Leaving The Orthodox Church

Today, we are blessed to have a guest reflection from Fr. Richard Rene.  I expect this will lead to follow up posts!


As an Orthodox Christian priest, I am always interested in how people find and (sometimes) abandon their Orthodoxy. In a recent conversation with a close friend of mine, we found ourselves reflecting on friends of ours who have risen to prominence in parishes or theological or academic circles, only to ‘implode’ in a variety of ways, even going so far as to abandon their faith in God entirely.

As we speculated on these sad stories, we wondered if they shared something in common, and the conversation turned to the ways in which converts to Orthodox Christianity describe their encounter with the Church. We realized that in all of the stories of conversion, two metaphors are so prevalent as to be ubiquitous—that of the journey and the story. More than that, we saw the ways we tend to understand and apply the metaphors of story and journey have profoundly exacerbated (if not caused) the spiritual breakdowns we have witnessed in the lives of those converts who have lapsed from Orthodoxy.

In pre-modern societies, a person’s identity was forged almost entirely in relation to his tribe. In the context of family and clan, the metaphors of story and journey were well-defined and concrete. The story was the ancestral history—a collection of myths and customs by which the tribe identified itself—and the individual’s purpose was to assimilate himself into this pre-existing narrative. The journey was the process of assimilation, which also had a well-defined markers in the form of rituals of birth, coming-of-age, marriage, the making of war, the establishing of peace, and death.

By their communal nature, tribal societies guaranteed the safety of the metaphors of story and journey. Individuals journeyed into a story their community had defined, on a journey their ancestors had taken before them.

By contrast, modern societies have consciously abandoned the tribe as the locus of personal identity. Since the industrial revolution, the tie between the individual and their community has largely been severed. Detached from these roots, our understanding of the metaphors of story and journey have also become unmoored. While the tribal story was collectively known and understood and handed down from generation to generation, now we have no narrative to adopt, and are compelled to create our own myths from which to draw meaning. While the journey that one undertook to become part the tribal story was well-established in communal rites and rituals, now we must invent not only the destination (whatever constitutes personal fulfillment), but also the route and the markers of meaning along the way.

I think of myself as a typical example of this modern situation. Upon learning that I am an Eastern Orthodox priest, people have often asked whether I am ethnically Slavic. The question itself is telling: the assumption is that I entered the priesthood because it is my tribal religion. In reality, I was born in the Seychelles, raised in southern and eastern Africa, and immigrated to western Canada. I chose to attend an Orthodox Church independently of my family, who found my decision strange and alienating. Far from being an inevitable step in the fixing of my tribal identity—a Slavic boy following taking up the clerical family business—my entering the priesthood was very personal: my journey, a development in my story. In a pre-modern society, I could not have conceived of such a path. Modernity has allowed me to make the kinds of social decisions that led to what I have become.

In one sense, then, we converts can be grateful for the breakdown of tribally-defined barriers that the modern ethos has afforded. For one thing, it has made it possible for us to discover a rich Orthodox spiritual heritage that would otherwise have remained sequestered in Slavic, Greek or Palestinian tribal ghettos. At the same time, the detaching of the individual from the tribal in the forging of spiritual identity has a dark side, and it is this that I would like to draw our attention to here. For the very same modern phenomenon that has permitted some of us to discover a faith that would otherwise have been concealed from us also contains within itself a set of assumptions that, as long as we ignore them, could lead us to abandon the same faith almost readily as we embraced it.

Consider the metaphor of the journey to faith. As long as we accept as axiomatic that the individual is on a personal journey whose destination is self-defined and determined, two assumptions follow. Firstly, we come to assume that every destination is equally valid. Secondly, because each individual is on his own journey, we assume that he must know the best way to get where he is going; to that extent, we tend to regard whatever path he chooses as the right one relative to him.

Similar assumptions may be made when we as moderns interpret the story metaphor. If we believe that the individual must conceive his own story, rather than simply appropriate the tribal story, then forging our identities primarily involves conceiving of and articulating a myth that is uniquely our own. Rather than asking how we fit into the story that we have inherited, we ask how our experiences fit into a story whose lines are necessarily in flux, developing according to our subjective inclinations. As a result, we make choices, not so that we can better approximate our place in the communal narrative, but on the basis of whether or not we believe that those choices fit into a narrative we have constructed.

These approaches to the metaphors of journey and story are potentially dangerous for the modern Orthodox convert. If every spiritual destination is valid, why should one’s encounter with Orthodoxy be the end point, and not simply a temporary stop along the way to somewhere else, equally fulfilling? And if every path one chooses is right as long as you consider it a part of ‘your journey,’ then Orthodox Christianity, which considers itself the fullness of the way to human salvation through Jesus Christ, is no more right than any other system that claims to offer spiritual guidance in human life.

Likewise, when we make our encounter with the Orthodox Church merely a part of ‘my story,’ we build in the possibility that the encounter may not be the ‘end,’ but rather just one chapter, to be followed by others. And if our life in the Orthodox Church starts to involve uncomfortable, inconvenient and even unpleasant experiences that don’t ‘fit’ our notions of how things should unfold; if our newly-adopted Orthodox narrative comes into conflict with other narratives, such as those of the LGBT or feminist communities—what then? Might we not tempted to turn the page on Orthodoxy and ‘start a new chapter’ in our lives, seeking to weave in the alternative plotlines we find so personally compelling?

In short, when we uncritically adopt the modern interpretation of these key metaphors, we unwittingly allow for the possibility of reducing Christianity to a purely subjective faith whose staying power depends on our fickle notions of ‘personal fulfillment.’ Planted in such rocky soil, our spirituality may quickly and joyfully spring to life when it suits us, but lacking a root, it may wither and die just as quickly.

The antidote to this malaise would seem to involve restoring a tribal basis for personal identity. However, this too is fraught with pitfalls. Too often, especially in convert circles, the return to tribalism has devolved into sectarianism as members, perhaps unconsciously aware of their modern spiritual fragility, adhere to communal rules that focus on externals (such as beards, head coverings and so on), while adopting a rigid formalism and literalism in their interpretation of liturgical and biblical texts. In this way, they hope to restore the understanding of journey and the story to its pre-modern state, containing the destructiveness of individual autonomy that modernity has unleashed.

The dangers here are relatively obvious. Aside from robbing a rich spiritual tradition of its depth and nuance, reducing it to a collection of mere forms to be observed unquestioningly and unthinkingly, such sectarian endeavours inevitably deprive the Gospel of its power to penetrate and overcome cultural, social, economic and religious barriers. Quite simply, the artificial and superficial restoration of tribalism that we see in many convert communities perverts the apostolic understanding of a Church and a unity in Christ where there is truly neither Jew nor gentile, slave nor free, male nor female.

