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Posts Tagged 'conversion'

When, evidently, unity in Christ is not enough

Some bloggers are having an argument right now. (What a surprise.) I’m really hesitant to name some of the parties or link to them, because up to this point they’ve mostly ignored me (with one exception), and I’ve really enjoyed not being on their radar. More than that, I am really reluctant to give any of them referral traffic. Rather, I will link to this person, already on my blogroll anyway, who is discussing the matter rather succinctly (and accurately, I think). You can find a link in his post that will take you into the heart of the conflict.

(Metropolitan Kallistos Ware at some point explored the implications of treating monasticism as a track of apostolic succession parallel to the episcopate; I am wondering if perhaps we have reached the point where we need to posit yet another parallel track, that of the blogger who has taken it up on himself to exercise the prophetic office. But I digress.)

I’ve met a lot of people during my time in Orthodox circles who have absolutely no problem being hostile, implicitly or explicitly, to other Orthodox Christians. I’ve met “ethnics” and “cradles” who have absolutely nothing but contempt for the American who presumes to convert; I’ve met converts who think that it’s okay for them to be dismissive of “ethnics” as being Christ’s lost causes. Thankfully, there are fewer of either type than many might assume, but those who are out there are disproportionately loud and obnoxious, and I don’t mean exclusively in blogdom. I have had the misfortune of having to spend large amounts of time with people of both types, and have had to experience their open and very real hostility, either towards me or towards others.

The implication from either side that somehow there’s a second class citizen status among Orthodox Christians depending, positively or negatively, on heritage, is simply astounding to me. Is there a Christian birth certificate other than baptism?

To move to another facet of the problem for a moment, it has been suggested that part of why it’s acceptable to hostile to converts is because they aren’t really Orthodox Christians; they’re Protestants playing dress-up according to things that they’ve read in books rather than actually receiving a lived tradition of Orthodox Christianity from a living source. Presumably this line of reasoning is how such people justify showing disrespect to ordained clergy and consecrated bishops by calling them things like “Mr. Paffhausen” or “Mr. Freeman,” for example.

While I would concede that there’s a real problem being identified in such a statement, the extremity of the response to the problem reveals another problem or two.

There’s an ancient heresy called Donatism. You can look it up for yourself, but I don’t think it’s misstating the position to say that it was basically a macho movement within the Church gone horribly wrong; e. g., “If you’re not at least as rigorous or pious as we are, you’re not really a Christian, and there’s not any room for error.” They reserved the right for themselves to judge the validity of Mysteries of a priest or bishop whom they deemed less rigorous than they were; in effect, much like certain parties today, they were big on saying, “We’re more Orthodox than you.”

Origenism and Arianism were also early heresies (although, in the interest of full disclosure, I acknowledge that it was not until he had been dead for three centuries that Origen’s “fabulous” and “monstrous” views were anathematized), and the trouble there can perhaps be summed up as Origen and Arius trying too hard to make Christianity palatable for the educated elite of the day — to make it possible for a respectable philosopher to be intellectually honest with himself and be a Christian at the same time, in other words. For God to truly be God in the worldview of Greek philosophy, one could not meaningfully discuss the homoousios of the Son with the Father; Christ had to be something fundamentally other than God, however exalted he might otherwise be, or else God was not God.

Now, be these as they may, there is not necessarily a fundamental error of intent in either case. Being rigorous is not in and of itself a problem; neither is trying to have a Christian intellectual culture. Monasticism is perhaps one of the correct expressions of a rigorousness that might otherwise be inclined to Donatism, and without Origen, our tradition of Scriptural exegesis would be much impoverished. The trouble is the extent to which these intents are realized; the Donatists could not stand to be in a Church where there might be worse sinners than themselves, and Arius and Origen ultimately were catering to a target demographic.

One can legitimately argue that learning the Orthodox Christian faith from the works of Schmemann and Ware, the Popular Patristics series, and maybe even Pelikan and Rose for that matter, is, as a substitute for receiving a lived tradition, rather thin gruel. There is a problem there that is most certainly worth discussing, a problem which perhaps lends itself to Origenistic or Arian developments down the road — an overly-intellectualized Christianity that finds itself at variance with the actual faith. However, to then determine that problem invalidates at a sacramental level the chrismations, ordinations, and consecrations of individuals itself suggests an issue of Donatist proportions.

