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Conversion without conversion?
03-08-2008, 06:48 PM,
Conversion to what?
I know that as these threads become longer, it becomes difficult for others to join in, but perhaps we can gather for breath here with another reflection on 'conversion to what?'

Fr. Gregory makes a good point when he write about conversion 'to' and implicitly distinguishes it from 'conversion from'; is it 'push' or 'pull' that draws us?

Kirk's experience of religious education will not be atypical of those of us brought up in the UK; I recognise it myself, and had it not been for my experience of Anglicanism whilst at college, it would have been identical. I owe much to Newman and the Oxford Movement for drawing me to the Fathers of the Church. That gave me some notion of what might be 'orthodox', so, for me, it was being drawn to what I thought I had joined many years before.

But once I began to experience and interact with Orthodoxy, it became clear how very inadequate my notion of orthodoxy was. But this was part of the attraction; the notions of 'salvation' with which I had been acquainted seemed inadequate; St. Athanasius' dictum that 'God became man so that man could become God' had always seemed to me to hold a truth that I could not quite see; but acquaintanceship with the notion of 'theosis' came like a thunder-clap; yes, yes, I remember thinking, this is what I have always believed - I just had not word to express the concept.

My own life experience told me that there was something seriously awry with the 'once saved, always saved' notions I had been familiar with from childhood; but Orthodoxy made sense of those life experiences in a new context; a context in which one did not despair because one had fallen. There seems to me an optimism about Orthodoxy.

But there is part of the rub for those who convert. How do we acquire Orthodoxy in our daily life? That is where Peter's booklet is most useful; if we just do what it says, we do more than we used to. The homily, the readings and the Liturgy also seem to me to be useful tools for expanding our knowledge of what it means to be Orthodox.

Nor should we forget the Internet. There is seldom a question one has where one cannot find an Orthodox answer somewhere.

Perhaps the absence of a near by community has some advantages; one simply has to try harder, take it more seriously, and take one's faith into our daily life?

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)
04-08-2008, 11:41 AM,
Conversion to What?: I and Thou?
Dear BOC Discussion Community Members,

You are correct John, it seems sometimes others may feel hesitant about jumping into a conversation here once it get's up to speed; but, this should not be the case because I have noticed that here we are able to turn on a dime, in this forum, even at high speeds.

But, as you say let's take a deep healing breath here . . . breathing in slowly . . . and breathing out slowly. Well that was nice wasn't it? Wink Let's do it again, at least to the count of five . . . breathing in slowly and deeply (one, two, three, four, five), and then breathing out slowly (one, two, three, four, five).

Okay, now Peter, I must say that as John asks again "Conversion to what?" in your last two posts we see a most helpful answer presented in the negative, not unlike Fr. Gregory's first post in this thread. Very helpful.

And, just for the record before we move any further, may I share that I have never understood the term "convert" as it is used in the case of existing Christians who have made a move to an historical Orthodox Christian approach from wherever or in the case of John's question here, 'what'ever they were formerly associated with that did not include the fullness of the faith. I do not really see what I and others like me have either converted 'to' or converted 'from.' I am not sure what I believe now intellectually or intuitively that I didn't believe before I decided to visit a Greek Orthodox Church and then become a catechumen and then "join" the Eastern Orthodox Church. In my mind 'convert' doesn't even seem like the right terminology to use for me. And, for that matter, I think most of the members of this discussion community are not 'cradle' Orthodox, so it might be interesting to hear about what is thought about this by others.

But, let's all look at what Peter has written in his last two posts please. Especially, as it relates to his quoting of the Psalm (which has always had special meaning for me), Peter quotes "As deep calls to deep."

He relates this to my relationship with 'you' on an individual level. This could not be more perfect Peter. But, look here at the distinction that is drawn please. My relationship to 'you' British Orthodox. This is a beautiful and very accurate rendering (which again draws a most excellent distinction between theological and other considerations). But, if we consider my relationship to you in terms of what our various and particular priests, bishops, and other hierarchs say, then we might see little or none of this Beauty that Peter has put forth.

So, I am suggesting that it may be possible that what is said in public may be different than what is said in private by those such as our Russian friend with the mustache from a few posts ago. Or even as you may have experienced yourself John and Peter elsewhere. When we consider the "what" of Orthodoxy as well as the "where" we find well honed responses at the ready. We find a towing of party lines straightway. We find even a little bit of crayfish action or see a bristling of hair on the neck in short order . . . but, when we walk that well trodden road again . . . what do we also see?? We also see a personal conclusion by the same participants in this same conversation on both 'sides' that reveals ultimately an place of unknowing, and a clear admission that the Grace of God cannot be confined or restricted and is to praise folly to even attempt such a move.

So again here, at the end of the day, what do we really have? What are we really saying when the sum parts of our speech are assembled into a whole? Some Evangelicals, like myself have made a move to an Eastern Orthodox faith/way/approach. Some Evangelicals have considered it and have opted not to do this. Other Evangelicals have not even ever heard of EO--it is a non issue. Possibly, the same is true for some in your neck of the woods in the UK, and in other parts of the world from which our contributors come from. The same is true for Anglicans, and other Christian denominations and faith traditions. But, who is to say that the ones who moved on to Orthodoxy are the ones in God's will and vice versa?

