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Questions from someone exploring the Orthodox faith... - Eve92 - 08-12-2009
Hello there, I am 17 and have recently started to explore the Orthodox faith. I have many questions about the Faith, but first I thought you might like to know a bit about my religious background so that you can understand my perspective, I am sorry if I have rambled on a bit :roll:
As a very young child I went to an Anglican church (CofE) and at the age of 13 I started to properly explore Christianity as I became convinced of God's existence. Since then I have been confirmed at an Evangelical Protestant Church (not CofE I don't think) but up until a month ago I did not commit to going to church regularly, only once every two months maybe, I did however attend a Youth Group with christian teachings.
I have always wanted to go to church regularly and get really into the life there but something or other has always put me off. In the last month I decided to try and go to church every week and have been dividing my time between a CofE church and a church set up by 'New Frontiers' which I don't think has a denomination, though I think it is Protestant. However I still don't feel like it's 'quite right' and I feel kind of restless...
I have been going through some really difficult times 'faith-wise' recently. I feel overwhelmed by all the conflicting views on Christianity, and feel like I've come to a crossroads in my life where I need to find concrete beliefs that I truly agree with. Growing up surrounded by Protestant teachings I have been taught (not so directly, more indirectly, but never the less this is the message I have received) that Christianity is about relationship with God and not about things such as insence or saying set prayers. However, although I acknowledge that these prayers etc are pointless if the person saying them does not believe the words, but there is a part of me that is drawn to these things, I feel that they are a great encourager in the Faith. For example, recently when I have been feeling like my faith is not strong, I have taken to saying the Lord's Prayer, and even though the words are not my own they encourage my faith! Is this OK?
Also, in the past months I have found myself thinking "Do I believe enough? Is there something huge I have missed for my salvation? Is the reason my faith is low and I am plagued with doubts is because God does not want me?" I hope that this is not true and that God does love me and want me as his daughter, but still there is that niggling voice. These thoughts of possible rejection started when I was told at the youth group I mentioned earlier about Calvinism - that out souls are totally depraved and that God chooses who will be saved, I started to worry that maybe I was part of the group who had not been chosen and that I was trying to sneak into God's chosen people, but that I was not wanted. I have since then read a little about Orthodox views about 'predestination' (if that's what it's called, I think) and what I have heard seems encouraging, that God wills all people to know Him and be saved, but that he wants us to have free choice. Does the Orthodox faith believe that God chooses each person, and it is up to the person to choose God? Or in other words, God loves everyone, and it is whether a person chooses to respond to this love? I understand that God knows who will choose him and agree with this.
Sorry about all those ramblings, I would be very impressed if you have read them all and not fallen asleep! My family are not Christian and I don't like talking much about matters of my faith that worry me deeply, so that's why once I start it's hard to stop!
I prayed to God to reveal Himself to me and to show me which faith is true to Him, and I have since then stumbled accross Orthodox views about Christianity, and am so surprised that the Faith is not more widely known in England! What I have read so far (on the <!-- m --><a class="postlink" href="http://www.goarch.org/">http://www.goarch.org/</a><!-- m --> website) seems so wise! The little I have read about the Orthodox view of salvation makes a lot of sense to me, how it is less legalistic and more about communion with God (I think, sorry if that is wrong)
In short, here are my general questions about the Orthodox faith:
1) How is a person saved? (faith alone, faith + works?)
2) What is the Orthodox view of Calvinism / predestination?
3) I believe that Orthodox Christians pray to the Saints, is their attitude to this praying the same as Roman Catholics? Do Orthodox Christians ever pray to just God or is it always the Saints?
4) What is the Orthodox view of the role of man and woman in the home?
5) What are Orthodox church services like?
6) What does 'raising of incense' mean?
7) What does liturgy mean?
8) Are there any major differences between the Greek Orthodox Church and the British and the Russian?
Thank you so much for reading this and for taking the time to answer any of these questions.
- Antony-Paul - 08-12-2009
I am not really able to answer your questions, being only recently come to Orthodoxy myself, so I am still learning.
However I can do a few things for you. First, I will include you in my prayers. Second I will flag up your enquiry to my priest, Father Simon Smyth, because he has much teaching material.
I don't know where you are in Norfolk, but if it is helpful there is a BOC church at Sandringham - details on the BOC website.
With love and prayers,
- DanielM - 08-12-2009
dear Eve 92.
I just want to say, your "ramblings" were not boring at all, in fact it is good to see someone actively taking part in, and discovering their faith. I myself am from a secular family and upon finishing a degree in theology surrounded by people of strong faith and will, went through almost the same as you, genuinely worrying about the big questions such as what will become of me, and genuinely thinking I was doing something wrong compared to these people. Now I look back and think some of them were doing more wrong than good.
