fragments of an attempted writing.

one story.

Keeping up with a recent theme of reversion/conversion, etc., a friend of mine pointed out to me this comment made by Charles Curtis (a name which might be recognized by persons familiar with Ortho and Catholic blogdom, as that name appears on comment threads in various places) on this Dreher post.  I reprint it here in its entirety.  Whatever ecclesial direction one happens to head in (if any), these words strike me as hitting at the humanity involved in the struggle of religious identity in the spiritual marketplace that is America:

As I am in story telling mode this weekend, I think I may have a tale apropos enchantment to share with you. This story I’m going to tell is not in any way meant as a criticism of you, Rod. In fact, I usually sympathize and always empathize with you. It’s why I keep reading your blog, and when they gagged you at that other gig of yours, I missed this daily dose of Dreher immensely. I’ve already told you I get why you did what you did, and that I respect it. I, after all, have done the same thing.
Because I don’t know if you remember my sharing this from the old Belief Net days, but I’ve converted to Orthodoxy, too. Pascha 2005, Holy Theophany in Colorado Springs. Maybe one of the 10 best OCA parishes on the continent.
I did it partly from a similar emotional alienation to yours. Back in 1997 when those 9 former Legionaries first accused Maciel, and then nothing happened, I knew in my gut that it was true. I’d been romantically involved with a girl in Regnum Christi for two years (non- consecrated teacher at the school for consecrated in RI, no less) and been on multiple Legion retreats. I’d been drinking from the polluted well of Maciel’s Cult of Personality, and had bought into the lie pretty deeply.. But not so deeply that I hadn’t already begun to walk away before I knew the worst.. I’d been growing skeptical, could feel something was off in my bones.
But I was till starry eyed enough then that the realization that he was a sociopath, and that the Holy Father was going to do nothing about it, still wrecked me. When the rest of it broke, it only deepened my angst and anguish.
Unlike you, I guess, I then also had a major intellectual collapse. I was in the Army, studying out in Monterey, and made a group of Orthodox friends. All evangelical converts like the people out at Holy Theophany. There’s another parish I began going to to escape the insipid masses at the Presidio, out in Cali at Ben Lomond; SS Peter & Paul. They also are all evangelical converts who came in corporately with Fr. Gilquist back in the day. I began a friendly debate with them, arrogant in my assumption that my canned Catholic Answers/EWTN apologetic of the Gregorian papacy would drive them from the field. Tearing any protestant an apologetic new one based on scripture and tradition was easy, so how hard could these Orthos be? I had received my education from the Donminicans at Providence College, I knew my stuff.. Or so I smugly thought..
But when I went deeper into the Fathers and the history of the Councils, and listened to the Orthodox case, I suddenly saw that the Gregorian Reform was a radical innovation. Just as radical in it’s effects as Constantine’s conversion itself, and far more radical in its claims. The ecclesiology of the Church from Constantine through Charlemagne was Imperial, and the Emperor was calling most of the major shots. All the seven Councils were called by him, the pope never even attended one. Paul wrote half the NT, not Peter. Athanasius settled the Arians, the papacy sat the entire debate out. The most important theological debate in the history of Christianity, and the popes were basically silent, the whole battle basically occurred in the East. It was only with the rise of the Franks, and the vacuum created by the utter withdrawal of Imperial forces from Italy and North Africa in the face of the Muslims that the dominance and authority of the “Greek” Emperor was called into question.
We can thank the Muslims for the Schism..
The filioque suddenly seemed like a tool used by the Franks to claim the Roman Imperium form the Greek “heretics.” The entire Schism, and the attendant rise of the Germans against Rome (which culminated in the Reformation note) all seemed driven by lust for Imperial power by Aachen, Rome and Constantinople.. And then Moscow. See Romanides on this. Heresy meant illegitimacy. Hence the recriminations all around. He baldly states the core of it far more eruditely than I can.
Tearing apart sola scriptura is one thing. Realizing that the only thing holding up Rome apologetically is Cardinal Newman’s theory of the development of doctrine, and that the ecclesiology of the Church in the 1st Millennium had absolutely nothing to do with Unam Sanctam or Vatican I, just totally wrecked me.
So I fell apart. The center no longer held, and the entire post- vat ii schict suddenly seemed fraudulent. I had to leave. So I did. I became Orthodox, and went on a retreat to St. Anthony’s in Arizona. Was blessed by Elder Ephraim himself. I was off and running.
(I incidentally have also met Metropolitan Jonah, when he was still abbot in the mists on the hill above San Fran, before the horse farm. He was very kind and funny. I liked him instinctively, with his squint, his patchy beard and marvelous physiognomy.. He seemed more like he ought to have been the porter, not the abbot. Never bishop. I say that as a compliment, because I have much more esteem for porters than bishops. I was very pleased when he was elevated. I’m very sorry, but not at all surprised at how it all turned out. I bet he was incompetent in their sense of the term, and I was not impressed by his political hay making. Still, they did not deserve him, and they should never have removed him.. That’s my 2 cents there, but I digress.. )
Suddenly the liturgy and fasting – things that as a Catholic I had never cared about – consumed me. I became a snob, judging church architecture, iconography and hymnody like a prig. If there was an organ, it was fraud. You know the deal. I became insufferable.
Three years. First it was great. Two Paschas, mind blowing stuff. Never knew such beauty before. I drank it in, parched for it.
Then I moved back to the boondocks in Maine, and had a two hour drive to the nearest Greek parish. Tried multiple times to make personal contact with the priest there. He never returned my calls.
Then, I tried the ROCOR parish in Richmond, Maine. Used to be White Russian. Now it’s a dozen old Russian ladies in pearls and finery sitting in back, and a few dozen converts standing in a candle lit church, most of whom travel hours to be there. From as far as Vermont (“the GOA parish down the road from us is just like a Catholic one, so we come here..” etc.) The Russians were dressed like Park Avenue dowagers, the Americans were all trying to pretend they were kulaks circa 1905 or something. Basically only the old ladies and some children received, maybe a quarter of those present, because father required attendance at Saturday vespers and confession prior every reception, and most of the congregation couldn’t make it.
Stank like Jansenism, or whatever you call its rigorist analogue in Greek. I was not impressed, at all.
I talked to the priest (another convert) after two liturgies. He discovered I’d been received by charismation, not baptism. I got the strong impression he didn’t want to have anything to do with me. He also never took or returned my calls. I guess I’m annoying, but one thing I can say of my OCA and Catholic pastors is that they or a secretary tend to return phone calls.
The upshot it seemed that canonically ROCOR and the OCA are apparently on somewhat different pages, I guess.
Incidentally, I was still frequently going to mass back home and not receiving, in lieu of traveling the prohibitive 2-3 hours to liturgy every weekend, and that was torturous.
I finally got a chance to visit Army friends down in DC, and went to liturgy at a Serbian parish there. We sneered at the charismatic Catholics who had a guitar mass in the rented church hall before liturgy. I went to confession withe priest, a kind old fellow who’d been Fr. Hopko’s room mate in seminary. I confessed, he looked at me, and said “look son, that [certain sexual matter] is not a sin.” I looked at him, astonished. That’s a line I’d become used to from an occasional flapdoodle Catholic confessor, and I would always get angry thinking “it’s listed as such in the Catechism, and it’s my conscience and confession here padre, and most saints in the canon would think it is, so unless you think there’s some impediment please give me absolution, and cut the grief.”
But there I was defeated. I received absolution, went to the coffee hour where Magda, this nice Serbian woman, told me how she was going to find me a good Serbian girl, and how the Orthodox needed shorter services, and you know “a council to modernize the church like Vatican II.”
My friends thought this was hilarious, Those damned ethnics are so wishy washy, you know?
I got in my car, and drove home to Maine. I was in anguish. On the way by Worchester, MA I got off and made a visit to the home of Little Audrey [] whom I ‘d always meant to visit, but never yet had. She was still alive then.
I went to mass in the chapel there, where everything is mysteriously oozing oil. There was this crapulous 80 some year old Flemish priest there, accompanied by his niece and nephew, whom he roundly abused while they translated his homily for him. He was there to ask Audrey’s intercession for vocations in Belgium, where there hadn’t been a seminarian ordained in several years. There was another old American priest there concelebrating, and may 20 other people crammed into that little chapel full of oily religious kitsch.
After mass, I asked to confess. I made an anguished admission of my act of schism. I thought the priest would react, have some particular counsel of what I needed to do to set myself right. He just looked at me, and asked if I prayed daily. I said I did. He said, “good. You wouldn’t forget to eat would you?” I looked at him, half tempted to think him a simpleton, when I realized what a total and complete jerk I’d been, and was. I started to cry. I went outside, and the old Flemish priest came up to me. He asked me if he could bless me. I said of course. He blessed me with a prayer to Our Lady of Fatima. I was a complete mess, but somehow at that moment I knew that everything was going to be okay.
My Orthodox friends were all scandalized by what I did. At first, I wasn’t sure that it was wise. I mean, it’s pretty darn obvious I’m not wise, but you know what I mean. I’d always told them I wasn’t leaving the Catholic Church by becoming Orthodox, only undoing the Schism in myself and rejecting the historical distortion of papal supremacy. The Orthodox Church has to be the Catholic Church, or else it isn’t the Church at all. Father K always smiled and humored me when I said stuff like that. He probably shouldn’t have.
I just went back to mass, and shut up. I had to stop judging everything (“On Eagles Wings” again? Holy..) and just accept it all in humility. The Church ladies, who are very obviously holier than I, like the kitsch. Who am I to judge them for it? A total freaking ass, is who. So I just decided that I was going to take it all. Then, I decided I was going to like it all again.
And very slowly, I have begun to.. Again.
So, what does all this have to do with your query, as to weather enchantment is possible, living in this supposedly secular age of ours?
it’s just to say that my life is this crazy, beautiful love story. That in spite – no. Because of it all, I am in love. I think I have a pretty good intellectual apologetic for my faith. I often wish I could have a go at Dawkins, and ask him what his personhood is based on? How he believes he even exists if he is without any transcendence? If he is merely energy that dissipates at death, then why does he believe in himself at all? Because if he doesn’t transcend then it seems as if “he” doesn’t really exist at all..
And that is an absurd idea, isn’t it? I mean, because honestly, Rod, believing in Richard Dawkins is as much an act of faith, and article of the Faith, as my believing in God. Descartes is right, you know, in the sense that we cannot prove anything beyond the sensation of our consciousness. That’s all I have, anyway.
I *have* to believe. I would be insane if I didn’t.
So in this essential way I know it’s all true. I go to mass, and it is mystical. It wrecks me, having so great a love as this in my life. In my heart.
And just so you know, I’m convinced we’re communing at the same chalice, Rod. One cup, one body, one Church, one Faith, One God. There is no division in Him. By our baptism, in the eucharist, we are one. The schism is just politics and lack of charity. If they wanted to they could have a council to deal with it next month. It’s pride and vanity that keeps them from it. They like their dissension. I no longer have energy or time for it.
So the enchantment is real, because the Faith is a great romance that we share. This great hope. That’s it.


