Thursday, 20 June 2013

Conversion, at various levels

I must confess that I have at times been irritated with friends and family of converts who make things difficult when their friend decides that he wishes to become a Catholic.

So perhaps there is a certain justice in the fact that I have now had to become irritated over a former parishioner of mine from way back when who has left the Catholic Church to become a Russian Orthodox.

I feel more aggrieved because she has been required to repudiate her baptism publicly and has been enrolled as a catechumen. It irritates me that she continues to call me 'Father' because, presumably, since I am not even validly baptized in her co-religionists' eyes, I cannot be a priest, either. This baptism is not of a conditional kind, but will be administered absolutely, though in our eyes there was no reason to doubt that her Catholic baptism, administered in Spain, was in any way dubious.

I know already that some Anglican friends of mine reading this will be smiling wryly and saying something about sauce for the goose.

I also know that the practice of this Orthodox group is not universally observed; I have read of priests converting to Russian Orthodoxy simply being processed in some way without any questioning of the validity of their orders; their baptism was, of course, accepted without any question also.

I would be interested in any light readers may be able to throw on this divergence of practice. It seems to me to be an interesting survival of Donatism; that heretics (as these Orthodox consider us) cannot validly administer even baptism.

The convert was motivated to this seismic change mostly out of despair at the persistent liberalism in the Catholic Church of this country.

Whereas on the other hand I have seen several people leave my own congregation over the last few months precisely because we aren't liberal enough—in particular with regard to same-sex marriage. I think that there is a general malaise right now, a feeling that we have been compromised in our authority by the sex-abuse thing and by our refusal to move with the times; Stonewall and similar groups hold the moral high ground, and what I have to say is simply my antediluvian opinion. I preached on confession on Sunday (the Gospel suggesting the subject most eloquently), and I think that I might has well have saved my breath; one regular Mass-goer (and a nice chap) said afterwards that whereas he used to be regular in the box, he wasn't going to go any more, because it did no good. Others just will come to Mass when they feel like it.

The problem to my mind is really about interior conversion—it has never taken place for many people who have attended Mass simply out of habit until they ran out of steam.

Heigh ho. I'll just have to pray instead.

But I do think that Pope Francis is just what we need right now. Perhaps he might get through to some where I continue to fail.


William said...

"Sauce for the goose"? Perish the thought, Father!

More seriously though … "Donatism"? I really think that's not at all a helpful way to characterise the Orthodox approach. It isn't as if we're discussing here the sacramental position of erstwhile traditores who have subsequently been reconciled to the Church through the Sacrament of Penance. From the Orthodox perspective (I need to emphasise that), we are talking about the purported celebration of the Sacraments of the Church by those who neither are now, nor ever have been in the past, members (let alone ministers) of the Church to whose Sacraments they thus lay claim.

And this leads us on to the fundamental difference in approach. The Orthodox view, as I understand it, is that the Sacraments only have any meaning within an ecclesial context. Arguments about "validity" are missing the point – indeed, the very terminology of sacramental validity/invalidity is generally repudiated as being tied to a narrowly Scholastic theoretical basis. Celebrated within the context of the Orthodox Church and according to the relevant Orthodox canonical norms, the Sacrament is "real". Otherwise, it's a mere sham, play-acting - and this not because of some supposed defect in form, matter, intention or even minister, but simply because the Sacraments of the Church are precisely the Sacraments of the Church – if they are not celebrated by the [Orthodox] Church, then they are not celebrated, tout court.

Serving as I do in an area beset with a profusion of purported Bishops and Archbishops of an endless variety of constantly changing and realigning denominations (none of them ever attaining a following of much more than a dozen) – each one of whom can, when challenged, produce from their inside pocket a chart showing their impeccable descent in orders from some 16th century Cardinal, and whose own orders are therefore "accepted by Rome" (harrumph) "and by Constantinople" (yeah, dream on!) – the Orthodox approach is one with which I have a great deal of sympathy.

Lynda said...

Unfortunately, I think the praxis of Pope Francis as communicated to the world is more likely to embolden those who reject Catholic Deposit of Falth in its entirety and adhere to a modernist indifferentism. Priests must continue to preach the Faith and Morals with zeal and loyalty regardless of how many choose to be disobedient or effectively renounce the Faith. Those who stay and those who come back (which will be many in such circumstances) will be committed to the true Faith in its fullness, and not the false idea of the Faith that those who follow dissenters adhere to.