Rather than applying such simplistic answers to the question of modernity, we must begin by confronting the extent to which modernity has shaped and continues to shape our sensibilities, regardless of whether we brand ourselves ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal.’ Second, we must actively engage in reclaiming the metaphors of story and journey, rather than simply adopting them wholly and uncritically. We can and should celebrate the power of modernity to break down barriers and allow the Gospel to flourish in places from it would otherwise be excluded; however, we should avoid its tendency to relativize and render all things equally valid (and therefore equally meaningless).

If we are to talk about a ‘journey of faith’ (and not to do so would be difficult), we need to consciously recall that the destination—the fullness of Christ—is a given, as is the way to get to that destination in the tradition of the one apostolic Church. The paths we take, therefore, are not all equally valid or good, but must prove themselves consistent with the path of the saints—those who have walked before us.

Similarly, if we must think of our journey as being a part of a larger narrative, we need to remind ourselves both individually and collectively this is not a narrative of our own making; it too is a given. Our responsibility is not to continually deliberate on how the events and experiences of our lives ‘fit’ into the myth we have created for ourselves. Rather, our task is to make the most informed and wisest choices in council with the Body of which we are members, and then leave the Head of that Body, the Author of lives to establish their ultimate significance in relation to His story, the story of universal salvation.

96 Responses

  1. Kerry San Chirico

    Thank you for this. I want to add another metaphor often used in convert narratives–that of coming home. This is different than the other metaphors in that it suggests a finality absent in the metaphors of journey and story. I attended the same church as Fr. Peter Gillquist for several years. Whenever a person was chrismated, he would make it a point to embrace that person and say “welcome home.” I think this was his root metaphor for understanding that cliched “journey to Orthodoxy.” Now I have my problems with Fr G’s presentation of Orthodoxy, but this metaphor does not suggest an “all paths are equal” relativism. How would adding this metaphor have changed your conversation?

    1. I hear you and I think that is how Gillquist intended the metaphor, but I would also point out that Amy Slagle has argued that the metaphor is part and parcel of American “domestication” and I would add that therefore, it is not as stable as one might think. Yes, it fits with a central American theme (think country music for instance–I love it but admit this nostalgia is there), but home can also be “where you make it” and to that degree, it’s not as final as you might think. I am thinking of writing a follow up to Fr. Richard’s post, though, and I should think about this.

  2. It is modernity which is the heretical aberration, not tribalism. The Nation is coming back wherever you look. The secular State, suffering no other gods before it, must attempt to stamp out this instinct wherever it appears.

    Anglo-Americans who join the Orthodox faith save their souls and lose their families and neighbors. It takes generations of extended family and community, baptized, married and buried in the Faith, to build a Local Church. I do not think America will ever have an autocephalous Local Church (notwithstanding the OCA’s press releases) because America is not a real nation. Our Patriarchs may in fact be taking the long view: let’s see what shakes out when the American federal state devolves into its constituent nations, then we’ll see what the Church is over there.

    We Anglo-Americans actually had our American Church, the Episcopal Church, formerly the Anglican Church, the Church of the English. Schismatic, un-orthodox in crucial areas, competing with every other Protestant sect, but it recited the Creed and it was “our” Church. Then it left us. A number of us became Orthodox, because we saw the issues with a Latin Church that thinks she rules the whole planet. Interestingly, the Roman Church is strongest where she actually behaves like a Local Church: Croatia, Poland, Ireland, Italy, even France (NB: Rome no longer elects French Popes).

    I am in the Antiochian Archdiocese, the only member of my family in the Church. What a terrible paucity of experience not to be in communion with your own blood and kin. Let me repeat that: not to be in communion with your own blood and kin. In the old countries, they picnic in cemeteries.

    All we can do is pray and hope time solves the issue for our descendants. But there are so terribly few of us.

    1. Cutting oneself off from one’s own blood–cutting oneself off from any of one’s fellow men and women–does indeed signify a terrible paucity of experience. I’d suggest that the impulse to do that in favor of Truth should call that perceived truth into question. In any case, I believe the notion of the Orthodox Church as a refuge for those whose vision of Christ excludes others so radically is fallacious. And if you expect the Church to include only those people with such a view, you’ve got a lot of work left to do in expelling the rest of us.

      1. I’m not sure you understand what I’m talking about. Unless your parents, siblings, et al. are chrismated Orthodox, you do not share One Bread, One Cup with them. Will your children offer Trisagion prayers for you? Will anybody? If the Sacraments matter, these are grave questions.

        1. Matt

          “Will anyone?”
          Haven’t you heard the services? We pray for all Orthodox Christians everywhere, alive or dead.

    2. Fr. James

      I don’t think we Latin’s want to rule the world. However, if you joined Orthodoxy for that reason that is quite sad. I became Catholic not just because I rejected my Protestant faith, but because I embraced the fullness of the Catholic Church. It was a positive rather then a negative decision.

      1. Michael Bauman

        God be praised Father for you. Still, you must realize that it comes down to the Pope. Resolving the issue of proper Papal authority will be necessary for true union.

        I doubt that the shockwaves of doing that are worth it in this life. As I noted below: boundaries are necessary for life. I appreciate the life in the Roman Catholic Church even if I don’t want to be part of her.

        1. So we disagree on that point. I think it is most definitely worth it–that we’re stronger together than divided, so I hope the papal authority issue is resolved, and I think Adam has pointed us in a good direction in his book.

          1. Mark Hartman

            Father Oliver, I think you’re right – there are many unresolved questions concerning the authority of the Universal Pontiff. I (as a member of an Eastern Rite Catholic parish) believe that it was very significant that Benedict XVI renounced the title “Patriarch of the West,” as I believe that the Papacy should be concerned with all Christians of the True Faith, working as bridge-builder (pontifex) between the churches and facilitating the communication and communion between them. The Pope’s title of “servant of the servants of God” is much more appropriate to a proper view of the papacy, in my humble opinion.

        2. Fr. James

          I agree that resolving differences on the ministry of the Papacy is necessary. I pray for that unity. However, I do not think that will mean Roman planetary rule.

          1. Nor do I think a united Church would mean a pure republicanism either. The historical theological reality is that the Bishop/Pope of Rome has certain prerogatives. Orthodox simply have to learn to accept that, even while raising valid concerns with later papal developments and Vatican I. I think this is all doable but I just don’t know if the Orthodox will be ready any time soon and that concerns me.

