AnglicanDialoguesEcumenismJourneys of Faith

Why I Didn’t Convert to Eastern Orthodoxy

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!1” 

A few years ago my wife and I went to a Greek festival hosted by a Greek Orthodox Church in downtown St. Louis. As we were walking around the building trying to decide which food looked most appetizing to us, we stumbled across a bookstore right inside the doors of the church. The avid reader in me picked up a book by an author I had never heard of before and I began thumbing my way through it. It was so refreshingly succinct, beautifully articulated, and…well…different from what I had become so accustomed to in Western Christianity. I found the author saying things that I always felt like I wanted to say but had been too reluctant to do so out of fear of being ostracized. But, here was this author making bold claims about the communal nature of salvation, the self-punishment of hell, the importance of the Church Fathers, the necessity of prayer for salvation, etc. I had grown incredibly weary of aspects of Christianity that were solely based off of individualistic intellectual assent. I also sensed a tremendous depth to what the author was saying.  It was clear that he really knew what he was talking about as he spoke of prayer.  He also seemed to reflect a tradition, a history, that was so much bigger than himself at the same time.  So, needless to say, the book spoke to me. The author, of course, was Kallistos Ware and the book was a simple little book titled, “How Are We Saved?2

That day marked the beginning of a very intense spiritual journey for me. I desired to learn more about the Orthodox faith and the Patristic way. So, I began where most Protestants begin, especially those who have been parked in the Reformed camp for a while. I began with the intellectual side of things. I wanted to better understand the church’s theological teachings. I began attending Vespers services at a couple of the local parishes nearby and I sought out conversation partners in local Orthodox parishioners and priests alike. Even though the whole experience was a bit like trying to drink from a firehose, I felt spiritually dehydrated enough to take it on. My prayer life was in shambles and I was genuinely burnt out from the ministry I was a part of. Orthodoxy was an awful lot to seek—to understand—but I felt there was something therapeutic in wrestling through it all. I quickly found that Orthodoxy is much more comprehensive than the versions of Western Christianity that I had been a part of. There wasn’t merely a deep theological perspective, but a way in which one was to live it out through asceticism. What really drew me in from there was the notion that there was no question for the Orthodox as to what the life of individual prayer and corporate worship is supposed to look like. I had grown weary of constantly seeking to innovate worship services around my own personality whenever I was leading the liturgy on Sunday mornings in my church. I was also extremely bothered by how much prayer, especially silent prayer, was underemphasized, neglected and deprioritized within the Reformed tradition. Orthodoxy presented a way in which God’s people are to gather for worship and it taught a way in which people should embody prayer. I found something remedial in these things.

I also began to dabble more and more in Eastern Orthodox writings. I read all of John Zizioulas’s books and most of Dumitu Staniloae’s as well. “St. Silouan the Athonite3,” by Elder Sophrony became my favorite book (still is) and I read all that I could of Elder Sophrony and his disciple, Archimadrite Zacharias. Later on, someone introduced me to John Behr and I soaked his teachings in like a sponge. After reading the works of all of these modern figures, I began to read the Church Fathers that they cited so frequently. I committed large amounts of time to studying Irenaeus, John Chrysostom, Gregory Palamas and Ignatius of Antioch. Both Zizioulas and Staniloae, however, really triggered a love in me for the Cappadocian Fathers and Maximus the Confessor, and I read them all fairly extensively.

I was hooked and was definitely in a puppy love sort of phase with all things Orthodox. It wasn’t too long after that when I began to notice a disturbing trend, however. My wife, in her perceptive wisdom, picked up on it right from the start. She never shared in the love which was slowly kindled in my heart for the Orthodox faith. I was initially confused as to why she wasn’t as enthused about this newfound version of the faith as I was. But, as I began seeing the things she was pushing back against, I began to gradually come out of my puppy love infatuation and see exactly what she was talking about.

Here is where the Orthodox lost me (or, us): I wasn’t looking for a new faith. To paraphrase Kallistos Ware, I was looking for a “fuller version” of the faith that I already had. This attitude, however, was not enough for many of the real life Eastern Orthodox relationships that I had developed. I was expected to renounce and reject the entirety of my Christian past. All things Protestant were to become an anathema to me. My Orthodox acquaintances were baffled that I didn’t hate all things Western and Protestant as much as they did. I simply couldn’t disqualify all of the grace that I had experienced as a Protestant. I couldn’t bite the hand that had fed me for so long.

Those of us who are searching are not all the 1990’s version of Frank Schaeffer. We are not all utterly scarred from and enthusiastically pissed off about our spiritual upbringings. The anti-Western tirade that is launched by so many Orthodox converts, which is often applauded and supported by Orthodox leaders, truly bothered me. I couldn’t convert and become another anti-Western poster child for the Orthodox, and that is where I saw my journey quickly heading. I couldn’t tell my devout Christian friends (Protestant and Catholic alike) that they were “heretics” and “schismatics”—many of them had never even heard of the Eastern Orthodox Church before. I could never say the types of things to them that were being said to me as I was inquiring about Orthodoxy. Orthodox people, laity and priests alike, were delighted to meet with me whenever I had questions because they always enjoyed opportunities for “evangelism.” I didn’t understand how I, someone who had been following Christ for several years, needed to be “evangelized.” I couldn’t, in turn, treat my non-Orthodox friends as if they were non-Christian and “evangelize” them into Orthodoxy. I couldn’t treat them as if they weren’t a part of the authentic Church of Christ.  

Many Orthodox would accuse me of being too worldly, assuming that I am only seeking to embrace modern Western sentiments towards political correctness and inclusiveness. This is not the case whatsoever. I wouldn’t resist telling my non-Orthodox Christian friends that they were heretical and not truly a part of the Church because I am simply seeking to abstain from hurting their feelings. I would resist telling them such an atrocious thing because it would be utterly untrue. I found Christ in Protestantism or, better, Christ found me through Protestantism. I never would deny such a thing nor expect others around me to do so.  

After sharing my frustrations with a priest and later on with a monk, they both told me to do that which brings my heart peace. After taking their guidance to heart and spending several months in fasting and prayer, I did exactly what they told me. I quit gravitating towards Orthodoxy because the journey was not bringing me any peace whatsoever. I realized that, at the center of it all, I could not pursue Christ-like humility and Orthodoxy at the same time. I couldn’t pronounce other Christians as being estranged from God’s Kingdom while believing that I was in. I couldn’t believe that the vast majority of the Christians that I know, most of whom know absolutely nothing about the Orthodox Church, had never found the true Way of Christ and union with Him. I could never believe that my Western Christian friends were heretical.

In the end, it wasn’t the theology or the worship which soured me. What soured me was an elitist attitude that several Orthodox embody and what these particular people expected of me. I recall Frank Schaeffer saying in a few of his lectures that “salvation is a mystery” to the Orthodox. Many of the Orthodox that I have known agree with this notion…as long as you are becoming Orthodox. If not, then salvation is no longer so mysterious…because you aren’t acquiring it. As I mentioned before, Kallistos Ware is known for saying that Orthodoxy is a “fuller version of the faith.” Again, many of the Orthodox people that I know would agree as long as you are on your way to becoming Orthodox. If this is not the case, the lesser version of the faith is actually no faith at all. As Metropolitan John Zizioulas notes, “As the late Fr Georges Florovsky likes to repeat, the authentic catholicity of the Church must include both the West and the East.4” Many of the Orthodox that I have known would, again, agree with such a statement as long as the “West” mentioned here is Orthodoxy in the West, not the actual Western Church itself.   

At this point I want to iterate a very important caveat. I am not seeking to critique all Orthodox Christians here. This is not a reaction to the whole of Orthodoxy, but to my very limited interaction with it. Many people who have interacted with Orthodoxy or even converted in this community have stories that are vastly different from my own and I fully acknowledge that. I am not looking to mount a critique against the Eastern Orthodox Church but against an attitude within parts of the Eastern Orthodox community that I have had direct personal contact with. I also know that Orthodox readers will react in a few different ways. Some will truly believe that I am a heretic and am doing nothing more than spouting off a bunch of delusional rubbish. Others will understand where I am coming from (even if they disagree with me on several points) because they have seen similar trends within the Orthodox fold and they lament such tendencies. They will say, “This is unfortunate because this is not the way Orthodoxy is meant to be.” Let me be clear, again, I am not seeking to launch a full-on attack of the Eastern Orthodox Church. I am simply seeking to share my own story because I think it is good for Eastern Orthodox readers out there to hear it, whether they agree with me or not. I also write this for my Western Christian friends who have been shamed by our Eastern brothers and sisters for finding Christ in the Western Church, and for choosing to continue to pursue him there. I know people who have been hurt very deeply by the dismissive and spitefully elitist attitudes of loved ones who have converted to Orthodoxy.  