Romanitas said...

Don't be disheartened, Father. Many have fallen away, many return. I have several friends who were Eastern Orthodox and came home to Rome (one was Russian and one was Romanian). Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev of the Russian Church stated in 2012 at Villanova University that they consider the Roman Catholic Church to have fully valid and salvific Sacraments. Why someone would leave a Church with clear, visible leadership in a malaise for a church that was literally run by the KGB for decades is beyond me though.

Anonymous said...

Sympathy from a distant layman: why isn't anyone else around me excited about Jesus? I hope you can take some encouragement from the fact that, through this blog, you lead many of your e-congregation into a closer and deeper connection with God in the church. -fjg

Pastor in Valle said...

William—thank you for your comments. I acknowledge that in calling it 'an interesting survival of Donatism' I was making a link which I did not intend. As it stands it reads a bit as if Orthodoxy were in some way a descendent of Donatism which is of course not true.

But I don't think you quite understand what I was saying. Donatists were not merely a phenomenon of the fourth century. The reconciliation of traditores was simply the match that lit the tinder. It continued long after that particular issue had died down, through the fifth century only to be wiped out alongside Catholics by Vandals and Moslems. Until that point they continued rebaptizing Catholics (and others, presumably, if they could have got them), sometimes forcibly, on the grounds that outside their own communion there were no valid sacraments. Augustine answered them that Christ, not the priest, was the real minister of the sacrament, which is the basis of at least Western doctrine on the subject.
And you will also note that I state that this is not the universal practice of Orthodoxy. In fact, I think that this way of rebaptism is the exception rather than the rule. My argument about Donatism was meant to apply to this approach to the sacraments rather than Orthodoxy in general. I have a feeling that this group may well be Old Calendarists.
I'm not sure that your parallel case of Episcopi Vagantes is really parallel. But there, as you know, I diverge from modern Rahnerian thinking that Episcopal Consecration is in fact Ordination. I consider, as Trent implies, that in this case it is the authority of the Church which 'unlocks' the fulness of the priesthood received at priestly ordination.

Anonymous said...

Saint Paul was familiar with the problem nearly 2000 years ago. 2 Timothy 4: 2-5, KJV.

Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears. And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.

People have been told (often by politicians) that truth is what you want it to be. The bottom line is that people have to decide whether to follow the teaching of the church or go for short-term satisfaction.

Simon Cotton

Anonymous said...

Saint Paul was familiar with the problem nearly 2000 years ago. 2 Timothy 4: 2-5, KJV.

Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears. And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.

People have been told (often by politicians) that truth is what you want it to be. The bottom line is that people have to decide whether to follow the teaching of the church or go for short-term satisfaction.

Simon Cotton

Mark said...

Here is a link to a clear and concise account of the Orthodox position (written by an Orthodox priest).

Anonymous said...

Praxis does vary between Orthodox is the diaspora and in their historic areas.

One friend of mine was received by the Moscow Patriarchate in the UK by chrismation. Another friend was received by the same, in Russia, by baptism.

An acquaintance was received by the Greeks, in Athens, also by baptism.

Physiocrat said...

I don't know what your liturgical practice is but round here it is mostly more or less dire - Lutheran hymns with dreary depressing music by composers such as Cruger, and in my own parish, a stupid organist who sabotages the liturgy by generating infrasound (you can feel it rather than hear it and it makes you feel queasy), and nobody will get rid of him.

So the appeal of an orthodox church is understandable. It may have a bearing on the fact that the Russian church has regenerated whilst our people have slipped away.

This is how it happened in the Brighton and Hove area.
Utter stupidity. It is as if the manufacturers of a best-selling product such as Marmite or CocaCola were to change the flavour and packaging, and then be surprised when sales figures crashed.

Athair Ambrois said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Here are the facts about what the current practice is in the Russian Orthodox Church regarding reception of converts. I would direct people to the Official Page of the Missionary Department of the Diocese of Moscow (being the Patriarch's Diocese, this is unquestionably normative for the entire Russian Orthodox Church.)

