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Conversion without conversion?
26-07-2008, 04:00 PM,
Conversion without conversion?
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

In the thread on the Western Rite use, Steve mentioned the notion that there are those who want to keep a Western Rite as part of being 'Orthodox but not too Orthodox' - a kind of 'conversion without conversion'.

That sparked off some thoughts I have been working on for a while about what happens following conversion, and I should like to make a few preliminary comments here, and see whether there is any interest in discussing this further.

Most of those reading on this site are not Orthodox, but, as I was when I came here, seekers - people wanting to know more about Orthodoxy. Back then I was so focused on the journey, and the wonderful feeling of 'coming home', when I found the BOC, that I cannot say that I had thought much about 'what next'? I trusted in the Lord to take care of that - but, of course, we are His tools, and after the conversion there is the long process of living the Christian life within the Orthodox Church.

I had read much about 'acquiring an Orthodox mindset', but what would that mean in practice? Was this simply a way of saying that I had to be brainwashed into Orthodoxy? Some of the things I read made it seem almost as though that was what some Orthodox were demanding; forget everything that went before and, being born anew, acquire an Orthodox phronema.

The notion of a theory divorced from practice seemed a great danger, not least for one of my temperament. I am a scholar, and I had spent many years reading the Church Fathers as an Anglican, so I had a head full of patristic quotations; but not too much idea of what Orthodox practice might be.

Here the BOC booklet, Our Daily Life was invaluable. It contained much basic information, but it also provided daily readings, advice about building up one's prayer life, fasting, and reading. The BOC website, and this forum, also proved excellent aids. But there was, as I knew there would be, one huge - and negative - difference.

As an Anglican there is a Church within ten minutes' walk from where I live. As an Orthodox the nearest British Orthodox Church is 65 miles away, which, on Norfolk roads, means a drive of an hour and a half each way; whichever way you cut it, that meant that the parish life I had been able to enjoy so easily, was no longer on offer.

Sunday had been the one day I could guarantee myself a break from the pressure of work, a pressure that often takes over the week day evening; now it was really consecrated to the Lord. The CD player was duly loaded up with Orthodox material, and so I could have an extra 3 hours devoting myself solely to Him. It meant that by the time I got to Church I was prepared - and the warm welcome from those in Babingley was always a joy.

My wife, who is not Orthodox, tolerates (most of the time) my absence on Sundays (I leave at 8.15 and get back at 2), but I am aware of her forbearance - which then makes the time I spent with her doubly special for us both.

There was nothing about this sort of thing in the material I read on Orthodox mindsets, and there still isn't. Indeed there may be some reading this who wonder what sort of convert I am? But I suspect it may be a part of the process; submitting my own desires to the service and worship of the Lord, but trying to remember others; that is trying, as best I can, to live a Christian life in the Orthodox tradition.

Between times, though, there is no point disguising the problems. One can feel isolated; or one can decide to dedicate that isolation to Christ by reading, praying, and by focusing on Him in one's everyday life. Driving to work offers an opportunity to listen to something more edifying than the 'Today' programme! Being at work offers countless opportunities to witness to the Lord by the way one simply is with others. I'd make the world's lousiest evangelist, but one can try to live the Faith in the small detail of one's life.

Isolated? What, from God? I can always stand before my little icon corner in prayer. For more interaction, one can always come here, or visit other Christian websites. There is one I go to which is not solely Orthodox, but where one can stimulate one's mind to more Orthodox reading and praying by conversing, on line, with other Christians; it is, to be honest, more Christian dialogue than I would have after the service in my old Anglican Church.

That's enough for now - and perhaps shows nothing more than how far I am from acquiring an Orthodox mindset; but it may illustrate what life after conversion can be like. What no words can illustrate, however, is the sheer joy of the encounter with the Risen Lord at the Eucharistic Feast. He is Risen! Yes, but He suffered and He was nailed to the tree for a sinner like me. That puts the thing into perspective - every time.

There is more to say, not least about the ways in which the Babingley congregation, Peter Farrington, Fr. Simon - and above all Abba Seraphim, all add a joy to my life which was not here before. But this is sufficient for now.

In peace,

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)
28-07-2008, 08:10 AM,
John?s comments on ?conversion without conversion? require reflection, both on the positive and the negative aspects.

An ?Orthodox mindset? (with no criticism to John for using this term!) is a concept to be applied with the greatest of care. It is commonly a catch-cry for ethnicist Orthodox in their rejection of (Western) converts. It runs along the lines of ?you can?t be truly Orthodox unless you were born Orthodox.? Apparently, Orthodoxy is a genetic characteristic, presumably with some (soon to be) identifiable genetic marker in the DNA structure! It forms the basis for the scandalous and heretical racism found in some Orthodox Churches and amongst some Orthodoxy (well, I?d say: pseudo-Orthodox) writers.

An Orthodox mindset, properly understood, is best thought of as the paradigm in which Orthodoxy understands everything. It is one of the fundamental causes of misunderstanding or, worse, falsely assumed understanding in Orthodox and non-Orthodox dialogue. Inevitably, it is very difficult to define precisely, but, as they say, you know it when you see it. Read a supposedly Orthodox theological work written without an Orthodox mindset and the problem is evident. The words may be right, the phrasing entirely Orthodox?.but something doesn?t work. It?s rather like looking at photographs with varying degrees of incorrect focus.