With all that I have said so far, you can probably imagine that some of the recent happenings within the Orthodox world have been fairly unsettling for me. I have been reading about all of the controversy leading up to the recent Council in Crete and the subsequent aftershock which followed it. The reaction towards Crete within the Orthodox world, especially in terms of section 6 of the text “Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World,” really bothers me. Here is what I am talking about. This was written by a Metropolitan before the Council ever convened:

“The Orthodox Church of Christ never lost the ‘unity of faith and the communion of the Holy Spirit’ and does not accept the theory of the restoration of the unity of those “who believe in Christ,” because it believes that the unity of those who believe in Christ already exists in the unity of all of Her baptized children, between themselves and with Christ, in Her correct faith, where no heretics or schismatics are present, for which reason She prays for their return to Orthodoxy in repentance.5

My heart sunk even further as I read about the reaction from Mt. Athos as well (remember, my favorite book is “St. Silouan the Athonite”). The monks there believe that the Patriarch of Constantinople to be facilitating the “pan-heresy of ecumenism.6

It is a weird and utterly off-putting notion for me; that in order to pursue unity with the Orthodox my “schismatic” and “heretical” self has to convert, especially whenever I personally never left the membership of any Orthodox parish to begin with. Furthermore, whenever I recognize the grace of Christ within your tradition while you denounce God’s grace within my own, it doesn’t give me the impression that I am the one being schismatic.

I can’t help but reflect upon the writings of St. Ignatius of Antioch as I read through and hear about much of the Orthodox world’s negative reaction to some of the conclusions of the Council in Crete. I sense that a lot of this negative outburst finds its origin in the writings of St. Ignatius (how could it not?).  Others quote him directly to support their claims. While I get that St. Ignatius writes that the churches should “do nothing without the bishop”and be on their guard against the heretics who break themselves off, I can’t help but think that the context is quite a bit different in today’s world than the one in which Ignatius was living.

For one, the early Church was quite united already under the teachings of the Apostles and the establishment of the elders. This is vastly different from today’s world. There was no such thing as denominations back then. So, one had to be proactively and intentionally divisive if they wanted to sever off from the Church and go their own way.    

In addition to this, the divisions that existed back then between the bishops and the heretics were quite a bit more severe than the divisions which exist between the Orthodox bishops and the Western Church today. Listen to how St. Ignatius describes the heretics of his day:

“For they speak of Christ, not that they may preach Christ, but that they may reject Christ; and they speak of the law, not that they may establish the law, but that they may proclaim things contrary to it. For they alienate Christ from the Father, and the law from Christ. They also calumniate His being born of the Virgin; they are ashamed of His cross; they deny His passion; and they do not believe His resurrection. They introduce God as a Being unknown; they suppose Christ to be unbegotten; and as to the Spirit, they do not admit that He exists. Some of them say that the Son is a mere man, and that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are but the same person, and that the creation is the work of God, not by Christ, but by some other strange power.8

I personally do not know of any Western Christians, Catholic or Protestant, who would adhere themselves to any point of this heretical tradition as described by St. Ignatius.  Given that this is the case, perhaps the word “heretic” needs to be reconsidered just a bit.  I sincerely hope that my Orthodox friends can see that the wedge which divides us Western Christians from their bishops is much less severe than the divisive issues that St. Ignatius is speaking of.  

Lastly, there is a double standard in the perspective of those who desire to withhold unity from us Western Christians. I don’t understand how those who don’t adhere to the Orthodox bishop are somehow heretical whenever those who don’t observe the one Eucharist that St. Ignatius speaks of are not.

“Take ye heed, then, to have but one Eucharist. For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup to show forth the unity of His blood; one altar; as there is one bishop, along with the presbytery and deacons, my fellow-servants: that so, whatsoever ye do, ye may do it according to the will of God.9

Metropolitan John Zizioulas elaborates further:

“As the combination of the existing fragmentary liturgical evidence of the first centuries allows us to know, the ‘whole Church’ dwelling in a certain city would ‘come together’ mainly on a Sunday to ‘break bread.’ This synaxis would be the only one in that particular place in the sense that it would include the ‘whole Church.10

Is there one Eastern Orthodox eucharist within a region under the headship of one Eastern Orthodox bishop, or do we often find multiple eucharists under multiple bishops in a region? Do not the various jurisdictions (OCA, ROCOR, Antiochian, Greek, Romanian, Serbian, etc.) have their own churches within close proximity to one another that celebrate their own eucharistic services under the oversight of their own bishops? Within my own city (St. Louis) I know that all of the various parishes do not come together for the Eucharistic Liturgy, but rather do their own thing on Sundays. Is this not contrary to what St. Ignatius is instructing us in? Does this embody the oneness that he speaks of whenever Orthodox churches are divided along lines of ethnicity?

Delving further in terms of the office of Bishop:

“The office of bishop in the early Church is essentially that of the president of the Eucharistic assembly. All the liturgical and canonical elements in the ordination of a bishop presuppose the primitive situation whereby there was in each city Church—one bishop (all bishops’ names in the early Church, beginning with the times of Ignatius of Antioch, bear connection with a particular city), who was surrounded by the college of presbyters (he was in fact one of the presbyters himself) and was called “presbyter” for a long time (cf. Irenaeus). What the emergence of the parish did was to destroy this structure, a destruction which affected not only the episcopal office but also that of the presbyter. For it meant that from then on the eucharist did not require the presence of presbyters as a college—an essential aspect of the original significance of the presbyterium—in order to exist as local Church. An individual presbyter was thus enough to create and lead a eucharistic gathering—a parish. Could that gathering be called ‘Church’?11

Zizioulas goes on to argue here and elsewhere (he touches on the subject in all of his books that I have read) that whenever the ancient Church shifted from having two different types of services (Dom Gregory Dix refers these services as the Synaxis Service and the Eucharistic Service; J.J. Von Allmon refers to them as The Service of the Word and the Service of the Eucharist), much was compromised liturgically and ecclesiologically that has affected the entirety of Christendom. Thus, to reiterate and rephrase the question with which Zizioulas ends that last quote: Can any of us really call our gatherings “Church” whenever they stand in stark contrast to how things were done in the ancient Church?  

Zizioulas also elaborates on the liturgical shifts that have affected Orthodoxy throughout the ages in his book, “The Eucharistic Communion and the World.12”  While he acknowledges that “the form of the Liturgy and all the services is preserved with almost complete faithfulness and exactitude,” he also urges his readers to think through the changes from Byzantine times “which had an indirect and destructive influence on the iconic symbolism of the Liturgy.”  He then goes on to note four changes:

a) The skevophylakion disappeared from the churches, altering the symbolism behind the Little and Great Entrances.

b) The distinctions between the episcopal and presbyterial liturgies dissolved.

c) Because of the adoption of individualistic and rationalistic attitudes, he says: “We Orthodox have come to the point of not knowing what to do with our Liturgy and our Tradition.  Those who kiss the icons or the priest’s hand do it out of habit, without knowing why, and under the mocking gaze of those who know better.”  By this he means that there are some who have been so swayed by the Enlightenment within Orthodoxy that much of the symbolism in Orthodox worship has become, “pious naivete,” “nonsense,” “superstition,” and “magic” to those who “know better.”

d) Piety has taken over much of the Orthodox world, thus stripping much of the grandeur of the eschatological symbolism in the Liturgy down to simpler forms.  He gives the examples of how people prefer country chapels over the cathedrals, prayers read rather than prayers chanted, modest vestments rather than elaborately decorated ones.

I am not trying to make an elaborate argument against Eastern Orthodox theology or ecclesiology. For one, Western Christianity falls quite short of St. Ignatius’ teaching here as well. Secondly, Metropolitan Zizioulas is already critiquing his own tradition from within it; I don’t wish to add anything (nor am I qualified to do so), but just to point out what he has already said.

I simply want to ask those Orthodox who would deem me a heretic and not worthy of being reunited with: “Why do I (and other Western Christians) need to follow St. Ignatius’s writings whenever it comes to the teaching on the bishops, but you do not need to follow his teaching and the teaching of other Church Fathers whenever it comes to observing the one Eucharist under the one bishop?  How are Western Christians heretics and deviants of Tradition when the Orthodox Church has also not been entirely faithful in terms of maintaining the original mode of worship of the ancient Church, as noted by its own prominent theologians?”

As I come to a close, I suppose I also want to address the notion that is emphasized by many Orthodox today, that the Divine Liturgy has been handed down in an unaltered way throughout the ages.  I often hear the claim that the Apostle Paul or any of the other Apostles would readily recognize the modern Orthodox liturgy.  I completely agree that there is much in the Eastern liturgies that ancient Christians would readily recognize.  The same could also be said of the traditional Western Rites as well.  I do think that the Orthodox need to be challenged in their perspective on this a bit, though.  As we see in Zizoulas’ notes above, things have not remained completely unchanged by time. We Westerners are not the only ones who have wavered from the ancient ways, nor are we the only ones who have innovated the traditions we’ve received:

One Orthodox worship service on Sunday mornings is not the two services of the ancient Church.  Something was changed by merging them together.

Letting the catechumens remain in the service is not the same as dismissing them.

Multiple Bishops in one city does not equate with the one Bishop in ancient Christendom, and multiple Eucharists in one city is not the same as having one Eucharist under one Bishop in one city.

Removing the ancient processionals for the sake of convenience or time is not the same as keeping them.

Altering the motions of the Entrances is not the same as leaving them unaltered.