  1. Wow. The question for me is, can someone come to the conclusion they've been an asshole, stay Orthodox (or whatever they converted to) and still come to the same grace?

    1. I don't see why not.

      This story could just as easily have happened in the ecclesial alternate. A guy could start out Orthodox convinced by pop Orthodox apologetics, and because of scandal and the surprise at encountering Catholic who know their stuff, ended up in Catholicism for a spell, only to return to Orthodoxy after a series of bad Catholic experiences and a humane encounter of sorts.

      What interests me most are these ways we try and maneuver these things. I am especially interested in those stories wherein the teller articulates a moment when he realizes that all/some/alot of his/her prior "reasons" for faith allegiances were bullshit, or poised, and so forth, and I find fascinating the different reactions to those sorts of epiphanies.

    2. Did you see Robert Duvall's 2007 movie "The Apostle" ?

    3. Lvka, Yes I did. It is one of the best movies of all time. Duvall must have some real spiritual depth to write/act in something like that.
      Och, yep... I did my master's thesis on "decision making processes". Funny how even if you know all the dysfunctional decision strategies you still do them. Confrontation with dissonant reality and retroactive rationalization is probably the main thread in humanity when it comes to making decisions and then feeling good about them later. Somehow I still believe there must be some place of peace that transcends our goofiness no matter where we end up.

  2. What's interesting to me is that the reasons seem to fall away, and the personal comes into focus. Why would someone convert? There are probably many reasons. Why did I convert? I was disappointed in and bitter at the churches I grew up in, and started looking into Orthodoxy. I see now that resentment is not a good reason to convert, but neither is it a good reason to un-convert, or de-convert.

    There seems to be a great (hilarious? true-to-life?) realization in Charles' post that seems to boil down to: "Oh shit, these are not my people." Maybe I'm misinterpreting it. I'm sorry if I did.

    I read that a few weeks ago on Rod's site. I had to re-read the entire story again on yours. Thanks.

  3. I liked the story for the simple fact that he was forced to live within a context. It is one thing to convert to the house of worship across the street and come up with the pseudo-intellectual justification later. It is another to not be able to enjoy religion on your terms - regardless of one's opinion of the reasonableness of the priest - and still have to pretend your pseudo-intellectual reasons are the most important.

  4. There are difference in dogma, style, etc. betwen Orthodoxy and Catholicism, between Orthodoxy and other Christian and non-Christian faiths, ane within Orthodoxy here and abroad. Some are tied to those differentiators found in each unique religious ecosystem and microclimate, some don’t buy others' differentiators, most don’t care to do anything unfamiliar, almost all prefer to focus on what they agree with and ignore the rest. It’s good to find one’s place on that spectrum and then try to move in the right direction, whiever way that is. Motion seems to be necessary in the spiritual life, we’re either moving forward or backward and very rarely treading water (for long). As to which way is upstream and which is downstream, well, whether we are giving into the current or swimming against it (and which is 'correct' in that metaphor), I’m not sure we always know. I will say that humility’s a good indicator of the right direction as it underlies love, patience, prayer, good works, even reception of the sacraments. As i get older and older, I realize that the man who found the pearl of great price probably spent a lot longer than we think confirming it was legit before he went out and sold all. Fool's rush in where angels fear to tread. That said, humility requires us to consider the possibility we are treating as sacred ground a place that is not. The church of my birth is not necessarily the Holy of Holies, neither is it unholy simply because I was born into it, did not discover it myself, or prefer my religion either more or less mysterious / rational / liturgical/ non-liturgical / familiar / unfamiliar / individualistic / tribal/ modern/ ancient / friendly / unwavering / missiological / universalist / forgiving / unforgiving / just / triumphant / humble / etc. The difficulty is making sure we are seeking God, and not simply creating or seeking a God in our own image. Humility knows how easily we and all are fooled.

    1. I could see someone reading this and thinking, "this could be applied to virtually anyone's situation and thus falls into relativism" or somesuch, and it occurs to me that many people going in utterly contradictory directions, and many people following very different motifs (say that guy who really is addicted to pop apologetics but doesn't admit that to himself and the guy who is into antinomian anti-apologetics heavy on the aesthetics and feelings Christianity) could read this and think they are following it to the tee. But yeah, I agree with all your points.

      I know a few people who I think really did convert/revert/stay because of dogma. But as for the vast majority of people I've met and known who think that they converted in part or in whole because of dogma, I'm convinced they didn't. The presentation of dogma and the language dogma is often couched in comes with its own aesthetic norms, and I've just seen these correspond consistently with personality types and/or common "life situations" (just divorced) and/or common existential crisis points to believe that these correspondences are coincidental. And the dogma comes in different packages. For instance, in the story above reference is made to the Catholic Answers / EWTN package, and I think we all know the aesthetics of that package. But one could also come to Catholicism via dogma as presented through a trad package, or an Aidan Nichols package (which is quite different from Catholic Answers / EWTN), and so forth, and if you tell me that a person converted to Catholicism on the basis of dogma, and describe his/her personality to me, I can with 95% accuracy tell you which dogmatic presentation package brokered the deal for him/her. Now, this speaks nothing to whether or not Catholic dogma (or any other dogma) is true or not, it just suggests that most intellectually inclined humans are a hell of a lot more fickle than they think that they are - and are motivated by a lot of factors of which they are unaware. Not a profound statement, sure, most of us are willing to concede that human life is largely clusterfuck. But most of us still want some arena close to the vest in our lives which we think is more ordered and deliberate. Nope, it's all clusterfuck for the vast majority of us.

