They say, “If the shoe fits, wear it”, and so as it comes to anti-Catholicism, there may be a large number of variations, but the truth is that while some seem to slip into these shoes, it’s the odd fit we notice, or the shoe squeaks, and on the whole… it’s just as they say, “ain’t fittin'”.
Three thoughts: First, we Orthodox are catholic, and whether we like it or not, whatever we say that even in charity detracts from Catholicism also detracts from ourselves. Second, “insiders” often find some measure of discomfort within their Church, and while this is “normal” in terms of representing an aspect within ourselves, it is done in a love that recognizes a burr under the saddle as the seed of our repentance, and somehow from within it stirs a spiritual response that from another source serves merely as distraction. We should not tempt ourselves in this way and become obstacles to another’s spiritual warfare. Thirdly, there is and will always be some measure of disdain for incarnate christianity, some misunderstanding, some dislike, and even outright hostility, but responding in kind and bickering between one and the other of our two churches does nothing to advance the Kingdom and only serves the agenda of witnessing to the sins of our fallen state.
I suppose that any Orthodox christian who is anti-Catholic probably has some more work to do in conversion of their heart and in becoming a person of inheritance in his or her parish than they think. I’d imagine as well that if we’re stuck at this level, we’re still inculcating something of an “ology” of some sort far short of true, loving, prayerful theology of the Church, and our prayer is still in some need somewhere. We are christians after all, and not partisans. But I have my own warts… and the journey is never over… even here.
Many Popes (certainly the last three) and Roman Catholics have expressed their special love for our own, for our services, our clergy and sacraments and this us a credit they give no other. We should and must! return this warmth. I know of those for whom the Catholic tradition contributed much to their conversion and worship, but I would extend the credit even more broadly, and suppose that in more ways than we suppose, the Orthodox may have freely received more benefits than generally credited as a result of Catholic church’s engagement with the world, her strength, her offerings and equally her sufferings, and more than we imagine, she, too has suffered… and in these, we may have been free riders just as much as the tables may run the other way as well from time to time. By suggesting this, I don’t want to lessen the Orthodox Church’s understanding herself and her own history, but simply to pierce some of the fog that so often settles and pools, and unless we are candid, causes us to miss the obvious. Take for instance that all pretense and bother to the contrary, like it or not, to the rest of the world, the Pope is more often the face of Christianity and a light when it shines brightly as a beacon of unity and breadth that helps or hurts us all in one way or another.
Surely there remain rivalries both here and abroad, now and in the past, and again undoubtedly there will be more. But whatever our history, let us be first to forgive. Let us also remember the pain of our brothers and sisters before our own. Let us seek them out and lift them as well as we endeavor to renew and restore what has for long been dormant in our own church… the spirit of evangelism and engagement. Let us re-imagine each of ourselves from hearts steeped in charity and credit that which is good not in ourselves, but in the other. Let us take the first steps rather than the last, and let us leave off any special pleadings – with history, with our publics, and even with friendly governments as if “intercession by whining” were ever appealing.
Face it… if it were working, the saints, the Theotokos and all the company of heaven would have already answered our ill-offered prayers… so let us leave off those to take up prayers which would join our company in one body. Let us even credit a friendly rivalry as good for the service of the Church and the worship of Christ; and welcome what we may have earlier disdained. Let us be thankful for traditional Popes and their leadership as much as we are for forward thinking Orthodox patriarchs and their love and charity as well, for all these are the stuff which makes for renewal of the Holy Spirit’s love in the broad arms of her Church.
No one should suggest there is a lack of riches within the Catholic Church, as though it had never been Orthodox. But it has been and is Orthodox today just as we have been and are Catholic. And there is still much more that is Orthodox than we suppose… even perhaps more Orthodox in spirit than that which animates many of our own breasts from time to time. More, I’d add that even that which is not or may not be to our liking or the flavor of christianity we prefer and as we think (but don’t know) it is experienced in Catholic churches… we should credit that much of this may nevertheless contributes more vibrantly to the lives of her faithful and breathe more of the Spirit into their lungs – and even exercise more of their bodies in christian living than we may be managing with all our Jesus prayers, our liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, our prostrations, fasting and all our emphasis on beauty, icons and all the rest. The fullness of the Catholic church, her charities, and all is a wonder to admire and give thanks for. Let us do so.
Similarly, I’m not sure what folks complain about… maybe I haven’t shared all the anti-Orthodox history… and I almost never encounter it in person other than on the internet…. and I live in Catholic heaven. But here on the net if not eslewhere, perhaps Roman Catholics might consider that their wonderous catechism records a list of teachings for their benefit – not necessarily for all the rest of us… and sharing what they spot as deficient, schismatic and heretical in what they think they observe of our lives many not be as helpful to Orthodox as they intend. Mind you, I’m not debating their points… just noting the icy reception ain’t what I think was expected. Point is, these recited wonders are listed for your benefit…. and they work there. It’s not working here any better than our “suggestions” going your way do either. Give it a rest and we’ll agree to do the same. Truth is, our real obstacles are much more mundane: Showing up in church, coming in on time, fasting according to the guidelines rather than our own shortcuts, giving alms, going to confession regularly and taking it seriously, saying our prayers and being honest with ourselves, with our priest, and with Christ, and especially serving the poor and those in need. You credit us far too much when you want to argue our theology or ecclesiology!!! Don’t tempt me! Sure… we all love the distraction…. but…
There is much we should look forward to with love: There is a time coming when we will all pray together, worship together and even share the same Eucharist… not likely in my lifetime, but soon as it may be pleasing to God … and that soon may mean in the Kingdom of Heaven…but one day and before the Final Day, it will also be here on earth that we share again. But we should pray for each other here and now, and for all our holy patriarchs, clergy, churches and people.
In the meantime, the sundering of our churches had almost continued to the point of an unbecoming, blasphemous self-contentment. Our complacency isn’t a measure of our virtue or constancy, but a measure of our conceit, our pecuniarity and the poverty of our spirituality. The world sees our separation as refutation of our pretense to love. We must begin our renewal with each other in all earnestness, with our two churches coming together again, and a journey towards each other over the next thousand years that rediscovers how we heal a wounded world in the service of Christ.
Finally, let me close by saying that but for the breath of a moment that never was, I might have become a happy Catholic (lucky you guys!) but my heart instead went hook, line and sinker for another… and it was meant to be …as any marriage of the Spirit surely is. But there was that moment… and if only one German priest and his family visitors who “led” me along through the Sistine Chapel – clearly dialed up by Central Casting! I mean he “looked” the part in every way! – if only he had turned and asked for my conversion right then and there… it’d have happened. But he didn’t… and he was clearly far too sweet to ever dream of trespassing on my charity in that way, and surely too good to ever conform to that stereotype (and I credit him for that),but truth is that I can see credit in the stereotype well these days. But there rest as they say… is my history.