Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Some general advice to inquirers and those contemplating Holy Orthodoxy

I have been getting more than a few comments and private emails lately from people who are considering conversion to the Orthodox Church. Some have asked for advice and counsel. Let me begin by saying to those who have indicated they are entering or at least thinking about entering the Orthodox Church, welcome. It took me roughly a quarter century from my first visit to an Orthodox service to make the move. So, most of you are already ahead of me. Secondly let me say thank you. I am flattered (and a little surprised) that apparently some people actually read my blog and take my often eclectic ramblings seriously.

Ronald Reagan once said that leaving the Democratic Party for the Republican was the hardest thing he ever did. He compared it to changing religions. My politics have evolved over time but I have never had a "Road to Damascus" moment that impelled me to a really major political sea change. So I can't comment on how hard that is. But if Reagan meant that changing religions is hard, he won't get an argument from me.

It really is not easy, especially if you are coming into the Church at least in part because of a painful situation in your current/former spiritual home. Family considerations can be tough too. Even if you are single or your spouse has no objections to your conversion, changing religions creates baggage. You will forever be explaining to extended family and those friends who will know of your move why the Episcopal Church (or fill in your former church) was not good enough for you.

But then there is the compensation. And that is in the form of the peace that comes only from knowing that you are in God’s Church working out your salvation “in trembling and fear” with other Orthodox Christians. That sense of peace is priceless. It doesn’t mean there won’t be rough patches. I promise you there will be. It doesn’t mean the Orthodox Church doesn’t suffer from all of the problems that come with any organization composed of human beings. It does. You need only do a quick online search to find references to the recent troubles in the Orthodox Church in America or the current controversies in the Antiochian Archdiocese for evidence. Orthodox Christians, whether layman or clergy or even bishops suffer from all the temptations of the world just like Methodists, Roman Catholics, and everyone else. And sometimes we fail. (I could write books on that subject without ever making references to third parties.)

A friend of mine once told me the story of a monk at St. Anthony’s monastery in Arizona who was asked by a visitor what they (the monks) did all day. The monk replied “we fall down and get back up again.” That in a nutshell is Orthodox Christianity. To borrow a line from a source I have long forgotten, “after years of desperate searching, I finally found the perfect church. And then I ruined it by joining.”

So what about the advice I mentioned in the title? It’s coming. First though we must have the inevitable disclaimers. I am not a priest, monk or anyone whose opinions should be taken as being of more importance than anyone else’s. If someone else gives you conflicting advice there is at least an even chance that you should pay more attention to them than me. And if they are wearing a cassock those odds rise to near 100%.

Ok with the disclaimers out of the way here is John’s generic advice, which along with $5.00 will get you a very small cup of coffee at Starbucks.

I strongly encourage inquirers and those more firmly on the path to Orthodoxy to look at some of the material and websites I have linked in the sidebar of Ad Orientem. You will find a lot of stuff there. Perhaps one of the best things you can do (besides praying and fasting) is to join the Orthodox Inquirers and Converts online discussion group. That's also linked in the sidebar. You will be able to talk to people from all kinds of backgrounds who are also converts or inquirers. Some have been in the Church for many years. Others are still new or just asking questions. The group has many clergy who are there to help and answer questions. Also the forum is moderated by clergy so things don’t get out of hand if someone starts throwing out really bad advice or making statements that aren’t quite on the mark.

Remember also that the Church has been around for 2000 years. Whatever questions, problems or concerns you have, I promise you that you are not the first one with those issues. The discussion group is I think one of the best places for an inquirer to go for information besides their priest. That said don't get wrapped up in too many details.

Not long ago someone commented on another thread that they were always worrying about whether or not they were doing things "right." Were they correct in their understanding of church canons and rules? It is really easy to start getting focused on things like what is and is not OK on a given fast day, or how many times should I make the sign of the cross when entering a church or when should I be making full prostrations. Some people also worry about which councils forbid fourth marriages or what council condemned Calvinism.


