Why I'm still not Orthodox (besides the silly hats)

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Pretty much all of my theology is very much in line with the Eastern Orthodox church. For example I have an understanding of sin as bondage and sickness rather than as transgression. As a result, I have an Orthodox 'transformative' understanding of salvation rather than a Western 'judicial' one, meaning that the real object of salvation is God effecting an inner change in us. Again, the model of atonement I have is an Orthodox one of recapitulation, rather than appeasement. In other words, the need for the atonement was not to satisfy a need God had for punishment, but rather to recreate in us the image of God that we had lost, and to free us from the bondage of sin. I also share with the Orthodox church the focus on theosis - our participation in the divine life which changes us into the likeness of Christ. In that sense I see salvation not as a one time act, but as a growing relationship with God. I also think the Orthodox church is right in their understanding of original sin, not as inherited guilt, but as our inheriting the consequences of living in a sinful world.

So if I agree with the Orthodox church on original sin, recapitulation, theosis, and the relational transformative focus of salvation, why am I not Eastern Orthodox? Besides my not liking silly hats, tacky bling-bling, and zz-top beards of course (see the above picture). There are a few reasons. the biggest one is that I feel my roots are deeply in the Evangelical church. That same focus on transformation and theosis can be found in Wesley, and it can be found in Luther too. Luther writes that God pours Christ into us so that "he is entirely humanized (vermenschet) and we are entirely divinized (vergottet)". A clear expression of theosis. As a result Luther says in his Commentary on Galatians, salvation entails a real change in us, not just a legal one, "These changes are, so to speak, not verbal; they are real. They produce a new mind, a new will, new senses, and even new actions by the flesh." As I've argued before, I also believe that Luther represents one of the most clear and lucid expression of the Orthodox understanding of Christus Victor out there. So everything that the Orthodox church says, I also see as being completely compatible with Evangelicalism, particularly the central thrust of Evangelicalism rooted in Lutheran Pietism, revivalist Methodism, and the relational-transformative focus of Pentecostalism. That 'Pentecostal-flavored' branch of Evangelicalism is without a doubt (ie statistically) the largest and fastest growing part of Evangelicalism world-wide. What it is at odds with (as am I) is a certain brand of Calvinism. But that's a big can of worms I don't want to open right here. What I want to focus on is Orthodoxy.

I think by biggest beef with the Orthodox church (beside those hats which I just can't seem to get over) is their lack of focus on being born again. Luther (and Wesley) stress both our need for justification, and our need for sanctification (which is the same as theosis). That means that while we do need to enter into a life-long transformative relationship with God (sanctification), we need to enter into that relationship. Leaving that out is like talking about the importance of married life, but never mentioning the need to get married. And even bigger than that, it is absolutely essential that we know that the whole point of theosis - and I mean here an Orthodox understanding of theosis - is that it is not done through our works, but through grace. We need to be sanctified through God living and working in us. That is not something that we work our way into. The whole point of getting "saved" from this transformative model is that God enters into our lives and embraces us unconditionally (that's what grace means). We need to enter into that relationship with the God who is there, active, communicative, and real.

Yes, the focus needs to be on relationship, instead of on a legal transaction. Yes, this means an ongoing transforming relationship, and not a one time experience. Yes there are many experiences in that deepening relationship with God beyond conversion. Yes, yes, yes. But if may speak personally, I was not raised to know God, and I did not know that you can really know God's love first hand in a living relationship. When I encountered Christ it turned my world upside-down. So I'm really big on conversion. Not on making people feel guilty or bad, (that's where I think Luther and Wesley get it wrong), but on letting people know that they can really know God personally, that they don't need to work and strive to get there, but that God can enter into their lives and change everything, because being loved does that to you. God loves us in all of our brokenness and ugliness and lostness, and that experience of being loved by the God of the universe changes everything, it changes you.

Now while that relational-ontological experience of conversion is so much in line with the Orthodox big picture of salvation, that experience is something I just never hear the Orthodox church speak about. I don't ever hear it preached, I don't encounter it in any of their theology. If anything I hear it being de-emphasized, denied, and rejected, usually in the form of rejecting a cartoon caricature of the worst and most trivial form Evangelical conversion. But the very fact that their understanding of conversion is only in this negative cliche form does reveal a lack of a deep first-hand understanding of that experience.

Now I don't want to say that this silence means that this experience is not a reality for the Orthodox. But I do want to break the silence. It really does not make any sense. It's absence is completely at odds with the whole thrust of their own theology. And it is a non-negotiable deal-breaker. There are other things that bug me too - their lack of healthy self-criticism (this is changing), that women are excluded from leadership (this is not), and yes, those goofy hats. But above all I see the biggest lack in their silence about justification - about our need to enter into a relationship with God through being born again.

check out part 2

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At 8:59 AM, Anonymous Joseph said...

Hey Derek

You bring up big issues on the difference between the Orthodox Churches and the Evangelical/Protestant churches. As a convert to Orthodox Christianity, I will try to give you some of my personal perspective.