As Schmemann has noted: ?For the Orthodox Church the fundamental opposition is between the East and the West, understood as two spiritual and theological ?trends? or ?worlds???

This is the main reason some great Orthodox theologians have distinguished between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism (as a single category) and Orthodoxy. The Western modes of theological thinking are simply not those of (real) Orthodoxy. This, of course, has nothing to do with genetics or upbringing. There are supposedly Orthodox writers who are essentially Roman Catholic or Protestant. Some Coptic writings are best described as Protestant in mindset, for example, and read more like the products of the Protestant Truth Society (established, obviously, to counteract the work of the Catholic Truth Society!). And there are non-Orthodox writers who, in popular idiom, ?get it?. Foremost amongst these would be Daniel Clendenin, a Protestant, whose introductory study, ?Eastern Orthodox Christianity. A Western Perspective? (Baker Books, Grand Rapids, 1994). Doubtless his years at the Moscow State University helped Professor Clendenin immerse himself into Orthodox thinking.

Inevitably, (real) conversion to Orthodoxy is not about colour and movement, exotic vestments, the strange and the unfamiliar or the culturally curious. It is not about turning to a Church that is ancient and theologically conservative. It is about (to use a phrase I dislike intensely but cannot find a way of avoiding!) ?doing theology? differently. This takes time, study, prayer, reflection and experience.

Conversion to Orthodox certainly cannot be about escaping ? for example, escaping the ordination as women as bishops. Nor can it be about a grab for some sort of legitimacy by incorporation into the ancient Faith. It isn?t even primarily about the intellectual acceptance of a set of doctrines, however essential this may be. It is about accepting Orthodoxy ? as, to use John?s term, a ?mindset?. It is about seeing and understanding and living Christianity ? and life ? in a different way. It cannot be conditional, or qualified, or subject to some ?opt out? clauses.

John began his comments with a reference to the Western Rite. My major anxiety about the use of the Western Rite(s) is not, I now realize (thank you, John!), the liturgical theology (which is generally fine) or the antiquity (well, no real reason a perfectly Orthodox liturgy couldn?t be written today, although: why bother?) but this mysterious ?mind-set?. As I have been reading the current Western Rite liturgies as part of research for a paper Metropolitan Seraphim has asked me to write, I?ve had a sense of unease. The rites are not heretical or ?invalid? (a distinctly non-Orthodox concept in itself); they?re not unattractive, and, in some ways, more linguistically and poetically attractive than the horrible examples of not a few Orthodox liturgies crushed into ?English? translation. I feel quite a home with the mis-called ?Liturgy of St Gregory?, which is really a sort of ?Orthodoxified? pre-Vatican II Roman rite, and I like the comfortable feel and liturgical English of the (even more) mis-called ?Liturgy of St Tikhon?, which is a sort of ?Orthodoxified? liturgy based on the (American) Episcopal Church's 1928 ?Book of Common Prayer?. Likewise, the (supposedly) ?Sarum Rite? used in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. I must retreat to what I hope is my Orthodox mind-set, rather than my scholarship or reason (which will have to be activated for the paper when I write it): they just do not ?feel? Orthodox. If I retreat the Western approach I would ask questions like: do they contain the elements essential to the celebration of the Liturgy? And my answer would be: probably. But?..

So, thanks to John for stimulating thought, and inspiring reflection on important questions. What does it mean to be Orthodox (as opposed to Roman Catholic, Anglican or Protestant)? Good question for much more exploration.

Fr Gregory
28-07-2008, 09:40 AM,
conversion without conversion
As a convert to Orthodoxy I am always interested to hear about other converts' experiences and responses. Unlike many people I was not converted from another form of Christianity (awkwardly put, the only way I can briefly express it) but literally from nothing. Being brought up in the UK and educated in the state school system until 1971 I was in a system that extolled the "Church of England", which meant that when it was time to traipse off to end of term church service "the Catholics", words intoned with not a little displeasure, had to go to a seperate teacher for a seperate service. They were mildly humiliated by having to leave the hall in front of everyone else's staring eyes. However, C of E services were
as inspiring as a cup of tea, where I fell into a deep mental torpor and stood up to pretend to mouth the words of tedious hymns which, if I accidentally hear one today, give me a panic attack.
Despite this, something in me made me study Religious Knowledge for GCE "A" levels. What I was taught there made me an atheist, because everything was reduced to the level of "symbol", not the Orthodox concept of symbol, where something is both real and also symbolic of a deeper truth, but a symbolism where everything was really an analogy. The miracles were presented as either a psychological sleight of hand, where Christ the therapist did not forgive sins in reality, but only freed the one whom he cured from psychological traumas, or else as an analogy presented by the Gospel writer. No wonder that it is possible to find Anglican Bishops who deny the reality of the Virgin Birth, or who even deny the Resurrection. The very basis of faith is totally undermined by rationalism and, as we know, rationalism can both affirm and deny anything and everything.
There were turning points for me, particularly when I spent four months working at a Youth Hostel near Ein Karim, frequently visiting Jerusalem and being drawn to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where faith, belief, power and mystery are tangible (despite interdenominational disputes!)
This real experience undermined the fragile rationalistic and athesistic structure that RK lessons in England had inculcated in me. I discovered but could not yet name the power that was higher than and more real than the postulates of the human brain. I had a similar experience when visiting St Peter's Church in Antakya (the former Antioch) where I felt an actual physical barrier to my entering the cave, a barrier that relented but still weighed heavily on me as I stood inside that ancient place of fervent worship.
When I began reading Orthodox authors I found something that made me realise that for decades I had been living under a delusion and that the truths of Christianity are the only ones that make sense. Therefore, when I talk to non-Orthodox Christians (if that isn't a contradiction in terms, because Orthodoxy is inclusive, not exclusive) I feel as if I am living on a different planet. What might be called the Orthodox mindset is really absorbing the Truth of the Church as brought to us through Christ, the Holy Spirit and their instruments, the Apostles, the Fathers, and the present day clergy and faithful.

