The British Orthodox Church

within the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate

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Conversion without conversion?
15-08-2008, 09:09 AM,
Dear Rick,

Several excellent posts to catch up on, but your last was very special, and I'd like to thank you so much for being so open here with us - the Church as family is what such frankness brings to my mind.

When you ask:
Quote: I would like to ask how many of us knowing converted to a particularistic form of theology or if you prefer ecclesiology?
you raise a question which will be of interest to us all - not least those here who are still on a spiritual journey looking for an ecclesial community where we can belong.

As an Anglican I was always aware that any opinion, so long as it was not pressed, seemed permissible; so, in that sense, being an Anglican was an option which, on the surface, was the opposite of particularistic theology; except it wasn't, for within it were many camps, all with their barbed wire fences. That seems a microcosm of what you are describing on the wider front. Even the option of not taking a position becomes, as I found, a position. In a process which, to me, mirrored something I find in the early history of the Church, I kept finding myself defining my position by what it was not.

I did not regard the institution narrative as an example of Our Lord speaking allegorically; I did not find any problem in asking for the prayers of others, in this word and the next; I did not find that my Faith was a substitute for political action, neither did I find it dictated a political position to me; I did not think that an individual part of the Church had the right to depart from what had been historically done: which meant that Papal Infallibility was as big a 'no, no' and women priests. But neither was I interested in joining an ethnic social club - heck, I had the local Tory Party for that Smile

This was the main reason why I came to find myself in a no-man's land. I have never felt comfortable with the notion that I can, by myself, rightly divide the word of God. The besetting sin of most academics is a pride in their own intellect and their own ability to works things out; I can get that wrong often enough in my own discipline without wishing to incur the penalties that would follow from any attempt to do that with the word of God. So, for most of the time, all I could do was mediate my own reading through the Church Fathers and through commentaries from the Higher end of Anglicanism. Well, I guess you can never be alone with God, but it still felt a lonely place to be, which was one of the reasons I went, sporadically, to my local Anglican Church - the other being that I liked the priest. It was the arrival of his successor which precipitated things for me. To all intents a liberal evangelical, unknowingly, he made me feel completely out of place.

I was well aware that any decision I took would be a difficult one; after all, was it not the definition of a Protestant methodology to 'choose' a Church for oneself. My two best friends had already converted to Catholicism, and clearly found my unwillingness to join them puzzling; but there never was a pull for me. Back at college I had come across Orthodoxy, but had been told firmly that unless I was Russian or Greek, this was not for me; tentative contacts with it later did nothing to remove this view.

As far as I am concerned, I should have remained where I was had I not been fortunate enough to discover the BOC. One of my Catholic friends still maintains that my decision is incomprehensible - why, he asks me, 'join a Monophysite sect?' Well, apart for the argument over the 'M' word, I say to him that it is precisely because it is not a sect. Its theology is so closely related to it soteriology that I sometimes wonder whether it is possible to divide them - or why one would wish to do so.

In the end, it is the Ignatian model of the Church which I have embraced. As I think I said when contemplating our recent study day at Mickfield, I felt that the Church really was gathered there around Abba Seraphim.

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)
15-08-2008, 11:32 AM,
conversion without conversion
Dear All!

I know what I converted to, I converted to Christianity, and it seems to me that I was guided (no, actually pushed!) to the Syriac Orthodox Church because, having been the victims of pro-Chalcedonian emperors and clergy and yet still trying to be ecumenical right at the very beginning of Christological struggles, it showed me forcefully that the Church is one, not through names like Eastern or Oriental Orthodox, or Roman Catholic, or Anglican, but because the Body of Christ can only be One, no matter how hard we sinful humans try to pull Him apart. Never having had the misfortune to be a state relgion as in Byzantium, Russia and Britain, the Syriac Orthodox Church has always been mercifully free of being blind assistants to genocide.
I have recently read about the Church in England in the 16th century, when it seems that the only two choices (apart from secret Roman Catholicism) were Anglicanism, which deemed that the Church was subordinate to the sovereign, or Puritanism, which deemed that the sovereign must be subordinate to the Church. But that difference merely meant a different organisational structure regarding the "theocracy" of the state and this state's murderous revenge against those called sinners.
(Obviously Christ's injunction regarding the casting of the first stone was smugly ignored). The perfect answer to all this nonsense is found in the lives and sayings of the Desert Fathers who understood what Christ meant when He said that His Kingdom is not of this world, and who understood the meaning of humility, prayer for others, and a refusal to judge others.
There can be no National Church because the Church is both Universal as the Body of Christ, and Local as limbs of that Body in Eucharistic communities gathered around the Bishop. The rot starts when politics are allowed into the life of the Church and achieves its bloody end when clerics of different countries bless the weapons that are used against fellow Christians who happen to be on opposite sides during war.

Kirk Yacoub
15-08-2008, 04:32 PM,
Dear Kirk,

great post Smile It sums up how I feel about the Copts and the BOC. I begin to suspect that the experience of suffering and service gives quite a different 'feel' to a Church than being top dog - which I guess makes sense when one thinks about what our Faith teaches us.

Rendering unto Caesar has never been a problem for state Churches; rendering unto God may well have become a different matter. The temptations of power and privilege seem only too obvious in retrospect. One of the arguments I used to have when I was an Anglican was with those who supported the Establishment; my view was that if the state of religious knowledge in the UK was a product of the Establishment, the latter seemed to have comprehensively failed!

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)
15-08-2008, 07:55 PM,
Tribalism? Conversion & Orthodox Christianity
As for conversion to (and from) what and questions of ?tribalism?, whether we Orthodox have proof texts or debate even as Protestants do, etc? well, if this Orthodox Christianity be another form of tribalism (however defined) I am not sure I am qualified to debate. This thread has been putting me in mind of the words of the psalm about things that are too high for me that I cannot attain unto. I feel that were I to attempt to explore this thread deeper or pursue it further I would be at risk of descending into theological or spiritual navel gazing (which is not to say that others who have posted on this thread were doing this ? I hope this is self-criticism, not a criticism of others). On a practical level though I do feel it is necessary, even essential, for someone coming to the Orthodox Church to undergo a real and genuine conversion from former beliefs and practices (whether Christian or other) to Orthodox beliefs and praxis. I know that there were very significant and substantial differences between what I believed before I joined the British Orthodox Church and what I now believe and attempt to practice, even beliefs about salvation and God to such an extent that at times it has seemed to me that Orthodox Christianity and my former Christianity are two different religions. I certainly don?t think that someone should join an Orthodox Church, just slipping in casually and just continuing with their former beliefs and practices, rites and vestments (?conversion? without conversion)?

I am not sure that I entirely follow the intricacies of this thread ? and am concerned lest my previous posting could be misunderstood as saying or implying other than I intended. So for the avoidance of doubt I am posting this letter I wrote several years ago (only making minimal changes or omissions where the wording related to the particular person to whom I was writing).

10th March 2005

Dear X,

In response to your comments concerning the Orthodox Church having a ?bad press'? why Orthodox Christians think they are ?above? other Christians and why ?denominations are belittled by them? I offer these thoughts.

