Wednesday, June 30, 2010

My Problem With Orthodoxy - Reframed

I am greatly attracted to Eastern Orthodox theology, and for one such as I, that is often enough, regardless of what practical difficulties arise. Orthodox worship, I like many elements of. I cannot seem to enter into it easily, but I imagine with practice that would come.

I have held against Orthodoxy its collaboration with any number of evil governments. Because of my Baptist friends in Romania, and the executions of them the Orthodox priests arranged within my lifetime, I have an especial anger; but the pattern has been the same in Russia, in the Balkans. It was not always just infiltration by government agents, forced upon them.

Kaplan's book has given me a new spin on this, and there is much to consider. The Romanian intellectuals he spoke with offered a similar theme about the relation of Orthodoxy to the culture. They divide the Protestant and Catholic West from the Orthodox East more thoroughly than we are used to doing here. They see the underlying culture of Romania as less European, more tied to Asia and the Near East. Kaplan gives numerous examples of cultural tells and political approaches meeting with Romanian officials. Transylvania they consider a middle ground. Romanians want to be Westerners, especially Americans. They point to their Latinate language as evidence of their Westernness.

I have stories on that myself, but a section of the book says it better.

Kaplan quotes Horea-Roman Patapievici
"The task for Romania is to acquire a public style based on impersonal rules, otherwise business and policies will be full of intrigue, and I am afraid our Eastern Orthodox traditon is not helpful in this regard. Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Macedonia, Russia, Greece - all the Orthodox nations of Europe - are characterized by weak institutions. That is because Orthodoxy is flexible and contemplative, based more on the oral traditions of peasants than on texts. Unlike Polish Catholicism, it never challenged the state. Orthodoxy is separated from, yet tolerant of, the world as it is: fascist, Communist, or democratic, because it has created an alternate world of its own based on the peasant village. In this way, Orthodoxy reconciles our ancient heritage with modern glitz."

Indeed, Teoctist, the last leader of a major institution to profess undying loyalty to Ceaucescu, only days before his execution, was still the Orthodox Patriarch in 1998. The church here was continuing its oppression of Greek Catholic Uniates - Orthodox Christians who went over to the pope several hundred years ago. (Historically, Orthodox churches have enjoyed better relations with Moslems than with Western Christians, seeing the latter as a greater threat.)
Intersting, and a pattern I think not limited to the Orthodox. It may be a general rule that people have more enmity toward a local competitor who can be seen, who competes for goods, land, and status from the next village, than toward the faraway oppressor. Only when war is active, and the soldiers of the oppressor become visible, is the anger directed toward them.

(Note, BTW, the inclusion of Greece as an essentially non-Western country. Romanians resent that Truman rescued Greece but not Romania after WWII. They believed they were more suited for union with the West. Interesting question, in light of recent events.)

Which is chicken and which is egg? Does the contemplative, otherworldly emphasis of Orthodoxy allow the state to become oppressive unopposed, or is the flexibility a result of living under oppressive regimes?


Unknown said...

Orthodoxy transcends politics. You questions relate to human beings who, for whatever reasons, made decisions or cooperated with governments for their own reasons. This has nothing to do with Orthodoxy. All it demonstrates is that Orthodoxy is made up of human beings, all of whom are complicated, opinionated, loyal or disloyal, smart or dumb, spiritual or worldly. I think every communion is filled with people like this. Try focusing on Dogma and Theology, and you may get to Orthodoxy. Your problem is that the wrong things are important to you!

Dr x said...

Since these aren't mutually exclusive influences, couldn't it be be both from the outset--an overdetermined state of affairs?

Anonymous said...

I converted to Orthodoxy some years ago, finding the purity and consistency of the doctrine very appealing ("focusing on Dogma and Theology," as "James" would have it) and believing I could learn/find my way into the way of life.


It has turned out to be an impermeable ancient village, and the ways that the doctrine is applied and lived makes no sense at all emotionally, spiritually, or logically to this Western Someone. The only logic is that not only non-resistance to tyranny, but the comparative appeal of tyranny as rooted in the mindset, seems rather clear.

I'm not particularly sorry, can't go back, but the contradictions are quite indescribable. Goes much deeper than, "oh, well, there are sinful people everywhere."

Anonymous said...

"Which is chicken and which is egg? Does the contemplative, otherworldly emphasis of Orthodoxy allow the state to become oppressive unopposed, or is the flexibility a result of living under oppressive regimes?"

Very interesting question, to which I have no definitive answer (imagine that!). With relatively few, although quite significant exceptions, the history of Romania is a history of oppressive regimes, either foreign or domestic. The Orthodox church was forced to become flexible in order to survive (and thrive).

The (Romanian) Orthodox church has no tradition of social work and no desire for that. It has always sought and reached a certain accommodation with the rulers of the time (see Teoctist), and otherwise it was generally happy to stay out of politics and any other wordly affairs.

Whether or not this stance has been beneficial is another topic ( I personally believe it wasn't), but for better or worse the church's main goal seems to be self-preservation before anything else. Not the preservation of the flock, but the preservation of the shepherd.

Going back to the original question, there is truth in both alternatives, and most likely they go hand in hand.