I was raised in the bible belt, where the predominant culture was Evangelical, (Southern Baptist, Methodist, & Presbyterian). I was brought up in the relatively liberal Episcopal Church. I spent my adolescence fending off attempts from my friends to ‘save’ me, defending the theory of evolution against creationism in school, and in general rejecting the simplistic, self righteous fundamentalism that permeats southern culture, & thus Christianity as it was presented to me. I read the Gospels when I was in my 20s & trying to find a spiritual path, was quite moved by this Jesus person, but had no idea what to do with that. (I was a Sufi wannabe at the time, & later explored Buddhism & Yoga )

About 5 years ago I was drawn to the Orthodox church after attending a talk by an Orthodox priest. I found the services & the church itself strange & overwhelming, but I kept going back, not really understanding why. I think my original motivation for checking out the church was that I might be initiated into the Jesus Prayer or some other esoteric practice. As I read more about the history & theology of the church, & kept attending services I realized that if I wanted to be more deeply involved, I would have to accept the church on its own terms. This meant I would have to accept that Jesus Christ is who the church says he is, God become man that we might be reconciled to God. I took over 2 years to decide to join. My wife & I were accepted into the orthodox Church by Charismation (annointing with oil & laying on of hands by the priest) as we had both been baptized as children. Conversion was a process for me & remains so. I never had a defining moment where I felt I was ‘saved’ or ‘born again’.

Although theology was important in my conversion, the beauty & sacramental focus of Orthodox liturgy & hymns, as well as the warmth & hospitality of the people are what really won me over. Orthodoxy is equally about right worship & right theology. Protestant/Evangelical church services & hymns seem to me one dimensional & excessively sentimental in comparison. The Orthodox sing their theology. To be Orthodox is to participate in a worshipping community. (In my case that community includes Arabs, Greeks, & Eritrians). The reason you don’t hear Orthodox Christians talk about being saved or born again is that isn’t the focus. It isn’t about Jesus and Me. It’s about the mystery of our relationship to God & our salvation in the life, teaching, death & resurrection of Jesus Christ. This mystery is celebrated ritually in liturgical prayer & the eucharist.

Last night we attended a Lenten service, the Akathist of the Mother of God. It is a long hymn in praise of the Virgin Mary, & is essentially a celebration of the paradox of the Incarnation. A pretty good translation can be found here:

If you want to understand the Orthodox church, you have to experience the beauty of it’s services as well as it’s theology. Check out the Byzantine & Russian chant sections at liturgica.com . Check out the website of the chanter in my church here:

This doesn’t begin to address all the questions you raise, and I hope the dialogue continues. But I also hope this might give you some sense of how privileged I feel participating in this Christian community with ancient roots.



At 10:30 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

Hi Joseph,

Thanks for sharing your story. There's a lot in your post I resonate with. As an artist I am really big on connecting to theology thorough art (visual as well as music). In interest of furthering our conversation, what if being born again was not just about "Jesus and me" but rather about our entering into a relational identity which is both personal and social? Does there need to be a contradiction between "being saved or born again" and "the mystery of our relationship to God & our salvation in the life, teaching, death & resurrection of Jesus Christ"? I think what we would need to do is leave aside the terminology here, and dig down into the content behind it. What is ""the mystery of our relationship to God"? Is it experienced on a personal relational level?

I notice you write "our relationship to God" and not relationship with God. Was that intentional? One think that strikes me reading Orthodox theology is that the focus seems to be on what in German is called Verhältnis rather than Beziehung. That is a relation to something (Verhältnis) as opposed to a relationship with someone (Beziehung). In other words, our participation in Christ is described as a kind of chemical mixing with God, and not in personal relational terms. The transformation is described as a quasi-scientific mixing of natures together, rather than our beinbg chenged through being loved.

At 11:49 PM, Anonymous Joseph said...

Hey Derek

I’ve been thinking a lot about your questions. First I have to say that my personal experience of God is completely relational. I’m not sure I get the distinction you make between relationship to God vs relationship with God. The big shift for me in becoming Orthodox was the realization that I would have to live my life in relationship to (or with) God. I still struggle with the implications of this. I wrestle with social issues & my own passions way more than I ever did as a Buddhist. Above all I wrestle with what it means to turn to God & live in communion with God & my fellow human beings. As in any real relationship there are times when I don’t feel like dealing with God and I turn away from him, and other times when I draw closer and acknowledge that God is always present with me. This is very personal and I don’t talk about it much.

An important piece of this for me is being in relationship to Christians of the past & present through what Thomas Oden calls the Christian consensus of the first millenium. It is obvious to me that all churches have their weaknesses, that many are incomplete or skewed in their views, especially these days. I believe what is truly orthodox is “what has been believed alway, everywhere & by all” as defined by St Vincent of Lerins. I also believe that the Orthodox church is, despite the failings and sins of its members & leaders, more complete & less skewed than other churches.