Patriarchal parishes in America and Western Europe observe these directions. With time, the Russian Church in the West (Russian Orthodox Church Abroad) will be asked to come into conformity with the rest of the Russian Church.

The original is, of course, in Russian. It contains a very brief theological and historical justification for the practices of the Russian Church, and includes a handy chart (below) which shows which denominations are to be received in which way.

For those who do not read Russian, here is a synopsis

Roman Catholic Church

a. If confirmed, through repentance, 3rd rite
b. If not confirmed,through Chrismation, 2nd rite

Armenian Apostolic Church,through repentance, 3rd rite

Old Believers

a. Belokrinitskaya, through repentance, 3rd rite
b. Priestless, through Chrismation, 2nd rite

Anglicanism, through Chrismation, 2nd rite

Lutheranism, through Chrismation, 2nd rite

Presbyterian , through Chrismation, 2nd rite

Evangelical Christian Baptists,through Chrismation, 2nd rite

Various dissident communities (assuming that the person received the sacrament
of baptism there), through Chrismation, 2nd rite

Jehovah’s Witnesses,through Baptism, 1st rite

Judaism, through Baptism,1st rite

Islam,through Baptism, 1st rite

Pagans, through Baptism, 1st rite

(Then follows a description of how each of these Rites is performed, according
to the Supplementary Book of Needs (Trebnik) of the Russian Orthodox Church.)

Physiocrat said...

Why would anyone want to join the Russian Orthodox Church if they were not in Russia, or had Russian ancestry or family connections?

Why not the Euphorbian Orthodox Church?

Athair Ambrois said...

People join the Roman Catholic Church and do not live in Rome. :-)

John L said...

I am sorry to sound disapproving, but perhaps this incident - along with the other things you describe in your post - should indicate to you that there is not enough observable difference between your parish and the standard modernist fare that is encountered in the rest of the Church in England. 'Despair at the persistent liberalism in the Catholic Church of this country' should not be something that has anything to encourage it in your parish. Your description of your reaction as 'irritation' lends some probability to this. "Irritation'? Your parishioner has committed a mortal sin by leaving the one Church of Christ and entering schism, and you are simply irritated?

Pastor in Valle said...

John L; there is certainly something in what you write (though I think you are a bit over-severe), and I have thought it myself. The individual concerned would certainly absolve me of the 'persistent liberalism'. She was a parishioner in a former parish, now served by someone else. But your broader point does concern me in my current parish. They get no trendy stuff from me, but good stuff is simply ignored by all but a few. I ought to do a post on this some time.
Unless one is going to work in a traditionalist community, one always has to make compromises of one sort or another, simply because people can and will vote with their feet. If tolerating silly music means that they will continue ti come, then tgat means that when they come they will hear sound doctrine. Some will respond. It does work, but its painfully slow. If I refuse to tolerate silly music, there will be a mass exodus to a parish, where they can get music and doctrine more to their taste. Or they will lapse completely, as several have actually threatened to do.
You may be right, John, that I am a bad priest. But I think that you need to try and think yourself into my position, and that of those in my situation. Simply banning this and forbidding that will not win many souls.

Physiocrat said...

The church has got to a bad point. It must be painful to be a priest in a parish where people will not tolerate anything but silly music. It would no doubt be a long and difficult task to wean them off, but surely the place to start is with children and adults under instruction. There is in any case room for both (not at the same time, of course). There is the more general problem of the low level of popular culture in Britain, but that too should not be an insurmountable problem.

Physiocrat said...

Thinking further on this subject, Fr Blake weaned the parish off the silly music over a period of about a year. He got the parish singing the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei and Pater Noster. The trick was to start with the Pater Noster, then go on to the Credo. Then introduce the Kyrie in the simple version, followed by the Missa de Angelis Gloria, following up with Sanctus and Agnus Dei in the simple version. There will almost certainly be a few people who know these. If necessary give out CDs for people to learn it. You introduce one thing and then wait six or eight weeks before going on to the next. You can also switch off the microphone when saying the Canon and recite it quietly, asking people to follow the text in their books or on a piece of paper.

