Written by Sherry
Thursday, 27 November 2008 15:41
Fr. Gregory Jensen of Holy Assumption Orthodox (OCA) parish in Canton, Ohio (and the Koinonia blog) writes thoughtfully about last weekend's Called & Gifted:
Sherry asked me to fill in for the absent Fr Mike and so I found myself in the interesting position of explaining to Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians the renewal in Roman Catholic thinking that came about as a result of the Second Vatican Council. In addition to a more Eucharistic view of ecclesiology, the Vatican II also presented a renewed understood the vocation of Catholic laity in the modern world.
Thinking of Sherry's presentation, I am reminded of the words of Metropolitan Jonah at the All-American Council. To the degree that the Church becomes is an end in itself, to the degree that it becomes "just for us' and not "for the life of the world," to that degree we lose a part of the joy that should be ours. Or, as His Beatitude put the matter,
"Being Orthodox is not about what we do in church, that's maybe 5%. Being an Orthodox Christian is how we live. It's how we treat one another. It's our self-denial and our self-giving. It's our self-transcendence. And, ultimately, what does that lead to, but the complete fulfillment of our personhood in Christ, so that we become who God made us to be in a communion of love with one another. One of the most important things, so far as tasks go that I think it's a vision that we can embrace as a community."
That 5% is important, critical, essential, but it is only the starting point. We need that 5%, but, we also need to keep our priorities in order. As Jesus says in the Gospel:
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. (Mt 23.23)
Metropolitan Jonah and Sherry were both touching on a theme near and dear to Schmemann's heart: the temptation to "secularism." When the Church becomes an end in itself, it becomes merely a part of life and not life itself and as a result, we live lives that seek always to Christ and the Gospel neatly in their places so that we are not disturbed and we can go about our lives.
Secularism, our neglect of our baptismal call and the gifts we have received in Holy Baptism is antithesis of what we mean when as Orthodox Christians we speak about theosis, of our coming to participate in divine life. As iron in the fire takes on all the qualities of fire and yet remains iron, so we take on all the qualities of God and remain human. This is what we mean when we say, as Catholic or Orthodox Christians, that Christ has redeemed us. He has redeemed all of human life or none of it. Again, as Schmemann says, "the term 'sacramental' means that for the world to be a means of worship and a means of grace is not accidental, but the revelation of its meaning, the restoration of its essence, the fulfillment of its destiny." (For the Life of the World, p. 121)
There are many blessings that came out of this past weekend. One of the chief though is that it demonstrated, to me at least, that Catholic and Orthodox Christians can assist and sustain each other as we strive to be faithful to Christ and His call to us. Yes, certainly we disagree on some points. But there is much we share and that we can do together that does not betray our respective traditions.
Several of the Orthodox participants were so impressed that they asked if we might tailor the "Called & Gifted" Workshop for use in an Orthodox context. I spoke with Sherry about this and she is certainly open and supportive of such a project. My own view is that there is relatively little that would need to be done.
Grounding our vocation not in our conformity to an external standard but to the prompting of grace in our hearts and confirmed by the Church is something both perfectly compatible with Holy Tradition and often sadly lacking in our work with people in the parish and the seminaries. St Anthony the Great says somewhere that if I would know God I must first know myself. The "Called & Gifted" Workshop is I think a valuable aid in helping Orthodox Christians fulfill the saint's advice to us.
Fr. Gregory was amazingly unflappable upon finding out that he was going to get to substitute for Fr. Mike with only 24 hours to prepare! He did a remarkable job considering the circumstances and I often caught myself thinking "I must remember that." as he talked. Like him, it gave me a strong sense of the possibilities of an ecumenism focused primarily around our common mission to be Christ to this generation. I felt privileged to be there and warmly welcomes by Fr. Gregory, his wife, Mary, and many parishioners and visitors.