As with any other large Christian body whose membership runs into many millions (such as the Anglican Communion or the Roman Catholic Church) it is true of Orthodoxy that there are those who are more devout and who worship and pray frequently and there are those who are nominal members who don?t pray so very much at all ? and there are all sorts of shades of commitment in between. I cannot guarantee that you will not encounter such unorthodox attitudes among nominal Orthodox. Indeed I have not the least doubt that we could find Orthodox Christians who do look down on others or who belittle their denominations But if an Orthodox Christian looks down on other Christians and sees himself as ?above? them or belittles their denomination, to that extent he is being less than Orthodox, he is failing to live as an Orthodox. I am particularly troubled by my own words (that you brought to my attention) suggesting that I made no distinction between Jehovah Witnesses or Baptists. I certainly do not believe that was my intention. For this is one of the false accusations made against us, that outside the Orthodox Church we see undifferentiated darkness in which there is no difference between the Pope and a witchdoctor. There is surely all the difference in the world between on the one hand, an Anglican or a Roman Catholic, a Methodist or a Lutheran or Baptist or Presbyterian or Congregationalist, a Calvinist Protestant all of whom worship the Trinity and believe Jesus is God ? and on the other hand a Jehovah Witness or Mormon or other Unitarian, none of whom acknowledge the Trinity nor recognise Jesus to be God. Though we must bear in mind these words of Timothy (Bishop Kallistos) Ware: ?In the past hundred years, under the influence of ?Modernism?, many Protestants have virtually abandoned the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation. Thus when I speak here of Calvinists, Lutherans, and Anglicans, I have in mind those who still respect the classical Protestant formularies of the sixteenth century.? Yes, indeed, between a JW and a Baptist who still believes as Baptists ever believed there is a clear and great distinction. The JW is not a Christian. The Baptist is a Christian. But between the modernist Baptist (or Anglican) who does not believe Jesus is God I see frankly little distinction. I do not consider either Christians. Let me try to be clear here. Whatever the differences between the Churches I have always referred to all others who believe Jesus is God as Christians. I have tried to be quite clear about this and always sought to make a distinction? Jehovah Witnesses (however friendly I was) I never called Christians (even when it offended them, though it was not my intention to be offensive). Mormons (or Latter Day Saints as they call themselves) I never called Christians. Unitarians I never called Christians. None of these believe Jesus is God. Therefore I do not call them Christian. (The extract from C.S. Lewis? Mere Christianity enclosed may be of relevance here). [For any who may wish to read it, I have copied the relevant text at the end of this post.] Baptists, however, as also Methodists, Presbyterians, Anglicans, Roman Catholics and others would generally be expected to believe that Jesus is God? so Baptists along with the members of the other Protestant Churches and the Roman Catholics I called Christians. This was an important distinction I made between the Christians and the JWs etc. This was not always reciprocated, however, for though the Roman Catholics and the catholic Anglicans (and others too) considered me a Christian, the evangelicals by and large utterly rejected me (and all the other millions of Orthodox) as being Christian. It was repeatedly made clear to me that I was not a Christian, knew nothing of salvation and was going to hell. Now, whatever my differences of belief and practice with the evangelicals I do not refuse to call them Christians, I do not presume to pronounce upon their salvation, I do not say or believe they are going to hell. I am not their judge. There is one Judge of us all.

Though I do not belittle the various denominations, I do not always call them Church. This is not done with the intent of hurting and causing offence or belittling them or looking down on them or any such thing. I have been given a certain authority in the Orthodox Church, including to speak upon the Orthodox Church and to teach Orthodoxy. Since these other Christian bodies are separate from the Orthodox Church they are perhaps outside the scope of my authority. It could be questioned what authority I have to speak upon them. By what authority I can declare them to be Church or declare them not to be Church could very well be questioned. It cannot be denied that this question of the other Churches or denominations is a difficult one with different Orthodox approaching it differently. The problem is that this situation simply ought not to exist. Our Lord through His apostles founded one Church ? not many. The Orthodox know that their bishops are the successors in the very same bishops? sees as those bishops and even the apostles right back in the beginning ? this can be shown historically to be so. In the eleventh century was the rupture or break (usually called the Great Schism) when Rome split from the Byzantine Orthodox. Several centuries later the first Protestant Churches in their turn split from Rome ? and over succeeding centuries other Protestant Churches split from then? and so on, even until today? Orthodox also know that their beliefs have not changed either from those back then ? neither is Orthodox worship different from then (yes, new prayers are written and the worship is enriched ? but all consistent with what went before? no real changes). So what do we do? Well, for one thing we don?t stop being Orthodox ? we continue to believe and to worship as we ever did? we continue to be what we are. But this does not mean we look down on other Christians, on others who love Jesus every bit as much as we do. They have been born into a Methodist family or a Baptist family or whatever it may be, even as an Orthodox has been born into an Orthodox family. They are being every bit as faithful to the Christianity with which they were brought up as are Orthodox to the Orthodox Christianity in which they were brought up. All these schisms occurred centuries before any of us were born. None of us are to blame for them. We are all the inheritors of a divided Christendom. Far from being blamed for this divided inheritance we could, rather, be seen as the victims of it. So we must approach all this with love and with understanding and compassion. But this does not mean that these differences are ignored. It doesn?t mean pretending we all believe the same when in so many areas, even matters of great importance, we do not believe the same.

So where do we go with all this? Well, our bishops and theologians from the various Churches get together and listen to one another and seek to really understand what each believe (rather than what we might think the other believes). We pray and work towards unity. But while all this is going on what do the likes of me do? Well, I do not abandon my own Orthodox inheritance, the faith of the first Christians. I stay true and faithful to this precious inheritance of salvation. But also I am surely to be loving and gentle towards those who believe other than me, those Christians who are not Orthodox. I am to show them true respect. So no I do not compromise Orthodox belief. Neither do I compromise love. That at least is what I am called to do, it seems to me ? to what extent I come anywhere near any of that, I leave it for others to judge.

You ask me, do I loathe the Western Church? No, I do not loathe the Western Church. It is true I do loathe some of what it has done to Orthodox down through the centuries. During the crusades the Western Christians banned Coptic Orthodox Christians from pilgrimage to Jerusalem, to the holy sites, to venerate them and to receive the blessings. Even the Moslems hadn?t banned us from that pilgrimage. It was Christians who did this to us. Why? Because we were considered heretics and to be utterly rejected, not counted as Christians. Then there was the systematic and wanton sacrilege of the crusaders against Constantinople, the breaking into pieces of the icon screen and even the altar in Hagia Sophia, the Church of the Holy Wisdom, the sitting of a prostitute upon the patriarchal throne ? and all this by men who had especially dedicated themselves to God?s service! As one contemporary protested: ?Even the Saracens are merciful and kind compared with these men who bear the Cross of Christ on their shoulders.? To quote Timothy (Kallistos) Ware: ?Christians in the West still do not realize how deep is the disgust and how lasting the horror with which Orthodox regard? such actions. And this approach to Orthodox has continued by the Western Churches. When Western Christians (from Portugal) arrived in India they declared that there were no Christians there ? they simply refused to acknowledge or recognise that the ancient Saint Thomas Christians were Christians. And so it has continued, this utter rejection of Orthodox as Christians. For decade upon decade my own beloved Coptic Orthodox Church has been dismissed with an often quoted Protestant comment about ?the soul destroying heresies of the Coptic Church?. And Western missionaries who found Moslems too hard to convert turned their attention to Copts and, backed by Western money, set up schools etc., and enticed some away. And such tactics are still used by well funded Western missionaries among Orthodox Christians. So, in one way, I am quite used to the Western Churches rejecting us Orthodox as not Christians ? but yes, though used to it, I do loathe much of what they have done and too often continue to do. But no, I do not loathe the Western Churches. There is so much in them that I love, not loathe - Anglican Evensong ever remains for me a beautiful service, then there is perhaps my most favourite and moving of all Christian music, Allegri?s Miserere,the beautiful setting of Psalm 51, and there is that softer, gentler beauty of so many Western Christmas carols ? and how many other delightful and uplifting and spiritually moving English hymns? No my friend I do not loathe the Western Churches.

I am delighted that you adored your ecumenical worship? even with every sense tingling? ?And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name and we forbad him, because he followeth not us. But Jesus said, Forbid him not: For there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me.? (Mark 9:38&39) Even so shall those who sing their hearts out in love for Jesus and in adoration of the Holy Trinity, in however many thousands or even millions of places around the world, not speak lightly of our Lord. Do I forbid them their worship because they follow not us Orthodox? If I do then I already have my answer, even from Him before Whose icons I worship, even my Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ: Forbid them not.