The other useful improvement is to start to celebrate ad orientem from time to time. Fr Ray knows how to do that without getting people in a rage. The problem round here is that so many priests have Latin Mass Phobia and refuse even to talk about it. Interesting. You have to wonder why they even become priests and what they have been taught at seminary.

Pastor in Valle said...

Thanks, Physiocrat. The demography of Fr Blake's parish is very different from mine. Not least, the fact that he lives in a large town where there are considerably more resources. Also in a town, the gathering of an eclectic congregation is possible; there will always be those who will support what one is doing. He has one church, whereas I have three, separated by five miles, each of which constitutes a de-facto parish with one main parish Mass. People are vocal in their demands, and if they don't come to Mass in my parish, there are fewer nearby choices. Frankly, it isn't as easy as you suggest.

Conchúr said...

Father, the current mish-mash approach of Orthodoxy towards Catholic sacraments generally dates back to the great split in Greek Church of Antioch in 1724. Before this, bar in Russia from c 1441-1660s (and contrary to the decrees of Synod of Constantinople 1484), Latin sacraments were recognised. The Moscow Sobor of 1666-67 reaffirmed the validity of Latin sacraments and reception by chrismation only.

The watershed change only came after 1724 and can be pinpointed to 1755 when Constantinople, Alexandria and Jerusalem (but ironically not Antioch) declared that all Latin converts would henceforth be rebaptised. Constantinople and Alexandria officially ceased this practice in the 1960s, but Jerusalem along with ROCOR (which is bizarre given the official stance of her now reconciled parent) Athos, the Old Calendarists and some other canonical churches (Greece and the Serbs being two iirc), though I could be wrong) still do.

Cyprus in recent times has been the clearest and most consistent in her official position and actual practice - Latin sacraments are fully recognised and converting Latin clergy are received by confession and vesting.

Ordo Antiquus said...

"Why someone would leave a Church with clear, visible leadership in a malaise for a church that was literally run by the KGB for decades is beyond me though."

The Moscow Patriarchate came to that point only after it had lost more than 200 bishops (including Patriarch Tikhon) and hundreds of thousands of priests, deacons, monks and nuns to disease, poison or the bullets of the Bolsheviks, and only after millions of Russians who fought for Tsar and Church either perished in an epic Civil War or been driven into exile. There is a big difference too between being "under the close supervision of the KGB" and "being run by the KGB"; the Moscow Patriarchate was assuredly the former, but not the latter, which is why the validity of its hierarchy is not questioned even by the Vatican. (If the MP were run by the KGB the hierarchs would presumably have been fakes or atheists.)

In glorifying the New Martyrs and Confessors of the Soviet era, the Moscow Patriarchate has effectively repudiated the compromises of the Soviet era.

What I find shameful is that when confronted by the undeniable resurgence of Russian Orthodoxy and the beauty of its worship and monastic witness, all that Catholics can do is to sputter decades-old accusations that are not even half true. All that while neglecting the many acts of good will from Moscow. (Patriarch Kirill pointedly and specifically condemned the French government for passing gay marriage.)

Romanitas said...

The Moscow Patriarch did indeed hold out a good decade or so before the religious persecution forced them into the role of the Kremlin's marionettes. The Russian Orthodox Church has had something of a revival, but I would hardly call it a Renaissance. Religiosity in Russia is still very low and things are no better, perhaps worse, in other Orthodox ex-Soviet nations like Bulgaria and Romania—where very few people trust priests anymore. The Russian Church was most certainly run by the KGB from the 1930s until the early 1990s and many bishops, like Nikodim of Leningrad, were indeed Soviet agents using religion as means of plotting against the Catholic Church. The Russian Church has disassociated from that degree of state control, but their continuing role as a means of rallying nationalism is undeniable. It's a sad story for any church with Apostolic Succession, but it is the reality of the Russian Patriarchate.

Physiocrat said...

We Catholics need to put our own house in order. The use of Latin is a sign of the universality of the Catholic church and a means by which that universality is sustained. If we fragment the church into national language groups, how much is left of our Catholicity? And if we weaken the signification of the Liturgy by taking the Vatican Two notion of "noble simplicity" (whatever that means) to a puritan extreme, comparison with Orthodox does not show us in a favourable light.