  3. “Are we not tempted to turn the page on Orthodoxy and ‘start a new chapter’ in our lives, seeking to weave in the alternative plotlines we find so personally compelling?”


  4. Subdeacon Nick

    Because I’m Slavic and have a long beard, I’m mistaken for “cradle”–i.e. tribal–Orthodox all the time. But I’m an adult convert from Roman Catholicism. Because my forebears came from the Balkans, where tribalism has been the source and vehicle of much wickedness, I tend to see no good in the ethnic dimension of the Church. But you have eloquently articulated the other side, and I’m grateful for that perspective.

  5. Christianity started off as a religion of converts, those cut off from the rest their families. This can be seen as far back as the expulsion from the Garden, Noah and the Flood, Abram’s Journey, and the Exodus. Orthodoxy in its native context is often a minority group and has passed back and forth from State Religion status to outright threat to stability. My own experience of burn-outs in the Church has largely to do with the personality types of the people who burn out. Most are pretty intense and (perhaps) overly intellectual, which invariably leads to dissatisfaction. Essentially, they think themselves into, and then out of, the Church. Over-thinking can be dangerous… just ask your favorite historical heretic.

  6. sid_finster


    Interestingly, it is well known to sociologists of religion that the likelihood that a convert will stay “converted” has little to do with the intensity of the conversion experience or the depth of understanding of the new faith.

    Rather, a conversion “sticks” when the convert is able fit in socially with the new faith, to find a home, as it were.

  7. Daniel Monroe

    1. Philosophically Fr. Richard is distinguishing subjectivism vs. objectivism, but is too polite to say so. If I am an objectivist about my journey, there is only one destination worth considering; if I am a subjectivist, it doesn’t matter, so factors irrelevant to one’s salvation can become crucial to evaluating the faith. Similarly for the story. It is possible that we could strengthen the faith of our subjectivist brethren by inobtrusively adverting to objectivism when appropriate.
    2. An alarm went off when Fr. Richard described these poor souls as having “risen to prominence in parishes or theological or academic circles.” I am sure that there are many ways to lose the faith, but this detail makes me think of Fr. Sampson Siever’s observation that “where there is no humility, there is no salvation.” I know that whenever I rise to prominence, my humility stays behind.

  8. One of the major problems with tribalism, with a single group holding a single story, is that sometimes, there are aspects of that story which are incomplete, wrong, even damaging. It is coming face to face with other tribes, cultures, stories, that challenge the completion of our own story. This may or may not result in departing from our ‘tribe.’ When our tribe refused to acknowledge problems within its own story, ways in which its story can be enriched, then leaving may be the only option for some.

    I am not a convert, but I am also not ‘ethnically’ Orthodox. I was raised from infancy in the Church, but due to my last name, no one ever assumes so. I am also a feminist, a set of views I hold as a result of reflection on scripture, theology, society, and my experience of Christ. I realize of course, that it is now a ‘classic’ Orthodox position to contrast its narrative with feminist narratives. This is unfortunate. And only one example where we assume a conflict between narratives.

    As Dave has pointed out, perhaps we should question our perception of what and where the Truth is. According to our vesperal prayer, the Spirit is *everywhere and in all things*. I take this as a matter of faith, and so seek the presence of the Spirit not only in my tribe, but in all creation which is God’s.

    Orthodoxy has such a fabulous view of theosis of the individual. Perhaps we should consider the concept of theosis of the Church.

    1. Michel Vasquez

      I don’t think it’s theosis of the individual. It’s theosis of the person and a person is composed of relationships and these relationships are with the Tri-Une God, fellow human beings and the rest of Creation known as the world. These relationships involve a history of conflict, pain and suffering inflicted on others or caused by others and their transformation, theosis, by love through forgiveness, reconciliation and repentance.

      All that is very easy to say and very difficult to realize

  9. Michael Bauman

    My brother and I were out of communion with each other for 15 years after being quite close prior to that. We talked, we shared with each other we continued to love each other but we were not in communion. When he was finally received it was a glorious day. It has been 13 years since that day and it is still new and fresh in my heart.

    Anti-gnostic is absolutely correct. Just because some claim the title of Christian and even share many of the beliefs does not mean that we are in communion
    and that is a crucial difference. It is a difference that must be maintained.
    That is the problem with squishy ecumenism, crucial distinctions are lost and the faith is watered down. The Orthodox Church is the pillar and ground of the Truth. That doesn’t mean truth cannot be found elsewhere and recognized as such. It means that the fullness is only within the Church.

    It is perhaps why Jesus told so many parables about leaving all (lands, family, etc) for Him.

    A friend of mind recently praised me for my strength in staying in the Church considering some of the things I went through after I was received (I shared it with her because she thought hers was rough). It was, in fact, not hard at all to stay in the Church nor will it be for me no matter what happens because my membership in the Church is founded on one thing: an encounter with the living Christ. That encounter occurred long before I knew the Church and I spent a long time in the wilderness before finding the Church and indeed coming home.

    I walked in, and there He was again but more present. It is not an emotional ‘feeling’ or intellectual affirmations–it is being in the presence of Him who is. The only “burn-out” comes when I put other things in front of my communion with Jesus Christ (which includes embracing the irritating and offensive people of my community). We bear each other’s burdens. I am deeply aware of and thankful for that.

    The only reason to be in the Orthodox Church is to have and nurture the interrelationship with the living God and the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit.

    I do it badly, but at least here I have the opportunity.

    It is true that home is where the heart is: If one’s heart is with Christ, the Orthodox Church is one’s natural home for the depth of communion here is ineffable. It is different than other communions (even if to some degree those are real). If other things are more important, well, another home will be sought.

    Please pray for me, Met. Philip and the Antiochian Archdiocese.

  10. Michael Bauman

    A lot of false dichotomies zinging around. A lot of loaded definitions of crucial words. There is nothing wrong with boundaries. There is no life without them–just ask your nearest cell what happens when the cell wall collapses.

    The Nicene Creed forms the fundamental boundary of the Church. The sharing of the cup (or not) the evidence of that boundary and the uniting of the created with the uncreated.

    Nothing wrong with tribes. Nothing wrong with celebrating one’s heritage (if it is worth it).

    1. You’re creating some of those false dichotomies here, my friend 😀 No one said there was anything wrong with boundaries. That’s not a fundamental tenet of this website. We are concerned with how hard and fast and narrowly they are often drawn by Orthodox, but that’s a different discussion. As for celebrating one’s heritage–go for it. We didn’t say to stop that either. That also is different from ethnocentrism–and let’s not kid ourselves–ethnocentrism is alive and well still in Orthodoxy.

