Archive for October, 2005

(Polished and expanded a little on 18 January 2008.)

How can Orthodoxy possibly dovetail with liberal Roman Catholicism?

  • Collegiality and conciliarity; no Papal Infallibility. While the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople has some very supportive supporters, he’s really not supposed to be a worldwide ecclesiastical autocrat, merely “first among equals” among the bishops of the Orthodox Church, permanent chairman if you will. The Primates of Orthodoxy’s regional and national Synods wield alot of influence therein – some of it comes from being effectively CEOs of denominations – but they can still be challenged, even driven from power ‘from below,’ as recently happened with the Patriarch of Jerusalem, and a few years ago with a Greek Archbishop of America. And as far as “faith and morals” go, we place our trust in Holy Tradition, not the decrees of individual Patriarchs.
  • Spirituality. See my early posts about God’s Uncreated Divine Energies, Light, etc.
  • Contraception. You’re supposed to talk it over with your priest, but it’s not the automatic sentence of mortal sin and eternal damnation like it is in the RCC … though some disagree, and are free to.
  • A sense of Church History. We’re not afraid to find out that our Patriarchs’ posts evolved, or that monks and laity overruled some Church Councils. Actually Church history is often liberating!
  • Deaconesses. See here.
  • Collaborative ministry. From the parish to the ecumenical council, priests and bishops are within their churches, not above them. Laity and lower clergy, even lay theologians, have always had a key role in the life of the Church. In some jurisdictions they even help select bishops, primates,* and patriarchs (as seen in 2007 in Romania), did anciently, sometimes since then, and may do so more again soon, for instance in the Moscow Patriarchate, whose 1917-1918 council authorized the practice as represented now in The Orthodox Church in America (OCA). (*–The Archbishop of Cyprus’ election has a very “American” feel, with campaigning, the equivalent of primaries, the election of an Electoral College, controversy, secular media coverage….)
  • Liturgy. It may be long, but it’s great, beautiful, magnificent, etc. etc.!
  • ‘Physical’ worship. All five senses adore the Lord in Orthodox worship; the whole body is involved, even more than in the Mass.
  • Real theology. Like I’ve said before, theology has really fallen apart in the West; some trace it all the way back to Augustine of Hippo. I’ve had 9 years of parochial school, 5 years of minor seminary and novitiate, 4 years with a minor in Theology, 6 years of grad school in Western theology … and still, every time I read Orthodox Theology, it’s a revelation!
  • Art and architecture. There’s nothing like Orthodox icons and churches.
  • Music. Good Byzantine or Russian chant just might cure you of the need for guitars!
  • Divorce and remarriage; a pastoral sense, non-legalism. We don’t bother with annulment, but your bishop can grant an ecclesiastical divorce, clearing the way for up to 2 more marriages. Despite (or Because of?!) being “orthodox,” we have a reputation for leniency, compassion in pastoral practice. It’s called economy, in Greek oikonomia, the opposite of acriveia or strictness, and called into play when an exception may be necessary rather than fear losing a soul’s salvation.
  • Patristics, incl. patristic social justice. The Fathers and Mothers of the Church are the source of the best Orthodox theology (though even “100 pct. of the Fathers are 85 pct. right!”). And how’s this for social justice?: “The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry man; the coat hanging unused in your closet belongs to the man who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the man who has no shoes; the money which you put in the bank belongs to the poor. You do wrong to everyone you could help but fail to help” (St. Basil the Great).

A Fundamentalist who converted to the Latin Church wrote a book entitled Rome Sweet Home. I might call mine New Rome, Sweet Home: A Liberal Catholic Discovers Orthodoxy! (New Rome was the official name of Constantinople or Byzantium.)

