The Risks of Evangelical Orthodox Christianity

John Allen, a reporter for the National Catholic Reporter, makes a some interesting observations in his review of French sociologist Olivier Roy’s La Sainte ignorance: Le temps de la religion sans culture (Editions du Seuil 2008; the English translation, Holy Ignorance: When Religion and Culture Diverge, is scheduled for release in May 2010, Columbia University Press).  Allen is trying to make sense of what he (and others) calls “evangelical Catholicism” or that movement within the Catholic Church that seeks “a strong reassertion of traditional Catholic identity coupled with an impulse to express that identity in the public realm.”

Based on Roy’s work, Allen argues that evangelical Catholicism is part of a broader impulse among religious believers to revive a “traditional identity and . . . to proclaim that identity in public.”  Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism all have their own evangelical movements.   And so parallel to “the explosive growth of Evangelical and Pentecostal forms of Christianity,” we see “the success of Salafism, Tablighi Jamaat and neo-Sufism within Islam, the comeback of the Lubavich movement inside Judaism, as well as the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India and the popularity of Sri Lankan theravada Buddhism.”

While there certainly are difference among these movements, they nevertheless according to Allen share common characteristics.  He quotes Roy as saying common to all these movements is “The individualization of faith, anti‐intellectualism, a stress on salvation and realization of the self, [and] rejection of the surrounding culture as pagan.”

What I find fascinating is Roy’s assertion that, in Allen’s words, “this evangelical wave isn’t a sign of a comeback for religion, but more akin to a symptom of chronic illness.”  For example, the “anti-intellectualism” of contemporary forms of evangelicalism is the doorway through which believers are offered the promise of “immediate, emotional access to the sacred.”  As part of this promise these new evangelical modes of traditional religions set themselves up “in direct opposition to contemporary pagan culture” and in so doing “creates space in which fundamentalism and radicalism metastasize.”

While some Orthodox Christians may see this as fundamentally a good thing, I think Allen is correct that in fact for Catholics and Orthodox Christians “this as a body blow, or at least a serious challenge.”  The reason is that both “Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity, . . . historically have emphasized the integration of religion with cultural, national and ethnic identity.”  The pastoral significance this is seen not only in “the heavy losses Catholicism has suffered to Pentecostals in Latin America, and more recently in parts of Africa,” but also the growth of Protestant sects and New Age spirituality in traditional Orthodox countries such as Greece and Russia.

Turning to America, we see a similar evangelical movement among Orthodox Christians.  I’m thinking here not only of traditionalists groups or those who intentionally pattern parish life on a deficient and eccentric understanding monastic life but also our packaging and marketing of the Church’s tradition to meet the expectations of dissatisfied Evangelical Christians seeking to recapture New Testament Christianity.

As I have said here before, we often see in American Orthodox Christianity is a dangerous convergence of ethnicity and monastic life that (ultimately) is faithful to neither.  Instead it represents the very anti-intellectualism and sectarianism that we see not only in various forms of indigenous American Christianity but also in other religious traditions.

Is Roy’s analysis correct? Having not read his work I have to reserve judgment on the matter.  But at least as reported by Allen, my intuition is that Roy is certainly on the right track.  The temptation that the Orthodox Church–and really all religions face–is to hang our corporate identity on our opposition to American culture.  To be sure there is much in American culture to oppose and I will not waste time repeating what we all know is true.

At the same time there is much in American culture that is good and I think compatible with the Gospel.  The various personal and political freedoms enshrined in the US Constitution come quickly to mind.  There are other qualities that are of value as well.  Chief among these is the American commitment–again personal and corporate–to practical philanthropy, to fair play and to the common good.  And all of this is in turn grounded in what I would call our common sense adherence to natural law and a just and well-ordered society is founded upon personal virtue.

It is important to note that what Roy describes is not–in the current case–Orthodox Christianity in its fullness.  Rather what he helps us see in a parody, or at least a diminishing, of the Church’s life.  An Orthodox Church without monastic life and our different ethnic traditions  is crippled Church and one that will fail in its vocation to proclaim the Gospel.

Finally and briefly, our proclamation of the Gospel will necessarily draw on the monastic witness and the riches of traditional Orthodox culture; we can do no less if we are to be faithful to the faith delivered once and forever to the saints (see Jude 1:3).

We cannot reduce our proclamation the Gospel to simply reiterating what others have said and simply imitating what they have done.  In classical Christian moral theology, virtue is always contextual.  It is not enough to do a good thing; one must do the right good thing that the circumstances demand.

As always, your comments, questions and criticisms are not only welcome, they are actively sought.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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  • Adam Sheehan

    Fr. Gregory,

    While I have never read anything by Olivier Roy, I strongly suspect he has been influenced by French Sociologist Jacques Ellul who passed away in the 1990′s. Ellul, a devoted Roman Catholic, wrote extensively about subjects related to these…most notably his works, “The Subversion of Christianity” and “Jesus and Marx: From Gospel to Ideology”. In fact, I am willing to bet he makes references to (and builds upon) Ellul in La Sainte Ignorance.

    I will try to obtain a copy of Roy myself. I would be interested to see what your review/reaction is as well.

    Yours,

    Adam

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  • Adam Sheehan

    Fr. Gregory,

    While I have never read anything by Olivier Roy, I strongly suspect he has been influenced by French Sociologist Jacques Ellul who passed away in the 1990′s. Ellul, a devoted Roman Catholic, wrote extensively about subjects related to these…most notably his works, “The Subversion of Christianity” and “Jesus and Marx: From Gospel to Ideology”. In fact, I am willing to bet he makes references to (and builds upon) Ellul in La Sainte Ignorance.

    I will try to obtain a copy of Roy myself. I would be interested to see what your review/reaction is as well.

    Yours,

    Adam

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  • http://palamas.info/ Fr Gregory Jensen

    God willing when Roy’s book comes out in English someone will ask me to review the text.

    As for his debit to Ellul, sociology isn’t my field but I think you may very well be right.

    In Christ,

    +FrG

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  • http://palamas.info Fr Gregory Jensen

    God willing when Roy’s book comes out in English someone will ask me to review the text.

    As for his debit to Ellul, sociology isn’t my field but I think you may very well be right.

    In Christ,

    +FrG

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  • http://pithlessthoughts.blogspot.com/ s-p

    I think the fact that most of the “evangelicalizations” of Orthodoxy you cite are actually done by converts who visit monasteries or read about stuff in a book then make up a “counter culture” that almagamizes and mimics aspects of Orthodox life and makes that a counter culture within a parish life pretty much says it all. But that kind of begs the question: HOW does one just “be Orthodox” in America? Who do you ask for guidance and who do you imitate and how do you know if you are doing “Renaissance Festival Orthodoxy”?
    .-= s-p´s last blog ..Orthograph #35 – True Confessions, 3 =-.