Nor do I forbid them to experience our worship - Orthodox worship is open to all, whether baptised and chrismated or not; the vast riches and beauty of Orthodox worship are freely available to all. Holy Communion, however, is given in Orthodox Churches to Orthodox Christians. Holy Communion is utter union, utter oneness. Where there is oneness and union of Christian Faith then there is communion. Where there is not, there is not. (As well as teaching union the New Testament also teaches separation ? ?avoid them? Romans 16:17, ?from such withdraw thyself?1Timothy 6:3-5, ?receive him not into thy house, neither bid him God speed? 2John 10&11, ?reject? Titus 3:10). But to all we say ?Come and see? - and then to all who, having come and seen, desire to become Orthodox we do our best to help them fulfil their heart?s desire and become Orthodox.

Bless me. Here I bow, forgive me.

Extract from C S Lewis? Mere Christianity:

?Far deeper objections may be felt - and have been expressed - against my use of the word Christian to mean one who accepts the common doctrines of Christianity. People ask: 'Who are you, to lay down who is, and who is not a Christian?': or 'May not many a man who cannot believe these doctrines be far more truly a Christian, far closer to the spirit of Christ, than some who do?' Now this objection is in one sense very right, very charitable, very spiritual, very sensitive. It has every available quality except that of being useful. We simply cannot, without disaster, use language as these objectors want us to use it. I will try to make this clear by the history of another, and very much less important, word.
The word gentleman 'originally meant something recognisable; one who had a coat of arms and some landed property. When you called someone 'a gentleman' you were not paying him a compliment, but merely stating a fact. If you said he was not 'a gentleman' you were not insulting him, but giving information. There was no contradiction in saying that John was a liar and a gentleman; any more than there now is in saying that James is a fool and an M.A. But then there came people who said - so rightly, charitably, spiritually, sensitively, so anything but usefully - 'Ah but surely the important thing about a gentleman is not the coat of arms and the land, but the behaviour? Surely he is the true gentleman who behaves as a gentleman should? Surely in that sense Edward is far more truly a gentleman than John?' They meant well. To be honourable and courteous and brave is of course a far better thing than to have a coat of arms. But it is not the same thing. Worse still, it is not a thing everyone will agree about. To call a man 'a gentleman' in this new, refined sense, becomes, in fact, not a way of giving information about him, but a way of praising him: to deny that he is 'a gentleman' becomes simply a way of insulting him. When a word ceases to be a term of description and becomes merely a term of praise, it no longer tells you facts about the object: it only tells you about the speaker's attitude to that object. (A 'nice' meal only means a meal the speaker likes. (A gentleman, once it has been spiritualised and refined out of its old coarse, objective sense, means hardly more than a man whom the speaker likes. As a result, gentleman is now a useless word. We had lots of terms of approval already, so it was not needed for that use; on the other hand if anyone (say, in a historical work) wants to use it in its old sense, he cannot do so without explanations. It has been spoiled for that purpose.
Now if once we allow people to start spiritualising and refining, or as they might say 'deepening', the sense of the word Christian, it too will speedily become a useless word. In the first place, Christians themselves will never be able to apply it to anyone. It is not for us to say who, in the deepest sense, is or is not close to the spirit of Christ. We do not see into men's hearts. We' cannot judge, and are indeed forbidden to judge. It would be wicked arrogance for us to say that any man is, or is not, a Christian in this refined sense. And obviously a word which we can never apply is not going to he a very useful word. As for the unbelievers, they will no doubt cheerfully use the word in the refined sense. It will become in their mouths simply a term of praise. In calling anyone a Christian they will mean that they think him a good man. But that way of using the word will be no enrichment of the language, for we already have the word good. Meanwhile, the word Christian will have been spoiled for any really useful purpose it might have served.
We must therefore stick to the original, obvious meaning. The name Christians was first given at Antioch (Acts xi. 26) to 'the disciples', to those who accepted the teaching of the apostles. There is no question of its being restricted to those who profited by that teaching as much as they should have. There is no question of its being extended to those who in some refined, spiritual, inward fashion were 'far closer to the spirit of Christ' than the less satisfactory of the disciples. The point is not a theological or moral one. It is only a question of using words so that we can all understand what is being said. When a man who accepts the Christian doctrine lives unworthily of it, it is much clearer to say he is a bad Christian than to say he is not a Christian.?
15-08-2008, 10:12 PM,
Dear Fr. Simon,

Many thanks for sharing these thoughts with us.

You get to the heart of the matter under discussion here when you write:
Quote:On a practical level though I do feel it is necessary, even essential, for someone coming to the Orthodox Church to undergo a real and genuine conversion from former beliefs and practices (whether Christian or other) to Orthodox beliefs and praxis.
But there is the rub, too, for where do Orthodox beliefs differ from other Christian beliefs, and how important is praxis in practice?

This, perhaps, is where the question we are exploring begins - and as for each of us, does so in a different place - the place, perhaps, from which we began the journey to Orthodoxy. The question also arises, as it does when we write about 'the Church', as to the extent to which there is a single entity called Orthodoxy; are the differences between the Eastern and Oriental traditions so negligible that they allow us to wrote about 'Orthodoxy' without any qualifying adjective?

In a sense, this is why I stay with the Ignatian model, because I see a Church, a praxis and an Orthodoxy lived and taught which for me is, put simply, Christianity. Within that, I can find my way, and learn more about how to confess the Risen Lord, and, through the sacraments of the Church, approach nearer to Him; where I can realise the truth of St. Athanasius' comment that 'He became man so that we might become gods.'

For the rest, I feel a benign concern, but no desire to engage in confessional rivalry. What would be the point? If someone tells me he's happy being a Roman Catholic, I am happy for him; no one has given me any authority in such matters, and I can see that the Roman Church bears a mighty witness to the Lord in this troubled world. That it seems to hold things which my Church does not hold is a sadness, because a divided witness to the world is not, perhaps, the most powerful one we could make; but it is so. Our hierarchies are in discussion, and these things are in God's hands. We know where the Church is not; where it is is known only to God.

If, as I find, the BOC is a place where I can receive my Lord, and where I can also receive help for the spiritual ills which best me; if it is a place where I can find fellowship and orthodox teaching; and if it is a place where I can find edification and piety; and, above all, if in it I find the word of Christ divided aright so that through the Holy Tradition of the Church I am guided to where I need to be; then what more do I need? He died for me, and for many. It is hope, not despair, and love rather than fear which bring me to the Lord. In one sense that is a timeless encounter; but as I am who I am and where I am, it has to take place at a time and in a location: if that time is now, that place is the BOC.

Reading, as I am at the moment, Pope Shenouda's new book, 'Have you met the one I love?', I am reminded powerfully of his overriding question: 'Do you love the Lord?'

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)
15-08-2008, 10:59 PM,
Dear John,

I read your post and can only acknowledge your heart is in the right place. Part of me feels I coudl write more in response to your question as to where do Orthodox beliefs differ from other Christian beliefs and how inportant is praxis in pracitce...

Briefly I believe a major difference between Orthodox Christianity and other Christian belief is that Orthodox Christianity does NOT believe that the Son was paying off the Father for our sins in His death on the cross - that Orthodox Christianity is more about healing than the judciial process...

As for praxis... well, I feel I must leave others to expound this. I feel I shoudl go and practice my praxis rather than expounding ot to others.

Peace to all,

16-08-2008, 09:44 AM,
Dear Fr. Simon,

Thank you for your kind response - and for further illumination.

You put into a few words what it takes me to put into too many when you write:
Quote:a major difference between Orthodox Christianity and other Christian belief is that Orthodox Christianity does NOT believe that the Son was paying off the Father for our sins in His death on the cross - that Orthodox Christianity is more about healing than the judicial process...
One of my major difficulties as an Anglican was that I could never believe that the Son was paying off the Father for our sins. I remember discussing this with a number of different priests over the years, and was, perhaps, fortunate here to encounter the usual Anglican inclusivity, being told that some of them, too, had difficulty with the idea, so I should not worry about it.

