Tuesday, January 11, 2005
'Utmost purity': A parable.
Amy Johnson Frykholm's Christian Century essay on Eastern Orthodox Christianity in the United States is rich and fascinating, but I can't help but extract a parable from one portion of her article:
In central Colorado, far from the traditional centers of Orthodoxy in Constantinople, Moscow and Mount Athos, is a small monastery where five monks live together on the sagebrush foothills of the Buffalo Range. Their abbot, Archbishop Gregory, is a renowned iconographer and something of a renegade. The denomination to which he belongs, the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church (ROAC), is not in communion with most other Orthodox, who it claims have strayed from the true faith via the evils of “ecumenism.” Archbishop Gregory has joined and left several different groups on the fringes of Orthodoxy, and the Colorado monastery itself has changed hands more than once.
Brother John is a young monk who joined the monastery during his years at Trinity University in San Antonio. A former Presbyterian, Brother John recounted to me his early dismay at the liberalism he saw in the Presbyterian Church. He felt that the church was in “open denial of Christ and the apostles” and not adhering to biblical principles, and had been corrupted through accommodation to the world. At the end of his first year of college, he was seeking to be baptized into the Orthodox Church. Not only had he found the Bible-adhering church he sought, but he was also convinced that it was the one holy church founded by Christ and the apostles.
Most Orthodox churches do not rebaptize converts from other Christian denominations since the Orthodox teach that baptism is a one-time-only sacrament. Those who have been baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit need only to be chrismated—anointed—to be received fully into the church. But Brother John felt that his baptism as a Presbyterian was not truly a baptism. His local priest in the Orthodox Church of America (OCA) refused to baptize him, and he grew frustrated. Much in the OCA seemed impure and wayward to him, and he began to look into groups farther from the Orthodox mainstream. His search for greater purity ended in an encounter with then Archimandrite Gregory in the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church. The leaders of the ROAC consider the Russian Orthodox Church to be apostate and have broken communion with all those whom they consider “ecumenical.”
Brother John gave me a tour of the monastery grounds, including the recently built Byzantine-style church, which looked at home on the rocky hills. The walls of the church were covered with the strikingly clear and sparse iconography of Archbishop Gregory. Later, as Brother John walked me to my car, he said quietly, “American Christians need to understand that they are not where they need to be. God wants them in the Orthodox Church. All of the other churches and religions are not being fully faithful to Christ.”
Although he was adamantly countercultural in his approach, something of Brother John’s version of Orthodoxy struck me as distinctly American. In a search for the utmost purity, he had to link up with the smallest possible unit of religious organization he could find. Like many Americans of other denominations and generations, he had to become an outsider in order to assure himself that his faith was genuine.
"The smallest possible unit of religious organization he could find": Now there's a temptation that afflicts religious liberals, too.
("Smells and Bells," Amy Johnson Frykholm, Christian Century 12.28.04)
Copyright © 2005 by Philocrites | Posted 11 January 2005 at 10:10 PM