Saturday, June 14, 2014

Denied Communion Because You're Gay? How About a Different Angle of Examination

There is no shortage, either in the news media or in blogosphere, of stories of someone (mainly a Roman Catholic) who is denied communion for certain reasons, mainly by holding or supporting politically contrary views to established Roman Catholic dogma with regards to e.g. gay marriage and gay rights, abortion.  Generally, this information comes out in the form of an editorial of some supposedly "devout, super-Catholic who has gone to mass an overwhelming 8 times" [/sarcasm] who openly disagrees with his/her Church's teachings but feels that because he/she is a "good person" the Eucharist should not be denied him. Well, this same phenomenon has now happened to the Orthodox Communion.

In an editorial printed by the Washington Post, Gregory Pappas, writes that he was denied communion because he was gay.  This, of course, naturally set off a whirlwind of comments, both on the WaPo site and also in the Orthodox blogosphere in general.  A rebuttal was posted by famed Orthodox columnist Rod Dreher which also inspired a whirlwind of comments, both in support of Mr. Pappas and in support of Mr. Dreher.

Enough has been said about whether homosexuality per se is sinful and whether that constitutes being barred from the Holy Mysteries or whether only the acting upon homosexual impulses is the criterion for barring someone.  Even more has been said about how the Church is supposedly hypocritical because it has changed on other issues, so why not this one?  (Small digression:  Mr. Pappas says that the Church never allowed divorce.  That is patently false.  Divorce and remarriage have been consistently allowed by the Church, but one can never marry more than three times in the Church and divorce is always, ALWAYS accompanied by a period of exclusion from the mysteries for repentance.  Don't believe me?  Read about the Moechian controversy in the eighth century[that's right, 1100 years ago] when the Eastern Roman Emperor, Constantine VI, demanded a fourth marriage!)

The issue that has not been examined or, rather, the person who has not been asked for his position is the priest of the church where Mr. Pappas was supposedly denied his communion.  Probably, he's not been asked because of his position and that would undermine the relationship between priest and pentient/layman.  Just as likely is that his priest has been asked because he would not want to do anything even hinting of a betrayal of the trust and confidentiality between priest and penitent. (Small digression #2:  Interesting how penitnet/layman side of that agreement is always greeted with praise when he breaks the seal, but if a priest does it, he's hounded [and should be, but really this standard needs to go both ways).

What many fail to understand is that it is the priest's job to faithfully distribute the Eucharist to the faithful.  That is an immense responsibility.  At a priest's ordination, the bishop, who celebrates the Liturgy, gives to the priest-to-be in his hand the entire lamb (i.e. that section of the prosphoron bread which is consecrated specifically for the Body of Christ) and he is told, in no uncertain terms, that he will be held responsible at the Last Judgment before Christ's Dread Throne for the faithful distribution of His Body and Blood.  My godfather, who is now a priest, told me about this.  He was shaking, literally just remembering that.  I'm made of weaker stuff and I know that once the bishop did that same thing for me, I'd give him back the Lamb and say "See ya!"  Whoever Mr. Pappas' priest may be and whatever church he serves is irrelevant.  Any priest of the Orthodox Church is entrusted with this awesome responsibility.  To give to anyone the Eucharist, where there is the slightest bit of doubt that it is given to an unrepentant person, is to blaspheme Christ.  Another thing that people who are unfamiliar with the Sacramental Nature of the Church is that the priest does not serve the Eucharist, but serves, in loco Christi, in the place of Christ.  Even though we may see a fellow human being in front of the altar, mystically, he becomes Christ, as we mystically become like the Cherubim (as we sing in the Cherubimic Hymn at every Divine Liturgy).  It is Christ who feeds us, not a human.

Why is no one talking about this angle?  The priest, and by extension, the whole Orthodox Church is made out to be the bad guy and  the bad guy cannot be allowed to have his say.  We cannot and should not ask the priest about this because that would break the priest and penitent bond of trust.  The problem is that many, both Catholics and Orthodox, view the Holy Mysteries (or Sacraments) as something you're entitled to because you're "in" just like you're "in" a country club or other organization.  We forget that this is Christ's Body and Blood, not yours, not the priests' and not the Church's (though the latter two are both responsible for safeguarding it undefiled).  Is there the possibility that this priest is abusing his responsibility?  Absolutely.  But, if this were the case, I'm sure there would be other reports.  Is there a possibility that the priest is not applying the canons equally?  Maybe.

