How Pope Francis drove me to Eastern/Oriental Orthodoxy

Dana Pham (pronouns: who/cares)
8 min readDec 23, 2023
Source: https://www.instagram.com/p/C0XCm72SD8N/

Yeah I know, the title of this blog post is a little clickbaity (just a little?). I have not converted to Eastern or Oriental Orthodoxy, at least not yet. I’ll admit, YouTuber Orthodox Kyle is addictively convincing, but alas I’m too scholastic in the catholic sense. Whilst Orthodoxy ecclesiologically reminds me of Anglicanism, I’m still a loyal Anglo-catholic at Christ Church St Laurence in Railway Square, and convincing old habits die hard.

To recap, I posted “Pope Francis’ un-Synodality confirmed” almost 18 months ago as a highly disgruntled Roman Catholic, and I followed it up with “Catholic Music: the beautiful, the good, the bad, and the ugly” a few weeks later. I was then received into the Anglican Communion on 23 October 2022. If you’re a Catholic angry at me, please redirect your anger to Frank.

Fast forward a year later, last Sunday I attended the 8am Bilingual Matins and the 10:30am English Liturgy at St George Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral in Redfern. Built in the 1950s, it didn’t look too impressive on the outside, but inside I saw different golden shades everywhere. Then the second thing I noticed is the choir working hard, and every different Orthodox parish that I have visited since, the choir really is working hard.

The third thing I noticed is the thurible adorned with jingle bells, and it appears to be a universally Orthodox liturgical item. It made Matins feel a bit like Eucharistic Adoration. I was transfixed by the iconostasis and the holy doors that gives the reverence that the altar deserves — why can’t Catholic parishes have nice things? It was worth waking up early on a Sunday morning to see this beauty.

During Matins, everyone went up to kiss some sort of small gold book the priest was holding, the Bible perhaps? Then he went back to consecrating the Eucharist I think? Anyway, I came back for the Divine Liturgy later that morning, and I learnt that it’s actually the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom. The congregation looked ethnically diverse, it is an English-speaking Liturgy after all. The priest read announcements halfway through the Liturgy, and apparently they offer family house blessings.

He then went on to sermon about pre-Christ Christians, critiqued low church attendance, made a call to arms to fill up the pews, and finally quoted from https://earlychurchtexts.com/public/epistle_to_diognetus.htm. I witnessed the Great Entrance procession (Google it, wow!), and I witnessed the priest literally spoonfeeding parishioners with the host. This Divine Liturgy went on for 1 hour and 10 minutes — kinda rushed for what it is in my opinion. The last thing I learnt was the giving away of leftover bread afterwards.

The day after this experience, Fiducia supplicans was published by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Roman Curia. Of controversial interest is its subtitle “Blessings of Couples in Irregular Situations and of Couples of the Same Sex”, detailing that the “form of which should not be fixed ritually by ecclesial authorities to avoid producing confusion with the blessing proper to the Sacrament of Marriage…

This is a blessing that, although not included in any liturgical rite, unites intercessory prayer with the invocation of God’s help by those who humbly turn to him… it is essential to grasp the Holy Father’s concern that these non-ritualized blessings never cease being simple gestures that provide an effective means of increasing trust in God on the part of the people who ask for them, careful that they should not become a liturgical or semi-liturgical act, similar to a sacrament… there is no intention to legitimize anything, but rather to open one’s life to God, to ask for his help to live better, and also to invoke the Holy Spirit so that the values of the Gospel may be lived with greater faithfulness.”

So why couldn’t the blessing words be fixed to something like, “May almighty God bless you each to grow in Christian friendship, and to remain chaste, together in prayer, keeping you always safe from the temptations of the flesh, in pursuit of your celibate vocation”? Or is heretical Christendom the end state? What I read was the kind of weaponsied ambiguity that the James Martins of the world would conveniently feel “spontaneous” about.

And here’s the slap in the face for those affected by the Unholy Father’s Traditional Latin Mass crackdown: “In this regard, there come to mind the following words of the Holy Father, already quoted in part: “Decisions that may be part of pastoral prudence in certain circumstances should not necessarily become a norm. That is to say, it is not appropriate for a Diocese, a Bishops’ Conference, or any other ecclesial structure to constantly and officially establish procedures or rituals for all kinds of matters […]. Canon Law should not and cannot cover everything, nor should the Episcopal Conferences claim to do so with their various documents and protocols, since the life of the Church flows through many channels besides the normative ones.” Thus Pope Francis recalled that “what is part of a practical discernment in particular circumstances cannot be elevated to the level of a rule” because this “would lead to an intolerable casuistry”.

To state that this is a double standard would be an understatement. To add Jesuit-style insult to Roman intellectual injury: “In a brief prayer preceding this spontaneous blessing, the ordained minister could ask that the individuals have peace, health, a spirit of patience, dialogue, and mutual assistance — but also God’s light and strength to be able to fulfill his will completely”.

