Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Speaking only for myself

and not claiming to speak for my church body (the ACC-OP), a comment I just posted and replied to, has moved me to say something that may prove controversial.

My wife and I, on behalf of the parish, have spent most of the afternoon and evening laboring to meet the desperate needs of a homeless person on a freezing night, something that normally I would not mention, but keep secret. After all this, I find myself doubly irritated by the activities of Eastern Orthodox bloggers who have been expressing their madness and hostility in reaction to my brother's beautiful column about one of the most loved and holy people my family ever knew.

Yes, we called her Aunt Susie because, in the 1960s, Maryland was still a Southern State with Southern culture-it was a title no one would use today (nor did I know any reason not to suppose she was a flesh and blood aunt, being a child at the time), and so almost modern PC "liberals" presume they have some right to act like self-righteous morons about it. But, God knows, no one meant any disrespect, indeed, just the opposite. She was half Black and half Cherokee; to us she was family, as beloved as any relative, and respected far more.

My brother's column, that I reproduced on The Continuum, has been maligned by the kind of Orthodox Christians I think of as "the usual suspects." They are angry because David Bentley Hart dared to contradict a beloved Abbott, some mostly harmless geezer who presumes to tell the world that only in the Eastern Orthodox Church can there be any holiness. On one of their blogs (that someone linked to The Continuum without our approval), some demented blogger demonstrated his own racism, complete with images, from his own overtly racist heart, of a black face minstrel, and references to something he called "the magical negro" and to "mammy," to accuse my brother of covert racism. God, how ironic. His own bigotry against Aunt Susie (she will forever be family to me), for being a Protestant, caused him to vent fully by using his racist bigotry (complete with racist imagery that he imposed on the whole story), as a defense. He could not defend the Ortho-Chauvinism of the beloved Abbott, so he deflected the bigotry of his own evil heart on to my brother's First Things column.

As if this was not demented enough, the comments on that blog have taken a twist and turn to the "usual suspect" complaint that my brother does not appreciate the essential divide between "East and West" over the question of "Divine Simplicity" against the difference between "Essence and Energies." You may wonder what this kind of academic theology (and, academic is the most it can be) has to do with real life, indeed with Christianity at all, especially against the holiness of a real life saint whom these One True Churchers would exclude from the Church altogether, simply for not belonging to the correct country club. Frankly, it has nothing to do with real life, and nothing to do with God and His Son Jesus Christ. (That absurd little "Acolyte" says that Western Christians perceive of God merely as the Highest Being among beings, making no distinction between created and Wholly Other Uncreated. He says this is the difference between "Western" Christianity and Orthodoxy. What does that mean? It means, he has a completely false understanding of "Western Theology." And, don't tell him that Augustine is a Saint in the East as well as the West, because you would ruin his whole day).

The Two One True Churches have a lot to learn. They demand our respect, but don't try to earn it. The Roman Catholics have yet to speak with humility, despite the obvious moral failure of their system. They still talk down to the rest of us. Certain members of the Orthodox Church (except for notable exceptions, such as my brother and Fr. Partick Henry Reardon) need also to demonstrate humility and charity, if only to strike a balance against the hate mongers and overly academic theology bloggers who give their whole Church such a bad name.

Many years ago I felt great respect for Rome and for Orthodoxy, and felt the burden to gain their respect for Continuing Anglicanism. Now I feel very differently. It is high time that the Two One True Churches demonstrated humility and charity, for right now they are failing to earn our respect.


Addison said...

Thanks, my brother, for saying it straight.

To put it very, very simply, so that even a high octane "defender" of the one true church (whichever one of the one true churches that could be): If you don't sound or act like Jesus, or at least make some attempt to do so, you aren't really one of his followers. It doesn't matter which brand of Christianity you adhere to, it's simply obvious that the "Jesus" part of the whole thing just didn't "take" with you. "They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me."

