So… Why be Orthodox?

In response to my post on exclusivity, Rusty from My Orthodox Journey asks, if the claims of Orthodoxy aren’t exclusive, then why be Orthodox as opposed to another Christian sect? Of course, my answer is only that: my answer. I can only tell you why I’m not Protestant, Southern Baptist, non-denominational, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic. I can only tell you why, of all the flavors of Christianity, I’ve chosen to be Orthodox. Your reasons may or may not be the same as mine. And just because I’ve found that Orthodoxy helps me be the best Christian I can be doesn’t mean that someone else can’t find a full Christian life in, say, the Southern Baptist church that they’re a part of. I’m Orthodox because the Orthodox let God be God. Knowing who we worship is important, but I’m uncomfortable with over-dogmatizing. Saying “God always does this” or “God never does this” feels to me like we’re closing ourselves off to God. The Orthodox tradition has celebrated holy fools, mystics, and erudite theologians. God has used glossolia, art, and literature. The church recognizes and celebrates it all. I’m Orthodox because of tradition. “Smells and Bells” as a friend put it. A lot of people want a church that fits their culture like a glove. I want church to transcend culture and transform it. To “be in the world, but not of it”. I’m Orthodox because the church leaves the door open for disagreement. We’ve got tradition — in spades! — but when it comes to the issue of the day (e.g. evolution vs. creation), the church doesn’t rush to take a stance. This doesn’t mean that the church is quiet — my priest gave a homily that, in essence, said the conflict in Dover over “Intelligent Design” was foolish — but there is no official line. You can be Democrat, Republican, Green, or Libertarian and you’ll still be Orthodox. I’m Orthodox because of I don’t like the idea of Original Sin. The Orthodox church holds me responsible for my own actions and only my actions. Sure, Adam made life difficult, but I’m not guilty because of what he did. I’m Orthodox because I respect the history of the church. There’s been a long succession of bishops without one church trying to rule over the others. Churches with a mutual respect for each other. Again, none of this means that my choice is the only correct one. I’ve got a lot of respect for people like Simon Cozens and he has decided Orthodoxy isn’t for him. My brother Mert is other example of a non-Orthodox Christian who has earned my respect. My parents have both (for all there many faults 😉 lived out Christian love for others that I haven’t seen demonstrated in many other places. In Matthew 7, Jesus tells us that we’ll recognise his followers “by their fruits”. It seems obvious to me that there could, therefore, be fruitful Christians who aren’t Orthodox.

12 thoughts on “So… Why be Orthodox?”

  1. One more thought

    Okay, so I lied… I have something more to say.

    I think there is a natural psychological aspect to be considered with regards to converts. Often by converting to Orthodoxy we have totally had to uproot our perspectives, our social/spiritual identity—we are often seen as in some way betraying our upbringing or more plainly are simply seen as leaving our friends and family behind. It’s a damned painful process for many of us, one which so long as the feelings are sharp we feel a need to defend to such a degree as is required to cushion the emotional and psychological blow.

    Several years after conversion one wonders at times—at least this one does—how much of one’s conversion is running toward something, and how much of it is running from something. This is a question that is impossible to answer, but is, I think, important to at least voice and consider briefly. Usually, I think one will find that both motivations were present, but that the important thing was the act itself, and to move on from past motivations to present ones—the pursuit of Christ and theosis. In the end, this is all that matters and everything else is an aspect of this one solid goal.

  2. Open Spaces

    I’ve really appreciated your recent posts on this topic, Mark. My only response will be to quote two paragraphs from an interview with Fr. Alexander Men.

    Around fifteen years ago, a young man at my church started making occasional visits to the Baptist Church. I told him, you are Orthodox, of course you can go there because the church is everywhere, Christ is everywhere, the gospel is everywhere. Do both: go to the Baptist Church and don’t forget your own spiritual roots. And when I explained the open model to him, he said, Oh dear, how uncomfortable! He ended up by becoming a Baptist.

    That person could only be either a Baptist who did not recognize Orthodoxy, or an Orthodox who cursed the Baptists. He wanted to have a little hole to hide himself away in. Apparently Peter the Great also suffered from a psychological disorder—the fear of open spaces. He built himself tiny little rooms and so on. There is an illness like that—the fear of open spaces. In the history of religion, there is also this fear of open spaces.

    The Russian Orthodox Church Today

    1. Re: Open Spaces

      I don’t know much about Alexander Men, but I think that should stay away from his writings after perusing them a bit. Maybe it is a tendency within myself to declare myself ‘right’ and everyone else ‘wrong’ – hiding in a hole. But we have definitive statements from the Church regarding the position of the Church – statements from individuals like Alexander Men not withstanding.


