else is new? We weren't starry eyed idealists, but it was a bucket of cold water. So, the reality has continued, but its the same reality the Church has encountered since apostolic times with egos, factions, debates, schisms etc. Sometimes they land in your lap, sometimes they are "out there" and make you wonder "what the filioque is going on??" I often tell people that coming to the Church is like dating... the first kiss is the hardest and at every major move forward a lot of people get a case of cold feet. Its pretty natural to second guess yourself. And yes it is pretty common to battle the "logismoi" whether they are from Satan, the demons or just our own heads we may not know for sure, but they amount to the same thing when we are tempted to abandon an attempt to live a spiritual life.
The catechumenate is a move forward, but it is like your engagement to the Church. At that point you are more intimate but take as long as you need to to make your final decision, there is no rush... its not like we have an "altar call" and the last verse of "Just As I Am" is coming up. :) Talk to your priest, he'll know whether to move forward or postpone your reception in to the catechumenate. God bless you.

Sophia in West Texas said...

s-p, your comment (above) quoting Peter's "Where else can we go?" was essential to my conversion. The priest who chrismated me was concerned about the brevity of my formal catechumenate. He asked, "Are you serious about this? Because, you know, I have to account for your soul if you were to ever leave the church, and I don't want to risk that." (He was a little cynical, and quite frank, himself.) I replied as you and Peter did, and I pray that I do not go back on that.

For people who want a little comfort in the face of scandal, I recommend visiting other parishes while traveling. Since it isn't your parish, you don't usually notice the in-house imperfections. Since it's still your Orthodox Church, you can see that the Liturgy continues to be served and the Church is here, too.

s-p, thank you for your thought-provoking post, and forgive me for the rather tangential nature of my comments. Lord have mercy.

Kim said...

Thanks again, Steve. Like you and Sophia said, "Where else can we go?" That's pretty much where I am right now. If not Orthodoxy, where? I've already ruled out the RC Church and no Protestant church satisfies. But things like this recent scandal make me want to pull back. Yet like you said, this is nothing new in "the Church". History is full of this kind of stuff, unfortunately.

Well, I feel a little better. Much obliged, Steve.

Anonymous said...

Kim, I think that it is impossible to escape human weakness and failings anywhere. I remember as a kid in the 1970's and Jesus movement-I mean the whole atmosphere. If you were saved, you were empowered and led, etc... but that era passed, people sinned, the problems-serious ones-existed in the different Protestant churches. Coming into the Orthodox Church, we need to separate what is Truth, from human weaknesses. There were times when the Church was dynamic and then it was in some places more than others-(example Revelation-and Christ's message to the churches). The time we live in and the area are all factors-but we are all called to the Truth always. We have to be able to look above the fray of any situation and not let it take over and cause a lack of faith no matter what the failings. In fact, we should expect failings and problems-especially if we are Orthodox! Should be no surprise.

J.D. said...

If the early churches had had things going great and on point, there would have been little reason for St. Paul to write those admonishing, correcting letters.

Anonymous said... usual, food for thought.

May God have mercy on the Bishop (and now here I am thinking of the Monty Pithon sketch on "The Bishop" - rats!), and all of us....this is a bumpy ride we're on!

justjamey said...

I'm only two years in, but I spent 6 years before that flirting with the church, and at least another 6 unconsciously moving toward the Church.

The best thing about a situation like this for an incoming catechumen, is it gives you an opportunity to pull those blinders off. You're not coming to the Church because she is perfect. You're coming to the Church because you see Jesus Christ there, and he is working hard to make a harlot a spotless bride.

There is no other place on earth I'd rather be. Forget the warts, nevermind the drama, because she is being transformed from grace to grace...

God's peace,

Saul said...

I like the discussion in the comments section, specifically the affirmation of our holy and catholic church. Truly motivating!

Anonymous said...

I love this blog. It is so real life. Thanks Steve. I vow one day to buy you a beer! (I've also had my genitals raked over the proverbial ecclesial cheese grater. Misery loves company! :)

Also, I have found that Orthodoxy's wisdom always rocks me like a hurricane. From Fr. Stephen's reply:

The Elder replied:
- This is not right I also pray for him; I ask God to take days off my own life and give them to our patriarch, so that he may have plenty of time to repent. -Elder Paisios

Such wisdom. I'm truly thankful!

Steve Robinson said...

oruaseht, I'll take you up on that beer any time. Maybe we can have a cheezgrater survivors convention. :)

DebD said...

s-p... don't forget what they did to Maximos the Confessor. However, neither he nor Sts. John Chrysostom or Athanasius had a wife and children to consider.

Kim - I jumped into the OCA smack in the middle of the scandal. I like to think it gave me a realistic perspective about hierarchs. God bless you during your journey Home.

Anonymous said...

I'm no one seriously worth listening to, but false humility aside; there occurs to me that only two things are profitable.

A charitable attitude towards all who disappoint (this may include righting some wrongs they do without causing more trouble, that is, taking their sin upon you) or, after fully counting the cost, pull out the torches and pitchforks.

Everything in between attempts to deny the costs and doesn't really accept the problem for what it is.

Deciding whether it's time for torches and pitchforks isn't something you inspire in others with speeches (or blog comments). It's something you inspire by picking up your own torch and pitchfork.

Every hierarch (even the ones we call Saints) sinned, but we're only bothered and talk about it when the sins effect us and our agendas. We think that because our motives are "noble" and our hurts "unwarranted" that we are justified in our protest.

Perhaps we are not all called like Christ to go as the lamb to the slaughter, perhaps there is a time for revolution (with all it's terrible evils, and don't you think for a moment they aren't terrible). But if it's revolution you want you'd better, as we say, man-up and get started with the wheel of death you wish to set in motion.

May history vindicate your decision.

Yes, I am staking out the unpopular opinion that all of this is bad, even though it makes us feel good (and very noble in our commiseration of perceived sufferings); ESPECIALLY because I would love to join in. I am the king of: "but if I don't do something..." as if the kingdom rose and fell on what I do.

This post is, of course, full of useless things from a useless man who has just condemned himself to perdition with his own words. God have mercy on our souls!