As I stated earlier I grew up in the heavily fundamentalist southern culture where the terms such as “saved” & “born again” were par for the course. Anyone who answered one altar call and took Jesus as their savior was immediately assured of a place in heaven among the righteous. I remain deeply suspicious of that language. Maybe the fact that the Orthodox don’t use that terminology is one factor that allowed me to join the church.

I have been reading up on the beginnings of the Evangelical movement. What struck me was that for the most part the early evangelicals belonged to the Anglican Church, & that the Evangelical movement was a renewal movement within the liturgical & apostolic Church of England. Quite honestly I resonate with that more complete picture. The churches that are called Evangelical in 21st century America seem to me completely cut off from the larger historical orthodox (rightly worshiping & believing) & catholic (universal & complete) Church.

The downside to the Orthodox Churches is that they have a tendency to become ethnic & cultural enclaves, especially in America & other western european countries. The Orthodox in Greece & the middle east lived for centuries under Muslim rule, & were not allowed to evangelize or convert others. The Russian churches were refugees from communist persecution. As they established themselves here they struggled to preserve their cultures & languages. That’s why you have Russian churches that still do their services in slavonic & Greek churches that do their services in greek. This has started to change as the different churches have accepted American converts & begun interracting with each other, but the Orthodox church is still fragmented, despite all the rhetoric about unity. In my own church I see that most of the young people generally only attend around Christmas & Easter, & it seems to be more of a family obligation than a spiritual connection. (This isn’t the case in all Orthodox churches, but I think it’s common). So quite honestly, I believe the Orthodox Church needs a renewal movement akin to the early Evangelical movement. There is an essay by Bradley Nassif, an Orthodox academic & theologian who argues this quite elegantly :
I think you will agree with a lot of what he has to say.

Unlike many Orthodox converts, I don’t think of the Orthodox church as the One True Church. I think of myself as a postmodern Orthodox Christian living in the post-christendom era. I like the Emergent scenes attempt to discern what is truly catholikos (universal & complete), & to recover ancient disciplines & praxis of the church.

Yes the Orthodox church is patriarchial, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. In many churches the priests wife is an important & influential figure. I would argue that it is balanced in a way that western churches (which tend to be either overly feminized or male dominated) are not.

Finally, say what you want about the hats. But I don’t think the Orthodox tackiness factor comes anywhere near what you would find in most American megachurches. :-)


At 1:12 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

Hi Joseph,

"I don’t think the Orthodox tackiness factor comes anywhere near what you would find in most American megachurches. :-)"

haha, touche!

In the same way as you are learning about and appreciating the roots of Evangelicalism, I'm also digging deeper into Orthodoxy and finding parts I deeply resonate with. I loooove the Macarian Homilies. If you can try and pick up the translation by Gerorge Mahoney, it's excellent. On the other hand I am trying to read the Triads by Palamas and am finding it really unapproachable. I like what Meyendorff says about Palamas, but Palamas himself seems really ethereal and focused on works rather than on transformation (as opposed to Macarius). I'd be interested in hearing why you are a fan of Palamas.

One common thread that I am seeing in Orthodox theologians is the importance of intimate experiential transforming union with God. My gripe with the Orthodox church in not stressing conversion is really one of wanting to stress that transforming union. One can get the impression that one is saved by (infant) baptism, and then does works of prayer. Similarly, one can see Evangelicalism as focused on a one-time conversion that stops with a ticket to heaven and then becomes a set of legalistic morals. I wonder if we are perhaps both here objecting to the same things here? Are we perhaps both stressing the importance of participation with God? Me aiming it at certain dead parts of Orthodoxy, you aiming it at certain dead parts of Evangelicalism?

The right way I think which Macarius speaks of is that one is "born from above" through baptism (including infant) but that one must then participate in that in order to experience it. This is done through constant prayer, but not in the sense of an accomplishment, but in a sense of our being receptive and seeking of God's presence and reality coming into our lives, leading to "assurance" of God's abiding love. That "assurance" is also what Wesley (and Luther) spoke of as being "born again". In other words, we consciously decide to participate with God, and in opening our hearts to God we experience God's transforming embrace, no longer striving on our own, but now doing it with God, and in God's power and love, like Jesus talks about in John 14.

Christ is risen, he is risen in me.

At 12:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was looking for a picture of a fedora and ended up here...

Anyway, this post resonated with me strongly. I've also stood at the edge of Orthodoxy, but never entered. I backed off because there were some things that I've experienced and accept as core elements of Christianity that seem to be discarded or even denied in one program I listened to on Ancient Faith Radio.

My understanding that my sins are forgiven based on Christ dying for my sins is not something I can simply toss out as a mere "Western approach" to the Gospel, which one program on AFR stated outright. I was shocked. I stopped listening after that... after I emailed the station for clarification. Their answers didn't help. It was very hard because I had believed for many months that I'd finally found a church with all the right doctrine.

I just couldn't handle it when they said on their Orthodox podcast, "We don't generally use terms like Justification, Satisfaction, Atonement...we just went through Holy Week, do you remember hearing anything like that? The need for Christ to pay the penalty for sin.... THE TERMINOLOGY IS NEVER HEARD IN ORTHODOXY. Christ did not die to pay the penalty for our sin."