I remember coming across the writings of Cassian for the first time, and the excitement I felt when reading about where he and Austine disagreed; and knowing, instinctively, that Cassian's position was the one for which I had been searching. I remember, also, the relief at feeling that my views were not some private heresy which divided me from my Saviour.

As for the issue of praxis - I see sufficient within the BOC to know what it is when I see it, and to aspire to take it within my own life; but the old Adam is not always so easily thrown off - as I suspect my posts show.

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)
16-08-2008, 02:35 PM,
Dear Father Simon,

I would like to thank you also for your contributions here and in other threads, they are very edifying and helpful to me personally. I hope that you continue to find time to write here for the benefit of the readers of the BOC forum. I take it from John addressing you as Father and your other comments combined that you are a priest in the BOC.

And, I too, like John think that you have hit the center of the target in this discussion in the following comment from your post above:

Quote:On a practical level though I do feel it is necessary, even essential, for someone coming to the Orthodox Church to undergo a real and genuine conversion from former beliefs and practices (whether Christian or other) to Orthodox beliefs and praxis.

And, I think your thesis here is not without support from what you also wrote in the following:

Simon Wrote:This thread has been putting me in mind of the words of the psalm about things that are too high for me that I cannot attain unto. I feel that were I to attempt to explore this thread deeper or pursue it further I would be at risk of descending into theological or spiritual navel gazing . . .

But, as it relates to the thinking in this second buttressing point, as you say, there are "intricacies of this thread" that do somewhat hold within them an assumption of modern theological thought and in this sense somewhat of a technical character.

However, as you know these things have nothing to do with a decent into such things as navel gazing, do they? Because we are talking about the History of Christian Thought here and nothing else. In the above you gave a slice or a short history of Christianity in your letter to your friend, in many aspects I think what is considered here and elsewhere on this website is the same thing, by the same approach, only possibly more geared to the History of Christian Thought . . . and this takes me back to your first quote above, for example.

As John has asked:

John Charmley Wrote:But there is the rub, too, for where do Orthodox beliefs differ from other Christian beliefs . . .

this same question came to my mind when I first read your post about this. And, I read your response in the following:

Simon Wrote:Briefly I believe a major difference between Orthodox Christianity and other Christian belief is that Orthodox Christianity does NOT believe that the Son was paying off the Father for our sins in His death on the cross - that Orthodox Christianity is more about healing than the judciial process...

And, as I read your response, I thought this really underscores what is being discussed in this thread about conversion (especially the 'from' and the 'to') . . . as well as the awareness of the issues on the part of both Orthodox Christians and Non-Orthodox Christians. Sometimes, I think most ongoing controversies within Christendom are today, as in the past, either the result of a language barrier, or a communication problem, or people making too many ill informed assumptions, or sometimes just word games which hide tightly held agendas. In short, with the exception to the latter, often times folks think very similarly, if not the same; however, it is not apparent at the time.

Or, to move in a little closer on this, if I am reading you correctly in the above comment you are saying:

1.) "Christian belief " includes Penal Substitution

2.) "Orthodox Christianity" does NOT

I suspect you are aware that this is only one theory of atonement of 'other Christians' as you have defined them in your letter above viz. not Mormons, JW, and Unitarians (and see our methodology here as we even speak of other Christians--we lump them together and ascribe a view to them and say that's not Orthodox--and then we say they must undergo a genuine conversion from their beliefs and practices?). But, staying with our example here we could also speak of other theories of attonement such as Moral Influence (Abelard); Moral Example (Socinus); Moral Government (Grotius, Finney); Ransom (Origen of Alexandria, Gregory of Nyssa); Recapitualation (Irenaeus); Mystical (Schleiermacher, Rahner); Christus Victor (Gustaf Aulen); or even Liberation (Moltmann). And, from which of these previously held classic Non-Orthodox Christian views must the 'Christian' from another faith tradition convert from? And, the same question holds true for other Orthodox doctrines where there is a huge overlap or the same thinking and practice involved in both the Non-Orthodox Christian adherent and the Orthodox Christian adherent.

And, that was the first time I heard about John's experience reading Cassian above. And, I smiled when I read that because that was EXACTLY my experience reading Cassian in a Southern Baptist Seminary in what seems many moons ago. We were supposed to read Cassian and then write about what a heretic he was and 'label' him a semi-Pelagian. If anything, I read him initially as a semi-Augustinian, but either way his model/teaching of cooperation was what I had always believed based on my study, experience, and intuition. But, I guess the point I'm stumbling towards here is how can we make dogmatic statements in the imperative about what must happen to these 'Christians' in order for them to become Orthodox Christians? I would think this question would be answered more from a pastoral care position as it relates to each 'convert' and what is appropriate for him or her based on where they are--not unlike the teaching of Fr. Jack Sparks who concludes 'each as is appropriate for oneself.'

And, usually when we get to this place, I have found that most will give an answer similar to Abbot and Costello's "Who's on First?" routine, or there is a vanishing act resulting in silence. But, especially in light of the History of 'Christian' Thought, I think this is a very fair question that does matter in practice, as it relates to the souls of men and women--especially in light of pastoral care (which is not concerned with how many angels can fit on the head of pin) Wink

In Christ,
16-08-2008, 10:26 PM,
Dear Rick,

Please excuse the brevity of this reply to your so many points so well made...

1 Thank you for your very kind words - they are appreciated.

2 I think I could have worded the introduction to my earlier post rather better. I apologise unreservedly for my use of the term navel gazing. Just becuase I can't understand the thread properly and to me it could seem to tend that way is no reason whatsoever to judge that others are seeing it my way rather than deriving much benefit from it as evidently you all are. Bless me, Here I bow, forgive me.

3 I was certainly not trying to lump all other Christiasn together and make assumptions as to what millions upon millions believe. So I guess that could have been better worded too. On the particular point of salvation and the crucifixion I would not have the same issues with the ransom model and certainly have no probelm with Christus Victor - nor perhaps the others either. But with Anselm's penal substitution (whther or not Anslem used those particular words) I have severe problems. That God is not the God I beleive in, not the God I worship, not the God I, however feebly and sinfully, love. That is not my Christianity. So far as I am concerned this difference is so significant as to I would feel like saying it amounts to a different religion.

4 Concerning pastoral care and I DO accept as it was once worded to me "these are people's souls we're playing with here", I hope I am motiviated by love for the person considering Orthodox Church membership. I need them to subscribe to certain basic Orthodox Christian beliefs (to many of which they may already subscribe - as in many many things of course we ARE all Christians and most definitely NOT a different religion) so for some there may be "and from the Son" to consider in the Creed, while for others such as me, there were issues realting to beliefs concerning the Mother of God, the saints, icons... What I must do is to see that the person believes those things he or she needs to believe to 'join up'... but then there is a whole lifetime of growing into Orthodoxy to enjoy. I am certainly still doing so. I do not require someone to know every nuance or obscure aspect of obscure theological debate from wherever... but I do not believe that becoming Orthdoox in the sense of joining membership of an Orthodox Church whilst still wearing the vestments and using the prayers one used before and not really considering any differences of belief or praxis is the best way to become Orthodox.

5 I do take Fr Gregory's point that there are those who are members of an Orthodox Church who are not Orthodox in either belief or praxis and that there are those who are members of the Roman Catholic Church or one of the Protestant Churches who are Orthodox in either belief or praxis or both.

6 I think that I really will leave it there as I am not at all sure what more usefully I can add to this thread. Hopefuly I may have made clearer one or two points than my previous attempts.