Aunt Susie, whom I knew possibly even better than either of my two younger brothers, always sounded and acted in a way that reflected a deep, daily, abiding dwelling with Jesus Christ. I think that's all that need be acknowledged. Since that character is clearly not evident among some little tin dogmatists who have shown their bile as self-appointed representatives of their institutions, all I can put to them is that they might want to consider some other role in life and on the web than trying to be "apologists", which requires at least a minimal amount of winsomeness. Obviously, they haven't the gift or the acumen for it. If I didn't know a large number of good, fine, sound Orthodox believers -- all of whom would be scandalized by the idiocy demonstrated by their co-religionists here --, I would no more seriously think of turning to Orthodoxy than I would be tempted to join the Westboro Baptist Church. At least, not based on the rantings of some of its defenders here. So, to them I plead: Please, please don't dishonor Orthodoxy by trying to defend it again, at least not until you've grown up and had a few sobering experiences of life. And, if you're old, it may just be you've missed your opportunity altogether. Best, then, just to be quiet, or sell your computer to avoid further temptation to hubris, and go pray silently. Maybe God can still reach you, and you can yet become something recognizably "Christian" in character.

I'll ask Aunt Susie to pray for you, perhaps. I'm sure she loves you.

Addison H. Hart+

Brendan said...

Well said, Fr Hart.
I for one was deeply moved by the wonderful story of Aunt Suzie and emailed it to a couple of friends noting how Aunty Suzie and the like who truly lived the Christian gospel.
Such small minded people can "get under our skin" but I would imagine most readers saw and read in the correct spirit.

Father Gregory Wassen said...

I too, Father, speak only for myself. But as an Orthodox Christian myself I have often felt a heavy burden of shame on behalf Obnoxiodoxy - the kind of Orthodoxy you have described above. It is a very troubling trend to me that isolation and bodily deterioration are considered to be indicative of an equal spiritual development in the opposite direction.

I have seen and been with holy people. People who were radiant with Christ and only one of them was Orthodox, to be precise a Coptic Orthodox Priest-monk from Amsterdam. He would probably not fit the Obnoxiodox standard because he is a Copt. David Hart and those like him, who know that the East West divide is mostly a pernicious myth, are bright lights in a Church very few such lights shine.

For what it's worth - I am truly sorry.

Fr. Gregory Wassen

charles said...

Hello Fr. Hart,

I don't think black face is funny at all and very degrading. But I would like to add something about EO.

In the last couple decades we've probably suffered more casualties by way of EO propaganda than by Rome. EO seems to get a free pass because it's apparently critical of the papacy, thus slipping under Protestant radar. Yet EO despises Western doctrine. Forget the filioque, Aristotle, or Rome, it's Augustine that is the problem. Such EO doctrines and teachings have tangled themselves so far into Anglican roots, that our own priests are largely doing the work of that Abbot mentioned above.

Lastly, this goes back to the renegotiation of the Reformation Settlement, led by liberal Catholics a century ago. Rather than the 1662 or even 1637 prayer book and 39 articles, Canterbury placed the Creed and eucharist as minimal terms of peace, allegedly eliminating 'contentious' points. Obviously this proved ineffective, but it began a head-long dive into the present day identity crisis. Get five anglicans in the same room, and we won't agree if we're Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or Protestant. The problem is we've defined ourselves in universal rather than particular terms. This is tantamount to dissolving the provincial church!

I am waiting for the day when Anglicans will say "five centuries received by our church as expressed in the prayer book, 39 articles, two books of homilies, and those documents appointed for use in the church of England". I can list a half-dozen appointed documents right here, but some will upset folks. Nonetheless, the appointed documents are the only way out. Otherwise, we pick and choose our favorite 'period' divines in order to further party position. And, often even these party favorites are abstracted from their own convictions.

If the anglican standards are wrong or insufficient, then what reason do we have to remain Anglicans? It logically follows we either join Rome or EO, and this has been the problem.