Kirk Yacoub
28-07-2008, 12:19 PM,
As I grow older in age and in the experience of being and becoming Orthodox I wonder if the Orthodox mindset is not only to do with theology and praxis etc, but even more to do with being people of prayer and humility.

It does not seem to me that the Fathers of the Desert were often very versed in what might be called systematic theology, and their liturgical praxis must have been fairly simple, yet they seem to evince the Orthodox mindset more than most who are very knowledgeable in doctrine as an idea?

The more I read, and I am reading lots of primary and secondary theological materials while on holiday, the more I seem to be being taught that there is a great deal to be said for silence and not arguing a point, and giving way before others. I am not sure how that fits in with defending the Holy Church, and doing Christology and being a controversialist and apologist. I have been touched by the word in the Our Daily Life which says, more or less 'since I gave up thinking I could make a difference with what I say, or that anyone is bothering to listen, I have been at peace'.

It just seems to me that those who trumpet their Orthodoxy loudest are often those who give least evidence of a Christian (and that is what Orthodoxy means) mindset. Surely we are looking for a Christian mindset, and even the term 'Orthodox mindset', though I understand it of course, seems to suggest that the Orthodox mindset is different to a truly Christian one.

Can one even develop an Orthodox mindset, as an exercise or goal? Is it not rather that we should 'put on the mind of Christ'? Is not this what produces an Orthodox mindset? How then do we, how does a convert, do that?

28-07-2008, 12:24 PM,
Dear Fr. Gregory, Dear Kirk,

Thank you both for interesting responses which push the discussion on nicely.

My own experiences were not dissimilar to Kirk's, and had it not been for reading the Fathers in my twenties and thirties, I would have had nothing to go on save my own 'feeling' that whilst Christianity was the truth, what I was (and was not) being taught made little impact on me. As long as I was nice to everyone, didn't frighten the horses or little children, and showed myself 'tolerant' to everything except intolerance, that was fine and OK. Well, the horses were no problem, but the rest of it ... :cry:

Whilst sharing your view, Fr. Gregory, of the words 'doing theology different', I also agree about their necessity.

For my part, I would illustrate it by reference to Original Sin. What I was taught I was always uneasy with. That was that we inherited a fallen nature, we were inherently sinful, and without Grace we could do nothing. Now whilst sensing that the 'Grace' part of that had much in it, the whole thing as presented to me turned me away. The Fathers I had read, mainly those before St. Augustine (confession time - I never did get on with him, or past him), did not seem to teach that. It was only when I encountered the Orthodox teaching on this that I found something that just 'made sense'.

The same seemed true about the Eucharist. I know He is in the Bread and the Wine; I don't know how, and frankly don't think we can know how; nor do I actually think it matters. I am one of the created, and to think I can, or need to, understand my Creator in this area, would be prideful indeed.

I'll stop there for correction. But for me, it was the 'common sense' of the Orthodox teaching which made sense - and once I encountered an Orthodox Church which didn't want me to be a Russian first, the attraction was immediate.

But the process of being an Orthodox Christian is a lifelong one. I was asked recently whether I was 'saved'? My response was 'Yes. I was saved through Grace at baptism and chrismation; I am saved through participation in the sacraments of His Church, and through the works which are the product of Grace; and I shall be saved at the last judgement, should that be the will of the One Just Judge.' That, I was told, very firmly, was not a theologically correct answer. My response was that we did theology differently - which was why your phrase stuck in my mind just now.

I welcome. of course, any corrections. But for me, this is a process. I have repented of my sins (though I commit some of the old ones), I continue to repent of my sins; I try to walk in His way; but the guidance of the Church is vital here. The Holy Eucharist has become the greatest comfort in my life in a way not to be described. But the way remains hard, and the effort remains continuous.

In Christ,

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)
30-07-2008, 01:07 PM,
Dear All,

As Father Gregory has concluded above with the question 'What does it mean to be Orthodox?" I agree with him, this is a good question for much more exploration. And, especially as we consider this in light of John's most helpful question "Conversion without conversion?" or to flip that around another way 'conversion without Conversion?" . . . . where does one find one's center in all of this?

I don't think these questions are new to any of us here. But, once again John is locked and loaded in his first post as he points to such as:

-- An Orthodox Mindset?

-- Acquiring an Orthodox Mindset?

And, Father Gregory well points out that this is something that can be viewed positively or negatively. As well he speaks of photographs with varying degrees of correct focus . . . and it is here that I think we are red hot in this exploration. As we might consider who determines when Orthodoxy is an adjective and when it is a noun, as we might consider who determines when a photograph is in focus and when it is not, we see this is both a matter of perspective and in some cases having proper lenses to make an accurate assessment. This could not possibly be more subjective. And, this is not to say that something that has a very high degree of subjectivity is a bad thing anymore than to suggest that a mystery is always a bad thing. However, this is to point out that when the expression an Orthodox Mindset is used to lay down dogmatic, one-size-fits-all, propositions/assertions about "The" Orthodoxy Way we see the Orthodox Mindset presented negatively.