Perhaps I shall write a different post - I have been encouraged to share something I once wrote, provided I can find it on my computer. I really do find the technological mysteries even harder than the theological mysteries (or is that just age!?) Though from what I remember it was all written in a mixture of poetic quotes and symbolism (mostly quotes from others) and I was trying to express my Orthodox Christianity at a very personal level, maybe trying to express the inexpressible. Well having whetted your appetite I suppose I shall have to find it now - even if no-one makes head or tail of it!!
17-08-2008, 11:37 AM,
Dear Fr. Simon,

When you write:
Quote: I was trying to express my Orthodox Christianity at a very personal level, maybe trying to express the inexpressible.
you actually express the difficulty we all have as we discuss 'conversion without conversion'.

When Kirk told us earlier that he had converted to 'Christianity' he expressed something we all agreed with; but since he came into the Church from being outside of it, his trajectory is, perforce, a different one from that experienced by those of us who would have called ourselves Christians before coming to the Orthodox Church.

That, I daresay, is one reason such discussions are bound to be fraught with difficulty. There has to be a level at which in being pulled towards Orthodoxy from another Christian tradition, one is saying something about the insufficiency of where one has been, and expressing a hope about the sufficiency of where one is arriving. But that, in this world, can look terribly like one is making a comment about the Christianity of others and the validity of other Churches.

It isn't clear to me that as Orthodox we do either of these things; validity is something I recall Anglicans worrying about in terms of their orders vis a vis the Catholic Church; but even when I was an Anglican I couldn't see any point in such thinking. Why worry about what someone else thought about you? All that mattered was that one had faith that one's own Church inherited the great commission from Christ; if one lacked that, why was one there?

We all inherit the ecclesiology of St. Cyprian, and we all tend to forget that he wrote at a time when the early Church was anxious to protect itself from grave heresies, and that his words were applied to exclude those he considered outright heretics; so unless we think that of others (and there are those who fit that bill) then it may be better to stay with the thought that God knows where His Church is; we can only discern aright where it is not - and leave it there.

My own reading of the early history of the faith would lead me to think that the Church tended towards defining what could and should not be believed; as heresies emerged, they were defined and condemned. What was left was Orthodox; what was left was everything that was not heretical. I am, at the moment, examining the development of the idea of theosis, and can see that whilst comments from as early as St. Ignatius relate to the question of how to interpret Psalm 82:6 about our becoming gods, it is not until Clement of Alexandria that we get to anything recognisable as our own beliefs as expressed in St. Athanasius' famous phrase about Him becoming man so that men may become gods.

So, whether Orthodoxy has a usable language of 'development' or not, it needs some such concept if it is to avoid the silliness that one sometimes sees in Roman Catholic apologetics, where it is asserted that references to the Catholic Church in St. Cyprian mean that from the beginning the rest of the world has accepted the authority of the Pope - and that's happened despite the Catholics having a language of 'development'.

How we make sense of how others have developed the 'faith once given' is not, necessarily, something that needs to concern most of us; how we receive the teaching of our Church is more than enough to occupy every waking hour and a few besides.

But for those on a journey - and I am mindful that most of our readers here are still on journeys where Orthodoxy may, or may not, be at the end of one road and the beginning of another - of course questions of what it is they may, or may not, convert to, are near the forefront of the mind.

That such recent converts end up with such a discussion is, in part, indeed in the main part, the consequence of two things: a desire to share thoughts with others who are now where we once were; and the absence of those better qualified to discourse on such matters!

And as for thinking that what you say might not be intelligible, heck, that doesn't (alas, some might say) stop Rick and I, so come on in, the water's lovely :wink:

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)
17-08-2008, 04:24 PM,
Dear John,

Thank you for your very kind words as ever - just a few thoughts in response in case they enlighten or help carry thought forward...

The question of validity, it is my understanding, is a Roman Catholic concept, as in my (British/Coptic) oders are valid though schismatic (as seen from their understanding) whereas I do not believe that I am authorised to comment on the validity of anyone else's sacraments. I merely observe that they are either canonical or else not canonical... but I am not aware that has anyhting whatsoever to say on their validity (which means as I understand it whether or not they work, whether or not they are sacraments. On this I aint got nothing to say, as they say!)

As to what others are required to convert to so as to be Orthodox I entirely 'take on board'... you see how good I am at this conemporary terminology (clearly my time as a mature student wasn't wasted. By the way mature student = polite or politically correct term for older student as I was definitely as immature as the rest of them... I will resist the temptation to share my Ronnie Barker sketch I contributed to an eschatology lecture one mind blowingly boring evening after a day's work). There are people who are happy to be whatever Church denomination they are but to enrich that with certain aspects of what I as an Orthodox Christian have to share with them - say, as it might be, the Jesus Prayer or maybe icons to offer a couple of examples. Then there are others who want to enter into Orthodox Christianity by becoming members of an Orthodox Church - and for them I do indeed requiire them to subscribe, to sign up to, to believe certain beliefs as believed by my Church that they desire to join. This is basically the Creed (according as we have it) and also that Mary is the Mother of God (Third Ecumenical Council). But beyond that there iis an attitude of heart or spirit for which I look. This is difficult for me to express in what I can begin to believe is any useful way on here as it is such a personal matter in which, God help me, I am dealing with someone made in the image of God, someone quite literally of infinite value (since the price God thought worth paying for them was, quite literally God Himself on the corss and therefore infinite so they are beyond price, quite literally priceless). I have offered a couple of thoughts but then it comes down to the person and to faith and to love and things which don't always fit in neat little boxes. I really don't think I can offer much more useful other than to quote an extract from an email I wrote recently for an enquirer explaining my approach.

"If you are determined to investigate and consider Orthodox Christianity with a possible view to becoming an Orthodox Christian then I suggest that you start by studying the Orthodox Christian Faith. I have a series of twelve lectures (on six DVDs) which you would watch (and read supplementary reading that I suggest). During this process you are to feel free to ask me any questions of any kind whatsoever. If after having completed this enquirers? course you believe that Orthodox Christianity is for you and that you want to become a member of the Orthodox Church then you may ask this and we would receive you as a catechumen. A catechumen (a member of the catechumenate) is not yet a member of the Church but is someone undergoing instruction towards becoming a member by baptism and chrismation. There is no time limit for this process, for some it may be comparatively brief, maybe a period of some months, whilst for others it may last for years? you would continue a catechumen until both you and I believed the time was right for you to proceed to full membership of the Church. This is a living process ? not a ?tick the boxes and you?re in? kind of thing. As a catechumen, whilst not excluding continued intellectual study of the Faith, the doctrines or beliefs, there is a greater emphasis on studying, and indeed beginning to live, the Orthodox Christian life we are called to live: prayer, fasting, worship and so much else that might be encompassed by the word spirituality or the word religion."

Pray for me,

18-08-2008, 02:09 PM,
Dear Fr. Simon,

You, and you family, are always in my prayers.

You have, indeed, helped us along the way, for you have reminded us of something which only you and our other spiritual fathers can - of the priest's perspective.

You bring to life the priest's dilemma - if this last is the right word. How great a responsibility lies with you, and all our fathers, as you are approached by those of us on the personal pilgrimage that may (or may not) lead to Orthodoxy.

I remember reading in Frederica Matthewes-Green's little book on becoming Orthodox that the Church held, in her view, a particular appeal to men because of what she called its 'boot camp' approach. For a while that stopped me dead in my tracks. In so far as I could grasp the American 'boot camp' it seemed, so redolent was it of military style discipline, the epitome of what I was not looking for; a set of rules and disciplines which would give an external scaffolding to hold me, when it was surely a transformation of heart that I was heading towards.

So yes, it is difficult because 'conversion' is a process; it is difficult because we are flawed human beings, and we may want a quick fix, or else a set of external supports for our frailty - which leave the frailty untouched. For me, the doctrine of theosis seems at the heart of what it means to be an Orthodox Christian- literally.

There is a change of heart, a growing in the Lord. Accompanied, at least in my own case, by a growing realisation of how terribly I fall short, but also by an optimism that through the sacraments, and through the strength they give to me to renew my endeavours after failure, and through the help of the Church, and with the assistance of Holy Tradition, I can make baby footsteps by way of moving forward in the Lord. But without all of these things - indeed, without His Grace, the only direction would be backwards - if that is, there was movement at all.

