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Karl’s Interview, Part II: Authority, Uniformity, Unity, and Communion

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Written by Basil on 09/26/2003 12:07 AM. Filed under:

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2) As a teen you were involved with, as you put it, “the popular format of Pentecostal, charismatic, and ‘non-denominational’ churches” but later realized that they were unable to create authentic unity amongst members. As a former Episcopalian, and Roman Catholic, how has your understanding of the importance of unity changed since becoming Orthodox?
Well, most importantly, church authority — especially accountability, having a “covering” — has always been important to me. Pure congregationalism scared the tar out of me even as a teen-ager. I was always very keen to find out who was in authority over my pastors. This was not to exercise some kind of control: I never even dreamed of pulling political strings in any way. I simply needed to know that if something goes wrong, there is someone who will make sure that we as sheep are not abused and led astray.

In my pilgrimage through Canterbury and Rome to Constantinople and Moscow, the necessity of being under authority has become even more precious. The covering that I sought is not only provided for me and my priest by a bishop, but for our bishop by his brothers in the synod of bishops, who in turn are covered by submitting themselves to the teaching that has been passed on to them from preceding generations. Thus, both the external form of the apostolic succession, and the internal charism of apostolicity, guarantee that the Church is submitted in all things to Jesus Christ, her Lord — the ultimate authority in all matters concerning his body, the Church.

But I also realized that something was missing precisely because of the need for ritual that has been discussed recently in two posts over at Juliana’s blog, Morning Coffee. Not that I realized it before being immersed in it, but anyone can tell you that beauty — in word, image, sacred music, and many other kinds of ritual action — is deeply important to me. A search of my blog for beauty will reveal how important it is.

Liturgical prayer as I first experienced it in the Roman Catholic Church was like a burst of fresh air. I think perhaps the most vivid memory I have is of a pizza party for the staff of a TEC retreat (see my bio for background information). Fr. Ignatius said, “Let’s bless the food.” Like a good Protestant, I bowed my head and expected Fr. Ignatius to go off extemporaneously at this point. Instead, everyone in the room started praying together, “Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts, which we are about to receive from thy bounty, through Christ, our Lord, amen.” Everyone said the same prayer, together! This fell outside the pale shadow of common prayer that I had known in the Methodist Church. For all the shock and awe it engendered in me, the room might as well have shook with thunderous prayer. Yet, it was not loud; it was just a room full of people — maybe 20-30 — saying their grace before a meal. It was the spiritual power of that unity that had me thunderstruck.

Later, I learned of the Rosary and other formal prayers and how they are prayed in common. This gave me a vision of unity that was rooted in a typically Western identification of unity with uniformity. As I progressed through the Episcopal Church, USA, and the Roman Catholic Church, I never lost my yearning for that unity via uniformity. It was only as I became Orthodox, faced with the nearly untenable situation in America of as many translations of the Church’s common prayer as there are jurisdictions, that I realized that unity — that is, communion of persons and churches — is something very different from the superficial uniformity of the West.

In the Episcopal Church, I could kneel for holy communion next to someone, who has recited with me the words of the General Confession, “Most merciful God,we confess that we have sinned against you / in thought, word, and deed, / by what we have done, / and by what we have left undone,” yet lives in unrepentant sin, and I was supposed to accept this diversity as a wonderful, beautiful thing. In fact, the diversity within unity of the Episcopal Church is often extolled as their greatest virtue.

In reflecting on these two situations, I have realized that true unity — communion — is something far different that the superficial uniformity imposed from without by any kind of ultramontanist hierarchy. I still believe that having common prayers can be a very powerful thing, and I pray for it everyday, “for the union of the Churches,” etc. Yet, real communion is much sweeter than a superficial similarity that wanes immediately as we leave the doors of the Church.

And, in the end, it is a severe mercy to the unrepentant sinners.

Future questions to be answered:
3) How did you get involved with computers and web design?
4) Do you think that God is calling you to the priesthood? Tonsured monastic life?
5) You attend a small Orthodox parish. What are some of the strengths and weaknesses of your parish?

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