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...all I can really say is that just two, maybe three days ago I did a Bible study on self ego and the Holy Spirit. Life changing stuff. And then, I think about my Church. We got a new priest. I guess that is good. We didn't get the Priest with the thick accent. We got the convert Priest from the Anglicans. yeah....only God and time(for me as a human) can judge what will come along. His last sermon of about 7 minutes involved just giving all of your money away to people living on the streets. We should not be concerned with their circumstance or how they will use the money, just give all of what we have - all of it, do you hear me? Sigh...This has been too long of a haul (going on 12 years) in Orthodoxy. I think my patience has run out (which is sad). i want to get more involved, have offered my talents, but someone typically all ready had the job. I am just blubbering at this point, but in some strange feel great about venting this. So, if you are reading, you can stop here...just more of me blabbering. I have tried very hard to raise my boys Orthodox. I even pulled them from school to be altar boys during the week for Liturgy for the past five years. But, when Christmas, Pascha, and some other high liturgical events happen the grown altar boys that never attend show up and my boys are pushed to the side. Oh well. I just want to say in closing from this Orthodox journey (to not go to Church anywhere), thank you Father Tobias. You have are a bright, bright lighthouse. Not just for Orthodoxy, but for Christianity!! May God Bless You!! And your loved ones...maybe I will see you around sometime....it is the season of Advent - Father God is preparing the world for the arrival of His son!! Christ is Born! Glorify Him!! Amen

I'm reminded that the LDS/Mormon church is strictly controlled because of their geography. You attend the ward not of your choice, but of your assignment. You are with others who are part of your community (like it or not). Yet, their growth doesn't seem to have suffered due to that schema.

I'm also thinking about Dunbar's number, which is the maximum number of social relationships people can have, which is typically stated to be somewhere between 100 and 230. That may prove to be the ideal size - once a parish hits about 200, it should probably divide, and form a new parish.

Small parishes are wonderful as long as one is not immediately coopted to run all sorts of things because the parish has fantasies of doing big church things that aren't really possible without some scale. Small parishes are also great as long as they aren't simply extensions of a particular individual or clique with all the parochialism that entails, i.e., as long as they aren't weirdos cut off from the outside world for too long. It's not really polite for a sane outsider to come in and try to sharpen everyone's iron for them; and it's probably not right to expect to sharpen others' iron without suffering a few burrs and gashes it probably would have been easy to avoid without losing salvation.

Until we move towards something a little more like a neighborhood/town parish structure, we're going to run into these oddities. As it is, Greeks of a mind flock together in differing parishes, OCA types of a mind flock together too, as with Russians, Antiochians, Romanians, etc. We are left with a bevvy of idiosynrasy under fragmented authority with no one wanting to rock the boat because finances are tight as it is (or the latest internet fracas is started). It's only when lots of different kinds of iron get together that they can sharpen each other.

There seems to be something like a break between what one experiences of the requirements of the priesthood by living, worshiping, being guided by, and assisting a priest, and what one is then taught in seminary about priestcraft. Mainline seminaries have often been about teaching ministers the secret gnosis that what their parents believe is wrong, which inevitably trickles down to everyone else. Like driving, one should have a pretty good sense of how to drive before getting behind the wheel oneself. Yes, the rules are important to learn, and yes, one needs some expert guidance and much needed practical experience before being set off on one's own, but the basics of what it looks like and feels like to drive in a car are pretty much already learned by simply having been a passenger for so long. Somehow, there's a disconnect though between what we experience of priests and what they are then schooled for as necessary for priesthood. Maybe it's a merging of priest, starets, theologian, psychologist/counseler, academic, singer, antiquarian, ethnic partisan, apologetical master, and all round intellectual and man-of-the-people in one package. It seems like a man should be able to pretty readily step into his father's shoes with a little guidance, training, and preparation on the ground, and that their priesthoods should be of a piece apart from any personal characteristics. I'm not sure that's really the way things happen now, and maybe that's because there's so much idiosyncrasy regarding priestcraft from parish to parish, jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and generation to generation. I tend to prefer old OCA types with beards, but that's me. Is that 'standard'?

Gee, Och, there's anonymity and then there's anonymity. I shudder at over-familiarity, and I oppose any sort of intrusion that is anything remotely akin to the "discipling" nastiness that took place here in Pittsburgh in the 70's. I do not hope for a replication of AA/NA/COA/CODA forced "openness" or "encounter" type stuff, either. My eccentricities would militate against such nonsense.

Also, I harbor no such romantic notions about the fictional village, and I satirize, at least weekly, my own agrarian motifs. I hail from a Sunday School (protestant) whose sole idea of exegesis is to read how Scripture predicted Obama as a harbinger of the End Times.

I do not mean my cursing of anonymity as a romanticized yearning for a sentimentalized familiarity that I not only avoid, but consider necrotic. The anonymity (and parallel gravitational attraction to large important parishes) that I denounce is a renunciation of theosis, a rejection of the neighbor, and an abdication of humane culture. It is an embrace of the bozart commodification of the ecclesia. I wanted to make this plain without being explicit.