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)
18-08-2008, 03:50 PM,
A Conversation About Conversion

Dear Father Simon, Dear John, and All,

Before I forget, I would like to mention that regarding the following:

Though from what I remember it was all written in a mixture of poetic quotes and symbolism (mostly quotes from others) and I was trying to express my Orthodox Christianity at a very personal level, maybe trying to express the inexpressible.

I am looking forward to reading this if you can find it, although I know exactly what you mean about the "technological mysteries!" Smile

And, as John says:

You have, indeed, helped us along the way, for you have reminded us of something which only you and our other spiritual fathers can - of the priest's perspective.

which he follows up with a most excellent turn in our conversation about 'conversion:'

For me, the doctrine of theosis seems at the heart of what it means to be an Orthodox Christian- literally.

I feel we are right where we need to be in this conversation. Wouldn't it be something if this conversation would become a 'movement?' As it relates to union with God, as it relates to communion with God this [theosis] is IT. This is really what we are "talking" about here (or at least grunting and pointing to), I think, in our consideration of both 'belief' and 'praxis' (as well as 'contemplation' and 'praxis.') And, who can define 'theosis? Who can express the inexpressible' at the most personal level? Possibly, poems and symbolism presented from a personal level do serve best for this!/? I have not read much from the perspective of the parish priest about theosis. In fact, I do not think I have ever heard the word theosis mentioned in an Orthodox church in a sermon or otherwise on a Sunday morning. However, I have read the monastic perspective about theosis and here there seems to be a clear consensus that it cannot be defined or described, and for any who may try to do this they are , as you say Father, attempting to express the inexpressible.

And, as we consider Kirk's last most excellent, and passionate, contribution above where he wrote:

. . . the Body of Christ can only be One, no matter how hard we sinful humans try to pull Him apart.

in the light of Father's comments:

I do take Fr Gregory's point that there are those who are members of an Orthodox Church who are not Orthodox in either belief or praxis and that there are those who are members of the Roman Catholic Church or one of the Protestant Churches who are Orthodox in either belief or praxis or both.

I would ask, where are we left and what other alternative do we have than to adopt a theology of unknowing at the End of the day? As it relates to Kirk's comment above, how can we not subscribe to a view which seeks to transcend all divisions in Christ--in order to have a true union/communion with Him--as members of His Body who see the Way and the Goal as being theosis. And, from here we could consider if theosis is limited to the BOC or the EO or others and we could run that circle again, ad nauseum . . . but, even here I think the point is made clear in terms of where we are left at the End of the day, in terms of what we really believe (and what we really know).

And, now I am thinking of a little poem/lament I wrote one day as I was experiencing a high degree of disillusion with my former faith tradition. Maybe John's closing line in his last post, " - if that is, there was movement at all" has brought this to mind. As you mentioned about a piece that you wrote on a very personal level Father, this was the case with me when I wrote the following: . . . Oh, man! This is perfect! Now I can't find this on my computer . . . Oh, well . . . maybe another day. The last line of every paragraph ends with "as much as the movement remains." And, my favorite part of the poem asks, "Papers from the living, the Melancholy Dane, whom shall the homeless trust?" BUT, instead I will offer up a reprint of something I filed from one of Kirk's posts which is much better anyway:

Quote:"When I had given much thought and pondered on the matter, I became convinced that these quarrels of Christians among themselves are not a matter of factual substance, but rather one of words and terms. For they all confess Christ Our Lord to be perfect God and perfect human, without any commingling, mixing, or confusion of the natures. This bipinnate 'likeness' ( Phil. 2:6-7) is termed by one party a 'nature', by another 'a hypostasis' and by yet another a 'person'. Thus I saw all the Christian communities, with their different Christological positions, as possessing a single common ground that is without any difference. Accordingly I totally eradicated any hatred from the depths of my heart, and I completely renounced disputing with anyone over confessional matters." --Jacob Bar Hebraeus from The Dove

And, with those words of wisdom in place here in this thread, at this point, I wonder what could possibly be added . . . other than possibly a line from a song that a friend pointed me to recently:

Quote:Closing time - every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end.

In Christ,

***Afterthought: I just reread this post after I made it and it occured to me that I seem to always combine writing/thinking about Christian communities with any discussion of such as conversion/theosis. On the one hand how can there be Church without Community? That would be an absurd concept wouldn't it? But, on the other hand, if there is not the very close connection, or overlapping, of one's Chistology/Soteriology and one's Ecclesiology then who needs Orthodoxy (or any type of organized Christian religion)? Right?
18-08-2008, 10:01 PM,
Dear John, Rick and All.

I had hoped to work through all kinds of thoughts that your postings (both latest and earlier ones in this thread that I have gone back and looked at again) prompted but I simply do not have the time to give to them that they deserve. (I and also my wife are working this week on talks and sessions we have been asked to give and lead at the Malankara Orthodox Church annual family conference this coming weekend ? and then there is that thing called employment or work which will so intrude on one?s time!) So then, such thoughts as I can best give them?

Yes, I am sure you are right Rick, theosis is, I believe, what it?s ultimately all about ? am I growing into the kind of person who will love to spend eternity with God, ever growing more and more into His likeness throughout all eternity? or am I growing in the opposite direction?

To quote form one of my own sermons (yes, I know, how vain? but it?s actually full of quotes from others anyway):

?Suppose for a moment that you were allowed to enter heaven without holiness. What would you do? What possible enjoyment could you feel there? To which of all the saints would you join yourself, and by whose side would you sit down? Their pleasures are not your pleasures, their tastes not your tastes, their character not your character... perhaps you love the company of the...wordly-minded and the covetous, the reveller and the pleasure-seeker, the ungodly and the profane. There will be none such in heaven... you think praying...and hymn singing, dull and melancholy...a thing to be tolerated now and then, but not enjoyed... But remember heaven is a never-ending [worship]. The inhabitants thereof rest not day or night, saying, ?Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty,?... How could an unholy man find pleasure in occupation such as this?

?Think you that such an one would delight to meet...Paul, and John, after a life spent in doing the very things they spoke against? Would he...find that he and they had much in common?-Think you, above all, that he would rejoice to meet Jesus, the Crucified One, face to face, after cleaving to the sins for which he died... Would he stand before Him with confidence, and join in the cry, ?This is our God; we have waited for Him, we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation??...Think you not rather that the tongue of an unholy man would cleave to the roof of his mouth with shame, and his only desire would be to be cast out! He would feel a stranger in a land he knew not, a black sheep amidst Christ?s holy flock. The voice of Cherubim and Seraphim, the song of Angels and Archangels and all the company of heaven, would be a language he could not understand. The very air would seem an air he could not breathe.?

Thoroughly Orthodox words those, from the Anglican bishop J C Ryle - compare this parable from the Eastern Orthodox writer Frank Schaeffer:

"Let us imagine a superb classical concert in which ...Bach's [music is] being performed. In attendance...are two groups... the first is made up of people who have, from childhod, listened to, studied, loved and enjoyed classical music, particularly...Bach... They have worked hard all year to save money to buy tickets for this concert. They are dressed for the occasion. They savor each moment... Some have even brought the score of the music in order to better follow the performance. At that same concert is a very different a well-meaning teacher... They dislike classical music and would rather be at a rock concert.

"Both groups of people are hearing the same superbly performed, lovingly renedred music...

"One group...have cultivated an understanding, love and appreciation of the music - their experience of the concert is "heavenly" because of their deliberately chosen habits of mind. The others...their experience is "hellish". Their habits of a lifetime have changed them?into?different people than they would have been had they chosen and cultivated different habits...?

The same fire that softens the wax hardens the clay ? the flame is constant, the same towards both? the difference is in the materials. Are our hearts softened by the holy fire of God?s Love or do they harden against it? The fault does not lie in the holy flame of divine love but in man, in sinful human hearts that harden against that Love, that reject it and shut it out.