In all of this I am not so sure that this whole enchilada that we are discussing here and in sub plots elsewhere is not one big bad word game. Does anyone know what I mean here? I know my writing is not the most clear at times, but we go with what we are given, don't we? As we might consider such as the question of authority and justification in all of this. We like the Roman Catholics and every other group right down to the Independent Baptists and their "Trail of Blood" can respond with well honed answers to support our individual positions and the position of our particular group that we associate with. In our group we speak of the fathers, the saints, the Church, the Orthodox mindset, and other.

But, here as we are now considering, I think, "What does it mean to be Orthodox?" While Fr. Gregory provides some top shelf writing on what it doesn't mean to be Orthodox . . . I think I am primarily suggesting today that I am not so sure there is not a cosmic shell game going on in all of this whereby that old deluder is moving his hands and his shells in very fast circular positions.

For example, take me as an example. my center, my integrative motif, is the second person of the Trinity, the Logos. So I have a Christocentric integrative motif. Period. Maybe this sounds right to Fr. Gregory, maybe this seems in focus, or maybe not. But, this is the way it is. I primarily view Orthodoxy as it is associated with the Church as an adjective, whereby I view Orthodoxy as it is associated with the Person of Christ to be a noun. In other words, to be very blunt here, as it relates to things along the lines of what Fr. Gregory has shared such as color, movement, vestments, and other things, at times viewing Orthodoxy as an adjective in this way as it relates to ecclesiology, I think, at times, I am about as Orthodox as my dog.

But, viewing Orthodoxy as a noun as it relates to my Christocentric integrative motif this is a completely different thing, and here I hope that I am much more Orthodox than my dog.

And, all of this is shared not in the hope of pastoral care but to attempt to clearly demostrate what I suspect is the number one stumbling block to all inquires into such very worthwhile considerations as conversion without conversion or anything remotely resembling talk of Unity within all of Christendom . . . whereby there is a Shell Game(s) going on here that results in nothing more than a dizzy or nauseous feeling for the one who tries to play or even watch . . . and all this because of a lack of communication. Maybe somehow there is a second playing of the Tower of Babel somewhere in the History of the Church, in the History of Christian Thought that has not been recognized, I don't know.

But, there is clearly a spirit of confusion that comes into play very quickly in a huge and dramatic way just about 99% of the time when any such explorative effort takes place. And, maybe this is why my writing is not easy to understand at times because to even point to this spirit of confusion is to take the reader into this realm with great speed. But, again I don't know . . . Smile

And, on that note, I think I will sign off for now Wink

Not a short essay question here.

Peace to the reader.

In Christ,
30-07-2008, 03:53 PM,
As a follow-up to my above post, I would like to share a post from a friend's blog that I just read a few minutes ago. I think the following fits well in this thread:

An Orthodox Mindset: A Goal for Every Christain

Develop and Orthodox mindset. This is what we as converts are striving for and I have realized it goes far beyond simply having an Orthodox view of major Christian doctrines. Practice and doctrine cannot be separated - this indeed is an intergral part of Orthodox Christianity.

Christianity is a life consciously lived in Christ. Therefore there must be a Christian life and a knowledge of what that life is and means for it to be fully Orthodox. It is a way of living and also a way of understanding God, the world around us and ourselves in relation to these.

I look around though and realize that Russian Orthodoxy doesn't look at things quite the way Greek Orthodoxy does. In trying to integrate my Protestant past with Orthodoxy, I cannot simply dump what I am and become Eastern Orthodox. Instead, laying aside a specifically Eastern Orthodoxy, I have to deal with the question what does it mean to be an Orthodox Christian in this culture? What does it mean to live knowingly in right relationship with God and my brother where I am? I am not part of a movement that sees its mission as being universal (catholic) in its authority. I am no longer part of a protest movement against that abuse of authority. Rather I am simply seeking to live a genuine Orthodox Christian life -- and this is simply what we all ought to be doing no matter what the name on our tradition is, in this the path to unity is opened up.
30-07-2008, 09:57 PM,
Dear Rick,

great to hear your 'voice' here again; your contributions are always welcome, and especially so here in helping us move on.

I'm interested in the notion of a Christocentric focus. One of the things that I am taking away from studying St. Cyril of Alexandria is the importance of the Trinitarian perspective; all things by the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit. The modern theological distinction between Christology and Soteriology seems just that - modern and a distinction. For St. Cyril they are part of the economic work of the whole Godhead. The 'enfleshed Word' is the crucial mediator between mankind and God: if His flesh were not divine, it would not save us; but if it were not human, we could not receive it into ourselves at the Eucharist, and it would not transform us.

At the centre of everything is the mystery of the Incarnation. He became flesh; He did not adopt a human body; He became man that we might become God, as St. Athanasius put it. Easily misunderstood, as it has been in some modern western traditions, understood within the Orthodox tradition, this is the greatest insight and the most hopeful one for us. This is not a casual relationship to be conducted on a Sunday in remembrance, it is a daily one, consecrated always to Him, but in the most special way possible on Sunday, when 'He in us' and 'us in Him', become more than the words in the old Protestant shell-game.

Here there is a relationship which is understood, as far as the creature can understand Creator, through the Orthodox tradition; personal, certainly, but as part of the Church, the community of believers who hold to the Orthodox Faith gathered around its bishop.