And, possibly all of this[above] ties in with a syncretism vs a relationship such as what I have with 'you' here?

Do we model a syncretism here 'you' and 'I'? Or do we model something else?

Think about this for a minute please. Because if I have "converted" to anything in my move to EO it is to this something else. And, in this sense to use this terminology, there is no way one can have conversion without conversion. But, now we have run the circle once more and we are talking about community again aren't we? Or more specifically the Community of communities.

And, this shares my experience for that matter and puts on display what I thought I was converting to. And, in this we must allow some room for a naive view (for one example I had never heard of Oriental Orthodoxy as being something distinct from Eastern Orthodoxy) . . .

But, as Peter has suggested in his use of "Deep calling to Deep" I hope we can have some discussion about this as it relates to the "what" that we have "converted" to (or for that matter 'from').

As well, I wonder if we could have some discussion here about what we say when we are towing the party line as well as what we say when we work our way to the logical end of our position about both the "what" and the "where" of Orthodoxy.

And, I'm not going to get to Peter's other point here about "isolation" but this is all directly related. And, in my mind almost needs to be discussed while we are in discussion mode here before any discussion about praxis . . . let we model ourselves as practitioners of an isolated/separatist somewhat introverted and somewhat insincere "what."

And, for any who might still be reading here Wink . . . all of this as it relates to the "what" and praxis for sure before any discussion of contemplation which has not even been touched upon here in our discussion of what it means to be Orthodox. For that matter if we ever get there, I would like to place a note here that neither the contemplative life nor theosis are unique doctrines to Orthodoxy . . . and if we aren't careful we do fall into a legalism along the lines of what Peter wrote about. Whereby, as it is said of American Fundamentalism that "it is not so much a set of unique doctrines but more of a mood" the same could be said about us!

Peace in Christ,
04-08-2008, 02:50 PM,
Dear Rick,

Well, I know that sometimes you say that you think your posts may be hard reading for some, but I don't see how that could be so here at all; you make such pertinent points.

Internet fora have two main pitfalls:
one is that which you and Peter describe - namely the well-practised response, honed (sometimes into a cutting sharpness) from much polemical engagement. This often produces more heat then light:
the other is that it ends up with everyone practising an Orthodox mindset that is indistinguishable from what is elsewhere called 'group-think'.
One of the things I like about this forum is that I think it avoids these pitfalls; we have what are genuine discussions about matters of mutual concern - and your most recent contribution takes this in interesting directions.

Quote: I am not sure what I believe now intellectually or intuitively that I didn't believe before I decided to visit a Greek Orthodox Church and then become a catechumen and then "join" the Eastern Orthodox Church. In my mind 'convert' doesn't even seem like the right terminology to use for me. And, for that matter, I think most of the members of this discussion community are not 'cradle' Orthodox, so it might be interesting to hear about what is thought about this by others.
expresses pithily exactly what this is about.

If one believes nothing more than what one believed before, then exactly what happened? This is why the 'convert' word is in some senses a loaded one - which is where, again, you get to the heart of the matter:
Quote: if I have "converted" to anything in my move to EO it is to this something else.
Are we back here to what Fr. Gregory called 'doing theology differently'?

If we' aren't, then I can't find other words to express it.

For my part, it would be the unity of Holy Tradition which marks out Orthodoxy; but it might be riposted that this has not produced unity, even within Orthodoxy.

Well, since we receive different Fathers (in part, or in emphasis) and recognise different Councils as Ecumenical, it is hardly surprising that not even Tradition produces visible unity; but the word 'visible' may be very relevant here.

Let us see what others have to say.

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)
10-08-2008, 03:07 PM,
Dear Rick,

Thinking further about what 'conversion' means, I am struck by what I can only call the 'balance' to be witnessed in Orthodoxy; balance as between authority and unity.

We know that from the beginning there has been a problem with those those claiming 'private revelation', as the Johannine and Petrine epistles show, along with many of those written by Paul and, of course, that of St. Jude. The Roman Catholic Church achieves unity by emphasising the authority of its Magisterium; the Anglicans achieve whatever it is they achieve by having no real focus of authority and running with the tension of so many differing views that it may be possible to believe whatever one likes and still remain an Anglican; this non-authority produces a kind of non-unity. At the more Protestant end of the spectrum, since everyone can claim inspiration for their reading of the text, there are as many authorities as views, and unity goes out the window, because the concept of 'Church' is not what it is for us.

For us, with Holy Tradition working as a whole, there is a more balanced approach in the Church: there never was, as we know, a heretic who could not quote Scripture to support his case; neither was there one who could bring the Fathers, the Councils and the Liturgy in on his side. Of course, it does not make the Church infallible, but where all the elements of Holy Tradition concur, that's as close as we are going to get this side of death.

That, it seems to me, leaves a lot of things undefined; there's no equivalent of the Catholic Catechism. But that is as it should be be, for the early Church defined only when not to would have allowed heresy to spread. I am struck, for example, by the way in which even after his elaborate discussion of it, St. Cyril admits that the Incarnation remains an 'ineffable mystery'. So too with the 'real' presence. We hold that the bread and wine and the body and blood of Our Lord; but we don't know how, or try, as far as I know, to define it.