I am not saying that any of that is unimportant. But I am going to say most of that is not critical to our salvation. God is not worried about whether you bow and make the sign of the cross three times when you walk into a church or can rattle off church canons from memory. He is worrying about the other things, most of which are covered in the Ten Commandments. Your priest / spiritual father will guide you on your path into the Church and make sure you get the need to know information. So don’t sweat the details until you have the basics down first. Speaking of which, what are the basics?

This is IMHO what we really need to know and be doing… the basics. First the “know this” part…

1. We need to know how to make the sign of cross correctly.

2. We need to know the Creed and be able to recite it from memory.

3. We need to know the Lord’s Prayer and the Jesus Prayer.

4. We need to have a basic familiarity with church teachings and doctrine of which most of the essentials can be found in Fr. Thomas Hopko’s work on The Orthodox Faith. There are other sources as well, but that one is convenient and you don't need a PHD to read it.

Now for the need “to be doing” part…

1. First you need to find an Orthodox parish church and start attending services. If you are blessed to have more than one Orthodox parish within a reasonable distance from where you live, visit all of them. I encourage you to look for parishes where services are mainly or entirely in English. This is increasingly the norm here in North America but there are still some very ethnic parishes where services are in old country languages. There is nothing wrong with liturgy in Greek, Arabic or Slavonic. But much of the Orthodox Faith is found in our liturgy. It has often been said that the Orthodox Liturgy is one of our great catechetical tools because almost every sentence, gesture and even individual words are packed with theological meaning. Some of you however may be limited in your choices. You go where you must. I know of many people who converted into Orthodoxy through parishes where the services are still mostly not in English and one can find great beauty in the Divine Liturgy served in some of the ancient liturgical tongues of the Church, just as many Roman Catholics often find great spiritual inspiration from Mass in Latin. Once you find a parish be sure to introduce yourself to the priest and let him know you are considering converting. He will take it from there.

2. Pray. We need to pray everyday, ideally at least three times a day. If you don’t have an Orthodox Prayer Book, buy one. I recommend the Jordanville Prayer Book, but any one that your spiritual father blesses is a good choice.

3. Fast to the best of your ability under the guidance of your spiritual father. This latter part is very important. It is extremely common to try taking on too much fasting fresh out of the gate. The result is that you fall and get discouraged. Always remember that fasting is not an exercise in how well we can meet some 5th century dietary restrictions. It is spiritual medicine designed to stretch and discipline the body. If you discover that keeping the fasts strictly (especially during Lent) is really tough, don’t worry. You are not alone. Talk to your spiritual father and ask his advice. Often priests will bless a relaxation of the fast for those who struggle with it.

4. Don’t dive into theology. Read the lives of the saints.

5. Do visit an Orthodox monastery. But don’t move in. Monasteries are one of the great treasures of the Orthodox Church. If the Church is a spiritual hospital then monasteries are often our intensive care ward. Some people have a calling to the angelic life. But inquirers and recent converts need to be cautious about becoming convinced in the fresh enthusiasm for their new faith, that they are called to be monks or nuns. Most monasteries wisely will not take recent converts as novices. But by all means visit a monastery for a few days.

6. Once you are received into the Church take confession frequently and Holy Communion as often as your spiritual father will bless you to do so. As Metropolitan +Jonah recently said “you can not lead a spiritual life without frequent confession.”

7. This next point falls under the heading of “do as I say and not as I do.” Avoid (online) disputations and arguments. I am soooo guilty of this. So trust me when I say that these are very rarely spiritually healthy. That doesn’t mean you should not share your faith with others. It doesn’t even mean you should not discuss it with people who might not agree with you. But when you sense a “conversation” turning into a debate or an argument, that is usually a good time to bow out. I have never once met anyone converted into Orthodoxy by calling them a heretic. That’s not saying that there is no such thing as heresy or that there aren’t heretics. But judgmentalism and triumphalism are spiritually dangerous. Yes, we sometimes need to make prudential judgments. Many converts have found Orthodoxy in part because they concluded that their former spiritual home had gone off the tracks. But care needs to be taken before judging or correcting others. St. Maximus the Confessor once said that those who busy themselves with the sins of others have not yet begun to see their own. I have frequently been guilty of this. May God forgive me.