      1. Michael Bauman

        Father, Sure it is. I have both felt the sting of that ethnocentrism and unfortunately created it where it was not. If we look to God and follow Him, it simply does not matter.

        I have learned from my dear and beautiful wife that if one ignores it and simply treats other people as people with love and respect, it tends to go away. I just don’t see much reason to keep wringing our hands about abstract things over which we have no control when there is so much hope, life and beauty all around us in the Church and in other people.

        I have seen the two long time Antiochian parishes in the town I have lived in most of my life change from Syrian social clubs who hated each other and only allowed converts who married in (the token ‘white’ guys) to growing, vibrant, welcoming, multi-ethnic Orthodox lights.

        It was not easy and, unfortunately, some changes did not occur until enough of the hardliners had died to allow for it.

        We spend far too much time on analyzing ‘issues’ and far too little time on living and learning to love God.

        BTW, I would ask all of you to pray for the soul of my wife’s aunt Lawanda, who at 91, is preparing to pass into eternal life.

      2. Michael Bauman

        And I am undoubtedly creating false dichotomies that is the nature of the internet. Doesn’t mean we have to continue to accept them. Thanks for pointing mine out to me. Computers are binary in their essence as is much of what passes for thought in today’s world.

        It is always easier to see other’s than one’s own.

        “Laugh for the sake of laughter…..for it is surely the surest touch of genius in creation…” Christopher Frye

  11. Michel Vasquez

    While I think the metaphors and symbols of journey are useful, they often can themselves become obstacles.
    I like the metaphors of uncovering or unveiling.
    I like to think that, rather than exiling myself from my ancestors, relatives and historical culture and journeying to a strange new land, ( a very American metaphor), I’m uncovering the Reality that was, is, and always will be. That is, I haven’t “moved” but rather unfolded.
    I was born, baptized and raised Roman Catholic and when I began to practice my faith as an Orthodox, I did not and do not see myself as separate from that heritage. Nor do I see myself as being separate from all the persons I’ve encountered, both “good” and “evil” whose relationships, successful and failed, have shaped the person I am. As I continue my life, those relationships continue to influence me through my memory of them. They often lead me to reflect on my failures and small successes and to the God that allowed them.

    I’ve been watching a particular British TV mystery which often has as a theme the past; how it’s denied yet comes back with more power or how it’s caused someone to be so enveloped by it and the anger from it that horrible crimes result.
    Too often, it seems to me, those who journey are trying to escape the past, those who wish to write a story turn the page too quickly. And, in a sense, the Prodigal Son never left home, it was the Elder Son who did.

  12. Andrew Cuff

    I came for the truth…I stayed for the Truth.

    It was long years of careful study that brought me into the Orthodox Church (from non-denominational protestantism). It was the Eucharist that kept me there after I discovered that things weren’t as clear-cut as they had appeared.

    Fortunately, “I stayed for the Truth,” and He has brought many of the perplexities into sharper focus.

  13. I know, the message of Jesus to put him before your tribe, but the Anti-Gnostic is right.

    My tribe came from western Europe.

    You can believe that Catholicism is a complete fraud – no real baptism, no real bishops – and be a good Orthodox. Even if that’s not the view of this site’s owners or writers, you’re in communion with people who believe that.

    You can’t believe that about the Orthodox and be a good Catholic. That’s Catholic teaching.

    So I’m a Catholic.

    1. Well, online there are quite a few Roman Catholics who are quite sectarian in how they understand Orthodox and would go so far as to say going from Rome to Orthodoxy jeopardizes one’s salvation because one is going into schism. Also, I remember how back when Pontifications was a blog, there were several RCs who were very sectarian. You’re in communion with them. Pointing out that there are people in each other’s churches who are sectarians honestly isn’t helpful. A more honest approach, I think, would be to say that at least Rome has an official position vis-a-vis the Orthodox, one which sees us as “church” while for the Orthodox, it’s a matter of what the local synod interprets historical theology–merely a schism or outright heresy?–depends on who you ask. Yes, that is a problem. I agree.

      1. “Well, online there are quite a few Roman Catholics who are quite sectarian in how they understand Orthodox.”

        Whether that’s good or bad depends on what you mean by “sectarian.” If you mean our true-church claim, which is a lot like yours, that’s not per se a problem. It’s our teaching. If you mean there are ignorant Catholics who think your sacraments are bogus, that’s not our teaching so they’re irrelevant.

        “…and would go so far as to say going from Rome to Orthodoxy jeopardizes one’s salvation because one is going into schism.”

        I say that too, because it’s our teaching.

        “A more honest approach, I think, would be to say that at least Rome has an official position vis-a-vis the Orthodox, one which sees us as ‘church’ while for the Orthodox, it’s a matter of what the local synod interprets historical theology–merely a schism or outright heresy?–depends on who you ask. Yes, that is a problem. I agree.”

        That was my point. When I see all that we have in common, our teaching makes sense. Thanks.

      2. Fr. Oliver,

        I am sorry, but where are these “quite a few Catholics”? (Of course there are “quite a few” more Catholics in the world than Orthodox and exponentially more Anglophone Catholics than Orthodox, so I suppose one’s perspective on proportion can get thrown out of whack quite quickly.)

        Regardless of what individual Catholics wish to assert concerning the Orthodox Church, the reality is that there are — and have been — “marching orders” from Rome on how we are supposed to understand and treat the Orthodox churches — and those “marching orders” are not new. There is also a pretty wide divide between those who “go from Rome to Orthodoxy” and those who are either: (1) Cradle Orthodox; or (2) Go from a non-Catholic/non-Christian sect to Orthodoxy. With respect to the first crowd, it seems reasonable that there is less sympathy for their conversion for the simple fact that, by Catholic lights, they have left the sure path to Salvation by — in many instances — consciously going into schism. But in the end, how many people does that actually apply to? A few dozen worldwide each year? Maybe, at most, 100? (I doubt there are clear numbers available.) But again, that matter is distinct from blanket claims that all Orthodox are heretics/schismatics who are destined for the fires of hell (something no Catholic can confidently assert).

        Now, flip over to the Orthodox narrative. Let’s say 10% of Orthodoxy’s hierarchs believe Catholics are, by virtue of being Catholic, going to hell. (My suspicion is that this number is actually higher than 10%, but I’ll stick to it for right now.) I wonder: Could you find 1% or even 0.05% or even 0.025% of Catholic hierarchs who would assert the same thing about the Orthodox? I don’t even think the bishops of the Society of St. Pius X would try to hold that line and yet I have heard priests from your confession, at the altar during their homilies at the Divine Liturgy, suggest that not only is “Orthodoxy unlike Catholicism,” but that the only chance Catholics have for salvation is to convert to Orthodoxy in this life; you cannot pray for them once they are dead (because, you know, they’re in hell). That is a far more “mainstream” view in your confession than you seem to be letting on, and pointing to a few wayward Catholic bloggers does not obviate that.