To quote the Christian writer C. S. Lewis, "The point is not that God will refuse you admission to His eternal world if you have not got certain qualities of character: the point is that if people have not got at least the beginnings of those qualities inside them, then no possible external conditions could make a ?Heaven? for them...?

Some desire heaven to avoid hell (a not unreasonable exchange!) Others hope for heaven so as to meet again with departed loved ones (again by no means unreasonable - even a good Christian hope). The great Abba Sisoes, however, taught: ?Seek God ? not where God dwells.? He teaches us not so much to desire heaven but to desire God. For if we have God then we have heaven.

I return to the illustration of lovers, of those in love (and what a Biblical illustration it is! Just think of the Song of Songs, that great parable of the love between God and us expressed in terms of man and woman in love. Or think of how the relationship between God and Israel is described in terms of love and of marriage. And think of St Paul?s word in his epistle to the Ephesians considering the love of husband for wife in terms of Christ?s love for His Church). My lovers illustration is from that classic of Oriental literature, the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayam:

?Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,
A Flask of Wine, A Book of Verse ? and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness ?
And Wilderness is Paradise enow.?

Oh my friends, if this be true for human lovers ? that the company of the beloved alone is sufficient to render whatever time spent therein as Paradise? oh doubt not the bliss and beauty and glory of the eternal Love with the Lover of our souls in the true Paradise? Like Abba Sisoes taught, ?Seek God ? not where God dwells.? To have God is paradise, is heaven.

For those who prepare their hearts, for those who love our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ, heaven is not boredom ? it is ?joy unspeakable and full of glory? (to quote Saint Paul). Or as the Psalms express it: ?Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand are pleasures for ever-more.?

What matters to me ultimately is that people get there to enjoy that? this means far, far more to me than whether they were Oriental Orthodox or Byzantine Orthodox or whatever Church they were members of here? For some this is undoubtedly best worked out as communicant members of an Orthodox Church ? but if others prefer to be Roman Catholics or Protestants or whatever else there be and feel able to take some of what I have as an Oriental Orthodox Christian to share with them, then no of course I don?t deny them. They are welcome to whatever they want. I would prefer they did become communicant members of my or another Orthodox Church? but am I going to judge them or damn them ?cos they don?t!? I believe that Orthodox Christianity (as in communicant membership of whether it be the British Orthodox Church or any other Orthodox Church) is the way I am called to call people, to encourage people to?

Another parable?

If the ship is sinking and I know that this lifeboat is sound and tested and will see you safe then yes if I have any heart in me I am going to encourage you to come on board. But if you choose another lifeboat for which I don?t have a certificate or guarantee of sea worthiness (but equally I don?t see any holes in it either) then of course I hope it?s going to be okay for you even as mine for me? but what if you end up in a really dodgy looking lifeboat (is that a hole or split I see? Well, maybe it looks like it to me) then, yes, of course I am going to encourage you to get into mine ? but if you prefer that one then again of course I hope all goes well for you even as for me. But what if you insist on clinging to some piece of driftwood or even strike out swimming across the ocean on your own? Well, then, however feeble my hope, then yes of course I still hope, maybe even against hope, that you make it safe to shore. I am only authorised to speak about my lifeboat which is not to say I am condemning the other ones. Whatever your choice, of course I hope for you, of course I wish you well?

On a practical note, it does seem to me that it is important that I encourage people to join Orthodox Churches (quite apart from any belief I may have that it is actually good for them and even best for them) as well as those who prefer membership of other Churches but like to take something from us Orthodox to incorporate into their Church life (like my Pentecostal friend who took up the Jesus Prayer and had his own icon corner at home whilst remaining a member of his Pentecostal Church)? Otherwise we could reach a time when there is no-one left to share the riches of Orthodoxy with those who are members of other Churches!

I can only repeat that I do not mean to judge anyone nor to judge their Church membership. I am what is called an Oriental Orthodox Christian and I welcome all who would come to explore the riches of my Church, my Faith ? both those who would enter into communion as members of my Church and those who do not desire this but still treasure something precious that they see in Orthodoxy. Am I to deny them? God forbid! ALL are welcome, even to come and to partake of such as they will.

And now in conclusion I have yet another one of my over-long quotes after which I really must asked to be excused further contribution to this thread (for as I look back I see that if I?d had more time I would have worded earlier contributions better and not implied that I was lumping all other Christians together and making assumptions about them, for example, I know perfectly well that however many Anglicans, whether Catholic or evangelical, believe an Anselmian penal substitution theory, that it never was official CofE doctrine, having no place in the Thirty Nine Article of Religion). I simply struggle to find the time to word material on here with sufficient care and so I leave this thread with this as I concede over-long quote in response to two of Rick?s postings ? firstly:

?You can:

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

2.) You can engage me to varying degrees.?


?Accordingly I totally eradicated any hatred from the depths of my heart, and I completely renounced disputing with anyone over confessional matters." (Jacob Bar Hebraeus from The Dove)

Though I prefer to stay silent (at least when I remember to try to be spiritual) and not to argue or dispute, if it is right and good (as best it seems to me) to go against this long quote for the good of someone else, to stick up for someone on the receiving end, or to help an enquirer or for whatever else it may be ? then for love of that person I will throw this whole piece out the window and do whatever I can for them. So yes I can be silent and not argue ? and yes I can engage? only let the motive be love. If I have not love then I am nothing. But for preference this would be my approach and response. It was written in connection with another online Christian site I used to frequent.

