Yeah, yeah, so it’s been a long time since I posted. I’ve been outta town, and writing a fair bit o’ music lately, so the blog lapsed. However, it’s time to post again, so here we go!
Ok, after reading some recent posts and comments on other blogs, and after a fabulous and life-filled weekend with some very good friends in Illinois, I have a bit of a rant to go on…convertitis. Where should I begin? Well, perhaps I’ll start with why I’m ranting. Being a convert to Orthodoxy myself (in so many uncertain terms…) I know that I’m going to border dangerously on shining the light on my own failures. The content of some of the posts and more importantly, the comments to those posts was, in my opinion, disappointing. Also, as far as visiting friends go; our friends in Illinois know a couple that converted to Orthodoxy about a year ago, and have a bad case of convertitis, which also contributes to my rant. For those who may wonder what I’m talking about, convertitis is this: Protestant (usually) or other Christian who converts to Orthodox Christianity and then proceeds to convince everyone they’ve ever known that they are now “right” and everyone else is “wrong” or not in the Church at all. Here’s my rant.
Why? Why, why, why, why, why? Isn’t it enough that we’ve found the ancient faith? Isn’t it enough that God is more merciful than we could ever dream of in our fallen state? Isn’t it enough that Christ himself gave his very life as a sacrifice for our sin so that we may live? Isn’t it enough to just know within ourselves that our heritage is joy unspeakable? Why is there this incessant need to TALK!! Why is there this driving force of evangelistic piety and talking “down to?” I’m tired of hearing about this. I suppose as long as we are fallen, it will continue to happen, but I still don’t have to like it. So many of us found Orthodoxy and fell in love with the Living Tradition of it, and more importantly, with the Living God who fills its very Sacramental life. Why then must so many feel compelled to raise the sceptre of righteousness above their heads and strike the hearts of all those who don’t recognize the “fullness of the faith” in the Orthodox Church? Our friends acquaintances are on the far end of this rope, cutting off those who would disagree with their beliefs. They disregard basic, God-given friendship and love in exchange for piety and religion. And as for the more subtle of the sickness, there is this incessant need to try and convert all other Christians that we come in contact with under the guise that we are somehow “saving” them from the wiles and evils of Protestantism. Don’t get me wrong, I think that there are many very dangerous heresies out there. However, there seems to be simply just too much talking AT and not enough talking TO, or maybe even better, too little LISTENING to those around us. Lord have mercy!
Janna and I were talking about this tonight, and we believe that much of it lies in the heart of the conversion of Western-minded, evangelical, fundamentalists into the Orthodox Church. So much of western Christianity is saturated with the Great Commission. So many other Christians I meet are driven by the commission to save souls and win hearts for Jesus over all other things. I am disheartened by this drive and lack of vision, wherever I see it, be it Protestantism, Rome, or Orthodoxy. When this mindset is then inundated with Orthodox theology, sometimes there becomes this dangerous mix of, “My task is still to win souls, but now I’m RIGHT and must win souls not only to Jesus, but to the RIGHT church.” It is this response that so many people in the E.O.C. found distasteful in the past, and so many good hearted, faithful believers find repulsive now. I mean honestly, how many of us would want to listen to anyone that stands on the platform of “true faith” and “right worship” and talks down to us as we are looking for real answers? Compassion for where I’m at now; often non-existent.
I propose a much simpler means of evangelization…living a life of love. And I don’t mean Orthodox evangelization, I mean simple, beyond explanation, witnessing to Love. I myself was “saved” and eventually converted to Orthodoxy by love; pure and simple. Someone gave themselves up as a sacrifice to God for me, and I saw it and wanted what it was that they had. I saw a peace in them and their belief about God. I saw that no matter what was happening around them, their peace came from a different Source, and their strength was inflamed by a liturgy of life and prayer. How many of you experienced this as well? I have a notion that the more I love people and let my life be an example of Love, no matter how poor that example may be, I will save thousands around me. If I deign to proclaim the Gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words, then those who are lost may be found. Quite simply, Jesus never spoke much about theology. Sure, He knew the Law and not only obeyed it in every way, but fulfilled it so that we might be free in it. He spoke of loving God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves. In writing all of this, I am more aware than ever that I’m the cause of much pain and suffering; me, Luke Seraphim in all of my splendor. Most of the pain that I’ve caused has come from my tongue (sharper than a sword at times) and I’ve fallen WAY short of the glory to which I was born. Still, I will aspire to reach that from which I was cast for my own salvation; Paradise and the arms of my Creator. And, on the way back, I hope that I will be able to love and seek the lost more than I am able to breathe. In the words of Bill Mallonee, “No winners and losers; same in the end. I was hoping for a perfect world, no shirts, no skins.” Amen Bill, amen. While Orthodoxy may be the truth and the ancient faith, we are not called to draw a box and distinguish who are shirts and who are skins. I know that God meets His children wherever they may be, and I am called simply to bear witness to the Light, and above all things, to have fervent love for my brothers and sisters. The choice of which tradition to follow is not as important as the initial choice to seek God all the days of our lives. In doing this, He will reveal the path ahead, and He will call us all to His One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. And in the end, isn’t Orthodoxy just about learning how to Love God and all mankind more fervently anyway? Don’t all the Fathers point to Christ and to learning how to love Him? Perhaps if we all focus more on Love himself and less on loving ourselves and “getting it right” we can radically change the Church and many lives around us. Lord grant us all the wisdom, strength, and love to do just that, in our strength and in our poverty; and even so Lord Jesus, come quickly!
