Wednesday, June 28, 2006

two Serbian writers on 20th-c. councils

I've been reading a lot of Serbian writings lately. (Not in Serbian--that's one language I don't happen to know, although it's on the list that I would like to learn.) I guess it started with finally getting the Life of St. Sava (by St. Nikolai of Ohrid) from the library. I forget now exactly what reference I'd come across some time ago, but the book was not available on my past few visits. I followed that up by looking for more writings by St. Nikolai. I couldn't find anymore translated books in area libraries, but I did find some shorter pieces online, including an excellent collection of prayers that I'm still reading through.

The collection includes an introduction by Fr. Justin Popovic, which got me looking for more of his writings. One that I came across was a letter to the Serbian synod about plans that were going on in the 1970s toward a "Great Council" of the Orthodox Church. I liked his treatment of the issues and thought in passing that I might mention something about it here. Then today I saw a new article on the Orthodox England website, run by Fr. Andrew Phillips of Felixstowe. He has kindly translated a piece by another Serbian, Priest Srboliub Miletich, on Meletios Metaksakis, onetime Patriarch of Constantinople, and his influence on the current state of world Orthodoxy. There is a lot of overlap between the two, and I couldn't resist mentioning them both.

I try not to get too caught up in the internal politics of Orthodoxy. It is dangerous, I know, for someone in my position, who's not even Orthodox yet, to focus too much on these things. At the same time, I often feel like it is impossible for just someone in my position to avoid them altogether. I was talking to Fr. Gregory about the calendar issue in one of our meetings, and he mentioned that he personally favors the old calendar but simply follows his bishop in using the new. For someone who is already Orthodox and already part of a parish (especially a priest, who by virtue of his office is attached to a particular bishop), this kind of approach makes perfect sense. Likewise, for someone who lives in a geographical area with only one Orthodox jurisdiction, the matter is quite simply one of following the bishop's lead. Here in America, however, where just about every Orthodox jurisdiction imaginable is represented within one set of national boundaries, and particularly in a large, urban area, where I can just as easily drive to an Antiochian parish as to a Ukrainian or ROCOR, it's not quite so simple. At some point, I'll have to pick a parish in which to convert. In the meantime, I have to pick some calendar to follow for fasting and readings.

So all that's to say that I'm still in this weird netherworld, where acting Orthodox will keep me Evangelical and acting Evangelical will make me Orthodox. I like to say that converting to Orthodoxy is the last Evangelical act I will ever perform. I mean that in the sense that Evangelicalism (in theory) expects me to make my own judgments about faith, while Orthodoxy is about submitting to the faith of the community. In my case, as with anyone who converts this way, the act of becoming Orthodox will be a final revolt against my present community--an act that is only justifiable if I put forward my independent right and ability to choose for myself what I will believe. So until that point arrives, I still have no choice but to do some things like an Evangelical, including shop around for the type of Orthodoxy that makes the most sense to me and where I would feel most at home. On the other hand, I don't want to embrace Orthodoxy in a schismatic way, by choosing one jurisdiction at the expense of others. I find myself torn between these two poles, but more often than not I see the best hope for real unity among Orthodox, and a real universalism, in the death of some of the divisive innovations that have plagued the Church in the past century.

Aside from that, I have a lot of respect for Serbian Orthodoxy, which has suffered more consistently than most Orthodox groups in recent history. The same goes for Russian Orthodoxy. This is not to say that they are perfect and everyone else is out to lunch. Nor is it to minimize the suffering of the Church in Asia Minor and other parts of the Greek Diaspora. Another interesting (and heartbreaking) piece I've read recently goes through a lot of this. But the political dynamics have been different, and I'm sure I'm influenced to a great extent by my distaste for Western imperialism. So there you have it--my biased take on issues I shouldn't even be thinking about. But the point was simply to put the links out there, with a bit of explanation on why I find them interesting. I suppose I've done that and more.

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