I know these things can cause a panic, but do not worry, the fact that you are seeking the way, and not jumping on the first escape wagon is good.
After searching for these answers for a few years (I am 23 now) I found Orthodoxy, and am very pleased I did.
If you are interested in looking into Orthodoxy, I would suggest the writings of Kallistos Ware, especially "the Orthodox Church" which covers many Orthodox beliefs and practices shared by Both the Greeks, and also the BOC.
- Simon - 08-12-2009
Of course it?s okay to pray the Lord?s Prayer ? when His apostles asked Him to teach them to pray that was the prayer the Lord taught them. I am glad these words encourage your faith. Since your questions will prompt so many answers as to make this a ridiculously long response I am going to post a lecture I once gave at a British Orthodox Church day conference on prayer. I shall post it into the Education Support section of the Forum. I hope you may find something in there to help.
I do agree that Christianity is very much about a relationship with Christ our God ? but I would say that it is (or certainly should be) our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ that I experience and encounter in my Orthodox worship including the written prayers and the incense (among a great many other aspects). Jesus used written prayers of course ? including the Psalms. I will also post an article on the physical aspects of spirituality on the Education Support area for you.
Orthodox do indeed believe that God wants everyone to be saved but we also believe that He has given everyone free will ? we can choose for Him or we can choose against Him. Yes God loves everyone ? God is love. As you say though, it?s how we respond to that Love.
In fact I will try to post several pieces into the Education Support section in the hope that they are of at least a little help to you.
I have 6 DVDs with 2 lectures on each ? the first 2 lectures consider the source of the Orthodox Christian Faith and the remaining 10 work through the Creed. As you are under 18 I can hardly write here asking for your address so I can post them to you. If you are near enough to our Church at Babingley I could get a set there so you could collect them from there, if that would help?
I will try to write more in answer to your various questions though what with hospital visitation and a funeral among other things this week is going to be manically busy so please bear with me. Hopefully my postings in the Education Support area may help a little for now. I will certainly pray for you.
(Priest, British Orthodox Church)
- Antony-Paul - 09-12-2009
I'm so pleased you found Simon's reply helpful. I count myself very fortunate and blessed that he is my local priest.
Just a couple of small points. For what it is worth, the official Catholic view (my traditional spiritual home) is that we don't pray TO saints, but THROUGH them. We don't worship them, but seek their intercession with God on our behalf. Only God is worthy of worship. Even Mary, His mother, is not prayed to, but is perhaps the greatest intercessor. In this respect my understanding is that the Orthodox church holds the same view, although other aspects of the saints are somewhat different.
As for attending Orthodox services, please go along without hesitation. I knew nothing my first time, and so it was inevitably a bit strange. But I felt the warmth and love of God and His people. I felt at home and comfortable. It didn't matter that I did things wrong, what mattered was being there and being enveloped by God's love. I also had a sense of the antiquity of the Liturgy, stemming from the time of the Apostles themselves without significant change. It truly is as close to the way of the infant church as you can get. This means that it is also completely authentic and authoritative, and you can't get better than that!
We shall remember you in our prayers this evening when we meet in Portsmouth.
With love and prayers,
- Simon - 09-12-2009
I always give this little advice to anyone attending an Orthodox service who is afraid they'll get things wrong...
If anyone notices that you've done anything 'wrong' then this proves one thing - they clearly weren't concentrating sufficiently on their own prayers of else they wouldn't have noticed!
So come along - and enjoy
- Simon - 10-12-2009
I shall resist my usual temptation to overload with lots and lots of suggestions and restrict myself to recommending three books for now:
Clark Carlton: The Life (The Orthodox Doctrine of Salvation)
Mark Gruber: Journey Back to Eden
(both available among other places I think through Amazon)
Glory to God
a British Orthodox prayer book and available from Lulu publishing through the publications section of the British Orthodox website
May God bless you in your studies,
Glory to God - Simon - 10-12-2009
Glory to God is accessed through the Fellowship section rather than through the publications section of the BOC website.
Anyway this link should get you there - <!-- m --><a class="postlink" href="http://www.lulu.com/content/3894048">http://www.lulu.com/content/3894048</a><!-- m -->
- Eve92 - 11-12-2009
Hello everyone, I have another question for you. I was wondering what the Orthodox perspective is of a kind of religious experience which many Evangelicals encourage, people falling in the Spirit, laughing in the Spirit, crying etc. I have been to the camp Soul Survivor last summer and was surrounded by people going through these experiences during the morning and evening meeting and I cried myself. Honestly I don't know why I was crying and I don't know what that experience meant, I can't remember ever crying so hard. I know there are some who say that these experiences are all psychological and others who believe that it is the work of the Holy Spirit.
