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Shire Reckoning

July 7, 2011
We stopped to visit the Hobbits in Matamata

Image via Wikipedia

One of the quirky things about Hobbits that I always had mixed feelings about, was their use of “Shire Reckoning”. I liked the fact that Hobbits had their own quiet lifestyle and their own way of measuring time. Their lifestyle was simple, quiet and had a peaceful dignity to it, even if they were largely ignorant of the outside world.

The downside of this way of thinking was the fact that Hobbits became suspicious of anything “foreign”, even to the point of thinking ill of their own who had dealings with those from the outside. Even less well-though-of were those Hobbits living amongst the “Big People” in places like Bree. In this way, anything outside of the tight-knit circle of what is perceived as normal and proper is frowned upon vigorously. When all is well, life has a simple enjoyment and a peaceful quality. It’s when one speaks of the “outside” that things can get a little dicey.

In some of my recent internet surfing and interactions on Facebook and such, I have come across a group of non-canonical Orthodox that call themselves the “Genuine” Orthodox Church. The separated themselves from the canonical Church over the issue of using the Gregorian versus the Julian Calender. They view this as a “detestable innovation” and a bowing down to papalism. As such, they view attempts at ecumenism as evil, and anyone who is a part of it is of “the synagogue of Satan.” It seemed as though they speak more about what they stand against, than what they are for. I read more anathemas against New Calenderists and Ecumenists than anything else.

Another group that has a similar view (though not nearly so visceral) is the Old Calender Orthodox Church of Greece-Holy Synod In Resistence. They believe that the main body of Churches have  strayed in adopting the New Calender and/or ecumenism, but they speak of the wish for restoration with their estranged brothers and sisters. Of course their version of restoration means to accept their terms and conditions, but they do not seem to espouse so many “anathemas” as the “Genuine”  group.

I also recently read an article by a concerned Orthodox brother about his take on these groups taking root in communities around the world, as well as proliferating their particular viewpoint via the internet. His main concerns were their ability to look like canonical Orthodox on the internet, when, in fact, they are not; that they may bring in people who are unaware of legitimate Orthodoxy, or proselytize Orthodox from their Churches; and also that they are springing up so rapidly throughout the world.

I can appreciate some of his concerns. While I would not call them heretics, I would agree that they are schismatic. According to the Church Fathers, schism is on a par with heresy, and some even consider it worse. My personal fear is that the issues creating their separation would give further fuel to those who criticize the Orthodox Church in particular, and Christianity in general, for a lack of love and unity. Where I differ from the concerns of some is in the issue of them leading people astray. In his first General Epistle, St John exhorts us to “test every spirit” and see what sort they are of. It seems to me that the kind of exclusivist language of these groups will make their spirit evident (or at least the spirit their rhetoric stands for).

Their proliferation on the internet, as well as their parishes popping up all over the globe is of little concern to me. I figure they have far more in common with us than those with whom we seek communion after 1000 and 1500 years of schism (i.e. the Roman Catholic and Oriental Orthodox Churches). My hope is that we can find a means for coming to the table and work towards a restoration of communion.

While the rhetoric one reads online may sound like this would be impossible, meeting people at the parish or monastic level gives a different impression. I have had the opportunity to meet and even attend Liturgy with some Orthodox who are a part of the Old Calender Orthodox of the Synod of Resistance. When I visited the women’s monastery of St Elizabeth the New Martyr of Russia and the parish of Sts Cyprian and Justina the people were very gracious, kind and hospitable. Far from having a “false piety”, (which I have read some accuse these groups of having) these brothers and sisters in Christ, both clergy and monastics, were shining examples of lives lived for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The mothers of the monastery were gracious enough to give my daughters and I a tour. They were exceptionally patient with my then 5 year old’s incessant  questions and interruptions. When I mentioned I was a cetechumen in the Antiochian Archdiocese, they mentioned nothing of schism, Old of New Calender, or heresy. They spoke fondly of my priest (Fr Patrick seems to be fairly well known) when I told them his name. The Parish was also very kind. They also spoke nothing of the differences with their jurisdiction. Overall, I’d say their piety and spirituality is the same as any “canonical” Orthodox.

What I find far more disturbing than anything these non-canonical groups have to say, is the disturbing trend of internet “watchdogs”. They criticize these groups for their use of the same medium they spread their opinions around. I find their work to be far more destructive than those who have a heartfelt issue with the switching of the calender. (And just for the record, I do not believe the calender should be an issue for separation within the Church. But I do understand their opinion to a certain degree) The reason I say this is because I believe it does far more harm to the Body of Christ to have those who are fully in communion with the Church and participate in Her sacraments spreading gossip through the Church. Whether or not the things being said are true, I believe there is a better way of dealing with it than I have seen some do. Not all have questionable content, but many do. I have read articles in which Metropolitans that have fallen into one sin or another and their assistant called a “demonic duo”. I have read of my own Metropolitan being accused of acting like the Taliban. I have read of people mocking and almost rejoicing in the turmoil within another, so-called, rival jurisdiction.

I am not surprised that these things go on, and I do not call into question the character of the people who post such things. I am sure they believe they are doing the Church and its people a great service. I believe, as they do, that the leadership should be called into question for grievous sins, but I think there is a godly, gracious way to do so. I think we need to be careful of the mentality that says, “They should PAY!!!” Rather we should say, “Lord have mercy on them and grant them space for repentance and restoration of communion. And grant the hearts of those wronged the grace to forgive.” I think if that were the message and intent of the internet “watchdogs” we would do far better.

Most importantly as I reflect upon this I am reminded of the words of Fr Andrew Stephen Damick of  St Paul’s Orthodox Church, who, when asked about those who receive the Eucharist “unworthily”, he exhorted the questioner to not worry about others receiving the Holy Mysteries unworthily, but worry about whether or not WE ourselves are doing so unworthily. So as I continue to prepare myself and my family for entry into the Orthodox Church, I ask myself if I will be worthy of receiving the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ my Saviour. I am sure my sins are far more grievous than anything found on some “watchdog” blog or website. So forgive me if I have been hypocritical or out of line with this post. My only intention with this post is to say that we aught always to say for one another, “Lord have mercy” and not “Lord, make them pay!”

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 22, 2012 12:06 pm

    I know many people in various canonical Eastern Orthodox parishes that have personal opinions on the calendar issue – some just can’t wait to tell you all of their justifications. I’m generally not interested in hearing it – I let them say their piece, and explain that I have heard equally good arguments on the other side, but in the end, I just go along with the parish I am a part of. I’m not wise enough to know which calendar is right or wrong, I may have my own personal opinions on it, but at the end of the day, what’s more important to me is to be living in obedience to my church and in harmony with my parish. My spiritual father says, regardless of how we may feel about the calendar our jurisdiction is on, we don’t worship a calendar. We worship Christ – so we need to prioritize accordingly, and mold our thoughts and actions and feelings accordingly. The trouble is that instead, we act like hobbits more often than we should!

  2. February 24, 2012 3:53 pm

    Your spiritual father is a wise man. Even worse than the calender issue is that of culture-orthodoxy. But, like you said, it’s best to go with the calender/culture of the parish. I have noticed a tendency within myself to judge cradle Orthodox or deride seemingly minor issues. It’s definitely best to be humble and keep a low profile in non-essentials. Thanks for sharing.

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