What? Atonement is never heard in Orthodoxy???

I bridged the "extreme" prayers to Mary gap, but the idea of Christ dying for our sins is the core of the Gospel to me. It's what melts my heart and brings me near to God in love... I can't throw that out, but again and again Orthodoxy always seemed to challenge such a notion as "Western" or "Evangelical" even though Chrysostom used the same language. Christ died to pay a penalty, however you view penalty, it was surely a price He paid. He bought us with His blood. He satisfied the Law.

I also can't reconcile the experience of speaking in tongues or such experiences that may be classified as being baptized in the Holy Spirit with the general attitude of Orthodoxy. Such an experience seems as foreign to Orthodoxy as calling on Mary is for Baptists. Personally, my experience with baptism in the Spirit was completely spontaneous and not connected with any church service and I had no example to mimic. I was reading Romans one day, something clicked, and I was suddenly "speaking in tongues" ... My roommates thought I was drunk, but I know such an experience "jives" exactly with Pentecost and other instances where people heard the Word and the Holy Spirit fell on them suddenly. Of course, I have issues with Pentecostals and Charismatics, but I digress. :)

Anyway, I agree with Orthodoxy in many ways and still turn to the beautiful liturgy now and then... and really don't mind the hats... but that staff that looks like two snake heads is just WRONG. :)

As a note... I have to say the Coptic Orthodox Church is a bit more evangelical in flavor, emphasizing faith and calling on the Lord for initial salvation and such.

At 11:57 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

Thanks for your post. Since you're just 'poping in' you might not realize it, but I've actually written a rather long article on the atonement that adopts the Orthodox understanding of Christus Victor, but through a Pentecostal/Evangelical lens (with some Moltmann thrown in for good measure). You can check it out in the ARTICLES section at the top of the page.

"I just couldn't handle it when they said on their Orthodox podcast, "We don't generally use terms like Justification, Satisfaction, Atonement...we just went through Holy Week, do you remember hearing anything like that? The need for Christ to pay the penalty for sin.... THE TERMINOLOGY IS NEVER HEARD IN ORTHODOXY. Christ did not die to pay the penalty for our sin."

What? Atonement is never heard in Orthodoxy???"

They do have terms for the atonement, just not those per se which are more Western. What I think may be confusing is that since the punitive understanding of the atonement has become increasingly problematic for contemporary people to swallow (and there are a lot of severe problems with it!) some time in an effort to relate, Orthodox folks act as of they do not have any view of the atonement. I bet that's what happened on your radio show. Check out the article for more.

"Personally, my experience with baptism in the Spirit was completely spontaneous and not connected with any church service"

Mine too. There are actually two schools in orthodoxy, one of them influenced by the Macarian Homilies and Symeon the New Theologian would stress the unmediated approach to baptism in the Holy Spirit (although they would stress primarily the indwelling of the Spirit experienced as loving personal relationship with God more than they would the sign of tongues). The idea is to go beyond (or to fulfill) the liturgical baptism through a life of repentance, prayer, and obedience which leads to our growing consciousness of God's presence and love in our life. I'm still working through how compatible that is with my own devotional pietistic understanding, but initially it seems very similar.

"I have to say the Coptic Orthodox Church is a bit more evangelical in flavor, emphasizing faith and calling on the Lord for initial salvation and such."

That's fascinating. Where can I find out more about that? I'm especially interested in the "calling on the Lord for initial salvation" part.

At 8:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 5:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, I'm really excited about joining in on this discussion! I am an Orthodox priest, and I came across your site when I was doing some research for my Holy Friday sermon for today. Your write-up contrasting the two atonement views was very helpful for me. I'd love address a lot of the issues that have been brought up in this string, but it'll have to wait till after Pascha this weekend.

Blessings in Christ,

Fr. Peter Jackson
Sts. Theodore Orthodox Church
Williamsville NY

At 12:37 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

Cool. I look forward to that

At 12:05 AM, Anonymous Joseph said...


There is a thin little book by Bishop Kallistos Ware that I highly recommend you read called How Are We Saved? The Understanding Of Salvation In The Orthodox Tradition. If I may quote Bishop Kallistos:

"The mystery of Christ forms an undivided unity. Incarnation, baptism, transfiguration, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension: all the moments in Christ's incarnate dispensation constitute a single whole. We are saved by the total work of Christ, not just by one particular event in his life. The cross is central, but it can only be understood in the light of what goes before - of Christ's taking up into himself of our entire human nature at birth - and likewise in the light of what comes afterwards, the resurrection, ascension and second coming. Any theology of salvation that concentrates narrowly on the cross, at the expense of the resurrection, is bound to seem unbalanced to Orthodoxy. While insisting in this way upon the unity of Christ's saving economy, the Orthodox Church has never formally endorsed any particular theory of atonement. The Greek Fathers, following the New Testament, employ a rich variety of images to describe what the Savior has done for us. These models are not mutually exclusive; on the contrary, each needs to be balanced by the others. Five Models stand out in particular: teacher, sacrifice, ransom, victory, and participation."