Have you noticed something? The “do this” list is a lot longer than the “know this” list. That’s because Orthodoxy is not a collection of canons or decrees from OEcumenical Councils. It is quite literally right belief and right worship of God. Orthodoxy is inherently experiential. You can’t become Orthodox from reading books. You become Orthodox from praying and living an Orthodox life. And that is really what everything I have written boils down to.

Please feel free to drop me a line with questions, comments or even criticism either in the combox or by email. My contact info is in the link in the sidebar.

See Orrologion's post of a similar theme. I strongly concur with his witty (and pointed) observations.


Death Bredon said...

Good grief -- what a shallow understanding of Orthodoxy and a poor witness to what the Fatih is all about.

Your first three points have nothing to do whatsoever with Orthodoxy or even Christianity.

Indeed, I wonder how many millions of Orthodox Christians never made the sign of the cross (came in Vogue in the 4th century and a v ariety of proper ways co-existed), recited the Creed (entered the Eastern Liturgies in 6th Century), and never prayed the Jesus Prayer (a late medieval monastic discipline .)

Which raises the question about your Fourth Point: Have you ever read Fr. Hopko's books?

JLB said...

Thank you, John. It's good to know that people give the same advice as the priest I last talked to about converting.

And Mr. Bredon...when you FINALLY join the Church, I'm sure you'll find out just how shallow and poor your own understanding is. Heck, I'm already finding this out about my own understanding, and I'm not even officially a catechumen yet.

Anonymous said...


Counsel, not council.

Prostrations, not prostestation.

Annie said...

speaking of witnesses, I have to say, infighting it really appealing when one is considering Orthodoxy. Wait, no...

Actually, though, while I really appreciate this post, the strongest impediment for me is the East vs. West narrative that is repeated to me every time I talk to someone about converting. You must leave the West entirely and embrace the East--at least I have been told. And there is generally no tolerance for my insistence that where western thinkers or any age concur with eastern Christianity, they refer to the same truth. Oh dear me, no. The West is wrong about all of it and I apparently just don't see that because I'm so sorry and western.

What has any of this to do with Christ? I don't want an eastern or a western Christianity. I want truth.

But honestly, that is not what I hear in the vast majority of Orthodox apologetics. I, for one, cannot convert by conforming myself to The East in a way that opposes The West entirely--whatever those categories mean. My husband won't even consider it. If Orthodoxy is only about The East, if it is not truly a catholic faith, then why should I believe it?

I don't think the Holy Spirit observes geographical limits. You know?

Annie said...

even more typos...western thinkers *of* any age. and my first sentence refers to the first commenter, not to any broader disagreement within Orthodoxy.

123 said...

A more acerbic (such is my nature) sort of guide can be found here:

It is, of course, after the pattern of the more friendly (such is her nature) "12 Things I Wish I'd Known... First Visit to an Orthodox Church" by Frederica Mathewes-Green, which can be found here:

Anonymous said...

Annie, while I agree there is too much of the "East vs. West" thing, there is a kernel of truth in what is being said. Have a conversation with a Mormon sometime. You will use the same language, the same terms, even, sometimes, the same arguments and YET - you will (in all probability) meant very different things. It is all a matter of presuppositions and, to borrow a phrase, "Ordo Theologiae". Where do you begin and what presuppositions underly the terms being used and the constructions being made. The "West" is simply shorthand for systems built upon the Carolignian distortion of the Gospel. If you are starting with Arian presuppositions (or, more likely in our day, Nestorian) how can you mean the same thing as the Patristic consensus even if you use the same words?

Also, I would suggest that "insisting" they mean the same and demonstrating it are two different things. Remember, most of these people you have these conversations with have been where you are. You have yet to be where they are. Just a thought.

Plus, what's the worst thing that could happen if you actually embraced Orthodoxy? You either find out you were correct, and you did mean the same thing OR you find out you were wrong, and they were not quite the same.

Sub Deacon David said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sub Deacon David said...