        1. Gabriel,
          I don’t think it matters how many there are who like to trumpet Orthodox as “schismatics.” It’s been too long since I read Pontifications. That was years ago. I haven’t kept up with the commenters on there. I remember one lady named Dianne who, at that time, was quite negative toward Orthodox over divorce and claiming that issue was a church dividing one. That said, I already acknowledged in my last comment that Rome has a position whereas Orthodox positions will vary from local synod to local synod. I don’t know if you read it, but I wrote a post on here not too long ago stating that it is the Orthodox who are truly preventing reunion of the two churches. Wait a minute, you linked to it. I think you’ll find me more of a friend than an enemy. Although I would not wish to guess at percentages, I do think you are correct that one can find Orthodox bishops who believe Rome to be both schismatic and heretical (even believing in a “different god” due to the filioque–as though there was nothing more said after 880). I wouldn’t assume the same bishops believe all Catholics go to hell, but I am sure some might so believe. It is within the realm of possibility. All this is to say this is why we need this website and many more profound activities and dialogues. Rather than getting defensive over my comment, I would invite you to join us in this endeavor. Help make Orthodox better Orthodox.

          1. Diane

            Greetings, Father!

            Ooh, I’m that nasty ole Diane. LOL.

            Did I say that the Orthodox position on divorce/remarriage is wrong? Yes. I totally stand by that…as do some 85% of Catholic cardinals, as I’ve just learned.

            Do I run around calling the Orthodox Hell-bound schismatics? Um. No. I have never said anything remotely like that. Ever. Plenty of Orthodox have said that about us Catholics. But, like Gabriel, I don’t know of any Catholics who say the same about Orthodox. There may be a few out there but not many. And I am certainly not among them.

            Please do not misrepresent what I’ve said. Never, ever, ever have I said that I think my Orthodox brethren are going to Hell. Never.

            By the way, Father…as I myself have learned to my chagrin, it’s always dangerous to falsely accuse someone on the Internet. It’s a smaller cyber-world than you might think. 😉

            (I also must say, with all due respect, that I think it’s a tad ironical that you accuse Gabriel of getting defensive. Isn’t this entire thread an exercise in defensiveness?)



          2. Diane

            OK, one more point, then over to Owen’s blog:

            Of course it matters “how many” Catholics supposedly condemn Orthodox as graceless hell-bound heretics / schismatics. The fact that there are few or no Catholics who do this is quite significant. Compare and contrast with the countless Orthodox — I’ve personally encountered many of them, online and even in Real Life! — who claim that non-Orthodox Christians are graceless hell-bound heretics. Come on, now. How can this be gainsaid? As Serge pointed out, our Catholic Magisterial Teaching forbids us to consider the Orthodox as Hell-bound heretics. And even Catholics who are unaware of the Teaching seem to follow it instinctively. You’ll find them at the local Greek Festival, “opa”-ing with the best of ’em. 😉

          3. Good to hear from you Dianne. I no longer remember the conversation precisely. I just remember that you were one of the people in it (I’ve forgotten other names) and it was clear (at that time) that it was seen as a church dividing issue by some of you. Hence, it was seen as important enough to warrant “schism” (even if we Orthodox were the ones seen as schism). Perhaps that’s no longer your view and I never thought you thought we were hell bound. That’s not Catholic teaching anyhow. I do remember we had a lengthy exchange on it but one that ended up with no resolution. Then again, that’s the way most blog exchanges seem to go. I suspect there’d be more resolution from conversations in person over beer than we find on blogs. Glad to have you here!

          4. I am not trying to be defensive, but I am just not sure if the problems in Catholicism with respect to its view of Orthodoxy are of the same genus as the problems in Orthodoxy with respect to Catholicism. Since Catholicism is now my confession, I will state a few common errors which, though perhaps not official, certainly doesn’t do much to assist Catholic/Orthodox relations:

            (1) Orthodoxy, like Eastern Catholicism, is primarily about ritual (Byzantine Rite) and so the Orthodox just need to “get over” the governance stuff

            (2) Similarly, Roman Catholics who do know about their own Eastern brethren tend to forget how poorly they have been treated historically and thus don’t comprehend how that makes the Orthodox leery of Rome

            (3) Neo-ultramonatanism is alive and well in the Catholic Church, especially among neo-Catholics. While this problem usually manifests itself in polemics between so-called traditionalists and neocatholics, the rhetoric of the neo-ultramons no doubt comes across as toxic to Orthodox

            (4) The Eastern Catholic churches are not treated as sui iuris churches in many respects, and many Roman Catholics don’t see any problem with that.

            (5) Rome’s liturgical situation is a mess and the Orthodox, who jealously guard the integrity of their rite (rightly so), are consistently turned off by it.

            (6) We don’t have our own house in order, and so it comes across as disingenuous, even absurd, when we claim that Orthodoxy’s problems will be solved by the Pope. The Pope needs to solve Catholicism’s problems first (or, absent that, find a way to demonstrate that Rome’s problems wouldn’t have spillover effects for the East).

            I could go on, but I will stop there. I am not blind to “Roman sins” with respect to the East, and I think the East shouldn’t cave lightly to Catholic claims on matters such as governance. (Though, as I wrote recently elsewhere, I don’t think Rome adopting Eastern-style governance is the way to go either, especially in times like this.) I think it’s true that a vast majority of Roman Catholics are ignorant of the East (even Eastern Catholicism) and that never helps with their interactions with the Orthodox. And none of this, of course, gets into the doctrinal and theological issues, some of which are — whether we like it or not — rather messy.

          5. Again, if you’re saying their not of the same genus, then I don’t get the tone of your comments, though this one is more helpful. The post of mine you shared should’ve made it clear I think we’re the ones with most of the problems on the Orthodox-Catholic divide. I think the “governance stuff” is important but sadly, we Orthodox also have to deal with improper hierarchy.

          6. Brendan

            One small point.

            From the Catholic perspective, a Catholic who enters formal communion with Orthodoxy (i.e., who formally leaves the communion of Rome) does commit the sin of schism on the personal level.

