It seems there is an attitude within Orthodoxy that the Great Schism only affected the West; that it began to spiral out of control, to multiply its heresies and fragment into tens of thousands of denominations. Meanwhile, the East continued on, unscathed, as if nothing happened.
I'd like to pose some questions for discussion:
Is it possible that the Schism had an affect on the East that now defines it as much as it has defined the West? Prior to the Schism, the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church had a truly catholic and universal self-understanding, but in the centuries that followed, the Eastern Church began to equate itself with Byzantinism. Is it possible that, as a result of the Schism, the Eastern Orthodox Church was forced to view its part of the Universal Church, its unique contribution to Holy Tradition, as the whole of things? Is it possible that the Eastern Church, in Her limited scope and view of things, began to ascribe theological and symbolic importance to aspects of her liturgical and devotional life that then had the consequence of fostering a false self-understanding of what it truly meant to be "Orthodox" (i.e. being "Eastern" or "Byzantine")? If so, might this have an effect on the way Orthodoxy is presented to the Western world? In what ways might the Eastern Orthodox Church need to think carefully about how it self-identifies and the way it speaks about the varying aspects that make up her "life"?
I think these are excellent questions. And they are questions that fall very much within the scope of the Forum so that this is not just a matter of an Orthodox vs 'the others' debate. Rather these questions relate to the Patristic understanding of the nature of the Church.
Right now I am reading a most amazing book called The Stripping of the Altars
by Eamon Duffy. As the cover says, it is a study of, 'traditional religion in England from 1400- 1580'. Basically, the territory covered is everyday religion as practiced by most laity in England at the time. And there is enough detailed description to give a very good sense of what this was like.
Now, besides the obvious doctrinal issues there are indications of what would become increasing problems over time- an affective and emotional relationship to Christian spirituality; an increasing focus on Christ's human suffering, and then seeing the Eucharist increasingly as a sacrifice in this sense. But along with this there are also some striking similarities to Orthodoxy in the liturgical life & prayers, and sacramental sense and piety which took in the whole community. Indeed what is described bears close match to what one could have seen in a typical Russian village at the same time. Although what is so attractive for us is how there is obviously a very English cultural tone to what was practiced. In other words here almost beyond recovery is some indication of what western Orthodoxy could have been like- its similarities with the east, but yet with its own distinct tone and focus also.
Tragically however, the increasing spirit of modern criticism destroyed this in the west. And in this way we were all made poorer for it to be certain. It is true that at times we forget that at one time the Byzantine spiritual expression was only one of many modes in a very wide Orthodox world stretching from Iceland to Mesopotamia. If we kept this in mind it would have more of a positive effect on how we relate to the spectrum of Orthodoxy that we experience now.
However amidst this we also need to keep it firmly in mind that God still guided His Church. Having a glimpse of English Orthodoxy allows us to recognize those similarities with the east that speak of an older, pre-Schism world that was unified even amidst its diversity. But even in the east this village piety was more affective and emotional in nature. It carried its own temptations. And meanwhile God allowed that the Byzantine monastic typikon, marked by sobriety in pious and theological expression, become the predominant manner of doing the services and understanding them, indeed of understanding our own piety and spirituality and Church life.
Thus, what began as one mode among many in the east (the monastic I mean as formed in Constantinople and the Holy Land) ended up being for us a virtual life saver of Church life. For from experience we can now better see that the affective and emotional has little defensive power against the modern spirit. Yes, the eastern monastic mode has its own temptations- ie to mistake closed mindedness for faithfulness; and similarly, to streamline the Faith to such an extent of its affective and emotional aspect, that basically it has been rationalized and emptied of much its humanizing power. But still far beyond this I think that it is this aspect of Orthodoxy, its Byzantine monastic legacy, that has allowed it to survive the most severe attack the Church has ever been called upon to endure.
After all, it's not for nothing that our continual answer to others is: 'return to the Fathers'.
In Christ- Fr Raphael