    2. And yet, I think it's probably still a good idea that people take their best, serious shot at figuring out what they believe and why; why the path they took or will take is 'better' or 'more true' or 'the truth' as compared to the various other tracks one could take. Maybe this is all terribly post-modern, but I think it probably has as much to do with simply being exposed to so much more in the way of worldviews, religious beliefs, non-religious beliefs, and the ways people choose to live their lives - with a heaping helping of "god, there's just too much to know to make a completely informed decision". I have always thought it best to have an answer as to why I believe what I do, I've never thought it necessary to have a comprehensive answer as to why my belief is the only truth. These two parts sometimes come together as a package, and I remember planning on writing a "Why we're right and they're wrong" sort of primer for my old Protestant denomination (and you see where my first attempt got me, converted to the target), but I think the focus can always be placed on one's own, subjective reasons for believing this and not believing that without your reasons being primarily a litany of attacks on why all others are wrong. Then again, maybe that's the most apophatic way of doing things and I'm showing my hopelessly Western, cataphatic ways. Orthodox = Not Catholic, Not Uniate, Not Protestant, Not Materialist, Not Muslim, Not... :)

      And even with all this self-awareness and humility in seeking after the truth and questioning all one's motives and assumptions and sources... well, still, there's a core inside that always seems to just be there, immobile. It's what we really believe even when we're doing the opposite. It's our assumed set of values, what's important, what's fair, what's right, what is consistent with the way the world works or should work. For some, it's justice; for others, mercy and forgiveness. For some it's beauty; for others, truth alone. For some it's experience; for others proof or logic. For some it's this world alone; for others, there's more than what is visible, measurable. Some have experienced the holy and the demonic; others have not, not in any supernatural way. There's a sort of capitulation that seems to take place where the fighting stops, the building and creating ceases, where the soapbox becomes too revealing a place to be, a time when we realize we are naked. And still, we would be saved were we to respond to the call of the Lord as he walked in the cool of the day, searching, seeking; it's getting to that point of nakedness without also fearing to call back, fearing to respond.

      Personally, this sounds a little like it's on the path to St. Silouan's "keep thy mind in hell and despair not", though I'm sure far from those more literal flames of hell he experienced. It's at least a little despondancy, despair, disenchantment, a yearning for the excitement and energy and awe we had once. When caught in that kind of a cycle, whether church related or life related, I've found the advice of Arch Zacharias of Essex to be helpful: St. Silouan's advice is for a very few, the rest of us need to give thanks and it's a different path to the same destination. Whenever I remember that advice (rarel), it works. It's easier to force myself to say thank you for x, y, and z, than it is for me to get my fat gut down and up in a prostration or to get me to church on time, or to not roll my eyes at someone in church. I'll let you know how it works out some day. So far, that's about all I've got apart from lots of textbook facts on Orthodoxy.

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. It's interesting to have stumbled across this entry. I can relate to
      Charles Curtis' gut-wrenching odyssey. There's the awe phase, the jerk phase, the inward reflection phase, the limbo phase...on & on it goes. Not quite sure what phase I'm in; perhaps none of the above. More like a going-to-the-desert/mountain-phase - checking out for awhile. Not on God, mind you. Just checking out on all the One True Church, We Got It Right, Authentic Christianity, etc., yada yada memes. Right now I just need to KISS, keep it simple without being stupid :-). "Love God and Thy Neighbor. Treat others the way I want to be treated." Those things are quite challenging enough for a lifetime.

      You see, I've got this dilemma: a husband who is a genuine, bonafide Evangelical. Not of the post-modern, hipster, evanjellyfish variety, itching to sing praise choruses @ a contemp service with a rock band, stage, and if really kewl - a light show with fog machine - followed by a pep talk sermon. Nah. He's more like the old-fashioned, stellar & stately guy that yearns for a hortatory sermon preached in a Billy Graham or Jerry Falwell style, preceded by and concluded with some solid, sober-minded, conservative Protestant hymns. Oh, he's been trying to wrap his mind and heart around the Orthodox Way, even being willing to meet with a priest at the monastery for a while now. And he listens to Fr. Thomas Hopko on AFR nearly everyday for at least a year now. But in the end, I just don't think he can bring himself to cross the Bosphorus. It isn't in his psyche or blood. He doesn't seem to have room for it. And yet, he can't seem to find an evangelical church that matches his preferences. Yet, he still supposes that there must be a few that haven't gone over to the Dark route.

      Me - well I'm no longer starry-eyed about Orthodoxy. What's on paper, written by monastics and theologians, even the stuff of actual history - the Martyrs & Confessors, the great defenders of the faith who strove for spiritual truth and refuted heresy, etc. - it just doesn't seem to exist in real life on the ground level. Perhaps all the battles worth fighting have been fought. I hear about Orthodox asceticism, but where can one go to learn about it experientially? Or is it merely mystical allegory?

      The parish I attended could was, in the priest's own words: "minimalist". No bad or strange folk there, no Protestant or Roman Catholic bashing, no trying to one upmanship as to who can be more Orthodox; but it wasn't anything to write home about. Forgive me Lord if I speak wrongly. It would seem, in reference to one of the comments here, that the Orthodox faith hadn't pierced to the marrow of anyones' bones. Or perhaps it had and I was too obtuse to encounter it. After all, religion can often be a private matter in some circles.

      So where does one go from here? Jesus and me, me and Jesus until the dust settles.

  5. Och, first, I have to say what a joy it is to see you blogging again. I especially enjoy the subject matter you're engaging. As a convert to Rome I know I often gave intellectual reasons for why I converted, but I've been realizing how much of that is bullshit. When I'm honest, I probably could have easily become a High Church Anglican or Orthodox when I converted, because I was in need of an intellectual challenge with a touch of aesthetics, as well as community. I'm an intelligent enough guy, so I did read the philosophers and theologians, but I'd be a liar if I said it was purely an intellectual decision.

    Thanks for the post!

  6. It's interesting that this fellow seems to have passed through some of the weirder corners of American Orthodoxy, picked up on how weird they are, but doesn't seem to have any ill will toward the weirdos.

    That said, the narratives of returning to Rome that I've read (whether from Orthodoxy or Protestantism) involve a kind of visceral, emotional bond that I know I'll never really comprehend. Though perhaps, having spent the entirety of what passes for my adult life in the Orthodox Church, I would feel a similar persistent pull if for some reason I ever tried to leave. But I also became Orthodox in an environment where identifying as Orthodox is normally based on that kind of attachment and little else-- if you do hear polemic against the Catholics, it would more likely likely be against their not allowing birth control or divorce and liturgical latinization than about the pope or doctrinal matters.

    I think my brother is a good example of the kind of conversions that American Orthodoxy most needs. He converted in a largely, though not entirely, convert OCA parish about a year after I converted, along with his oversexed part-Russian then-girlfriend (now long awol) and a friend of his who's now (very happily, I hear) a nun at an Ephremite convent. I don't think he's ever really read any apologetics or theology and he only goes to church sporadically, usually during a rough patch of some kind or another, and if he goes to coffee hour it's just to see how people are doing and talk about college football. But, I get the impression that he couldn't conceive of (or see any point in) being a part of any other church or religion.

    In any case, the failure of Orthodoxy in America to retain converts is really a failure to create this kind of marrow-deep attachment in converts (could the same be said for American converts to Catholicism?). I suspect, though I don't know, that apologetics and dwelling on one's justifications for conversion keep everything on a very surface level and prevent a deeper attachment from taking root.

    1. I was chatting with my wife about how she viewed being Catholic as opposed to being Orthodox, particularly since she grew up in a quasi-fundamentalist household (Plymouth Brethren) which was vehemently anti-Catholic (though her parents have toned it down quite a bit over the years). She thought about it for a bit and then said she didn't really feel any different about it, though she was glad to be part of something which, like Protestantism writ large, seemed to have an awareness of the world around it rather than exhaust its resources worrying about liturgy, monastic spirituality, abstract and arcane theological matters which few have any competence to talk meaningfully about, and other esoterica one comes across in the lands of American Orthodoxy. She also added, somewhat facetiously, that she enjoyed being part of a confession that gets to sing "Good Christian Men Rejoice" at the close of Mass during Christmastide.

      I think there is something to the notion of "rootedness" when it comes to one's confessional commitments that can be too easily discarded as apologetics take a turn for the abstract and obscure. Maybe my fondest religious (liturgical) memories growing up were rooted in a semi-Latinized Eastern Christianity, but that doesn't detract from the fact that Catholicism writ large strikes me as an entirely more appropriate, more grounded, and more humane recitation of Christianity than anything else on offer, particularly for someone living in the 21st C. West. Despite my deep misgivings concerning much that goes on in American Orthodoxy, I can appreciate why those living in Orthodoxy's historical centers choose (or accept) the Orthodox Church as their means to Salvation. Good for them. I am sure they feel as "embedded" in their Orthodoxy as most Catholics do in their Catholicism; the whole notion that there is some grand explanation for why they are where they are is alien to them. I wish I could have been so lucky.

