To continue a good recent correspondence with “partisan_1812" following my recent "Orthodox in the diaspora” posting, the question of “mixing and matching” ascetic traditions came up. He asks whether we can go “comparison shopping” between churches.
My reply is:
Ultimately, yes, we can do comparison shopping, providing it is really “which church in the geographic and cultural situation in which I find myself enables me to best interpret and respond to that call of God which I feel deep down in myself”, and not “in which Church is the fast the lightest”, “which church will allow me to remarry as a divorcee” or, horror of horrors, which one will ordain me as the priest I have always dreamed of being. There are places where this “best church” will – hopefully - be the Orthodox Church, and if it is doing its job properly it should certainly be a very serious contender.Where it is not doing this job properly, then we Orthodox cannot complain at people going elsewhere.
As to “mixing and matching” (in Europe we tend to say: “pick and mix”) we need to be careful. If we are talking about coherent ascetic traditions which produce serious conversion as we would understand it in an Orthodox way, for my money there are only two which are really available today, in either the USA or Europe: an Orthodox way based on the Church Fathers/Athonite tradition, and a Roman Catholic tradition based more or less on the Ignatian way. Certainly the two main ‘offerings’ on today’s religious market in Europe are the ‘Jesus Prayer’ and the Exercises of St Francis Loyola’. Each of these has its own logic, and yes, I would be hesitant to mix and match.
There may be other, more limited ones, in particular the Carthusian tradition and possibly the Carmelites. Certainly in both of these three there is a sense of tradition, of passing down of living personal experience from generation to generation, and not simply learning out of a book.
My impression is that ‘mix and match’ happens rather in those parts of the church which have lost any sense of living, personal tradition. What evidence I have suggests that Benedictine and possibly Cistercian monasticism, which essentially lost their generation to generation tradition at the French Revolution and ‘revived’ it from the books afterwards, lack a real ascetic logic: yes, they do tend to mix and match and make a mess of it (a big part of the problem is taking the Rule of St Benedict as a spiritual method rather than as a container for one). My own experience for two years in a Catholic monastery in France in the 1980s was disastrous here. Nor do I see the Franciscans as having a clear aesthetic method. Some of the newer Catholic orders seem to be recognizing the need for one, but I cannot talk of uniformity.
If any Roman Catholic reader can come in here, I would be interested on comments….