Paul Rimmer said...


I am very sorry your brother was maligned and insulted.

There is one consolation. The insults against him are so baseless and untethered to reality, they could only be believed by fanatics.

In a sense, their insults are as sign of the strength of your Brother's position, because they could do no better.

How could anyone provide an honest and convincing argument against charity?

When people make little of love, they make little of Christ. That's not a mark of the True Church.

Any Eastern Orthodox out there believe your church is the One True Church? Prove it to us with your love.

My prayers are with you and your family, Father Hart.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

By the way, we Continuing Anglicans also have things to be humble about; but, at least we never claimed to be the One True Church--or, rather, we do make that claim, but not exclusively. We are in "the blessed company of all faithful people."

Anonymous said...

Well, after reading this, Fr. Hart, I just had to go and Google that blog. Sadly, I was successful in finding it. Ick. I felt like I needed a shower afterwards too.

Happily, there are Orthodox Christians, a few of whom have commented here in these comments boxes, who share our sense of disgust.

The content of that blog discussion presents an important example of why it is my wife and I why are leaving the Orthodox Church for Continuing Anglicanism. Not that this despicable blog represents the norm, but rather it's something like Athonism on steroids, with an American punk accent. The latter refers to the form, but it's the former that is the repository of the content. Our abbot at St. Anthony's draws the "Holy Mountain" on it as if it were a well of life-giving water, rather than the hateful and intellectually shallow stuff it is. (Those Athonites - they really do love the Pope, don't they?)


Anonymous said...

"I have seen and been with holy people. People who were radiant with Christ...."

Me too. But then I recall Karl Barth's
saying that "the fruits of the Spirit are visible to faith." I have known many run-of-the-mill dull Christians whose sanctity was of a very private sort. Like the woman who always appeared morose and bitter, but had lived a quietly heroic life caring for a schizophrenic invalid husband. She would tell me privately, "Prayer keeps me going," and I knew it was true.

We are in the second half of Advent, when we reflect for two Sundays on St John Baptist, as man whom no one would describe as "radiant with Christ." But we know Who said "among those born of women no one is greater than John the Baptist."


The Midland Agrarian said...

Father Hart,
The post in question (regarding your brothers essay) was truly one of the meanest things I have seen in the religious blogosphere in a long time.

I guess in being "Orthodox" some people forget to be Christian.

However, This event is useful when I need to explain to questioners why in spite of decades of marriage to a lovely EO woman, there are reasons why I happily attend an Anglican church.


Jackie K. said...

Amazing. Simply amazing (in a bad way!). I too, grew up in the more genteel South and the woman I wrote of, Aunt Onie was WHITE. Aunt and Uncle were never racist when I was growing up, but titles of *respect* for elders who deserved it. Sorry others (surely NOT from the South) don't understand that. There are many saints from many corners of the earth...but you have to open your eyes and heart to see them.

Anonymous said...

Many years ago, when I was still a layman, a priest whom I greatly admired was in the process of joining one of the numerous Orthodox churches. With convert zeal, he attempted to convince me to join him in such an adventure. He placed into my hands two books by Bishop Kallistos Ware (then known simply as Timothy Ware) and some less erudite writings by Fr Thomas Hopko All of these I read with a fairly open mind. This was in 1979, when the Continuing Church did not appear to have much of a future.

When I had finished this exercise, I then knew exactly why Orthodoxy was not an option for me, why in fact it is fraught with theological errors far more dangerous than Roman Catholicism.

It is easy to point out the shortcomings
of a kind of Orthodoxy which attacks Dr Hart and which Fr Wasson deplores. It would be more to the point to come to grips with the errors of EO at its best: the denial of original sin, denial of our Saviour's work as the penal substitute for us, denial of Justification as the Scriptures teach it.

Anonymous said...

