Friday, March 27, 2009

Finding Folk Orthodoxy

evil-eye

By Arturo Vasquez

A couple of years ago, I wrote a provocative piece on my experiences with Eastern Orthodoxy in this country. In it, I wrote that in my past encounters with Orthodoxy, what I usually found was a boutique religion for the white middle class, or alternatively, an ethnic church closed off from the rest of society, and not much else in between. In terms of the former, the most likely suspect to convert to Orthodoxy is a (usually white) religious maverick who wants to re-discover the “New Testament Church” as founded by Jesus Christ without the “popish” baggage that Roman Catholicism has to offer. Compared to the suburban white-washed suburban mega-parishes and the “supersitious” masses of the Latino barrio parish, Orthodoxy seems to have all of it i’s dotted and t’s crossed. There is, of course, the presence of the ethnic Orthodox, who often don’t come to Divine Liturgy on time or only grace the shadow of the church for a baptism or wedding, but they are a small price to pay for being in a church that doesn’t have “idolatrous” statues or the “Filioque” (that sum of all errors). The convert can thus enjoy his “true religion” detached from all of the cultural baggage of the “old country”. He may even seek refuge in an old, long fogotten past, being nostalgic for an “Orthodox Western Europe” that never was.

My own religious project since I wrote that polemical essay two years ago has changed substantially. It is very easy to find out what the Church says about itself. One only need look at such books as Ludwig Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma or a similar book to find out what you should believe. That is the religious center of the Faith; the safe region, the core of what the clergy say is to believed by all. But what role, if any, does the periphery hold; what is the role of belief that grows spontaneously outside of the control of the “official Church”? And what relation, if any, does the official Church have with these beliefs? Living in the 21st century, and having passed through the paradigm shifts of early modernity, it is very easy to dismiss half of the things that our grandparents believed in as superstition or remnants of a pagan past. My nagging suspicion, however, is that without these things that were at the periphery ( or underground, unofficial, or quasi-forbidden), the center cannot hold. The death of the religious imagination of our forefathers is leading to the death of religion itself.

Read the rest here

6 comments:

Ø said...

In his more "provocative" piece, he comes across as ignorant and uncharitable, but I at least can tell what his point is. This article, on the other hand, doesn't seem to have a particular thrust. Is he just trying to tell silly Orthodox converts that they need to chill out because "REAL ORTHODOXY" is fraught with at least as much weird stuff as anything else? Or is he trying to make the Orthodox look silly?

Ø said...

Also, it would be really cool to have one of those "Anti-Evil Eye" pendants.

Benedictus said...

None of the above.

I visit his blog a great deal, and he is interested mostly in folk Catholicism. If he is trying to tell Orthodox converts to "chill," he is also doing the same with converts to Catholicism. He has little patience with Protestant converts to Catholicism who reduce the Catholic faith to a few abstract doctrines, and simply ignore issues of liturgy and tradition, including of the little "t" variety, which includes the folk traditions that his own Mexican grandmother passed on. This is part of a vibrant Catholic culture, and it sometimes lives in tension with the official hierarchy. Here's an article where he discusses this tat some length in the context of Italian folk Catholicism: http://arturovasquez.wordpress.com/2009/03/17/on-the-night-battles/

He is a very traditional Catholic himself, having studied at a Pius X seminary in Argentina. He spent some time in a Byzantine Catholic monastery as a monk.

I believe his point is that as

I think his point is that in the end, a vibrant Catholic culture (and for that matter a vibrant orthodox culture as well) is more than just abstract doctrines. It is also people-people trying to survive in an uncertain world, trying the best way they can to incorporate the faith as they understand it into their daily lives. Not everyone has the time or luxury to read Thomas Aquinas or Maximos the Confessor, and trying to stamp out every expression of folk Catholicism or Orthodoxy may give us a sanitized religion, but perhaps the trade-off is no faith. The Church includes everybody-the lofty hesychast theologian and monk, to the peasant peasant grandmother in the isladn of Chios saying prayers to protect her grandchildren from vampire demons like the gello. When it comes to the Church, what G.K. Chesterton says holds true: Here comes everybody.

Ø said...

It would seem, then, that his point is something of an answer to the first question in that we cannot "sanitize" Orthodoxy, which is apparently a tendency of (American?) converts.

Personally, I'm pretty sure the people I know who really seem to be "sanitation engineers" (or might they be called SuperDox?) can be counted on one hand--which is just to say, it hasn't been my experience that converts attempt to stamp out these supposedly quixotic attempts to integrate the Faith with real life.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps I am one of the "white middle class" converts refered to by Vasquez, as I must admit I was rather startled during one liturgy when a Greek friend whispered to me, "I see the evil eye on you. Can I pray to make it go away." Or something of that sort.

Not even knowing what the evil eye was I think I replied, "I don't believe in the evil eye" but she proceeded in some sort of prayers that ended in her crying and saying, "That one took a lot of effort to make to go away" or something of that sort.

Quite a distraction from being able just to try to participate in the prayers and liturgy of the church!

And then what do you do when a Greek friend gives you one of these pendants to ward off the "evil eye?" I wanted to throw it away but since it was a gift I was convinced simply to store it away somewhere.

Yes, there is a lot of seemingly superstitious beliefs very alive today in the Orthodox Christian world.

I don't know if the evil eye exists. Personally, I chose simply not to give much attention to the subject and in the future if there is a seemingly superstitious belief that those around me are practicing and advocating me to practice, I will seek council from my spiritual father.

I would rather belong to a church with some superstitious beliefs than one of sterile docttrines of a spiritual world, but without a spiritual life practiced by its people.

And in the examples of the varies spirits that inhabited corpses (tympaniaios), it is helpful to remember the Greek tradition of removing the bones of the corpse into a smaller burial place so many years after they have deceased. When you start digging up corpses, of which we in the America don't do, it is only natural for new discoveries to be made.

Benedictus said...

"I don't know if the evil eye exists. Personally, I chose simply not to give much attention to the subject and in the future if there is a seemingly superstitious belief that those around me are practicing and advocating me to practice, I will seek council from my spiritual father."

I grew up in a neighborhood that had a multi-ethnic make-up, and my best friends were Greeks. I remember their mother having icons up in the home, and a few of those pendants against the evil eye. I for one don't know if the evil eye exists or not, but always appreciate someone praying for me to ward it off. Can't hurt, and I always appreciate prayer. Going to your spiritual father is the best course of action, certainly the right thing to do if confronted with a situation like this.

"I would rather belong to a church with some superstitious beliefs than one of sterile docttrines of a spiritual world, but without a spiritual life practiced by its people."

When the Son of Man returns in His glory, will He find faith in this world, or nice, clean-cut, sanitized people who give mental assent to abstract doctrines, but have no faith? Lord, have mercy!