      With that said, I think Catholicism has an easier job rooting itself into the hearts and minds of converts than Orthodoxy. How it does that isn't always good, mind you. There's certainly a Protestantized/pop Catholicism for converts which seems to "stick" and yet only does so by watering down and trivializing what I would consider to be central elements of the Catholic faith. Granted, certain segments of American Orthodoxy do this as well ("We don't pray to Saints; we just ask them to pray for us, like friends!"), but I'm not sure they pull it off as easily. Eventually all that fasting obsession/semi-monastic/Dungeons & Dragons stuff sneaks in there and people started to get weirded out. Anyway, that's going to be the bane of Orthodoxy's existence on these shores for another century (assuming it holds together that long) because (1) It hasn't been outward looking for very long; (2) There's too much obsessing over a "golden past" which happened to exist in far off lands nobody cares about (until they become Orthodox); and (3) Few, if any, Orthodox are really trying to articulate a "vision" or an "idea" of Orthodoxy that is at peace with its new environment. As was brought up in an earlier post on this blog, nothing has replaced that old guard SVS-style Orthodoxy that Schmemann et al. were promoting. Heck, nobody of Schmemann's humanity and gravitas has emerged on the scene, and that's telling. Whatever his faults -- scholarly, liturgically, ecclesial-politically --, Schmemann had "cradle credibility" with a convert's (healthy) distance from the more problematic aspects of ethnic-romanticized Orthodoxy. Perhaps it prompted an undue scorn toward tradition, ethnic heritage, continuity, etc., but nobody's perfect. The tragedy is that Schmemann never inspired anybody else of his caliber to take up his project. Hopko never quite cut the mustard.

    2. The difficulty is in getting past the sorts of things that usually prompt one to convert. That is, the transition from convert to simply being Orthodox is treacherous. I tend to think that if one is still talking about modernity, post-modernity, or about how we engage with this or that (or not), as well as theosis, monasticism, liturgical rubrics, etc. then the transition hasn't been fully made - though I talk as one who glazes over when people start talking philosophy, societal critique, etc. so maybe that's my own set of converts tells. The longer I am Orthodox, the less I talk about the sorts of things converts talk about. I still have an answer if someone asks the question, though I find myself less able to answer questions because the questions are so far off in my memory that it's hard to remember 1) why I thought they were so important or 2) how I worked myself through them. It's just sort of obvious why one would be Orthodox and not Protestant, but without it necessarily being grounded in ethnicity. In fact, I think ethnicity is really just the most readily available hook to hang that 'obvious' hat on: "I'm Orthodox because I'm Greek/Russian/Romanian/etc." is really just "I'm Orthodox because I'm Orthodox". Circular, yes, but I think that's really where people end up being in most religions. Yes, it speaks to them, but less tritely, it's what they believe - not what they think. Thinking is ex post facto explanation for what at root is not based in purely intellectual frames.

      For all the things one can say about the Greeks, they have critical mass, a still relatively pious and homogenous emigration, resources, a sense of themselves, and a pretty un-selfconcious way of approaching just about anything (even when trying to be self-conscious about their choices). They simply are what they are, and they are struggling within their own community with grandkids and a surrounding culture that is what it is, too, which is American or Western or modern or whatever. They are working through pragmatically and pastorally what Schmemann and others perhaps approached a little too abstractly (and therefore heavy-handedly in parish life, e.g., the Calendar change).

      The real challenge is allowing space in small parishes for people to find their level. That is, peer pressure, small group dynamics, and the real need in parishes for people to get things done results in everyone feeling pressure to pretend to be at a higher level than they are. some people can really only muster Sunday mornings, others can only do weekdays, some can't handle fasting and regular prayer, some can only do once a month or so and don't go in for most of the rest except around Pascha. There's something necessary about allowing space for people to be nominal that is important, without at the same time mistaking nominal for normative. Convert parishes are also heavy on the well-read and catechized, so they're a self-concious bunch with enough content to be dangerous, so the bar is set abnormally high for what it means to be Orthodox. This all works itself out in time, of course, if for no other reason than the priest realizing he's pushed to hard and expected too much when you stop showing up for a month or two or more. Then he's content to allow you to commune the way the old ladies and ethnics do - whenever you want, without confession or Vespers the night before, and with no interrogation about fasting, etc. That's the way it works; it's not like the priest wants to only give you the absolute slacker minimum version of Orthodoxy: all the craziness you've ever heard a convert or convert priest do or so all came from a cradle Orthodox layman, monk, priest or bishop (it's just that most cradles either don't pay any attention to them or know culturally how to acknowledge the advice and then do what they will).

    3. More practically, one hasn't started becoming truly Orthodox until you've had your heart broken by the Church or someone in it, until you've found yoruself at a a level pervasively well below what you strived for, and then you've stayed put for a few years. That's not something converts are prepared for, they aren't prepared for the real heartbreak of conversion, of failure in the spiritual life (in oneself and others), they aren't prepared for that 'abandonment' on the other side of the awe one experiences the first few years of Orthodoxy. Yes, Orthodoxy is Pascha, joy, joy; but it's also the Cross, it's also pain, suffering, and all those things in the hymns and the lives of the saints we assume are far off, past, poetic hypoerbole, or metaphorical. No, Orthodoxy really the dumps, too. And then there's also Pascha once a year. All that talk of struggle, the fact that clergy and monks are shown truly falling to their deaths from teh top of the Divine Ladder, that's really what the spiritual life is about. It's when you experience and know that that the converts starts shutting up, it's then that people start assuming you're foreign and were raised Orthodox (they assume you have an accent because you never speak, and you start looking world-weary like an Eastern European, or like someone going through the motions because it's all you can muster, and you can't stop doing even that because it's simply what you are, even when you're bad at it.)

    4. That may all be true. I can't say Orthodoxy ever "broke my heart"; it just didn't live up to the promise so many within its borders believes it always lives up to, namely demonstrating that it is the "one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church" to the exclusion of Catholicism. When people I don't really know (or know at all) ask why I "flipped," that's my answer -- and, thankfully, only a few have ever pressed me for specifics. And, really, what would I say? "Do you have five hours so I can explain to you how the Orthodox functions? Because once you understand that, then I can start getting into specifics..." No, thanks. Most Catholics I talk to have only a very dim understanding of the ways and means of world Orthodoxy. When my brother -- who is still Orthodox -- was recently introduced to an older, traditional Catholic priest by one of his Catholic friends, the priest just waved his hand dismissively and said, "Oh, it's the same thing. Orthodox, naturally, hate such answers, but Catholics are fine with that take.

      As I am sure I have noted before, the virtue of being Catholic -- at least in this city -- is that if I want to experience "things Eastern," including liturgically amped-up "things Eastern," I can always stroll over to Ukrainian Village (and not just on Sundays, but for one of the three daily liturgies that they serve -- none of them "watered down" or "Latinized"). On the days I have done that (and there have been a number of them), I find I am "cured" of any "homesickness" I might have for litanies, icons, and the Cherubic Hymn. After taking count, I still read almost as many "Orthodox books" in the last year as I had read in any of the previous three years, including a number of titles I always meant to read when I was Orthodox, and the only icons I ever gave away were of unrepentant heretics (like Mark of Ephesus).

    5. Or to put it in different terms, one has to be willing to let it break your heart.....

  7. Samn, "...the failure of Orthodoxy in America to retain converts is really a failure to create this kind of marrow-deep attachment in converts..." Doesn't that beg the question, "Are the converts to Orthodoxy capable of a marrow deep attachment to anything?"

    1. I'm not that cynical as to think that modern people are quite so rootless as advertized. I think there's a lot of elements to our relationship to institutions that we (and the institutions themselves) can control or at least influence for the better. This is why there is value to the type of critique of media and rhetoric that Owen is so good at when he gets on a roll. And I think that it would at least be possible, with serious reflection, to envision ways of us interacting with the Church and the Church interacting with us so that there is a possibility of this marrow-deep bond taking root. This is the lens through which I'm reading these ongoing discussions of the place of apologetics and the validity of intellectual conversion. It seems that the common denominator of these stories of intellectual reasons for accepting a religion boil down to one's using them as a means for concocting consent. But if they stay an active, in-the-foreground-of-your-mind part of your relationship to your church, then this relationship remains essentially sectarian in nature, and thus brittle.

