Advertisements

Posts Tagged 'fr. nicholas ferencz'

American Orthodoxy and Parish Congregationalism by Fr. Nicholas Ferencz

In my research for the article on historiography of Orthodox Christianity in America, I encountered the book Orthodoxy and Parish Congregationalism by an Carpatho-Russian priest named Fr. Nicholas Ferencz. It was evidently his doctoral dissertation at Duquesne University, and it was published in 2006 by Gorgias Press under their “Gorgias Dissertations” imprint. It is, I think, a book that should be carefully read and considered by Orthodox Christians in America, and is far more of an intellectually honest look at certain issues than certain other books out there. Unfortunately, those certain other books are $15 a pop and Fr. Nicholas’ is $99 (the perils of a small boutique academic press, alas), so that’s unlikely to happen, but I’d like to make what case for the book I can.

Fr. Nicholas’ thesis is that “trusteeism” or congregationalism is unambiguously outside of Orthodox Christian tradition, but that it is nonetheless the de facto arrangement, at least in a modified form, for American parishes, and that this state of things represents a troubling gap between belief and practice in Orthodox Christianity as it is practiced in this country. “American Orthodoxy,” he contends, “lives out an experience of church which is at odds with its professed understanding of church,” a problem which most church leaders either cannot or will not acknowledge publicly, and of which most laity are unaware (p. 2).

The model of “modified congregationalism” within which most parishes function, he argues, boils down to the laity controlling the material assets of the community. At the same time, the laity allows the clergy (including the episcopate) more or less limited authority in the spiritual realm, but with the right implicitly reserved to either revoke that allowance, or to use material authority in a way that trumps the spiritual authority — that is, “the earthly coercive power of control” (p. 204). This is a problem, and a big one:

[C]ongregationalism does not work in practice within the Orthodox Church. Parish life does not divide into such neatly fragmented categories as spiritual/cleric on one side and material/laic on the other. A congregationalist structure merely serves to maintain a fiction which undermines the authority and responsibility of both the clergy and the laity, to the detriment of the parish and, therefore, of the church. (p. 7)

This state of affairs exists for a number of reasons, and there are three in particular on which Fr. Nicholas concentrates. The first is what he terms “the moral absence of the hierarchy,” both in the formative years and up to the present, the second is the long-term impact of the circumstances surrounding St. Alexis Toth’s bringing many of the Uniate parishes into the Orthodox Church, and the third is the result of lay societies being the engine which drove the formation of many early Orthodox parishes. Without going into the minutiae of his argument, the way that Fr. Nicholas lays out the historical circumstances in which the theoretical/practical gap developed in Orthodox Christianity as practiced in the United States is fascinating reading, and excellent food for thought.

So, what’s the way forward? There are several generations in this country, from cradle and convert stock alike, who are very used to things being the way they are, they don’t want to hear that what they’re doing is at variance with traditional Orthodox practice, and in fact they might even argue that we haven’t gone far enough towards congregationalism. So what do we do? Is it possible that there’s just no other way for Orthodox Christianity to function in this country? Is there just too much of a cultural disconnect for it to be otherwise?

Fr. Nicholas suggests that “[r]eal conciliarity on a parish level could be the beginning of the healing of the divisiveness of congregationalism,” (p. 210) with conciliarity being defined as “an authority structure which requires that all the People of God, ordained and unordained, participate in the authority of the church and the exercise of that authority as one, whole Body” (p. 209). At the same time, however, conciliarity is emphatically not “the gathering of an… ‘amorphous mass’ for the purpose of casting votes… [that is,] a democracy. It is the gathering, the coming together, of the Body of Christ in unity and in wholeness” (ibid.). This being the case, it is vital that we realize “[t]he participation of each member of the church is not exactly the same, uniform, and undifferentiated. Each person is called to share in Christ’s authority to the degree and in the manner in which they have received God’s grace to do so” (ibid.). It’s not an easy way forward in a culture where we don’t readily make a distinction between difference in function and difference in quality, so I don’t know how we get around that, but I suspect Fr. Nicholas is right regardless.

There’s much more to the book than this necessarily brief review will allow me to explore, but I recommend seeking it out. If you don’t want to fork out the $99 to buy it, interlibrary loan should be able to produce a copy. It’s very much worth reading and discussing further.

Advertisements

Week 5 of grad school and all is well

The last couple of times I had a hiatus in blogging, it was because things weren’t altogether well for me.

This time, to be honest, I’ve got nothing to complain about. Things are going really well.

I’m going to repeat that, just for emphasis and the sheer joy of being able to say that truthfully and unreservedly, perhaps for the first time since moving out here over six years ago:

Things are going really well.