The illumination is lit by the Uncreated Light, and even if we see as through a glass darkly, it is that Light, which came into the world to light it, that we see; and we do not reject it.

Your friend's blog put it well.

In Christ,

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)
31-07-2008, 12:06 PM,
Dear John,

Thanks for the kind words, and without further adieu may I say how you are spot on in your response which highlights modern theological distinctions. This is exactly my point{!} especially as it relates to those who would differentiate between Theology Proper, Christology, and Pneumatology or for that matter attempt to make the Church through Ecclesiology a fourth member of the Trinity. As you rightly make a move to incarnational theology (and the mystery of the incarnation) which is preceded by pointing out that the separation of Christology and Soteriology (as the revivalists have done and do in the present day) is a modern one, you make so clear what I was (and still am) stumbling towards in terms of a Christocentric integrative motif which in turn provides a Christocentric Ground for the individual to find a genuine community of the cross. For there is no other Way to the Father is there? There is no other Name that provides the bridge according to the divine design.

Even when you speak of the relationship which is understood, as far as the creature can understand the Creator you make a move to what I was speaking of in terms of the Logos, or more specifically the Logos/logoi [viz. contemplation of the Divine Logos] as taught within Orthodoxy, the eucharistic community.

But, even here John, is where once again the rubber meets the road . . . as it relates to conversions/Conversions, what is it that we desire to be converted to? You know there is a lot of nonsense in Protestantism, but for that matter there is a lot of nonsense in Orthodoxy too. But, one area the Protestants are right on target is in their teaching about having faith in Faith, or more specifically the warning not to have a relationship whereby one is under the illusion that all is well with God based on some sort of belief whereby there is a kind of faith in Faith at the basis of it all. And, from this any Christian regardless of his stripes or colors can ask him/herself if they ultimately have faith in a system or faith in a Person. Obviously, you saw what I meant in my last post; however, here I wonder if any see what is being said?

It is like in one of your posts in this forum from last week John (I can't remember which thread) . . .I was reading where you wrote something about after conversion "What then?" or possibly you said "What next?"And, you talked about your drive time and I think made a comparison to past communities that were more accessible. I can really relate to this. I miss having the ham dinner on Easter, and I too think about my friends who are going to the Protestant Easter services and then home to their Easter Dinners . . . I miss the community that I found in past churches. Based on my experience in the past three years with Orthodoxy, and ironically, I can share that it was reading Orthodoxy literature that I was attracted to the eucharistic community, but as I say so far based on my limited experience, in reality, in practice, the local visible church is an example of "Church without Community." In theory Orthodoxy is the Community of communities . . . but, I better pull off of this train.

But, as you say what then? or then what? I think this holds a key to unlocking more about conversion without Conversion?" In other words, for those who might have converted without Converting, as it relates to an historic Orthodox Christian approach as presented in Orthodoxy Today (distinctions intentional there), yes John! what exactly has one converted to in this present day?? Honestly, I was attracted to Orthodoxy based on the brochures--if you will--written by the fathers and saints of the past as well as by contemporary Orthodox writing theologians. But, again to be frank, much like a cabin I rented not long ago, the brochure for what the cabin offered and provided was not very representative of what the cabin offered and provided in reality, once we got there. I can see how one day in the past, when this cabin was newer, and things were in place and functional that it would have been like the brochure. But, today this cabin is somewhat of a shadow of what it once was when the cabin was initially whole.

And, I realize this one is getting too long here and I didn't even get to where I had intended to go about the Logos/logoi as it relates to a Christocentric focus, or faith in a system vs. faith in Person (as it relates to Christianity), and all of this as it relates to a "recognition" of both the individual and the community together . . .but, possibly that for another day. If you will allow a string of incomplete sentences. Theory and practice John. The abstract and the concrete. The mysterious and the mundane. Where is the Church? Can we point to the Church? Can we draw a map of this Ground?

Yes, John, conversion to what or to Who?

In Christ,
31-07-2008, 11:00 PM,
Dear Rick,

Thank you for drawing us out along a path that does need to be explored.

The other thread you mentioned is the first part of what will, I hope, be a continuing attempt to honestly portray what happened next, as it were, in terms of my own conversion. It is offered not out of egoism, but from a conversation with Abba Seraphim in which he thought there could be some utility in such an account here. Here we see the Ignatian bishop at work - no false brochure here. Characteristically, he wants the 'warts and all' account; that there are no warts is, in part, down to having such a bishop. I don't want to embarrass him, so I won't go on in this vein; but given the importance Orthodoxy attaches to the bishop, it is not possible to detach him from the answer to the question about what one has converted to.

I have not, any more than you have, converted to something called the Orthodox Church with pretensions to universal jurisdiction; I have converted to the Orthodox faith in a Church gathered around a particular bishop, so here, the local and the particular are intimately linked to any general comments. Oddly enough, I now see I had intuited as much at some level, long before I converted; there was no 'draw' to Chalcedonian Orthodoxy locally for me - even though it would have been in every physical way 'easier'. No, where the bishop is, there is the Church; and the BOC is blessed in a very real way.

At our conference earlier this year, I felt a real sense of what this Church I had joined was; I couldn't and didn't need to define it; but as we celebrated morning and evening prayer, I saw and felt the Church in a way that needed no words.