Excellent post! I too fall into that dangerous category of trying to convince everyone that what I have is right and what they need to do is drop everything and get on board.
Fortunately I don’t forsake non-Orthodox friends or argue with people very often, but it’s been pointed out that I take an accusatory and arrogant tone on my blog. Not good. I remember the first few times that I visited St. Athanasius Church, and how they didn’t try to win me over with their theological insights or their piety. They didn’t say, “Now, come along and we’ll tell you all about why the Orthodox Faith is right and your mixture of Protestant and Roman Catholic faiths is wrong.” The people I attend church with said, “Welcome brother, thank you for coming to pray with us. You are a gift to us, and we are honored to have you with us. Thanks be to God.” I had never encountered love like that in any church, and I must remember that it is love like that, and not Orthodox theology or piety; nor the members’ mastery of these areas of Orthodoxy, that eventually made me feel that I could not spend anymore time outside of the Orthodox Church.
Thank you again for this wonderful post.
Yaconelli would be proud…rant on my friend! I gratefully had a very similar experience to James in that I was welcomed into Orthodoxy by Love and not by “Intellectual Convincing”. My first experiences with Orthodoxy were with Cory, as I was a youth pastor in Indianapolis myself. Through our friendship and passion for our Faith I was drawn to Orthodoxy. As I got to know others at the then E.O.C., I found others (Luke, Josh, Father Joseph, and many others), that loved in a way that was very rare, and their faith had a depth that was awesome and mysterious. Those were some of the things that made me have the passion for Orthodoxy that I do. While we are not yet “Official Converts”, I have found myself at times forgetting how I was “Converted”. While there are many dangers surrounding this topic, from a protestant’s perspective it is a pitfall that is incredibly easy to fall into. I remember having feelings of overwhelming joy and life flowing through my veins as I discovered some of the History and Mysteries of the Faith, only to be followed by bitterness and anger of my own tradition, and the fact that I was then 25 years old, grew up in the church, and was just now discovering this Deep Well of my Faith. I probably had “Convertitis” the worst with my own wife, and felt that I needed to lead her down the same road that I came to love Orthodoxy. What I didn’t realize was that she had already had her own “converting experience” and that I was turning her off to it now because of my “Convertitis”. She more or less said to me, “Eric, you don’t need to convince me. I’m already convinced, but if this is what it is going to do to you (anger, bitterness, self-righteousness,etc.), then I don’t want it. Fortuntately that ranks among my more humbling life moments and I have learned to shut up.
I love reading Alexander Schmemman. For the life of the World, and Great Lent, have offered me a look at the “life” that is manifested through the many traditions of the church. I fasted during lent for the first time this last year, because I finally understood the “Spirit of the Fast” and for the first time I felt like I could enter into this, because I understood. Schmemman at times references how these acts of the faith our worthless devoid of the heart of why the exist. This where I think “Convertitis” happens, when we forget the heart of the very life of the church that saved us, and begin thinking “IT” is and end in itself. Just my Thoughts. Thanks for listening.
Mark, Chapter 12
28: And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?”
29: Jesus answered, “The first is, `Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one;
30: and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’
31: The second is this, `You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
32: And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that he is one, and there is no other but he;
33: and to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
34: And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any question.
Realize that it’s been a couple days since you posted this, but I just stumbled upon it.
You were able to say something that I’ve been trying to say for some time now. Thanks.
I was reading this last night and thought this was appropriate to this topic. This is an excerpt of Father Alexander Schmemman, speaking on the mission of Orthodoxy in America. “Whether priest or layman, man or woman, the first thing for an Orthodox is not to speak about Orthodoxy, but to live it to his full capacity; it is prayer, it is standing before God, it is the difficult joy of experiencing ” heaven on earth.” This is the first thing, and it cannot be reached without effort, fasting, asceticism, sacrifice, or without the discovery of that which in the Gospel is called the “narrow way”.
Interesting, isn’t it, how easy it is to overlook the Lord’s own attitude toward exclusive-ism? Thanks for sharing your good reflections.
Good comments all. Let’s just pray that we all have the strength to do as Fr. Schmemann writes, and perhaps we will help be beacons of change within Orthodoxy. Oh, and MHG-yeah, sorry for all the brow-beating you’ve had. I’ve got an email that I’ve tried sending you a couple of times, but it won’t go through. Do you have another email address besides Chris’s site? Let me know!