The Dangerous Distinction: ‘T’ vs ‘t’

A common justification for the incorporation of heterodox modes of worship and spirituality in the Oriental Orthodox Communion is that such practices (arguably) fall in the realm of supposedly non-essential small-’t’ traditions, as distinct from essential capital-’T’ Tradition such as Church dogma. However, we ought to heed Reader Herman T. Engelhardt’s warning that “secular forces will invite us to draw a line between traditions with a big “T” and traditions with a small “t”. Unless there are very powerful reasons for allowing such distinctions in certain cases, we should resist these temptations as misguiding. We are beings of body, mind, and spirit. We will need to hold as faithfully as possible to the full constellation of habits of body and soul that bind us over space and time, in community with the Fathers.” That is, there is such a thing as a uniquely Orthodox ethos and phronema. Immersing ourselves in the unadulterated and irreducible life of the Church, which is the life of the person of Christ Himself, may God grant us discernment and the acquisition of an Orthodox phronema, the very mind of Christ!

An excerpt from the article ‘The Culture Wars: Orthodox Christians in the Trenches’
By Reader Herman T. Engelhardt
(Ph.D., M.D., Dr.h.c., professor, department of philosophy, Rice University,
and professor emeritus, department of medicine, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas)

The secular, post-Christian culture we confront is bent on recasting us in its image and likeness. It wants to break our unity with the mind of the Fathers. It wants to place us within a post-Christian morality, set us within a view of the cosmos as if all were without any ultimate purpose. Much of the Enlightenment aspired to undo religious traditions in the light of a secular rationality. Similar post-Christian Enlightenment forces now seek to recast our spiritual habits in both large and small ways. In large and small ways, we must resist. We must live our lives and orient our families within an understanding of the universe as coming from God’s creation, going through the Incarnation, and on its way to final restoration at Christ’s Second Coming. We know that reality does not come from nowhere, that it does not go nowhere, and that it is not without ultimate purpose. By living our lives focused on our ultimate purpose of union with God, our moral commitments, including our sexual moral commitments, we will be set apart from this post-Christian culture. By living an Orthodox life as a whole, we will have the strength to live our lives against the grain of this adverse post-Christian culture.

While being attentive to the large issues of obedience to God’s commandments, we must not neglect what might wrongly appear to be merely the smaller issues: the devotional peculiarities of a way of life, our ascetic disciplines, and our ritual observances. These bind us in body and soul with the Church of the Fathers over the centuries. We are flesh and spirit. As a consequence, we must not only will the good, but we must also realize the good bodily in and through our lives, through our concrete ways and habits that aim us at holiness. For good reasons, we are the Church of incense, bells, and beards. Our whole composition of incense, bows, and movements, is important in ways we at times only dimly appreciate. The whole ties us together in an experience of community with the Fathers. My father (may God give rest to his soul) in reflecting on our post-traditional age used to say that he was leaning into the wind. He knew that we have to push back against the powerful, post-traditional forces born of the Enlightenment. These secular forces will invite us to draw a line between traditions with a big “T” and traditions with a small “t”. Unless there are very powerful reasons for allowing such distinctions in certain cases, we should resist these temptations as misguiding. We are beings of body, mind, and spirit. We will need to hold as faithfully as possible to the full constellation of habits of body and soul that bind us over space and time, in community with the Fathers.

For example, consider both the Orthodox Christian fasts and the universal Christian custom from the first centuries of praying towards the east. Both of these practices subtly define how we use our bodies in orienting towards God. Both practices place us within a body of traditions that binds and unites us as a community over generations. As to the fasts, their exact character could perhaps have been otherwise. Who knows what the Holy Spirit could have allowed? Nevertheless, we should understand that all the fasts, including this Peter-tide fast that we are now keeping, are instances of the deep Christian appreciation of the necessity of prayer, almsgiving, and fasting. Our traditional fasts provide an insight into how asceticism can purify our hearts so that we can be theological, so that we can pray rightly, so that our hearts can become pure, so that we can see God.

So, too, praying to the East, being bodily oriented in prayer, is more than merely a pious custom. Every time we orient ourselves in prayer, we should remember that Christ is the true light (John 1:9), and we should join with the myrrh-bearing women on their way to the sunrise on the first Pascha. Is this a mere pious custom? Surely it is not, far from it. St. Basil when he rhetorically asks “what writing has taught us to turn to the east at prayer” has already answered that we have unwritten customs that, were we to reject them, “we should unintentionally injure the Gospel in its very vitals.” That is very strong language. Our post-traditional culture will invite us to think of such habits of body, heart, and spirit as merely superficial, as merely pious customs, as merely traditions with a small “t”. Our post-Christian, post-traditional culture will attempt to nickel-and-dime us into a world ever more out of step with the world of the Fathers. In resistance to this post-Christian, post-traditional culture, in defense of our Orthodox Christian culture, we should conform everything of our lives, as far as possible, to the lives of the Fathers, so that in this post-Christian, post-traditional age we will be able as easily as possible to live in the unbroken unity of the mind of the Fathers, the community of Orthodox Christians over the centuries. To take a lesson from the mistakes of another religion, namely, the Roman Catholics, one might consider the moral chaos that has beset Roman Catholicism when, after Vatican II, it changed the few traditions it still preserved from the Fathers regarding liturgy, prayer, and fasting.

I close with these remarks about fasting and orientation in prayer (i.e., facing to the east in prayer and Liturgy) as a warning against a temptation from our post-Christian culture to regard our commitments in overly intellectual and moralistic terms. We have a life that is an Orthodox Christian life as a spiritual whole. To hold our own in the culture wars, it will not be enough to recite a set of moral and metaphysical propositions such as our opposition to abortion, adultery, fornication, masturbation, homosexual acts, suicide, and euthanasia. We will have to live the lives of almsgiving, prayer, and fasting that have marked Christians from the time of the Apostles. We will need to embrace the pieties that support our lived appreciation of our moral commitments. The devils of this modern age are likely to be resisted and driven out only by prayer and fasting (Matt 17:21, Mark 9:29). In the culture wars that engulf us, we must live our Orthodox way of life as a whole, supported by Orthodox habits of body, soul, and spirit, all of which tie us into a community held together in grace across space and time. Only within a living community of Orthodox worship and belief will we be able to resist the forces of the secular, post-Christian, post-traditional culture that oppose us. Only then will we be able to convert its disoriented members to the true faith.

Source: http://www.saintgeorgekearney.com/the_culture_wars_orthodox_christians_in_the_trenches.html