The other defining motif for me is the Eucharist itself; for there, again, is where the Church gathers. That is why the Orthodox understanding of the Incarnation is so important: there, at the Eucharist, I finally understood St. Athanasius' famous saying that: 'He became man so man can become God.' As we gather, as one body, to receive His Body and His Blood which we shed for us, we stand on holy ground: the liturgical words: 'holy things for Holy persons' becomes real. There is a moment I cannot describe, but it, too, is at the heart of what being Orthodox means to me.

'So', a friend asked me, after hearing something like that, 'have you become a saint?' Well, I didn't want to get into either his exegesis on that, or the more colloquial meaning, but on the latter I, of course, said 'no'. That is so. I continue to stumble and fall, and there are moments when I feel prayer hard; but if I persevere, and if I practise what is described so helpfully in Our Daily Life, I do find at least an improvement; even if I know I still have far to go.

That's enough for now, but let us continue later.

In Christ,

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)
01-08-2008, 02:05 PM,
Dear John, Dear All, (and Peter if you are back from holiday),

I had hoped to backtrack to Peter's post above which I read last week with your posts of last week. And, I am happy that the opportunity presents itself now to consider what Peter wrote. Honestly, I can "hear" Peter like I can hear you most of the time. But, contained in his last post above is the single most puzzling question that I have had in this life! How can one who has "truly" transcended the carnal muck and the human divisions participate in this muck and division? And, this involes both apologetics and evangelism as well at times. However, I think I have almost moved past the boundaries of sanity at times wrestling with what is asked in his post as we read:

admin Wrote:As I grow older in age and in the experience of being and becoming Orthodox I wonder if the Orthodox mindset is not only to do with theology and praxis etc, but even more to do with being people of prayer and humility.

It does not seem to me that the Fathers of the Desert were often very versed in what might be called systematic theology, and their liturgical praxis must have been fairly simple, yet they seem to evince the Orthodox mindset more than most who are very knowledgeable in doctrine as an idea?

The more I read, and I am reading lots of primary and secondary theological materials while on holiday, the more I seem to be being taught that there is a great deal to be said for silence and not arguing a point, and giving way before others. I am not sure how that fits in with defending the Holy Church, and doing Christology and being a controversialist and apologist. I have been touched by the word in the Our Daily Life which says, more or less 'since I gave up thinking I could make a difference with what I say, or that anyone is bothering to listen, I have been at peace'.

It just seems to me that those who trumpet their Orthodoxy loudest are often those who give least evidence of a Christian (and that is what Orthodoxy means) mindset. Surely we are looking for a Christian mindset, and even the term 'Orthodox mindset', though I understand it of course, seems to suggest that the Orthodox mindset is different to a truly Christian one.

Can one even develop an Orthodox mindset, as an exercise or goal? Is it not rather that we should 'put on the mind of Christ'? Is not this what produces an Orthodox mindset? How then do we, how does a convert, do that?


This one is worthy of a line-by-line exposition I think.

BUT, whether we are talking about either an Orthodox Mindset or a Christian Mindset; or a Common Ground; a Holy Ground; a Christocentric Ground, or any symbol for this same thing that is beyond words and in this sense abstract (including the Orthodox Church, Orthodoxy, and the Kingdom of God), look at what Peter says about this "Inner Kingdom" [as Bishop Ware uses the term] . . . Peter says:

Quote:The more I read, and I am reading lots of primary and secondary theological materials while on holiday, the more I seem to be being taught that there is a great deal to be said for silence and not arguing a point,

When I first "met" Peter on the other board he got my attention when he subconsciously quoted Francis Schaeffer one day and asked the question in a particular thread, "How then shall we live?"

I bring this up because this is ultimately what we are asking here. Fr. Gregory above asks, "What does it mean to be Orthodox?" In your first post John, you speak of the harmony or lack of it with theory and praxis (which spurs thought about contemplation and praxis).

But, let's be clear here. It seems to me that what lies at the heart of this matter is somewhat as you asked the question last week, "How then shall we live?"

I love what you said above:

Quote:I have not, any more than you have, converted to something called the Orthodox Church with pretensions to universal jurisdiction; I have converted to the Orthodox faith in a Church gathered around a particular bishop . . .

That's beautiful. That's perfect. You have converted to the Orthodox Christian Faith in "a" church gathered around "a" particular bishop. I appreciate that and respect that.

But, with this and Peter's post in mind, as we return to the wider question, "How then shall we live?" . . . what do we really have at the end of the day? Let's say for example that I decide to do some role playing and I will speak with a Russian accent and possibly wear a fake black mustache and say something like:

'My poor son John, please listen to me. You have joined a particular group which is not Chalcedonian. Your feelings and emotions that you are experiencing are obviously based on a created light and this is driving your delusion that you are experiencing at the present. I hope and pray that you might come to the True Church which is only found in Eastern Orthodoxy before it is eternally too late. It is only by means of the Path of Christ in the True Church John that you may find the Grace of God and salvation for your soul.'

Do you see what I mean here John? In all of this where are we with our lack of definitions?

And, to be clear, I agree 100% with what you have said in this thread; but in the above scenario with you and I in my very dark and thick fake mustache, you have two options--don't you?

You can:

1.) Be silent and not argue the point as Peter writes above.

2.) You can engage me to varying degrees.

And, here's where the ball meets the bat for me. This is the question that I referred to above that has probably driven me somewhat mad in the past.