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TJ Humphrey

TJ Humphrey

TJ is a student at Nashotah House Theological Seminary and aspiring to be ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church. He is an avid reader, especially in works that deal with relational ontology, liturgical theology, and the ecclesial life of the Church. For fun, TJ loves to spend time with his family, travel, go backpacking in the mountains, watch a good hockey game, sip on a good bourbon, and geek out with a good theology book.

  • walter

    I see you’re from St. Louis, I”m an orthodox seeker from Westco, and i have to say your experience is similar in that the orthodox laity themselves had the elitist view. But i will say the Priest of the parish i go to chastised me for denying the Holy Spirit’s work in my becoming a Christian in the Reformed Tradition.

  • Alexandra

    This post made me so sad for you brother. In your experience you could not fully accept the true faith because you felt lowered and bashed by others as not having been a Christ loving man, someone with true faith. So in the end, you have chosen pride and your family instead of the true faith in the Holy Trinity. I am sorry you gave up this amazing opportunity. It is sad that you believe that converts to Orthodoxy are poster children for all things anti-west. It is not about disowning anything, it is about discovering what you have been living is not the ultimate truth. If you saw the differences between your Episcopalian faith and the True Church, then you may have seen where they were coming from. It is also sad that your wife led you into false thoughts, of how you should not convert because you did not feel appreciated enough by people…. People!… That you met along the way. I hope one day your heart will soften. May God have mercy and save you! Keep on your journey!

  • Nate Herrick

    Wow..thanks for this.

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  • Wonderful food for thought! Glad to see all of the comments here, and that TJ’s piece has generated a follow-up (https://www.conciliarpost.com/theology-spirituality/do-you-have-to-be-anti-western-to-be-eastern-orthodox/ ). I pray that this discussion generated continues to edify all readers.

    Here’s a thought I’d like to add: Sam Granger mentioned the heresy of Montanism in his original response to TJ (https://medium.com/@samwisegrangee/why-didnt-you-convert-to-orthodoxy-70b9a6edb67b ; Sam’s piece is likely to be published in revised form on our site–stay tuned). Sam brings up Montanism in order to show the error in “disregarding the Church’s truth because of her members’ failure to live this truth.” There is, however, another heresy worthy of mention that falls under the other extreme: Donatism. In a nutshell, Donatism means being so rigorous in your belief that *only* your Church has the truth, that you close off from the rest of the Church as a whole–i.e. from the Church “catholic.” The Donatists (North Africa, fourth and fifth centuries AD), for example, would not recognize the validity of Baptism in Catholic parishes, and would not forgive priests who had turned over sacred books to authorities during persecution.

    TJ is not a Montanist and Sam is not a Donatist. The reason I bring up these two poles is to show the extreme that each must avoid … and to attempt to show that–perhaps–each of my two friends are really attacking heresies in the abstract rather than one another in the concrete.

    Allow me to illustrate. TJ makes a valid point against the Donatist mentality when he states: “I couldn’t pronounce other Christians as being estranged from God’s Kingdom while believing that I was in.” Sam, on the other hand, makes a valid point against the Montanism when he says: “There are ethnic Orthodox who don’t know why they do what they do … There are convert Orthodox who can’t live the life of the church because they’re too busy judging what people do in other churches. But neither case diminishes the reality of the Church nor my responsibility to live the Christian life insofar as I’ve been awakened to it.”

    Let us continue to be patient with one another, and attempt to dialogue *with* rather than *past* each other’s voices.

    As a second comment, allow me to bring up TJ’s phrase: “The early Church was quite united already under the teachings of the Apostles and the establishment of the elders.” While this is true in one sense–particularly with reference to oral tradition and the *way of life* handed down by Christ to his apostles (and by the apostles to their followers)–it must also be stated that Christianity in its earliest forms had not yet developed the boundary-lines for Orthodoxy and Heresy that we associate with major ecumenical councils (e.g. Nicaea, Ephesus, Chalcedon). As Walter Bauer has shown (https://www.amazon.com/Orthodoxy-Heresy-Earliest-Christianity-Walter/dp/0962364274 ), there was a great diversity of beliefs and practices in the EC, and the process of determining “who was in and who was out” was long, arduous, and often political.

    That being noted, I’d like to end with an extended quotation from the Catholic decree on ecumenism, “Unitatis Redintegratio.” I’d encourage you all to read the quote, if not the whole document (http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decree_19641121_unitatis-redintegratio_en.html ). To me–and I’ll admit, I’m biased–it seems that this document carves out a clear path forward, and shows how Rome succeeds (implicitly) in avoiding some of TJ’s critiques. I cannot stress how important I think this paragraph is!

    “Even in the beginnings of this one and only Church of God there arose certain rifts, which the Apostle strongly condemned. But in subsequent centuries much more serious dissensions made their appearance and quite large communities came to be separated from full communion with the Catholic Church – for which, often enough, men of both sides were to blame. The children who are born into these Communities and who grow up believing in Christ cannot be accused of the sin involved in the separation, and the Catholic Church embraces upon them as brothers, with respect and affection. For men who believe in Christ and have been truly baptized are in communion with the Catholic Church even though this communion is imperfect. The differences that exist in varying degrees between them and the Catholic Church – whether in doctrine and sometimes in discipline, or concerning the structure of the Church – do indeed create many obstacles, sometimes serious ones, to full ecclesiastical communion. The ecumenical movement is striving to overcome these obstacles. But even in spite of them it remains true that all who have been justified by faith in Baptism are members of Christ’s body and have a right to be called Christian, and so are correctly accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church.”

    • lots to think here! Really appreciated this comment!!!

      I think the emphasis on love and charity, while having differences in Christian faith traditions is really important, vital even…. While I am EO by choice and conviction, I also know that people come to different conclusions and that my ‘job’ is to seek to love all as Christ and to be united to Christ more and more (I pray!) as time goes on. I think a lot of understanding of how we are not to ‘convert’ each other to our point of view as much as really listening to each other and accepting that there are real (and possibly even impassable) differences (i.e. a difference/s that create an impasse) between us but that yet we are all Christians and love and worship the one same God, One in Trinity and in Essence…

  • Ted Perantinides

    THIS IS ONE WRITING ALL ORTHODOX PRIESTS SHOULD READ TO THEIR CONGREGATIONS.THIS IS A TRUE AND HONEST ARTICLE.

  • Cutty

    TJ,

    You said in a response earlier that many were voicing a side of Orthodoxy you hadn’t really encountered. Perhaps a saner, more irenic voice than is often heard from Orthodoxy. In light of that, I would like to point out an additional area of Orthdoxy that you are perhaps familiar with, but maybe not, and that is Western Orthodoxy. I am an Orthodox Christian whose entire experience of Orthodoxy has been from firmly within the Western Christian tradition, and I don’t merely mean the first millennium. I mean my parish (and many others like it) are rooted in the Anglican tradition, from our liturgy, to our hymnal, to our Morning & Evening prayer, yet we are in full communion with the Orthodox Church. In this context we celebrate our tradition and our culture, we don’t denigrate it or reject it, rather we see Orthodoxy as the natural home and fulfillment of *all* of it. We are Orthodox *because* of our tradition, not in spite of it.

    I don’t say this to imply your experiences haven’t been real or that your response isn’t justified. But to encourage you to continue exploring Orthodoxy knowing that there is more there than meets the eye.

  • My Husband wanted also to comment, but does not have a discus account, so I am commenting on his behalf. I do realize Tj that you are moving and not reading this immediately. Here, however is my husband’s comment, with his blog URL at the end:

    My husband (an Orthodox sub-deacon who grew up CRC wrote this):
    You ran into a few too many Hyperdox Herman’s and that’s a pity. I’m with Metropolitan Kallistos—I believe become Orthodox was the fulfillment of the good that I knew in Protestantism–the goodness that led both [of my] grandfathers to risk their lives resisting the Nazis and hiding people and my one grandfather in particular to spending a good amount of time each day doing Bible study. I would never say that was all darkness. It was incomplete, but it was suffused with a love for Christ. It led to a courage to take a stand for justice and mercy that I do not know that I would have.

    I will say though that much that I loved seems to be decaying. The new scriptural translations written by those with very limited poetic sense may be more accurate in some senses than the KJV or the Douay-Rheims, but they lack their grandeur. The memorization of scriptures seems to be much less frequent than it once was. Many Protestant denominations seem intent on dismantling the moral consensus that pretty much all Christians accepted seventy-five years ago. There are many devout Protestants and Catholics still despite this decline. The faithful seem to frequently be better than their pastors and denominational movers and shakers. I rejoice to see anyone who holds onto what Lewis called Mere Christianity. I enjoy reading writers from a variety of ecclesiastical traditions in Touchstone. And I remember that frequently in church history, decline is followed by dramatic revival. Men like St. Boniface have effected much change for good in relatively barren conditions. It can happen again. I pray that it will happen again. Only real revival throughout Christendom can bring about reunion.

