Great Schism 2.0, or, 2018 - The Year Institutional Christendom Died




By Bp. Joseph Boyd (HCCAR)

Sept. 14th, 2018 - In 2013, as a toddler convert to Eastern Orthodoxy, I saw an ugliness that, at first, I tried hard to ignore. A “soft schism” between Hellenic and Slavic worlds settled into our daily lives as the reality of Orthodoxy in China. Both the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Moscow Patriarchate claimed China as their exclusive canonical territory, and neither one would give in to the other, concelebrate with one another, or recognize the presence of the other, revealing the deep division that was already solidly in place by the time I came onto the scene. I wanted Eastern Orthodoxy to be the answer for Western apostasy, to be an easy alternative to the hard process of rebuilding faithfulness and piety one generation at a time, through persecution and marginalization over many centuries. The understanding that communion could exist on paper for apologetic reasons and not in reality was deeply devistating. It was an extremely difficult time, and one that helped me understand the importance of the Anglocatholic theological inheritance, even though I had gone straight from being a lifetime Baptist to converting to Eastern Orthodoxy, and had no love for Anglicanism beforehand. I wrote extensively during this time, writing much of the deeper material that I have posted on this blog, as a way to work myself through the cognitive dissonance. Here were two churches that claimed to be the “one, true church,” and within them, there were factions that said that other weren’t really a part of that church - secretly, even if canonically compliant, ideologically and morally compromised. Trying to wade through these claims, as someone without a “horse in the race” and coming from the outside, I was overwhelmed with how much of the debate was about political loyalties, cultural affinities, and the assumption that something is good or right just because it reflects “our” identity or because it is familiar or resembles “us.” The strangeness, newness and liberating qualities of the Ancient Church in opposition to the Roman Empire was nowhere to be found, and in its place was a loyalty to a Romanitas that mistook the Roman Ecumene for the Kingdom of God. 

My father (who just passed away a few weeks ago, God rest his soul), always maintained that the Roman Catholic sexual scandals that happened in Cincinnati when he was an altar boy were the result of idolatry. On his 14th birthday he vowed never to return to the Roman Catholic Church, but one of his cousins, a victim of abuse, was not so lucky - the counsin's memory fading into hushed whispers of depression and suicide. My dad always told me that people made the Church into an idol, made sex into an idol, made man into an idol, and forgot God somewhere along the process. When I converted to Eastern Orthodoxy, I discovered that this was a mostly correct criticism, even in the East. Many people thought the Church saved, forgetting about Christ in the process, forgetting that He was a person, unbound by canon law or the weaknesses and foibles of 11th century prelates who had long mistaken their pastoral ministry for the power and wealth of princes and kings. My dad later got his life together, left the agnosticism that was his shelter during his teen years, and had a fruitful and life-giving ministry as a Baptist pastor for 35 years. He was always deeply suspicious of institutional Christianity, seeing the servanthood and poverty of Christ as the only true paradigm for Christian leadership, intentionally divesting self of power and authority. I came to see the futility and self-contradiction of building a Christian institution like the Baptist Denomination upon of suspicion of Historical Christianity, and especially the rejection of Catholicism, when human nature remains the same and the root of corruption that has prompted so much “Reformation” can never be illuminated by sectarianism. Instead, Catholicism needed to stop venerating later, cultural developments and return to its ancient, local, patristic paradigms and Protestantism needed to realize that it idolized personal freedom, discernment and even the Bible, and needed to return to the teachings and interpretations of the Ancient Church. 

This past week, in either a deeply ironic twist of fate or by divine providence, the Roman Catholic Church has started its inevitable division between the vast, liberal homosexual priesthood and a small remnant of conservative faithful, and the Eastern Orthodox Church has gone into schism with itself over political power, attitude towards ecumenism, and ecclesiological definitions. The Orthodox have revealed themselves to be what I’ve known them to be behind closed doors - vehement schismatics, cultural bigots, partisans, who are unmoved and uncaring about the missionary aspects of the Gospel. The Roman Catholics have revealed themselves to be what my father knew them to be - homosexual predators who prey upon young men and seminarians, with little care for integrity or sincerity. Both of these institutional deviancies have successfully hidden from scrutiny for generations, but for some reason, in these last days, have been made known to the world. And, now, judgment must begin in the house of the Lord. 