The last several weeks have been something of a whirlwind; after getting back from Greece I had two papers to finish, a godson’s wedding to hold crowns for, my wife to murder, and Guilder to frame for it — er, wait. That is to say, two days after the wedding, Orientation Week started, during which I had to take a Latin and a Greek diagnostic exam; then the semester started for real, and it was off to the races.

Im photographing them being photographed. Theres something kind of uncomfortable meta about this, dont you think?

I'm photographing Matthew and Erin being photographed. There's something kind of uncomfortably "meta" about this, don't you think?

Matthew and Erin’s wedding was wonderful; we were in South Bend for the three days leading up to it to help out with various things, and it was a joy to be part of it at every step. Fr. George Konstantopoulos at St. Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Church in South Bend served with Fr. Peter, and this was a lucky match for everybody — Fr. George has decades of experience and knows all of the little things that often get left out in the simplified versions of services that are often done these days. For example, I was a lot busier as the koumvaros at this wedding than I was for another one at All Saints last year — at that wedding, I just stood there. Here, I did the crown exchange and the ring exchange — and let me tell you, I was sweating it during the ring exchange. Oh, I thought. These rings are very small, and my fingers are very big. And all three sets of hands are shaking. If I drop them it will be very bad. Now I remember why I don’t do brain surgery. Fr. George also had the gravity and authority (to say nothing of the beard) that comes from many years of doing this, and it complemented well Fr. Peter’s still-youthful energy (he’s 35, I guess it’s not inappropriate to say that, right?).

The next morning, the newly-crowned Mr. and Mrs. Wells met us at St. Andrew’s for Divine Liturgy, and Fr. George gave them a big ol’ head pat during the announcements — “Matthew and Erin from Bloomington were married here yesterday,” he said, “and this morning they were here for Divine Liturgy. To me, that is an example of what living life as an Orthodox Christian is all about.” His meaning could hardly be plainer had he hoisted a neon sign saying, Please take being here as seriously as they do.

I need a calculator to adequately express in mathematical terms how much shorter than me you are, Megan...

"I need a calculator to adequately express in mathematical terms how much shorter than me you are, Megan..."

Before driving home, we headed to Chicago to see our friend Tessa Studebaker, an old singing colleague of mine from Seattle whom we hadn’t seen since before we moved to Indiana. When I met her ten and a half years ago, she worked at Barnes and Noble for the discount and was still in high school; now she’s in her upper twenties, is a college graduate, took a job in France for a while, moved back, and is possibly getting serious about somebody. It’s incredible to think that the last ten years have gone by so quickly that all of that could have happened, but there we are. It’s even more incredible that the majority of that ten years has been spent here in Bloomington — it means I’ve spent more time here than I spent in Seattle after dropping out of college the first time. It means that the address I’ve had the longest in my entire life (four years) has been here. It means that by the time I’m done with my PhD, I’ll have spent probably over ten years at a place I thought maybe I’d spend three years at the very most.

But enough with the existential pondering for the moment. I guess seeing old friends has a way of bringing that out of me.

Orientation was more or less a non-event; I’ve been here for six years, I know where the library is, my e-mail account hasn’t changed in all of that time, so there wasn’t really any particular novelty for which I required context. That said, a couple of things stick out for me — one, Ed Watts, the Director of Graduate Studies for the History department here (who also happens to be my PhD advisor), strongly impressed on everybody to find a schedule for working, a rhythm of grad school life, that gets the job done and can be adhered to, and then to stick to it. Coming from a situation where I was trying to fit being a half-time (or more like three-quarter time) student in around having a fulltime 8-5 job, that advice really resonated with me; I’ve done my best to take that to heart, and I think it’s served me well thus far.

Secondly, I observed this kind of thing while students were introducing themselves:

“Hi, I’m Jacob Goldstein, and I’m doing Jewish history with an emphasis on Holocaust education.”

“My name is Sankar Ramasubramanian, and I’m interested in modern Indian history.”

“I’m Ramon Santiago, and I do early modern Latin American history.”

Do you see where I’m going with this? It seems that who one is can’t help but inform their research interests, and the correlation there appears to be entirely natural and predictable. That said, the same correlation appears to be viewed with some amount of suspicion when it comes to Christians doing Christian history. I haven’t directly experienced that among my cohort yet, but I’ve seen it in other contexts, and something I’ve picked up on a bit is a certain point of view, perhaps almost subconsciously held, that can be expressed as, I’m interested in history because I want to prove that everybody has always been as petty, nasty, and not to be trusted as they are now. It’s a fundamental skepticism of humanity bordering on loathing (but ironically, I think its proponents would probably self-identify as humanists), and it seems to cross disciplinary and ideological lines. I’m not exactly sure what to make of it.