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    • http://palamas.info/ Fr Gregory Jensen

      S-P,

      You ask good questions. I can tell you what I did–I spent about 15 years in the GOA (10 as a priest) and learned what Orthodox looks and feels like in a Greek context (and to a lesser extent a Carpatho-Russian context). To the degree that I have been able to avoid “Renaissance Festival Orthodoxy” (GREAT phrase by the way), I have been able to do so because of my time in the GOA.

      And there’s the problem. Not only is there not always that openness in ethnic parishes to serve as tutors/mentors for new Orthodox Christians, there is often no interest among new Orthodox Christians for such an apprenticeship. Too many new Orthodox Christians come with a DIY approach to the life of the Church. They come to fulfill their own agenda and not to live the life of the Church as it actually is in a parish.

      Worse, too many priests (and even a bishop or two) are willing to support and even encourage this foolishness.

      You want to learn how to be Orthodox in America? Go find an ethnic parish and stay there for a couple of years and learn how they live the Gospel. Will it all be easy or edifying or even correct? Nope. But if you are serious about being part of the Church you have to see the good and the bad. Of the two the bad is of more important. Why? Because in my experience it helped me understand my own willingness to submit the Gospel to my own agenda. I eventually realized that I recognized Greek bad habits because they were my bad habits.

      Again, thanks for the comment–what are your thoughts?

      In Christ,

      +FrG

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  • http://pithlessthoughts.blogspot.com/ s-p

    I think the fact that most of the “evangelicalizations” of Orthodoxy you cite are actually done by converts who visit monasteries or read about stuff in a book then make up a “counter culture” that almagamizes and mimics aspects of Orthodox life and makes that a counter culture within a parish life pretty much says it all. But that kind of begs the question: HOW does one just “be Orthodox” in America? Who do you ask for guidance and who do you imitate and how do you know if you are doing “Renaissance Festival Orthodoxy”?
    .-= s-p´s last blog ..Orthograph #35 – True Confessions, 3 =-.

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    • http://palamas.info Fr Gregory Jensen

      S-P,

      You ask good questions. I can tell you what I did–I spent about 15 years in the GOA (10 as a priest) and learned what Orthodox looks and feels like in a Greek context (and to a lesser extent a Carpatho-Russian context). To the degree that I have been able to avoid “Renaissance Festival Orthodoxy” (GREAT phrase by the way), I have been able to do so because of my time in the GOA.

      And there’s the problem. Not only is there not always that openness in ethnic parishes to serve as tutors/mentors for new Orthodox Christians, there is often no interest among new Orthodox Christians for such an apprenticeship. Too many new Orthodox Christians come with a DIY approach to the life of the Church. They come to fulfill their own agenda and not to live the life of the Church as it actually is in a parish.

      Worse, too many priests (and even a bishop or two) are willing to support and even encourage this foolishness.

      You want to learn how to be Orthodox in America? Go find an ethnic parish and stay there for a couple of years and learn how they live the Gospel. Will it all be easy or edifying or even correct? Nope. But if you are serious about being part of the Church you have to see the good and the bad. Of the two the bad is of more important. Why? Because in my experience it helped me understand my own willingness to submit the Gospel to my own agenda. I eventually realized that I recognized Greek bad habits because they were my bad habits.

      Again, thanks for the comment–what are your thoughts?

      In Christ,

      +FrG

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  • http://orthodoxclarksville.org/ Fr. John

    Elaboration of an Orthodox Christian subculture is indeed the job of monastics; the witness of their particular lifestyle defines that project. The job of parishes is to define the large middle-ground of Orthodox culture, with reference to the ‘hard line’ towed by monastics (actually quite a soft and subtle line) and the large-scale, long-view picture of culture imbued with Tradition handed down by churches in Eurasia and Africa, the Orthodox Homelands. It is crucial that we American churchmen who work to enculturate Orthodoxy on these shores maintain a living, informed and critical connection to the Tradition and traditions of our church and not ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’ in our zeal to adapt the faith to American parish life.
    Where I stand in the north-mid-South (TN/KY border) the project of creating an Orthodox parish culture is a real struggle since as mission priest I have to try to do the work of an entire community informing a parish of converts isolated within a strong Baptist culture. “Evangelicalization” of our Orthodox witness would result in a malformation starting within the hearts of converts: ‘teaching Orthodoxy to the Orthodox’ was a first big misstep.
    The problem here is that Americans distrust Tradition, are trained by Evangelical religion to atomize, personalize and compartmentalize their experience of faith through a secular lens, and persist in a triumphalistic view of American culture and religion. This combination of factors makes full conversion to Orthodoxy impossible on human terms. But with God all things are possible.
    Lord have mercy!

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  • http://orthodoxclarksville.org Fr. John

    Elaboration of an Orthodox Christian subculture is indeed the job of monastics; the witness of their particular lifestyle defines that project. The job of parishes is to define the large middle-ground of Orthodox culture, with reference to the ‘hard line’ towed by monastics (actually quite a soft and subtle line) and the large-scale, long-view picture of culture imbued with Tradition handed down by churches in Eurasia and Africa, the Orthodox Homelands. It is crucial that we American churchmen who work to enculturate Orthodoxy on these shores maintain a living, informed and critical connection to the Tradition and traditions of our church and not ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’ in our zeal to adapt the faith to American parish life.
    Where I stand in the north-mid-South (TN/KY border) the project of creating an Orthodox parish culture is a real struggle since as mission priest I have to try to do the work of an entire community informing a parish of converts isolated within a strong Baptist culture. “Evangelicalization” of our Orthodox witness would result in a malformation starting within the hearts of converts: ‘teaching Orthodoxy to the Orthodox’ was a first big misstep.
    The problem here is that Americans distrust Tradition, are trained by Evangelical religion to atomize, personalize and compartmentalize their experience of faith through a secular lens, and persist in a triumphalistic view of American culture and religion. This combination of factors makes full conversion to Orthodoxy impossible on human terms. But with God all things are possible.
    Lord have mercy!

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  • Michael Bauman

    Fr. Gregory, although I understand your concerns, I don’t beleive the problem you are describing is a covert problem. It is a problem with the Church herself. We don’t know how to absorb and instruct folks coming from differing theologcial and personal perspectives. Combined with the overwhelming influence of the Protestant approach to God (its just you and me baby) that is in our culture, we simply have little clue on how to consciously form community. The fall back position is ‘ethnic’ becasue that provides a level of commonality that is lacking otherwise.