Neither is this to make a claim for some intellect-denying 'simple faith'; it is just a humble acknowledgement that the creature can never understand the Creator; we understand what is needful for our salvation, as it is found in the Holy Tradition of the Orthodox Church. It is this apophatic (if that's the word I'm looking for) element in Orthodoxy which appeals so much to me, and has provided, and provides, one of the great 'pulls'.

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)
10-08-2008, 08:12 PM,
Dear John,

It is a sleepy Sunday afternoon here now, and while a nap sounds very good at the present I just read your last post and I think I would like to respond instead. Especially as you concluded about what 'conversion' means in the following:

Quote:Neither is this to make a claim for some intellect-denying 'simple faith'; it is just a humble acknowledgement that the creature can never understand the Creator; we understand what is needful for our salvation, as it is found in the Holy Tradition of the Orthodox Church. It is this apophatic (if that's the word I'm looking for) element in Orthodoxy which appeals so much to me, and has provided, and provides, one of the great 'pulls'.

I am reminded about how so many of our topics here on the BOC site fall under this very umbrella.

It is either Lossky or Zizioulas (I can look it up if anyone cares) who makes the case very well that the true goal of an Orthodox apophatic theology is to transcend all affirmations and negations. And as it relates to the kind of unknowing that you refer to where does this leave us in our past and present conversations about 'definitions?' But, more to the point, here as elsewhere, as we run this circle how can we not end up with tribes and tribal mentalities at the end of the day? How can we not end up with those of particular tribes justifying themselves individually and collectively?

But, to be clear, I really think you are on to something with this thread and this line of thought! As we consider the incarnation a mystery, and as we consider the bread and wine a mystery, why would we not consider the Church a great mystery? If we do not put tight boundary markers around the incarnation and the bread and wine why would we do this for the Church? Sorry about all these question marks, I'm not sure why they seem to be so plentiful in this . . . but, seriously is this not a reasonable line of thought here?

And, as we consider still "conversion to what?" it occurs to me how striking the resemblance is in what is presented here and what is commonly thought of as a postmodern mindset and way of knowing. Take even your opening reference to the balance between authority and unity. As it relates to postmodern tribalism this is the same MO . . . so as we consider 'conversion' I wonder if we can consider whether we are talking about conversion to a particular tribe as opposed to conversion to the global village. And, that wasn't really very clear but as we might ponder this further, as it relates to 'conversion' I wonder how others would define the term global Orthodoxy or in the positive sense world Orthodoxy today? One would think that a person would define these terms in a very similar way as he/she would the Church. And, once again our circle is complete . . .

However, as I consider what the draw or pull was for me in Orthodoxy, one of the main pulls was to be able to work openly from within an Orthodox framework. Much like Bishop Kallistos wrote in his book and you mentioned above, I found out that what Orthodoxy believed about such concepts as cooperation and theosis was what I had always believed. But, with that said, I am starting to suspect I got more than I bargained for in some ways as it relates to other commonly held tenants of the faith by some within Easter Orthodoxy. But, the point I'm stumbling towards here now is just as in protestantism there are different schools of thought on different doctrines. There is division within the ranks of those who claim to be EO churches as well as others that you are very familiar with. In many ways these are very much akin to tribes and tribal mentalities.

So, as we consider 'conversion' further I would ask regardless of one's level of awareness of the issues when he/she comes into Orthodoxy and in this sense 'converts' to the Orthodox faith, what other choice does one have but to transcend all affirmations and negations (lest he/she claims divine inspiration on the matter), and adopt a theology of unknowing as it relates to the Eucharistic Community?

And, hopefully this is not viewed as a blatant attempt or move towards syncretism because it's clearly not. But, here's what I wonder John, as most of us are familiar with the solipsism of other websites on this matter . . . I honestly don't know what the difference is between this solipsism elsewhere and what we ourselves do when we say indirectly the Church is not a mystery, it is clearly defined and "visible" to all through those churches who subscribe to the Holy Tradition passed down to us through the ages. We talk about tradition, the fathers, the saints, the treasury, and so on . . . but we are clearly excluding many as we place these markers in the ground. I am like you, I don't want to see some of the craziness of the protestant churches come into the Orthodox churches . . . but, to be fair many if not all of the same charges that are levied against the protestants can be levied at us. We have our individualism, particularism, and proof textings and so on . . . just manifested differently. We have our varying interpretations and different schools of thought as well. But, aside from this, I am honestly asking what the difference is between the solipsism that we have been exposed to elsewhere, and what we ourselves practice as it relates to those who we clearly do not consider 'converts' of the Orthodox church? I think this matters as we consider what conversion means. I realize now that I converted to a tribe (although this was the last thing I wanted to do). I thought I was converting to a "visible" manifestation of the Community of communities, but I didn't. So as you can see once again I am concluding that it does not so much matter where one spends his Sunday morning as it does where one abides the rest of the time, and in this we see a confirmation of your suggestion the a key concept here includes the word "visible."