He also goes on to say: "St. Athanasius, along with many Greek Fathers, sees salvation in terms of ransom and substitution: Christ is our antipsychon. The one who gives His life for our life. But Orthodox are guarded in their use of the notion of substitution. The vicarious element in Christ's saving work is accepted but not heavily emphasized, and in particular we do not feel at home in the language of 'imputation'. 'Satisfaction' is also a word which we Orthodox usually prefer to avoid."

I believe it is wrong to say that Jesus did not die as a sacrifice and ransom for our sins, but to say that is the only act of Jesus for our salvation is equally wrong. It reduces Christ to a get out of jail for free card.

I believe your experience of Jesus Christ's sacrifice is completely valid. If the idea of Christ dying for our sins melts your heart and brings you nearer to God in love, then you are blessed.

But that is not my experience. I became Orthodox because what allows me to draw closer to God is the mystery of the life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as celebrated by the Orthodox church. I believe that Jesus Christ is God With Us. Bishop Ware states in the same book: "We are saved by faith, and faith is not a hypothesis but a personal relationship; it signifies, not adherence to certain propositions about Christ, but direct trust in Christ Himself."

On Thursday night I attended Good Friday services at our church. The Orthodox, like the Jews, begin their day at sundown on the previous day. We did a long service where we read 12 excerpts from the gospels on the passion & crucifixion. Then we had a procession where the priest carries a large cross & we sing on of my favorite Orthodox hymns.

Today He who hung the earth upon the waters is hung upon the Cross
He who is the King of the angels is arrayed in a crown of thorns
He who wraps the heavens in clouds is wrapped in the purple of mockery
He who in the Jordan set Adam free receives blows upon his face
The Bridegroom of the Church is transfixed with nails
The Son of the Virgin is pierced with a spear
We venerate Thy Passion, O Christ
Show us also Thy glorious Resurrection

I can’t speak to your experience of speaking in tongues, but here is a paper by Bishop Kallistos on Personal Experiences of The Holy Spirit According To The Greek Fathers: http://silouanthompson.net/2008/08/05/personal-experience/

May Christ be risen in us all

At 6:01 PM, Anonymous Filofei said...

Hi Derek,

As a cradle Orthodox Christian from the Russian background, I can definitely understand your reason for not embracing Orthodoxy. Over the years, we've had many fanatical converts joining the Church, who along with the existing pedantic members eventually reinforced Orthodox idealism. Much of your observation is true. Such Evangelical lingoes as being born again you'll never hear in our Church. Do I believe that your reservations about Orthodoxy is the mere absence of Protestant terminology? No. It is the lack of emphasis on the personal, relational, and threshold spiritual experience by the Orthodox Church. While I do not equate a sinner's prayer or altar call in the mainline Protestant churches with the "new birth" and even acknowledge that too much association of emotionalism with so-called "new birth" base God's goodness on mere feelings and experiences, I cannot help but notice that our Church focuses heavily on "struggle" not only as a means of sustaining but also of undertaking our spiritual lives. The danger of this belief taught by the Church is that emotion is completely ruled out even in the inception of love. A passionate longing and desire for some is a certain sign of having fallen in love. Of course a person has to sustain that love through perseverance and struggle afterward. However, emotion plays an important role in the inception of love. Honestly, how many of us Christians whether Orthodox or not can say we've experienced the same degree of intense love toward Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ as we did toward our companions? The Orthodox Church has trained Her faithful to believe that loving God is swallowing bitter medicine through and through. With eccelesiology and church history at the core of Sunday sermons, She merely reinforces frequent receptions of sacraments. Do you spiritually devoid? Receive communion, confess, come to all night vigils, etc. Then what? You hear nothing about Christ. Is it wrong to have people become passionately desirous of Christ? Sometimes, it is something as simple as giving a simple piece of advice during confession, "Jesus Christ whom you have put on at your baptism can empower you to overcome temptations" or encouraging people to experience God's glory in spite of our harsh circumstance. By the way, this scenario is yet to be played out in my Orthodox spirituality.

At 11:50 AM, Anonymous Derek said...


Very well stated. I agree completely, including your critique of Evangelical practices.

At 12:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

originally posted opinion is stuck in head
just like luther

who cares about all of this rationalism?
rationalism is what broke the church to start with

go deeper you will find what you critique is in you.

and be careful not to go too far to the left or to the right
the evil one gets us where we are weakest

I do not say this out of anger
but out of love

At 3:04 AM, Blogger Maris Mols said...

Hi, I am from Adventist (SDA) background, but because I lost my belief in penal-substition model I find myself thrown out of the boat. I'm a bit suprised that now my view on Christs death is similar to ortodox. I absolutely can't imagine myself joining ortodox church, because of the way they worship. Because I don't understand why should I worship like that. All those many symbols and traditions - where do they come from. In Jesus time - he never taught anything like that.

