23 March 2007

Orthodoxy as Boutique Religion?

The Scrivener: Orthodoxy as Boutique Religion? writes entertainingly about about a view of Western converts to Orthodoxy, which sometimes turns out to be conversion to a subculture.

Orthodox Monk writes about Pentecostalism and the Orthodox Tradition of the Philokalia.

I was unable to comment on their posts in their blogs, so I thought I would combine my comments on both into a new post, though it might make more sense if you read their posts first.

Orthodox Monk says
We really are out of our depth. We really know nothing about Pentecostalism and it would require a degree in religious doctrine and sociology to sort out the different currents in Pentecostalism...

We do know that none of the Elders of the Orthodox Church has ever endorsed Pentecostalism. That is important for there are clearly charismatic elements in the Orthodox tradition of the Philokalia: an Orthodox Elder is normally revealed to the body of the Church through his gifts of clairvoyance.
And he goes on to compare reports of different kinds of Pentecostal and charismatic worship, including the Toronto Blessing, and worship in an American neopentecostal church.

I may be able to help in some ways, as I have had some experience of Pentecostal and charismatic worship, mainly in an Anglican setting, though also among traditional Pentecostals such as the Assemblies of God, and also among neopentecostals. Before I became Orthodox I was in the Anglican Diocese of Zululand, where a charismatic renewal movement started in the 1940s, propagated by the Iviyo loFakazi bakaKristu (Legion of Witnesses of Christ).

In the 1970s the charismatic renewal movement swept Western denominations, including Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Presbyterians and others. It also gave rise to new denominations, called "neopentecostal" to distinguish them from traditional Pentecostal denominations. This happened not only in South Africa, but it was a worldwide phenomenon. In South Africa it led to the dramatic growth of a community of Anglican nuns, the Community of the Holy Name, especially in Zululand. It led to a new ecumenism -- a Pentecostal choir singing in the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Durban and a new optimism in the face of the intractable problems of apartheid and oppression and racial divisions. The South African Defence force was pitted against the liberation armies, and the charismatics proclaimed "Jesus has not come to take sides but to take over."

The founders of the Iviyo movement, Bishop Alpheus Zulu and Canon Philip Mbatha, were not, as "Orthodox Monk" implies, demonised. They were the nearest thing to Orthodox spiritual elders I found in the Anglican Church, men of wisdom and spiritual discernment. Many young men in Zululand went to the sisters of the Community of the Holy Name as I saw young people in Bulgaria visit sisters in an Orthodox monastery outside Sofia, for spiritual counsel and advice.

But not all involved in the Western charismatic renewal were as disciplined as those involved in Iviyo. There were plenty of spiritual "lone rangers", who wandered around convinced that the new teaching revealed to them must be heard, and supersede all others. Some came up with fanciful theories of the revival of apostolic ministries, and proclaimed themselves to be the embodiment of that revival, claiming that they were the new apostles.

At Iviyo conferences, on the other hand, while there may have been 2000 people yelling and jumping and praying in tongues, there would be, out of sight, in the crypt of the church, or a school classroom, a group of about 20, mostly priests and nuns, praying all the time. If anyone claimed to have a revelation from God to give to the main meeting, they had first to take it to those who were praying, who might say that no, that was not a revelation from God, but a spiritual delusion (for which Orthodox Christian have a technical term, plani or prelest.

Some American charismatic leaders were aware of the dangers of this lack of discipline, and to counteract it, people like Derek Prince and others started the "shepherding movement" but this in turn led to excesses in the opposite direction.

In the Orthodox Church, the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit never ceased to operate, but they were always exercised under the guidance of clairvoyant spiritual elders who were themselves guided by their own spiritual fathers. This meant that there were not wild swings between the individualism of the freelance spiritual lone rangers and the authoritarianism of the shepherding movement. And it is this that constitutes the main difference between the charismatic elements of the Orthodox tradition, and those found in the Pentecostal movement in the West.