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St. John Chrysostom said nobody is colder than the Christian unconcerned about others’ salvation. And salvation is what this blog is about, not ‘sheep-stealing.’ We Orthodox don’t compete to be a ‘nicer’ or better denomination than the one you may be in; we believe that through the Mercy of God alone, the Holy Catholic Apostolic Orthodox Church is “the ark [boat, ship] of salvation,” the “hospital” for the cure of every soul. There are no ‘outer limits’ to God’s care for human beings, but we have the certitude of faith and the experience of the ages, that He acts most abundantly here. Here He offers so many ways to cure the sicknesses of the human soul, ways not fully present anywhere else. Joining the Orthodox Church doesn’t guarantee your salvation; it’s only the beginning. There may well be Orthodox in hell; you must – *I* must – take advantage of the means of cure, the ‘therapies’ on offer here, to bring myself in tune with God’s Divine Energies, or I will be lost. The Mysteries of Baptism or Chrismation are among those therapies, so a convert starts out well, but needs to follow-through for life. Hopefully we grow in our love for God so that we want to come more in tune with Him by as many as possible of the ways the Orthodox Church makes available – or rather, that God makes available here.

Please, try it. Visit an Orthodox Church. Talk to an Orthodox priest. You have nothing to lose.

On the other hand, we Orthodox are not to feel compelled to, as it were, force you into the Church, like some Christian denominational proselytizers. We treat you like an adult. We offer you our love and the Good News of God in the Orthodox Church, pray, and leave the choice to you.

May God bless you.

This is also out-of-season. Inquirers into Orthodoxy are not required, or even encouraged, to join in the Fasts of the Church, but if you do, you’ll see that at the end of the Fast there’s usually a meat-bash (my terminology) at church or in Orthodox homes. You might want to start things off with a fiber supplement, because your large intestine won’t be used to a big meat-only (or -mostly) feast otherwise, and you may get diarrhea.

Ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate is not much of a live issue in the Orthodox Church. I consider myself to have feminist leanings, and I don’t see it being talked about except by one or two (lay) women theologians in very recent work.

On the other hand, the Orthodox Church has ordained women to the diaconate continuously since the first decades of the Church (see Romans 16:1), just not alot of them and they’re pretty low-key. And some Jurisdictions also have women Readers, who chant the Epistle and Psalm in the Liturgy and may lead Readers’ Services in the absence of a priest. A bishop tonsures a person to be a Reader, ie, cuts a lock of their hair.

Generally, the controversies that rock Catholic and Protestant churches are pretty much not going on here. Maybe Orthodox people tend to be more conservative generally speaking, or maybe there’s more to it, a different way of approaching Christianity and theology, not conflictual. Maybe Orthodox laity don’t rebel against their hierarchy so much because their hierarchy have been more reasonable. I don’t know. It would make an interesting study!

These comments are out-of-season, obviously, and also more comparative than I like to be normally, as I’ve said. But….

Western Epiphany celebrates the physical revelation of the Baby Jesus to the Gentiles, in the visit of the Three Kings: Orthodox Theophany celebrates the mystical revelation of the Trinity to humankind, in the Baptism of Christ in the River Jordan, one of the most important feasts on the Orthodox calendar. Now, most years the West has the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, the Sunday after Epiphany, a minor Sunday celebration of the pouring of water and a bird in the Latin Church, I can’t say about high Protestant churches.

This is typical of the difference between rationalistic Western religion on the one hand, and transformational Eastern Orthodoxy on the other.

BTW, Orthodoxy includes the Magi in its celebration of Christmas, so by the time we get to January 6, we’re already into Christ’s adult ministry, far more important than “Little Christmas.” Though I must confess to being tempted by the passion of nostalgia for my “Twelve Days of Christmas”…. And I have no idea where my parochial school teachers got the idea that the Magi are a bigger deal in “the Eastern Church”….

Here’s an insightful article by a priest who converted from Protestantism. He underlines the key to Orthodoxy in a way few writers seem to, the journey to God-likeness.

A new webpage has email links to Orthodox former members of a number of denominations who may have a sense of where you’re coming from as you look into Orthodoxy.