At a practical level, that attitude assumes that there are alternatives of which the “konvertsy” simply hasn’t availed himself, when that’s just not the case, many times. It’s not exactly like there are large ROCOR or Serbian parishes or monasteries everywhere one goes (and even that’s not necessarily a guarantee of “real” Orthodoxy, evidently, given a particular person’s ongoing disdain for Fr. Seraphim Rose and anybody who ever had anything to do with the St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood). A particular person commented to me yesterday that of course I was the “bad kind” of convert, since “I’m Antiochian.” Now, in all fairness, I acknowledge that this exchange was intended to be humorous, but as I told this commenter, it’s just not funny right now. It’s not funny coming from this particular individual given the kinds of negative comments they’re typically inclined to make (however cleverly and humorously formulated), it’s not funny given some of the current issues facing the Antiochian Archdiocese, and it’s not funny for the simple reason that actually, no, I’m not “Antiochan”; I’m an Orthodox Christian who happens to go to an Antiochian parish because that’s all there is locally, and I do so in spite of whatever reservations I may have about the AOCNA. Bloomington, Indiana isn’t exactly a hotbed of traditional Orthodox ethnicities and activity; all there is is the little group of people trying to work out their salvation with fear and trembling. There’s a little bit of everybody — Russians, Romanians, Arabs, Greeks, and us “konvertsy” — but not enough of anybody to constitute any kind of a critical mass. I guarantee you there are individuals in every ethnic group in this community would be more comfortable with a church of “their own people,” but that’s a luxury nobody can afford. It’s All Saints or nothing. I’d go so far as to say that our situation is absolutely fantastic relative to that of, for example, Fargo, North Dakota.

I am disheartened by people who jeer at Americans who are trying to live out their faith doing the best they can with what they’ve been given by Mother Church, which in many cases is next to nothing. I am not amused by those people when they insist that those Americans trying to do this or that in order to live out their faith and their calling more fully are not in fact Orthodox, but then refuse to offer any kind of a practical alternative. I can only conclude such people really mean that the Americans they are deriding are simply “not as Orthodox as they are.”

At the same time, I am disheartened by Americans who regard people of Greek or Russian or Arabic or whatever heritage with suspicion automatically, claiming that all of our problems stem from “foreign bishops” and culturally unintelligible practices, and assuming that such people probably don’t pray, don’t fast, don’t confess, don’t commune, don’t go to Vespers daily, and most importantly, don’t buy books or liturgical music recordings, and are only in the Church by an accident of birth, rather than Having Truly Grappled With the Big Questions the same way that they, being Godly Americans in a Godly Country, have done.

I am disheartened by people who would say that American converts are rigorous about all the wrong things and can never understand what Orthodox Christianity actually means in a lived cultural context, and use that as an excuse to disrespect the Mysteries those converts have received; I am just as disheartened by Americans who seem bent on proving exactly those points in order to demonstrate they’re better than the so-called “cultural Orthodox”. At some point, the sides start insulating themselves from each other, and then the snake is eating its own tail.

All of these things dishearten me because it would appear that unity at the Chalice, unity with Christ through Communion with Him in His Church, is simply not enough. It is evidently so meaningless as to in fact have it’s very existence be something that should be denied.

Tell me, why are we Orthodox Christians so inclined and eager to judge other Orthodox Christians so quickly? Are we not already small and scattered and minimized in this country, that it is necessary to try to splinter ourselves from each even more?

Is that love?

Is that Christlike?

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Things you think about when you’re trying not to fall

This morning was the first frost in Bloomington, Indiana — or, at the very least, the first at our house. This is a relatively early first frost; I’m more accustomed to it staying hot until sometime in November, at some point during which God hits a switch and the temperature drops fifty degrees in a week. Given that my ancestors, centuries ago, were roaming the frozen wastes of Scandinavia wearing fur loincloths and swinging battleaxes, and that I’ve inherited their programming to stay perfectly comfortable in cold temperatures while wearing shorts and a t-shirt, as well as having to face the unpleasant corollary that above 75 degrees Fahrenheit I tend to be very uncomfortable no matter how little I’m wearing, I am very, very, very much okay with an early frost. The nice thing about cold weather is that you can always put more on. Hot weather… well, not so much. There’s only so much you can take off. (And trust me, you’re thankful for that — very very very thankful.)

