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Catechumen: One who is learning the principles of Christianity.
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The theological reflections of an Eastern Orthodox convert and seminarian
:: St Seraphim, OCA::
:: St Andrew, AA::
:: Orthodox Church of America::
[::..Blogs I Read..::]
:: Huw's Doxos::
:: James' Paradosis::
::Fr. Joseph's Orthodixie::
[::..Other Links..::]
:: St. Vladimir's
(current school)
:: Torrey::
:: Biola::
:: The Onion Dome::
:: Yahoo::
:: Dictionary::
:: Boundless Webzine::

:: Saturday, October 29, 2005 ::

Protestant, Just Like Me

Today as I was preparing to go to an Antiochian college group meeting (St. John the Divine), I was brainstorming some intelligent questions I could pose to the group. Despite attending an Antiochian church, I very much consider myself OCA, and would have attended the meeting as such. Of course, the issue I would have then wanted to discuss would be jurisdictional unity.

For the purposes of this blog, jurisdictional unity means a single American church ruled by one bishop per city/geographical area (I am not even discussing language here at all). As I think about it, jurisdictional unity has this funny flavor to it; then it occurred to me: it would be Protestant, just like me.

Before I am beaten over the head with blog-clubs, let me explain myself. Let’s suppose the AOA and OCA became jurisdictionally unified. The wonderful world of ‘theologians’ would be happy; those of us who spend far too much of our time in books and far too little of our time with people would celebrate an apparent step toward unity. But what would it look like in the pews? What about the different cultures the various versions of Orthodoxy have ‘grown up’ in? How do you reconcile them?

I am referring to the little pious customs that are, with varying degrees of strictness, theologically-based. Do we women cover our heads? Stand in church? What about pews? Do we bow when we cross ourselves? Should we be like the Rumanians, and kneel? On Sunday? On Saturday? What about prostrations? What about some Belo-Russians, who make mentias during the sign of cross (a very cool looking practice, if you’ve ever observed it)? Should our priests wear collars? Slacks? Beards? Do we shake their hands, or kiss them? Should they wear hats, or not?

The answer to these and other questions spring from the soil in which Orthodoxy is planted. Each Orthodox culture is able to answer these based on its long history of Orthodoxy. Some of them are culturally practical: Russian priests wear hats because it’s cold in Russia. Some of them have developed from pious practices, like the Rumanians kneeling.

American Orthodoxy does not have this culture or history to inform her future. She has many bits and pieces of customs, and my fear is that if the various jurisdictions unify, they will necessarily throw their particular customs to the wind. They will pick up a smattering of customs, some from this culture, some from that culture, picking and choosing as the local community decides. Need I remind you: Protestantism is a Christian theology that picks from a smattering of various theologies, a little from this theologian, a little from that one, and piecemeal puts it together as the very autonomous community decides is best. I am not claiming that American Orthodoxy would do this [explicitly] theologically, but rather that it would do it with the various Orthodox customs. And in a Church where practice is so intimately related to belief, this becomes theologically dangerous.

I am not offering a solution to the painful problem of Orthodox practical disunity, but am rather offering an explanation as to why Orthodox attempts at jurisdictional unity feel so oddly familiar to this recovering Protestant.

Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 7:41 PM on Saturday, October 29, 2005 [+] ::

:: Sunday, October 23, 2005 ::
Goods, Greater and Lesser

I have a [completely hypothetical and fictitious!] friend, Sam. He is a marginal Catholic/Protestant, and goes to church a few times a year. From his neglect of it, he has a rather weak soul; one day, out of curiosity, he comes up to me [an obnoxiously zealous new convert] and says, “I hear you’re Orthodox. Can you tell me about it?” We talk over dinner, and he says, “Wow. That’s cool. Can I come to church with you sometime?” I tell him that yeah, that’s fine. But then I tell him something odd: “But don’t become Orthodox. Just don’t.”

Have you ever done this, or is it only me? I am rather ‘known’ around Biola for being Orthodox, and ‘known’ for being pro-church, yet at the same time I am known for telling others that they should not become Orthodox. I find good Protestant and good Catholic churches for those who come to me, but I won’t find them a good Orthodox church, even if they ask. If they are really insistent, they can work it out themselves; however, I have not known any one to do so by my influence.

Crazy? Anit-Evangelical? Hardly. Rather, by the time people ask me about church (often people I don’t even know!), they are usually not ready to hear theology. They are either like Sam, who just needs to go to a church where he can fit in, be comfortable, and meet God where he is at, or they are so tired of the search that they need to be found yesterday. I do not want to make converts. I want make Christians. It is too hard and too wearing on the soul of a Westerner exhausted by the world to try to convert to Orthodoxy. If we even offer it as an option, we risk loosing the soul to Christ forever. We converts have all seen this; those who can’t make it, and perhaps never should have tried. Yes, it is a lesser good, but it is one that is nowhere near as risky, and is help and hope to hurting souls.

My friend (and often blog commenter) J. was arguing that we should spur people to the Higher Good. Man was made for the Good, and he will not be happy unless he achieves it. Orthodoxy is Good, and nothing else even compares. But it is also hard. I say it is too hard; he says the Good is always hard, but it is always worth it. I don’t think the risk is worth the cost; he claims that the Good is risky, but it is what humans were created to do (can you tell J. is a Thomist?).

What do you think? Should we spur people on to the Greatest Good for which they were created, at the risk of loosing their souls? Or should we settle for lesser goods? The philosophical answer may be clear enough, and we would all agree that the Higher Good is better. But bring yourself back down to earth (the oikoinomia of the incarnation) and think of the weak and/or hurting soul who comes with the question, “Should I convert?” Answer slowly; I don’t think it’s an obvious one.

Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 6:48 PM on Sunday, October 23, 2005 [+] ::

:: Sunday, October 16, 2005 ::
I'm not that weird...

Go take the belief.net quiz on "What's Your Faith?" At least this time I'm not Orthodox Jewish (I think I was last time on one of their tests!)

1. Eastern Orthodox (100%)
2. Roman Catholic (100%)
3. Seventh Day Adventist (93%)
4. Orthodox Quaker (89%)
5. Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (84%)
6. Hinduism (79%)
7. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (63%)
8. Orthodox Judaism (60%)
9. Jainism (59%)
10. Sikhism (59%)

Although, at the same time the fact that I am as Catholic as I am Orthodox, or that I am nearly 80% Hindu makes me a little scared...

Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 8:37 PM on Sunday, October 16, 2005 [+] ::

Through the Prayers of…

One of the more frequent phrases we hear in the Church during any given service, especially if celebrated without a priest, is “Through the prayers of our holy fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us! Amen.”

I have heard various interpretations of what this means, and who should use it. I was told by a monk that it is to be said only at monasteries, and it asks for the prayers the holy fathers in the community who have fallen asleep in the Lord; if they have obtained boldness before the Lord, we beseech them to pray for us. I was told by a pious professor that it is in reference to the present members of the Church militant; we end a service with it and we bow to each other, asking God to save us through the prayers of our fellow-strugglers in our community. I have seen it used in parish practice to substitute at any time when the priest is supposed to give an exclamation, but for some reason is unable to do so. In other words, no one really knows what it means.

That’s beside the point. The point is that this semester, I am living off of your prayers. I feel as though I am a giant spiritual black-hole, greedily sucking in the prayers of others to survive, while producing nothing useful. If nothing else during this trying time, I can really tell that there are people around me praying for me. I am surviving the busiest time of my life I can remember, but I am only do so by the prayers of my holy fathers, be they those of my biological family, my church, my friends, or those in blog-land. Please continue to pray for me; I can feel it, and it is encouraging.

Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 8:22 PM on [+] ::

:: Tuesday, October 11, 2005 ::
Praying for…grades?

I try to pray a couple of times each day. Our school library has the Great Horologion (go figure!), and so I have access to the texts of all the services, as well as the Book of Akathists (again, Biola library!) and other various prayers. I read them, pray them, and greatly appreciate them.

Then I sometimes I start thinking about the verse where Christ says that he will give us what we ask for, and that he is compassionate as a father toward his sons. The prayers I so love are complete: they ask for everything that I could possibly want for the day and more. But then I think…what do I want? I am still trying to decide if this is greed or presumption in asking for more than I should, or if it is somehow acceptable to ask for what I want.

I have been in school my whole life, and I cannot remember ever explicitly praying for good grades; I have usually gotten them, but I can’t ever remember specifically praying to get them. I am wondering if it is alright to pray that I get good grades. In one sense, it is completely superfluous; I have health, life, peace, salvation…all the fullness of the riches of the grace of God, and yet I want to ask for something as transitory and meaningless as grades. At the same time, I know that my parents love me, and I know they would do all they could to help me succeed in what I love so much (namely, my studies). I also know that God loves me more than even my parents. I believe all parents desire that their children excel in that which they love and which is good for them; therefore, it would make sense that God would want me to do well in my studies. So, should I pray that I get good grades?

In this situation, I hope not to fall victim to the prayer I so often see desperate students offer: they stayed up all night partying, have not studied, and pray that they will ace the exam. I am rather asking what seems more reasonable to me: namely, that my work and my study are rewarded by the grades I desire.

I am not sure if this is a valid prayer; it feels awkward offering it, when prayer for so many greater things could be offered. I could rather pray for those who do not have life, health, salvation, peace, comfort, joy, and the rest of the wonderful abundance of the love of God. But I am praying for myself, for something petty. Yet, in my greed and desire to excel, I still offer it. Is that wrong?

Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 10:35 AM on Tuesday, October 11, 2005 [+] ::

:: Wednesday, October 05, 2005 ::
Fasting, Fish, and Friday

Last Friday, the cafeteria had fish. Now, most Fridays the cafeteria has fish (the cooks are predominantly practicing Catholics), but last Friday it was grilled salmon. I love grilled salmon, even if it’s caf grilled salmon. But it was Friday.

I got in line anyway. As I got closer to the front of the line, I realized how exhausted I was (not just tired, but that true exhaustion of too much work). While I knew that to eat salmon is not a moral sin, it was still something I shouldn’t do, and if done, something about which I should repent. I didn’t have the time or energy to repent, so I got out of line and never ate the salmon.

Now, this may sound quite stupid, but like Abelard, I wonder where sin is and where it is not. I wanted to eat the salmon. I would have eaten the salmon (an accidental sin), but for my own laziness (a moral, rather than accidental sin). In one sense, it seems as though I stopped myself from doing it, but in another sense, it seems like I was only too lazy to follow through with the sin. One of them is to be commended; the other to be pitied.

After thinking about it for a few days, I have come to the conclusion that while I did not break the fast in a technical sense, I still did something wrong. Perhaps I broke the spirit of the fast? Perhaps I was lazy? Perhaps it would be better if I had eaten the salmon? (It sure would have saved me a lot of thought over it!) I am not sure where I am wrong, only that I am wrong. It’s like one of those irritating math problems where you just can’t figure out why you’re getting the wrong answer…

Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 5:04 PM on Wednesday, October 05, 2005 [+] ::

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