I like this post. A lot of great advice here. I would just like to say that the point of the first three items is that they are about practical issues not abstract. These are things that people wind up in discomfort over.

And that leads me to my own particular bit of advice: be prepared to be uncomfortable for a few weeks in Divine Liturgy. It takes a while to get use to the ebb and flow of the service as well as to its "foreign" feel.

Plus, if people don't talk to you a lot at first, it's not necessarily because they are stand offish or don't like newcomers, but because they don't want to appear to be "pushy" or trying to "sell" you on the Church. For folks use to the typical American church setting so influenced by "church growth strategies" and "evangelical" or "missionary" fervor, this can seem to be coldness. It's not, they just don't want to chase you away or make you feel like a target.

Miss Sippi said...

I would say, as a fairly recent (Feb.) catechumen, go to coffee hour. That's when you get to know people and let them get to know you.
Yes it is hard, and at my age (60)any sort of change like this is very hard. But for me there was no alternative; on days I say to myself "I'm not doing this any more" my reply is, "so what will you do instead?"

123 said...

Regarding 'cultural differences' for a Westerner and an Eastern church, I always think how much closed we are to each other than were the earliest, pre-Constantinian converts to this 'Judaic sect'.

God isn't supposed to be comfy; he isn't from suburbia and He isn't American. We are meant to be conformed to Him. This is our calling.

All that being said, the petty cultural issues of being an American in an immigrant parish can be difficult sometimes. That isn't East vs. West, though, it's simply our own proclivities to be among our own and to be on top. For all their 'backwardness' and 'obtuseness' - for such is how we can sometimes think of it - they preserved Orthodoxy and brought it to us; our cultures, our families lost it and didn't care.

The first shall be last, and the last first.

John (Ad Orientem) said...

Thanks for the proofreading. I did not finish writing this until very late and I probably should have waited til morning before posting it. I corrected the mistakes.


John (Ad Orientem) said...

GREAT POST! I laughed through a lot of it. But it was a very uncomfortable laugh. I am guilty of breaking a few too many of those rules. But yea, FWIW I strongly endorse your own blog post on this subject and encourage others to read it.


123 said...

Thanks. I'm glad you enjoyed it - or, thought it worthwhile. was a very uncomfortable laugh. I am guilty of breaking a few too many of those rules.

Ditto. I think just about all of that comes from first hand experience, first hand mistakes.

Annie said...

I don't know that the people I'm conversing with have been quite where I am. I come to this conversation with a graduate background in Latin patristics. I run into a lot of "I've never really read Augustine but..." followed by an account of something Augustine is supposed to think that, well, is not always something that could be supported from textual evidence. Not to harp on Augustine, because he's an unfortunate distraction in conversations like these. But that's a major frustration. It isn't that I think Augustine is right on every point--he's obviously wrong when it comes to original sin--but if he says, for instance, that the operation of the Trinity is unified, he is in agreement with Greek patristic writers and he is speaking truth. Ergo, not everything that was written in Latin is outright heresy.

The point is that "The West" is lousy shorthand. I wouldn't even be raising this if it hadn't come up in literally every conversation I've ever had with an Orthodox person.

I guess I appreciate the desire to trace current obvious distortions in Roman Catholic teaching to some historical source, but the resulting narrative unsettles me a great deal. It's frustrating intellectually, which is the less important issue. What unsettles me more is that it seems to undermine the Orthodox claim to true catholicity. And since true catholicity is what I'm does grate. And it quite literally always comes up, generally as a way of explaining to me that I don't know anything.

The advice to just embrace it and find out if it really is or isn't...well, that's all complicated by family issues. As a married woman with children, I'm not exactly at my leisure to convert just whenever I feel like it.

John (Ad Orientem) said...

I think we need to clarify a term before proceeding to the meat of your comment. "East" is a good starting point. By East do you mean "Byzantine" or "Orthodox?" If the former I think you will find some sympathy among many Orthodox.

