Thursday, December 20, 2012

Orthodox And Authority

Ron Dreher has an interesting article on how men respond to Eastern Orthodox Christianity.
Both Podles, in his 1999 book, and the Vancouver Sun reporter, looking into contemporary church statistics in Canada, observe that the Orthodox churches, small though they may be, do not have this problem attracting men to services. For my part, one of the first things I noticed about attending Orthodox liturgy was how many men were there. In the opening passage of her memoir Facing East, the Orthodox writer Frederica Mathewes-Green observes this too:
I find this interesting. I have often complained that when people do statistical analysis of Catholics that the liberal Catholics overwhelm the orthodox ones. That makes it hard for orthodox Catholics to see how they are doing in the categories that are studied by cross denominational research. So seeing this it made me think I should look at the Eastern Orthodox category more. We might track with them better than we track with the full Catholic church. There are a few problems though. In some places the Eastern Orthodox church is dominated by converts. In other places it is more, well, eastern. That is if there are a lot of Russians or Greeks or Ukrainians then you will get more of the cultural religious dynamic in that church as well. How many studies are going to include that kind of information?

Then there is another difference that Dreher talks about.
Another thought: in my 15 or so years as a Roman Catholic, I only rarely worshipped in a parish in which I related to the priest as an authority figure. I believed that his sacramental authority was real, but I’m talking about his pastoral authority. Most of the priests I dealt with struck me as — what’s the word? — is it soft? I wanted and needed a pastor, not a guidance counselor. There was a lack of masculine authority present, and I felt it. I can think of at least five Catholic pastors in my personal experience who did have and exercise spiritual and moral authority in a masculine way, and they were great. They reminded me of my own father: caring, but strong and authoritative.
This is fair. As an Orthodox Catholic I do relate to the church as an authority. It does not come down to the parish level all that well. You hear a fair bit about clericalism and how important it is for laymen to take positions of leadership. That is all good but it should not detract from the authority of the priest. Just like the authority of the church does not detract from the authority of Christ but it implements that authority because church leaders are in unity with Christ. So to having lay leaders does not need to detract from the authority of the priest. If it is done right and the lay leaders are in unity with the parish priest then his authority is going to be greater not less.

Somehow that has gotten lost and weaker priest have become the rule in the Catholic church at least in the post Vatican II generation. Part of it is a culture of consensus that encouraged priests not to act life fathers but to try and be one of the children instead. It is related to a culture of dissent that flowed from the reaction to Humanae Vitae. That is changing more and more at the bishop level. It might take some time to get down to the parish priest level but I suspect it will.

Another part of it is just the number of priests and the size of the parish. It is hard to project a fatherly authority when you have two priests and thousands of parishioners. I think the Orthodox church is smaller so the priests can project that authority a lot easier. That is likely to change over time as well. Either more priests or less parishioners or both.

No comments:

Post a Comment