Tuesday, October 02, 2007

An Orthodox Sampling

A couple of recent articles of an Orthodox nature have caught my attention.

First, at Sword in the Fire, found here, Theron has an excellent post on What will you do with Ignatius? This is the question all Evangelicals must grapple with if they ever venture into the Church Fathers. For if you believe that the nature of the early church was basically along the Protestant format, and that the rise of bishops and the sacramental view of the Eucharist and of baptism were later developments--innovations, in the Protestant view, that led the church down the wrong road and required the corrective of the Reformation--then what, exactly do you do with St. Ignatius?

His writings show the general understanding of the church in regard to the Apostolic teachings on these subjects--an understanding, I might add, at great variance with later Protestant interpretations. At the time of his martyrdom in AD 107, Ignatius was the aged Bishop of Antioch. He was of the First Century church, a slightly younger contemporary of St. John and the other Apostles. How exactly could these "digressions" have appeared and become generally accepted right under the noses of the Apostles? Either St. Ignatius must be wrong, or the Protestant presuppositions of 1500 years hence.

My first contact with the writings of St. Ignatius was an eye-opener for me, as it was for Theron. And with each of us, his work moved us down the road towards Orthodoxy. So, do read Theron's post. Better yet, read St. Ignatius. Just curious, has anyone else out there had the same experience with his writings?

Second, Frederica Mathewes Greene examines--in the face of an increasingly feminized Western Christianity--what exactly attracts men to the Orthodox faith. She canvased 100 Orthodox male converts for this study. Read the entire article Men and Church, here, from which the following is a brief summary:

1. Challenging. Orthodoxy is active and not passive…[It] is serious. It is difficult. It is demanding. It is about mercy, but it’s also about overcoming oneself…not to ‘feel good’ but to become holy. It is rigorous, and in that rigor...find[ing] liberation.

2. Just Tell Me What You Want. Orthodoxy presents a reasonable set of boundaries…It’s easier for guys to express themselves in worship if there are guidelines about how it’s supposed to work-especially when those guidelines are so simple and down-to-earth that you can just set out and start doing something…People begin learning immediately through ritual and symbolism…This regimen of discipline makes one mindful of one’s relation to the Trinity, to the Church, and to everyone he meets.

3. With a Purpose. Men appreciate that this challenge has a goal: union with God. Orthodoxy preserves and transmits ancient Christian wisdom about how to progress toward this “theosis”…Every sacrament or spiritual exercise is designed to bring the person, body and soul, further into continual awareness of the presence of Christ within, and also within every other human being.

4. A New Dimension. Excitement at discovering a dimension somehow sensed [in previous Christian experience] but unable till now to identify, the noetic”--the reality of God’s presence and of the entire spiritual realm…had become completely distorted in the Christianity I knew...Either...subsumed into the harsh rigidity of legalism, or confused with emotions and sentimentality, or diluted by religious concepts being used in a vacuous, platitudinous way. All three-uptight legalism, effusive sentimentality, and vapid empty talk-are repugnant to men…Participation in the Holy Mysteries [sacraments], observing the fasts, daily prayers, and confession with a spiritual director means making progress along a defined path that is going somewhere real and better.

5. Jesus Christ. He is the center of everything the Church does or says…Orthodoxy offers a robust Jesus…the “Marine Corps” of Christianity…Christ in Orthodoxy is a militant, butt-kicking Jesus who takes Hell captive…Compared to the Orthodox hymns of Christ’s Nativity, “‘the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay’ has almost nothing to do with the Eternal Logos entering irrevocably, inexorably, kenotically, silently yet heroically, into the fabric of created reality.”

6. Continuity. The Orthodox Church offers what others do not: continuity with the first followers of Christ…continuity, not archeology…A catechumen writes that he had tried to learn everything necessary to interpret Scripture correctly, including ancient languages. “I expected to dig my way down to the foundation and confirm everything I’d been taught. Instead, the further down I went, the weaker everything seemed. I realized I had only acquired the ability to manipulate the Bible to say pretty much anything I wanted it to. The only alternative to cynicism was tradition. If the Bible was meant to say anything, it was meant to say it within a community, with a tradition to guide the reading. In Orthodoxy I found what I was looking for.”