    I hope you will meet other Orthodox who are less strident.
    http://bookscultureandlife.blogspot.com/

  • [Note: I wrote this below with the understanding of your current service and being a CRC pastor, it seem that you are leaving the CRC to become Anglican; I am going to leave what I wrote as I wrote it, but wanted to make that clear that I wrote it without knowing your change of liturgical direction, Church affiliation, etc. It does, however change a lot of my understanding of who you are and where you are going, not only in what you already understand but in what you are willing to undertake. Please keep in mind that when I wrote this, I had no idea of the huge change you are undertaking. Side note: My friend who gave me my first ride to my first Orthodox church is still Anglican and very aligned with what I see the school you are going to is trying to do. I was at her wedding 2 or so summers back and she and her friends were delightfully classical and Christian, so I get where you are at or aiming to be at. However, I am keeping what I wrote it ‘as is’ in part because it seems to be the only way to answer what you actually wrote as opposed to what you choose to conceal.]

    My husband pointed out that you are in the CRC church. We both came from CRC backgrounds, but you could say that I am a CRC (former) ‘pharisee of ‘pharisees’ (as St Paul said of himself about his Jewish roots). I grew up in Western MI, went to CRC school and church from Kindergarten-2nd year of college. I learned to swim at Calvin as a girl. To this day I am deeply thankful to God for such a wonderful, unified Christian upbringing. My parents have virtues that I still do not have in myself and I really respect them. My sister and her husband were (Protestant) missionaries to Romania, which, as you know is an Orthodox country. While we may not agree on things, I still hold my sister and brother-in-law with great respect for the love and care they have demonstrated there to orphans and now as urban missionaries in the States.

    I become Orthodox about 12+ years ago, by way of experience more than study, though I did read various books. I am sorry for the personal experience you have had; you clearly met a lot of ‘hyperdox hermans’ as we like to call them. Actually Ancient Faith Radio often ran a ‘blurb’ (for us Orthodox) about a convert who was bashing his Protestant upbringing and the Bishop finally asked him ‘did you become Orthodox so you can hate? And then said you should appreciate your upbringing and thank God for it; he went further to say that you can ‘baptise’ everything and bring it with you. While perhaps you do not like the ‘baptise’ part, the message he said is clear: take everything that is God-loving, God-honouring and bring it with you.

    You love a lot of the writers I love within Orthodoxy and have clearly read a lot and it has really enriched you. It’s wonderful to meet Christians who are willing to go outside of what they know to learn more about ways Christianity is practiced. I have a family member, who I love dearly, who asked me “Why are you leaving the faith?” when I was becoming Orthodox. So thank you for your openness. I am so sorry you have not experienced the same kindness that you were offering within yourself when looking at Orthodoxy as an option.

    I wanted to touch on a few things you wrote:

    First, here, you write:

    “In addition to this, the divisions that existed back then between the bishops and the heretics were quite a bit more severe than the divisions which exist between the Orthodox bishops and the Western Church today. Listen to how St. Ignatius describes the heretics of his day:

    “For they speak of Christ, not that they may preach Christ, but that they may reject Christ; and they speak of the law, not that they may establish the law, but that they may proclaim things contrary to it. For they alienate Christ from the Father, and the law from Christ. They also calumniate His being born of the Virgin; they are ashamed of His cross; they deny His passion; and they do not believe His resurrection. They introduce God as a Being unknown; they suppose Christ to be unbegotten; and as to the Spirit, they do not admit that He exists. Some of them say that the Son is a mere man, and that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are but the same person, and that the creation is the work of God, not by Christ, but by some other strange power.8”
    I personally do not know of any Western Christians, Catholic or Protestant, who would adhere themselves to any point of this heretical tradition as described by St. Ignatius. Given that this is the case, perhaps the word “heretic” needs to be reconsidered just a bit. I sincerely hope that my Orthodox friends can see that the wedge which divides us Western Christians from their bishops is much less severe than the divisive issues that St. Ignatius is speaking of.”

    Sadly it needs to be said that I do believe that you friends are wrong in dismissing you and other Christians as ‘heretics’ in the way that you are using St. Ignatius is writing. Any pride and elitism in any Christian church is wrong. (I knew the CRC/ RCA division and its elitism and even of one Dutch Grandmother of a friend, God bless her, who did not like Dutch people who were from Friesland!). I must say, however, that in your efforts to show why the elitism you found in Orthodox people is wrong, you are not accounting for the whole picture of the Christian world, esp.in the West. While, thank the Lord, there are many Christians who still believe in Christ and His Resurrection, I know there are those who call themselves ‘Christians’ who have ceased to believe in Christ, His Resurrection and the Virgin Birth. You have not taken into account a lot of the more liberal Christianity as it were, such as the Anglican Bishop Robinson of the 1960 who quested the Virgin Birth and Second Coming of Christ (http://www.nytimes.com/1983/12/07/obituaries/john-robinson-bishop-dies-at-64.html). Bishop Spong came after Robinson and continued in dismantling many Christian tenants, sadly like St. Ignatius was describing. I was never confirmed in the Anglican church, but attended one for a couple of years. It was the Anglican Bishop there who, when I did go to an Orthodox church and meet an Orthodox Bishop, convinced me to ‘jump ship’ as the Anglican Bishop was continuing the liberal tradition I just mentioned above. [ have Anglican friends who are in conservative pockets of Anglicanism who are trying to preserve what these Bishops were and are destroying].

    For me, I became Orthodox in part because I found a Church who was not dismantling the fundamental Christian beliefs and because I had come to believe in the Eucharist as ‘real’ and that the IS in John ch 6 simply means ‘is’. I was living in BC Canada when I first ‘discovered’ Orthodoxy and it was the kind Bishop and priest there who were such examples of both hospitality and love while keeping the truth of Christ and the Church beliefs unbroken. I am sorry you did not experience the same hospitality.

    On another note: I think you are missing something in your (understandable, normal) reaction to being ‘evangelized’. Yes, of course you don’t need to be introduced to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, or at this point, some basic Church history, as you enjoy reading it. You don’t need to be ‘made’ a Christian or need training in the beliefs that you quoted St. Ignatius speaking on. However, the Orthodox Church (and the Roman Catholic on this point) do have a different view on some fairly basic things. The one I would say is most easy to see and one of the most important is the difference in belief of Holy Communion, or as we would also say, the Eucharist. I went to catechism class at my CRC church in my teen years and of course there are Adult Sunday School classes. I studied the Heidelberg Catechism, Canons of Dort, etc. These all are about teaching the faith right? Well, if the Orthodox Church is true to their beliefs, they would also offer teaching on them. And the Eucharist is a fairly clear ‘dividing line’ of difference in belief. I know the CRC well and I know Orthodoxy well and they believe fundamentally different things in terms of what the Scripture means in John ch 6 plus the words later by St. Paul on the Lord’s Supper/the Eucharist. Please, in your upset about how you were treated, don’t fail to see that it would be the calling of both the CRC and the the Orthodox Church to teach according to their beliefs. If the Orthodox Church is ‘right’ on their views (i.e. the Eucharist), it could be hard to know what to do with it. It’s pretty hard to ever deal with the possibility of what you thought to be true may not be so. It’s great that you have been open in this way, it’s appreciated and the struggle too!

    I want to touch on this as well:

    “Is there one Eastern Orthodox eucharist within a region under the headship of one Eastern Orthodox bishop, or do we often find multiple eucharists under multiple bishops in a region? Do not the various jurisdictions (OCA, ROCOR, Antiochian, Greek, Romanian, Serbian..etc.) have their own churches within close proximity to one another that celebrate their own eucharistic services under the oversight of their own bishops? Within my own city (St. Louis) I know that all of the various parishes do not come together for the Eucharistic Liturgy but they all do their own thing on Sundays. Is this not contrary to what St. Ignatius is instructing us in? Does this embody the oneness that he speaks of whenever Orthodox churches are divided along lines of ethnicity?”

    I feel that you need to be more patient with the American Orthodox situation. We are all pretty much aware of this and it is merely situational as it were; it’s what America is, almost everyone here is from somewhere else culturally and they bring where they are from with them. There are 2 things you may be missing here. 1. We who are Orthodox can commune at any Orthodox church. I have communed at all the church jurisdictions you mentioned and more; I have, by virtue of moves, been a member of 5 churches in 5 different jurisdictions. I have gone to various monasteries and am currently serving with my husband at a very traditional jurisdiction. I mention this to show you that 1. We are not all ‘hyperdox hermans’ and 2. The Orthodox Church is still one and shares one Chalice universally, as it were. It is beautiful that there are so many ethnic traditions within Orthodoxy; there is a wonderful freedom in this way that you may not be seeing, perhaps because of how you were hurt by zealous people.

    2nd point here: It’s good to realize how Orthodoxy has changed – you are right. I would say this does not upset us, though, but makes the history of the liturgical changes quite fascinating. Have you read _The Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy_ By Fr Alexander Schmemann? I loved that one esp. because it also did not gloss over times the Orthodox church made mistakes, historically speaking. This actually helped me trust the Orthodox Church more, as I find anyone/anything that will not admit mistake/s to be false/untrustworthy. The Orthodox Church doctrines are what we would say have not changed, not liturgical practice. As you know, Saints like St. Gregory Palamas have further refined understandings that the earlier fathers were writing on. The form of Orthodoxy, in terms of liturgical changes, have happened and I don’t see that this takes away from Orthodoxy or it’s doctrinal claims.