I am one of a minority of Orthodox who tend to think that sometimes we put too much emphasis on the Byzantine Rite. Yes, there are people who have honest difficulty embracing Orthodoxy because the Byzantine Rite is frankly alien to them. And too many Orthodox confuse the Byzantine Rite with Orthodoxy, believing you can't have the latter without the former. That's rubbish. With apologies to my patron Saint John Maximovitch "The West was Orthodox for a thousand years. And her venerable liturgy is far older than any of her heresies."

To which end I am a cautious supporter of what is called the Western Rite. That said I attach a lot of caveats to that support. That's because in some instances Western Rite parishes have attempted to repackage things which are not Orthodox and say they are because they are under the Western Rite.

I am a big believer in enforcing the essentials, but not placing more barriers in front of a prospective convert than we need to. It needs to be remembered that there was never a moment in the history of the pre-schism church where East and West were in 100% agreement. Communion was preserved through charity and a tolerance for some diversity of opinion and praxis as long as the essentials were Orthodox. That said, the history of the Western Rite has had its ups and downs and I think we need to be careful about importing too many things from the contemporary Christian West which are theologically dicey. Which brings me to the second possible interpretation of "East."

If by East you really meant "Orthodox" then we have some issues, because Orthodoxy is not negotiable. The Church is not a theological buffet. And while there is a regrettable tendency among some to conflate the term "Western" with "heresy" it nonetheless remains true that much of what has cropped up in the Western Christian tradition is problematic from an Orthodox perspective.

Of course there are the uber-Orthodox who are so virulently anti-Western that they are almost a caricature. One suspects they judge the correctness of something by establishing the exact longitude of its origin. Frankly I just laugh at them. Back before I became Orthodox I remember a conversation with an Old Calendarist. It went something like this.

John: What is wrong with the the Gregorian calendar?

OC: It is heretical.

John: Why is that?

OC: Because it's western.

John: (looks at watch) This was made in in the United States. Is my watch heretical?

That was about the end of the conversation as I recall. Sadly I can't do that again. I don't wear a watch anymore. But I digress...

The bottom line of this rather long and rambling comment is that the Orthodox Church is... well Orthodox. And if becoming Orthodox is an impediment to joining the Church (and for some people it is) there is not much we can do about that except pray in love and charity.

Yours under the mercy,

margaret said...

I am glad to meet someone who took quarter of a century to convert, it makes my own 16 years look respectable ;)

John (Ad Orientem) said...

A quick follow up to my last post since I see that Annie posted a comment as I was typing mine.

Blessed Augustine is a saint of the Orthodox Church. However we tend to commemorate him more for his spirituality and personal sanctity than his theological opinions. Of those it must be said frankly that many of his views are highly controversial in Orthodoxy and some are rejected outright.

I don't want to get off topic (this is not intended to be an East West doctrinal thread), so I will confine myself to noting that many of Augustine's writings, especially on Grace and Sin are seen as being in some ways the foundation for many of the Western Church's theological divergences from Orthodoxy. If you want to discuss this in more detail I would suggest contacting either Perry Robinson or Photios Jones who run the excellent blog Energetic Processions, which you will find linked in the sidebar of the blog. They are among the most knowledgeable people I know of when it comes to this topic. I will however caution that both have a reputation for being somewhat direct in their mode of communication. But if you enjoy a good discussion on really serious East-West doctrinal topics that's where to go.

That said I have great respect for Augustine and for personal reasons I still count his "Confessions" as one of the most moving works I have ever read.

Yours under the mercy,

Annie said...

Okay, so I say East because the folks I've talked to tend to say East. Based on your comment here, I mean Byzantine.

Here's the thing. Because my intellectual background is Latin, I considered the Roman Catholic Church long before I ever even thought about Orthodoxy. I came to a lot of right thinking by that road, actually. Eventually, though, I found that there were some Roman Catholic "distinctives" that didn't seem right, precisely because they are distinctive theologically and therefore are not what Christians have always believed. I have in mind chiefly the Immaculate Conception, although there are many other points of both doctrine and practice that we think are innovative and off-track.

My husband and I decided we couldn't be Roman Catholic for that reason.

