To paraphrase President Ronald Reagan, “There they go again.” Once again, I have had to bar anti-Roman Catholic comments from my FB page and the various blogs to which I contribute. This go round the culprits were alleged Christians of the Easter Orthodox persuasion.
As I have many dear friends in the Easter branch of the Church (and, yes, I believe in the branch theory) and have supported persecuted Orthodox priests and prelates, the incident bears comment. Indeed, I have written favorably on the long and once-warm relationship between Anglicanism and Orthodoxy. (“Which Way to Turn?” Nov. 4, 2009, The Continuum). My good friend Fr. Robert Hart over at The Continuum blog has written some far more erudite and incisive pieces on “which one true church is the one true church”, and I commend those articles to you. However, it also occasionally is necessary to place a clear marker as to where one stands in the “one true church” derby, especially when a faction gives you a knowing glance and presumes a similar stance.
The latest iteration of the “nod and a wink” inclusion in a particular camp occurred on my Facebook “wall”. In a cross-post of a somewhat annoying article, the comment thread included statements from self identified “Eastern Orthodox believers such as “better the crescent atop the Hagia Sopnia” than the Latin cross” and “I’d rather the turban than the Papal tiara”. Sadly, these comments were not offered in jest, but to support a view of the Western Church that is not-so-thinly-veneered hostility. Perhaps hostility is an understatement. Hatred would seem a more apt term.
At a time when our brothers and sisters are having their heads removed for their faith, I was immediately moved to ask whether debates about the “one true church” really productive at least amongst those who profess to be “traditionalists”? The stakes for Christendom are far higher than the sleights of 1000 or more years ago. I noted that there was a response of some sort, but I had already moved to block the individual, so I was deprived of what I am sure was a stunning and sagacious rejoinder. So be it. This mean election season has sufficient hate wrapped up in it, so I am not particularly interested in that sort of thing from “those who profess and call themselves Christians”.
I do wish to be clear to my friends on the other side of the Danube, Volga, Bosphorus, Nile or whatever river may be implicated in the Eastern meme, as well as to those who are trans-Tiber. I am not asserting, nor would I assert, that there are not genuine disputes and differences amongst the churches. That sort of thing has been going on since the delegation from Antioch arrived in Jerusalem for the Council recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. I also am mindful of the theological differences between East and West.I do confess, though, that I cannot fathom the vitriol over events of 1000 years past, particularly on the part of recent converts who have no historical grounding in the Eastern Church. I think it fair tho say that outrage over purported affronts to, oh let’s pick the Serbian Church, ring a little hollow when one was raised a Presbyterian by parents of Scots ancestry and converted last year. You will pardon me if I think that the bounds of credulity are a bit thin when a modern American goes on a rant about “the rape of Constantinople”.
However, before one casts stones to vilify the Western Church, it may be useful to look at the beam in one’s own eye. We could start, for example by asking where in Orthodoxy does the “fullness of the faith” reside? Constantinople? Alexandria? Russia? Romania? Serbia? Antioch (where Christians were first called such)? The fissures and cracks already showing in the Pan-Orthodox Synod or Council or whatever it is should be a caution to those claiming some sort of religious “purity” over and against the Church of Rome.
I have remained an Anglican-Catholic for a number of reasons most of which are deeply personal; and, no, I don’t feel like “sharing”.. However, in the course of pursuing three theological degrees from the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception, I can testify to the warmth and friendship I was shown by faculty and students alike. (Perhaps amongst the students there was the sense of shared suffering!) I never witnessed anti-Orthodox venom either while in seminary or in the ensuing years among my Roman Catholic brother clergy and friends.
Were there attempts to get me to “cross over”? Yes, indeed there were and still are. It has become s bit off a good-natured contest. It also is to be expected from the “big Church” that so values the English religious heritage that it has created an ordinariate for those wishing to traverse the Thames and cross the Tiber. However, I have never been upbraided for being an Anglican-Catholic, nor had my faith condemned.
St. Kosmas Aitolos once said that hatred is the Devil’s poison and offered this observation:
Even if we perform upon thousands of good works, my brethren: fasts, prayers, almsgiving; even if we shed our blood for our Christ and we don’t have these two loves [love of God and love of brethren], but on the contrary have hatred and malice toward our brethren, all the good we have done is of the devil and we go to hell. But, you say, we go to hell despite all the good we do because of that little hatred?
We do well to take this admonition to heart. In the meantime, fair warning to those who would call me “friend” or comment on blog bits such as this, either the regular sort or those inhabiting the electronic world of the internet, I simply will not suffer displays of hatred by and between traditional Christians any more than I suffer the heretic or apostate. The “unfriend” not only works in the electronic world, but it also functions in reality.
Perhaps it is worth closing with a prayer:
For the Unity of God’s People.
O GOD, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Saviour, the Prince of Peace; Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions. Take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatsoever else may hinder us from godly, union and concord: that as there is but one Body and one Spirit, and one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and one mouth glorify thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.