Who We Are

Vestiges of Christianity is a news blog maintained under the direction of Bishop Bryan D. Ouellette, Ph.D., SOSM. Our goal is to reconcile ancient Christian theology with contemporary orthodox Christian practices and understandings. Our praxis carries with it a strong eastern liturgical focus while maintaining a freedom of spirituality that is true to ancient Christian ideology. We welcome anyone who desires to discover gnosis through the expression of early Christianity. We use the word "gnosis" with the intention to reflect its original meaning of soteriological knowledge, mystical wisdom and spiritual realization. While we encourage a working philosophical comprehension of Classical Gnosticism from antiquity, we are not a Gnostic or reconstructionist church. Our theology is orthodox, our approach, furthermore, is mystically liberating.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Changing Face of Christianity

The death of liturgical Christianity is upon us. In a way, it was a death several hundred years in the making. But now, as we look upon the spiritual condition of our society, it has become abundantly evident as Christianity has slowly shifted towards a scriptural literalism that I believe is both dangerous and ill-conceived. Why has this happened? And what factors have contributed to this happening?

Central to this problem are many erroneous correlations currently being made by large groups of individuals with a specific agenda (i.e., the media). However, rather than spend more time on these entities than they are worth, it is best to simply consider the image they have projected to the rest of us. For example, the Roman Church is usually the first thought that comes to mind when one considers liturgical Christianity. After years of holy wars, religious intolerance, genocides, and child abuse scandals, society isn't as convinced that these ancient rituals of the Church lead one to a condition of holiness. In fact, it appears to such individuals that it does quite the opposite.

Next, we have the growing problem of immediate gratification. In a stress-based society such as ours where people thirst for instant results, expedient efficiency, and maximized utilization, three and a half hour liturgies don't make sense. I've watched Roman Catholics struggle to get through a 45 minute Mass on Sunday, a Mass that has been largely stream-lined to remain relevant to the weakening minds of the general population. I'd be a rather rich man if I could charge such people a nominal fee every time they walk out right after communion. Even that last six to ten minutes is so precious to them that they could not possibly allow the liturgy to conclude in its natural time. It's not good time utilization, you see.

Finally, we have the ever increasing problem of empiricism. In a world obsessed with scientific fact and historical certainty, the world has become less connected to mythological and archetypal truth. This again goes back to this absolute literalism that we so often see in the "feel-good" practices of modern evangelical Churches. To such people, symbolic truth isn't a truth at all.

In the first instance, one must remember that sacramental grace is not the same as a life of holiness. Ritual doesn't make one holy. The Sacraments provide a grace that is freely given, but must also be freely accepted in order to bring about a condition of holiness. While I would say that it is true that the power of a Sacrament is contained within the Sacrament itself, this power can only be activated by the faith of the individual. And honestly, faith is a condition terribly contradicted by our modern world.

The second and third issues are a defect of modern consciousness and are not easily resolved. Homosapiens are pack animals. Most people prefer to follow than to lead and right now we have a classic example of the blind leading the blind. Corporate America with its insatiable drive for ever greater expressions of absolute efficiency has indirectly (or maybe even directly) contaminated the human psyche. Now we have perfect little examples of the American Dream, no longer just in the world of consumerism, but in the very heart of the Church itself. Asinine doctrines like "prosperity theology" sell millions of people on the idea that God will write the checks as long as you continue to believe. When that doesn't work, people become victims to their own fear of hell and find themselves believing in God not because they love him, but because they want to get the most out of their afterlife. It's all about good business sense.

Like we have seen in our own history of western civilization, I believe that in the end, liturgical Christianity will be preserved only in the monasteries, by the monks who understand what great treasure it is that they have. As the Roman Church continues to disintegrate and the mass exodus of their congregations into the realms of blind evangelicalism and atheism endure, we will see a time where the mysteries of Christ are once again preserved for only those who "know" And this is fine. In a way, I almost prefer it this way. What Gnostic wouldn't?

Fr. Bryan

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Western Pragmatism vs. Eastern Solemnity

Never did I think I’d be grateful for the Latin Rite. I left the Roman Catholic Church because I was growing weary of its “modern spirituality” and its seemingly incessant need to stay relevant, while accomplishing such in rather awkward and uncomfortable ways. The eastern Church opened up to me a vast plethora of ancient Christian praxis and when I fully integrated myself into it, I was quite content to remain there, while simultaneously forgetting all about my western origins. These days, however, I am finding myself appreciating what the west offers.

Because of the regular unavailability of my wife, who currently serves my liturgies as the only cantor (at least until the permanent monastery is built), it has become impossible to offer the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom on a usual basis. Add to it the simple fact that our eight-month-old son often doesn’t possess the stamina to make it through a two and a half to three hour liturgy, and the extreme difficulty of this service becomes clear. Fortunately though, I had the foresight to render the Holy Monastic Order En Deus bi-ritual (meaning, utilizing both eastern and western rites). I did this with the intention to foster a complete Christian monasticism that explores both eastern and western spiritual contributions, but now I am finding an even more practical benefit to this decision.

The Latin Rite Mass can be offered respectably, solitarily and without chanting in no more than 40 minutes. Making this rite the perfect solution to the difficulties listed above. While I do happen to be the sort of person who actually enjoys long three hour Divine Liturgies, the realities of being a married priest, with a young child, who has a rather busy ministerial out-reach schedule must be reckoned with in the best way possible.

Interestingly enough, offering Mass on a regular basis has begun to reconnect me and resolve the “western fall-out” that occurred so many years ago when I left the Roman Catholic Church for the east. Much to my surprise, I am actually finding it to be more spiritually rewarding than I could have ever imagined. Being blessed with the tremendous privilege to offer the Eucharist as a priest is an experience beyond words. Even when I was at my most 'Buddhist' in life, the Eucharist remained that Sacrament I could not seem to forget. It kept calling me, sometimes quite literally, until eventually I returned to the Church, and the rest is history. Now, I can say with complete confidence that regardless of eastern Divine Liturgy or western Mass, the experience of the True Presence in the Eucharist transcends any past, present, or future preconceptions.

Thursday, April 1, 2010