I see a Common Ground, a Christocentric Ground, upon which the disciples of Christ abide. It does not matter whether one is OO, EO, RCC, or other Christian label. The label does not include or exclude one. So using this example that is set up here, how then shall we live?

For those who disagree with me, most are not quiet but exhibit a classic fundamentalist mood in response. Some who would agree would "voice" their beliefs . . . but, it seems most who would agree and who do actually abide on this Ground are as Peter says above characterized by "prayer and humility" and would have little or nothing to say in such a 'discussion.' These people have transcended all divisions in Christ. These people have ascended beyond this muck. And, I think for those who have or do occasionally find themselves in this Inner Kingdom, there is an experiencing of a peace that passes all understanding as Peter has pointed to from "Our Daily Life."

So I think characteristically one will find prayer, humility, and peace in the life of the one who has had the question answered in his/her life "How then shall we live?" They have even transcended the question itself.

But, here John, at the end of the day, in this group where are the apologists and the evangelists as Peter also asks? Is it possible that every one of these is the ultimate apologist and evangelist through their prayer, and their humility, and their peace? And, to take this a bit further is it possible that these are the fruit of the labor of some such as the Apostles Peter, Paul, and John?

And, I'll share with you that my baptismal name is Paul in order to offer the following conclusion that possibly how we should live is how we are called to live. And, this is an individual thing. There is no such thing as a one size fits all answer here! Just as there was a Peter a Paul and a John over 2000 years ago, there is a Peter and a Paul and John today. Peter had his path, Paul had his path, and John had his path . . . but they were all the Path of Christ. There is no one answer.

Possibly some would prefer to live the life akin to the one of the Dessert Fathers but they are called to the life more akin to the Apostle Paul. Or possibly vice-versa. This is an individual thing isn't it? We are not all hermits, or monks, or priests, or lay or whatever are we? But, hopefully we are where God would have us to be regardless of whether this is in a place of great joy or a place more akin to Gethsemene. Either way there is no one answer and this is a personal thing. Take your pick, either a radical individualism or if one is uncomfortable with that, then possibly a radical personalism? Wouldn't that be something if it was through one of these that genunine Christian community if found? Actually, if you think back to the days of the disciples of Christ and the very early church . . . what else did they have to offer?

And, just one last thing along these lines. I hear about the saints in church who exuded such love and peace in their being 'at all times' regardless of the situation/scenario. . . but then I read the writing of some of these same ones and I think the speaker who shared with me about these saints has never read a word that they have written.

So there is a balance here as we consider theory and practice of the one who has Converted/Transcended and climbs toward a higher ground, but again as it relates to Peter's post above there can be no answers that include references to cookie cutter or paper doll string methods. If I have learned anything about "Orthodoxy" in theory and practice as well as what it means to be Orthodox [as Fr. Gregory wrote] it is that one size has not, does not, and will not fit all.

If only 'Orthodoxy in America' today would realize this, then 'an American Orthodoxy' could bloom and grow. But, that is another subject isn't it? Smile

Peace to the reader.

In Christ,
01-08-2008, 06:30 PM,
Dear Rick

Thank you for your posts, which always provide much to ponder and reflect upon.

I am still on holiday in France, but have brought a broadband connection with me, as I could not imagine being off line for more than a few hours!

I am glad that you think my comments about prayer and humility have something to add to our thoughts about an Orthodox mindset. And I do like the idea that the Orthodox mindset must be manifest in each of us as we have been uniquely created by God, to be ourselves in relation to Him and to others.

Sitting here on a sunny evening in the south of France, with my children playing (very surprisingly) outside, and with a crowd of other children of various ages all joining in, I am reminded that an Orthodox mindset must include my vocation as husband, father, brother and son, even employee and neighbour. Sometimes it seems to me that talk about the Orthodox mindset is designed to create, exactly as you repudiate, cookie-cutter Orthodox who live only in the liturgical Church context, and are not much different from those Western Protestants who also reject the world around them and live for the services on Sunday, the Bible Study on Thursday evening, the Missionary Prayer meeting etc etc.

How am I to be an Orthodox father, husband, brother, son, employee and neighbour? It seems to me that if I am to be authentically Orthodox then this Orthodox mindset must encompass those vocations, responsibilities and relations otherwise I am rather a fraud. Like the characters in the parable of the Good Samaritan I could imagine myself outwardly Orthodox - dressing the right way, acting the right way in Church, knowing the correct name for every piece of liturgical furniture, but passing my family and friends by on the other side of the road as they lie bruised and needy.

I am concerned that I not become like the Pharisees, and all Christian traditions have scope for Phariseeism. I do not want to be one of those who is an illuminati but who has said of my life 'it is korban' so that I do not actually have to live this Orthodoxy out in front of the critical people who are closest to me.

Here on holiday. If I am too big to take the bin out because I am studying Severus of Antioch in French, am I really Orthodox at all? If I have to finish this important post before I play with my son - although this is hypothetical just now as he has disappeared with a crowd of other children - then is the post worth anything from an Orthodox point of view.

Quote:'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'

Am I faithful in even the few things I have been made responsible for? Is it not too easy for us to be made to think that the Orthodox mindset is all about liturgy and churchiness when in fact it is about living out the life of Christ in the little things first, otherwise how can I not be deceived if I think I am already serving the Master in great things while the little things He has actually given me to do are ignored?

01-08-2008, 06:53 PM,

I'm coming into this thread very late, but I just read your starter post and was moved by it. Thanks.

01-08-2008, 07:03 PM,
I think I would want to add a little more, about the common ground and not arguing.

