Monday, June 18, 2012

For anyone considering Eastern Orthodoxy

Here is a first person account by someone who converted to Eastern Orthodoxy, and who remained one for 13 uncomfortable years. He finally left Eastern Orthodoxy in favor of a conservative [“Continuing”] Anglicanism. He cautions people considering Eastern Orthodoxy to consider other alternatives (what follows is completely his own testimony): 

A sizable number of Evangelicals … have opted to convert to Eastern Orthodoxy rather than to Roman Catholicism or Traditional Anglicanism.  One can read the convert literature of (the increasingly unhingedFrank Schaeffer and the ex-Campus Crusade folks (Peter Gillquistet al.) for the standard panegyric about how these Evangelicals ”came home” to “the ancient Christian church”.  Your blogger The Embryo Parson was one of them.  I spent approximately 13 years in the Orthodox Church, and I can assure you that Schaeffer and Gillquist were smitten with romantic notions about the Orthodox Church church that bear little relation to reality.  I could go into great detail about why I left, but I will confine myself here to four principal reasons. 

1.  Creeping liberalism.  Here is an account from a Lutheran blog that refers to an article written by Orthodox academic and priest Gregory Jensen, who frankly admits the problem … the Orthodox Church is slowly but surely beginning to look like its increasingly “Episcopalianized” sister, the Roman Catholic Church.  Both, to one degree or another, are aping the liberal Protestant “mainline.”  Though officially “orthodox” in their respective theologies, there is much turmoil beneath the surface that is associated with the activity of liberals, and the Evangelical convert can’t miss it.  I certainly didn’t.

2.  Virulent anti-Western mentality.  The Orthodox are openly hostile to just about everything Western.  Any Evangelical who hopes to retain something of the Western theological framework in which he learned about his faith will be quickly disappointed in that hope if he enters the Orthodox Church.  David B. Hart, an Orthodox theologian and brother of our own Anglican Catholic priest Fr. Robert Hart, says this about it:

The most damaging consequence . . .  of Orthodoxy’s twentieth-century pilgrimage ad fontes—and this is no small irony, given the ecumenical possibilities that opened up all along the way—has been an increase in the intensity of Eastern theology’s anti-Western polemic. Or, rather, an increase in the confidence with which such polemic is uttered. Nor is this only a problem for ecumenism: the anti-Western passion (or, frankly, paranoia) of Lossky and his followers has on occasion led to rather severe distortions of Eastern theology. More to the point here, though, it has made intelligent interpretations of Western Christian theology (which are so very necessary) apparently almost impossible for Orthodox thinkers. Neo-patristic Orthodox scholarship has usually gone hand in hand with some of the most excruciatingly inaccurate treatments of Western theologians that one could imagine—which, quite apart form the harm they do to the collective acuity of Orthodox Christians, can become a source of considerable embarrassment when they fall into the hands of Western scholars who actually know something of the figures that Orthodox scholars choose to caluminiate. When one repairs to modern Orthodox texts, one is almost certain to encounter some wild mischaracterization of one or another Western author; and four figures enjoy a special eminence in Orthodox polemics: Augustine, Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, and John of the Cross.

3.  Essentially Eastern European.  The Orthodox Churches tend to be Eastern European or Middle Eastern cultural outposts.  While they welcome converts from Western countries, the latter never really quite fit in.  One person commenting over at the Stumble Inn writes:

Eastern Orthodoxy is a gigantic Eastern culture club. They have a saying for a sort of mania new converts (of the generic Anglo/Celtic/German-American variety) get - Convertitis. Basically it’s marked by a) aggressive appropriation of your parish’s ethnic culture, b) rabid defense of your theology. The second one is just the excitement of finding something you believe to be true - it’s an altruistic sort of joy with unintended negative consequences that go away over time.

The first one is a survival/assimilation technique that is pretty much necessary when one finds himself surrounded by Russians, or Greeks, or Arabs... Bulgarians, Romanians, Ukrainians, Serbians, Georgians, Albanians and 20 different varieties of each. There’s nothing else. If you walk into an Orthodox church as an old stock American, you simply don’t belong there. You’re out of your league. You have to make yourself belong - and it’s difficult.

If not impossible.

4.  Compromised soteriology.  While we should certainly be grateful to the Greek Church Fathers for the triadology and christology that became the basis of the Creed, they were not so orthodox when it came to an issue that would come to bear upon the question of soteriology, or salvation:

Part of the fascination of the patristic era to the scholar lies in the efforts of its theologians to express an essentially Hebraic gospel in a Hellenistic milieu: the delights of patristic scholarship must not, however, be permitted to divert our attention from the suspicion voiced by the Liberal school in the last century - that Christ’s teaching was seriously compromised by the Hellenism of its earlier adherents. The history of the development of the Christian doctrine of justification lends support to such a suspicion. In particular, it can be shown that two major distortions were introduced into the corpus of traditional belief within the eastern church at a very early stage, and were subsequently transferred to the emerging western theological tradition. These are:

a. The introduction of the non-biblical, secular Stoic concept of autoexousia or liberum arbitrium in the articulation of the human response to the divine initiative in justification.

b. The implicit equation of tsedaqa, dikaiosune and iustitia, linked with the particular association of the Latin meritum noted earlier (p.15), inevitably suggested a correlation between human moral effort and justification within the western church. The subsequent development of the western theological tradition, particularly since the time of Augustine, has shown a reaction against both these earlier distortions, and may be regarded as an attempt to recover a more biblically orientated approach to the question of justification. . . .