    Lastly, I don’t know if you realize how hurt you have been by being treated as you have. There was a point in my life, early on in Orthodoxy, that I was hurt in similar ways, by well meaning but zealous people who needed to calm down a bit. Thank God I soon after met a very good priest and confessor who helped me through that. In time I was able to get past the hurt because I was loved out of it and accepted where I was, with all my questions/hurt. This helped me to gain perspective (took some time!!!), to let it go and to forgive. Think of your beloved St. Silouan and his father, who he said was a deep example of a Starez. The Father had such silence and love, doing a simple reproach to his son months later. It’s hard when we meet people who are not like that, but we are all to see ourselves as spiritual beginners. To be honest, esp. for converts, it can take a while for them to get to a point where love and hospitality to take root at the same level as their excitement. St. Silouan’s father was at a very high level spiritually speaking.

    To be able to see Orthodoxy in a different light than you do now (which you may or may not want or choose to do), I think you would have to be healed of the hurt first. And that can take a while. It’s very painful to feel so failed by what one was once so excited about; it’s hard even for us who have been Orthodox a long time to realize that people in their own church/es, including oneself, are so wounded spiritually, etc. However, the Orthodox Church is a place for sinners and while painful to be the one who experiences fallout from another’s struggle, one can regain peace and have healing in time. I would agree with the priest and monk you spoke to, that if Orthodoxy is creating such unrest within you, it is not for you at this point, maybe later, maybe not. I think it is fair (at least in some ways) to point out the failings that you have seen in the untoward. It’s good to realize where one fails and what to try NOT to do to others. Of course, as you yourself alluded to, your experience is limited to the people you have met; Orthodoxy is a lot bigger and better than only those you have met up to this point. May God bless you! Thank you again for your honesty and openness to other Christian traditions.

    • Well said, Elizabeth. If you ever want to write an article for Conciliar Post, let me know.:)

      • Hi Moses Benjamin (do you prefer to be called ‘Ben’?). I would be honoured to write an article (or two!) for Conciliar Post. Can you write me here, at my blog address: roosjeblog AT yahoo DOT CA (not COM) and I will then switch you over to my personal email account. I have some things coming up that you may appreciate for Conciliar Post. I appreciate the tone I see here and the emphasis of being a Christian and kind in dialogue. God bless!

    • Thanks for this edifying, thoughtful, and empathetic comment; I’m sure TJ also appreciates your close engagement with his article, and careful citation of his points. We look forward to publishing your first piece on Conciliar Post, soon, Elizabeth!

      • Thanks Benjamin! I appreciate your appreciation! Am excited to be part of this via publication as well! 🙂

  • Daniel Vasquez

    “why do I (and other Western Christians) need to follow St. Ignatius’s writings whenever it comes to the teaching on the bishops but you do not need to follow his teaching and the teaching of other Church Fathers whenever it comes to observing the one Eucharist under the one bishop?

    The consensus of the Orthodox world is that we do need to follow that teaching. Implementing it will happen, it is a matter of how and when. The difference is that the Orthodox world admits that the way we are doing things is wrong, and seeks dialogue as to how to fix it. The west does no such thing in terms of reuniting itself with the succession of bishops.

  • Meg Photini Engelbach

    I’m sorry for the triumphalism you’ve experienced! I had to work through the temptation to demonize “the west” too; thankfully I could never enclose myself in an Orthodox ghetto and let the groupthink take control.

    Just a minor quibble on one of your points: contemporary liturgical scholarship disagrees with Dix about there being two services in the early Church; there was only one, the Eucharist with the proclamation of the Word. [trying to remember where I read this in order to give you a citation]

    I’m sure you’ve realized that the old Latin Mass is indeed less evolved from its origin than the Byzantine Divine Liturgy. The “West” has us beat on that point…

  • Tj Humphrey

    Hi everyone,

    Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with me. I want to let you all know that my family and I will be in the process of moving over the next week. So, I will be unavailable for a bit. Thanks again. God bless.

  • Todd MacLean

    Hi TJ- thanks for your article.

    Just one quick question for you: how long was your journey in total from the time you picked up the book by Kallistos Ware to the time that you realized that Orthodoxy had “lost” you?

    Thank you.

    • Tj Humphrey

      Hi Todd,

      I don’t remember exactly. Somewhere in the ballpark of 5 to 6 years.

  • As a Reformed pastor, did you not have issues with the synergism inherent to Orthodox soteriology? Or Mariology? I can get over various ways the institution does not live up to its own standards – as a UMC I’ve perhaps grown too accustomed to it – but I’m curious how someone who can go with the Orthodox on all of its major points of doctrine can stay Protestant?

    I share your fascination with the East and concern with some elements of it. FWIW, the class I had in seminary on Orthodoxy (with an OCA priest) was a bit more honest about developments in the liturgy (we read Wybrew’s text) than what you describe.

    It seems, in practice, that humans are bad at being “pro-x” without also being equally “anti-y”. I do not see why embracing the East means a total rejection of all that is Western. There is a 1000 years of shared heritage that should be more than enough to see value on the other side of Christendom. But oh well.

    • Tj Humphrey

      Hi Drew,

      Yes, these things were topics that I wrestled with as well. Synergism and Mariology never bothered me as much. Once they were explained to me these dynamics made sense to me and I was open to learning more about them. There were other theological aspects that didn’t line up for me, though. I do not wish to share that here. My intention was to share my story, not spark a theological debate. So, I did have some issues with parts of Orthodox theology, but not the specific topics which you mentioned.

      A part of my story that is not mentioned in the post is that while I was exploring Orthodoxy I was also exploring Anglicanism. I am very well aware that Anglicanism, especially here in the States, is nothing short of a hot mess. The things that drew me to Orthodoxy also drew me to Anglicanism, though. They do not share some of the things that concern me theologically, however. I have found it to be a better fit for me communally and theologically.

  • Cam Davis

    TJ,

    Thank you for your article. I am adding my voice to those Orthodox Christians who sympathize with what you have said. One’s perspective of Orthodox Christianity tends to rely on the circles one falls into, either by chance or by choice. I am blessed to be part of a small Greek parish where I have never once encountered triumphalism or Western antipathy that is characteristic of some convert-heavy parishes. The “Orthodox” world I see in internet forums is much different than the faith I fell in love with. Multi-generational Orthodox Christians, especially Greeks, are often criticized for not knowing their own faith, but I often think that they understand the core ethos of the Orthodox faith in a way that many converts never will because they practice the faith as they observed it in their grandmothers and as a result it is more active than ideological.

    Another commenter asked why it is that Orthodox Christians don’t seem any better off if they have the best medicine. I have asked this question myself, as I know many Catholics, Protestants, and even non-Christians who seem to be far better Christians than many of the Orthodox Christians I know. My answer to this question is that having the best medicine is only useful if it is taken as directed. The Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft once warned listeners not to be the individual who chooses a lecture about heaven over heaven itself. Likewise, Orthodox Christians sometimes get too caught up in treating their faith like a hobby or academic project and forget that it is primarily a way of life. Furthermore, we can often get too wrapped up in the rules and practices themselves and forget the meaning and purpose behind them. Too often one’s Christian faith becomes a mere ideology and standard of judgment, just another way to divide “us” from “them.” This is a demonic distortion of the Way.

    Truth be told, I may have done exactly as you have had I a similar experience of Orthodox circles. To borrow references from the Brothers Karamazov, I pray that the future of Orthodox Christianity follows more in the footsteps of Elder Zosima than Fr. Ferapont.

  • Fr. Alexis

    “At this point I want to iterate a very important caveat. I am not seeking to critique all Orthodox Christians here. This is not a reaction to the whole of Orthodoxy, but to my very limited interaction with it…They will say, “This is unfortunate because this is not the way Orthodoxy is meant to be.” Let me be clear, again, I am not seeking to launch a full-on attack of the Eastern Orthodox Church. I am simply seeking to share my own story because I think it is good for Eastern Orthodox readers out there to hear it, whether they agree with me or not. I also write this for my Western Christian friends who have been shamed by our Eastern brothers and sisters for finding Christ in the Western Church and for choosing to continue to pursue him there. I know people who have been hurt very deeply by the dismissive and spitefully elitist attitudes of loved ones who have converted to Orthodoxy.”

    Glory to Jesus Christ!

    Dear TJ,

    I quick reflection on your article (and others like it which share the choice not to convert to the Church).
    In the movie Ostrov, Fr. Job and Fr. Anatoly have an exchange where, essentially, the sins of Fr. Job are indirectly revealed by Fr. Anatoly. He asks Fr. Job, “why did Cain kill Abel?” At a certain point, this causes Fr. Job much pain (whether due to his pride or other sin, this is irrelevant, actually). The pain is visible on the face of Fr. Job, who then replies to Fr. Anatoly “Don’t I know my own sin?” Truly, a rhetorical question to Fr. Anatoly (who is indeed a holy fool for Christ, one who sees the sins of others).

    But this particular scene stays with me. At times, it reminds me of a kind of revealing of one’s “dirty laundry”. A curious phase to me in one sense to me, because it means allowing people to see the worst or bad parts of yourself, those parts we want to be secret.