You know, when I hear people talking about mystical experiences I get cautios. We tend to believe that God works in such a mystical ways, you get mystical feelings etc. But I see Jesus as very real person, saying real things, showing real love. God is real and he doesnt want to hide things. He wants to reveal things.

Someone in comments said about 'right' worship. What is that? And why is worhip necessary? I was having discussion about this with my pastor, but he was just going round and round. So how one tells right worship from wrong.

Sorry for my poor english.

At 3:08 AM, Blogger Maris Mols said...

By the way Derek, someone should really start a new church which believes what you preach. Any ideas who could do that? :D

At 8:11 AM, Anonymous Derek said...


Since I'm not Orthodox either I can't really speak to that. I can say that when I speak of "mystical" experience I do not mean mysterious or hidden, I mean God revealing himself in a personal and loving way to us, showing love in a real tangible way.

At 8:13 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

Re: starting a church, I think I'll cover that in my next blog post.

At 11:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I stumbled on this blog while looking for information on confession. I thought I should contribute something.

After 15+ years being an evangelical (from Nazarene to Methodist to Pentecostal to Baptist to something like an adherent of Kuyperian Christian Reformed Church teaching), I finally entered into the Orthodox Church last April. Coming into the Orthodox Church as a recent convert, I must say it feels like I'm finally learning how to be Christian. The biggest factor in this is a completely spiritually disciplined lifestyle change. Having to die to myself every single day with morning and evening prayers (having to do that brutal giving up of my will and realizing the sickness of sin in me), the fasting days and periods of the Church, the fact I must regularly confess my deepest and most darkest sins to my spiritual father so that, through the Divine Grace working in the sacrament and his careful personal instruction, my old sinful habits may be overcome, the fact that I have to totally surrender my life to God in such a way that my fleshly ego so desperately tries to resist, knowing I will partake in that holy mystery beyond mysteries -- Christ's own flesh and blood -- all these things and more, slowly but surely, in a concretely transformational way, is getting rid of my "old man," and purifying me in ways I wouldn't have thought possible.

The Orthodox Church is the Great Hospital. It is filled with many sick patients -- including its clergy -- but Christ is the Great Physician that works through its sacred and holy Mysteries. Contrary to the judgment of those outside looking in, all aspects of the core Holy Traditions of the Orthodox Church are far from superfluous. They are specifically designed to bring us to the saving healing power of Christ. And, as the sick bed-ridden patients awaiting treatment that we are, this means that, necessarily, we are in no comfortable condition, we have to endure a certain kind of pain as we await treatment or surgery. It hurts to confront sin head-on. Grace brings healing to our wounds, but there is a necessary element of suffering required of this hospital, given the kinds of fallen creatures we are. This is all a fancy way of expressing the cliche, "No pain, no gain" as it applies in the spiritually disciplined life of the Orthodox Church. Through all of its activities, we enter into "pain" but with this pain comes great and real "gain." There is no other possible way to understand and appreciate this "gain" unless one actually participates in the ascetic life of the Orthodox Church. Reading books and websites about the asceticism of the Orthodox Church does little to nothing. It is only through the hard and difficult spiritual path of the Orthodox Church that we can truly and soberly experience God, since, through its 2,000 year old wisdom, it has all the spiritual means necessary for helping us tear ourselves away from our old, lazy, egoistic, sin-cancerous selves, toward an ever-growing, ever-renewing, ever-transformational holy and sanctified mode of existence. This is not say I'm even close to knowing God, but, after having entered into the Orthodox Church, I could say that, never before in my life has God been *this* real, even after being evangelical for so long.


At 12:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


However important 'born-again' conversion experiences are (and they are), I would say that, to think that the Orthodox Church's lack of emphasis in them constitutes a significant objection or critical defect is simply to assume a questionable standard of judgment in general. Coming from an evangelical perspective, I can see why 'born-again' conversion experiences is sooo important, but, to use a metaphor, one should not anachronistically employ evaluative standards for judging a particular class of paintings from the 19th century, and use these very same standards to judge a different class of paintings from the 9th century. One must convincingly argue why the criterion of 'born-again' conversion experiences is even a relevant consideration for evaluating the whole of the Orthodox Church. From an Orthodox standpoint, 'born-again' conversion experiences, while important in their own right and time, constitute only the *beginning* of a long self-abnegated Christ-devoted life with evermore greater, evermore intense, evermore glorious experiences of God Himself that eventually eclipse and render the initial 'born-again' conversion experiences as small in comparison. Evangelicals tend to place almost all of their eggs in the first basket they received. But, for the Orthodox, that first basket is a sign of more wondrous and heavenly things to come, things which "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived."

I hope I've engaged someone in some meaningful way.

In Christ,


At 1:39 AM, Blogger Maris Mols said...

Just to comment on the previous comment - I've always struggled with the concept of dieing to myself. And the core of the issue for me seems to be the question - Does God really want to controll me? Does God really want to take over my will? Where does the Bible say so? I'm sure that Devil likes to controll everybody and everything, but from what I read in the Bible - I dont see that God is like this. I believe God is the great freedom giver. And this not some sort of a "freedom" where you have to force yourself to do good things. Because this is not a real freedom. Everyone agrees that God doesn't want us to become robots. But when it comes to practice then somehow thats the only solution I hear - become a willingfull robot. Surrender you will! Then why on earth did God give it to me? I think this is not how things are.

