A Generous Orthodoxy
Thank you for the Palamas quotation, which I did not know, and which is most helpful.
We in the west have something of a problem on this one because we do have a genuine choice in a way which is not historically common. If one goes back to, say, John Henry Newman, whose experience as an Anglican has always spoken to me, his only choice once he felt Anglicanism had failed him was to become a Catholic. The Orthodox Church was known to him, of course, but he could no sooner have contemplated joining it than he could have becoming a Buddhist; these were not real options for him - they are for us. If Newman had wanted to become a Buddhist he would have had to come to it via a lot of hard to get reading, and discussions would not have been easy; if I wanted to I could chat on the Internet and be at the Buddhist centre in Norwich in 45 minutes; indeed, I discover there is a Buddhist centre rather nearer than that- in North Suffolk!
However much we, or others, may criticise the ideology of 'freedom' and 'choice' and preach the virtues of the ascetic life, none of that takes away from the reality of the immense range of choice available to us in our spiritual journey. The social stigma that would once have attached in some quarters to becoming a Catholic (for example) is no longer there; similarly, there are no laws or regulations through which the State seeks to control your life here. The privatisation and personalisation of Faith is now complete in the West.
So, what is it if it is not us, that decides the answer to your question? And if it is us, how do we reach that decision?
My wife, who is not a Christian, finds my own absorption with the Faith a bit of a puzzle. It is not always easy to explain it to her, or to myself at times. I have never had what I have heard called a 'conversion experience'; I have just never doubted that there is a God and that Jesus provides the Way to Him; everything else has followed from that.
But can I say to my two eldest sons, one of whom is a Baptist pastor, the other, although still formally an Anglican, an attender at an Independent Welsh Nonconformist Church, that they are in some way 'wrong'? Both centre their lives on Christ in a way I have never been able to manage, and both live lives of Faith and Works, devoting hours every week to studying and helping those less fortunate than themselves, and this they do in the name of the Risen Lord. Are they outside Christ's Church? Never an Orthodox missionary has crossed their paths, and no one from any Orthodox Church has ever come their way. Are they doomed for all Eternity because the Orthodox Church is pretty useless at Mission (the BOC excluded, of course!)?
When I talk with them about their beliefs, they are pretty Orthodox - indeed, since they both believe in the Seven Ecumenical Councils (or, as the Baptist son puts it, the 'eight')it could be argued by those of a strictly EO persuasion, that they were were more Orthodox than myself (although, as it happens, I have no beef with the other Councils). They have gone in the direction they have because that is where they have felt they were being led; perhaps if they had been in contact with an Orthodox Church, they would have felt led that way? Their Christology is perfectly Orthodox, and theologically they can talk their old father into a cocked hat. But ecclesiologically they are not Orthodox.
As I consider you question, Rick, about what decides where we worship, I think of both of them, and of the choices this society offers, and it gets harder to answer.
In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)