    Over the last few years I have begun to find a solution–obedience. Fasting is an excellent example in my case. I’ve read a great many theological/spiritual explanations of fasting over the years. None of them made any sense to me. None of them helped me approach the fast and enter into it. Finally, I gave up trying to understand the fast. Jesus expects us to fast, the Church tells us to fast in a certain manner. That’s enough. Simple obedience has been far more effective for me than trying to figure it out. Same way for participation in the Divine Liturgy. Be there, pray the prayers. Accept the doctrine in the Creed especially if one’s initial understanding is challenged.

    Become more simple: prayer (corporate and personal), fasting, almsgiving, forgiveness/repentance. That’s what we do. My solution when struggles arise with something or someone–go to confession. The phrase, “by your prayers” has become critical in my own life. The story of the paralyzed man who was brought to Jesus by his friends–it was because of their faith that the man’s sins were forgiven and his body healed, not his own.

    The theology is wonderful, beautiful, even sublimely meaningful and provides a context that allows us to prayer properly, fast properly, etc., but unless and until we actually do the practices together, the theology can be a distraction.

    It seems to me that spiritual formation needs to start with simple obedience to practicing the life of the Church. Feed the soul so that the mind can really begin to comprehend what the Fathers are saying (at least a little). Otherwise don’t we run the risk of tending toward a functional gnosticism?

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  • Michael Bauman

    Fr. Gregory, although I understand your concerns, I don’t beleive the problem you are describing is a covert problem. It is a problem with the Church herself. We don’t know how to absorb and instruct folks coming from differing theologcial and personal perspectives. Combined with the overwhelming influence of the Protestant approach to God (its just you and me baby) that is in our culture, we simply have little clue on how to consciously form community. The fall back position is ‘ethnic’ becasue that provides a level of commonality that is lacking otherwise.

    Over the last few years I have begun to find a solution–obedience. Fasting is an excellent example in my case. I’ve read a great many theological/spiritual explanations of fasting over the years. None of them made any sense to me. None of them helped me approach the fast and enter into it. Finally, I gave up trying to understand the fast. Jesus expects us to fast, the Church tells us to fast in a certain manner. That’s enough. Simple obedience has been far more effective for me than trying to figure it out. Same way for participation in the Divine Liturgy. Be there, pray the prayers. Accept the doctrine in the Creed especially if one’s initial understanding is challenged.

    Become more simple: prayer (corporate and personal), fasting, almsgiving, forgiveness/repentance. That’s what we do. My solution when struggles arise with something or someone–go to confession. The phrase, “by your prayers” has become critical in my own life. The story of the paralyzed man who was brought to Jesus by his friends–it was because of their faith that the man’s sins were forgiven and his body healed, not his own.

    The theology is wonderful, beautiful, even sublimely meaningful and provides a context that allows us to prayer properly, fast properly, etc., but unless and until we actually do the practices together, the theology can be a distraction.

    It seems to me that spiritual formation needs to start with simple obedience to practicing the life of the Church. Feed the soul so that the mind can really begin to comprehend what the Fathers are saying (at least a little). Otherwise don’t we run the risk of tending toward a functional gnosticism?

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  • Timothy

    NOW, here’s some good interaction. Good intro words by Fr Gregory, with little if any hint of being judgmental with any person or view, for the most part just opening up the observation by way of some things that he’s come across in review. Thank you Father.
    From this one person’s view, as I read the varying responses, as well as many reactions, to the mere beginning of Fr Gregory’s observational questions, – we are left in a proverbial mess. It may be of sociological, and in time, perhaps, anthropological value to observe why one blames and another takes it upon themselves (now this, as Fr Gregory would and does affirm, he might do even now). However it is of little use to those around us, living, breathing and caring for our parishes, families, businesses, states and nations and more (not in any order as such).
    Again, for myself, I have learned and continue to learn from my Grandfather, and yet I learn from my eldest to youngest of children as well as Godchildren (thirty-four to six, five children and two grandchildren, plus another dozen and a half of Godchildren, of nearly the same ages). I learn from the Grandmothers and Grandfathers in the Church, as well as those elsewhere in everyday life within and without the Church. I learn, for me especially so, from the innocence that I observe daily in those without guile in their actions, words, true love. I learn from those without agendas to make the Church or the people within the Church what they want. I learn from those who do not separate love from loving, and just is the case with faith and hope.
    It’s a big club that we each alone have the freedom to claim for ourselves: ‘I believe,’ yes, ‘and confess that you are the Christ who has come into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first/chief,’ mirroring St Paul’s words, speaking not of another – but rather of himself, ‘Christ Jesus came to the world to save sinners, of whom I am first/chief.’ There may be other sinners, but it is not for me to assign what God alone does by observation.
    We miss the mark and sin when we are less than the Incarnate God. It never is boring to reaffirm our Lord’s way of judgment, the way of observation, told in St Matthew’s Gospel account in the latter part of chapter twenty-five. Our most recent gracious Bishop Job of Memory Eternal, once to a group of newer converts and a larger group of those growing up from being converted as baptized infants – responded to a similar question as most of these responses and reactions beg. Here are his words (I was there, nearly nineteen years ago, and have confirmed the accuracy of these words): “On the last Day (“whatever that will be, since none of us seem to know”) our Lord will not ask what religious faith or lack thereof we held in this world. He will not ask what we believed, whether we fasted, kept or didn’t keep this or that Tradition. He will only observe how we did or did not treat those least able to help themselves. And then he will observe only whether you loved him or not by the way you treated the person before you.” For our Bishop in Blessed Repose, as well as our Lord, it’s not about the other person.
    Excellent genesis Fr Gregory…