    On the one hand, no one, even us Orthodox in America, want our dirty laundry to be out for public view. On the other hand, we have always lived with our faults wide open. Reading the history of the Church, one cannot help but come into contact with that constant reality. Monks went into the desert for a reason. St. John Chrysostom was exiled twice for a reason. Arius was condemned for a reason. I think we might go on and on giving examples of this.

    Once a very holy and humble Bishop lived, revered for his piety by the people. On a certain day, a man from the village accosted him and slapped him in the face in front of the whole village. From that day, he prayed for the man, helped provide for his living and never once condemned the action.

    There was once a Bishop who, during the Divine Liturgy stopped, then addressed the crowd. “I must now take my vestments off. I have fallen into fornication with a woman in the town, I can no longer be your bishop or serve you,” he announced. He took off his vestments and began to leave, but was stopped by the crowd. Thronging him, they wailed and decried his admission. He replied that it was impossible to remain a bishop with the sin he committed, but they demanded he remain their bishop and serve them. Finally, he responded, “I will remain your bishop under one condition. First, you must leave the Church and stand outside. Then, I will lay down in the doorway. You all must trample on me, stepping on me as you re-enter the Church.” They all agreed and he laid in the doorway, all the people stepped on him as they re-enter the Church. When the last member re-entered, the Bishop arose, put his vestments back on and continued the Divine Liturgy.

    Indeed, the dirty laundry of our Church is found written for thousands of years and, no doubt, will continue to be written. Do we know it well? We need only to read I think, and listen to the lives of the Saints. What else could form our minds? Who ever else could shape our worldview but the very Lord Himself, Who in Love calls us to Communion with Him? Frankly, for myself, and all who would call themselves Christian, to approach Communion with God, to open my heart to His Love means I have to repent, my whole life has to be a movement away from sin and towards Christ: “O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power, and idle talk. But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant. Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions, and not to judge my brother, for blessed art Thou, unto ages of ages. Amen.”

    Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions, and not to judge my brother, for blessed art Thou, unto ages of ages.

    In Christ,

    Fr. Alexis Baldwin
    Priest at Holy Resurrection Mission North Augusta, SC

  • The other thing is: the article argues against Orthodoxy biased on the “worst” of Orthodox attitudes and triumphalistic comments. Something that has been decried by many Orthodox people for a long time. It seems to me it would be like me writing an article entitled “Why I Left Protestantism” based on the worst I saw and experienced in Protestantism (it was dark). But ultimately that’s not why I left. I left because, as the advice given you, Orthodoxy gave me peace and I really saw, and see, Christ in it. Even after seeing the “underbelly” of Orthodoxy.

    There will always be an underbelly. There will always be tares among the wheat. There will always be unChristian acting Christians who hurt others instead of governing their actions out of love in the Holy Spirit. But I’m not about to become an atheist because of it.

    Just a thought. Journey on.

    • Tj Humphrey

      I really wrestled with posting this article. I actually wrote it, had my Editor edit it, and then delayed in releasing it. I knew what I was getting myself into and I struggled with whether or not this was an important enough subject to attempt to bring up a dialogue about. Obviously, I made a choice. Whether or not it was the best one, time will tell.

      May I tell you what I have gotten out of this dialogue so far? Moses, you say that my critique is something, “that has been decried by many Orthodox people for a long time.” Fr. Alexis makes the point as well.

      That is truly wonderful. I am genuinely grateful for this. I just had never personally encountered this side of Orthodoxy until now. The reaction of the Orthodox within this conversation (for the most part) has been very different from the reactions of the Orthodox people I have conversed with in the past. You all have been the first to introduce me to this side of things and for that I am truly thankful.

  • Cutty

    TJ,

    Would this be a fair summation of your thoughts: The people I found in Orthodoxy weren’t what I expected or wanted them to be like, thus, I cannot join their ranks.

    • Tj Humphrey

      No, I don’t think so. It has more to do with an ethos, a worldview which seems to be articulated, or an attitude adopted. I have met several wonderful Orthodox people. I would even consider the people who are most vocal about their anti-western sentiments to be good people. At the end of the day, I just found myself saying, “I cannot do this with you all. I cannot embrace this ethos in good conscience.”

  • Dear TJ,

    I myself am an Eastern Orthodox Christian with a Reformed-turned-“progressive evangelical” background and entering into a MTS program at a Protestant Divinity school. I deeply resonate with your critiques, though there are a few points where we would differ. Nevertheless, despite the difficulties of (especially modern) Orthodox attitudes toward “the West” and developments regarding ecclesiology, I have decided to remain EO because, frankly, the alternatives aren’t much better. This may seem like a cop out answer, but when one switches traditions, one is simply trading in one list of issues for another list of issues. Theologically, I consider myself to be very Orthodox without the Western polemics (I know, very hard to imagine!). I am very thankful for my time with and grace shown to me during my time as Protestant, as many Protestant writers were the ones to actually push me in this direction.

    May you find peace wherever you go!

    • Tj Humphrey

      Hi Alvin,

      Thank you for sharing. I understand why you would remain EO, especially given the state of much of Protestantism right now. I don’t believe your thoughts to be a “cop out answer” at all. I think you are quite right.

      Thanks again!

    • Sam Granger

      Hey Alvin,

      I was both relieved and grieved to read this line in your comment: “Theologically, I consider myself to be very Orthodox without the Western polemics (I know, very hard to imagine!).” The relief comes from you clarifying an as-yet-unspoken point, i.e. that Orthodoxy doesn’t need dichotomy for its vitality. The grief comes with the fact that this point needs to be spoken at all.

      Have you read Marcus Plested’s Orthodox Readings of Aquinas? Here’s a section from a review I did on this great East-West work dealing with a lot of the unnecessary dichotomizing going on between the two traditions:
      “He blames this abruptly negative and deviant reading of Aquinas (and all things Western) largely on the Slavophile movement, which was exacerbated when Diaspora theologians encountered the stagnant Thomism of the early 20th Century and found Thomas to be a “convenient whipping boy” (194). This habit became at times a decrepit via negativa where an oppositional Orthodoxy began defining itself only by was it was not; this often resulted in a “theology of reaction” (206) or at worst, “little more than a faith constituted by anti-papalism” (184). Plested acknowledges that this paradigm of opposition reflects more modern culture than theology, because, “In a bipolar world, nothing seems more natural than a dichotomy” (225).”
      Full review here: https://hortulus-journal.com/2013/11/01/granger/

  • Sally Finck

    TJ thanks for writing this! In his response to you Sam writes …

    “Remember, even the most wretched Orthodox person still has the cycle of liturgical rites and hymnody to awaken his conscious and walk him through the mysteries of salvation; he has the sacramental life to correct and sustain him; he has priests, bishops, and spiritual elders to whom he can appeal with his concerns. If you’re outside of the Orthodox Church — even with your noblest intentions and your being steeped in patristic wisdom — you have none of this. You have a lot, but you don’t have this.”

    Sorry Sam, sounds elitist to my ears too. None of this?? I beg to differ. It seems to me Sam’s thinking is “you really can’t blame the individual faults for church teaching”. He claims the best hospital — so, why aren’t their patients really any better?

    My conclusion: you CAN have orthodoxy — and outside a formal orthodox church. Luther said you can have salvation outside the church, though not outside Christ. The fact is, church IS its people. The orthodox need better, deeper reasons if they are going to excuse their people for contaminating the bath water.

    • Hi Sally, you write: “He claims the best hospital — so, why aren’t their patients really any better?” What we must remember here is that we are talking about the worst aspects without a nod to the best aspects. Within whatever tradition you find yourself a part of you will always find “those people.” The question is not about “those people” but about the people who take the teaching seriously, follow it and Him (Christ) in humility, and seek transformation. There are some who have found healing and who, themselves, have demonstrated this with their luminous lives—lives that illuminate and guide people even today by their examples.

      I think this is why Sam is saying what he is saying and, really, why Kenneth is saying what Kenneth is saying. Kenneth’s comment here is really a summation of what Sam is trying to say.

      • Matthew Bryan

        Good point, Ben. Congregations of every stripe all appear to have their own share of elitists. Humility attracts.

    • Sam Granger

      Sally, please don’t misunderstand me.

      The things I described (hymnody and festal cycle, liturgical rites, sacraments, and apostolic authority) are simply not found outside the Orthodox Church.

      Lutherans have their things. Catholics have their things. Evangelicals have their things.

      But the things I described are unique to the Orthodox. That’s not elitist. That’s just the truth.

      Now that’s not to say one cannot pray, come to a knowledge Christ, live in communion of the Spirit with other believers. I emphasized that all Christians can do that.

      But there are some objective things that the Orthodox have that other traditions don’t, and we shouldn’t ignore those distinctions.

      • Sally Finck

        It’s true the orthodox are unique. I’ll point out I’m a confessional – I daresay orthodox – Lutheran. We have hymnody, feast days, liturgical rites and the sacraments with closed Eucharist too (not to mention the pipe organ and Bach’s legacy but I digress!)

        There are differences in all of those elements to each liturgical tradition (anglican, lutheran, catholic and orthodox). I like icons and early church artwork for example — but I don’t hold these in the same regard because things are defined very differently for the EO.