            I was specifically told this, in a gentle yet firm way, by my Catholic priest a day or so before I was being received as an Orthodox. It’s the official teaching, regardless of some of the nice things that are said in ecumenical dialogues about people being free to go back and forth and so on (like the Balamand statement suggests).

            The idea is that although Catholicism teaches that the Orthodx are “true particular churches”, it nevertheless sees their catholicity as being less than completely “full”, due to the lack of formal, open communion with Rome (this despite the recognition implicit in Catholic teaching that there is, nevetherless, sacramental communion de facto due to the one-ness of church in the Eucharist, even though this is not formal or open).

            Perhaps a Catholic here can correct me, but it is my understanding that a Catholic who receives the sacraments in an Orthodox church (if they can manage to do so) does not commit the sin of schism unless they are formally leaving the communion of Rome with the intention to do so. So it isn’t treated the same as someone who is formally chrismated/received by Orthodoxy, because this implies a rejection (sometimes more than implied, depending on the text used) of the prior association in a way that the mere receipt of the Orthodox eucharist, say, would not. Of course, that’s mostly theoretical because most Orthodox priests and bishops in most of the world outside the situation in Lebanon and Syria would not permit Catholics to receive Orthodox sacraments knowingly, but I believe that Catholicism distinguishes between that (which seems to have been what the Catholic side meant in the Balamand statement), on the one hand, and formally leaving one and joining the other, on the other hand.

          7. Yes, that is what I’ve been told as well. We are “church” but we are also in schism. How grave the sin is for becoming Orthodox, I don’t know. I’m assuming if you reverted, you’d need to confess it. Still, the Catholic position is less “hardline” than the Orthodox.

          8. Mark Hartman

            On this issue, our priest (Ukrainian Catholic) has pointed out that while we Eastern Catholics are Orthodox in faith and Catholic in unity, the Orthodox have a bit of a lack in the unity department. Looking at the issues, with the exception of the filioque (the omission of which has been called “the normative form” by Rome; in other words, it probably should be omitted, or the phrase “from the Father through the Son” used), the issues really seem to me to be political and historical rather than theological.

  14. As a convert, I look upon my journey as somewhat parallel to that of the Israelites. They left Egypt, where they had it fairly good. (Historically, there is no evidence that the Israelites were slaves in Egypt.) Likewise, I left the Evangelicals behind, briefly explored Orthodoxy, then turned to Lutheranism. I consider my years as a Lutheran as my years in the desert, laying the groundwork that allowed me to accept Orthodoxy, to enter into the Promised Land.

    I’ve come to the end of my journey. I’m home. Home isn’t all its cracked up to be, but it is better than being back in the desert.

  15. Kerry San Chirico

    Fr Oliver, I’m not saying I agree with Fr. G, or that I take it a face value, only that there are more metaphors operative here.

    1. Brandon Gallaher

      The notion of ‘returning home’ is a species of the journey metaphor and even if you return home you can still leave as it may well not have been the last stop and home is where you make it etc. I was received in a parish where you were hugged and welcomed home but many of the very same people left from that very parish though it was very emphatic that the Orthodox Church was the last stop on the way (I think in many cases this could be read in a sectarian manner and people could react against it). I think there are all sorts of pressures here but one is the clash of narratives and how so many converts when faced with the fallen aspects of the Church just leave and journey onwards so they really never fully buy into the Orthodox story or the Orthodox story may itself be a tissue of various non-Orthodox ones simply posing as Orthodox.

  16. I think the biggest difficulty any thinking human being would have with this post is that it fails to properly account for why people become Orthodox or why people leave. What an amusing failure.


    Someone Who Has Left the Orthodox Church

    1. Daniel Monroe

      Dear Someone,
      I know only three converts who abandoned the faith. All three had unfortunate psychological issues. Sadly I have known a number of cradle Christians who fell away, but I cannot say that psychological issues were prominent; it seems to me that it was simply accepted that attendance was optional. It would be very interesting to find out if anyone has ever done a survey of modern convert and cradle lapsi, since my observations are threatened by the weak law of large numbers.
      But, Someone, perhaps you know what everyone else is overlooking? I am interested in your opinion.
      Sincerely, Daniel

      1. I definitely have psychological and spiritual issues. I never saw any uncreated lights…

        Since leaving the Orthodox Church in 2011, I have met a steadily growing number of ex-Orthodox with a rough 33/33/33 split between those who (A) Either become or revert to Catholicism; (B) Enter a Protestant confession; or (C) Are nothing. Their reasons for leaving are typically as diverse as their backgrounds, though if I could find one over-arching reason it is because the “promise of Orthodoxy” wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Now, whether that’s a good reason or a bad reason depends on what these people expected; what they actually received; and whether or not their experiences are clouded by peripheral matters. I don’t have enough information to enter a final judgment on any of those three points, though — speaking anecdotally — I can say that I have witnessed plenty of (good faith) half-truths issued to converts by all sorts of Orthodox priests in order to either assuage their trepidations or make the Orthodox Church out to be something that it really isn’t. I even saw this with my wife’s catechesis before she converted to Orthodox. (Unlike me, she came from a non-denominational Evangelical background.) So, certain doctrines involving the Virgin Mary, Saints, and icons were “tweaked” in such a way that they appealed more to what the priest likely thought were her “Protestant sensibilities.” (Since she is now Catholic, it’s clear that she didn’t need the watered-down version on any of these points anyway.) I have also witnessed plenty of priests sell the “Orthodox Century” line to would-be converted, as if we are only a few years away from the next great revival in America which will be held under onion domes rather than tents. Right. Some might knock folks for hinging their conversion on such “superficial” reasons, but those charges misses some pretty fundamental aspects of religion in America and religion generally. Few folks want to enter a “cult,” and when one is talking about what is supposed to be the one true Church of Jesus Christ, they want some assurances that it is not a backwater refuge or a boutique form of spiritual entertainment. They want substance — and something that generally aligns with what they understand of the Great Commission, salvation, evangelization, etc. American Orthodoxy, truth be told, really can’t offer that. (I am agnostic on whether or not world Orthodoxy writ large can.) In the end, for many Americans, regardless of their backgrounds, Orthodoxy comes across as another iteration of Protestantism: fractured, small, packed to the brim with in-fighting, and all the different “variants” claiming to be the “one true variant.” Sure, Orthodoxy in America is connected with a larger body of churches spread around the world (though most of them are in the geographic East). But there’s a real disconnect there. For reasons I don’t think I need to get into, that disconnect is not as “felt” or apparent in Roman Catholicism.