Those who have been involved in Western Pentecostalism and the charismatic renewal movement can often appreciate Orthodoxy when they see it. One of the leaders of the Anglican charismatic renewal in England, Canon Michael Harper, is now the Dean of the Antiochian Orthodox Deanery in the UK. I have taken Pentecostal friends to Orthodox services and they have appreciated them more than other Protestants who are hung up on "the word". Pentecostal/charismatic worship tends, like Orthodox worship, to go beyond merely "hearing the word".

Older Protestant hymns did sometimes mention experience, but tended, especially in the 19th century, to be individualistic and introspective, describing the feelings of the author of the hymn rather than praising God. By singing them, the worshippers might get ideas about how they ought to feel, but it was not really worship.

Back in the 1960s I once organised a service, led by an ecumenical group in an Anglican church, that included many of the elements that "Orthodox Monk" describes as demonic -- loud music, flashing lights, dancing, etc. One result was that the Anglican bishop of Natal fired me as an Anglican deacon. Another was that the bishop preached in the church soon afterwards, and told the congregation that their church had been profaned (and this appeared on the front page of the local newspaper the following day). A third result was that I and the other Anglican members of the group that had led the service, feeling that we had been excommunicated from the Anglican Church, went to the Divine Liturgy at the local Orthodox Church, where we were received sympathetically by the priest, who said, in effect, that the Anglican Bishop of Natal was an old square. I might have become Orthodox then and there, had not another Anglican bishop asked me to go and work for him, so my conversion to Orthodxy was delayed by 15 years.

My point is this: that many things in the Pentecostal/charismatic movement are things that Orthodoxy has had all along, but which had been neglected in Western Christianity. The Pentecostal/charismatic movement was in some ways a correction of the imbalance, though it has tended to become unbalanced the other way. Now that I am Orthodox, I would not be at all tempted to organise a "psychedelic service" in an Orthodox Church, because Orthodox worship does not have the deficiencies of much Western Protestant worship that makes people feel the need for that. Where there are deficiencies (from a human point of view) in Orthodox worship, they can be corrected not by scrapping it and replacing it with something else, but by restoring it.

What about The Scrivener: Orthodoxy as Boutique Religion??

This is a response to The Sarabite: Towards an Aesthetic Christianity: Western "Eastern Orthodoxy" as Boutique Religion, who says, among other things, that "If anything, it is for the most part an exotic spirituality that ignores the patrimony of the Western Church and seeks to replace the struggles at the heart of Christianity with escapism."

I presume that the problem to which it is not the answer is "the struggles at the heart of Christianity". And the Sarabite concludes with "Not taking this in its most integrist reading, we can say that the West does not need Eastern Orthodoxy to restore it. It can surely help, but the West itself has all that is necessary for the restoration of the Church." And that is a kind of "tu quoque" argument that needs to be taken seriously. One of the great complaints of the Orthodox in the Second World in the early 1990s was that they did not need Western Christians to come and help them restore Christianity in the East after several decades of state-sponsored atheism. Yet many Orthodox Christians in the West appear to believe that Orthodoxy is needed to rescue the West from the forces of secularism and modernity, in a kind of postmodern restoration of premodernity. But that is perhaps a matter for another debate.

For me, however, the question was slightly different. A senior Anglican priest in South Africa, Walter Goodall, writing about the drift of Anglicanism away from the historic Christian faith, said that the solution would be for Anglicans to join the Roman Catholic Church, since the Pope of Rome "is, after all, the Patriarch of the West".

I wrote to him pointing out that South Africa was part of Africa, and that therefore in South Africa Anglicans with such concerns should rather look to the Pope of Alexandria, who is, after all, the Patriarch of Alexandria and all Africa.

Boutique religion? I don't think so. Orthodoxy has been African since the first century.


Walton said...

Fascinating blog, I love it. It's really good to read different perspectives. Was surfing the blogs last night and came across this, which I though might me interesting to you: http://nouslife.blogspot.com/
"Squallen from Celtic days refracted though Black-country-wised and wizened forebears. Thames flowing in grandsired veins. God Christfully inspirited this mud: a husband; a father; a priest"

Steve Hayes said...

Thanks for the kind words and the link. I enjoyed your blogs too -- loved your review of The da Vinci code

Tim Victor said...


I'm very impressed with how positively and informatively you write. You really seem to have great insight into church issues and your words from experience bring much clarity.


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