The emerging patristic understanding of such matters as predestination, grace and free will is somewhat confused, and would remain so until controversy forced full discussion of the issue upon the church. Indeed, by the end of the fourth century, the Greek fathers had formulated a teaching on human free will based upon philosophical rather than biblical foundations. Standing in the great Platonic tradition, heavily influenced by Philo, and reacting against the fatalisms of their day, they taught that man was utterly free in his choice of good or evil. . . . (Alister McGrath, Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification, Vol. I, pp.18-19)

This sub-biblical notion of free will would later inform the heresies of Pelagianism and Semipelagianism, and would also result in a soteriology in the East that would put a greater stress on theosis - sanctification - than on the atonement.  Accordingly, Orthodox theology is deficient in its understanding of just how the atonement relates to sanctification.  One need only listen to the narrative of this video to see an example of the man-centered nature of theosis.  Note the repeated use of “I”, “me” and “my”.  I call this the “Little-Christian-Who-Could” model.   There is nothing in this video about what God did to effect man’s salvation, aside from a brief and vague reference to the destruction of sin and death at the beginning of the narrative. 

Because the Orthodox reject the Augustinian view of original sin, and by implication the Pauline teaching on the inability of man to save himself, and because the Orthodox still labor under pagan notions about “free will”, their soteriology suffers.  Frs. Hart and Wells discuss this deficiency at the [Anglican] Continuum, here and here.


  1. Creeping liberalism.

    Because if there's one thing Anglican-associated churches are known for, it's their steadfast ability to resist liberalism!

    1. Maybe you missed it. The author (as I noted in the first paragraph) is writing from a conservative [“Continuing”] Anglican perspective.

    2. Which only begs the question: if finding specific Anglican churches that happen to be conservative (as opposed to the many Anglicans who are not) is a solution to the 'liberal' problem, then I have another solution: find a conservative Orthodox church.

      "Ah," you say. "But the orthodox have liberal churches!"

      In which case, the Anglicans are ruled out too. Especially given the noticeably left out standard for "Creeping liberalism": how the laity is acting.

      If liberalism among the laity is a sign that a church is in a sorry state, you've got no options left. Just look at the Presbyterians.

    3. The good thing about the Presbyterians and the Anglicans is that we can step away from the liberal elements in our midst. Roman Catholics like yourself are wedded to them.

    4. The good thing about the Presbyterians and the Anglicans is that we can step away from the liberal elements in our midst.

      No, John, that's incorrect. With the Anglicans, the liberal elements have taken over - hence your "continuing Anglicanism" being a 'breakaway sect'. Which will itself likely require a breakaway sect in the future.

      Sure, you can always "step away", aka, "run away and create a new charge". Over and over, ad nauseum. At this point it's not stepping, it's full-blown line-dancing.

      Roman Catholics like yourself are wedded to them.

      First, I'm Byzantine Catholic. Second, funny thing about that article. Let's look at some quotes!

      "The film offers a portrait of John McNeill, the Jesuit priest who was silenced in 1977 for his book The Church and the Homosexual and, nine years later, was expelled from his order for refusing to stay silent in his ministry to gay and lesbian Catholics."

      "At the peak of the AIDS crisis in 1986, in what may have been the worst pastoral timing in the Roman Catholic Church's recent history, Cardinal Ratzinger issued the CDF's "Letter on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons." It defined homosexuality as "an objective disorder" and "a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil.""

      "But viewers will also find inspiration in the fact that, only 25 years after McNeill's expulsion, Catholics are now the strongest supporters of gay and lesbian rights and same-sex marriage in the United States."

      Except A) this is in direct conflict with Catholic teaching and B) once again, if 'liberality among the laity' is the standard, next to no churches (and certainly not the anglicans) are left standing.

      And therein lies the difference. In the Catholic Church, the liberals are being hit with the Vatican hammer and fell out of prominence decades ago.

      Among the Anglicans and Presbyterians?

      The liberals won.

    5. Crude is forgetting that the EOC prides itself on being One Church - The One Unique Holy Apostolic Church.
      I don't know of any Prot body that would say the same.
      By virtue of its claims to being all unified and One Body and all that, it has to deal with the liberalism to which it has ceded all sorts of ground in a very different way than, say, I do as a Baptist.
      Some idiots want to start the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and spend their days liberalising about how gay marriage is really OK, the Bible isn't inerrant, women pastrices really are biblical, and how whales and trees are more important than tiny humans? Don't let the door hit you on the way out.

      What will EOC do?

    6. Rhology,

      Crude is forgetting that the EOC prides itself on being One Church - The One Unique Holy Apostolic Church.

