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The Gaffer of Bagshot Row

December 11, 2010

There is a character in the Lord of the Rings that we only meet briefly, but he is peppered throughout the story, though he never leaves The Shire. He is, as the title says, the father of Samwise Gamgee and affectionately known as The Gaffer. We hear Sam bring forth his father’s wisdom: “As my Gaffer always says…” or criticism: “What the Gaffer would say if he saw me now…”

The few times we get to see actual interaction with the Gaffer, we meet a feisty old hobbit who is quick to give his opinion, which is generally critical and pessimistic. As all hobbits, he enjoys a quiet, peaceful life, yet is ready to stand up to any foe of The Shire. He was the faithful gardener of Bilbo Baggins for many, many years.

I like the general character of the Gaffer. You always know where you stand with him. You will also find a good amount of “hobbit sense”, which may be directed your way if you are beginning to go astray. There is one characteristic that I see a parallel in many of my Christian brothers and sister, as well as myself. I am speaking of his critical, pessimistic outlook, which he is quick to share, though I don’t know if he would fit the bill of a busybody. I think many of us would far exceed the Gaffer in this area.

I have been coming across several comments made by Orthodox brothers and sisters (even a couple monks and clergy) toward other Orthodox hierarchs, jurisdictions and the like, which are rather disrespectful. I wonder if this is an American phenomenon created by a media and politics-fueled rhetoric we see and hear every day. Maybe it’s more widespread than that, and the advent of the internet makes it more prevalent. Whatever the case may be, I have to admit that I find it a bit disturbing. Let me be quick to say that I am not judging anyone, I am sharing my opinion on the criticisms. This is a topic I am loathe to write about, as it could seem very hypocritical or judgmental. Being as these observations are a part of my journey, I will share them.

I have heard insults leveled against the leadership of every level in the OCA, in which their clergy are said to be a group of “failures” from other jurisdictions, denominations, etc. A friend said that my metropolitan was acting like the Taliban in his exercising of episcopal authority within our archdiocese. A hiermonk I spoke to recently also made some insulting remarks in regards to the goings on concerning the Metropolitan of my archdiocese. Another story involved a back-and-forth conversation between a deposed priest and another Christian, which cast a very negative light on the former priest. These are just a few examples, not to mention countless statements born from the disunity between Orthodox jurisdictions, East vs West, etc.

I only give the above examples as a generic overview of what is out there. It’s not intended to be meant as, “Look what these jerks said.” or anything like that, for that would be counter to what I am trying to say. I guess what I would like to say is, maybe there is a better way to communicate our disappointments with our leaders, the goings on in another archdiocese, or the general shenanigans that happen within the Orthodox Church as a whole. I am not perfect by any means, so please forgive me.

There is nothing wrong with sharing the wrongs done within our Church. In fact, transparency is a very good thing. But how we get there needs to be considered. I’m all for sharing information, but shouldn’t we as Orthodox Christians be humble in how we do so. The evils we hear of should cause us to grieve within our hearts and drive us to prayer, in the process humbly asking our brothers and sisters to pray with us. There are times for action, and use of strong words, but those should be our last resort rather than our frontline, go-to action. Don’t mistake what I’m advocating for a Pollyanna naiveté. Speaking up is necessary, but as the fruit of prayerful, thoughtful, humble intercession for the person and/or situation.

I have to admit that I have been a huge offender in the “have you heard?” area, as well as the “Can you believe what those (that) jerk(s) did?” camp. But as with many things within Orthodoxy, I have been confronted with the heart of the Church. It has exposed me for what I am, and beckons me to change. If it has done that for me, who am but a catechumen, then I suppose the same must be true of the Faithful. For instance, I have been instructed to read through the Pre-Communion prayers of the Church. In them I read prayers like “No one has sinned as I have sinned.” “Have mercy on my, O God, according to Thy great mercy.” I can’t remember the words, but there is also a prayer that compares the person praying to the sinful woman who washed the Lord’s feet with her tears and hair. In that prayer we pray and acknowledge that we need to be cleansed, though we are more defiled than she was. And of course there is the Prayer of St Ephraim, where we ask the Lord to give us eyes to see our own sin, and not our brother’s (or sister’s).

With prayers like these, I am constantly floored, and have to beg God’s forgiveness for daring to judge another. And that’s really what I am getting at. We have these rich prayers, sacraments, holy traditions, the scriptures and indeed the very life of the Holy Trinity and all the saints. Since we have this great treasure, let’s avail ourselves of their salvific benefit to our souls. Let’s avoid slandering our brothers and sisters, or broadcasting their sins for all to see. Let’s especially be wary of bringing any accusation against our clergy and hierarchs (doesn’t the bible tells us this?), as they are the icons of Christ to the Church. I’m not advocating clericalism, but rather humility.

I hope I don’t come across as one who has an ideological “log” in my eye. I am nobody and ask your forgiveness for presuming anything of my brothers and sisters. My hope is that if we apply ourselves to the Synergy of our Life in Christ, let the prayers really transform us, then we will be transformed as a Church, casting off the fears, distrust and quarrels that have separated us for far too long.

Fr Irene gave a series of lectures on Mysticism and Orthodoxy at St Barnabas Orthodox Church recently. During a Q&A session, a man asked how we can have these experiences of God. Fr irene said, “You’re not going to like my answer… participate in the life of the Church… and stop judging people.” That is one of the simplest, yet toughest answers I have heard to that question. I think this topic is born of that answer. I have a very long way to go, probably father than anyone who reads this. So please forgive me. But let’s strive together to put aside our harsh instincts and remember to pray, participate and not judge.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. December 13, 2010 12:20 am

    One of the big things I learned on my journey to the Church involved coming to a place where I longed for everyone I knew to receive forgiveness, independent of what they said at Confession. We do live in a world where humans respond inappropriately to the temptations we face. But we can only mature in Christ when we have the courage to live truly in a community. Part of authentic community involves knowing enough about the general struggles of another in order to pray for them. We do not need to like what we see or hear, but at the same time, underneath even the most challenging of actions to forgive lay the image of God.

    Many blessings to you on your journey to the Church.

  2. December 13, 2010 1:55 pm

    You make a great point about living in community. I think that is part of our problem, that we act like individuals when we are called to live as One Body. The call to be the image of God by forgive others is, I suppose, our most difficult hurdle as humans to jump. But, to use that old Protestant adage, God never calls us to do anything He doesn’t give us the grace (Himself) to do.

    Just out of curiosity, in your own journey, did you find it disconcerting to see all the strife within the Orthodox Church in light of the prayer life of the Church? In other words, a disconnect between what we pray, and what we live? Not in a judgmental way, but a grief in your heart that desires to see a healing in the Church in that area.

    Thank you for posting a comment

  3. December 28, 2010 10:24 am

    I think I would find it more disconcerting if I didn’t see a disconnect between my prayer and my life, whether in my personal or corporate body. Our prayer seeks fundamentally to connect us to the heart of God, a most difficult connection to make. I definitely had issues with accepting the real imperfections of the Church as She is manifest on earth. The Orthodox Church lacks the slightly convenient teaching of a particular super-bishop outside of sinfulness at certain places and times. So, if we accept that a bishop is just as likely to be a sinner as your average lay person, then we have to trust the fraternal nature of the Church. For me, a turning point was when I realized that the Orthodox Church cannot be fully represented in any one person, parish or principality. Yet I pray, as fully as I can, that God’s grace transforms each and every individual who seeks to embrace His True Personhood.

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