In Christ,
11-08-2008, 12:06 PM,
Dear Rick,

You put the questions well, and get to the heart of part of it here:
Quote: to be fair many if not all of the same charges that are levied against the protestants can be levied at us. We have our individualism, particularism, and proof textings and so on . . . just manifested differently. We have our varying interpretations and different schools of thought as well. But, aside from this, I am honestly asking what the difference is between the solipsism that we have been exposed to elsewhere, and what we ourselves practice as it relates to those who we clearly do not consider 'converts' of the Orthodox church? I think this matters as we consider what conversion means. I realize now that I converted to a tribe (although this was the last thing I wanted to do). I thought I was converting to a "visible" manifestation of the Community of communities, but I didn't.

Need there be this dichotomy between 'tribe' and 'Community of communities'?

Let's see if this can be put as an answer to this question:
Quote: how can we not end up with tribes and tribal mentalities at the end of the day?
We could try starting by distinguishing between orthodox praxis and ethnic practice. Because Orthodoxy and national cultures have become so intertwined, this can be a real problem. Need it be?

Here the BOC seems to have a message. Our mission is to evangelise Orthodoxy with a British ethos. Now, one could simply take this to a sign that we wish to set up our own tribal version, but I wonder whether it isn't the other way round? What would that be? It would be taking Orthodox praxis and saying that it is catholic in its application; you don't have to be Russian, Greek or Egyptian to be Orthodox. That, of course, requires Greeks, Russians and Egyptians who can accept that.

One of the many good things about Pope Shenouda is that, as I understand it (and I'm sure Fr. Gregory or others who know better will correct me, if I am wrong), what His Holiness wanted to know about our Church was 'is it Orthodox'? Once he recognised that what the Orthodox Church in the British Isles held about the Faith was Orthodox, that was all that mattered; if we needed to adapt some practices to a British environment - such as having an English version of the Agbeya, that was fine. If it meant actually allowing us to use another Liturgical form - that of St. James, then that, too, was fine. I wonder what His Holiness would have thought had we proposed using a Western Rite? Given its non-Orthodoxy, he might well have hesitated; who knows?

Is this positing some sort of central core of what is an is not allowable for an Orthodox Christian to hold? Or is it moving the other way - that is saying that there are a variety of things which Orthodox Christians cannot hold - whilst thereby reserving a position which amounts to saying that what is not forbidden is allowable?

Now, it may be that some Orthodox will hold that only their ethnic practice is right and proper; but that is part of the human condition, I suspect. I have not (and maybe I just live a sheltered life) thus far encountered this problem in the Coptic Church, although I daresay it exists somewhere. But I have not encountered it in the way I did even in the most preliminary encounters with Russian and Greek Orthodoxy.

That's not a claim to some sort of superiority, simply a statement of what I've encountered with the BOC. I don't, in that sense, feel that I have converted to a tribal mentality - even if I know that my journey into the Orthodox Faith is in the foothills at the moment; I think I can see peaks far ahead.

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)
11-08-2008, 06:01 PM,
I was reading Frend's - The Rise of the Monophysite Movement - over my French holiday. And although there were one or two places where I took issue, and one or two emphases that I did not share, nevertheless I found the book very helpful. Not least because he debunks the idea that our anti-Chalcedonian movement was rooted in local social and political separatism.

On the contrary, he shows very clearly that the anti-Chalcedonians were Empire Loyalists until the very moment of the Arab invasion of the Byzantine Empire, and only then driven by continuing determined and brutal persecution. Even while bishops and monks were being killed and shipped off to prison, and while populations were being laid waste, an unceasing litany of prayer was being offered up for the well being of even the most evil Emperor - because it was inconceivable that the Christian world should not be organised into a Christian empire with an anointed Emperor.

And where in the West, very early on, the Popes came to describe the role of the Emperor as executor of the will of the Church, and the greatest of layman - in the East, from as early a period, it seems that the Emperor always understood the Church as a ministry of the Empire, and himself as the ultimate authority on earth, even over the Church. Both Chalcedonians and anti-Chalcedonians in the East were complicit in this view for centuries.

Why do I raise that here? Well it is because I have been thinking about the issue of tribalism which Rick and John have mentioned. And I do wonder very much whether that tribalism is not rooted in the long-standing relationship between Church and State in Byzantium? Is it not found equally in the history of Russia? Even in modern Finland the Orthodox Church seems to subsist within the Ministry of Religion and receives state funding.

Now when the Church exists in relation to a State does this not tie the life of the Church to the life of the State in unhelpful ways. Is it not the case that sometimes/often the welfare of the State comes to dominate the Church and compromises her witness? Does this relation not cause a confusion between membership of and participation in the life of the Church and of the State?

In the West, Ambrose bravely refused to give communion to Theodosius I (was it?), when he had butchered the rebellious Thessalonicans (was it?), yet in the East his stance was admired but could never be replicated because the Emperor was the Emperor - he was the Lord's anointed. He was, in a real sense, apart from and over the Church because the Church was only one aspect of the Divine Empire, whereas in the West the Church understood itself as the true mediator of the Divine Authority, granting authority itself to kings, and taking it away.

Now I understand that all groups can develop a tribal mentality, but I don't find this in the British Orthodox Church, and to a great extent I haven't found it in Coptic Orthodoxy. On the contrary, and only in my own experience, I encounter British Orthodoxy as family, indeed as we have said, as a community gathered around our bishop.