      The fact that the Roman Catholic Church is the largest, most legitimate-seeming religious institution in our society that for the most part avoids being sectarian is the reason for its appeal in many conversations about this type of issue. The irony, of course, is that my own reasons for never having taken Catholicism seriously as a personal option are an entirely intellectual laundry list of beliefs I could never affirm with a straight face... what can you do.

  8. "Are the converts to Orthodoxy capable of a marrow deep attachment to anything?"

    Pardon me, but what does that even mean?

  9. Let's see: it looks to me as though the writers above are asking:

    "Are those who convert to Orthodoxy able to make a commitment to any cause or thing so deep that it pierces to the marrow of their bones?"

    Always glad to clear up these little difficulties for the confused.

    1. Why wouldn't they be able to? Are they broken?

    2. Steve Lewis, In my experience, yes. Orthodoxy attracts all manner of people with all manners of personal issues. That is not to say that other expressions of Christianity or other world religions do not... That said, Orthodoxy in America has enough dysfunctional people at the helms (the altars and the mitres) and well, "birds of a feather". People who convert to anything are by nature prone to being convinced of something by something (whether intellect or passion) and in my experience the majority of people who convert to Orthodoxy have converted to other things prior. But that's just my anecdotal evidence.

    3. Bernard and S-P: Y'all touch on something I have wondered about a lot. I know of cases where a Protestant converts to Catholicism and subsequently converts to Orthodoxy (Dreher springs to mind). I even know of a case where a Protestant (well, actually, a Jehovah's Witness) converted to Catholicism, then converted to Orthodoxy, then returned to Catholicism, then converted to Orthodoxy again.

      I can understand such cases because at least the church-hopper is going from one tradition with the Eucharist to another tradition with the Eucharist.

      But what boggles my mind are the many cases I've seen where a Protestant becomes Orthodox (very pointedly NOT Catholic; no Catholic phase at all) and then, after disillusionment sets in, either returns to some sort of Protestantism or decamps from Christianity / religion altogether.

      E.g. this one guy I know of who now attends an evangelical "house church."

      I think a lot of people become Catholic because of the Eucharist. Not simply because they come to have certain intellectual beliefs about the Eucharist but because they need, long, and yearn to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus. They cannot imagine life without the Eucharist.

      But...Orthodoxy also has a valid Eucharist. So, why doesn't this *need* for the Eucharist keep these ex-Ortho folks in Orthodoxy? (Or drive them to Catholicism?) How can one stand to go from a church that has the Eucharist to an evangelical "house church" that has Saltines and grape juice? (I know, I know, many poorly catechized Cradle Catholics make precisely that journey, but I'm talking about *converts* here -- about people who made a conscious, informed decision to join a sacramental church presumably because they wanted the sacraments.)

      I don't get it. And I ask, in all sincerity: Do Protestants usually convert to Orthodoxy for the Eucharist? Or is it mostly for other stuff, like the aesthetic beauty of the liturgy or the sense of history or whatever? (Nonna has testified re her need for the Eucharist, and as a Catholic I can relate to that...but what of these other Ortho converts I know, who seem to be able to decamp from Orthodoxy to some low-church brand of Protestantism without batting an eye?)

    4. Diane, I don't think everyone or even a majority of people convert for a "Eucharistic experience". My take on it is that the "eucharist" is totally hyped for Protestants as "healing of soul and body", and when they discover that it's not magic and once the emotionalism of it disapates they are still the same damaged people they used to be, it makes it easier to go back to grape juice and crackers. I know that sounds cynical, but people seeking "spiritual experiences" who don't get them in spades when the apologetics virtually promised them, it makes it easy to go back to what is familiar.

    5. The same way most people who leave Catholicism leave for either Evangelicalism/Pentecostalism or non-religion..... I'd imagine that most converts to Catholicism who leave leave for the same places most converts to Orthodoxy leave for...

    6. Samn, did you read my post? I specifically excluded poorly catechized Cradle Catholics who decamp for evangelicalism. They're a whole other kettle of fish. Quite often they didn't even believe in the Real Presence in the first place. That's why I wrote, very specifically, clearly, and explicitly, that I was speaking exclusively of converts. I was trying to forestall precisely the sort of response you've just provided. Sigh. (Where's that butting-head-against-wall emoticon when you need it?)

      Converts to Catholicism are usually well catechized -- yes, in spite of RCIA! -- and, time after time, I've heard them say that they converted for the Eucharist. Yes, there are many other reasons -- authority, certainty, and so on -- but, above all, they want the Eucharist.

      If such a convert becomes disillusioned, then (in my experience at least) he's more likely to Dox (or to stay put and grumble a lot) than to leave for Saltines and grape juice.

      That's why I have such a hard time understanding why a convert to Orthodoxy would leave for evangelicalism.

      Again--I'm talking about converts from Protestantism to either Catholicism or Orthodoxy. Converts. And did I mention converts?

      Have I made myself sufficiently clear? ;-)

    7. s-p, thanks for the thoughtful response. Much to chew on there. In Real Life i know only cradle Orthodox (local GOA parish; great food festivals) exposure to Prot-to-Ortho converts is limited to the Internet, believe it or not, so I have much to learn.

    8. Diane-- there's a point where it all gets anecdotal. Personally, I've not known many converts to Catholicism converting to Orthodoxy. Can't think of any I've met offhand. I have known some who go back to Protestantism. It's fairly natural to go back to a former confession where most of one's family, friends, and upbringing was. I've not known anybody who converted to anything primarily out of concern about a 'valid' Eucharist. But again, it's all anecdotal in the end.

    9. True, Samn, it's all (or mostly) anecdotal.

      I can see how Protestant converts to Catholicism might want to go back to something familiar ... that was true for Bill Cork, apparently, who went back to Seventh-Day Adventism and even decided that yes, he could once more buy all that nutty stuff about Ellen White the Prophetess. (And he thought *Catholicism* was hard toi swallow? Hoo-boy!)

      But, in my experience, converts to Catholicism who grow disillusioned usually just stay put and bitch...and occasionally they Dox. Unless they lose their faith altogether and just drop out of the religious scene. That certainly happens.

      But that reminds me of the anecdote about some famous French statesman (I think) who publicly announced that he was leaving the Catholic Church. Asked whether he was joining a Protestant denomination, he allegedly replied, "I have lost my faith, not my reason!"

    10. Diane,

      That's why I have such a hard time understanding why a convert to Orthodoxy would leave for evangelicalism.

      I agree with Samn! regarding the tendency to go back to what one knows. But there are so many variables.

      We don't have, so far as I know, any decent data on reversions. But even if we did have data markers, data alone wouldn't give us reasons - we'd need a lot of sociological studies done in order to speak confidently about the reasons behind demographic trends, and I doubt that the money for such will ever be spent on those reverting out of Catholicism, let alone Orthodoxy.

      So we all appeal to our own anecdotes, and I argue that I have broader anecdotes than all y'all, and thus my opinions on these matters are most correct. So there. Another ochlophobic pontification, etc., etc.

      Some argue that Orthos (who came from Evan) don't go Rome because of an anticatholicism. This is sometimes the case, but I think that is an overplayed canard (I think the 'anticatholicism is everywhere in our culture' ala Bill Donohue one of the most patently ridiculous socio-cultural claims to be found in our culture). But yes, some people bring a resolute, irrationally angry anticatholicism with them from whatever Prot corner they came from - they take it into and out of Orthodoxy.

      I think some return to Evangelicalism in part because their experience in Orthodoxy was in Byzantine Rite Evangelical circles, and, after finding out that the rest of Orthodoxy thinks that shit is nuts, or, after finding out that Byzantine Rite Evangelicalism is really just very dressed up and incense smelly Evangelicalism so what's the point, they return back to their mothership, for obvious reasons. Good for them.

      For others the move from Evangelicalism to Orthodoxy was part of a process that is such that they can't ever return to where they were, but in the absence (in their minds) of viable options, they end up back in some place that is deemed the easiest or the most revertable to. For some in this camp, the return to Evangelicalism (or mainline Prot) corresponds to a more nominal lived form of Christianity, and this corresponds to my previously, long ago on the old blog, thesis that a disproportionate number of former Orthodox leave Christianity altogether or become nominally Christian after falling out of Orthodoxy.