The story is quite different with Orthodoxy. With one exception (which I'll talk about in a second), I can't seem to find anything of substance in Orthodoxy that I can't accept. On the contrary, I continually have a reaction like "Yes, that is what I think already" or "That's more clearly articulated than how I was thinking and I agree with it." What jars is the need for things to be Byzantine and maybe the presumption that something is true because it's Byzantine (or seems so) or that another thing is false simply because it's Western or Latin or whatever. My understanding of things isn't that Orthodoxy is untrue or problematic, but that being Byzantine (or not) is not what makes something true or false.

My only outstanding theological question has to do with the filioque. It obviously shouldn't be in the creed, but I don't have a good grasp of the theology behind it and attempts at conversation around this have not been fruitful where folks have relied on some variation of it's wrong because it's Western or the accusation that I'm wrong to want to understand an Orthodox account of the Trinity because God is a mystery. I know God is a mystery. I want a better understanding of how an Orthodox description of the procession of the Spirit fits with the more general understanding of God as Triune. That's all. If it matters that we don't pray the filioque, I want to know why.

Thanks for your reply to my comment. I have been interested in the Western Rite, although I'm only beginning to learn about it. I can see where it has positive value, but also needs to be navigated very carefully. There are certainly some pretty apparent pitfalls. We're Anglo-Catholic, so it appeals, but we also know that people stuff a lot of things under the heading Anglo-Catholic that don't belong there--often by appealing to an earlier "Celtic" tradition. I would suspect the same sorts of things happen under the Western Rite.

I was typing this as you posted your comment re: Augustine. Thank you for the referral to Energetic Processions. I shall perhaps address my filioque questions to them.

I know plenty of later distortions and heresies have been founded on a certain reading of Augustine, and I think there is much valid criticism to be made there. He just isn't wrong *all* the time. That's all I'm saying. :)

123 said...


SVS Press has an interesting book out about Orthodox readings of Augustine - many/most are not Orthodox, but they are all highly learned. Even there, one sees that Augustine can be the great Rorschach test where everyone sees what they want to see in the man. It gets even more convoluted (on all sides) when Augustine's 'influence' on later ideas and movements is discussed.

Take 'the West' as pop shorthand for intimations and hints at truths that are difficult to explain, but readily understood. There is something different; call it the West, call it modernism, americanization, latinization, papalism, Thomism, the Carolingians, etc. There is something different going on between East and West and lay pseudo-intellectuals such as myself think an undergrad course or two and a few extracurricularly read books means we somehow know what the heck we're talking about.

As was once said about the Catholic Church can be said of the Orthodox Church: "Here comes everybody". There is not a monolithic 'culture' or 'level' in Orthodoxy as a whole - though one finds certain 'kinds' and 'types' among converts, different immigrant groups, etc. Rich, poor, educated, uneducated, suburban, urban, parochial, globalist, liberal, conservative, acerbic, mean, kind, loving, patient, intellectual, mystical, prayerful, poseurs, punks, hippies, etc.

If it took John 25 years to convert, you can imagine the felt need to come up with some sort of shorthand answer for off the cuff questions about 'Why are you Orthodox?" and "How is that different than the Catholic Church?" It's hard to explain 25 years worth of struggle into an answer that isn't TMI (too much information). "The West" and "Augustine" often act as placeholders here.

123 said...

What jars is the need for things to be Byzantine and maybe the presumption that something is true because it's Byzantine (or seems so) or that another thing is false simply because it's Western or Latin or whatever. My understanding of things isn't that Orthodoxy is untrue or problematic, but that being Byzantine (or not) is not what makes something true or false.

Actually, Orthodoxy is the touchstone. Russians, Romanians, Bulgarians, Serbs, Georgians and Orthodox Arabs are not Byzantine (one could make the case that neither are modern Greeks, either, but...), though the Church that survived and flourished in Byzantium has had its effect on those peoples. Still, they are not Byzantine. I am not Byzantine. They and I are Orthodox.