Your comment brought back claustrophobic nightmares. Thanks for that. Heh.

I think we can sometimes get a bit dreamy about the village. There are reasons our ancestors left them - often very good, sensible, decent reasons.

"Abuse" may be too narrow a term. I hear a lot of reversion (out of Orthodoxy) stories, and while abuse plays a part, more often than that incompetence is the factor. There seems to be an inexplicable number of incompetent Orthodox priests in this country - among both the convert and cradle clergy. Obviously, the seminaries have issues. But from what I've seen of priests who haven't been to seminary, I'm certainly not inclined to think that ditching seminary is the answer.

I know the old Chesterton truism about how the old village forced you to love your neighbor in a way that modern settings often don't - because you did not there choose the people you spent your time with and you had no choice but to love them (or not).

That makes sense, but it is also very romantic. The fact is that small village environments were often toxic. For instance, we now know that the more isolated a small community is, the higher the incidence of incest there is likely to be. In both my maternal grandparents’ rural villages, and my wife's grandmother's rural village, incest was quite common (though not talked about much, other than via innuendo).

Sometimes it is easier for human beings to love each other when they have some space. I'm a better husband when I spend most of the day away from my wife. My two oldest daughters get along better when they sleep in separate rooms. My mother and I didn't get along well until I had spent a decade living many hundreds of miles away from her. I work best at jobs where I’m not around the same people all day long, especially if I have a fair amount of time just to myself.

The extreme anonymity of the large auditorium church can't be good for the soul. But the church where you know everybody's story and where everybody knows, or thinks they know, your story - well, that can be soul crushing as well. Especially where cliques reign, which is all too common in both convert and cradle Orthodox parishes in this country.

My wife went to a service provider owned by a couple at our old AOANA parish and updated them on things going on with us and by the end of that week my sister-in-law living 4 states away had heard a very interesting variation on that information (she is Orthodox and has connections to the parish here). That's irritating but harmless, a petty cross to bear, if you will.

But I can tell, and I’m many other readers here can tell, a lot more pathological stories that involve people staying in Orthodox communities precisely because they were convinced that to leave was disobedient, was to deny Christ. I think it has to do with the language of the fathers, particularly of the Philokailia and the elders, that, if read literally, incites one to a masochistic insistence on being trodden upon and misused in the name of Christ. It makes for a nice clean and neat theory/narrative to talk about the need for theosis to occur via staying in these "kenotic communities." But I think the realities are pretty complicated.

Among cradles you have all sorts of reasons for leaving, and I don't think the relative "severity" of Orthodoxy is a reason - the Orthodoxy those cradles tend to know isn't that severe or difficult. It is culturally eccentric here in America, and that may have something to do with it. A lot of those old parishes, such as the story we read in this thread, were pretty darn dysfunctional. Some little more than ethnic social clubs and of course once a George Georgopoulos, whose mother was an Amy Smith, himself marries a Jennifer Jones, and his kids have 1/4th Greek blood in them and grow up culturally WASP, he might not be so keen on playing Greek anymore.

With converts, most that I know/knew came in wanting the greater discipline and challenge Orthodoxy provides (or claims to provide) and most of them sought/seek after parish settings that are community oriented and of a size where they can really get to know the priest. Indeed, with most converts who end up leaving Orthodoxy I don't see adesire for anonymity being the problem, at least not initially - I think they had a sort of Whole Foods /Crunchy Con / Tolkienish / localist desire for something authentic and powerful. They wanted the priest who took an active role in their spiritual lives and knew their deep dark secrets and so forth. This makes them a target for guruism. Either they find a guru, and later burn out, or they don't find a guru, and are perpetually living in a cognitive dissonance because the Orthodoxy of their elder books doesn't match the actually existing Orthodoxy they encounter. But beyond that even, a lot of the converts I know who have left or are leaving can tell the sorts of stories that cause one to think "it's a miracle you lasted this long." Suggesting that such people that they didn't have enough kenotic love strikes me as veering towards blaming the victims. I know people who have stayed in certain parish settings, or certain "spiritual father" relationships, that strike me as akin to the abused lady who keeps going back to abusive paramours. Suggesting that such people are acting out of kenotic love strikes me as veering towards an enabling of self-destructive behavior. I think kenosis needs something to work with. Something to empty, something to be empty for. And sometimes that something just ain't there.

Personally, I love a parish setting where I am able to know the priest well enough to get decent counsel, but where I can have relative anonymity within the congregation and there is no expectation for me to join in all the extra-curricular activities. I’ve been a member at parishes of ex-Evangelical converts who wanted to mimic all the old Evangelicalish adding ministry and activity upon ministry and activity song and dance. And to “be a part of the community” meant joining in a lot of that. No thanks. I’ve also been at cradle parishes where to “be a part of the community” (insofar as a WASP like me is able) means doing the whole ethnic festival thing and otherwise keeping a low profile and being used to being ignored. That suits me better, but it still kind of leaves a bad taste in the mouth. So I showed up to do a stint as a garbage collector after the last night of the Greek fest, and though I’d been going to church there for a couple of months everybody I encountered there that night thought I was a part of the paid clean up crew and not a volunteer from the parish. I didn’t bother to correct them. I won’t volunteer next year. They have plenty of money to pay people to do that work.