One other thing that troubles me about this whole episode is that Mr. Pappas and his priest must have been in communication before this particular situation happened. It is rare, from my standpoint, that a priest does not give the Eucharist to someone who approaches, but there have been times where I was told by my priest (usually after a confession) to not receive the Eucharist for a period of time.  So, when the distribution to the faithful came, I did not even come forth.  I must ask whether Mr. Pappas knew about his not being able to receive in advance.  If he did, it was WRONG of him to present himself.  Of course, to the media and to nominal Christians, such an act would be applauded and encouraged, because there's no way Mr. Pappas could be in the wrong.

I will end by going off on one quote from his editorial:
I’m no activist. I don’t want to have a “big, fat, Greek gay wedding” in my church. I’m not going to march outside the Archdiocese headquarters. I love it the way it has always been—a place of love and compassion, a community of good, hard working people and an institution that realizes that we’re all broken in one way or another, and the church’s sacraments should be celebrated to heal us and make us whole. Because, while I may not be a biblical scholar, I believe I’m a good person; my Church taught me how to treat my fellow human, how to be compassionate and, more importantly, the difference between right and wrong.
So, he's not an activist and is not going to protest, but he's going to make sure everyone outside of the Church hears about it via the Washington Post?   Yeah, that's not activism at all.  I also love how he determines himself to be a "good person" and so therefore he should get whatever he thinks he deserves.  There's the crux of the issue.  His protest, his editorial, his anger is all rooted in himself, in what he thinks.  Even in the Orthodox Church, the rampant individualism courtesy of the Protestant Reformation, has crept in.  Everything should be in accordance to what I believe.  I am the final arbiter.  I get to decide.  No, you don't.  Christ through His Church does. 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Another Front in the Worship Wars Opens

For those of us who grew up in a "mainstream" Protestant Christian denomination, there was considerable tension between those of us who favored the "traditional" liturgy vs. those who favored more "contemporary" style of worship with a "come-as-you-are" feel.  We call these the worship wars and every Protestant denomination and even the Roman Catholics have fought in many battles.  Both sides have been bloodied and bruised, but the banners of each still go forward. 

Traditionalists have balked at hearing of services dubbed "U2charist" or "Polka liturgy" or a "Beatles Liturgy" or any service using the music of today's or a few yesterday's popular music.  Traditionalists facepalm all the more when they hear of "Clown Masses."  Take your pick.  Rock n' roll, once public enemy #1 of the churches, has now been co-opted by churches for its own repackaging and branding.  What more could happen?

Well, apparently the community of beat boxers, R&B soloists, and thuggish rappers thought they were getting the short end of the stick by the churches so now a North Carolina church is giving in to (wait for it):  Hip-Hop liturgy.  I suppose it was only a matter of time. 

The same arguments which are used to justify any contemporary music in worship from the Beatles to U2 are also used to justify the existence of a Hip-Hop liturgy:  appeal to younger people, appeal to the non-churched, appeal to what people want, etc., etc.  I'm not going to refute these arguments, though I can and easily.  But here is what will inevitably happen:  There will be no growth.  Oh sure, you'll get a little spike at first, but it's going to be short lived and ephemeral.  If you strictly appeal to what people like and then try to give them an emotional attachment, a "musical high" if you will, what will happen when that "high" wears off?  People will leave to find their wants and desires elsewhere. A church which operates this way may get new visitors every week, but how many of them will actually stay and become involved with the community?  Not very many, I reckon. 

Churches which operate on the mechanism on giving people what the people want are essentially functioning as drug dealers.  They give out something which immediately gratifies, but just like the drug user who realizes that more and more of the drug is needed to achieve the same high, the itinerant church-goer whose primary concern is what satisfies him will go to another church that can achieve the same thing with little or no effort on his part. 

This is not a solution for the problems churches face with today's youth who are not as religiously devout as their parents.  It's only a band aid for a leaky dam.  If a church offers the same as the world, why does it expect a mass exodus from the world to inside its doors? Why would someone in love with the world want to do the same thing but in a location which maybe has some pews, some religious art and a pastor?  Why?

The Church is eternal and Christ says that the Gates of Hell will never prevail against Her.  So why do so many churches continue to try and evangelize using only the most ephemeral of methods?