Is there something about the tribe which is gathered around a military leader for defense? And which has lands and property and wealth to protect, and may use force to do so? Is this always a possible inheritance from centuries of Church-State integration? You mess with our Church you mess with our Nation? You mess with our Nation and our Church will use her own powers in our defense?

Is the British Orthodox Church not tribal because it has nothing to protect? No wealth, no property. A family protects itself, but in a different manner. Its sense of wealth is different because it has no cathedrals or great churches.

I know that Francis of Assisi is often condemned by Eastern Orthodox - but I wonder if there is not quite a lot in common between those Churches which exist as minorities and persecuted and marginalised, and the attitude of Francis to the wealthy and privileged Western Church of his time?

It is hard to remember all of my own pilgrimage, but I think I was looking for authentic Christian life and a spirit filled place in which to live it out in communion with others. I was of course interested in and moved by much of the pomp and ceremony, but my relations with Abba Seraphim and others have from the beginning been characterised by familial relations in a place of poverty and marginalisation. I am still here because I am part of a family.

It seems to me that a family just is. It doesn't advertise itself or aggrandise itself. It bears with weakness in family members and the strong are not necessarily those who have physical strength, but the wise. A family is not normally political. It is rather porous because it does not defend itself by exclusion, rather it grows by inclusion. My wife is Scottish and in a tribal sense is always an outsider - but in a familial sense she belongs entirely in my own English family, as I, an Englishman, belong in her own family. In fact we have united two families, even as tribal frustrations between English and Scots grow rather stronger in these days.

So is the tribalism we describe rooted in particular Church-State relations now and in history? And is the difference in the BOC that we have nothing and are just a poor family of faith?

12-08-2008, 03:07 AM,
Tribes and Family
Dear Peter,

Thanks very much for your post.

It's late here now, but this means you will get a short post from me for once! Smile But, after reading your post about tribes and your family of faith these two quotes come to mind. Although they are not really related to each other (other than by the author of them) . . . I think they speak well to what you have been so kind to share. The first is:

Quote:We are reluctant to live outside tribal rules because we are afraid of getting kicked out of the tribe.

and, on the other hand, the second is:

Quote:Archetypes bring people together. Then, when their work is over, the real reason you are together reveals itself.

The second quote adds an interesting spin on our question 'conversion to what?' (and 'family' as you have said Peter). . . however, the first one takes us in a new direction somewhat as we consider what it means to be Orthodox.

Good night Mrs. Calabash wherever you are!

And, peace to you Peter.

In Christ,
12-08-2008, 03:39 AM,
Dear Peter,

Just one more thing . . . I wanted to mention that the tribalism that I mention is not so much rooted in such as God and the fatherland type of thinking as it is in such as fundamentalism, puritanism, talibanism, and 'group think.' I know I made a few references to postmodernism above, but this is what I think lies at the heart of tribalism regardless of the geography.

In Christ,
12-08-2008, 08:53 AM,
Hi Rick

Yes, of course you are right that tribalism is a state of mind and spirit. And that is how any of us have experienced it in other places.

Yet I wonder if there is not a sense that a tribal spirit is formed, or at least encouraged, by a tribal ecclesiology? I have found that for many Orthodox people history is only used to serve such an ecclesiology. It is not allowed to challenge a particular view of the Church but must rather describe the Church, the councils, the episcopate etc. as it should have been, according to their ecclesiology.

Thus everything in history or theology or spirituality which challenges the primacy of the ecclesiology is rejected. It is not possible to even conceive of ambiguity or confusion or political influence at Chalcedon because the tribal ecclesiology does not allow that to have happened. It is not possible to speak of a development of fasting practices, or a multiplicity of Orthodox liturgical traditions because the tribal ecclesiology does not allow this. It is especially not possible to think of the Church as having fuzzy boundaries because the tribal ecclesiology is predicated on visible and solid boundaries.

It is therefore incomprehensible to those with such a mentality to say that the Eastern Orthodox venerate a Nestorian saint, Isaac of Nineveh. It is impossible. If he is a Nestorian then the tribal ecclesiology insists that he is outside the Church and therefore beyond any veneration. So we have the situation where those holding this ecclesiology have to state that actually Isaac of Nineveh belongs to the Church because the Church says that he belongs. Therefore everything is OK.

Now if someone tried to have such a spirit in the BOC I don't think he would find support from our ecclesiology. I don't think we have a rigidly closed boundary. In my own little community we have welcomed British, Greek, Egyptian, Russian, Bulgarian, Indian and others. And they have made themselves welcome. But I think this has been because our friends and brethren do not have a tribal ecclesiology as I do not think we have a tribal ecclesiology.

Yet we all know, and I certainly do, of members, even clergy, of other Orthodox communities who still warn people away from the BOC and the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate because we are 'not really Orthodox'. But this can only be in the sense of their own tribal ecclesiology - because we find increasingly that as more and more Western scholars turn their attention towards the Oriental Orthodox tradition they are able to see, what we have always said, that we are entirely and even conservatively Orthodox and always have been.

I don't disagree at all with your description of the Taliban tendency in Orthodoxy - but I do wonder whether it can exist or flourish in its diseased way without the underpinning of a tribal ecclesiology that encourages its growth. Is their a cosmological ecclesiology in which the Church exists FOR the world outside which is opposed by this tribal ecclesiology in which the Church exists AGAINST the world outside?