        At the close of business, I will — honestly — claim that I left Orthodoxy because none of Orthodoxy’s supposed “truth claims” over Catholicism held enough water for me to turn my back on the faith which my forebears held to for centuries (and probably longer, but family trees are murky things). Having grown up in the Eastern Catholic Church, I could only stomach so much “anti-Uniate” rhetoric for so long and once I encountered priests go on about how I couldn’t pray for my deceased Catholic relatives because they were in hell, that was the “break” moment for me. All of this other stuff, ranging from papal primacy to rationalism vs. mysticism, is just a load of window dressing for 99.9% of folks out there. As Owen White has gone into previously, converts/reverts have a whole menu of reasons they join/leave one confession over another, and rarely it’s because they have had the time or the intellectual fortitude to do all of the footwork necessary to reach the “right conclusion.” Aesthetic, emotional, cultural, sociological, etc. reasons tend to dominate — and that’s fine with me. I think it’s best if people are just honest about this stuff and cease with the B.S. It doesn’t impress anyone anymore and, really, it probably just ticks off your Guardian Angel.

        1. Daniel Monroe

          Well, I can see that this is a lot more complicated than I thought. I appreciate your candor. One question that begs to be asked is whether you felt that you had joined a fringe group of a sorts after you became Orthodox. That priests had “tweaked” anything is really sad; no one is served by misleading claims.

  17. Jan

    Wow. That was beautifully explained. It is difficult to be a wanderer – someone with no “tribal” identity and feeling the need to belong and to have that identity. I’ve always felt like I was outside, looking in. Always felt in-tethered and desirous of someone to claim me as part of their tribal identity, and to feel like I belonged. It has flavored my faith-journey and continues to do so. Thank you for saying this so succinctly and helping me nail it down a little; gaining some focus and perspective!

  18. Michel Vasquez

    I recommend that Owen White’s post on his blog be read.

    He does bring up a number of points which should be carefully considered.

    I have only one question for him; what do you mean by “self-fulfillment”?

  19. Michael Bauman

    One or the other (RCC or Orthodox) is schismatic. Our individual decisions as to which is which will be revealed by which communion we seek to abide within. I don’t think it matters who “has the most problems” with unity. We each have our own to work on–individually and corporately (repentance for all). Way above my pay grade (and the pay grade of anybody here as far as I can tell). I know some of what I have to do and I work on it within the context of my spiritual life. It is a drop in the bucket, but it is all I can do.

    From where I sit, the teaching about not praying for those ‘outside’ the Orthodox church is a viewpoint that is increasingly looked upon as sectarian and without merit. However, it used to be much widespread.

    Seems to me that St. Silouan of Mt. Athos has a lot to do with the passing away of the sectarian attitude. He is often called a saint for our time. One of the aspects of Orthodox thought and practice that he and his disciples bring out is that pray is all inclusive as is the mercy of God. Seems like a good place to start. I know I pray for non-Orthodox all the time and each Sunday a list of non-Orthodox (living and dead) are remembered by our priests at the end of the Great Entrance. They are not remembered as part of the sacrament, but prayers are offered for them nonetheless. (To some that makes us less than Orthodox).

    I just am soooooooooo tired of all the dithering. There is only one reason to be Orthodox: communion with Jesus Christ. The same reason exists for Roman Catholics and Protestants. I’ve met and am sure I will continue to meet non-Orthodox who demonstrate that communion in ways that I don’t. I give thanks for them and have many times rejoiced with them–in fact my heart leaps for joy when I meet someone like that. It is not for me to decide their salvation. For anyone to consign anyone else to hell is just stupid. As my priest told my lovely wife during her catechesis five years ago: “Love finds a way.”

    Nevertheless it is true that the teaching in both the Orthodox and the RCC is that heretics are anathema and schismatics risk their own salvation and without repentance will likely loose it. Historically, that developed in an environment in which there was a clear, bright line between being Christian and not-being Christian. It took a mere 400 years however for the line to be less clear and bright. It is an outright muddle these days.

    The 1848 Encyclical of the Eastern Patriarchs makes it abundantly clear what the official position of the Orthodox Church is on the Papacy and the RCC. Whether such a position is upheld at all levels of the Church in all times is a separate question. Whether the position so robustly articulated in that notable document should be the position of the Orthodox Church is yet another matter altogether but it is a clear position.

    One has to be comfortable with a certain creative chaos–giving thanks to God for all things and offering all things to Him to really embrace the Orthodox way of doing things. If one prefers more outward structure, well, Rome is likely going to be more comfortable. That is kinda what started the whole debate in the first place.

    Conversion is not about joining an institution, it is about submitting to the love of Jesus Christ where ever one finds oneself. In your patience you possess you soul. Many who call themselves converts lack the patience to endure uncertainty, hardship (even outright animosity) and any cognitive dissonance they find to allow the conversion to really happen. I’ve been at it for 27 years now and I still face those dilemmas from time to time.

    The sacramental life makes that possible in a manner that is impossible outside it. Today that leaves only two choices (Rome or Orthodox). I know when I attend RCC marriages or funerals for Catholic friends I often come away a little sorrowful because of the diminution of the sacraments I witness.

    I condemn no one else’s decision, but for me and my house, we cleave to the faith as revealed through the one, holy, Apostolic and Catholic (Orthodox Church) and invite anyone to come and see why at my home parish: St. George Orthodox Christian Church in Wichita, Ks. You will be welcomed.

    1. Diane

      Nevertheless it is true that the teaching in both the Orthodox and the RCC is that heretics are anathema and schismatics risk their own salvation and without repentance will likely loose it.

      Well, that’s not exactly the Catholic position. We have always made allowances for “invincible ignorance” (I believe Aquinas coined that term). And VCII states that those who have grown up in non-Catholic faiths do not share the culpability of the original heresiarchs and schismatics. (How could they? God does not hold people accountable for never having been exposed to something far outside their personal experience.)

      The VCII Decree on Ecumenism elaborates this nuanced view. I will try to find the specific passage.

      In his marvelous little monograph The Keys of the Kingdom, the late Father Stanley Jaki, eminent scientist and patristics scholar, argues that the resolution of the 3rd-century Cyprianic rebaptism controversy paved the way for Vatican II’s Decree on Ecumenism. For, if heretical and schismatic baptisms can be valid, then, obviously, grace can be found outside the Church’s visible boundaries.

  20. Michael Bauman

    ADDENEDUM: it should be considered that both the Turkish Yoke and the Soviet martyrdom have tended to strengthen the idea that outside the Church there is nothing. The RCC has never experienced anything like either of those things to the extent that the majority of the faithful Orthodox have and do still. (How many times has the life of the Patriarch of Constantinople been threatened by Islamists?)