What is the Orthodox view on such experiences?
- Simon - 12-12-2009
It is the Orthodox understanding that such manifestations as you mentioned can be spiritual from God or can be psychological or can be spiritual delusion from our Enemy the devil. It is certainly not for me to deny any genuine spiritual experience with which God has blessed someone. My difficulty can be to separate between varying experiences. As a rule the Orthodox approach is one of caution and wariness. We do not deny spiritual gifts - one can think back to the great Russian Saint Seraphim of Sarov who was gifted with miracles by God, or from our own Coptic Orthodox patriachate in the middle of the twentieth century, the previous patriarch His Holiness Pope Kyrillos VI who was granted gifts of healing and prophecy for example. So yes such gifts can be true and most certainly from God - but we must also be aware of the possibility or prelest or spiritual deception. There is such a thing as the gift of tears and Bishop Kallistos writes of this in a chapter of one of his books so I do not deny that you experienced this - but I cannot be certain that it was not psychological rather than a spiritual gift. The excitable style of some Christian worship can certainly lend itself to psycholoogical effects.
So I cannot tell exactly what you experienced and am in no poistion to give you any definitive judgment or dsicernment on this. As a rule though Orthodox emphasise sobriety rather than excitement in worship. Our experience of God is more that of the still small voice rather than the earthquake, wind and fire - though we do know how to shout Christ is Risen! and to thoroughly enjoy ourselves at Holy Pascha as we celebrate the Resurrection. We do have feasts as well as fasts in our Church year!
I have, by the way, posted another sermon into the Education section,
questions from someone exploring the orthodox faith - kirk yacoub - 14-12-2009
The position of Orthodoxy regarding "speaking in tongues" is based on St Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians chapters 12-14. He does place speaking in tongues as one of a number of spiritual gifts, but does place it at the end, after apostleship, prophecy, teaching, the working of miracles, healing, and a number of others (12:28-30). And St Paul's attitude to spiritual gifts is summed up when he says "yet show I unto you a more excellent way," (12:31) which is the primacy of charity, love. Following this does he exhort us to desire spiritual gifts, putting the speaking of tongues down the list again. "For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue, speaketh not unto man, but unto God..."(14:2) The point is that, if the speaker in tongues does actually understand what he is saying, then he is edifying only himself, but someone who prophesies is edifying the whole community of Christians. In order to edify the Church, an interpreter of tongues is needed. "But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in church; and let him speak to himself, and to God."
That great Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles in tongues of fire is distinguished, among other things, by the Apostles speaking in a variety of tongues, but which were understood by those hearing them. If, in so-called Pentecostal churches, the speaking in tongues in tongues is intelligible to no-one, then what is the spiritual profit in this?
Spiritual Gifts and Tears - Morpheus - 14-12-2009
Fr Simon wrote:
"There is such a thing as the gift of tears and Bishop Kallistos writes of this in a chapter of one of his books so I do not deny that you experienced this...."
On another discussion list I came across the following story about an Orthodox Saint who experienced tears as a kind of gift. Hope it contributes something....
"Everyone was amazed at all the things that were done through St. Z'ura and at the deeds of power wrought through his prayer, and gave thanks to God, and especially at his labors and his petitions and his crying and his tears night and day, so that not one hour ever passed from him without his knocking at God's door. Even when he was sitting and speaking with men, because his mind was dwelling above in heaven among the angels, his tears would suddenly gush forth perforce, while he did not wish to do this before men, and sobs would spring up in him, and he would beat his two hands upon his face, and rest his head upon his knees, and thus he would cry loudly. And sometimes, when he was displaying the cheerful appearance of laughter with his lips, in the middle of his speech at which he displayed the appearance of laughing sobs overpowered him, insomuch that while speaking with us he often did so, until by virtue of the freedom which I enjoyed with him I went so far as to presume to say, "Why is it, our father, that in the midst of laughing you are thus suddenly saddened by weeping? This tells us that your mind is not occupied with us or in that which you are saying to us, that sorrow thus suddenly seizes you." But he would say to me, "Know, my son, that I did not want to do this while speaking, and my sins suddenly occur to my mind, and turn my joy to distress."
When I often entreated him between ourselves to tell me privately his manner of life, even adjuring him by God to inform me, he would again while weeping yield to constraint and say, "When, my son, I am constrained to speak among men, my mind looks at those above in heaven, how their mouths cease not even for a short season from praises, and sobs rise within me on account of myself, how I am neglecting to praise that Creator who created me, and have ceased to make petitions for the forgiveness of my offences, and am sitting in discourse with men: and this and other things urges me to cease speaking."
