Thursday, August 18, 2005

Becoming Orthodox

Somehow my books got here from Amazon, even though I chose the free shipping option. As soon as I got the books I started reading the older of the two, Becoming Orthodox. Recognizing that this book describes events that took place about eighteen years ago now. To put it in perspective, Frederica Matthewes-Green and her husband came to the Orthodox faith through the testimony of Fr. Peter.
Well, to summarize the testimony of Fr. Peter, which makes up the bulk of this book, along with a brief apologetic for some orthodox beliefs/practices we protestant have long ago rejected as Catholic:
Peter Gillquist and some friends are employed in Campus Crusade for Christ in the sixties. They're going gangbusters to win "the campus for Christ today, tomorrow the world for Christ." However, they realize what they are doing has little or no longterm staying power. So, they, while still working for Crusade, begin experimenting with early church-type things, focusing on community and commitment. Before long they become convinced they all need to leave Crusade. They go into "secular" employment. While in their secular jobs they begin to naturally attract other believers, and various communities grow up around them. They come together to try and determine what this New Testament Church would look like, so they can take their communities there. Their line of thinking was, "Where is the church that Christ founded on the apostles, against which the gates of hell cannot prevail?" They decided to look individually at the Scriptures, church history, and worship to see what they should. Six months later they reconvened to discuss what they'd found. First of all, they found liturgical worship in the second century, in the writings of Justin Martyr. Next, they found Bishops in the church as early as the middle of the first century! They look seriously at the church history to find that the church split apart in AD 1054, but it seems clear to them that whatever the church was before that time, the Eastern Orthodox church had it. All this without meeting a single present-day Eastern Orthodox person! Without much hesitation they began to form their communities into what they were beginning to see as the first century norm. They formed a group called the New Covenant Apostolic Order. By 1977 they had founded the Evangelical Orthodox Church. They were still the same, gospel preaching (sometimes yelling) evangelical preachers, but now their communities called them father. Over some years they became convinced that the modern Orthodox Church was faithful to the original, even in its multi-jurisdictional form here in the US. They began relationships with people in the OCA (Russian), Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, and the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese. With some negotiations they were chrismated and ordained into the Antiochian Archdiocese by Metropolitan PHILIP Saliba. Nowadays Father Peter and his cohorts are involved in visiting churches which are interested in converting to Orthodoxy. That's right, along the way, whole churches have converted to Eastern Orthodoxy.

I'd already planned on visiting a nearby Antiochian Church in Memphis, St. John's, which was one of the original Evangelical Orthodox.
Some things I see in the Orthodox Church which I need:
  • Truth- the orthodox church believes that truth is arrived at communally as leaders get together to make big decisions and those decisions are received by the communities represented by those leaders. This is great in a world where our individual ability to arrive at truth is, and should be, suspect. Since my truth-finding ability is suspect, I need a community of leaders to help me interpret the Scripture. And all that without the problem of contradictory infallible popes. No one is infallible in the orthodox church.
  • The worship of the orthodox church is physical, tangible, sacramental. They are teaching us what it means to embrace the mystery in their faith. They know that Christ is Present in the Communion, but they don't how. They know new life begins at baptism, but they don't have to explain why or how.
  • The Orthodox Church has established leadership and centuries of beautiful tradition.

There are decidedly problems for those of us in the "emerging conversation".

  • We have a problem with authority, especially the old patriarchal type, maybe rightly so.
  • While we are searching for truth is new expressions, we might not like what we find.
  • The worship always occurs in a prescribed manner. There's little or no room for that kind of creativity in worship. There will be no laser light shows.

It seems to me like there is one last thing to be said. Fr. Peter says that they didn't come to the orthodox faith for the beautiful worship. They came because it was true.

I already started reading Kh. Frederica Matthewes-Green's book Facing East, which kind of tells the same story for her. I'll post more on that later.


bob hyatt said...

Wild. I read Becoming Orthodox in 1992 or 93, just after graduating from college.
The impetus was that I had a passle of friends who had also graduated from the small Christian college I went to, who converted to Orthodoxy.

It was such a wild, wild thing to see all these baptists doing this...

Since then, I've often thought that this was, in fact, the emergent impulse before it really had anywhere else to go. These guys may have been the pre-cursor to the emerging church movement...

Bernie said...

I think that these folks might have been searching for something deeper (as the emergent movement is), but knowing many of the people in Fr. Peter's (and Kh. Frederica's) book, they wouldn't have been content with the conclusions of the emerging church - they were looking for something that didn't need a continual reinvention and that is exactly what the Orthodox Church, built on the foundations of Christ and His Apostles, offers. Continual reinvention will eventually lead to a sense of weariness (even if it is 10 years down the road) just as stagnation leads to weariness.

sherrieg said...

Hi there,
I'm a former Baptist - my husband and I are looking seriously at Orthodoxy. Several of our friends have recently become Orhtodox or catechumens, and we're all looking for the same thing - truth. The tricky part is that there is not a local Orthodox church for us to attend, and we have never experienced an Orthodox service. We're looking for people to get in touch with who are experienced Orthodox and who wouldn't mind humouring our questions. Any ideas? Thanks very much,

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