September 02, 2002

A Byzantine Perspective
Our Byzantine Catholic parish included a long article on what is the "real crisis" in the church, and it is persuasive. I couldn't find it anywhere online but Hegumen Nicholas and Stavrophore Maximos make the point that all of us are called to form what St. Peter refers to as a 'royal priesthood' and points out the errors in so-called 'conservative' and 'liberal' prescriptions:

There was a time within living memory when the institutional Church seemed much stronger...The 'conservative' is acutely aware of the comparative weakness of the current institution. His solution is to bring the institution back to its former glory by a program of moral and doctrinal discipline....The conservative and liberal error in that they both view the Church primarily as a thing rather than a mystery. They both tend to see the Church through the prism of the secular world. Consequently, both are obssessed by the organization of the Church, especially with the institutional priesthood...The world can only comprehend the Church as a means to some end. Conservatives to make it more moral, liberals to make it more modern....[The Church] is not a means to an end. It is the end! The Church is the goal of all creation: to be incorporated in Christ. Membership in Christ is a sacramental fact, which is to say, it is a mystery.


It is here we face the real priestly crisis. Christians do not want totally to consecrate their lives to God. Monasticism and martyrdom are no longer the models. Instead the models are drawn from secular systems of moral or pyschological 'improvement', so that the ideal Christian is no longer seen as the saint but as either the moral paragon, or perhaps worse, the well-adjusted person . We do not want to measure ourselves against eternal life...Moral and pyschological health are no longer seen in their correct perspective as indicators of a more profound sanctity with its roots in eternity. They are viewd as goals in themselves. It is as though salvation in Christ was merely designed to make us better or happier.

The ordained priesthood is drawn out of this other priesthood (that of the laity) and exists to serve it by ensuring that its holiness becomes concrete in the lives of Christians.

In other words, we cannot expect the instituitional priesthood to be holier than the charismatic priesthood which is its source. The clergy do not create holiness. At best, they can only express it. If the people of God prefer not to exercise their priesthood it is inevitable, and even perhaps desirable, that all other orders in the Church should also suffer. The Church can never be reformed purely as an institution. That would be a terrible curse: to have a well-functioning organization which will come to an end with the rest of the world! God has given us not an institution but a mystery; not a thing that will finish and die, but a life to be lived eternally.

This view seems dead-on. I posted a quote from Ratzinger a few days ago (via Mr. Dylan) that pointed out the constant tendency of humans to see the Church in strictly moral terms. But morality is not an end in itself. This Byzantine view is such a healing one because it recognizes the "reason for the season" - i.e. everything: Christ.

Lots to discuss & recuss here, but one thing is that I can see constantly that emphasis on spirituality 'done' for our mental health - as an end in itself. Some of the saints weren't the most mentally balanced folks, so that article was telling since our culture does preach 'health uber alles'. A friend has told me that she doesn't trust many of the saints because they were 'crazy'.

And Prayer?
This is interesting to me is where prayer begins being about "us", our health & happiness and not about pleasing God. If prayer leads to scrupulosity or depression, then of course it is not of God and should be discarded. But if some time of prayer is 'boring' or is not fun in the sense of focusing on Christ instead of ourselves and our needs (I'm thinking of the rosary here, and its mediations on the mysteries) then...

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