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  • Timothy

    NOW, here’s some good interaction. Good intro words by Fr Gregory, with little if any hint of being judgmental with any person or view, for the most part just opening up the observation by way of some things that he’s come across in review. Thank you Father.
    From this one person’s view, as I read the varying responses, as well as many reactions, to the mere beginning of Fr Gregory’s observational questions, – we are left in a proverbial mess. It may be of sociological, and in time, perhaps, anthropological value to observe why one blames and another takes it upon themselves (now this, as Fr Gregory would and does affirm, he might do even now). However it is of little use to those around us, living, breathing and caring for our parishes, families, businesses, states and nations and more (not in any order as such).
    Again, for myself, I have learned and continue to learn from my Grandfather, and yet I learn from my eldest to youngest of children as well as Godchildren (thirty-four to six, five children and two grandchildren, plus another dozen and a half of Godchildren, of nearly the same ages). I learn from the Grandmothers and Grandfathers in the Church, as well as those elsewhere in everyday life within and without the Church. I learn, for me especially so, from the innocence that I observe daily in those without guile in their actions, words, true love. I learn from those without agendas to make the Church or the people within the Church what they want. I learn from those who do not separate love from loving, and just is the case with faith and hope.
    It’s a big club that we each alone have the freedom to claim for ourselves: ‘I believe,’ yes, ‘and confess that you are the Christ who has come into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first/chief,’ mirroring St Paul’s words, speaking not of another – but rather of himself, ‘Christ Jesus came to the world to save sinners, of whom I am first/chief.’ There may be other sinners, but it is not for me to assign what God alone does by observation.
    We miss the mark and sin when we are less than the Incarnate God. It never is boring to reaffirm our Lord’s way of judgment, the way of observation, told in St Matthew’s Gospel account in the latter part of chapter twenty-five. Our most recent gracious Bishop Job of Memory Eternal, once to a group of newer converts and a larger group of those growing up from being converted as baptized infants – responded to a similar question as most of these responses and reactions beg. Here are his words (I was there, nearly nineteen years ago, and have confirmed the accuracy of these words): “On the last Day (“whatever that will be, since none of us seem to know”) our Lord will not ask what religious faith or lack thereof we held in this world. He will not ask what we believed, whether we fasted, kept or didn’t keep this or that Tradition. He will only observe how we did or did not treat those least able to help themselves. And then he will observe only whether you loved him or not by the way you treated the person before you.” For our Bishop in Blessed Repose, as well as our Lord, it’s not about the other person.
    Excellent genesis Fr Gregory…

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  • Timothy

    sub-note: re the French Sociologist “Jacques Ellul,” my oh my, I remember reading him the first time in the middle to late seventies, along side of the Dutch Philosopher “Herman Dooyeweerd.” For me, these men come from a time where scholarship meant competence in many sciences in order to attempt to merely do one well. cool.

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  • Timothy

    sub-note: re the French Sociologist “Jacques Ellul,” my oh my, I remember reading him the first time in the middle to late seventies, along side of the Dutch Philosopher “Herman Dooyeweerd.” For me, these men come from a time where scholarship meant competence in many sciences in order to attempt to merely do one well. cool.

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  • http://pithlessthoughts.blogspot.com/ s-p

    Father Gregory, I don’t know if I have many thoughts… I’ve been part of DIY convert Missions from since before we were Orthodox. My only interaction with established ethnic parishes have been very limited and just brief visits. But, there is a palpable difference. It came to a head for me a few years ago when someone in one of our Mission parish meetings said something like “I’m glad we have this Mission so we can show Phoenix what REAL Orthodoxy looks like…” GAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!! NOT what I signed on for, but… I faced the fact that all I knew of “real Orthodoxy” was what I read in books and yes, made up in my head gleaned from limited experiences and what I was taught by, yes… other converts and convert priests. (And the only “cradle priests” we were under were both mentally ill, no joke.) To be sure we were doing the forms “correctly” liturgically etc. and the only real differences in some cases were we had MORE services and somewhat better attendance, but motivated by what? Oneorthodoxupmanship of the “Cradles”? No, of course it was for our “salvation” we tell ourselves… but the judgmental sideways glances at the ethnic parishes betrays the depth of our arrogance, really. I think what I have come down to is “look to yourself” and “live in the present moment”. If I can do the prayers and services (whether led by a goofy convert priest or an ethnic cradle priest) and not judge my brother, I’m going to get light years ahead of myself a lot faster. Maybe that’s what Michael is saying in so many words too.
    .-= s-p´s last blog ..Orthograph #35 – True Confessions, 3 =-.

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  • http://pithlessthoughts.blogspot.com/ s-p

    Father Gregory, I don’t know if I have many thoughts… I’ve been part of DIY convert Missions from since before we were Orthodox. My only interaction with established ethnic parishes have been very limited and just brief visits. But, there is a palpable difference. It came to a head for me a few years ago when someone in one of our Mission parish meetings said something like “I’m glad we have this Mission so we can show Phoenix what REAL Orthodoxy looks like…” GAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!! NOT what I signed on for, but… I faced the fact that all I knew of “real Orthodoxy” was what I read in books and yes, made up in my head gleaned from limited experiences and what I was taught by, yes… other converts and convert priests. (And the only “cradle priests” we were under were both mentally ill, no joke.) To be sure we were doing the forms “correctly” liturgically etc. and the only real differences in some cases were we had MORE services and somewhat better attendance, but motivated by what? Oneorthodoxupmanship of the “Cradles”? No, of course it was for our “salvation” we tell ourselves… but the judgmental sideways glances at the ethnic parishes betrays the depth of our arrogance, really. I think what I have come down to is “look to yourself” and “live in the present moment”. If I can do the prayers and services (whether led by a goofy convert priest or an ethnic cradle priest) and not judge my brother, I’m going to get light years ahead of myself a lot faster. Maybe that’s what Michael is saying in so many words too.
    .-= s-p´s last blog ..Orthograph #35 – True Confessions, 3 =-.

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  • Rich

    Fr Gregory,

    Thank you so much for these thoughts. It’s made me think about a lot of things.

    As Americans we’re into recreating ourselves. This has two problems, as I see it. First, it’s the “ourself” business. We see ourselves as the agents of our own change. We make our own destiny. Second, recreation implies that we are dissatisfied with how we were created. Evangelicalism–in any religion–tries to convert people, to bring people from where they are to where you are. (There are rare types who try to affirm where you are at, but they are the quietest.) So if you “evangelize” other people, such as the movements you mention, you are selecting for those people who are dissatisfied, as those satisfied with where they are at won’t see a need to move. (This is why the Mormons stopped coming to my house.)

    Since Americans can tend to be self-deterimining and dissatisfied, I perceive that they can lack loyalty to people and communities. I have to admit that sometimes one is in a really bad spot and needs to move. Nevertheless, when we look at serial careers, serial marriages, serial hometowns, etc., demonstrate that loyalty to a community is not the main motivating factor.

    Converts to Orthodoxy are in every case disloyal to some extent. Sometimes this is good, as they could come from toxic, painful places with no hope. Nevertheless, we have to recognize this baggage. Converts make fun of “ethnic parishes” because of the tribalism and feuds that often accompany it. This breeds superiority. However, I think that this difference says something about the American mentality. The reason why converts parishes are tribal is because generation after generation has decided to stay loyal to this community. This loyalty may be self-serving in some cases, but we can recognize that it is there. The reason why the feuds arise is because people stick around after a fight. It is possible that convert parishes don’t have fights because the people who were fighting left. Discomfort with friction trumped loyalty. Spending time in a convert parish teaches you how to sit and have coffee with someone you don’t really like.