7. Worship weirdness. It’s amazingly different…The prostrations, the incense, the chanting, the icons—some of these things took getting used to, but they really filled a void in what I’d experienced till then…Some men initially can’t make heads or tails of what we do in worship, because it’s not purely intellectual, and employs poetic worship language…It’s that there is such a strong masculine feeling to Orthodox worship and spirituality.

8. Not Sentimental. A hearty dislike for what they perceive as a soft Western Jesus…[which] presents Jesus as a friend…someone who ‘walks with me and talks with me’…Or it depicts Jesus whipped, dead on the cross. Neither is the type of Christ the typical male wants much to do with. men are drawn to the dangerous element of Orthodoxy, which involves “the self-denial of a warrior, the terrifying risk of loving one’s enemies, the unknown frontiers to which a commitment to humility might call us…Men get pretty cynical when they sense someone’s attempting to manipulate their emotions, especially when it’s in the name of religion. They appreciate the objectivity of Orthodox worship. It’s not aimed at prompting religious feelings but at performing an objective duty…Evangelical churches call men to be passive and nice (think ‘Mr. Rogers’). Orthodox churches call men to be courageous and act (think ‘Braveheart’).

9. Men in Balance. There are only two models for men: be ‘manly’ and strong, rude, crude, macho, and probably abusive; or be sensitive, kind, repressed and wimpy. But in Orthodoxy, masculine is held together with feminine; it’s real and down to earth, ‘neither male nor female,’ but Christ who ‘unites things in heaven and things on earth.

10. Men in Leadership. Like it or not, men simply prefer to be led by men… It’s the last place in the world men aren’t told they’re evil simply for being men.

For me, the main reason for my journey to Orthodoxy was obviously Jesus Christ, the faith being Christocentric far beyond my understanding and practice as a Protestant. But beyond that, Categories 1, 3, 4, 6 and 8 played a large role in my decision. What about you other guys out there?

And third, the UK Catholic journal, The Tablet, has a good story on noted Orthodox scholar John D. Zizioulas, who is also Metropoliltan of Pergamon. Yes, Pergamon. Zizioulas is noted for his Being as Communion (which I have read), and he has a new book in print, Communion as Otherness (which I have not). The interview touches on a number of topics and is well worth a look. Read it here.


Mimi said...

I thought Kh. Frederica's article was excellent.

Theron said...

thank you John!

I am speaking this weekend at our church festival on Orthodoxy for Americans. I think I am going to try to incorporate some of Frederica's findings.

God Bless, and get out the country soon so we can read more traveloges.

npmccallum said...

I cannot underestimate how important Ignatius was for me.

Anonymous said...

I have noticed that, in the New World, an unseemly amount of Sentimentalism is creeping into folk Othropraxis among the most observant converts. Hence, I have started avoid Orthodox coffee hours to avoid being dragoned into the inevitable, syrupy conversion-story love-ins as well as the demand for me to reveal my own "Aldersgate Experience." Also, I avoid any extra-circular contact with priests whom go by nicknames -- Fr. Tom, Fr. Bill, etc.

John said...

Theron--Good luck on your speech. Any chance that it will be recorded? And I will be in Toronto for a few days next week. Does that count?

Death bredon--I have noticed such behavior among the occasional "Super-Orthodox convert," but thankfully, it's not widespread just yet. Nothing will get me headed towards the exit faster than cheap sentimentality.

Theron said...

It probably won't be recorded, but I will put a transcript on my site next week.

I guess we can count Toronto, just make sure you go to some cool places..do you ever watch Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations on the travel channel. That's how I envision your journeys.

David Bryan said...

St. Ignatius was THE heavy hitter that made me sit up and REALLY take notice of the blatant differences between the Christianity of the first Century and the Evangelicalism I'd grown up with. The very idea that a man who had spent months--months! Maybe even years!--at the feet of two men who wrote or influenced the vast majority of the New Testament had then gotten things so horribly, drastically wrong (and gotten them wrong in the EXACT same way as his contemporaries in the episcopacy) is unfathomable to me.