Death Bredon's first points are pertinent here because they betray a lack of understanding when it comes to the organic nature of the Church as a body. Just because something was 'Orthodox' at one point in history doesn't mean we can turn the clock back, pick that practice or teaching up, and start using it again today torn from its proper context, from its organic link in the process of traditioning on the Faith. There are innumerable examples of past terms or phrases, practices that were or were not Orthodox, but were than either accepted or rejected by the Church; we cannot jump over these facts without placing ourselves in a position over and above those ancient authorities. It would be arrogant to do so, but it also assumes they were stupid and we are not; that we have more data that has survived than they had at their fingertips; that we understand their own language and culture better than they did.

The Church is traditioned on from generation to generation organically. The Body of Christ grows is wisdom and stature, yet without change as did the body and person of Jesus Christ from his conception at the Annunciation through his birth adolescence, adulthood, suffering, death and resurrection - changing, but always the same Person. Same with the Church. It would be inappropriate for Christ to have begun acting like an infant as an adult, or to have acted in adult ways (e.g., reading in the synagogue) before he came of age. Same with the Church. Same reason why we no longer celebrate a Jewish Pascha; we celebrate the fulfilled, Christian Pascha.

The Orthodox Faith has come down to us in the body of Byzantium via the bodies of Russia, Greece, Georgia, etc. The particularities of Christ's maleness, Jewishness, his 1st century-ness, etc. do not minimize his universality; the marks of his life (and death) remained on his body after his resurrection. So, too, do the marks of the Church's sojourn remain today. The Church is not limited to these marks, to its particularities, but they do remain and are part and parcel with the content of the Faith. It survived nowhere else. The particularities of other churches swamped the ark of the Church there.

The 'Byzantine Rite' is universal. Alaskan natives, American converts of all kinds from all backgrounds, Siberian nomads, Slavs of all kinds, ancient Georgians, latin Romanians, Greeks, Arabs, sub-Saharan Africans, etc. None are Byzantine.

Annie said...

Just a question of clarification: The faith survived nowhere else but in the areas you name? And by that do you mean the whole faith intact? Or that there is no truth to be found elsewhere, even mixed with error?

123 said...

The truth in its fullness.

Interesting quote from the former head of ROCOR:

The Orthodox view of the non-Orthodox - and the reasoning behind those stances (very similar to the early Church's wrangling over how to deal with self-identifying 'Christians' outside of the Church) - can also be found in these documents:

But, I would review John's advice:

1. First you need to find an Orthodox parish church and start attending services.

2. Pray.

3. Fast to the best of your ability under the guidance of your spiritual father.

4. Don’t dive into theology. Read the lives of the saints.

7. Avoid (online) disputations and arguments.

It's easy to mistake talk and thought about the Faith for the Faith.

William Tighe said...

If a non-Orthodox may venture a suggestion, particularly on the fraught matter of "Byzantinism" and Orthodoxy, one might do worse than to read (especially if one has an Anglican background) the wonderful little booklet *Anglicanism and Orthodoxy* by H. A. Hodges (1955). Hodges' hope that Anglican churches might slowly converge with Orthodoxy by assimilating Orthodoxy is a classical "road not taken," but his booklet retains its interest. Unfortunately it is rare, but there is a copy here:

or you might go to the seller's site directly:

William Tighe said...

And, on a different matter, "Death Bredon" is well enough acquainted with Orthodoxy, since he is someone who, raised Orthodox, became an Anglican.

John (Ad Orientem) said...

Dr. Tighe,
Thank you for your always welcome comments.


Visibilium said...

Orthodoxy isn't a convenient religion. Maybe you'd be better off somewhere else--unless you absolutely can't stay away from us. Good luck.

John (Ad Orientem) said...

Was there someone to whom you were addressing in particular? Or were you just encouraging everyone to stay out or get out of the Orthodox Church?

Visibilium said...


Thanks for sharing. My remarks were targeted specifically at those folks who expressed uncertainty about Orthodoxy. They sounded like enquirers.

By the way, I'm not too concerned whether any particular person converts to Orthodoxy. Owing to its inconvenience--fasts, services, dearth of parishes, dearth of prospective spouses, ethnic chauvinism, etc.--Orthodoxy imposes a burden with which not all folks are comfortable. Not converting is preferable to apostasy.

