It is Thursday, and so we have the sixth instalment of the Madonna House video series, the twelve short films about our apostolate that we made just this past year. Here it is, with some thoughts following:
Now, I have to say for the first time in these videos that I don't think this one quite nailed it. This is not a criticism of the film makers, really: the subject of MH and its relationship to the Eastern church is a big one, perhaps not possible to cover in a seven minute You Tube style video. Film is a necessarily visual medium--this is its great power and beauty--but I think (I may be biased in this by my own authorial avocation) that something more needs to be written about this topic.
The film covers our celebration of the Byzantine liturgy--three of our priests have bi-ritual faculties, and we have the Divine Liturgy once a month. It also touches briefly upon the presence of icons in our community, interviewing one of our iconographers, and finally touches very briefly on the presence of poustinia in the life of the community. All of these are vast and profound topics in themselves and in the context of our Roman Catholic community, and so in a seven minute video the most that can be said is 'these things exist; they are really beautiful; we really like them!'
Like I say, there's a lot more that can be said on the topic, and it's on my 'long list' of books I would like to write some day. The fact is, Catherine Doherty was Russian, to the marrow of her spiritual bones, and her entire Christian formation was that of a Russian Orthodox lay woman. She had been exposed quite a bit to Catholicism in her childhood, being educated by Catholic nuns in various boarding schools, and her father in particular was very ecumenical in his own person, being a disciple of the Russian philosopher Vladimir Soloviev who took a remarkably pro-Roman stance in his writings.
Catherine, then, upon her becoming Catholic as a young woman lived out her Roman Catholicism with a complete interior orientation towards Russian spirituality and piety. Living outside of Russia, she often felt like a stranger in a strange land, and questioned God as to why He was asking her to found a community when she always struggled to communicate her understanding of the Gospel to a Western audience.
It is a long story as to how God answered that question. Part of it was his bringing to MH Fr. (later Archbishop) Joseph Raya whose dynamic charismatic celebration of his Melkite liturgy opened the community up to the beauty of the East. In addition, she discovered, and began to read, a succession of books by Russian theologians who themselves had left Russia in the Communist era and who thus had a Western audience for their Russian presentation. Schmemann, Arseniev, and above all Paul Evdokimov gave Catherine the words to explain what she had always lived, and the 'permission' to use those words to present her deepest spiritual insights to her MH family.
And so besides poustinia, she brought forth in the last decade of her life a slew of Russian words that I believe we are still just beginning to unpack in MH: sobornost (unity); strannik (pilgrim); urodivoi (fool for Christ); and molchanie (the silence of God). All of this (and more, yet) has made MH an odd thing indeed--a Roman Catholic community beating with a Russian heart, a group of Westerners, called to be faithful to our Western traditions and ways, yet illumined by light from the East, and still, largely, striving to understand what that means precisely and how we are to live it fully and faithfully.