Both the sins of schism and homosexuality are perversions, lusts, that arise from a wrong view of Communion. Homosexuality is a twisted Eucharist in which a man is intimately united with another man as we should all be spiritually united with Jesus Christ, desiring to take in the other man’s attributes, personality or physical qualities in the way that Christians should desire unity with the Person of Christ. This is accomplished by a ritual, brutal, unnatural and intensely shaming and impersonal - exactly the opposite of what our Communion with Christ should be within the liturgy of the Church worship. Schism is also a misidentification of our union with other men, seeing it as the central aspect of the Eucharist, rather than knowing that we are only united to others at the Lord’s Table at Christ’s own volition. We are only united to others through Christ, in the mystery of faith, through the power of the Holy Spirit, Who makes us one Body of Christ through the work of making us all “Little Christs,” sanctifying us and drawing us ever into more perfect unity of heart and mind, through a love not our own. We have no power to exclude those we dislike or disagree with, if they have submitted to the Faith as outlined in the Nicene Creed and preserved in the continuity of the local catholic church. It is the Lord's Table, not our own. In both cases, the Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox have shown their understanding of the Eucharist to be based upon a human-oriented definition of Communion, focused on the acceptance and mediation by other men, rather than mankind acting as a vessel of grace, a transparent icon of God’s saving power, a self-depreciating and self-emptying function of the Church best illustrated by St. Paul’s axiom - “He must increase and I must decrease.”  

Today, on the Feast of the Exultation of the Cross, my birthday, I see how an instrument of torture (the Cross is like the Church in this respect), can be a source of light and life, if we can hold the collision of divinity and humanity together in a dynamic tension in which the Church, like Christ’s Incarnation, is the crux of God’s divine economy of grace and the empowering reality of the sacraments. What is of man is always man’s and what is of God is always God’s, but the two come together in an indivisible unity in the Person and Being of Jesus Christ. In this way, the Church is a flawed, human, deeply troubled organization. Like my Dad always said, “If you find the perfect church, don’t join it, because then it won’t be perfect anymore.” But, the Church is also filled with the Holy Spirit, who leads and guides into all truth, and who is forming us into the image and likeness of Christ - a process that will only be complete at the Second Coming. The Church, like the Bronze Serpent that was lifted up in the wilderness, can lose its meaning and function if people forget what it accomplished by God’s command and start seeing it as a “thing unto itself.” When that happens, it becomes an idol and not an icon. It ceases pointing to something beyond itself and is seen as an origin of power, rather than a vehicle of grace. Then, like God commanded in the Old Testament, the symbol of salvation is crushed and burned, like the Bronze Serpent condemned as an idol by the prophets of old. 

We see this process right now in the Church, as we begin a long sojourn in the wilderness, a period of extreme difficulty and alienation that will test the depths of our faithfulness and obedience. Through this time of destruction and schism, we see that the Church has, in many ways, become an idol and is being used to shelter pagan worship and false sacraments. In ancient days, the Temple of God was filled with idols and strange fire was burnt upon the altars, and they had to clean out the temple and rediscover the Scriptures, repenting in sackcloth and ashes that they had forgotten God’s commands. The Temple had not maintained its holiness, even though God did not forget His Covenant, and no prophet ever maintained that the temple maintained its holiness, “validity” or “infallibility” merely because it was the temple and God made His promises - the way a covenant works, both sides have to keep the requirements of the promise, not only in external appearance, but also in the thoughts and intents of the heart. Fortunately, God always allows us to turn, repent, and re-enter the Covenant that He has established, and we see this over and over, as each generation had to rediscover and return to God in one way or another. 

These are hard realities to accept, as institutions collapse and apologetic claims to ecclesial superiority are disproven, wrecking the certainty of many pious believers and desperate converts. The message has always been clear: “Turn from idols and seek the living God, for only He is mighty to save.” And, as it was in the beginning, only a remnant will stay faithful to the One, True God, while the rest fall away, worshiping Baal in the groves and the mountaintops, forgetting the Word of the Lord and His Covenant with His People.

And so, we pray with the great Anglocatholic Father, William Laud: "Gracious Father, we pray for thy holy Catholic Church. Fill it with all thy truth, in all truth with all peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where is is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of Jesus Christ thy Son our Savior. Amen!"



Comments

  1. There is only one holy, catholic, and apostolic church. It's bigger than its branches.

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  2. In the Book of Revelation the true paradigm of the Church is revealed. The seven local churches are each dealt with and governed by Christ Himself. The fact that some of them have heresy in them, or the worse sin of prideful Orthodoxy, as in the Church of Ephesus, does not negate them as Churches claimed by, and in Christ’s direct care through the ministry of “angels” or ministering spirits!

    So in this barren wasteland of ecclesial pride, arrogance and apostasy, what communion and unity must the faithful immediately embrace? How quickly and simply ought the faithful to listen to their Shepherd by hearing His voice and joining together in the ecclesial unity of the Church revealed in the book of Acts!

    Practically we MUST beat our breasts, rend our hearts and return to the Lord!

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