Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Greetings from Greece

Here are a few reflections on not just theorizing about the other lung (which is important), but breathing with it.

After visiting Orthodox monasteries in Serbia, I've been spending another two weeks at the Prodromos Monastery in northern Greece. Interestingly, the best way to understand the way things happen here comes not from studying patristic thought as much as from experience in charismatic churches or reading Susan Howatch novels. This is a place of dynamic, long stretches of worship and gifted spiritual advisors who know what you say before you say it. Try to engage the abbess here about theology and she's likely to give you a cautious look, pointing you to experience of the liturgy instead. Echoing Maximus the Confessor, she suggests that theology is best understood as an exercise to remove obstacles to the life of prayer.

One mistake in my first visit both here and at Athos was not to engage enough in the liturgy. This year I've tried to go as often as possible, which is often, at times wearyingly so. My first stint involved a repentant realization that as a Protestant, I am but a catechumen in the Orthodox church. To protest this status as "uninclusive" seems to require an oblivious disregard of one's own shortcomings and sin. Should one not convert, catechumen status seems the most reasonable position in regard not only to the Orthodox, but Catholic church as well - whose competing claims should be more than enough to scramble any hasty conclusions. No, one doesn't get the eucharist, but catechumens do get some blessed crumbs that fall from the table which are more than enough.

The nuns invited us closer the next few times to see more of what was happening. The chandeliers spin like the cranks of a giant divinization machine in the Saint factory. The nuns, all dressed in jet black, blend into the darkness so that it's easy to bump into them, and they all line up to prepare for the great entry of Christ's body and blood through the gates - a perfect a parable of the Second Coming. It's also no small privilege to worship next to the tomb of Gennadius Scholarius, the first Orthodox patriarch after 1453, who once worshipped here as well.

Over time I grew more relaxed. When lost in the quandry of competing ecclesiologies, the theme of the Kingdom of God is of no small assistance, and is of course of certain canonical authority. To collapse it into the ecclesial structures of Orthodoxy or Catholicism requires a massive leap of faith in either direction that I'm not willing to take, but in Christ I participate in the Kingdom. The reading for that night seemed to justify such inclinations.

The liturgy is where divinization happens. One begins to slowly get lifted up into it, which is certainly helped by the polished singing and a downright evangelical priest who ended the liturgy with a tearful yet joyful sermon.

There is more liturgy to come, and more research on the near-biblical landscape (sheep, goats, figs, sparrows, cattle, thorns, vines). In conversation with some of my fellow researchers our conversations are not unheated. We're certainly not all Christian, which is alright. The nuns welcome as all. At one point we discussed trendy pomo theorist Deleuze's theory of the rhyzome as an agricultural paradigm for intellectual headway. But I the liturgy and landscape is getting to me. I'll see Deleuze's rhyzome and raise him a vine. Christ is all in all.