        A cousin of mine formally converted to the East about 8 years ago – though his own internal journey was much longer. I noticed that, though we were close growing up, orthodoxy seemed to change his (seemingly anyway) lighter personality to a more somber/solemn tone. The cousin I knew disappeared for a long while. I don’t know what caused the personality shift and it soured me deeper than I like admitting. I visited his orthodox parish July 31 (recognizing there’s no more unity in practice among the orthodox than my own stripe!) …

        I’d never say the EO don’t have salvation. For the Truth of Christ I say more power to you. People either have Christ or not — there’s really no middle. But the biggest reason I could never go east is a little less theological….

        As I listened and managed to sing 90% of the Kontakions with the eo parish, my western ears complained. I’m a concert pianist and a huge fan of renaissance motets, Palestrina, Morten Lauridsen, etc. After divine liturgy, I had to smile in telling my cousin “well — don’t let Tom within 500 yards of a byzantine choir!” Tom is another cousin … a violinist cursed with perfect pitch 😉

        Pax Christi

        • Sam Granger

          My family is German and I lived over there, so I do know there’s something divine about Bach’s music. 😉 Likewise, a few of us in our choir sing Byrd and Palestrina motets with a medieval choir in town. I love it all.

          You’re right: Byzantine tones don’t always jive with people with perfect pitch (although you need perfect pitch to implement them). My music friends are always shocked and intrigued by how our Zo (Ti) can be a hair sharp or a hair flat depending on if the phrase is ascending or descending.
          ———————————————————————————-
          But I really want to share something based on your description of your cousin’s “solemnity.” How you described the shadow cast across a convert’s face struck me. It’s an acute observation that I’ve seen before with friends and acquaintances who have become Orthodox, Catholic, born-again evangelicals, etc. There’s a kind of convert P.T.S.D.

          Usually it happens to someone who just converted. Usually a man. Usually conservative. Usually someone who’s tendency is to be a loner, or introvert.

          There are three major things I’ve noticed (to a degree) in my own experience and in my dealings with people certainly going through this:

          1. He found something really beautiful and he just wants someone else to care. He wants everyone to know that, finally, he “has found the true faith”; he has “received the heavenly Spirit” (as we say in Liturgy). Then no one does—for a variety of reasons: they think Orthodoxy is odd, they think he’s crazy, he’s not good at finding a new community or keeping up with hid old communities, his new community is fledgling, his old communities are falling apart, etc.

          When no one cares and everyone moves on with their business like his conversion never happened, the world seems a greater nemesis than when he started his process of conversion. Our priest preempts this whenever he received a new person into the church. In the prayers, the catechumen spits outside the doors of the church and renounces Satan, then we move on with rites of initiation. Then afterward, the priest gives a little “homily” to the congregation and says something like this, “Today ______ spat on, insulted, and renounced Satan in a new and visceral way. He has gained a new and fiercer enemy. If he tries to fight him alone, he will fail. We need to fight together, with our Lord who’s already victorious. Let’s love him, listen to him, and support him. For, alone we can do nothing.”

          2. When the convert sees this new vision of how good things can be, how holy people can become, how rich and lavish and natural the Christian life can be, he realizes that he (and our culture and even other Christians) are farther from the goal than he original thought back when he was an evangelical, a Catholic, a Buddhist, etc. Remember, this guy’s first goal was to find the church. Now that that’s done, he has to answer another question: “Now what?”

          That’s often harder, because it’s unsuspected. Particularly if they come from a tradition that erroneously stresses all the “prosperity” (read: “comfort”) that comes with Christianity. At some point every Orthodox convert needs to realize that Christianity doesn’t make things better by making them easier.

          3. He hasn’t let go of his past. Instead of beating a Bible, he’ll be a literalist with patristic literature. Instead of cranking Jars of Clay in his car, he’ll blare the Monks of Simonopetra. And even while he chants “Theotokos Save Us” louder than anyone in the church during Liturgy, still in his heart he wrestles with whether or not he’s paying the Mother of God *too* much attention. You see, in all of this stuff, he proclaims Orthodoxy’s answers, but his old tradition still poses all the questions.

          This isn’t wrong, nor is it a sign that we chose the wrong path. It’s just natural. Becoming part of a different tradition is like learning a new language. The first several times you utter the words they’re hollow, but we fill them with our experiences. In Orthodoxy we do things (πράξις) before we understand them (θεωρία): the meaning and significance of what we’re doing only comes after we’ve been doing it. Which is why Woody Allen says, “80 percent of life is just showing up.”

          We show up to learn how to pray. The first thing we must learn is that we don’t know how to pray. As the morning prayer of St Philathret ends, “Direct my will, teach me to pray. And pray Thyself in me.”

          But this is a vulnerable process, accompanied by seriousness and timidity. We’re unlearning and learning at the same time. Meanwhile, our friends and relatives might pose so many questions to us about our conversion to this unheard of religion that we’re subconsciously taking on their questions *and their personalities* into ourselves to prepare for the interrogation.
          ——-
          This tug of war between cultures, social circles, traditions, religions, can be really jarring depending on a person’s personality. Without patience with themselves and patience with conversion *as a process* that frustration will sour into something like anger or despair.

          While we always need to maintain clear intellectual boundaries between living this way and that way, between this tradition and that tradition, etc., we must be careful not to let our passions drive steer us through this cognitive dissonance. Those winds always blow towards the rocks.

          Thanks for prompting this reflection, Sally.

          • Cutty

            Incredible reflection Sam. Outstanding and completely on point. It articulated what I was thinking about as well, only much better. I hope this gets published somewhere.

          • This is excellent. Edit your article so that this is in it(!)

  • fr. nathaniel kidd

    TJ – Thank you so much for sharing. As a man who resonates deeply with Eastern traditions, theology, and spirituality, but ultimately grew up to become an Anglican priest, I can relate with a lot of what you share here, both in your experience, and how you’ve processed it.

    (Also, I don’t know how the headlining image for your post was selected, but I was tickled to notice that it’s the chapel at Nashotah House, where I went to seminary.)

    • Tj Humphrey

      Greetings Fr. Nathaniel. I am getting ready to become Anglican as well (Lord willing). I leave in less than a week for Nashotah House. That is why I selected the picture.

      • fr. nathaniel kidd

        Well then! We’ll have to chat. I’m in the area, at Marquette in Milwaukee, working on a doctorate under Marcus Plested, who is one of the leading figures right now working to ameliorate east-west issues by taking a closer look at some of the hackneyed dichotomies between the traditions. You may have heard of his “Orthodox Readings of Aquinas.”

        Drop me a note at nathaniel.kidd @ gmail.com, and I’ll come out and visit 😉

        • Tj Humphrey

          That sounds great! We are moving up there on Monday. I will contact you after we get settled in.

  • Phil Brown

    I am not as familiar with the Eastern Orthodox tradition other than what I have learned in some of the posts on this forum and from a Russian Orthodox family that I knew when I lived in Hot Springs, AR a few years ago. As far as the meeting times of the early church, the reason the Ante-Nicene church changed their times of worship was due to the Roman government’s laws. Sunday was typically a work day, so they first met at night. Then, the Roman government banned night meetings, so they moved it to Sunday morning before the work day began, hence Sunday morning worship service! My understanding of church history is that there is “no” tradition that exercises their services exactly like the early church. I imagine that you can find elements in each denomination that hold a semblance to the ancient persecuted church, which did meet primarily in houses for this reason. Of course, many houses had been donated to become churches if a rich convert gave up his nice dwelling, and I imagine the meeting place shifted locations from time to time. But, it wasn’t that way everywhere and a particular number of house churches is difficult to pin down. Another issue that needs to be considered is the mode of worship in church service. This drastically changed after Constantine legalized Christianity. Therefore, many of the formal traditions exercised via the liturgy in Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Lutheran (I was raised Lutheran), and many others in that realm follow that Constantinian tradition that developed after the persecuted church was no longer persecuted. The great schism didn’t occur until 1054, which is over 700 years after Constantine legalized Christianity. Much can happen in 700 years. It also was politically expedient to become a Christian after 313 A.D. when Constantine gave all of the property back to the Christians that had been seized. The early church seemed to be more organic in their mode of worship before 312 A.D. It was less formal. They focused more on the weightier matters of the law (Matthew 23:23). It isn’t that the way worship was done in the weekly meeting wasn’t important, it’s just that the way worship was done every day was more important.

  • Sam Granger
    • Tj Humphrey

      Greetings Sam. My thoughts on your response? Forgive me, but I was reminded of what motivated me to post this piece to begin with.

      • TJ – as someone from the outside looking at yours and Sam’s article (which will be posted here on CP in future days) it seems to me that Sam is saying the same thing as Kenneth and perhaps it comes across slightly more triumphalist because of your experience. This is to be expected and I hope the wounds will heal as you continue to search for God.

        I have a protestant friend, with whom I am very close, who could tell when I first saw the “underbelly” of Orthodoxy. That’s what he calls it—the “underbelly.” But it’s not Orthodox specific. “The underbelly” as he explained it will be seen, sooner or later, in whatever tradition you find yourself. My faith was shaken when I witnessed certain things within a specific Orthodox clergyman. But, by God’s grace, through prayer and entreaties, he raised me up again. And I will fall again and again – in sin and faithlessness – and again and again, provided I want and strive for it, the Lord will again raise me up.