123, your comment makes me wonder if there is something in the "full-blown seminary" curriculum that diverts from the pastoral care that is oriented toward theosis.

Is it possible that some of the professional and academic objectives required by the usual modern American seminary are not congruent with the pastorate of Holy Tradition?

And that these same objectives may have contributed toward anonymity, and the rupture of "koinonia toward theosis"?

Nothing ventured, nothing gained. We get out what we put in. 90%+ of the spiritual life is simply staying put and showing up.

Of course, the reason non-Cathedral parishes grew so large is because we needed to gather together all the Orthodox of the right ethnic group, not in a given region. (Not that our demographics would have allowed much in the way of truly neighborood parishes). In addition, we have need highly professionalized clergy to compete with the richer, more established, demographically stronger Protestants and Catholics rather than the typical Old World profile of the peasant priest serving a small parish (the size of most of our parishes). That's not to say every priest and deacon shouldn't be educated, and that we don't need seminaries, but I'm not sure every priest and deacon in every parish needs a full-blown seminary education.

And, in truth, we do have a lot of parishes and they are small, but primarily because people didn't think church important enough to live close by to one. We preferred big, anonymous, American houses in the burbs.

A connection should also likely be made with the way Americans tend to live there lives today: anonymously. It used to only be in the cities where people tended not to know their neighbors. Now, it's everywhere thanks to cars, suburban land use, TV/internet, and AC. We don't really know how to interact with people anymore, we know how to deal with peoples avatars - even when we're dealing with flesh and blood people, we tend to interact with their personas and functions, not them.

Thank you, Bill, for that corroborating evidence.

And David, your point about children "weeping and gnashing" their teeth introduces an additional point:

Parents, these days, are using their children to rationalize their church participation.

And that can mean a lot of things -- from attendance at Liturgy, all the way to the selection of which parish makes little junior feel comfortable, or whether he likes the church school or youth group.

Scripture and Tradition are rather unanimous and emphatic here: in no way can the child make the decision about church participation. That decision should lie only with the father and mother.

These days, ecclesial thinking has become altogether too "child-centric." In too many settings, children either choose whether the family will attend the Orthodox Church (or church at all) ... or if they go, the parents are so grateful that they permit princess and junior to light candles at any moment, to wander from side to side, or to go to the lavatory twenty times before the Gospel Reading.

I am thankful for our particular tradition of emphasizing order and quietness amongst the children. I don't mind crying babies at all: but I do mind the child co-opting parental leadership.

Anonymity is a curse indeed. My own parish of St. Michael's in Binghamton was founded in 1904 and by 1930, just prior to the 'borba' and the schism(the church 'wars' over issues of property control, mandatory celibacy and Latinization which split the American Greek Catholic world twice in the 20th century, over 5000 souls were under the care of ONE Greek Catholic priest. I suspect that this was intentional on the part of the RCC in order to obtain the 'lateral transfer' effect over time! It worked. No RCC parish of that size would have had less than five or six priests in those days and a busload of 'religious'Brothers or Nuns... When the parish split in 1941 about one third remained becoming Orthodox by default, one third left to build a new Greek Catholic church down the street and one third - poof -vanished. Through the 1970's the remnants of the original parish at St. Michael's Orthodox and Holy Spirit BCC remained large and vibrant - but with the vanishing effect of anonymity continuing therein none the less. Just yesterday I was speaking with a BCC friend who was lamented how many of their parishioners were migrating to the RCC church because the new BCC pastor was married and an 'easternizer.'

Within both parishes though, like in an egg, there was a strong core or yolk of good, pious Churchly people - men and (today) women of the 'book' as my dad would call them (chanters)and the dedicated worker bees, men and women alike, who would always be there when needed. They constituted a small percentage however of the overall congregation of both thirds of the original parish! The anonymous ones got off easy, they 'paid their dues' and came and went and their children mostly 'went' - leading to much weeping and gnashing of teeth!

I suspect that this can be observed in many of the larger Rusyn and Ukrainian communities which suffered from a lack of clergy, overly large churches in urban areas and the borba which rendered asunder family, community and Church. (And which I believe to my inner core that painful period was what preserved any semblance of Eastern Christianity among us be we the descendants of those who left the Catholic Church or those who remained. Without their heartfelt and passionate struggles I suspect that like the Borg of Star Trek fame, the RCC would have simply sucked us all as drones into the collective.)

"But, truth be told, these climbing figures are due in large part to "lateral shifts" of affiliation from one Christian association to another."

I was just thinking about that this weekend, after our pastor made some comment celebrating the "growth of our congregation." It's true that we have picked up several new members and/or participants. They are all transplants.

Your analysis here as to why is sober and sad. I wish I had something more substantive to contribute to the conversation.

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