This email is in response to questions, comments and assumptions I have received (and continue to receive) concerning my silence in the Christian Chat Rooms?
So why is Simon silent? After all (as I was recently admonished) why visit a Christian (or, for that matter, any other) Chat Room and refuse to chat? In the first place, it should be noted that (until now) my silence has been general rather than absolute?
So why silence? Because my words have been the occasion of offense, of disagreement and discord, even anger in Christian Chat - and because my words have born fruit as hurt and pain in others. ?My brethren, these things ought not so to be.? (James 3 v 10) As for those who are kind enough and generous-hearted enough to protest that my words have also been the occasion of blessing unto others... on this I do not feel the need to comment as this email is not to promote my words but to explain my silence? Furthermore my words have contained much folly and if I remember Proverbs 17 vv 27-28 I shall surely do well - ?He who spares his words has knowledge? Even a fool when he holds his peace is considered wise; and he who shuts his lips is counted a man of understanding.?
Perhaps the following quotations also offer an insight into my silence. Maybe they express better than mine own words why I would be silent. I offer them for what they are worth.
?There should be in the soul halls of peace, avenues of leisure, and high porticoes of silence, where God walks.? (Jeremy Taylor)
?Do not be in a hurry to fill up an empty space with words and embellishments, before it has been filled with a deep interior peace.? (Alexander Elchaninov)
?Silence can be filled with watchful prayer as a bowl holds water.? (Tito Colliander)
?If he is not edified by my silence, he will not be edified by my speech.? (Abba Agathon)
?To live without speaking is better than to speak without living. For the former who lives rightly does good even by his silence but the latter does no good when he speaks. When words and life correspond to one another they are together the whole of philosophy.? (Abba Isidore of Pelusia)
To those of you who encourage me to defend myself against those who insult me or verbally attack me in Christian Chat, I offer the following quotations and examples:
??he was led as a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is dumb, so he opens not his mouth.? (Isaiah 53 v 7)
?And the high priest arose, and said unto him, Answerest thou nothing? what is it which these witness against thee? But Jesus held his peace?? (Matthew 26 vv 63-64)
?And when he was accused of the chief priests and elders, he answered nothing. Then said Pilate unto him, Hearest thou not how many things they witness against thee? And he answered him to never a word; Insomuch that the governor marvelled greatly.? (Matthew 27vv 12-14)
?Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not...? (1Peter 2 vv 21-23)
When Saint Macarius the Great was falsely accused of being responsible for a local girl?s pregnancy he answered nothing even when mocked and beaten. He was required of the villagers to keep her. So he told himself that now he had a wife he must work harder so as to look after her. He worked day and night. When the time came for her to give birth, however, her labour continued and she was unable to give birth until she confessed that someone else was really the father and not Saint Macarius. So Saint Macarius neither answered nor defended himself but left it for God to vindicate him as and when he would.
Saint Marina was also falsely accused of being the father of a local baby. And as a result was cast out of the monastery and also had the child to care for. But Marina could not have been the father as she was a woman who had disguised herself as a man so as to be a monk! Following the child?s death she was eventually re-admitted to the monastery but her life was that of a permanently penitential monk. She was only vindicated after death when the other monks prepared her body for burial and discovered that she was a woman. She also answered not a word nor defended herself (neither to her false accusers in the world nor to the monks who judged her) but left her vindication to God.
Some came to see if they could provoke Abba Agathon into losing his temper. So they accused him of fornication and pride - and he accepted their insults. They suggested he was always talking nonsense. Again he accepted their saying. Then they suggested he was a heretic but this he denied. They asked why he accepted the other insults but rejected the accusation of heresy. He explained that he accepted the other insults for it was good for his soul - but heresy was separation from God and he had no wish to be separated from God.
Saint Macarius the Great sent a brother to the cemetery to insult the dead. So the brother went and insulted them and threw stones at their graves. When he returned to the elder he was asked whether the dead had said anything to him to which he replied, ?No.? Saint Macarius told him to return to the cemetery and to praise the dead. So the brother returned there and praised then, calling them righteous and saints and apostles. Upon his return Saint Macarius asked if the dead had answered him. Again the answer was negative. The elder explained that even as the dead made no reply when insulted, neither spoke when praised, so he too should be like the dead and take no account of either the insults of men or of their praises.
And now I offer some quotations from Watchman Nee?s Spiritual Authority:
?Until one knows the will of God he should keep his mouth shut. He should not exercise authority carelessly? Probably you yourself are the only one in the whole world who considers your opinion as the best. Persons with many opinions? like to be counsellors to all. They seize upon every opportunity to press their ideas on others.
?This is not to imply that before he can be used by God he must be reduced to having no opinion, no thought, and no judgment. Not at all. It merely means that the man must be truly broken; his cleverness and his opinions?must all be broken. Those who are naturally talkative, opinionated, and self-conceited need a radical dealing, a basic bending. This is something which cannot be?imitation? Only after one is scourged by God does he begin to live in fear and trembling before Him. He dare not open his mouth inadvertently? Like Balaam in Numbers 22 v 25, we need to be pushed against the wall and to have our foot crushed. We will then feel pained as we move and will not dare speak casually. It is not necessary to advise one, whose foot is crushed, to walk slowly. Only by such painful experiences as this shall we be delivered from ourselves? we are not to express our own views nor to itch to interfere with others? affairs. Some seem to consider themselves as supreme court justices. They pretend to know everything in the church and everything in the world. They have a ready opinion on anybody and everything, freely dispensing their teachings as if they were the gospel. A subjective person has never learned discipline, nor has he ever been seriously dealt with. He knows all, and can do all? Anyone who offers opinions freely and speaks in the name of the Lord carelessly is far away from God. He who mentions God?s name casually only proves his remoteness from God. Those who are near to God have a godly fear; they know how defiling it is to carelessly express their own opinions? the difficulty today is that many of God?s servants are either too bold or too strict or too over-bearing.
?Authority is established by God; therefore no delegated authority need try to secure his authority. Do not insist that others listen to you? if they insist on going their own way, let them go. A delegated authority ought not strive with men. Why should I demand a hearing if I am not God?s established authority? On the other hand, if I am set up by God, need I fear lest men not submit? ?It is not needful for me to force people to listen... We should never say so much as one word on behalf of our authority? Beloved never try to set up your own authority. If God chooses you, receive it with humility; if God does not call you, why should you strive? ?Let God establish His authority; let no man ever try? When delegated authority entrusted to you is being tested, do nothing. Do not be in haste, nor strive, nor speak for yourself?
?Vindication or defence or whatever reaction there may be should come from God, not from man? Authority and self-defence are incompatible. The one against whom you defend yourself becomes your judge. He rises higher than you when you begin to answer his criticism. He who speaks for himself is under judgment; therefore he is without authority? Vindication comes form God. The moment you justify yourself before a person he becomes your judge...
?We should never try to establish our own authority. The more we try, the less we are fit for authority. It is not the violent or the strong but a man like Paul - whose bodily presence is weak and whose speech is of no account - whom God will establish as authority? No one in the Old Testament exceeded Moses as a God-established authority, yet he was the meekest of all men. While he was in Egypt he was quite fierce, both in killing the Egyptian and in reprimanding the Hebrews... So at that time God did not appoint him as an authority. It was only after?he had become very meek - more than all men on earth - that God used him? The person least likely to be given authority is often the very one who considers himself an authority. Likewise, the more authority a person thinks he has, the less he actually does have?
?Such, indeed, is the condition of God-established authority. Why strive with men? ?Let no one defend himself nor speak for himself. Learn to wait and to be humble before God? The lower one prostrates himself before God the quicker the Lord will vindicate him.?
A few nights ago in Christian Chat I spoke very briefly in the Room and I was corrected for having done so. I was told that my place was to watch in silence and to learn and then (maybe soon) I would be able to join all the others there in preaching? ?The spiritual person? (to quote my Patriarch, His Holiness Pope Shenouda III) ?becomes a disciple of the beneficial word. He searches for it from all sources: firstly from the Bible, then from the sayings of the fathers and the teachers who may be depended on, and then from any other source. Even if it should be a word that has come from the mouth of a sinner, it still might be beneficial.? He gives, among various examples, that of Saint Anthony the Great who profited greatly from the words of a woman who took off her clothes in front of him to bathe! So to the one who brought me this beneficial word from God that I should be silent in Christian Chat and watch and learn - I thank you.
And now it is time I brought this over-long email to a close. I thank you for your patience in reading it. I shall go and ask the prayers of Abba Agathon who for three years lived with a stone in his mouth until he had learned to keep silence.
19-08-2008, 11:09 AM,
Dear Rick,

How right you are here:
Quote:And, who can define 'theosis? Who can express the inexpressible' at the most personal level? Possibly, poems and symbolism presented from a personal level do serve best for this!/? I have not read much from the perspective of the parish priest about theosis. In fact, I do not think I have ever heard the word theosis mentioned in an Orthodox church in a sermon or otherwise on a Sunday morning. However, I have read the monastic perspective about theosis and here there seems to be a clear consensus that it cannot be defined or described, and for any who may try to do this they are , as you say Father, attempting to express the inexpressible.
which is why I have opened another thread so we can try to see what the Church Fathers had to say about it. I can get to St. Cyril, but beyond that I find myself even more at sea than usual. :oops:

'A theology of unknowing' is a tempting description on a number of levels, not the least of which is the one which in my own case would translate to 'theology by the unknowing' :wink:

The moment it comes to seem that one needs a PhD in theology to be saved is the same moment that evangelism probably died. And yet, and yet, there is a tension intuited between 'simple faith' and 'knowing' which perhaps needs either diffusing, or some comment, if only because of the suspicion that a Faith without a brain is as sterile as one without a heart; in the fusion of heart and mind - a real theosis. Is it here we find a common ground?

But, Rick, you also challenge us when you remind us of the connection between ecclesiology and soteriology, because no sooner had I agreed with that wonderful quotation Kirk provided from Bar Hebraeus, than I was driven to juxtapose it with your postscript.

That, in turn, took me to Fr. Simon's fascinating post, but since this one is long enough and turns around one of our themes, for the sake of whatever clarity there may be, I'll turn to that in a second post.

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)

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