    Preaching the Gospel when loyalty is not recognized as day-to-day value is especially hard. Paul is constantly trying to get his people to stay faithful even when there are fights in the fellowship from within, and persecution from without. He gets on Peter’s case for his change of heart about the Gentiles and his lack of loyalty to his original teaching (Galatians 2). Jesus is trying to tell us that we have to remain fundamentally loyal to God, even when God gives us a cross and seems most disloyal to us. As Americans, we want to control our destiny, but this impulse needs to be evangelized. God wants us to be satisfied with–thankful for!–everything he gives us, even if we are walking out to the lions.

    As I remark about the baptism service, it’s not about the true church or making the decision to do the right thing, it’s about God bringing you into his community even though you were wicked. God is the agent and God places you where he wants you.

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  • Rich

    Fr Gregory,

    Thank you so much for these thoughts. It’s made me think about a lot of things.

    As Americans we’re into recreating ourselves. This has two problems, as I see it. First, it’s the “ourself” business. We see ourselves as the agents of our own change. We make our own destiny. Second, recreation implies that we are dissatisfied with how we were created. Evangelicalism–in any religion–tries to convert people, to bring people from where they are to where you are. (There are rare types who try to affirm where you are at, but they are the quietest.) So if you “evangelize” other people, such as the movements you mention, you are selecting for those people who are dissatisfied, as those satisfied with where they are at won’t see a need to move. (This is why the Mormons stopped coming to my house.)

    Since Americans can tend to be self-deterimining and dissatisfied, I perceive that they can lack loyalty to people and communities. I have to admit that sometimes one is in a really bad spot and needs to move. Nevertheless, when we look at serial careers, serial marriages, serial hometowns, etc., demonstrate that loyalty to a community is not the main motivating factor.

    Converts to Orthodoxy are in every case disloyal to some extent. Sometimes this is good, as they could come from toxic, painful places with no hope. Nevertheless, we have to recognize this baggage. Converts make fun of “ethnic parishes” because of the tribalism and feuds that often accompany it. This breeds superiority. However, I think that this difference says something about the American mentality. The reason why converts parishes are tribal is because generation after generation has decided to stay loyal to this community. This loyalty may be self-serving in some cases, but we can recognize that it is there. The reason why the feuds arise is because people stick around after a fight. It is possible that convert parishes don’t have fights because the people who were fighting left. Discomfort with friction trumped loyalty. Spending time in a convert parish teaches you how to sit and have coffee with someone you don’t really like.

    Preaching the Gospel when loyalty is not recognized as day-to-day value is especially hard. Paul is constantly trying to get his people to stay faithful even when there are fights in the fellowship from within, and persecution from without. He gets on Peter’s case for his change of heart about the Gentiles and his lack of loyalty to his original teaching (Galatians 2). Jesus is trying to tell us that we have to remain fundamentally loyal to God, even when God gives us a cross and seems most disloyal to us. As Americans, we want to control our destiny, but this impulse needs to be evangelized. God wants us to be satisfied with–thankful for!–everything he gives us, even if we are walking out to the lions.

    As I remark about the baptism service, it’s not about the true church or making the decision to do the right thing, it’s about God bringing you into his community even though you were wicked. God is the agent and God places you where he wants you.

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  • Michael Bauman

    I hope I am not being too critical Rich, but there are a number of really broad generalizations in your comment and others that I find distrubing.

    First: I think that the dichotomy we are all so used to using ‘cradle’ and ‘convert’ is essentially false. That false dichotomy is one of the tools we use to divide ourselves from one another. We would be much better off if we just stopped using it. It has become a divisive sterotype. What is the actual mindset you are attempting to describe?

    Second: You say “Converts to Orthodoxy are in every case disloyal to some extent.” That depends on why the person(s) choose to come into the Church dosen’t it? Some people are quite loyal to the leading of the Holy Spirit. They are actually being obedient when they finally are led to the Church. How is that being disloyal?

    Third: (to all) I dislike the word evangelical to describe the pathology being talked about. It would seem rather that a word like prosyletize would better describe the problem. Evangelizing is about declaring the Truth, living the Truth and witnessing to the Truth while allowing the Holy Spirit to do the actual work of guiding and changing. Prosyletism is specifically wanting to change someone’s mind or state or move them to the ‘right’ place (ours of course). Real evangelism if founded upon love. Prosyletism is founded upon being right.

    Real loyalty is a committment to the truth with our regard for the consequences to oneself. It means, among other things, that we should be patient and allow the Holy Spirit to reform us in the context He called us to unless there is some really bad situation that is destructive.

    The real problem IMO is everyone having a individual idea of what it means to be Orthodox, what it means to be in the Church. I have some good friends in a small OCA mission parish that is likely to collapse primarily because everyone in the mission has a totally different idea of what and why they are a parish. Obedience to the priest and the bishop is given lip service, but that’s it. It is heartbreaking because they are really great people. I’ve seen the same thing happen in largely ethnic parishes as well. They keep driving away priests and those new to the faith–slowly desicating themselves.

    The task of forming genuine community takes courage, committment, humility and love. Arrogance and lust of power at any level greatly damages community whether it is evidenced in leadership or in the greater body.

    One point you make that seems to ring true it that modern man (not just Americans) feel the compulsion to re-imagine ourselves frequently. Unfortunately, we tend to limit that re-imagining to our own musings rather than allowing the Holy Spirit to reveal the Godly image within us. Two activities have the capacity to reveal our sins to us beyond our capacity to rationalize them: marriage and life in a small to medium sized community focused on loving God. Those same two activities also have the capacity to heal us in ways that are difficult to see at first.

    Jean Paul Sartre famously remarked that “Hell is other people”. As ususal he got it backwards. Only by our willing submission in Christ to one another is heaven revealed. If we run from the task, we have dropped our Cross and it is difficult to pick it up again.

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  • Michael Bauman

    I hope I am not being too critical Rich, but there are a number of really broad generalizations in your comment and others that I find distrubing.

    First: I think that the dichotomy we are all so used to using ‘cradle’ and ‘convert’ is essentially false. That false dichotomy is one of the tools we use to divide ourselves from one another. We would be much better off if we just stopped using it. It has become a divisive sterotype. What is the actual mindset you are attempting to describe?

    Second: You say “Converts to Orthodoxy are in every case disloyal to some extent.” That depends on why the person(s) choose to come into the Church dosen’t it? Some people are quite loyal to the leading of the Holy Spirit. They are actually being obedient when they finally are led to the Church. How is that being disloyal?

