Orthodox Enthusiasts

The title of this post was originally going to be "Orthodox Hobbyists".  However, there is something of a value judgement implicit in that wording that might suggest a strength of feeling that I don't have.

However, I would welcome help in understanding a phenomenon that I have heard of and in some cases witnessed, but never actually experienced myself, and it is what appears to this outsider to be a fascination of some non-Orthodox with many of the accoutrements of Orthodoxy, and incorporation of them into their lives, and an almost fanatical obsession with the goings-on in the Orthodox Church, all unaccompanied by any desire whatsoever to actually become Orthodox.

What is that?

In a recent discussion in Another Place, I said in response to somebody who had mistaken the personal blog of an Anglican for the website of a Byzantine Rite Anglican parish that I saw nothing on the blog to indicate such an identification, and that the Byzantine icons on the page were no indication of this because the world and its dog now seemed to use such icons.  In response, an Anglican clergyman said:
Michael, we all want to bask in the cool, mysterious otherness that is Orthodoxy. We just want to do it while remaining comfortably in our pews. I mean that both figuratively and literally.
This, I suppose, at least has the merit of honesty about it, but it doesn't really help me to understand.

I come to this as somebody who had never had any substantial encounter with Orthodoxy before I started exploring it with a view to claiming it as my own.  I grew up on a small Caribbean island where there were no Orthodox churches.  My home town in the UK had no Orthodox church and there was no exposure to it through my family.  I had a Romanian friend in my late teens but his family were only nominally Orthodox, and never darkened the doorway of a church.  My Anglo-Catholicism went from being Rome-focussed to being very much Anglican first, not passing by any interest in Orthodoxy on the way.   In fact, I had never even set foot inside an Orthodox church until some months after I had become fairly convinced that this is where I wanted to be.

Therefore, the adoption of all that comes with Orthodoxy was for me part of my becoming Orthodox.  I learnt the various liturgies, hymns, and tones so I could join in my Orthodox parish's worship.  I bought books by Orthodox writers so I could gain a better understanding of the Orthodox doctrines and way of life that I now confessed.  I took part in the physical acts of worship and reverence that other people in my parish did because this is how we worshipped as Orthodox people.  Because of all of that, it is very difficult to me to understand people doing all of these things removed from any intention of becoming Orthodox.  It just doesn't compute for me.

Now I do have and have had among my Orthodox friends and acquaintances people who have been exposed to Orthodox practice for some years through other connections - friendships with Russians, a fascination with Greek culture, and so forth - and who have picked up some of these Orthodox externals, later coming to embrace Orthodoxy as their own through having delved into the beliefs that lay behind these things, so I recognise that some seed may be planted that may flourish later, and that we can never know how God will bring people to Himself.  However, this doesn't really explain why people do these things before that seed begins to sprout.

One friend, for instance, once told me of someone at his Anglo-Catholic parish some years ago.  This man would describe himself as Anglo-Orthodox and, among other strange things that he did, when the altar party would process in and genuflect, he would make a metania.  This continued until the parish priest told him to pack it in - and rightly so!  Aside from anything else, if an English Christian, worshipping in a western-rite church that follows western forms of worship, were to have a desire to express his sympathy for Orthodox reverence, surely he would do that in a western-rite way.  There is nothing uniquely Byzantine about Orthodox worship, after all.  Why import a Byzantine action into an Anglican form of worship and call it Orthodox?  And even if he were unaware of the Western Rite within Orthodoxy, and thought that the forms of worship in his Anglican church were deficient in comparison to what he found in Orthodoxy, then surely the answer would be to become Orthodox.

Then you get the people - these are usually Anglicans in my experience but it isn't unthinkable that they might come from elsewhere - who walk around wearing a Greek-style prayer rope, and who turn up to all the big Orthodox events - ordinations, pilgrimages, patronal feasts.  They almost seem to collect Orthodox clergy acquaintances, whose names they drop into conversation at every opportunity, and you cannot help but suspect that when they see you in your cassock, and make their way across a crowd for no reason other than to make small talk with you, that they are simply seeking to add you to the collection.  They can also tell you everything about inter-jurisdictional Orthodox politics.  Yet ask them which Orthodox jurisdiction they belong to, and they react with surprise and some degree of affront that you would think they might even be considering such a thing as becoming Orthodox, then they'll tell you how they serve at the altar, about their duties as churchwardens, how long they've been on the PCC, and so forth, as if to reinforce their Anglican credentials.

I'm not saying that such people are unwelcome at Orthodox events - far from it!  Whosoever will may come.  As for the emulation, I feel neither positively nor negatively about it.  I'm just nonplussed.  It doesn't seem the same situation as those who would desire to be Orthodox but have some matter that is preventing them from taking the final step.  Rather, it seems to be a case of people happily ensconced in their own churches but who have Orthodoxy as some sort of hobby.  I don't mean to sound disparaging but I just don't know how else to express how it looks.

Really, what is it all about?

2 responses:

Pete said...

Come now, we know that there are even real Orthodox that treat Orthodoxy as a hobby, or even an obsession. Fr. Thomas Hopko holds that there are definitely people that are addicted to our Church. There is so much to learn, so much to do, so much to physically collect in our little icon corners...

Why is everyone looking at me? =P

John Konstantin said...

All of the above is about the externals. Anglo- Catholics love picking up bits of Roman Catholic 'tat'. Cafe-Lite Buddhists love their mala beads and bright orange hippie clothes. New Orthodox love their scarfs and beards...and that's just the women!

There is nothing new under the sun. Everybody likes playing dress up and "look how different I am from you". It's all very juvenile.

What of course Orthodoxy is about is being connected to the Source of Grace and our inner life....but of course, you don't really get to show that of because you would be missing the point if you did.

John Konstantin

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