Concerns about the Great and Holy Council

The First Council of Nicaea
The First Council of Nicaea

Soon the Orthodox Church will convoke a Great and Holy Council, the first such council in over a millennium. Though by no means ecumenical in any official sense (at least not yet), it is a historic meeting, for which I have felt a deep and abiding ambivalence.

I am a convert to the Orthodox Church. Unlike many converts, I did not see the deep and rich traditions of the Orthodox Church as providing me with resources to be more fundamentalistic than I was before (such as I hear creationists citing Basil as proof of a young earth). I was never a fundamentalist. What attracted me to Orthodoxy was the ambiguity of it all, which is another way of saying Mystery. Jaroslav Pelikan, another convert, described Orthodoxy as the church of the seven councils that we deem ecumenical. We have a lot of other canons, synods, traditions, and opinions, but they are not finally and firmly authoritative in the same way that those minimum of dogmas are.

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Why Do I Still Go to Church?

Woman in Church at St. George'sWhy do I still go to church? This is a question I ask myself pretty much every Sunday morning, at least. At one level I think this is the wrong question. I remember this one Evangelical woman I knew. Whenever she would talk to me about church, she spoke in terms of “getting fed” or getting her needs met. I try not to think that way. If God is the Good itself, then worshipping God is self-evidently good. The answer to the question, “Why go to church?” is the same as for “Why climb a mountain?” Because it’s there. Still, my question is more introspective. It is not why I should go to church. It is more practical, more human: Why do I keep going?

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When Was “The Tradition” Finished?

Christ the True VineThe Orthodox Church is gearing up for the “Holy and Great Council” to meet this June. This is a big deal. We have not had a gathering like this in over a thousand years. And church leaders started planning for this particular meeting in the 1960s. That is over fifty years ago! The Orthodox Church is a bit like a confederacy. We are a bunch of different Orthodox Church-es, more or less divided along national boundaries, that agree that we are really just one church. The upside of this power structure is that it keeps us from doing anything too stupid all at once. The downside is that it can be hard for us to do anything at all. So on the one hand our polity makes us inevitably conservative, but on the other hand that conservatism can get confused with the spirit of Orthodoxy itself. Continue reading “When Was “The Tradition” Finished?”

The Piety of Quitting

One vivid memory comes from my days as a Master’s student, when my professor walked into the room with such a look of serenity on his face. He told us that the president of the university had just replaced the chair of the religion department with someone whom I knew to be an unqualified hack. So why the serenity? He described it as confirmation. What reservations he had about leaving the university vanished with that move. A year later, he was at a new university out West, where he finished his career and recently retired.  Continue reading “The Piety of Quitting”