I hope I am a more mature Christian now. I am no longer a Catholic, of course, but I can never see the Orthodox Church, or any church, with the same eyes that I once viewed the Roman Catholic Church. This is good, because it is truthful, and more realistic. I passed through — at least I hope I passed through — a period of cynicism that Tolkien mentions above, with reference to the disillusioned romantic. I no longer look for the ecclesiastical ‘love that will always keep me warm in a cold world.’ I used to, but I think to do so is to set oneself up for disillusionment that will end in bitterness.
There’s a lot to that “companion in shipwreck” metaphor, regarding religious life. I find that I’m far more tolerant of people who fall short in terms of orthodoxy — this, because I can see now that I was once real big on orthodoxy (= right belief), but faith as an intellectual construct is not the kind of faith that saves. Don’t misunderstand: orthodoxy is really important, and I don’t think we should compromise on it. I believe what the Orthodox Church teaches is true, and I wish all Christians were Orthodox. But I also think it’s possible to affirm that everything the Orthodox teaches is true, and still go to hell. I also think it’s possible to fail to do that, but to go to heaven. Which is only to say that I understand I Corinthians 13 a lot better than I used to.
...I thought about how something I’d once read — I think it was the Orthodox seminary professor Fr. Alexander Schmemann — advised a young Christian who said he wanted to be a monk not to go to the monastery at first, but to try his vocation by renting an apartment in the poor part of town, and living there as if he were a monk — praying, fasting, being a good neighbor to the poor, sharing their suffering. If he could do that for a year and found himself fed by it, then maybe he really did have a vocation to the monastery.
When I was a young Catholic, single and full of Thomas Merton, I thought that maybe I had a vocation as a monk. I did not, of course, but years later, reading that Schmemann (if indeed it was Schmemann), I wondered if I would have had the courage to test my vocation that way. I didn’t wonder it for long. Of course I wouldn’t have had that courage. I could live decently enough without nice things, I thought, but I couldn’t live in a place that scared me, among people who scared me...
Life is a shipwreck, and we’re all staggering around on the beach, trying to help each other make sense of it all, and get through this catastrophe and find our way back home.