        Forgive me.

    • Tj Humphrey

      Let me do more to explain my response:

      There is a lot that I wish to say. I will limit myself to three things, though.

      You say that one cannot understand Orthodoxy outside of a true relationship with Orthodoxy. A very fair point and I agree. My ministerial position over the past several years did not allow for me pursue Orthodoxy fully and I did not sense a release from the Lord to do so. You also use the metaphor of someone trying to fix someone’s marriage from the outside. I understand the point you are making. Again, I agree. What I don’t understand is this: how is that not what you are doing with me here? I may not seek to point out an issue but you are free to do so with me? I have merely shown concern. You, on the other hand, have sought to fix my perception of my concern. Please explain this to me. I cannot say that there is a problem here unless I am Orthodox? But, because you are Orthodox, you can confidently assess, diagnose and fix my issues as you see them? To use your marriage metaphor: true, it is not wise to seek to intervene and attempt to fix someone’s marriage. I would be a terrible friend, however, if I did not show concern whenever my friends are struggling in their marriage. “Concern” and “fixing” are two different things. In my article, I merely sought to bring up a concern that I have. I have not at any point sought to diagnose or fix things. I know very well that it is not my place to seek to do so (nor am I qualified to do so).

      I knew that Orthodox readers would react to my post in one of two ways, as I mentioned in the post. I knew many would disagree with me on some things but also see where I am coming from and empathize. I also knew that others would dismiss me as spouting off “heretical delusional rubbish.” Your response has fallen into the latter camp. I am somehow guilty of flirting with and falling in line with the heresy of Montanism (That is a bold accusation and I do not know where you are connecting the dots here. Please explain this to me). Granted, you do not use the word delusional. I do not wish to put words in your mouth. You do say, however, that the issue I am seeking to address is “more perceived than real.” You assert this notion right after you speak from your own personal experience (about how some might have issues with your Rosary and Thomism but most don’t care), using your own personal experience as the very foundation for your assertion. I am glad that things have gone this way for you. I truly am. They have not gone this way with me and I am not going to presume you are perceiving things falsely just because my own personal experience of Orthodoxy has been different from yours. I am not sure how your own personal experience completely invalidates mine.

      Lastly, you are concerned with me driving people away from Orthodoxy. I have had several of my friends convert to Orthodoxy and I never once sought to sway them otherwise. I was happy for them and sought to encourage them in their journey. The same support was not reciprocated whenever I decided to remain Protestant (but that is beside the point). The ethos that I am seeking to address within parts of Orthodoxy does not need any of my help in driving people away. You are certainly welcome to disagree with and dismiss my thoughts, but don’t be surprised whenever you hear of others who have similar stories to my own.

    • Matthew Bryan

      Mr. Granger, having worked under three different Conciliar Post editors, I can assure you that they neither encourage controversy nor “stoke a fire” as your response appears to have twice accused them:
      “editorial motivations leaned in favor of controversy”
      “editors shamelessly looking to stoke a fire between readers”

      • Tj Humphrey

        Thank you for bringing this up.

        The editor of this piece did nothing of the sort and shouldn’t be accused of such things.

      • Sam Granger

        Matthew, thanks for bringing this up. I’ve had a few of the editors reach out to me regarding my response, and I’m looking forward to working with them to post it in the coming days. In fact, I found that a few of the editors are friends and acquaintances of mine.

        My comment mostly came from the post I saw on Facebook: “TJ Humphrey asks the compelling question: “Am I really a heretic?” This should get some great discussion going! 🙂 ” This update coupled with the title, came off to me as was maybe a bit inflammatory. I meant it more as question than an accusation.

  • Sam Granger

    My response got a little long for a comment box: https://medium.com/@samwisegrangee/why-didnt-you-convert-to-orthodoxy-70b9a6edb67b#.gw7xxktj4 I’m welcome your thoughts, TJ.

  • Kenneth O’Shaughnessy

    I’d kind of like to see a summary of your conclusion. It seems like you are taking a Ghandian approach, “I believe in your Orthodoxy, but not in your Orthodox.”

    • Tj Humphrey

      Hi Kenneth. I think I know what you are getting at but am not quite sure. I don’t want to read into your remark and respond incorrectly. Can you elaborate? What conclusion would you like to see a summary of? Thanks. Please forgive my misunderstanding.

      • Kenneth O’Shaughnessy

        Your reasons for delving into Orthodoxy were all about faith and worship, but your reasons for not becoming Orthodox all seemed to be about the Orthodox people – not actual Orthodox faith or practice. The summary I’m looking for is why the second trumps the first.

        • Tj Humphrey

          I see. Thanks for clarifying. I am glad you did because I definitely misunderstood you. You bring up a very good point and it really is one that I still wrestle with from time to time. I think I elaborated on this fairly well in my article but I don’t mind trying to rephrase it for the sake of clarification.

          To be very, very clear: I am not critiquing all Orthodox people here. I tried to iterate and reiterate this in my article. Perhaps I should have labored the point a bit more.

          My critique is of an attitude that I have directly and personally encountered on multiple occasions. I came across it time and time again in the conversations that I had with folks.

          To answer your question: It is hard to fully embrace a tradition, no matter how much you are drawn to it, whenever you see so many of that tradition’s adherents embody it in such a way that sours you.

          Does this answer your question?

          • Kenneth O’Shaughnessy

            Sure – no matter how good something sounds, if it’s supposed to change people and doesn’t seem to, it taints the thing. I’m sorry you had that experience. I haven’t had myself, and I hope to God (literally) that I haven’t made anybody else feel that way. I have gratitude and appreciation for my Protestant past, up to and including my excommunication from the Reformed Baptist church I left to become Orthodox. As the Greek Orthodox pastor here told me during my search, Go to church were you can worship God without distraction. In the mean time, I hope you can continue to benefit from Eastern Christianity in a way that will enrich your life in Christ.

  • Thank you for your honest article, TJ.

    I vividly remember the first time I read Dostoyevsky’s “Brother Karamazov.” I was just beginning my journey to Orthodoxy. I was immediately struck by a character who was a “crooked monk,” so to speak. He was a monk but he was fraught with wordiness and passions. The notion that there could be such a thing repulsed and confused me. But it is true.

    What you lament here should be lamented. As in the document you cited from the Council in Crete, Orthodox should be able to recognize the grace (or form of grace) in heterodox (those who are not Orthodox) and should be able to recognize it in degrees. For instance, one particular group may have more grace than another (though whenever we talk about “possessing” grace things get weird, but I’m depending on the flexibility of language and understanding here).

    Perhaps you are referring to the provocatively titled article, “Is Protestantism a Heresy?” that I wrote a number of months ago. I have long decried the title of the article since it’s publishing, as I believe it is a misnomer and led to many hurt feelings of those who did not read the article. But perhaps you are not or have not read that article at all.

    As for your critique from St. Ignatius I think there is a slight misunderstanding. You write:

    “Within my own city (St. Louis) I know that all of the various parishes do not come together for the Eucharistic Liturgy but they all do their own thing on Sundays. Is this not contrary to what St. Ignatius is instructing us in? Does this embody the oneness that he speaks of whenever Orthodox churches are divided along lines of ethnicity?”

    Orthodoxy in America is a strange thing. Emigrants came from various lands and brought with them their jurisdictions. For over forty years now there has been a movement in the Orthodox Church to set this write and unite the Orthodox Church in the United States – put in place bishops, etc. But this takes time—and the Orthodox timeline is often even more drawn out. That being said, it is a problem, but I am not sure it can be used as a critique against Orthodoxy proper. The principal form of unity is being in communion with one another—e.g., a Greek Orthodox can go to a Russian Orthodox Church. or Bulgarian Orthodox Church (etc.etc.) and take communion. The “oneness” of the Eucharist is not broken by the jurisdictions – but you are right to say it is a problem.

    All that to say, please accept my apologies for anything you may have experienced in the way of heretic-name-calling. The Church is full of sinners. But God is good, God is sovereign, and God is there, waiting for us to return to him in repentance. Early on in our journey we experienced the beginning of this repentance in a Protestant Church—and we are grateful for it.

    • Tj Humphrey

      Thank you for the kind words and for the critique. I was quite nervous about posting this one. I wanted to be honest but I didn’t want to cause any unnecessary offense.

      I actually did not read the article of yours that you are referring to until well after I had already scheduled this one for posting. Even though I disagree with certain parts of it I truly enjoyed reading it and hearing more about your story. It gave me much to think about and consider.

      Metropolitan John Zizioulas’ works were the first introduction that I had to St. Ignatius’ liturgical theology. Of course, he also highlights the other liturgical writings of some of the other early Church Fathers and the New Testament authors. I have found his argument for the Eucharistic oikos in the New Testament to be quite persuasive (the notion thay there were not many “house churches” in the New Testament but only one “house” in a region where all of the faithful gathered for the Eucharist). I agree with Zizioulas. Knowing that the “oikos” accounts in the book of Acts (such as Acts 2:46) are singular and not plural is fairly significant. It makes sense to me why he has urged Orthodoxy to reconsider some of its liturgical innovations and why he has questioned whether the shifts and changes over time have altered the image which the liturgy is portraying.