      I don't forget it. And of course I disagree with them. I disagree with many Christians over many things. But I also respect many of them despite the differences, and I try to avoid launching criticisms that are a mix of woefully inadequate, inaccurate, or hypocritical.

      By virtue of its claims to being all unified and One Body and all that, it has to deal with the liberalism to which it has ceded all sorts of ground in a very different way than, say, I do as a Baptist.

      First, the orthodox are in a different position than the RC on this front - they're not as centralized.

      Second, you're right that they have to deal with it in a different way. Putting aside the Holy Spirit for a moment, it also means they don't have the option to cut and run if they're sincere in their faith.

      Don't let the door hit you on the way out.

      Here's one problem, Rhology: the door usually doesn't hit liberals. It hits conservatives, because they're the ones who end up leaving.

    7. I know you disagree with them, but you had a problem with the criticism. I showed you why the criticism is valid - it's b/c of EOC's claims about itself. That's what you need to deal with to maintain your rebuttal of the criticism.

      Lack of centralisation can be good and bad, but that just sounds like you're making excuses for them rather than showing why the criticism was unjustified.

      Baptists don't have the option to cut and run either. I don't even know what you're talking about. Unless you mean leaving a church body that has become apostate. Well, on that you'll need to let us know why the true followers of Christ shouldn't do their best to maintain pure worship of the One True God when tons of so-called followers are running the show.

      The door hit liberals in the case of the CBF. But what bearing does that have on what I said?

  2. The thing about this is, with Rome, the gay bishops are still gay, still in the closet, and still practicing with impunity, and still looking for more pro-gay Roman Catholic doctrine they can write.

    1. I defy you to explain what is "pro-gay" about a CCC that calls homosexual acts gravely immoral and the desires objectively disordered.

      Or is it because you're one of those weird guys under the impression that the bible teaches that Christians should run around beating up any 'queers' they see?

    2. It allows an opening to "practice" with impunity: They "can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection". But in the meantime, a good poke here or there is quite all right, because there's always confession. This is quite different from pronouncing the act a grave sin which ought never to be done.

  3. One of my favorite things about EOC is that Franky Schaeffer is apparently still a member in good standing.
    That guy combines several parts of what The Embryo Parson has identified - creepED liberalism (it's not creepING, it done creeped already) and virulent anti-Westernism. And of course a screwed-all-to-hell soteriology.

  4. From reading article, the claim seems to be that many OCA members are liberal. No claim was made about the clergy. Not sure how that impacts EOs claim to be the One Church. Perhaps Rhology, you could explain that.

    Not sure why virulant anti-westernism is a particularly convincing argument not to be Orthodox. Protestantism is often virulently anti-catholic, to the point of absurdity. This posting cld be described as virulently anti Orthodox.

    The cultural outpost thing might be a problem, but it mostly a problem in your own mind, rather than real. Ive been to cultural outpost churches for a while, and felt odd for a while, until I realised it was in my head and not theirs.

    1. I knew the good Parson when he was living through this, and if I recall, his main point was NOT that "OCA members" are liberal, but precisely because bishops and patriarchs were liberal. He was very thorough citing his sources -- this discovery took a number of years.

    2. While you're right about the many who are irrationally anti-Catholic, anti-Western is not comparable to being anti-Catholic. It's much broader, and the blame and aspersions cast are amazing.

      If bunches of the EO clergy are liberal, that doesn't matter? Are you even aware what liberalism is? I recommend you read Machen's "Christianity and Liberalism".

      When the cultural outpost mentality leads to endless squabbles between cultural outposts, the problem is not merely imaginary.

    3. Let's wait for the evidence that "bunches" of clergy are liberal.

      Anti western aspersions are amazing? Yes they are sometimes. Amazing things happen in all corners of society and the earth. More "amazing" aspersions happen in protestantism though. I mean, just two words: jack chick.

      Endless squabbles between cultural outposts? I occasionally hear of squabbles, but here on the ground there is calm, cooperation and close ties. It's a bit like judging a marriage by only the visible arguments,

    4. It is so clear that bunches of the clergy are liberal as to be beyond doubt, but I don't expect you to admit it.

      Jack chick's aspersions do not approach the gravity of EO aspersions against the West. And remember, one church != an entire societal system.

      Do you remember when one of the major EO churches got this close to excommunicating the other?

    5. excommunicating *another

    6. If you say so. I have no knowledge of such things.

    7. Don't you think you should maybe learn about such things?

      And as for liberalism within EOC...

    8. What, you think it's my job to conduct a witch hunt and interview the world's priests? Not really. Why do you think I should?

      Or about some churches came "close" to excommunicating each other. Again, not sure what you're talking about, nor why I should be concerned. Threat of excommunication sometimes keeps everyone in line.

      Nt sure what your link proves about liberalism in EO clergy.

  5. Well, when something is in evidence, the meaning can be discussed.

    Of course, the Orthodox church lived through great chunks of it being Arian, so I don't think some new heresy is going to be a major theological difficulty.