Many of us have had conversations with people like your Russian role-play character. But of course in the end our experience is not easily gainsaid. If my faith is in some fact of history then that faith may be shaken. If my faith is in the fact that there are 7 ecumenical councils, and I am shown that some Church authorities speak of 8 or 9 ecumenical councils then that might confuse me.

But my faith seems to me to be in Christ, the incarnate Word, and it is essentially faith, a trusting relationship in a Divine person, not a leap in the dark. It is faith in the Holy Trinity, and a belief that They have graciously invited me to share in Their Life with all others who have responded to Their call.

In the end my relationships with others must also exhibit faith. I cannot KNOW the inner relationship of any other with God, but as the Psalmist says, and in a Psalm that seems to have always been used in my Brethren days - deep calls to deep.

There must surely be some place for faith as some aspect of our common ground. Faith as trust in God and others, not trust in facts about God or trust in a categorisation as people. But deep calls to deep.

Our relationship to you, Rick, as an Eastern Orthodox, is not, I sense, built upon an intellectual and theological consideration of how we might in a more or less tenuous manner consider you a member of our Church, as though the Church ever belongs to us. But I am sure that it is rather a sense of deep calls to deep. We recognise in you, with hardly a word being said, that which we find in ourselves as our life in Christ.

And going back to the issue of when and where to argue and speak. I am thinking that this also relates to faith. There is a time to speak when we are explaining our own faith to those who are seeking in faith. And there is even a place there to counter the misinformation which others might be spreading. But it seems to me that if I am dealing with someone who has no faith in my experience of Christ then it is a time to be silent. Nothing or very little can be achieved. People who have no faith cannot have faith argued into them.

Sometimes on other forums, John and I made statements about our faith, but it seems to me that these were explanations for those who were still seeking and had faith, and were not directed at those who had no faith about what was being said. I would not go back to argue with such folk.

Evangelism and Apologetics can all be ministries in faith, but arguing seems to me now to be a reliance on one's own strength. I think of many dear saints in Christ whom I know, who do not have a ready turn of phrase and do not speak easily, and could easily be considered naive and simple minded. But I am sure indeed. Very sure. That their simplicity is closer to an Orthodox mindset than my own sophistication and 'knowledge'. Their silence can speak much more than all my words if it is a silence in faith.

01-08-2008, 10:18 PM,
Dear Peter, Dear Rick,

Some excellent points being made here, and I;m glad Rick went back to your earlier post, Peter, because it has much to say to us.

Would it, I wonder, be true to say that Orthodox praxis is rooted in prayer and humility? That's not to say that's all there is to it - but if that is not there, then we do, indeed, risk the fate of the Pharisees.

Here I am happy with our Russian friend (shall we call him Fr. R for old time's sake?) telling me just what Rick describes; if he is right, then God will judge me, as He will Fr. R. If Hell awaits me for not accepting the Chalcedonian definition, then it does, and if I am not covered by His Grace for that, then I am not.

But if I have accepted Chalcedon, but the Catholics are right, then Fr. R will be frying right next to me; except he won't, because the Catholics don't teach anything quite that crude.

Here we come where we have trodden before. A thinnish line separates my remarks in the last two paragraphs from a syncretistic universalism: as long as we're good chaps, we'll be OK; but there is a line, and the Orthodox Church defines it for me; whether the Only Just Judge will use it as His canon, only He knows. But I am told that salvation lies within the bounds of His Church, and since I am within it, I do His bidding. But that bidding surely goes further than simply being part of a Church? Right belief matters; this the Church has always taught. But often, this means not possessing wrong belief: that the son is a docetic creature; that the Spirit is a subordinate creature. These things, if true, would cut across what the Church teaches about our salvation; they are error, and He is not error.

But, if we get to that place, we stand in Peter's shoes. How do I bear witness in my daily life? Our Lord offers many pointers, and none of them include parading one's righteous adherence to the letter of the law; although we should not make the common mistake of assuming that means we should not obey the law, for He actually says we must be at least as righteous as the Pharisees!

You are right Rick, not many of us are called to live life as the Desert Fathers did; except we are - in our own sphere. They sought the face of God through obedience to His teaching; so we must, wherever we are placed.

This is where the Church matters so much. How shall be live? By the Holy Tradition of the Church, of which the Scriptures are a vital part; they are the written testimony of the Apostles to what Christ taught. But I know myself for a sinful man, and I can read these Holy books and, like every heretic there ever was, find support for my heresy there. But the other pillar of the Church: the Fathers and the Saints; the Divine Liturgy; and the work of the Councils, all these, in comprising the fullness of the Tradition, haul me back from error. If there never was a heretic who could not cite Scripture to justify himself; there never was one who prevailed over the fullness of Holy Tradition. Alone, how easily I err and fall; I fall too as part of the community of the Church, but I am picked up and comforted; and should I err, the honey is made distinct from the poison.

In this, I hope that my every day bears some quiet witness to the Lord - even though I am tempted to despair at how quiet and how inadequate; but to try, in prayer, is surely better than to think one has succeeded in one's own strength? This underlines the points made by Peter, and by you, Rick.

The Orthodox Church is the hospital in which we find an aid for what ails us. But it is not a quick fix; no, once saved, always saved; no sola scriptura and private revelation; prayer; service, service and prayer.

In Christ,


p.s. Dear Greg, thanks for your kind remarks.

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)

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