The insult continues: “… this blessing should never be imparted in concurrence with the ceremonies of a civil union, and not even in connection with them. Nor can it be performed with any clothing, gestures, or words that are proper to a wedding”. In the age of cultural relativism, who is the arbiter of what is proper and not proper to a wedding?

We know what’s really going on here, the concluding words says it all: “What has been said in this Declaration regarding the blessings of same-sex couples is sufficient to guide the prudent and fatherly discernment of ordained ministers in this regard. Thus, beyond the guidance provided above, no further responses should be expected about possible ways to regulate details or practicalities regarding blessings of this type”. Perhaps as an Anglican in Sydney, I should stop complaining about how evangelical Sydney Anglicans is.

The day after this scandal, I cleansed myself with the 6:30am Divine Liturgy (in English) at Holy Archangel Michael Serbian Orthodox Church in Homebush. It looks like a cute little church, recently built, but inside there was no sense of modern degeneracy, just dense and dimly-lit iconography galore. I noticed the few who braved the dawn kissing various icons upon arrival. The men were strictly wearing smart casual, and the women were more covered than I was, including being fully scarved — my mantilla was of the minimalist variety.

During this Liturgy there was a lot of the following combination amongst the congregation: sign of the cross, bowing (standing up) and what looks like touching the floor, all on repeat to varying degrees, without pews in the way. There are pews, but few and positioned to the side — the point being that if you care enough about reverence you’ll stand for as long as possible (based!).

I obviously did not come forward to receive communion, but I could hear the priest saying the following whilst spoonfeeding: “The servant of God, partakes of the precious Body and Blood of our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins and to life everlasting”. That’s super-reverent compared to the throwaway line: “The Body of Christ” (cool story, a little too brief).

I usually have a rule that if Mass/Liturgy is less than an hour, it is anesthetised (the exception to this for me is Low Mass in Latin), if it’s 1 hour and 10 minutes that’s the minimum standard, and that the acceptable duration is 1 hour and 30 minutes. This Liturgy went on for 1 hour and 45 minutes, maybe because it was the Feast of St Nicholas the Wonderworker (and no sermon), but I now really want to come back to the same parish for another Liturgy in English. It was so worth waking up at 5am whilst on Christmas leave to experience nearly 2 hours of a literally Divine Liturgy!

At the end of this Liturgy was some sort of leavened bread consecration ceremony that the congregation was huddling around, hands touching each others’ shoulders (a Pentecostal/Charismatic moment?). Two men of the congregation were fed pieces of the bread — not sure why, I think this part of the Liturgy was spoken in Serbian? After the Liturgy I lined up to receive the leftover bread. Like everyone else I kissed two icons along the way, then before the priest, I kissed the crucifix he was holding, then kissed his crucifix-holding hand, then received the bread.

Yesterday I went to the 9am Royal Hours at Sts Michael and Gabriel Antiochian Orthodox Church in Ryde. Like Holy Archangel Michael in Homebush, it was another cute little church, recently built, with the main difference being the dense iconography galore inside contrasted against a minimalist white — a hopeful beauty. However, the iconostasis was too minimalist for my liking (there are no holy doors), and even the jingle-bells thurible doesn’t swing — I can’t help but develop some ridiculously high church tastes.

What I did like about the Royal Hours is that I’ve never crash-coursed so much Psalms within 90 minutes! The Psalms readings were led by choir members, and after a choir member finished a reading set, she would approach the priest to kiss the crucifix he is holding. I also noticed that the Royal Hours are based on the New King James Version (NKJV) — how very High Church Anglican. Afterwards the deacon greeted me being a newcomer — we talked for a bit, and he mentioned that if I’m interested, I could express interest in coming along to their 12-week Monday-night catechism classes starting in a month’s time.

Yesterday afternoon I turned up to Sts Mary and Merkorious Coptic Orthodox Church in Rhodes for their advertised 4:30pm English Liturgy, but no one was inside :(. I sat at the front pew anyway to be awed by the epically wide and tall iconostasis and holy doors that weren’t added onto the building. I can’t wait to come back here for an English Liturgy, it must too be epic! On my way out, I saw a NKJV New Testament on one of the pew seats — I see a trend.

I’ll probably make another post in January, covering the following upcoming Sydney Orthodox adventures of mine:
8am English Liturgy Sunday the 24th at Sts Mary and Mina Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Bexley
6pm Great Vespers of Nativity Sunday the 24th at St Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Church in Punchbowl
9am Matins and Liturgy Monday the 25th at St Mary’s Antiochian Orthodox Church in Mays Hill
8:30am Hours and Liturgy Sunday at St John the Baptist Skete in Kentlyn.

Stay tuned :)

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Dana Pham (pronouns: who/cares)

Trans-inclusionary radical feminist (TIRF) | Liberal Arts phenomenologist from @notredameaus | Anglo-catholic | all opinions expressed here are my own