    Third: (to all) I dislike the word evangelical to describe the pathology being talked about. It would seem rather that a word like prosyletize would better describe the problem. Evangelizing is about declaring the Truth, living the Truth and witnessing to the Truth while allowing the Holy Spirit to do the actual work of guiding and changing. Prosyletism is specifically wanting to change someone’s mind or state or move them to the ‘right’ place (ours of course). Real evangelism if founded upon love. Prosyletism is founded upon being right.

    Real loyalty is a committment to the truth with our regard for the consequences to oneself. It means, among other things, that we should be patient and allow the Holy Spirit to reform us in the context He called us to unless there is some really bad situation that is destructive.

    The real problem IMO is everyone having a individual idea of what it means to be Orthodox, what it means to be in the Church. I have some good friends in a small OCA mission parish that is likely to collapse primarily because everyone in the mission has a totally different idea of what and why they are a parish. Obedience to the priest and the bishop is given lip service, but that’s it. It is heartbreaking because they are really great people. I’ve seen the same thing happen in largely ethnic parishes as well. They keep driving away priests and those new to the faith–slowly desicating themselves.

    The task of forming genuine community takes courage, committment, humility and love. Arrogance and lust of power at any level greatly damages community whether it is evidenced in leadership or in the greater body.

    One point you make that seems to ring true it that modern man (not just Americans) feel the compulsion to re-imagine ourselves frequently. Unfortunately, we tend to limit that re-imagining to our own musings rather than allowing the Holy Spirit to reveal the Godly image within us. Two activities have the capacity to reveal our sins to us beyond our capacity to rationalize them: marriage and life in a small to medium sized community focused on loving God. Those same two activities also have the capacity to heal us in ways that are difficult to see at first.

    Jean Paul Sartre famously remarked that “Hell is other people”. As ususal he got it backwards. Only by our willing submission in Christ to one another is heaven revealed. If we run from the task, we have dropped our Cross and it is difficult to pick it up again.

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  • Rich

    I am using the terms “convert” and “cradle” in their full, stereotypical meaning here, since it is the way that people talk, and I’m drawing off of those definitions. By “convert” I mean those who spent a good part of their life as a non-Orthodox, usually of a different Christian denomination. By “cradle” I mean people that were Orthodox their entire lives, and who see their Orthodox religion closely related to their national identity. Paul used the terms “circumcised” and “uncircumcised” to make a point that the distinction is ultimately irrelevant. I agree that the distinction can be destructive. I think that once the “cradle” and “converts” all realize we’re in this together, it will solve some problems.

    I’m sorry I was not clear about what I meant by “loyalty.” When I said “loyalty” I meant to people and to a community. An example of this sort of “disloyalty” is like the parish whose members don’t want to do what the priest/bishop is telling them. Each one is looking to his or her own definition of a parish, even if it is not in the best interest of his or her neighbor.

    Loyalty to God has to be in the context of a community. If a person follows the Holy Spirit on his/her own into the Orthodox Church, what’s to keep the Holy Spirit from leading him/her right back out? (BTW I have seen people claim this.) The solution is to see that the other people, the community, are the locus of the Holy Spirit. But Americans tend not to be so loyal to community, from my observations.

    I think that wrestling with a community, trying to love the other people, to think of others before oneself, will bring about a good resolution to many problems. This is how we can accomplish all of these good things, “The task of forming genuine community takes courage, committment, humility and love.”

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  • Rich

    I am using the terms “convert” and “cradle” in their full, stereotypical meaning here, since it is the way that people talk, and I’m drawing off of those definitions. By “convert” I mean those who spent a good part of their life as a non-Orthodox, usually of a different Christian denomination. By “cradle” I mean people that were Orthodox their entire lives, and who see their Orthodox religion closely related to their national identity. Paul used the terms “circumcised” and “uncircumcised” to make a point that the distinction is ultimately irrelevant. I agree that the distinction can be destructive. I think that once the “cradle” and “converts” all realize we’re in this together, it will solve some problems.

    I’m sorry I was not clear about what I meant by “loyalty.” When I said “loyalty” I meant to people and to a community. An example of this sort of “disloyalty” is like the parish whose members don’t want to do what the priest/bishop is telling them. Each one is looking to his or her own definition of a parish, even if it is not in the best interest of his or her neighbor.

    Loyalty to God has to be in the context of a community. If a person follows the Holy Spirit on his/her own into the Orthodox Church, what’s to keep the Holy Spirit from leading him/her right back out? (BTW I have seen people claim this.) The solution is to see that the other people, the community, are the locus of the Holy Spirit. But Americans tend not to be so loyal to community, from my observations.

    I think that wrestling with a community, trying to love the other people, to think of others before oneself, will bring about a good resolution to many problems. This is how we can accomplish all of these good things, “The task of forming genuine community takes courage, committment, humility and love.”

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  • Chrys

    Beautifully said, Michael! Creating a community – which is to say, loving – is an arduous, gradual and soul-offering process. To the degree any group forms a real community, it is an act of grace. This was the first miracle of Christ, though it is rarely noted as such: he brought together disciples of such varied (and often opposing) background and forged a bond of love between them.
    Destroying a community, however – as with all destruction – is incredibly, frighteningly easy. (I assume that the adolescent fascination with destruction is that it is fast, whereas creation is almost always a necessarily slow, organic process.)
    I am watching an event similar to the one you describe and it is heart-breaking. In this case, however, it is a very old parish. The combination of fragile egos, insistence on privilege, and demands to be heard are slowly – and without any apparent intent – destroying a wonderful parish. And the folks on BOTH sides are genuinely “good” people. Ironically, the calls for loyalty to the hierarchy on the one hand and for fidelity to the parish on the other only seem to be making things worse. Perhaps this is not surprising, since our loyalty MUST be to Christ; even the slightest deviation rapidly entwines our egos in idolatrous affections. What appears to be missing is that nearly-heroic humility – that Christ-like kenosis – that will listen and, in the process endure unjust accusations and unwarranted anger, in order to defuse the rising tensions and make a space for love. Only then can the (increasingly needed) healing begin.

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  • Chrys

    Beautifully said, Michael! Creating a community – which is to say, loving – is an arduous, gradual and soul-offering process. To the degree any group forms a real community, it is an act of grace. This was the first miracle of Christ, though it is rarely noted as such: he brought together disciples of such varied (and often opposing) background and forged a bond of love between them.
    Destroying a community, however – as with all destruction – is incredibly, frighteningly easy. (I assume that the adolescent fascination with destruction is that it is fast, whereas creation is almost always a necessarily slow, organic process.)
    I am watching an event similar to the one you describe and it is heart-breaking. In this case, however, it is a very old parish. The combination of fragile egos, insistence on privilege, and demands to be heard are slowly – and without any apparent intent – destroying a wonderful parish. And the folks on BOTH sides are genuinely “good” people. Ironically, the calls for loyalty to the hierarchy on the one hand and for fidelity to the parish on the other only seem to be making things worse. Perhaps this is not surprising, since our loyalty MUST be to Christ; even the slightest deviation rapidly entwines our egos in idolatrous affections. What appears to be missing is that nearly-heroic humility – that Christ-like kenosis – that will listen and, in the process endure unjust accusations and unwarranted anger, in order to defuse the rising tensions and make a space for love. Only then can the (increasingly needed) healing begin.