Khouria's article rings very true for us, the Marine Corps of Christianity...

Steve Hayes said...

St Ignatius: I had a copy of "Early Christian writings", and thought one way of getting to know the fathers would be to start at the beginning and work forward. It also had the Martyrdom of Polycarp, which gave me goosebumps at the end, and it still does:

"It was the second day of the first fortnight of Xanthicus, seven days before the Kalends of March when our blessed Polycarp died his martyr's death two hours before midday on the Greater Sabbath. The official responsible for his arrest was Herod, the High Priest was Philip of Tralles, and the proconsul was Statius Quadratus -- but the ruling monarch was Jesus Christ, who reigns for ever and ever. To him be ascribed all glory, honour, majesty and an eternal throne from generation to generation. Amen."

I was going to say more, but that's enough.

s-p said...

Excellent post and summary John. The balance of Orthodoxy for men who are tired of being yanked around by every wind of "the new male image" in our culture is indeed amazing.

Yanni said...

Great post, yet one must underscore how zealous converts are infiltrating the Orthodox Church with a type of neo-Gnosticism and a Sola Scriptura fixation of quoting the Fathers and Mothers and the Canons more than the Tradition and the Gospel. Unfortunately, the neo-converts' attempts at Orthodox theology lack much, and their study on men and women festers the familiar gender stereotypes convert brings with them, ideas foreign to the sacred phrenoma of the Church. Their words sound quite attractive as prima facie offerings; but there are many, many gender issues neo-Orthodoxy is quite restrictive about. "Men in Balance" (and women) is far from expressing what's truly happening in our congregations. Perhaps these are just sentimental dreams, but not the actual reports from the trenches. We are a most unbalanced group, and for myopic converts not to admit to inbred racism, sexism, homophobia, ethno-arrogance, judgment and division, and more, does harm to millions of innocents. This is exactly where St Ignatius chimes in and warns the Orthodox: “Wherefore, as children of light and truth, flee from division and wicked doctrines; but where the shepherd is, there follow as sheep. For there are many wolves that appear worthy of credit, who, by means of a pernicious pleasure, carry captive those that are running towards God; but in your unity they shall have no place.”

John said...


Patience and forbearance on both sides--convert and cradle Orthodox--should be the order of the day. I agree with you that ill-informed zealotry can wreck havoc--though this zealotry is not necessarily confined to either side. I too resist the triumphalism one sometimes finds in the writings of Orthodox converts--where everything Eastern is always good, and everything Western is, by definition, bad.

I don't see this type of sentimentalism in FMG's article, however. As a man who has spent most of my adult years in an Evangelical church, I can attest to the ongoing wussificiation (to use a Kinky Friedman term) of these churches. The feedback from FMG's survey rings true with me, and the other male converts of my acquaintance. I don't believe the points she raises constitutes a romanticization of the Church (though I have certainly seen this sort of thing).

That said, the issues you raise are definitely in play within the Church, as they always have been and always will be this side of eternity. Personally though, I have observed less of this sort of thing as Orthodox than before. This may have more to do with the narrowness of my previous church affiliation than with the openness of Orthodox practice, however.

Frankly, I am as concerned with the attitude of some cradle Orthodox--who view with alarm the infiltration of Orthodoxy by converts--as I am the sometimes misguided zealotry of the converts. For we have to remember, converts, with all our baggage, are still a good thing for the Church. It's like in the business world: you can have the problem of not having enough work or the problem of having too much business. The former is a bad problem, the latter is a good problem. Convert problems are good problems. Thank you for the quote from St. Ignatius, which brings it all into proper focus.

Anonymous said...


Right on. Some of the worst uber-Orthodox offenders are "Cradledox" from the Old Country (or Old Calendar). And, the convert-zealots are usually taking their cues from these self-appointed representatives of True Orthodoxy.

Luckily, I am neither Cradledox nor Convertdox. (Can you figure it out?)

John said...

Death bredon,

hmmm...I'm going to guess--Ritualistic Anglo-Catholic. Am I close?