Exploring the Eastern Catholic Church

As many of you know, my family and I came into full communion with the Catholic Church in 2013. This momentous event took place at St. Nicholas Ukrainian Greek Catholic Mission in Raleigh NC – an Eastern Catholic parish of the Byzantine Rite.

Most of my Protestant friends and, surprisingly, the majority of Roman Catholics I know, have never encountered the eastern Church.  In fact, most assume “Eastern Catholicism” is just another name for Eastern Orthodoxy.

This common mistake is understandable.  Practically speaking, Eastern Catholics are Orthodox – they use the same liturgy, and share a common theological and spiritual tradition.  Like the Orthodox, Eastern Catholics utilize icons and incense in their worship and have married priests.

The only substantive difference is that Eastern Catholics are in full communion with Rome and the Pope.  That  means that they are fully Catholic.

If you find any of this interesting I encourage you to watch the video above!  Also, I would urge you to read this powerful apostolic letter written by St. John Paul II: Oriental Lumen.

 

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Hypocrisy, Stupidity, Dishonesty, Ignorance, and Evil in the Bible

noah-drunk One reason I find Christianity believable is the hypocrisy, stupidity, dishonesty, ignorance, and evil in the Bible.

Take, for instance, those remarkable individuals who made it into the spiritual “hall-of-fame” in Hebrews 11:4-38.  A list of some of the most important saints who ever lived; individuals God worked through to accomplish incredible things; individuals whose lives were built on faith.  Yet, every one of them were hypocrites–that is, their lives did not always match up to the values they cherished most.

Consider Noah, one of the only men to remain faithful to God in his lifetime–“humanities last hope”.  After the flood, whilst in the primordial stages of building a new civilization, he gets wasted and exposes himself to his sons (Genesis 9:20-23).  Or take Abraham, for example, who, out of fear, led a king to believe his wife was actually his sister; thus allowing the king to take his wife into his harem (see Genesis 20).  And who can forget King David who lusted after a married woman, committed adultery, then had her husband killed so as to take her hand in marriage (see 2 Samuel 11)?  This is only a sample of the hypocrisy, stupidity, ignorance, and evil in the Bible. There’s so much more.

The Bible is simply filled with greedy, selfish, double-crossing, murderous, people (many of whom are the saints).  In one moment they are the epitome of virtue; demonstrating unwavering trust in God.  In the next, they are fearful, doubtful, conniving, lying, stealing, cheating, coveting, misfits.

The Bible is a remarkably authentic book.  It doesn’t seek to hide or distort the reality of life.  Namely, the reality that everyone is inconsistent; everyone fails; everyone gives way to anger, fear, envy or lust; everyone is a hypocrite.

From the biblical framework, even the most extreme nihilist, who rejects objective values completely, is a hypocrite.  Nietzsche, for example, was a hypocrite.  He exercised his will-to-power to create his own values; but failed to live up to his own standards.  We all fail to live up to the values we cherish most; we all fail to live consistently.

The Bible doesn’t overlook this aspect of human nature.  It doesn’t try to hide it or pretend that life is clean, or pretty, or harmonious–it doesn’t pretend that everyone gets a fairytale ending.  The saints are not depicted like Joel Osteen.  This is why I find it so convincing. The biblical authors could have easily overlooked the embarrassments and failures of the saints in order to create a more pristine and tidy view of the past; but they didn’t.  Instead they were honest and objective.

In so doing, the Bible teaches two things: (1)that the problem of evil is intractably human and (2) that we are in dire need of help.  Irrespective of one’s culture or nationality or race or gender or ideology anyone can be evil and everyone, at some point or another, is.  We are all imperfect and limited and, thus, unable to save ourselves from this awful mess.

For this reason, I find it odd that so many people leave Christianity on the basis of hypocrisy.  Christians, like everyone else, are inconsistent, imperfect, and prone to make major mistakes.  In fact, this is one of the core messages of the Gospel: that we are sick, that we are broken, that we need help, and that we can’t solve the problem on our own.

The Church, like a hospital, is a place for those who are spiritually sick to be made well (not a consortium of already perfected people).  We are not surprised to find unhealthy people in a hospital; neither should we be surprised to find unhealthy people in the Church.

What is surprising, however, is when we encounter someone truly pure, innocent, honest, trustworthy, and loving.  People of this sort do exist, but are very rare; and our reaction to such people is complex and more often than not negative (see Dostoyevsky’s novel The Idiot for an exploration of this).

Our hypocrisy and the hypocrisy of other’s makes us cold and cynical–we are suspicious and doubt the sincerity of sanctitude.  In fact, due to our pride, we usually lash out at such individuals.  Or, at least, over scrutinize their lives and hold them to such high standards that the slightest lapse causes us to throw our hands in the air and proclaim, “I knew  it! I knew he was bluffing!” (sorry for the shameless Princess Bride allusion). We then use their apparent failure to justify our “doubts” about Christianity and play the hypocrisy card.

Yet again, I say, this is odd. Like the saints in the Bible, the saints living in the Church are merely broken people in dire need of help. This help is what theologians call God’s grace.  The failures of others are meant to remind us of our own fragility, and hypocrisy, and draw us closer to the God who can repair our damaged souls.

So, what’s the conclusion of this meandering post?  It is this: If authenticity is part of the litmus test of truth then the Bible passes with flying colors! . . . and this: If you’ve read and thought deeply about the Bible, you won’t be surprised when you find hypocrisy, stupidity, ignorance, and evil in the Church.

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Vladimir Lossky on Theology and Mysticism

“If the mystical experience is a personal working out of the content of the common faith, theology is an expression, for the profit of all, of that which can be experienced by everyone.  Outside the truth kept by the whole Church personal experience would be deprived of all certainty, of all objectivity.  It would be a mingling of truth and falsehood, of reality and of illusion: ‘mysticism’ in the bad sense of the word.  On the other hand, the teaching of the Church would have no hold on souls if it did not in some degree express an inner experience of truth, granted in different measure to each one of the faithful.  There is, therefore, no Christian mysticism without theology; but, above all, there is no theology without mysticism.” – Vladimir Lossky

The Cosmic Importance of the Incarnation

Why did God become man?  Was this simply a reaction to Adam and Eve’s fall into sin?  Is the Incarnation merely contingent upon this event?  Or is there more to this story?

When I was a Protestant I often focused exclusively on one aspect of the Incarnation–namely its leading to the death of Christ and the atonement for sins.  While this is obviously of central importance (Christ most certainly did come to lay down his life for the world) it can lead to some misconceived and even detrimental notions.  One of them being that the Incarnation was simply an “accident”; namely, that it was not absolutely essential for the redemption of creation.  For many Protestants (not all) the Incarnation is viewed as merely a reaction to a particular event – the Fall of man into sin – rather than part of the cosmic destiny of creation itself.

I had…

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Existence as an Act of Love

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Once I wallowed in the darkness of the void

That darkness darker than the night

Ever searching, ever groping, ever longing

My hands clutching shadows that slipped through my fingers.

Lost in a maze without meaning, without purpose, without destination

I wandered in a dry and waterless land

My soul aching for something or someone to give me hope

An experience to justify this pitiful existence.

How I yearned to escape the absurdity

I clung to my individuality, my uniqueness, but in vain

Having rejected You I acknowledged that all was One – ever turning, all encompassing

And within this Monolith “I” was an illusion.

How I longed to communicate – to understand and to be understood

How I longed to reciprocate – to love and to be loved

How I longed to impose my will – to create and to be created

But how could I escape the Monolith?

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