      Take my wife. She was once a very believing Prot, after converting to Christianity in late high school. The church she went to longer than any other prior to Orthodoxy was a slightly charismatic congregation which had been a part of this prayer group community which had also included charismatic Catholics. The pastor's best friend is (and was then) a Catholic (best friend is now a Catholic priest). A few folks had converted from Prot to Catholic in this group, and they were not shunned or anything. So my wife didn't pick up any anticatholicism from there. Later my wife, in our first two years of marriage, was with me during my last two years at Loome's, and got exposed to all sorts of Catholicism and Catholics, and came to have no spiritual or intellectual hostility towards Catholicism.

    11. cont'd -

      But my wife didn't for a second think about conversion to Catholicism then. She went to mass a few times cack in those days and that was enough. In the last 18 months or so she went to a few novus ordos and a couple tridentines with me and she can't stand either. To her, the novus ordo feels just like a mainline Prot service, and a ho hum one at that. My wife has never read a FM-G or Gillquist book of Orthodox propaganda. She never listened to Ancient Faith Radio (she listened to Hopko sermons on cds bought from St. Vlad's, thank you very much). She never bought anything from the Ortho-pop apology crapshoving Conciliar Press. She doesn't care in the slightest about apologetics. So she wasn't getting her views of "bad Roman liturgy" from anticatholic streams in convert Orthodoxy. No priest at the Ortho parishes we've been at talked about Catholicism much, and if someone had started talking about Catholicism at a coffee hour my wife would have walked away in boredom. She doesn't care about what she considers pointless pontificating and religious blowhardery. But take her to mass, and she finds it pointless (and, mind you, she is of mostly Irish blood, and she strongly identifies with her Irishness - her maiden name is Boyle, the Boyles from Irish immigrants to Milwaukee). In her mind, the novus ordo is sappy and chummy mainline Prot dribble with mediocre music at best, the latin mass, low or high" is a "dead spectacle." She wants nothing to do with it.

      Part of that wanting nothing to do with it, I am convinced, has to do with the maximalism (both overt/explicit and intuitive) in Orthodoxy, and the seriousness of Orthodox services (even your St. Vlad's style OCA service, or even a not so bad AOANA service). After that, for a lot of people, Catholic Latin rite services feel utterly empty and banal. The only way my wife would come to a point where she takes the sacraments, including the eucharist, of the Latin rite of the RCC seriously would be via pure intellectual assent, and for that to happen she would have to read and assent to a lot of theology she has no interest in. I suppose if she were exposed to one of those eastern rite Catholic parishes that has a very Orthodox style of liturgy she would feel comfortable there, and she would shrug off their being in communion with novus ordo Catholics as the business of bishops and nothing that need concern her so long as they weren't screwing up the liturgy she attended.

      I've met other Orthodox, including some very disillusioned with Orthodoxy, and some who'd left Orthodoxy, whose temperament and posture seems to be much akin to my wife's. They just can't take Catholic eucharistic piety seriously, and not out of any apologetic and ideological opposition to Catholicism. My wife has told me in times past that she wished at times that she didn't have the aversion to Catholicism that she did, as "this would make things a lot easier" (because we live in a town with only three canonical Orthodox parishes and none of them can be anything other than sacrament factories for people like us) and so forth.

    12. cont'd -

      I don't think my wife's approach is disordered or weird at all. When I worked at Loome's I met more than a few people (some Prots, some not even Christians) who developed an intellectual interest in Rome that was squashed after actually attending Mass or talking to a priest, even a "conservative" priest. I recall one atheist in particular who was very much moved by reading Thomas Merton (working from his 60s stuff back to Seven Story Mountain), but when this man went looking for a Catholicism with something akin to level of gravitas he couldn't find any – and he tried the famous St. Agnes conservative parish in St Paul, MN.

      For neo-cons, and other "faithful to the magisterium" Catholics the perspective is quite a different one. Things (liturgically, piety, etc.) are "better" now well into BenXVI than they have been for decades). But for someone like my wife telling them that this is a hell of a lot better than it used to be is not exactly a comfort. This in her mind, is still a farce - any my wife is no liturgical or piety purist - far from it. And, again, the "solution" is not a well done Latin liturgy, she's been to those and dislikes them more than novus ordos - but if the novus ordo, in her mind, why not just go whole hog and become a Mainline Prot?

      Trying to explain to my wife that there is a ("true" or "faithful to the magisterium" or "not nominal") Catholicism which stands behind operative Catholicism is a non-starter. One, she spent years around Catholics and going to First Things reading group with me and she knows that track. Two, it reminds her of Orthodox weirdos who went around telling other Orthodoxy how their Orthodoxy wasn’t real Orthodoxy. Three, she's a very pragmatic lady (she and I differ in certain respects) and she isn't interested in Christianities other than "actually existing Christianities" meaning that she isn't going to force herself to believe something beyond what the bulk of the people in the pews next to her believe, nor is she going to acquire moral scruples beyond what a given priest tells her, and she knows very well (as we have friends who are “normal” and not "conservative" Catholics) that there are plenty of priests who will give a blessing for a man to get a vasectomy, etc. - one RC priest, a friend of ours we used to go eat German food with from time to time, appealed to us to receive communion at his parish even though my wife was not Catholic and I was remarried with no annulment) that it is normal for lived Catholicism, even a lived Catholicism under the guidance of a priest, to be quite variable from the "Catholicism in the books," as she would put it. She's just simply not one of these people who is going to insist upon a piety or religious way of life that is notably different than the people around her in a given congregation. Thus, why not go mainline, as the vast majority of American Catholics live lives that are quite akin to what one finds among white heterosexuals in the mainlines. The crowds at Latin masses freak her out as "weird" in the manner of some of the off stuff we have seen in certain Orthodox circles. She ain't ever going into quasi-separatist religious circles again. My wife would be perfectly happy to return to the OCA of the Midwest under +JOB, and it pisses her off (as it does me) that the new bishop there is a culture warrior asshole that will likely dismantle so much of what had been good in that diocese under +JOB. Bishops fuck everything up. But we can’t move anyway so that is a pointless line of thought.

    13. cont'd -

      I write all that as one anecdote that I know to be akin to some others. I read my wife the story that makes up the text of this post. But my wife immediately then remembered a lady who worked with me for a spell at Loome's who had a huge devotion to "Little Audrey" and my wife thought it was nuts then and she thinks it nuts now. I remember having a long conversation with her about it then, and her opinion hasn't changed - my wife happens to know a lot about disabilities which relate to cognitive impairment, as she works at a psych clinic, and she (like me) is not keen on ascribing sanctity to cognitive and neuro impairment. There is a fetish there that is quite bizarre. I have no credibility in saying that, having been a former Orthodox blogging hack who engaged in apologetics, but my wife's posture towards those things has nothing to do with some innate anticatholicism. At the same time, she hears this guy's story and can empathize with it and understand it and be thankful for it. It's just not a route she could ever go. If I were to die, I could see my wife returning to a liberal Evangelical or mainline Prot situation, under certain circumstances. She would never believe in it as she once did, but it would make for a functional life. I think Orthodoxy (and by that, for her, I mean liturgy and the whole liturgical ethos) is her last religious "love" if you will).

      I know it sounds triumphalistic and drum beating, and all I can say is that I have in recent years approached it from the polar opposite end (despairing of faith altogether, pretty much), but I can very much understand the intuition that if Orthodoxy is not true other Christianities are pointless, from Catholicism to the various Prots. There is something about the wholeness of the Orthodox aesthetic, something about the gravitas of the words of its sacred texts, something about the earthy humanity of its disciplinary traditions (even when just nominally approached – never when coming from some elder wanna-be nutjob), something about all that touching and kissing and blessing with waters and oils, something about the history it writes in your life when you have spent many, many, many hours standing with just a few other people at Saturday night vigils, something about the astounding even perplexing spiritual drunkenness experience of Pascha (even when, as happened to us, that experience doesn't "happen" like it used to on later Paschas - when that happens, let me tell you, it feels like a death because what absolutely should be present isn't). So yes, to walk away from Orthodoxy with faith in some other Christian form intact on certain levels is much harder for me to understand than walking away from Orthodoxy not believing in God anymore (even if one does happen to still attend church).

      This was quite a ramble, but, well, y'all are used to it.

    14. A priest-monk I know (as does Samn!) once told me that if weren't Orthodox he would be Buddhist or something, not some other form of Christian. He told me this in response to me telling him about how I just wished I could be Catholic as it would be so much easier.

