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Taizé, Orthodoxy, and Ecumenism

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Written by Basil on 07/24/2003 8:06 PM. Filed under:

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Edited: This post has been edited from its original form, to correct innaccuracies. See the comments by other readers for more details.

Earlier today, I was listening to a wonderful CD produced by the ecumenical monastery at Taizé, France, Alleluia. This thoroughly beautiful album of liturgical music in the Western tradition infuses Gregorianesque chant with very light intrumentation. Instruments like oboes, piccoloes, trumpets and horns, play spritely, modal melodies that blend with the simplified chant to recreate the sound of Renaissance sacred chamber music.

To hear some of my coreligionists yell about the unmitigated evils of ecumenism, you might think that we are all insular, provincial fundamentalists. But the heart of Orthodoxy is theosis — deification, a union of the person with the person of Christ, so that my human nature is interpenetrated with the divine energies just as Christ’s human nature was. I become filled with Christ, through the grace of the Holy Spirit. Although some are ready to restrict the Holy Spirit to only working through the sacraments of the Church, the mainline of Orthodox doctrine has recognized that the Holy Spirit — like the wind (gr. pneuma) — blows where he wills, as our Lord said in his discourse with St. Nicodemus. This is sometimes expressed, as Bp. Kallistos once said (writing as Timothy Ware in The Orthodox Church), “We know where the Church is; we can never be sure where it is not.”

Looking at the history and principles of Taizé, I noted the utter simplicity of its rule. I recalled the positive experience Bp. Seraphim (Sigrist) had with Br. Roger and the Taizé Community. Truth cannot be divided. It is one. And Truth is one, just as the Church is one, because Christ is one!

In perhaps the most memorable and important of the great “I AMs” of St. John’s gospel, our Lord announces to his friends, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: No man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”

I am the truth! Wherever we come upon the Truth, we have hit upon the rock of Christ himself. All that is true is orthodox; all that is false is anathema.

Classically, Truth, Beauty and Goodness have been considered a triumvirate called the “Transcendentals.” They are all related to one another in some way. That relation is Christ — Christ is Truth, Christ is Goodness, Christ is Beauty. They are all simply various facets of his revelation to us. This is why ethics have no meaning for us outside of our sacramental union as Christians with Christ. That is why Orthodoxy places such emphasis on beauty — why the icons are in wood and paint what the Gospels are in word (cf. Seventh Ecumenical Council).

I have been reading, and I’m almost finished, The Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann, 1973-1983. Fr. Alexander repeats often how tired he became of Orthodox provincialism — the tendency to eschew everything that doesn’t have an Orthodox-capital-O label, or to accept without question everything that refers back to old Russia, or Byzantium. He praised simplicity and joy without qualification. He denounced complication and sophistication, and he always returned to the Church as the Sacrament of Christ’s Body in the world.

Orthodoxy always brings us back to this union with Christ. Even when the image of Christ becomes mottled with Byzantine acretions, it is only insofar as we become united to Christ that we have anything to offer the world. It is only insofar as we become filled with him — as the chalice is filled with his body and blood — that we are able to bear witness of him to the lonely, hurting, world that continually alienates herself from her Lord, God, creator, and lover — the “only lover of mankind” (gr. philanthropos).

Conversely, everywhere we meet Christ in all of his many disguises, we owe him our humble worship and acknowledgement as our Lord and God and savior. “Bless the Lord, O my soul.” It is only in blessing the Lord Jesus in those we meet that they can see in the Church the fullness of him whom they have already grasped ahold of as best as they can.

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9 Responses to “Taizé, Orthodoxy, and Ecumenism”

  1. alana Says:

    Very interesting…your timing on these ramblings incidentally coincide much with what I’ve been musing about lately.

  2. pete Says:

    THANK YOU for writing this.

  3. Huw Raphael Says:

    Edited: Huw Raphael is responding to the original form of this post. The line

    This is sometimes expressed, as Bp. Kallistos once said (writing as Timothy Ware in The Orthodox Church), “We know where the Church is; we can never be sure where it is not.”

    originally read as

    This is sometimes expressed, as Fr. Thomas Hopko once said, “We know where the Holy Spirit is; we do not know where he is not.”

    See my further comments below. —KBAS

    Hi–that’s another version of a quote I’ve often heard attributed to Bp Kallistos (this is the first I’ve heard it cited to Hopko). Do you have a citation? Despite the fact that it is widely quoted, no one seems to know from where. The closest I’ve come (on live journal) is “someplace in ‘The Orthodox Church’” but the quote there makes a rather different point. So I’m on a quest for a “full citation” of this often quoted thing.

    What Orthodox mean by Ecumenism is rather different, in most cases: we’re out there preaching the faith. The OCA has an office of “ecumenical witness” rather than “dialogue” because, as Kallistos says, “Because they believe their Church to be the true Church, Orthodox can have but one ultimate desire: the conversion of reconciliation of all Christians to Orthodoxy.”

  4. Huw Raphael Says:

    (sorry… “conversion or reconciliation”)

  5. James Says:

    Huw, I believe that quote by Ware is in both The Orthodox Church and The Orthodox Way. I think it’s an interesting tension we’re in between treating all people, including our brothers and sisters in various non-Orthodox denominations, with love and respect and proclaiming our firm conviction that ours is the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church founded by Jesus Christ. If we do the latter in a way that does not do the first (treat others with love and respect), have we really proclaimed truth? On the other hand, we will encounter some people who will say that by believing that ours is the truth faith is in of itself unfair and unloving and that we should, if we truly have any love, adopt a relativist position (I’m okay; you’re okay, we’re all one big family). We of course cannot do that.

  6. James Says:

    Oh by the way, I will also have a soft spot for Gregorian and Gregorianesq chants.

  7. Huw Raphael Says:

    James, I agree 100%. My Patron Saint, refering to some of his Anglican friends says, “I have great respect for them as Christians.” And I think Ware makes the same point: an individual person may be closer or further away from Orthodoxy’s fullness of the faith in his own journey. Indeed, I know that to be true in my own life, day-by-day. (In some ways, I was perhaps closer to being Orthodox before my conversion…)

    I think our brothers at Orthodoxinfo are more councerned with the idea of what ecumenism must “look like”. Other bodies participate because “I’m OK, you’re OK” points. Therefore, unless Orthodoxy is careful, our message will sound the same. When (OCA) Archbishop Dmitri was at our Cathedral this lent he spoke of his early invovlement (the 1970s) as the OCA ecumenical person in just this way, and it was, for me, a great blessing to hear what our mind was on the NCC and the WCC and other such dialogues.

    I love Gregorian chant too! I’ve heard a number of recording (on internet radio) that seem to be Orthodox Liturgy set in Gregorian modes.

  8. basil Says:

    James, thank you for pointing me to Bp. Kallistos’ The Orthodox Church for that quote. I wasn’t quite able to find it in The Orthodox Way, though.

    Huw Raphael, I hope you don’t mind that I’ve edited the original post and your comment a little bit. Not everyone reads my comments — nor should they be required to. I know some people’s blogging philosophy requires a stricter “leave it alone,” but I think I’ve made it clear where the editing has been done, while leaving the article still usable.

    BTW & FYI — in my edition of The Orthodox Church, it’s on p. 308. YYMV. If that citation doesn’t work in your edition, look at his discussion of the unity and infallibility of the Church: There he footnotes his later discussion of the Church’s membership.

  9. Tripp Says:

    Thank you. Wow. This was great.