My family has been Orthodox for as long as anyone has knowledge. While there are many problems in the Church, I have never, ever met a single individual in any parish in any country with the attitude expressed by these blogs - I think these broad statements about the Orthodox based on 3-4 bloggers is completely unwarranted. While these bloggers are certainly worthy of censure - and I certainly pray they will seek help for their total capitulation to numerous passions - the best thing anyone can do is simply ignore them.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

I wish it were only 3 to 4.

Most of these fellows are converts and self-loathing westerners. But, truth is, if you are a faithful EO, they are your problem, whether you have run into them yet or not.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Fr. Wells wrote:

It would be more to the point to come to grips with the errors of EO at its best

I must take a deeper look at two things here. 1. They do not deny original sin, but rather define it short of inheriting guilt. They see mankind as fallen into sin and death (as one coin with two sides), and sin as the consequence of death for all human beings after Adam's Fall. 2. Not all the Orthodox deny penal substitution and justification (indeed, up through the 18th century it was proclaimed very well in many Orthodox venues, and is still very popular on Mt. Athos). In fact, by reconciling St. Anselm and EO teaching, my brother has shown the un-Orthodoxy of this brand of unorthodoxy.

The problem with both of these denials, when and where they do occur (and, it is obvious that the disease is spreading), seems to be an inability to see God as the Lawgiver, and a disdain for Law as such. They use the word "forensic" as if God was not the Author of the Law and Commandments. They detest the revealed language of sacrifice as if it is more profitable an exercise to explain away Scripture than to attend to the wisdom therein. And, the root seems to be the anti-Western cult that is so important to so many of them. Anything, even heresy, is their preference over what they deem as "western."

But, what a slippery animal. Is this really E. Orthodoxy, or the latest fad? The Anonymous commenter above claims never to have across any of these problems. I wonder where he lives, and still hold out hope for the E. Orthodox there, wherever that may be.

Anonymous said...

Dear Father et al, When people make little of love, they make little of Christ. That's not a mark of the True Church.

Any Eastern Orthodox out there believe your church is the One True Church? Prove it to us with your love.

My prayers are with you and your family, Father Hart."
And I would concur.

I quote Paul Rimmer "I like to touch of this " making little of Christ" comment, which relates to a present situation in our Church. Unfortunately I have to sign this comment as anonymus, which I dont really like, but otherwise my comments might get me into trouble. You recall your blog about Bishop Leo Michael of the HCCAR taking over a Church building and sacking the Rector, well Bishop Leo is on the warpath again, this time he feels that he should be the Metropolitan of the HCCAR, break the ties with all foreign Bishops in the Church and turn into the an exclusive American Church. As a Bishop in charge of the website and the clergy list, he has let the website go, i.e. no work is being done on it, and he has removed Abp.Kleppinger from the clergy list. This means that other Clergy have to keep the Abp informed of the developments. Also , ironically the Treasurer of the HCCAR is Lyn Baxter an all time supporter of Bishop Leo, so the Abp cannot get his hand on any funds. Initially Bishop Leo left all the e-mails slinging dirt to Father Jaraya and the language he used to describe certain Clergy and the Abp is not fit for a Clergyman to use. Finally Bishop Leo jumped into the action and wrote a note on the clergy list calling for a Provincial Synod and signing it " the college of Bishops". He is not even in charge of the College of Bishops. The ultimate purpose of such a synod is offcourse to try to whip the Primate out. Most of the Bishops are behind +Thomas. Bishop Leo only has an Indian Bishop and one or three Bishops emeritus behind him.We in the Hccar AND HCccwr are right behind our Primate, even acting whatever. When is Bishop Leo going to stop and learn something about Christian humility and love ? We all know his chequered history. How can we as a Church expect to draw others to Christ. Lord have mercy. Once again my apologies for writing anonmously , but I strong felt that this matter should be out in the open and people should see Bishop Leo for what he really is.
If only we as continuing Anglican Church could see it fit as becoming one strong body.
Advents blessings,
Anonymously Yours