And so I was amazed at this saint's disposition, as well as at his humility and his kindness to strangers and poor men of which his soul was full with great zeal, so that in consequence a multitude of the poor of the city and strangers from every place flocked to him on account of the report of his charity, until eighty and ninety and as many as a hundred tables were on some days prepared in his monastery. And thereupon he made great cauldrons and appointed men who were continually cooking and making bread; and in company with many he would with his own hands make himself into an attendant with cheerfulness and joy."
John of Ephesus, Lives of Eastern Saints, 2
- Simon - 17-12-2009
Although Orthodoxy and Roman Catholocism can look similar on the surface in such things for example as candles and incense, there certainly are differences. We have been enjoying some interesting and instructive discussions in our enquirers and catechumens meetings in Portsmouth where one of our number, from a Roman Catholic background has been noting some of the differences. He has picked up on the difference in tone as to how we relate to the saints in Orthodoxy compared with his previous experience. Another difference he has compared is in how we understand the bishops and priests in relating to Christ - his Roman Catholic understanding was that the bishop was present as vicar of Christ, as someone there instead of Christ, and the priest in turn was present as vicar of or instead of the bishop. In Orthodoxy however the bishop is the icon of Christ and the priest the icon of the bishop thus meaning that as an icon manifests or reveals or makes present the one of whom the icon is so the bishop being present manifests or reveals Christ to us - makes Christ present to us. Of course Christ is present in our midst when two or three are gathered together and Christ is present in the Gospels and in the bread and wine which are His Body and Blood -but He is also present through His icon the bishop. Some would say that these are sublte differences but perhaps they are also significant.
One very great difference is in our understanding of salvation. The classic Roman Catholic position (also shared as the classic Evangelical Protestant position) is that on the cross Christ was paying off our debt to the Father. The Orthodox understanding is that He was defeating death and the devil and providing for us the medicine of immortality and eternal life, His Body and Blood. I would certainly recommend that book 'The Life' by Clark Carlton for an explanantion of Orthodox understanding of salvation.
I am due to preach at our Church at Babingley in Norfolk the weekend Saturday 23rd and Sunday 24th January and could take a set of those DVDs with the lectures on Orthodox belief with me. Then if you are able to get there that weekend at all you can have them or else they can be left for you to collect when you can be there.
If you were to be received into the British Orthodox Church this would be by baptism and chrismation (the anointing with the oil, the Holy Chrism). If you had already been baptised by immersion then it could be possible to baptise you by pouring the water but assuming your infant baptism had only been by pouring or sprinkling (as is almost universally the case other than in Orthodoxy where babies are baptised by immersion) then baptism by immersion would be required. If you decided to follow Orthodoxy the first stage would be for you to be received as a catechumen (in a very short and simple service), that is one learning about the Faith and attending worship with a view to then becoming a Church member through baptism and chrismation.
- Eve92 - 03-01-2010
Thanks again for all the replies and information, this forum is really helpful!
I don't think I will be able to make it to Babingley as it is quite far away from where I live and I haven't passed my driving test yet! But maybe I could get there in a month or two..?
I am still learning about Orthodoxy and have started reading 'the way: what every protestant should know about the Orthodox Church' by Clark Carlton, I've also ordered his book Life, but I'm still waiting for that one from Amazon, and I also have the Orthodox Church by Ware.
Just another question, in "The way: what every protestant..." Carlton talks a bit about tradition in the Church and he says how tradition is mentioned three times in a positive light in the new testament and ten times in a negative light. He goes on to explain the positive references to tradition in the Church but doesn't say anything about the negative ones. I just wondered if anyone knows where tradition is mentioned in negative lights in the NT and can offer any thoughts on them? I feel very concious of Mark 7:9 ?You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!? which I have heard used against tradition in the church, especially against Roman Catholicism.
- marc hanna - 26-01-2010
I am thoroughly enjoying this thread, as I am myself a convert of about 10 years now. I also used to attend an evangelical church (Pentecostal) and I questioned my salvation because I never spoke in tongues as per their understanding of what tongues are. This was their primary downfall, in my opinion, because if I never spoke in tongues then it meant that I wasn't saved or at least I could never be certain if I was saved. For those Pentecostal and Evangelical churches who adhere to Calvinism, this meant that I was predestined to condemnation.
Eve, I hope and pray that you continue to pursue your learning of Orthodoxy as it will no doubt be as rewarding for you as it has for me. Feel free to ask me questions regarding the conversion process as I might have answers particularly relevant to your experience.