12-08-2008, 11:07 AM,
Dear Peter, Dear Rick,

I do think there is something significant in the Church/State nexus. In return for the benefits it confers on the ruler, the Church receives various privileges, all of them worldly: money; relief from taxation; political influence; even political power. When, as with the Catholics until 1871, the head of the Church is also a head of a state, it becomes very difficult indeed to separate the interests of the State from that of the Church; yet historians would agree that the Papal States were amongst the worst-governed areas of Italy.

The relationship between the Coptic Church and the State has been one of hostility/persecution/indifference for most of its history; at the heart of the Coptic Church is monasticism; these things give it a different atmosphere. This, from Pope Shenouda's Have You see the One I love? seems relevant here:
Quote:I wish we could rid ourselves of the formalities that may exist in our relationship with the Lord. We should rid ourselves of the 'dos' and 'don'ts', that fail to please the Lord. All God desires is your love. Do not worry too much about doing this or not doing that. Liberate yourself from the tyranny of the law and the commandment. Transcend these and replace them with love. With love, you will naturally and spontaneously abide by, and execute, all that the Bible contains. Love will purify your nature.
This seems the opposite of the behaviour we might expect of a tribal leader. His Holiness declares boldly: 'True relationship with the Lord is, in short, whether you love the Lord or not.'

Here, he sets aside any claims a tribal leader might wish to make - guiding us to the central message of the Gospel. He reminds us of St. John 2:15 that 'If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him', as well as 1 John 4:16: 'God is love, and he who abides in love, abides in God, and God in him'. This is not some modern, warm, pink fuzzy sort of declaration that all that is required is that we should all be nice to each other (although that wouldn't be a bad place to begin), rather it is a reminder to two things: that God loves us, sinners though we are; and that we love God because He first loved us. Love drives out fear. This is not a power relationship, and it is no accident that God reveals Himself as Father and Son, as well as Holy Spirit. This is a familial relationship - and when our relationship in the Church is also a familial one, we are closest to God.

Families do not always agree; neither are members of families always nice to each other, but when they remember that a sign of being God's children is the love they do bear to each other, they can transcend the differences which are part of our human condition. If we are to spread the good news, then we need, at the bare minimum, not to lives lives which look like a running contradiction of God's love.

Let me take a really difficult issue, which is certainly dividing Anglicanism - that of homosexuality. The Anglicans appear to forget that active homosexuality is only one of a number of sexual practices which divide us from God; fornication and adultery are not less sinful. But perhaps because they do not wish to appear judgemental by the standards of our society, Anglicanism tends to forget fornication and adultery. But are we called to make these distinctions? Are we called to judge? We know these behaviours divide us from God; we condemn the sin. But we are not called upon to condemn or judge the sinner. The sinner who wishes to persist in their sin we can do nothing about; the sinner who persists but does not wish to, and who repents but falls back - well, that is probably all of us somewhere - so the only response surely is to love them, as we wish to be loved, and to pray with them and help them, as we hope to be helped. Is that not how families proceed? The family member who wishes to have nothing to do with the family and who rejects it, we can only show that we do not despair or reject them; if they wish to come back, then their return will be as that of the Prodigal Son.

Is that Orthodoxy?

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)
12-08-2008, 12:16 PM,
The Question of Questions
admin Wrote:Is their a cosmological ecclesiology in which the Church exists FOR the world outside which is opposed by this tribal ecclesiology in which the Church exists AGAINST the world outside?

Dear Peter and John,

Although we all have experienced events and circumstances that have shaped our lives as ex-Baptists-Anglicans-Brethren or whatever. The above, by Peter, is absolutely The Question!

This is huge. What a great comparison to place a tribal ecclesiology side by side with a cosmological ecclesiology. This is so perceptive. And, I won't even cheapen this by trying to bring in conversation by others on the "Church in the World" and "Christ in Culture." But, how perfect and illuminating this question is (especially as you conclude above John, what is Orthodoxy? [and what is not?]).

I think the answer to Peter's question is yes.

For what it is worth, I am convinced that just as there is a cosmological ecclesiology, as you describe above, there is also a cosmic liturgy. But, to bring this back to the ground a bit more consider for a moment please the churches (and their by products) which represent the tribal ecclesiology. What is offered from these, what is yeilded in terms of fruit of the Spirit (with John's post and quote he provided in mind)?

I would suggest that division in the Body of Christ is one thing. And, as well I would suggest that one of either two approaches is offered regardless of the flavor or label associated with the state of mind of the tribalistic Christian . . . the first is not so much "win them, wet them, and work them" as is said in American Fundamentalism, but more of a 'win them, wet them, and then watch them wander.' The second is just the opposite of this, it is more of what seems to be perfectly parallel with the brainwashing techniques of cults. There is a huge attempt to be very controlling in a way that can be referred to as 'control freakery.'

And, if there is any truth to what I am suggesting, then it is not hard to see why the prevailing sentiment in our day toward organized religion is basically "thanks but no thanks." But, with many Orthodox churches who do seem to be either sleepwalking or asleep at the wheel as it comes to outreach/missions, let alone those who are clearly against the world outside as you say Peter, with this type of isolationism in place it is not hard to see why so many have never heard of Orthodoxy and never will.