I dont believe that forcing yourself to do good things will make you a good person. If I force myself to do good, that means I dont really like doing good. And that is the question to be answered - why dont I like doing good. And when God gives me that answer - that is the part of change of becoming good.

If Adam's and Eve's problem was disobedience, then of course the solution is obedience. But I would suggest that the real problem of sin is loss of trust in God. If I dont trust God, nothing can help me. But if I trust him - then all the things even obedience will come into place. But by focefull obedience one can not gain trust.

At 10:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you Derek and Filofei for posting. let me just say, amen! Rich Mullen's Jesus Record comes to mind, "Feels like the devil's rolled a stone onto my heart. Can You roll that stone away?" [Mark 16: 1-8]I began my entrance into the Orthodox Church with a deep, personal relationship with Jesus. Thinking to deepen it, over the years I found the opposite happening ever so gradually. I am now accused of sounding like a Protestant, "It isn't about Jesus and me..." I love the Divine Liturgy it's all about Jesus and I love that 75% of it we get to sing [Scripture]! It's what's in between that is troubling for me. Thank God for Sts. Macarius and Symeon the New for Fr. Alexander Men', Brad Nassif, Fr. Anthony Coniaris and for all of the truly evangelical Orthodox but there just aren't enough [sad to say the last three are suspect by many Orthodox]. I made myself sick trying to "get it" and I had to admit to my priest, and a few who asked that this was driving me away from my Lord and Savior Jesus. I'm still attending an Orthodox Church but according to most I'm not really Orthodox so I struggle BUT not with my relationship with Jesus! Initially I got on FB to stay in touch w/my deceased sister's sons, creep on my grandson! and, thank God, a few evangelical Orthodox I met on line but it has really blossomed, I am now friends with a few Muslim converts [in their homelands!]so I am back to my first love, evangelizing, encouraging! Oh, I understand from a long time convert friend out west that the Greek EO Church seems to work a little better for him. The nearest one is too far away for me to attend + at that great a distance there couldn't be any real fellowship. Forgive me for having to add but please, don't feel led to comment if you think I need to be "straightened out" you would only be insulting me. A great burden was lifted from my heart when Jesus "rolled that stone away" and I will never allow it to happen again!

At 12:58 PM, Blogger Ρωμανός ~ Romanós said...

I am an Orthodox evangelist, but I do not witness for the Church. I witness for Christ, and He witnesses for the Church.
Everything good and everything bad that can be found in any church of any denomination can also be found in some form or another within the Orthodox Church. None of the arguments pro and con convince me either way.

The Church is the Church is the Church. When God the Father looks at the Church the only people He sees there are those whom He as drawn to His Son Jesus, and no others. Why? Because that is, by definition plain and simple, who and what the Church is.

That being said, I also say, the Church has never been divided, and can never be, because Christ prays for its unity to His Father, and the Father always grants His Son's request. If any of us think the Church has been divided, then he's got a problem.

From Christ's point of view, Orthodoxy doesn't even exist. All He knows about is His precious and faithful Bride whom He has been adorning and perfecting through suffering all these centuries, and He's getting ready, now, to take her into the Wedding Chamber.

Yes, I am an Orthodox Christian, but all that means is, I am finally freed from the war of words that absorbs so much of the strength and energy and resources of the Christian community at large. I am free, literally, to go anywhere, to be all things to all men, because I have found the Door, and I can always get back to my world through that Door, as long as I don't stray from the Lamppost.

Orthodox Christianity is not a denomination, and it would be better if Christians inside and outside of her would just stop using the name "Orthodox" if it is being used as a knife to slice up the Body of Christ. Don't you think that the spirit in me recognizes the spirit in another man whether he even calls himself a Christian or not, as being my brother in Christ? We all know who it is we have believed in. We know the voice of the Shepherd when we hear it, whether it comes from the pulpit in our local church, or out there in the unchurched, maybe unchurchable, wilds. We also know when we hear the words of the hireling, and see his acts, even when they appear in the very same places of churchly ministry or authority.

In Christ we are a meek and faithful bunch, but in the world we are the most anarchistic and uncooperative of mankind. It's no wonder the world hates us, whether we are Orthodox or not, Christian or not, religious or not, articulate or not. The important thing is, whose friend are we? God's or the world's.

Once this is decided, all the obstacles to our life in Christ and in the Church disappear... All the obstacles we've put there, I mean. Yes, once we cross that imaginary line, the devil can be depended on to do his work.

But do not be afraid, little flock, for it has pleased the Father to bestow upon us the Kingdom.

At 3:23 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

All very good points. I agree, my brother.

At 9:21 AM, Blogger Horan Paypah said...


Many loving greetings to you. I hope your journey toward God has been progressive since you posted this. I appreciate that you have opened dialogue instead of going on a diatribe.