      I will say that there is still a decent amount of anti-Catholicism among particularly pious, dogmatic, conservative, small denomination Protestants. Of course, my RC wife always defended the church she never attended, until I took her to a RC church in the town I grew up in for Christmas Mass. She told me then she understood where I got all that stuff about the Catholic church - I got it from the Catholic church. She's never even been to the odd Christmas or Easter Mass since then. My own antipathy to Catholic things was heavily tempered once I became Orthodox. Maybe one day that could lead to me accepting Catholicism, I never would have expected to become Orthodox to begin with, after all. Unfortunately, I think Orthodoxy ends up becoming 'Catholicism without the pope' in that it becomes seen as the common tradition of the Church. It's not so foreign from the traditional Western Rites (and it's just as foreign as the Tridentine rite or the BCP to those who grew up without liturgy), and the only thing that really makes it feel like an ethnic club is the language used and the homogeneity which pretty much disppears when you find an English parish filled with no particular ethnic group apart from American (or not-Russian, not-Greek, etc.) And, when it comes down to it, most non-Catholics expect to experience something in Catholic worship and life, based on Catholic descriptions, which simply is not experienced in visiting the typical American Catholic parish. Maybe there are outliers, but then why not simply join any other outlier religious group whether Orthodox, Buddhist, idiosyncratic Prot church, or be the ultimate in unique religious communities - the religious community of one and all I think or like.

    15. Och, you have a good wife. Anything more I'd say beyond that will be the vodka talking on a Friday after work, so I will stop there for now.

    16. s-p,

      You make me realise how much God loves me. He tricked me into showing up at a Mass (orthodox or catholic doesn't matter), and once I got there, He insulted my manhood, verbally. Or I hallucinated a cracker across the room talking in my ear that day (which I honestly cannot bring myself to believe, no matter how much I have tried at some points.)

      Then I had to learn a whole bunch of crap, a small bit of which has been useful, and a lot which has been entertaining. So I guess I converted to Christianity, not for, but because of the Eucharist. Not something I ate, but something I met. I can't escape the Apostolic Church(es) only because of the aforementioned inability to convince myself I hallucinated His insult. Any evidence that the Eucharist is medicine for my life has been found, not in daily communion (which I did for a while) but rather in the breech, how my life goes during the mutil year stretches where I haven't received.

      Basically, He knows me. Knows my pride and cowardice, and put me in a position where I can't shake the Truth, even when it'd be easy.

      I'm sorry for rambling. I'm not as elegant as pretty much everyone else here. I just meant to say thanks.

      Hezekiah Garrett

    17. Hezekaih, I often envy people who have had tangible spiritual experiences. I've convinced myself that God loves me by not giving me experiences and forcing me to live purely by faith and will. Perhaps I'd either be insufferably arrogant or totally dependent on experiences if I had one. God knows and He ain't talkin' to me about it. So I just keep going. God be with you.

    18. I think you're probably right. I remember somebody told me once about a nun, I think she was an abbess or whatever the head penguin is called, who was visiting S America. Anyway, this statue of Baby Jesus turned its head and spoke to her, telling her a bunch of good stuff.

      I'd already had my experience, but I remember thinking then "boy He knows me. I'd never find a hat big enough to fit if that happened to me."

      Trust me, getting heckled by God is no big whoop.

      Hezekiah Garrett

    19. I do want to say Bill Cork didn't just go back to what was familiar.

      He was in the middle of the sausage factory, watching it being made. The only real Christian witness in his life he could see were the SDAs in his immediate family. He went, not where things were familiar, but where he could actually see Jesus present in the actual lives of living breathing human beings.

      If anybody has to answer for that one, I am convinced it's going to be a chancery full of Catholics. Not based on his blog posts, but on first and second hand observation, very close to the situation. I don't and didn't read his blog.

      Hezekiah Garrett

    20. Hezekiah, that's very interesting and illuminating. Thanks!

      I don't think converts should go to work for the Church. Baaaaad idea.

      Heck, I'm a Cradle-to-revert, and I would never work for the Church. Especially not for a chancery. No way.

      I write very secular advertising copy for a living. Once in a while I think, "Wouldn't it be cool to do this for a Catholic organization?"


    21. Red Owen,

      A devotion to Little Audrey? WTF?

      You're joking right? I have some of those comic books here somewhere. My whole opinion of your Loomes coworkers was just shot to hell.

      I mean, Olive Oyl for President, sure. But a religious DEVOTION to Little Audrey?

      Or did you just mean they were big fans, which for adults would be a pretty good sign of mental illness I guess.

      Either way, just queer.

      Hezekiah Garrett

  10. Silly literalist: unlike Chix, metaphors are for adults.

    1. Ouch. That kinda hurts, man. I'm not really sure what brought that on.

    2. Chix for kids go to prison when they get caught.

      Silly illiterate, the damned cereal is called Trix.

      Hezekiah Garrett

  11. Thank you for this thread. My thoughts go to a Roman Catholic who wrote a book called "Orthodoxy," fittingly enough:

    "It is very hard for a man to defend anything of which he is entirely convinced. It is comparatively easy when he is only partially convinced. he is partially convinced because he has found this or that proof of the thing, and he can expound it. But a man is not really convinced of a philosophic theory when he finds that something proves it. he is only really convinced when he finds that everything proves it. And the more converging reasons he finds pointing to this conviction, the more bewildered he is if asked suddenly to sum them up. Thus, if one asked an ordinary intelligent man, on the spur of the moment, 'Why do you prefer civilization to savagery?' he would look wildly round at object after object, and would only be able to answer vaguely, 'Why, there is that bookcase...and the coals in the coal-scuttle...and pianos...and policemen.' The whole case for civilization is that the case for it is complex...There is, therefore, about all complete conviction a kind of huge helplessness. The belief is so big that it takes a long time to get it into action."

    I wrote a huge blog-post "conversion story" six years ago, and detailed the common talking points a la the late Fr. Gilguist's (memory eternal) "Becoming Orthodox," and that's all a valid framework for an evangelical encountering the Great Tradition--sacraments, hierarchy, soteriology, and how the landscape is different. But I think I was only able to write that when my time existing on that level had pretty much closed. I was gonna write out something here, but then I found the post I wrote when I started feeling Chesterton's sense of "everything conviction," and since it says everything I'd want to: Blinking at Trees. Sorry about the self promo.

    I think I actually became Orthodox standing in vespers with (just) my one and a half-year old (now) eldest daughter while my wife sang (alone) at the kliros and Father served, wondering where everybody was and if "this was it." It was that "Lord, to whom shall we go?" moment that I couldn't (and can't) justify. But here we are.

  12. How does one explain why they are what they are (Orthodox, Catholic, any number of Protestant choices) given the vast Christian landscape these days? I became frustrated yesterday and told my husband I no longer wanted to discuss Orthodoxy. He has had so much angst about the Orthodox Church, which comes in waves, the worst of which is a scrutinizing of our lives to the point where he worries he will never be a part of any organized church and we will contiune on, me Orthodox, him Evangelical. So, yesterday I considered just chucking the whole ball 'o' wax - stop attending church altogether. But then I broke down while we were grocery shopping. I couldn't imagine never attending Divind Liturgy, no longer partaking of the Eucharist, no longer confessing to Father M, no longer praying Orthodox prayers, etc. etc. etc.

    Religion (in its truest and best sense) can get into one's bones. It becomes a part of you and to eliminate it becomes painfully difficult or nearly impossible. Once God gets a hold of us, it requires a massive undertaking to reject convictions that had been arrived at through prayerful searching and inquiry.

  13. Wow, that was awesome. Did Dreher really let that stand at his blog? Absolutely awesome.

  14. Wow, Owen, that is a lot to digest. Thanks! I have to ponder it all.

    Needless to say, my experiences are far removed from yours or Joy's. I am a cradle Catholic. I was taught by nuns back when nuns looked like something out of The Bells of saint Mary's. When I was a little kid back in Dorchester, Mass., I used to borrow the Lives of the Saints from the bookmobile. My childhood -- like my Irish-ghetto neighborhood -- was steeped in Catholicism. I grew up with May processions and Novenas and statues of the Little Flower. My first ineffable experience of the numinous occurred when I was about five, during Benediction at Saint William's Church on Savin Hill Avenue, Dorchester. (This parish no longer exists. The building was sold to the Seventh Day Adventists, of all people.)

    Today, at age 61, I could no more be a non-Catholic than I could be a non-woman. It's part of me. It's part of a lot of the people I grew up with, too, even though some of them no longer practice their faith. Catholics of my generation may leave the Church, but the Church doesn't leave them.