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  • cynthia curran

    Well, Orthodox Christians come from civilizations where culture determines religion and not indivdual preferances as much. Granted Protestants and Amercan Roman Catholics think that the US is better than other countries. However, the orthodox feel the same about their modern countries as well, and many Greek Orthodox will think that anicent Byzantium was the greatest civilzation and view the world thru the lens of the age of Justinian. As father Jensen stated I’m glad for some modern western thought, and western thought sees the indivdual having an importance. Its only extreme indivdualism like extreme collectivism that is the problem. People come to God not just because of their culture but also because they choose to.

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    • http://palamas.info/ Fr Gregory Jensen

      Cynthia,

      Thank you for your comment and kind words. And especially thank you for pointing out the collectivism that is often seen in traditional Orthodox cultures. Yes, American individualism is a bad thing, but so is Greek or Russian or Arab tribalism. Striking the right balance between person and community is no easy task!

      In Christ,

      +FrG

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  • cynthia curran

    Well, Orthodox Christians come from civilizations where culture determines religion and not indivdual preferances as much. Granted Protestants and Amercan Roman Catholics think that the US is better than other countries. However, the orthodox feel the same about their modern countries as well, and many Greek Orthodox will think that anicent Byzantium was the greatest civilzation and view the world thru the lens of the age of Justinian. As father Jensen stated I’m glad for some modern western thought, and western thought sees the indivdual having an importance. Its only extreme indivdualism like extreme collectivism that is the problem. People come to God not just because of their culture but also because they choose to.

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    • http://palamas.info Fr Gregory Jensen

      Cynthia,

      Thank you for your comment and kind words. And especially thank you for pointing out the collectivism that is often seen in traditional Orthodox cultures. Yes, American individualism is a bad thing, but so is Greek or Russian or Arab tribalism. Striking the right balance between person and community is no easy task!

      In Christ,

      +FrG

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  • http://orthodoxclarksville.org/ Fr. John

    If we focus on collectivist/individualist dichotomy, the ‘monastic temptation’ to formative American Orthodoxy is clarified: monasteries are communities of obedience and collectivism where persons are formed in the light of Christ under strong leadership. The reason American converts and reverts within Orthodox parishes adopt aspects of monastic maximal praxis is that they hanker for the fulness in faith and joyous health they see when they visit monasteries. Many would like to appropriate aspects of community they find there into parish life, but lack leadership or discernment: the priest doesn’t share their enthusiasm and frustrates their yearning and they develop resentment as though he were holding them back from some great feast of faith. Usually, the priest is trying to foster a cohesive parish culture and cannot accommodate a sudden enthusiasm.
    What lacks in parishes is often leadership since we priests are not God and we make mistakes, are lazy, ill-informed, poorly-educated in certain areas of ministry, or emotionally unintelligent. Likewise, parishioners can be headstrong and demanding, often more concerned with self-expression than the general health of the parish. The stronger the particular tendency, affection or bias expressed by a member of the community, the more stress it exerts against cohesion in parish life. This is where leadership with insight becomes valuable, to steer enthusiasm in the right direction to avoid shipwrecks in the faith.
    We have to be honest about the polarization which now obtains in Orthodox America between often highly secularized parish life and resurgent Athonite monasticism, and between Neo-Orthodox communities and ethnic parishes. The fact is that more immigration is occurring and some parishes are undergoing re-ethnization. This fact may discomfit ‘Americanists’ who dream of a culturally autonomous Orthodoxy. But the principle of obedience should temper our passion for self-definition as reality asserts itself: Christ is One, Orthodoxy is universal, Catholic and not cultural. All these tendencies exist within a complex of church life evolving over time. We simply have to put Christ first and pay attention to the signs rather than become blinded by illusions, whether ‘traditionalist’ or ‘revisionist’.

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  • http://orthodoxclarksville.org Fr. John

    If we focus on collectivist/individualist dichotomy, the ‘monastic temptation’ to formative American Orthodoxy is clarified: monasteries are communities of obedience and collectivism where persons are formed in the light of Christ under strong leadership. The reason American converts and reverts within Orthodox parishes adopt aspects of monastic maximal praxis is that they hanker for the fulness in faith and joyous health they see when they visit monasteries. Many would like to appropriate aspects of community they find there into parish life, but lack leadership or discernment: the priest doesn’t share their enthusiasm and frustrates their yearning and they develop resentment as though he were holding them back from some great feast of faith. Usually, the priest is trying to foster a cohesive parish culture and cannot accommodate a sudden enthusiasm.
    What lacks in parishes is often leadership since we priests are not God and we make mistakes, are lazy, ill-informed, poorly-educated in certain areas of ministry, or emotionally unintelligent. Likewise, parishioners can be headstrong and demanding, often more concerned with self-expression than the general health of the parish. The stronger the particular tendency, affection or bias expressed by a member of the community, the more stress it exerts against cohesion in parish life. This is where leadership with insight becomes valuable, to steer enthusiasm in the right direction to avoid shipwrecks in the faith.
    We have to be honest about the polarization which now obtains in Orthodox America between often highly secularized parish life and resurgent Athonite monasticism, and between Neo-Orthodox communities and ethnic parishes. The fact is that more immigration is occurring and some parishes are undergoing re-ethnization. This fact may discomfit ‘Americanists’ who dream of a culturally autonomous Orthodoxy. But the principle of obedience should temper our passion for self-definition as reality asserts itself: Christ is One, Orthodoxy is universal, Catholic and not cultural. All these tendencies exist within a complex of church life evolving over time. We simply have to put Christ first and pay attention to the signs rather than become blinded by illusions, whether ‘traditionalist’ or ‘revisionist’.

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  • http://palamas.info/ Fr Gregory Jensen

    Fr John,

    Well said!

    You are right, many of our parishes are highly secularized and priests do not always provided the leadership we should. Add to this converts and re-verts who are looking to re-create monastic community in a parish and the mix can become explosive.

    But I think all of this can be summed up your phrase “the polarization . . . in Orthodox America.” If the range of this polarization is more narrowly defined than in, say, the Catholic Church or mainline Protestantism, it still exists.