But, from our point of view in the here and now, while not wishing to transcend history, as we consider the very cosmological ecclesiology that you speak of in comparison to a tribal ecclesiology--what a great boundary marker! That's my kind of definition and limiting of the nature of the Church!

John talks about judging in his post above. I think of discernment. I think sometimes discernment is a gift; however, I also think that some things do not require the gift of discernment such as distinguishing a tribal from a cosmological ecclesiology.

But, I would like some feedback on this please. I can see how some can get uncomfortable very quickly when a move is made in this direction (viz. either a cosmological ecclesiology or a cosmic liturgy), but with such emphasis properly placed on a historical approach to this consideration--which includes such considerations of church/state relations-- what criteria do we apply in this? If you will let me use the word criteriology . . . what is our criteriology for a cosmological ecclesiology other than intuition?

I feel strongly that EXACTLY what Peter suggests in his comparison is a true Truth (as our friend Francis Schaeffer was so fond of saying). But, my view is based on nothing but intuition in the End. In the End, I am convinced of this, but I have nothing concrete to offer to support my view. Is it possible this is akin to the 'definition' of faith as we read in the Scriptures regarding things unseen or not "visible" John?

And, I have been considering the possibility that this is a hill to die on for some time now. So I would like to throw this out as well for a possible opportunity for feedback . . . Instead of using the word reject, I will us the expression turn from as I ask, how can anyone who claims to be a follower of Christ, a disciple of Christ, not turn from a tribal ecclesiology (regardless of labels and brands) and to a cosmological ecclesiology)?

And, as a follow-up, regardless of one's label or brand, how can one do any of the above without being accused of the sin of individualism . . .or avoid being compared to those confused and ignorant protestants as some are fond of doing when they are victims of the very group think they are being critical of . . .

There is a paradox here somewhat in that the tribals are usual impotent at the end of the day, although they are not without teeth. Possibly, I am biased in all of this because I feel that early on the 'fundies' sunk their teeth in me and I don't want to see a repeat of this with an Orthodox fundamentalism (what a bad joke that would be all things considered). But, in spite of my possible bias based on the events and circumstances that have shaped and influenced my life, I think what is being expressed in this thread is spot on. I don't think there needs to be any jamming of our tarts here. But possibly someone would like to attempt to take the mick out of me in some of this? Okay, I'll quit Smile

Peace to the readers.

In Christ,
12-08-2008, 09:26 PM,
I would have loved to quote pages of this but time does not allow me so I will content myself with such as I have quoted and encourage you to read the whole piece - William Barlow's When Words Take Flesh in Toward the Authentic Church edited by Thomas Doulis (Light & Life Publishing, 1996). William Barlow writes of his early experiences of Orthodox worship:

"if one could speak of Orthodoxy in an exclusive sense, it had to be in the interest of the greatest truth possible as against a smaller one, not only as a witness to the true and living God, but also for the sake of man. The appeal then, for me, was not simply that this liturgical situation was more comprehensive than any other I had known but bigger, and more importantly, bigger than the world as I had known it. This may sound presumptuous, nevertheless I am prepared to stand by the perspective in life which my military experience has given me. Writing in Disenchantment about his experiences in the Great War, C.E. Montague had said:

"Rightly or wrongly, no men who have been close friends for a year and who know that in the next few hours they are as likely as not to be killed together in doing what they hold to be right will entertain on any terms the idea of any closing of gates of divine mercy open to themselves in the face of any comrade in the business."

Fortunately, as I saw it, this worship did not require that I should. I had served in an Irish regiment where religion divided us and convinced me that there, at any rate, the world was bigger than the church. I knew it should not be but had no evidence. Here, however, I saw that whilst it is given each of us to choose one denomination as against another if we so wish, what we cannot do, in becoming Christian, is to opt out of the human race. Whatever else this worship might mean, therefore, for me it meant standing in life, not in denominational or cultic terms, but as a human being alongside all mankind."
13-08-2008, 01:14 PM,
Fellowship Amid Persecution and Division
Thank you Simon. Your post reminds me of one of my favorite writers who speaks from experience as well:

"Fellowship in spite of confessional barriers will be experienced and lived in practice when Christians collectively "take their cross" upon themselves. The church of Christ, in its hour of truth, is the church under the cross. True discipleship becomes 'visible' [emphasis mine] in such situations: "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me (Matt 16:24)." Thus, Christians and churches stand before a decision: "Whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matt 16:25)."

There are older persons among us who will remember how they or their friends experienced this kind of fellowship in Christ in the prison camps of WWII. Behind barbed wire fences traditional doctrinal differences of the divided churches no longer had any special relevance. Christians got together wherever they were, read the Bible, prayed together, and were strengthened in the faith. In situations of need, inter-communion and co-celebration were not so problematic as to prevent Christians from sharing in the breaking of bread. They asked only about the One who is truly important, and they experienced the presence of Christ amid sufferings. This gave them inner strength and firm confidence. Whether one was a priest or a lay person, a student of theology or a laborer, here there was no special precedence or privilege. Here the only things that really counted were the genuineness of faith, the commitment of the person, and the fellowship of confessing Christians. Each one was challenged and had to stand without the support of his or her tradition or the protection of the particular customs of his or her confession. In such a manner each one was tested in the fire of tribulation. Others have endured harsher sufferings in prisons and concentration camps. Those who survived such experiences returned to tell of the extraordinary fellowship they then felt with the suffering of Christ and with one another. Confessional divisions had become alien to them, and now seemed purely external." --Jurgen Moltmann

Thanks again Simon.