    I can certainly understand how people could think the Little Audrey stuff is nuts, but that sort of thing makes perfect sense to me. As Greg Krehbiel once said (back when he still believed), God is weird. That is to say, He often does things that strike us as weird. Look at the Old Testament. Covenants confirmed with smoking braziers hovering over split entrails? That's pretty weird. In the light of such weirdness, well...why shouldn't Saint Joseph Cupertino fly? Why shouldn't Saint Januarius's blood liquefy? Why shouldn't Saint Bernadette's body remain completely incorrupt? Why shouldn't Padre Pio's hands bleed for 50 years? Why shouldn't Therese Neumann live exclusively on the Eucharist?

    When we were in Boston this past June, we visited a locally famous Italian church in the North End. It was absolutely crammed with statues. One of them was a statue of Saint Lucy. She was holding a little bowl with eyeballs in it. (Not real eyeballs, obviously.) I know some Catholics, even, who would be freaked out by this. But not me. This stuff's in my blood. (Side note: But that's where "Here comes everybody" comes in. There's a different aesthetic sensibility among German Catholics, say, than among Latin American Catholics. It varies from culture to culture and even from person to person. We aren't shoehorned into just one way of expressing our faith, spiritually or aesthetically or whatever. But I digress.)

    (continued next post)

    1. (cont'd)

      What you say about the appeal of Orthodox liturgy is very intriguing. I have been to an Orthodox Divine Liturgy only once in my life. It was while we were still living in the Boston area. My husband, who was then completing his dissertation on Basil II and his (Basil's) immediate successors, really wanted to experience the Byzantine liturgy, so he dragged me to a Greek DL. He liked it. I was bored stiff. I know that probably sounds weird to people who think the Byzantine liturgy is Heaven on earth. But it's the honest-to-goodness truth. I think part of the problem was that the liturgy was in Greek. My husband understands Greek; I don't. Plus -- and please don't bite my head off, y'all -- I am not all that keen on Byzantine chant. A lot of it sounds kinda like caterwauling to me. For me, the most ineffably beautiful religious music is Renaissance polyphony. I guess that just means I'm Latin in my blood and bones.

      I've tried to like Byzantine chant. One year, at our local Greek Festival, I bought a CD of chant sung by the monks of that Ephraimite monastery out in Arizona. I listened to it a fair number of times, but I never could warm to it. I'm transported by Josquin's Ave Maria and by Gabrieli's "O Magnum Mysterium," but not by Byzantine chant. (I do love some Russian religious music, though -- e.g., Rachmaninoff's Vespers -- but I understand this is not liturgical music per se...and, of course, Rachmaninoff was influenced by Western music to some extent, so he doesn't really count. ;))

      I guess it all comes down to what Prince Orlofsky says (or, rather, sings) in Die Fledermaus: "Chacun a son gout."

      (cont'd next post)

    2. (cont'd)

      I can understand why someone might find the Novus Ordo too Protestanty and the Tridentine Mass too remote, or something. Stuff like that doesn't bother me so much because, for me, Mass is kind of like Wagner's Liebestod, moving inexorably toward the climax, which is Communion. It's all about Communion. Right now we have a wonderful young priest at our little mission-parish. He celebrates Mass very reverently and beautifully, and we do all the responses in plainchant. It probably would seem a bit austere to someone used to the sensory overload and pageantry of the Orthodox liturgy, but I have never found it wanting; au contraire. But then, I think that's largely because, as I said, for me it's all about Communion. For me the supreme moment of the Mass is when I receive Communion. Everything before Communion just builds up to that moment.

      But, obviously, other people's mileage may vary. You movingly describe your experiences of Orthodox liturgy. I can relate, somewhat, because I've had deeply moving experiences, too, although they were specifically Latin-Rite Catholic experiences. For many Catholics, these experiences occur within the Domestic Church, in the context of "devotions" such as the Rosary, the Litany of the Sacred Heart, and the Divine Mercy Novena.

      And then there's Adoration. Adoration is not liturgical at all (except when it concludes with Benediction). You just sit or kneel there and soak up the Presence of God. There have been times when I have felt flattened against the wall by the palpable Presence of Christ at Adoration. I could never give this up.

      I think that's what it comes down to for me. In the words of the old Cole Porter song, "No, no, they can't take that away from me." If (hypothetically) I were forced to become Orthodox, I would love the icons and the candles and all that, but I would miss the statues and Novenas and Adoration chapels so much that I wouldn't be able to stand it. I'd have to sneak statues and rosaries back into my home or something, lol.

      Our local Greek Orthodox church is very beautiful inside. It has some of the most exquisite iconography I've ever seen. But every time I take the sanctuary tour, during the annual Greek Festival, I am struck by how alien it all feels. Obviously, we Catholics have icons, too, so it's not that alien. But there's something about the bright (not dim) interior, the chandelier hanging from the middle of the Pantocrater, the absence of statues...I dunno; I guess it's just a tad too Eastern for me. It doesn't feel like home. No doubt it would feel very home-like to an Eastern Catholic -- our "big tent" makes room for an endless variety of spiritualities. But it's not home-like to me. I can walk into an old-fashioned statue-crammed Catholic church -- like Our Lady of Grace in Greensboro -- and feel like Proust biting into his madeleine: My childhood comes rushing back at me. But not even the most beautiful, resplendent Orthodox church would have that effect on me. I dunno...maybe Hagia Sofia would. ;) But, much as I love iconostases, they don't touch that chord in my soul that's touched by tabernacles and statues and such. (Here I should mention that I do feel an affinity for Catholic church interiors that incorporate some Eastern elements. Saint Mark's in Venice, with its glimmering mosaics and exquisite Pala d'Oro, is one of the most amazing places on earth, IMHO. But then, it also has plenty of the Catholic "furniture" I'm used to, so it still feels very much like home. It doesn't make me feel as if some necessary part of me is being taken away from me.)

      OK, enough prolix rambling for now. Will chew over your very thoughtful responses some more this weekend.


    3. Hi Diane, Your posts touched me. I'm 60 and went to Catholic school for 7 years, daily Latin Mass, altar boy since first grade and wanted to be a priest. I left the RC for a Bible Church in high school in 1960. 22 years later I tried to go back to the RC but it wasn't the "Church of my childhood". The Tridentine folks were weird, the "normal parishes" in my city were like protestantism in robes, so I ended up East. I told my Mom it's like High Mass every Sunday. :)

    4. S-P, I have been thinking about your response ever since I read it. I meant to respond earlier.

      I wonder how many people have tried to return to Catholicism only to find that it didn't seem like the Church of their childhood. The liturgical wreckovators have much to answer for.

      My own return came via the Catholic charismatic renewal, which (in its Greater Boston incarnation) was very Catholicky. That's a lonnng story in itself, which I won't bore you with...but I guess it made me more tolerant of liturgical diversity. Although "the Church of my childhood" resonates most deeply with me, I must say that I will always have a soft spot for folding chairs in a Cenacle Retreat House meeting room with book tables along the walls. ;)
      Must get back to work. More later. And thanks for your very nice response. :)

  15. And, when it comes down to it, most non-Catholics expect to experience something in Catholic worship and life, based on Catholic descriptions, which simply is not experienced in visiting the typical American Catholic parish.

    Father David, where are you located? I think there are some big differences from region to region. A suburban parish in Indianapolis will be very different from a Spanish-speaking mission parish down here in North Carolina. I could elaborate on this, but I am way too tired to do so now. :)

    Re "outliers": Well, consider this. We are a very big church. There are more than 60 million of us in America alone. If you took all of those "outliers" and added them up, I bet the total would be greater than the total number of OCA and Antiochian parishes combined. IOW, yeah, we've got a lot of mediocrity, but yes, we also have a lot of NON-mediocrity, and the NON-mediocre parishes are numerically significant. If they are "outliers," then what is an OCA mission which people have to drive an hour to get to? ;)

  16. The crowds at Latin masses freak her out as "weird"....

    Yeah, they strike me that way, too. My N.O. mission parish is pretty normal by comparison. Like your wife, I have an aversion to the fringe. I once met a very dapper gentleman from a group called Tradition, Faith, and Family. He was weird. And don't even get me started on the Regnum Christi people I knew during the nine months we lived in Charlotte during the late '90s. (These ladies, who tried to suck me into Regnum Christi, are now vehemently ANTI the Legionaries and Regnum Christi. Very strange.)


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