Some time ago, a correspondent wrote that he was hopeful, since the trouble going on in some Orthodox jurisdictions is “proof” that the unification project, under the rubric of “The Episcopal Assembly,” is a good idea.
He added, breathlessly, that a unified administration would have prevented such a sorry state of affairs.
His missing premises and non sequiturs made it hard for me to offer much other than a pale “I’m not so sure.”
Nowadays, ecclesial conversations have gone the way of the culture of Saruman: the speaker stops long enough to give you the opportunity to say Amen. If he does not hear this (or its approximation), he either continues or enters more data in his lengthening brief against you.
That said, there wasn’t much I could say, given the little courage I possess these days with regard to our present list of Grendels attacking our ramshackle Heorot. There is much of this corporate-style hope these days -- a sort of gaseous hope that buoyed up my correspondent. But it is spoken in the linguistic fashion of the rhetoric praising the Maginot Line – a rather degenerate hope that falls far short of the glistening “certain hope” of St. Paul (i.e., “For I am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed”).
Such corporate, “business-friendly” hope must be placed between the rubrics of scare-quotes, for it is a post-modern “hope” that eviscerates history, that enervates the True Christian Myth, that bowdlerizes Tradition into modern accommodation, that rubs out men and women and substitutes for them the celluloid chimera "hesheit."
Well, if I were a better man and more like the pagan Beowulf, I would have rebutted the argument sanguinely. The past is littered with many sorry states of affairs that festered under the aegis of unified administrations – and some of these were so unified that they were monolithic if not totalitarian.
In particular, the religious history of America reveals a depressing, rather soul-freezing correlation. There is a clear cause-and-effect relationship between the achievement of ecclesial administrative union, and the diminution of faith -- and of belief, piety and fellowship.
The reasons for this particular sorry state of affairs are Legion: but two come immediately to mind. One is the old historic truth that in groups, the lowest common denominator seems to always win the vote. That truth is hardly interesting, as every therapist knows (from his first case, which is his bathroom mirror) that dysfunction seeks out its own, that like attracts like (only to repel it and find it repellant later on), that limping dancers inevitably find other limping partners.
The second (and more interesting) reason for the tragedy of American ecumenicism lay in the fact that behind every unification, there have been at least two centralized groups of elitists who found, in their many conversations, that they were completely alike. They realized, breathlessly, that there was nothing separating them, except for the arbitrary (and embarrassing) “denominational distinctives” that had been invented by a few cranky old men. Consultations would be held ... conferences would be attended ... and of course, special litanies were composed, some even accompanied by liturgical dance.
They just could not keep their hands off each other.
So in a process of reverse-mitosis, the enlightened nuclei of two cells initiated an attraction that became inevitable -- especially with the publishing of a common hymnal, and agreements on reciprocal clergy credentialing. Any question or doubt was called “obstructionist” or, even, “faithless.” Everyone was reminded of verses like “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love,” and our Lord’s words, “That they may be one.”
Let me remind you, just in case you forgot, that the Lord’s imperative for unity in “That they may be one” has little to do with organizational structure. It has everything to do with theosis and communion. It has everything to do with fidelity to the apostles’ teaching and the reception of the sacraments administered by them and their successors.
Now, I can understand why American protestant ecumenicism has fallen into such squalid fragmentation and doctrinal miasma. They have cared little about the meaning of time and vision, and of the relationship between the Apostolic Vision and the recognition of the Body of Christ.
But I do not understand the rhetoric of Orthodox ecumenicism that speaks the same protestant language of administrative structuralism, all the while proceeding, ostensibly, from a much better predicate.
To my correspondent, I should have said that the present movement toward unity does not answer the questions raised by the internecine squabbles of some jurisdictions.
In a more courageous moment, I would have said that the unification process not only fails to provide a transcendent convergence for fraternicides. Rather, it occupies another category, along with the categories of fraternal conflict and doctrinal confusion, that could be listed under the major heading of “Disqualifications for Union in Our Time.”
On one hand, we have the real and wretched conflicts of “converts” militating against “cradles and ethnics” … of southern positive economies leapfrogging over northern rustbelt depression-zones … of metropolitanistas lining up web sites against the postmodern and oddly charming congeries of bishop-and-eucharist-and-conciliarity-and-Heidegger rhetorical zones (I say “charming” to emphasize my patent disagreement).
What a mess. No wonder God kept Orthodoxy as "America's Best Kept Secret." These words of Metropolitan Philip’s may come back to haunt him with dire irony.
And on the other hand, we have the breathless hope (like “A New Hope” on the Star Wars marquee) for administrative unity, sung to the tune of Chambesy. All sorts of confidential agenda are floating around, with furtive meetings on password-protected sites and luncheons in graceful venues. The post-gender theologies are being prepared (i.e., Behr-Sigel, Boukharev, etc), along with new anthropologies that need not be so embarrassing to today’s “cultured despisers. The fundamentalists and the pietists have been put on notice, by some heavy-weights, that their opinions against abortion and gay marriage are somehow antithetical to the “theology of love and wonder” and the concept of “the Church as Spiritual Hospital.” Meanwhile, some Orthodox jurisdictions are quite happy to permit themselves to be called “member denominations” of schmancy organizations like the NCC.
Again, just in case you are forgetting – since I am once again railing against the NCC and female ordination and abortion and gay marriage – please remember that I am about as popular to the Tea Party and the Right Wing as is Obama’s long form birth certificate. I am happy to be called an environmentalist – I just happen to be one of the few “green” people that don’t hold with trans-species evolution and natural selection. I am all for civil rights, even civil rights for people who choose to engage in homosexual behavior.
That said, I maintain that the current lineaments of unifications are themselves indications that we are in no position to unify administratively.
Permit me to speak in the argot of an early 19th century revivalist: “There will be no Unity until there is Revival in the Church of God.”
Revival is an odd word for us in the Orthodox demesnes, of course. But it need not be, and may actually become a helpful term, as it used to connote a fidelity to dogma, as well as a fervent practice of prayer, and a gentle culture of fellowship … and, truth be told, a sharp and incessant critique of the inhumanity of civilization.
In every critical period of history, the leadership of culture was responsible for the articulation of myths that helped men and women respond to the psychic threat of time, especially the future and death. You may argue that this is always the case, and so it is.
But in critical periods, the psychic press of time is even closer. It becomes unavoidable and undeniable.
Accordingly, politicians say things like “Fourscore and seven years ago, our forefathers …” Entertainers come up with gems like “The Tempest.” Bards put together long pieces like “The Odyssey.” Literati, even comparatively lately, produce masterworks like “The Lord of the Rings.”
The Church is responsible for the articulation of myths that are true, that are truest. These myths will help people grow up into adult Christians – otherwise know as “saints.” They will lead people in fervent prayer -- and thus actually change the course of human events. They will help people learn how to be courageous – which, right now, given the number of insanities and apostasies – they are most assuredly not.
They will help people see their places as Heorot, instead of capitalistic venues.
And in Heorot, these myths will help them fight the Grendels, who have come, who cannot abide the singing.
Until the day when we make these myths clear and inculcate them confidently, to the point where any altar boy can sing them, instead of having to read some wretched statement about just who cannot be commemorated anymore and who has to fester under the manacles of a psych evaluation, we will remain unready.
On that day, when we become ready, then and only then will God say,
“You are One.”
“You are One with Us.”