My Greek and Latin exams evidently went well enough; for each language, I had three passages, a dictionary, and an hour. In each case I got through more or less the first passage and the first third to the first half of the second. I don’t remember what the passages were, but they didn’t generate any particular concern. I was worried, when I next saw Watts, that he’d get a concerned look on his face and say, “We need to talk,” but that didn’t happen. He just said I did very well with the Greek, and while the Latin wasn’t as good, it was still pretty good. I figured the Latin would be the weaker of the two anyway.

Then it was time to actually start classes.

So, I’m taking three classes for real, sitting in on two, and then doing some individual reading with Watts for one credit. I’m taking third year Modern Greek, a mandatory “Welcome to the History Department” course called “Introduction to the Professional Study of History,” and then a course in Classical Studies where we’re reading Ancient Greek judicial oratory — Antiphon, Lysias, and Demosthenes, namely. Modern Greek I have to take for my funding (and I should be doing as much with it as I can, anyway), and then Watts wanted me to take some upper-level Classical Studies courses so I could have a chance to sharpen my Greek a bit. The one credit of individual reading we’re doing finds us reading St. Jerome’s Life of St. Hilarion, so I’m also getting some Latin in this semester. Since I’m ahead of the game a bit in terms of my coursework, Watts thought it was important to give my languages some extra time, and he’s right — it’s been a good thing.

(Watts and I have had a couple of simpatico moments with our iPhones — today, for example, we were reading Jerome and needed to look up a word. I pulled out my sketchy little pocket dictionary, and he said, “I’ll one-up you there.” With a gleam in the eye only recognizable by the fellow geek, he pulled out his iPhone and asked, “Do you know about the Latin Dictionary app?” I didn’t, but within two minutes I had it along with its companion Greek Lexicon by the same developer.)

I’m also sitting in on an undergraduate survey Watts is teaching on the Late Antique Roman Empire, as well as a seminar in Art History called Problems in Early Christian Art. The former is really useful background, and I’m doing it instead of taking Watts’ actual graduate seminar on the same material (since I’m actually at a point where it’s vital I take seminars from people other than him). The latter is a result of recognizing a) that my interests, the way I want to talk about them, are interdisciplinary, and b) given certain realities, I will be best served doing some of the interdisciplinary work on my own time. The course is basically dealing with Christian art up to Iconoclasm; the reading is actually highly useful stuff for me, and I’m learning a lot, with certain things I can already talk about being discussed in a very different context than that to which I’m accustomed.

Anyway, it’s a lot, but it’s not a back-breaker of a schedule by any means. Yes, it’s a good amount of work, but I’m finding it easier to manage now than I found it to manage less work while having to juggle a fulltime job. It means I’ve had less time for blogging, yes, but it’s been for a good reason. I think I’m at a point where I understand the rhythm well enough that I can post a bit again.

So, in brief, that’s where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing. Coming up, there’s another wedding this weekend, that of a certain Daniel Maximus Greeson and Chelsea Coil, plus I’m also supposed to run a book review for these folks by 10 November. Plus there are any number of other things for me to talk about regarding what I’ve been reading and what I’m thinking about — it’s more “Where the heck do I begin?” than “What do I have to say?” Let me tell you, these are all problems I am thrilled to have.

I will close this post in the manner which I think I may start closing for the time being — that is, with a rundown of what I’ve recently finished reading and what I’m currently reading.

Recently finished:

Currently reading:


Advertisements

Richard’s Twitter

adventures in writing alexander lingas all saints bloomington all saints orthodox church american orthodox architecture american orthodox music american orthodoxy Antiochian Archdiocese Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America Antiochians books byzantine chant cappella romana chant church architecture ecclesiastical chant ethnomusicologists ethnomusicology fellowship of ss. alban and sergius Greece Greek greek food greekness hazards of church music international travel tips ioannis arvanitis joe mckamey john michael boyer kurt sander Latin liturgical adventures liturgical architecture liturgical music liturgical texts and translation liturgy liturgy and life lycourgos angelopoulos medieval byzantine chant Metropolitan PHILIP militant americanist orthodoxy modern byzantine architecture modern greek music music as iconography my kids will latin and greek when they're newborns my kids will learn latin and greek when they're newborns orthodox architecture orthodox architecture is bloody expensive Orthodox choir schools Orthodox Ecclesiology orthodox outreach orthodox travel pascha at the singing school Patriarchate of Antioch Patriarch IGNATIUS IV Patriarch of Antioch publishing random acts of chant richard barrett in greece richard toensing rod dreher sacred music st. vlads st john of damascus society Syriac the Bishop MARK fan club the convert dilemma the dark knight The Episcopacy The Episcopate the only good language is a dead language this american church life travel we need more american saints why do we need beautiful music in churches?

Blog Stats

  • 227,470 hits

Flickr Photos

Advertisements