In Christ,
14-08-2008, 03:01 PM,
Dear All,

I think it has just occurred to me in the past twenty-four hours exactly 'what' I converted to at the same time as when I joined the Orthodox Church--when I was received. If I can express it well enough to be comprehensible then I think it is possible that this might be a help to this conversation (and me).

Not too long before joining the Orthodox Church (EO), I was a stereotypical protestant type (even though I didn't think of myself as either protesting anything or as having any part of my Christian lineage that was once a part of the Roman Catholic Church and then broke away). I was closed minded and was in line with most revivalist teachings (especially those associated with what is considered 'renewal theology' not unlike some of the Keswick teachings and what could be associated with some of the other 'holiness' teachings). But, back then I would not have considered Roman Catholics as being Christians or United Methodists, or many-many other particular groups. What I knew of Orthodoxy back then led me to believe they were about the same as the RCC only more irrelevant.

But, after working my way through American Fundamentalism, Evangelicalism, Neo-Evangelicalism/Non-Denominationalism, and into what I considered myself to be just before my 'conversion' which was Neo-Orthodox . . . I came to a point where I changed my prior views spoken of above. After reading more widely I came to the conclusion that there would be Baptists as well as RC church members in heaven. I concluded there might even be some United Methodists, or maybe even just some of the more liberal Presbyterian branch members in heaven as a part of the bride of Christ as a part of the new testament church, the body of Christ.

I started to be more open to the sacraments as vehicles of Grace. I started to be more open to a liturgical style of worship. Increasingly, I was seeing the value in an historic mystical approach to the Spirit-filled life that I had desired.

And, I think some of what I am sharing here has been dealt with by Fr. Gregory in his most excellent post above. But, as I even considered Roman Catholicism as an option at one point, and then ruled it out as an option ultimately . . . to be very transparent here, there was no where else to go but Orthodoxy for me. As Fr. Gregory has spoken of those who are disillusioned with where they have come from, again to be honest this was a factor with me.

But, look at what I have shared as a whole above please. What was it that I really "converted" to?

I gained a new appreciation for the Holy Tradition of the Orthodox Church and the Saints and the Church Fathers. And, there were other radical changes in what I previously held tightly, but there was no change in beliefs or doctrines. Possibly, I softened my position a few things; however, I made a move to Orthodoxy in many ways because I believed this was the most true representation of the Eucharistic Community . . . although obviously as one can see I did not believe at this time that Eastern Orthodoxy is exclusively the Church of Christ and if you are not a part of this group of Christians then you are dammed and doomed to spend eternity in Hell. And, I don't believe this today.

So as we might consider our topic "Conversion to What?" or "Conversion without conversion?" on a more personal level, I have laid myself open as a possible illustration.

I think my Moltmann quote above represents what I converted to when I converted to Orthodoxy very well--a community of cross which I felt and still feel holds a good place in the Community of the Cross, the Community of communites.

And, maybe there are some who might be thinking now something like, "Well . . . that's not Orthodoxy!"

But, as we might try to put ourselves in the place of those men that we read about above in the WWII prison camp, and if we could just for five whole seconds forget about our houses that deteriorate,and our cars that rust, and our clothes that wear out . . . as we consider the cooperation and commitment of both the men in the camp and the Spirit of Life there might be some at the present who would conclude something like, "Yes . . . how could that not be Orthodoxy!"

Especially, today . . . with all the division that we see very clearly of the Body of Christ just exactly what is it that any of us convert to when we convert to Orthodoxy Today? Some of us were more aware than others of the sharp and well 'defined' divisions that exist in Orthodoxy Today when we 'converted.' And, even those of us who were not fully aware of the issues before our 'conversion' are brought up to speed pretty quickly soon after.

And, it is at this very point that we can see the barbed wire that divides the different camps. It is at this very point that we then have new choices which include a new degree of disillusionment, or we can stick our heads in the sand and pretend we have not just aligned ourselves with yet another form of rank particularism. And, regardless on one's views on theology (or one's definition of it) . . . it could not be possibly more evident to me that "in Christian theology, particularistic theology is schismatic theology."

So in conclusion here . . and with all of the above in mind, I would like to ask how many of us knowing converted to a particularistic form of theology or if you prefer ecclesiology? Obliviously, as one can see from the above this was the last thing I desired. And, I have been taught not to take off in a new direction when composing a conclusion, such as this, but as well, as we consider the different schools of thought to be found within Orthodoxy--in light of my two hypothetical responses above to what it was I converted to--Who determines Who is Orthodox? Is it you? Or is it Me? Is it this Bishop or is it that Bishop?

Yes, 'conversion without conversion" . . . conversion to what[?] . . . conversion to Who? Or possibly these questions can only be answered and understood by the ones who have acquired an Orthodox mindset?And, once again I am reminded of those behind the barbed wire in the prison camp in the above post.

In Christ,

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