My dear friend, James, over at paradosis.blogspot.com writes:
Veith tells us that postmodernists value diversity and there can be little doubt that the culture creating forces of our society today are striving to ingrain in us the “smiley-happy” slogan that pleads with us to “Celebrate Diversity.” Now, don’t get me wrong I have no qualms with people being diverse, but I am not convinced that it is always something to be celebrated…rather often it might be something we should lament – especially within the church.
It's a great article, but by the way I disagree a little bit about the above.
And here's why...
I believe that the postmodern "rebellion" of individualism that you see in the West is a natural and unavoidable result of the aberrant structure of Western Christianity. Namely, in the West Christianity became a "top-down" religious organization where everything flowed from the Pope and the Magisterium. This created a dynamic in which individuality was completely supressed.
On the contrary, in the East, we have always had a vast amount of individuality and opportunities of personal expression. Sometimes, unfortunately, you see this distored due to Western influences and a mis-interpretation by the Orthodox of history.
The Eastern Church is "conciliar" in nature. It is not a "top-down" structure, but rather a conciliar structure in which the great diversity we see in the Holy Eccumenical Counsils of ancient fame are what leads and guides the Church.
Why did the Eccumenical Council's meet? To pinpoint specific comonalities in the faith, and publicly exclude those abberations that were not true to the Historic Faith. They met together and agreed on specific comonalities (we have these things in the proclamations and canons of the Holy councils) and then left EVERYTHING else to the individual Bishops to work out in their own areas of jurisdiction. Thus the Church came together on things it agreed were the common elements of the Faith, and let local practice continue for every other area of life and spirituality.
Unfortunatlely, the Greeks (and to some extent the Russians) instead have modeled the West, thinking that if they did EVERYTHING the same, everywhere, it would provide some sort of cohesion in the Church. It does not. Instead, when inforced comonality is practiced it causes divisions.
God in His infinite Wisdom knows that we have need of diversity in worship, diversity in life and even to a certain degree in practice. There are formal guidlines that we adhere to: for example, the feasts and the fasts, the scripture readings (and even those are diverse within various jurisdictions), and certain aspects of life like how we participate in the sacraments. And yet there is a broad amount of diversity. When you go into an Orthodox Church you find there a far greater number of different ways that you may participate in worship than what you find in any other Church. You may participate simply by standing still and gazing at various icons. You may participate by venerating your favorite icons, or the reclics of your favorite Saints. You may light candles and place them in whatever candlestand you like, in front of icons that they or the saint depicted are especially meaningful to you. You may lift your hands in worship, you may kneel (see note below), you may do prostrations, and if you are feeling weary, you may sit. Yes, I forgot to mention: you may stand. :) You may sing along with the Choir or you may simply listen. There is no pressure to "conform". Worship is as personal as it is corporate. There are only three points in the service where you "must" do something, and that is: a) recite the creed, b) recite the Lord's Prayer, and c) recite the prayer before communion. And even then, you only, "must" do those things if you are planning on participating in communion that day.
There are other musts: you must keep the fast, you must celebrate the feasts, you must prepare for communion. But most of the "musts" have relative aspects to them. Everyone keeps the fast the best he/she can in whatever way he has discussed with his priest. Everyone celebrates the feasts likewise. And everyone does different things to prepare for communion - recites different prayers, and uses different rules for practices while preparing.
God knows and appreciates that we are all different.
That's why a "top-down" formal sort of structure was not given to the Christian Church. Rather, every Church that is a part of the Only, Holy and Apostolic Church throughout the world, practices in its own way. The top-down aberrancy in the West is what has caused Western man to cry out (even struggle) for diversity.
When there are rules as related to practice in the Orthodox Church, those rules are based on things deeply inportant to the expression of Christian Faith, the spiritual life of the Christian, and the timeless-presence-in-time of the Church. An example (from my "seen note below" above) is that of kneeling. You cannot kneel on Sundays. Why? Sundays is the great and glorious day of the Resurrection, and you should not kneel, but rather, stand, joyously. That is such an important point of our Faith, that the Church in her God-given Wisdom has ruled this "break" in the individual aspect of expressing our Worship.
So, in conclusion. Don't be confused if you walk into an Orthodox Church and see everyone doing exactly the same thing. It's because they have not overcome the "top-down" conceptions in the errant western mindset. For example, there is no "rule" that you must file forward in a single line venerating all the icons when you enter the Church. Out of respect when you enter a Church, you are supposed to venerate the icon in the center. In my opinion, I actually happen to appreciate those at our own Church, who I see going backward "in the line" - because they (in my opinion) are doing the "right thing" - not all the rest of us who are filed, orderly in a single line going from icon to icon as if it were all mindless repetition.
I can say the same things about crossing yourself and so on. The practice is to cross yourself when you hear "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." But many also cross themselves when they hear "blessed..." and some cross themselves on every Lord Have Mercy. The fact of the practice is that it is diverse. There is a whole plethora of things we can do in worship, ways we can express ourselves. And we need not trouble ourselves over: "am I doing it right?" That is the aberation of the Western mindset speaking.