    Forgive me for raising what will be to some a point of great controversy but it seems to me that like the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church is going to have its own “Vatican II” moment. I don’t mean this necessarily literally–though who knows what will come out of the upcoming gathering of Orthodox Churches–but more metaphorically.

    As I said to someone recently, like it or not and like the Church of Rome at Vatican II–we need to open the windows. And when we do, we will suffer even as they suffered. And we will suffer for the same reason they suffered, we have become pretensions and self-important. Let me be clear, I am NOT speaking here about Holy Tradition. There is a need for renewal in the Orthodox Church. For the first time in a very long time we are able to engage the world around us without fear–but also without the support of the secular government.

    In America at least, we need to shed our pretense to being a major Christian denomination in the mainline Protestant model and instead be who we are, a missionary Church in the midst of a culture that must be persuaded. We are not in the main monastics, thought their witness to the world and within the Church is crucial, so modeling the parish after monastic life is self-defeating.

    What we need are parishes that are healthy, not just theologically and spiritually, but culturally, psychologically and intellectually. Thank God we seem to be moving in that direction but we need to focus more on the wholistic formation of our clergy and laity.

    Good thoughts from you Father, thank you!

    In Christ,

    FrG

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  • http://palamas.info Fr Gregory Jensen

    Fr John,

    Well said!

    You are right, many of our parishes are highly secularized and priests do not always provided the leadership we should. Add to this converts and re-verts who are looking to re-create monastic community in a parish and the mix can become explosive.

    But I think all of this can be summed up your phrase “the polarization . . . in Orthodox America.” If the range of this polarization is more narrowly defined than in, say, the Catholic Church or mainline Protestantism, it still exists.

    Forgive me for raising what will be to some a point of great controversy but it seems to me that like the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church is going to have its own “Vatican II” moment. I don’t mean this necessarily literally–though who knows what will come out of the upcoming gathering of Orthodox Churches–but more metaphorically.

    As I said to someone recently, like it or not and like the Church of Rome at Vatican II–we need to open the windows. And when we do, we will suffer even as they suffered. And we will suffer for the same reason they suffered, we have become pretensions and self-important. Let me be clear, I am NOT speaking here about Holy Tradition. There is a need for renewal in the Orthodox Church. For the first time in a very long time we are able to engage the world around us without fear–but also without the support of the secular government.

    In America at least, we need to shed our pretense to being a major Christian denomination in the mainline Protestant model and instead be who we are, a missionary Church in the midst of a culture that must be persuaded. We are not in the main monastics, thought their witness to the world and within the Church is crucial, so modeling the parish after monastic life is self-defeating.

    What we need are parishes that are healthy, not just theologically and spiritually, but culturally, psychologically and intellectually. Thank God we seem to be moving in that direction but we need to focus more on the wholistic formation of our clergy and laity.

    Good thoughts from you Father, thank you!

    In Christ,

    FrG

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  • Michael Bauman

    Rich you said,

    “Loyalty to God has to be in the context of a community. If a person follows the Holy Spirit on his/her own into the Orthodox Church, what’s to keep the Holy Spirit from leading him/her right back out? (BTW I have seen people claim this.) The solution is to see that the other people, the community, are the locus of the Holy Spirit. But Americans tend not to be so loyal to community, from my observations.”

    I agree to a point. I have seen the same phenomenon. However, what if the community from which one comes is heretical, ideological, or just plain dysfunctional? Whom does one choose to serve?

    To be more clear, I’m not taking about the spiritual idealist looking for the perfect embodiment of his own will. I’m talking about people who are genuinely looking for union with Christ. Where else is such union to be found?

    To be fair, the Church is not always the right place for all folks right now–especially when our own dysfunction can be quite destructive to people at times. Plus if a person does not receive the direct support and love of the community itself, itchy feet may occur. As Chrys pointed out, it is only in love of Christ that genuine, enduring community can be formed. Such love has always been rare and there are many counterfeits of it. The love of God and truth (which means one has the humility to submit to the truth when encountered), is what allows someone to navigate the wreckage we find in what is the ‘spiritual’ landscape.

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  • Michael Bauman

    Rich you said,

    “Loyalty to God has to be in the context of a community. If a person follows the Holy Spirit on his/her own into the Orthodox Church, what’s to keep the Holy Spirit from leading him/her right back out? (BTW I have seen people claim this.) The solution is to see that the other people, the community, are the locus of the Holy Spirit. But Americans tend not to be so loyal to community, from my observations.”

    I agree to a point. I have seen the same phenomenon. However, what if the community from which one comes is heretical, ideological, or just plain dysfunctional? Whom does one choose to serve?

    To be more clear, I’m not taking about the spiritual idealist looking for the perfect embodiment of his own will. I’m talking about people who are genuinely looking for union with Christ. Where else is such union to be found?

    To be fair, the Church is not always the right place for all folks right now–especially when our own dysfunction can be quite destructive to people at times. Plus if a person does not receive the direct support and love of the community itself, itchy feet may occur. As Chrys pointed out, it is only in love of Christ that genuine, enduring community can be formed. Such love has always been rare and there are many counterfeits of it. The love of God and truth (which means one has the humility to submit to the truth when encountered), is what allows someone to navigate the wreckage we find in what is the ‘spiritual’ landscape.

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  • Prudence True

    Prudence True
    http://www.prudencetrue.com/

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  • Prudence True

    Diluting America Orthodox Christianity with a watershed of Evangelicals requires a delicate state of balance. And only with an awareness such as your comments reflect here, will we achieve this balance in the US.

    At present the balance tilts toward the louder group of former Evangelicals (newer Orthodox Christians), as few born Orthodox are blogging, doing podcasts on AFR, or otherwise engaged in an Evangelical style sharing of the Orthodox faith.

    There is a reason why the Orthodox faith has gone unnoticed here in the US for several generations . . .

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  • http://palamas.info/ Fr Gregory Jensen

    Prudence,

    Thank you for your comments.

    I served as a priest in the GOA for 10 years. Among other things, I learned about the often unspoken history of Greek evangelism in America. How easily we forget, if we ever knew, that most of the Greek Orthodox parishes in America were founded by the laity. These men and women were true and effective evangelists and apostles to America. And if we have eyes to see, they were not alone. The vast majority of “ethnic” parishes were founded by lay apostles and evangelists.

    It's bad enough that “converts” don't know this history; it is tragic that the “cradle” Orthodox don't know it either! It breaks my heart when lay people think that service to Christ and the Church means serving on parish council, singing in the choir or teaching church school. All important to be sure–but there is so much more that the laity, and only the laity, can do.

    Again, thanks for the comment.

    In Christ,

    +FrG

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