      1. Re: Open Spaces

        Regarding definitive statements: there are the statements from the Church in Council, then there are the statements of individuals within the Church. There’s a lot fewer definitive statements than some people suggest.

        I’m curious why anyone would feel a need to stay away from Fr. Alexander’s writings. Sure there’s places where you you may disagree with him, perhaps places where the majority of Orthodox might disagree with him, but he was an amazing witness of the love of God and the love and devotion to God’s creatures. Nothing scary there that I can see… I guess maybe unsettling and challenging?

        1. Re: Open Spaces

          “Unsettling and challenging” – probably. Right now I’m only a catechumen. I am trying to understand what it means for ME to be Orthodox moreso than what it means for others not to be Orthodox. But it is a question that I have to deal with – coming from a family that isn’t exactly thrilled with the idea in the first place. The question I keep coming back to is, if it isn’t ‘needful’ that others become Orthodox, perhaps my family is correct and I’m just crazy for doing this.

          1. Re: Open Spaces

            Personally, I got to a point where I saw that I could go forward with the enlightenment of Orthodoxy, or I could go back to the Christianity of my upbringing. I’d have remained a Christian, but I knew if I passed this up I’d be dooming myself to a meagre existence for passing up such a brilliant illumination.

            The door opens and you enter or you don’t. Sometimes when you don’t you lose something. But, if you lose something, God uses that, too. God is the perpetual suitor, loving us, wooing us, and drawing us to Him if only we will respond. Having an official association with a specific group means nothing if the heart isn’t in it. Are you willing to nibble at Orthodoxy from a distance?

            That said, from my own experience I would maybe suggest taking your time and try to come to Orthodoxy because of Orthodox, because you’re in love with the Church, than because of any ill feelings about where you came from.

          2. Re: Open Spaces

            Well, I don’t feel like I’m rushing into Orthodoxy, and my priest is there to make sure I’m not. I have been taught by more than my priest that Orthodoxy is the ‘fullness’ of the faith. And I believe it. And I don’t believe that Orthodoxy is a ‘specific group’ – I believe it to be the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. Now, where the canonical boundaris end and the spiritual boundaries end may be two different things. That’s not up for me to decide.

          3. Re: Open Spaces

            Re: rushing—I didn’t mean to say you were. Really I was talking more about my own experience. My 1st priest rushed me a bit, in fact.

            Do I believe that Orthodoxy is “the Church”. Yeah, I do. So, don’t mistake me. But there’s more to being Orthodox than being officially a member of the Orthodox Church and ascribing to her teachings. Ultimately we are the betrothed to Christ. It’s about love and desire for Christ. Orthodoxy is the best place to live that reality. But there’s truth and there’s sectarianism. The one will set us free, the other binds us into ever diminishing circles, an inward spiral, the cerberus eating it’s own tail, choose your prefered image.

            I just hate when I see Orthodox who will sing the praises of the pagan philosophers while cursing the “heterodox” Christians. God’s truth isn’t snuffed out completely in any corner—wherever we find it, we should praise God for it.

            It’s important, too, to realize how expansive and broad the experience of the church is. But there are lots of pockets here and there than make it out to seem much less so. When confronted with this after my conversion it was very challenging. Still working things out in regards to al this, myself.

  3. Well said

    As a recent convert, I appreciate what Tuirgin says so well in the comments above.

    In response to the original post, I would, suggest however that Holy Tradition does not equal “smells and bells.” I’m sure that Hexmode didn’t intend to suggest that it does, but the way it was phrased seemed to imply so. “Smells and bells” is liturgical practice (and yes, this has some relation to Tradition, but is not itself THE Tradition). Holy Tradition is the living Gospel, the life and presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church. I think it’s worth making another distinction as well. The Orthodox Church does in fact teach the reality of Original Sin (Adam and Eve’s sin). What it does NOT teach is “Inherited Guilt” – the idea that we are each of us personally condemned for that sin in the garden. We live under the consequences of that original sin, but we are not personally guilty of Adam’s sin. Our own sins are more than enough, thank you. 🙂 Sorry to barge in and offer critiques like that, but I think that these are important distinctions. -Ian

    1. Re: Well said

      Agreed. Holy Tradition is not just “smells and bells”. That was just what a friend of mine called Orthodoxy. And I like the smells and the bells.

      When I said “original sin”, I was refering to the inherited guilt, but I thought that was clear enough. Perhaps not.

      Anyway, thanks for the comment. Stick around.

  4. Thanks

    Thanks for putting up with my comment there, H. I suspected we were on the same page anyway. I know that in my family circle if I said that the Orthodox don’t believe in original sin, they’d think I was saying that we are Pelagians. Heaven forbid!

    Thanks for your blog, and I’ll keep reading… -Ian

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