My parish priest recently announced that he was retiring, and my immediate thought was, “Oh crap!” I love my priest. We do not always see eye-to-eye, but I respect and appreciate him. I know I have not made his life very easy sometimes. Every so often, I will say something online which will send the trolls to the interwebs to try to figure out where I go to church, who my priest is, and how many ways they can report me. Like I said, my priest and I often do not see eye-to-eye, but he also understands that there is a difference between theological opinions he disagrees with and heresies that deserve excommunication. I know for a fact that there are some priests who would have withheld communion until I shouted the error of my ways from the rooftop. I have wondered what I would do when faced with that kind of a decision, and I honestly am grateful that I have never really had to think too hard about it. That may change.
I belong to an archdiocese that has attracted a lot of converts, and many times converts are converting away from something more than they are converting to something else. For some people, Orthodox Christianity is a way to be more reactionary and intolerant than they could ever be as Evangelicals. There is a Facebook Group, for instance, which has a fine reputation for bashing any variation from a narrowly defined norm. They call themselves “Traditional Orthodoxy,” because apparently regular Orthodoxy is not traditional enough for them. Often when converts encounter what looks like liberalism, they freak out, because they see the encroachment of what it is that they left behind. So some of the things I say freak some people out. I hope one of those people is not whomever my new priest turns out to be. I worry about that for myself. I worry about it for him. I also worry about it for my parish. I hate that I have been a distraction to my current priest at times.
Father once told me that one of the things he hears a lot of complaining about is that I would “dare” to call myself a “theologian.” That always makes me shake my head a bit in disbelief. “Theologian” is a title that the Orthodox Church has granted only a few saints; how dare I suggest I am one of them? These are probably the same people who object to Orthodox Christians referring to any other Christian community as a “church.” It is reactionary and mean-spirited. I am a theologian in the vulgar sense of the term—a person who studies and writes about the church. I try to be a theologian in the more saintly sense. Evagrius of Pontus said, “If you are a theologian you truly pray. If you truly pray you are a theologian.” I am working on that.
In the meantime, I live for the times when I get to talk to other Orthodox theologians like me. I am a part of the Sophia Institute, and I try to attend their conference when I have the funds. There is a wideness within Orthodoxy, a large variation of opinion. There always has been. I hope whomever our new priest turns out to be knows that too. But perhaps not. If nothing else, I hope he is a patient person. I try to keep my head down as much as I can, but vulgar theologians like me tend to attract a lot of unwanted attention. So whomever my priest will be, I am already praying for him.