Orthodoxy has a very different aesthetic than the West, especially the stripped-down Weslyan sects. It can be rather shocking to see ornate vestments, iconography, and to hear sumptuous and dense music and smell thick incense. These things are a difference in aesthetic and in no way are necessary for salvation. The denial of them (such as iconoclasm), however, can be a persecution of Him. You need to be careful not to simply reject that which is different.

Being part of the church that Jesus planted is ALWAYS going to mean that you have to change, not the church. You need to change your heart and your life to fit Him, not the other way around. If you believe that The Orthodox Church is the original one, you much become part of Her. That's the one that Jesus planted and "the gates of Hell shall not prevail against her." Making new off-shoots only weakens the church and divides the body.

There's Orthodoxy and Catholicism and really no other choice. Not if you believe in the historical Jesus and Apostles. Maybe it's the former evangelical in me, but it's very freeing to choose to submit to Him and join one of the imperfect, but original churches.

Good luck and God bless!

At 12:09 PM, Blogger Badger said...

I chanced upon this blog and have found the discussion very interesting. With reference to what some see as the lack of emphasis on personal experience of conversion in Eastern Orthodoxy this quote might be relevant...

'While I was reading the beginning of St. Mark's Gospel, before I reached the third chapter, I suddenly became aware that on the other side of my desk there was a presence. And the certainty was so strong that it was Christ standing there that it has never left me. This was the real turning point. Because Christ was alive and I had been in his presence I could say with certainty that what the Gospel said about the crucifixion of the prophet of Galilee was true, and the centurion was right when he said, 'Truly he is the Son of God.' ...I did not discover, as you see, the Gospel beginning with its first message of the Annunciation, and it did not unfold for me as a story which one can believe or disbelieve. It began as an event that left all problems of disbelief behind because it was a direct and personal experience.' Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

At 10:33 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

I think that's a valid comment. I've been happy to learn how the Orthodox church makes room for the idea of a real and continuing personal and encounter and relationship with God.

I've learned a lot from the many comments here, and it has cleared up many of the misconceptions I think I held. I'm grateful for that, and also grateful for all that I share in common with my Orthodox brothers and sisters.

At this point, I think what keeps me from being "Orthodox" is perhaps what attracts others to it. I simply do not believe that there is any single man-made (and I do mean "man" here as opposed to men and women) group or institution that has a corner on truth or on Jesus. I think that being part of the "church" is more complicated than that. I don't want to go somewhere focused on "believing all the right stuff" (which is the reason many of my fellow evangelicals are attracted to it) or who see themselves as the "one true church" (another attraction for many evangelicals) because I don't think that's a good thing. I want to belong to a messy community focused on orthopraxis which includes my Orthodox bothers and sisters in Christ, but which is much much much bigger than just them.

That's where I've landed. The Orthodox church has its problems, like we all do, but it has a lot more good things about it, and I hope I can focus on that. I also hope that those who do find a home there can recognize that there are some of us who do not, and will not, belong to the Orthodox church, but who nevertheless belong to Christ and are still part of the same family of God.

At 10:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My two cents to the desire for a "messy community..."

I heard a story about a choir that sung the Liturgy. Ok, they tried to sing the Liturgy. And failed. Off key. Off harmony. Off timing. It was atrocious, from what was told to me.

Someone asked an Elder who was there, "What did you think of the Liturgy?"

He replied, "It was the most beautiful I've ever heard!"

"What?" the person retorted in astonishment. "The singing was horrendous!"

"But they struggled and suffered for Jesus Christ," the Elder said, "which is the most beautiful of all."

That's pretty much what spiritual life is like in most Orthodox monasteries and parishes. God bless.

At 7:16 PM, Blogger Rene Lafaut said...

It might be of interest that both the Orthodox and Catholic traditions say that being born again happens or starts at Baptism. Many children don't know their parents love deeply... but later realize it when their parents show them love that is undeniable just like God does with those who are ship wrecked or lost or in darkness. Being born again is not a one time event... but a process that has a beginning and ends in Heaven and can terminate and germinate again and again. Yes infant Baptism is not an emotional uniting with God like a born again experience that a child or teenage, or young adult, or an elder might have... but that does not mean that we aren't children of God because we don't have a dramatic experience (like I did in 1989) like so many others who meet Jesus personally not as infants. Peter talks about Baptism being a gateway into the Kingdom... there are many gateways...but one key: JESUS! Admittedly infant baptism is problematic for Evangelicals...I struggled with it... and maybe you will too!

At 9:15 PM, Blogger Rene Lafaut said...

It is interesting to note that as the Church grew after Pentecost for 200-300 years most the converts had a faith that was conceived before Baptism...but as time wore on more and more Baptisms came before conceptions of faith because the Baptisms were more and more of infants...and so it was observed by some of the pillars of the faith that speaking in tongues amongst the other gifts got less and less in vogue...and there was a break between the Church leaders and the prophets about what was inspired and who had the authority to say: So says the Lord!


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