What I emphatically don’t like is getting to the top step of my front porch on my way out to the car and realizing, in rapid succession, a) the first frost has arrived very much unannounced and b) I need to grab onto something very quickly. I am not one normally given to quoting John Mayer, but gravity, stay the hell away from me. Otherwise, I will be in repair (again).

For those who have asked — I do not, as of yet, have any information on the outcome of Fr. John Peck’s 16 October meeting with Metropolitan Gerasimos. All I know is that Fr. John is still listed here on the Prescott Orthodox Church website as the priest. Once I hear something I will post it (if I can).

A couple of links to pass along — Anna passed along the article “Keeping the End in View” by James R. Payton, Jr., over at Christianity Today. Prof. Payton, a Protestant, is also the author of Light From the Christian East: An Introduction to the Orthodox Tradition, a book which I have not yet read myself, but I have heard Orthodox say that it is a better introduction to Orthodoxy than some books by Orthodox authors. (One hopes that he has less in common with Daniel Clendenin than with, say, Met. Kallistos Ware.) The article is an examination of the Orthodox Christian understanding of “theosis,” comparing it to how Protestants understand conversion, justification, and sanctification as “phases” of salvation. In general, Prof. Payton treats the Orthodox position quite favorably, but there are two points I’d like to mention.

In Orthodox teaching, “image” and “likeness” are not the same: the first is gift, the second, goal.

This is a matter of some imprecision; it’s not called “Orthodox teaching,” it’s called “the Greek language.” εἰκών and ὁμοίωσις are the words in question, and as even a cursory examination of their entries in either Liddell-Scott or BDAG shows pretty quickly, these are different words with related-but-different meanings, and authors do not use them interchangeably. This has nothing to do with “Orthodox teaching” except insofar as Orthodox teaching reflects how the Greek Fathers use the words. “Policy” and “law” are English words which have related but ultimately different meanings, for example. If a German author wrote that “In American politics, ‘law’ and ‘policy’ are not the same…” it would be a similar situation. It’s an issue of what the words mean, not an issue of how they’re treated by a particular group of people.

While evangelicals can learn from the Orthodox, it is fair to note that Orthodox believers can learn from us, too. The Eastern presentation of salvation can smudge the distinct steps of salvation. Justification and sanctification often get folded into the broader concept of theosis, and they become so blurred that Orthodox believers often don’t know what to make of the terms. They would be well served by an explanation of how the steps of salvation as presented in apostolic teaching fit into the larger package of divinization.

While appreciating Prof. Payton’s open-minded, open-armed approach and thus being willing to lay aside concerns about how patronizing this paragraph might be, I will suggest that he fails to mention that the issues he brings up are addressed by the participation of the Orthodox Christian in the sacramental life of the Church. I assume he knows this, and that this is a concept which probably will sail right over the heads of most CT readers, so I can understand why he doesn’t go there, but ultimately the picture he paints is misleading.

I would also direct your attention to the paper, “Approaching the Educated Person in the Post-Christian Era” by Abp. Lazar Puhalo (ret., OCA). I don’t necessarily agree with every point, but I think it’s worth reading and discussing. I might have more to say about it later.

Current reading: The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945, by George H. Nash. Whether one agrees with everybody he describes or not, the story he tells is fascinating. I may have more to say about this later.

By the way, I’m considering participating in NaNoWriMo for purposes of finishing a first draft of a particular writing project of mine. I’m not sure I’d quite hit 50,000 words, but I’d have a draft finished finally, after four years of picking away at something.

I’ll wrap this up for now by saying that my application for West European Studies has been submitted, and that now it’s just a matter of my letters of recommendation rolling in. Hopefully I’ll know something soon. In the meantime, another option has come up in terms of a departmental home, and the person who suggested it did so unprompted. I don’t want to say much more about it for the time being. For right now I’ll just say that I’m flipping two coins, West European Studies and this other possibility, and we’ll see what comes up. Maybe both will come up heads, in which case I’m decidedly not opposed to leaving IU with more rather than less. Maybe both will come up tails, and I really will have to leave here with 30+ worthless graduate credits. We’ll see. Meanwhile, a near-annual conversation with a particular faculty member about said options has led to this person dubbing me a “professional applicant.” I suppose he/she isn’t wrong.

Tomorrow morning I’ll be prepared for the frost.


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