My trip through Eastern Orthodoxy

Testimony of a Russian Orthodox Christian under Rome

Originally written in 2014, when I was going to the traditional Latin Mass; updated.

tl;dr: Don't get rebaptized to preach contraception.

The Orthodox have their problems: anti-Western bigotry and being wrong on contraception and on remarriage after divorce. But they also have defined doctrine that's true — the first seven great church councils, real sacraments including real bishops and the real Eucharist, and a rite that's entirely Catholic, as is — don't latinize it, and better than the Novus Ordo. Their worship services and prayer practices are mine. Better than mainline churchianity including Bergoglianity.

I'd known of Eastern rites and churches since the early 1980s, and my first traditional Catholic liturgy was Byzantine, by Ukrainians.

I'd be interested to know: why did you you leave the Latin Church when you did?

Three things: I was trying to look cool, keeping my traditionalism but dressing it up in a way I thought would please the hipsters, et al. (reducing religion to private opinion, like a hobby); the American Catholic Church in the early '90s was very inhospitable to conservative Catholics, between Pope Paul VI's English Novus Ordo (not Pope Benedict's corrected version) and low-church liberals locally in charge; and I have a learning disability I didn't understand at the time that caused me social problems, which I blamed on the church.

In 1995 I read Fr. Seraphim (Rose); here was a traditionalist who seemed cool without compromising and seemed to have an answer why the West went to hell in the '60s. Online fora/newsgroups at the time were a bad influence too: it was still the height of the convert boomlet with ex-Catholics testifying. I fell for "the modern papacy caused the heresy after Vatican II" or something like that, a mutation of Archbishop Lefebvre's correct observation that the council was a mistake and it was "a masterstroke of Satan" to tear down tradition under the guise of obedience. The continued '50s-like normality of Orthodoxy's ethnic folk Catholicism's a great thing, in contrast. So off I went.

But here's the rub. I couldn't buy the party line that allows the opinion that Catholicism — including Western baptism and the Latin Mass — has been a fraud since the schism. Also, looking the other way on contraception doesn't work. Neither does church divorce and remarriage: "sometimes adultery is OK"? Early on I lost faith in the schism so most of my time in Orthodoxy I took cover under an unusual "refugee from Vatican II" priest (much like this fellow), pro-Catholic, whom I felt I had to cover for, to protect. At the same time, I spent five years part-time at an Anglo-Papalist Anglican church, a bridge back to the church. (In the late '80s the place was my bridge out of the church, as I had been confirmed in '84; in the '00s I took the same bridge right back in! More on me and Anglo-Catholicism. I was an Episcopalian to begin with; Catholic Anglicanism made me. Why I'm not Novus Ordo.) Then Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict, lifted the restrictions on the old Mass, AND in 2011 fixed English Novus (I have no conscience problem with the text of the new Mass), AND that priest suddenly left town in 2011, so at the end of the year I came home to the church.

Sure, I like the ethnics and like the rite. Leaving was nothing personal. But being there was hypocritical, not fair to the Orthodox; I didn't belong.

"Separated" Orthodoxy is making an idol of good things: tribe, nation, culture, rite, setting them above God and the church. M. DeF. writes: "For a Westerner, becoming a 'separated' Orthodox is a self-hating act. Overt or inverted, false religion is always about self, not God." That said, I don't call people born into schism and acting in good faith schismatics.

The Pope's office, not the man, shares in the church's charism of infallibility. The Council of Florence has explained the filioque: THROUGH the Son, proceeding "eternally from both as from one principle and through one spiration." The West still shouldn't have changed the wording of the creed.

To this layman with no theological credentials, it’s long seemed that some Orthodox, in order to deny they’re really Catholic, will sound Pelagian about original sin and Lutheran about the Eucharist.

The anti-Westernism turned me off so much that when I came home I went traditional Roman Rite for four years and still love it. Since 2016 I have been going to a Ukrainian Catholic church and my practice is largely Russian Orthodox, unlatinized icon corner including four post-schism Orthodox saints, candles, prostrations, bowing, some Slavonic and all. And to prepare for Catholic Communion a few times a year, I go to the Orthodox for Vespers or Vigil the night before. Staying in touch with the brethren and with the standard for the rite. In short I'm cool with looking and sounding just like the Orthodox but I don't believe in re-dunking or re-anointing a Christian from a different empire or culture, in remarriage after divorce without an annulment, or in contraception.

There is a fine Orthodox tradition. All of its doctrine is true: the first seven councils of our doctrine. They and I share a rite, a language, and a set of music, and, Catholics believe, we both have real bishops and the real Eucharist. There is no such thing as "the Orthodox Church." Their dioceses and ours are sisters; the Catholic Church of course has no sisters just like God doesn't have brothers. Together their dioceses don't equal a church.

Orthodoxy has grassroots traditionalism (don't modernize the services), the church at its best as the Church Local, an "economic," merciful approach to church rules, and its sobornost' (conciliarity) and Eucharistic ecclesiology: the church in its fullness is gathered around the local bishop for the Eucharist. As I like to say, everything in church polity is negotiable except the papacy and the episcopate, so Catholic/Orthodox dialogue is possible and desirable. Our shared way forward: a loose communion of local churches run by custom... that includes the Pope. But the schism is based on a lie: that we don't share the essentials of the faith (God, Christ, Trinity, hypostatic union, Mother of God, bishops, infallible church, the Mass, sacraments that do what they signify, baptismal regeneration, auricular confession, and the right to use images), and that the Pope's office hasn't been a good caretaker of that faith. M. DeF.: "The schism was perpetuated by sultans, tsars, petty Balkan princes, and Communists to rip the church apart"; the myth that Orthodoxy is a completely different religion. But it has never dogmatized anything un-Catholic and retains bishops and the Mass. What needs doing is for the whole faith to be translated and expressed all in Orthodox terms. That's for the experts; I don't know how. Born Orthodox get the benefit of the doubt. The Orthodox are estranged Catholics.

Orthodox Christians, we're no longer trying to break up your families, parishes, dioceses, and countries. We're not trying to score individual conversions. We're not trying to bastardize the rite. We're not trying to be a lame replacement for you. Part of Byzantine ("Greek") Catholicism's calling is to explain the faith in Orthodox terms. That our Byzantine Catholic churches are not perfect, and we don't have to believe they are, is part of God's plan. We in the Byzantine Catholic churches are Orthodox Christians in a holding pattern waiting for you, all our brothers, to come home together, and then the rite will be left alone. Blessings. — J.B.
Holy Leonty (Feodorov) and Andrew (Sheptytsky), pray to God for us!