|The All-Merciful Saviour Monastery on Vashon Island, WA.|
One of the things I've noticed in Orthodox Christianity, that I've not found anywhere else, is the recognition of ignorance. Not the excusing of it for wrong actions, but an amazing acceptance and working with this integral aspect of being human.
My first months at our church, I braced myself for some form of Orthodox policing and the shaming which I assumed would have to follow my infractions. I wasn't afraid at that point, because I would have run out the door as soon as it happened. I wasn't invested there yet. What did scare me was the possibility of becoming invested, of incrementally coming to love the people there and so forth, and then finding myself shamed before the group in some fashion, and then not wanting to exit but having to, with all the well-known pain this entails.
I was fearing such things as always happen among broken, fallen people. Which I'm acquainted with, because I have participated. It's so easy. Simply nod my head when someone brings up the awful thing someone else did. But it never ends with the simple nod.
The awfullest aspect of this is that often the someone else who did wrong was acting, to some degree at least, in ignorance. Even when I can't sort it all out, I can be 99.9% sure this is reality. Most people are not monsters. Maybe nobody is.
But still there are categories of monstrous things people do. We call them monstrous because they hurt so much. Even (on a relatively small scale) if a person walks inside an unfamiliar church and ignorantly steps on the toes of sacred tradition and then is shamed by a person from the church who is ignorant of how much this hurts the other, a wrong has been committed, a heart has been broken. It happens.
The New Testament book of James was written by someone who noticed. He participated in church and saw rich, pretty people being honored for breezing into their gathering, while poor, ugly people were sidelined. "Here, sit at my feet and be quiet." Wow. Becoming educated about this problem is still a painful process. Which is one reason, I guess, why people back then read and reread James' letter and included it in Holy Scripture. The holy things were, in truth, always and only about Jesus Christ, the Son of God, for whom the Jews had been preparing in their synagogues and to whom the Christians were drawing near. The holy things were meant to be accessed by all who desired them. Even those ignorant as I was, stumbling in at age 50 with an incredibly hardened soul.
In Orthodox churches, room exists for those as ignorant as myself. Kindly space is made for many, many mistakes and for learning. This is the air we converts breathe. With the human element it is far from perfect. As has always been the case, there is a continual need for confession of and repenting from wrongful, ignorant actions on the part of everybody. I have been growing to love this risk of being corrected, of even the chance someone will shame me (though the latter hasn't happened). The awkward process is a part of the Story that binds us together. The one that truly deals with the stuff that is monstrous.
"Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do."