If you left Orthodoxy, I probably wouldn't continue to comment on your blog. Maybe that'll prove sufficient incentive to go...or stay...or not.

Unknown said...

If some of the comments on this thread sounds like they are from inquirers, it's likely because that is who my post was directed to. I am not trying to be judgmental here, but I am somewhat curious about your interpretation of the Great Commission. From your posts here and on some other forums it seems you have very little use for converts. And for the record I have no plans on leaving the Church.


123 said...

I took his comment that "Orthodoxy isn't a convenient religion. Maybe you'd be better off somewhere else--unless you absolutely can't stay away from us" to be similar to a monastic tonsure. It is the angelic life. It is a way of lifer higher than the married or single state. However, the abbot throws the scissors used in the tonsure across the room - essentially, to stop the tonsure. The novice has to return the scissors to the abbot freely, personally. He has to demand the tonsure because he "absolutely can't stay away" from such a life.

I agree it is better to remain without the Church, than to enter Her only then to leave.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the note. That makes sense. It sounded at my first reading like the sort of thing I would expect from some snobby social club. And I confess that I bristled a bit at that. Obviously I was mistaken.

Please forgive me.

That said I do think a little clarification is in order. Obviously becoming Orthodox is a serious matter and one that should not be taken lightly. Inquirers need to be aware that it is the most important commitment they will ever make. If I have a major complaint it is that the period of the catechumenate is often too short. Too many people are being received into the Church too quickly and without proper discernment. Orthodoxy is indeed an inconvenient faith. But it is the path to salvation and we do have a divine mandate to preach the Orthodox Christian Faith and receive all who will embrace it. The Church is not just for the righteous thank God.

Under the mercy,

Annie said...

"It's easy to mistake talk and thought about the Faith for the Faith."

I think. I have no intention of stopping.

I would also respectfully remind you that you have no idea as to whether I pray, fast, or attend Orthodox liturgies because, well, I haven't told you any of that. You presume. Please do not.

I am not troubled by the inconvenience of Orthodoxy. We're talking about salvation here. Inconvenience doesn't enter into it.

I have been considering a specific set of questions because, like I said, that's what I do, by nature and by training. I decided to ask some of them here because it seemed like a welcoming space, which is not something that can be said of all Orthodox blogs. And I do read quite a few.

Thank you those of you who replied to what I had to say. You gave me a lot of useful information. I'm especially grateful for the reference to the Hodges book.

123 said...


Sorry if you took offense. It was specifically because I did not want to presume that I repeated John's advice. I don't know if you do these things, I don't know if you don't. I do know they are important to the Orthodox way. I also did not mean to imply that you shouldn't think, just that there are dangers (for all of us, all humankind, me first) in mistaking thinking about the Faith as either faith, the Faith itself, or salvation. Please, keep thinking; I am glad it seems you are not just thinking alone. May the Lord, His mother and the saints bless your inquiry.

Visibilium said...

John, I forgive you, of course.

Orr, thanks for riding to my rescue. You're my hero.

Annie said...

Thanks, Orrologion.

Anonymous said...

Annie - Take what you read on the internet about Orthodoxy with a grain of salt. The Church east and west was Orthodox for 1000 years - in the fullness of its catholicity. If you are comfortable with what you find in that, don't shy away. Find a priest and parish who isn't obsessed with the perfectness/absolute correctness of Byzantium - probably the vast majority of parishes in fact - and grow with God. Enjoy these sites for what they are, but don't take them for more. There is a mainstream critique of Augustine in Orthodox circles, which is all well and good if you enjoy philosophizing, but no one is going to suggest that to be Orthodox you must hold to that critique. The Church is there to serve God, to seek communion with Him and to worship Him in spirit and in truth.

Visibilium said...

Anon, for all of its "catholicity", the West folded. How many Orthodox would deny that?

You're replacing lameness of the internet with the lameness of ecumenism. An edifying exchange?

Anonymous said...

The inquirer's/recent convert thread is a wonderful idea. Thanks for the sage advice.

In Christ,