  21. per

    Having myself left traditional Catholicism for Orthodoxy (and being happy in the Russian Church), I still understand some of the reasons put forward by Modestinus and Owen White for leaving Orthodoxy. In my view, the Cyprianic view of sacramental grace and the limits of the Church now popular within Orthodoxy is a prominent cause of problems that can make Orthodoxy cultish and practices fall short of promises. A more Augustinian view I think is more aligned with empirical realities and (ironically?) makes it possible to appreciate Orthodoxy’s true advantages. The goal of Christian life is transformation in Christ. All things are mere tools to this end. And prayer is 80 percent of sanctification – which is open to every Christian. With this in mind, I don’t think one should throw out the baby with the bath water. Orthodoxy has a more well rounded ecclesiology; a more developed view on religious art; a richer liturgy. Orthodoxy is the fifth gear, the icing on the cake. If Orthodoxy is Harvard, then Catholicism is a State university and Protestantism is a provincial institute. But then again, entering the best school is not going to ensure that one becomes a top scholar. The most important parts are basic things like dedicated self study which are open to everyone.

    1. The difficulty I have with this comment is that it doesn’t say, well, anything. If I really believed that Byzantine liturgy was “richer,” I would attend an Eastern Catholic parish exclusively. But your menu of reasons of why Orthodoxy is superior to Catholicism lacks depth and explanation. You make several assertions of the East’s “superiority,” but it carries no more weight than any claim you might make concerning your favorite flavor of ice cream.

      1. per

        I will make another try. You bring an empirical argument against Orthodoxy. I think empirical arguments are the best arguments. Empirical reality is what I hold against Catholicism. The doctrine of papal supremacy is what brought Vat II, NO and the modernist takeover of Rome. This is the main reason why I embraced Orthodoxy. The more decentralized structure of the Orthodox Church has shown itself to be more resilient and able to resist the onslaught of the modern world than the centralized structure of the Catholic Church has. Empirical reality has also in my view falsified the Cyprianic doctrine of sacramental grace and the limits of the Church. If this doctrine were true, then most Orthodox would be swimming in holiness, while there would be no holiness outside of it. This is clearly not the case. Now, if people are not more holy in the Orthodox Church than outside of it, does this falsify its claims? Not necessarily. If Orthodox are less holy than others then there must be another factor outside Orthodoxy that comes into play. Assume that prayer is 80 percent of sanctification and fasting is 20 percent. All protestants pray while all Orthodox fast but do not pray. In this case, Protestants will be 80 percent holy while Orthodox will be 20 percent holy. So is the Orthodox Church then falsified? I would say that it is not. Only in the Orthodox Church is it possible to become 100 percent holy (assuming that fasting is not available outside of it). Orthodoxy can be faulted for putting too much emphasis on things of second order and not enough emphasis of the most important things that are common to all Christians, but Orthodoxy is still the best alternative.

      2. Teena H. Blackburn

        I keep hearing this accusation from you on different threads, and it appears you know nothing first hand about Orthodoxy if you think you are describing it accurately. On any given Sunday morning, I stand in one of the most diverse groups of people you will ever see-much more so than most churches. We use a Byzantine Liturgy, this is true-in English, with some Arabic thrown in since we have Syrian refugees. We stand next to the Ethiopians when they visit-while they stand next to the African Americans, the Serbs, and the Anglo converts. Orthodoxy has found a home in Japan, Africa, Europe, the United States, and now, recently, among the Mayans. We are very international, very diverse, very Catholic. It is the height of the ridiculous to act as if Orthodoxy is confined to any one or two ethnic groups-and no, I didn’t have to become an Arab or a Russian when I converted. Whatever our weaknesses, your description of us falls short of the reality.

        1. Steven

          Your parish sounds much, much different than all but one of the Orthodox parishes I have attended over the years. In the Greek churches, I was one of very few non-Greeks. It was the same in Serbian, Romanian, Ukranian, and Russian services. The OCA church I used to attend was primarily ex-Protestant converts. Only one church, an Antiochian parish I attended for a couple of years in London, Ontario, had the diversity you speak of, and generally lacked ethnocentrism. I imagine very big cities in the US and Canada have these kinds of parishes, but in my experience, outside of them, a highly international, multi-ethnic parish may be many hours away.

      3. Teena H. Blackburn

        Gabriel, some people don’t have access to an Eastern Catholic church. There is not one single Eastern Catholic church in my state. For a lot of people it’s not an option-even if they were inclined to do as you suggest.

      4. I have to agree with Teena on this one, Dale. I haven’t experienced Orthodoxy in that way, either. Sure, some individual parishes are that way, but not the faith and not all parishes, esp. in America. In Fargo, for instance, we’re the most diverse parish I can think of, racially and ethnically.

  22. Teena H. Blackburn

    Further, what do most Roman Catholics use? The Latin Rite. Period. Eastern Catholics account for less than 2% of Catholics, and the use of other Western liturgies is almost non-existent. I’d love to know how Catholicism is any more diverse-at least in that sense.

      1. Dale

        Yeah, how many different liturgies exist in the Byzantine Church? Not only has the small and pathetic attempt at a so-called western rite now been discontinued in ROCOR, but where are the other eastern rites? Imperial Byzantium was even more successful in destroying those liturgies as well. How many non-Byzantine rite diocese are in existence in Byzantium? None. Perhaps the real best kept secret in the west is not imperial Byzantium, but the Oriental Orthodox who do have a multiplicity of rites and traditions.

  23. Marcin

    I see this conversation as a little strange. When I go to the Russian, Greek, Romanian or Serbian parish i find ethnic character fascinating and wonderful. It is like meeting an exotic friend who shares my faith in his own way. I would be sad if all these communities ended up in an American melting pot, to serve me on lunch hour hot dogs (or peanut jelly on fast days) with Wonder Bread, atrocious coffee and greet me with a plastic smile.

    I do not expect hosts to adjust to my ways when they invite me to a party in their home.

    1. Steven

      This is true… as a visitor! I have always felt the same way. It is much different, however, when one tries to make a home of such an ethnic parish without being a part of that ethnicity.

  24. Umm… most of what you’ve said is factually untrue.

    Arabic liturgy has been used in the patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem for many centuries. In Jerusalem, the transition to Arabic started to be made in the early 8th century. In the patriarchate of Antioch, the Chalcedonians primarily worshiped in Syriac from a very early point until a slow transition to Arabic started to be made around the 11th century. If you look at the period from 969- ca 1080 when the Byzantines re-took control of the city of Antioch, the main cultural trend there is increased literary production in Arabic and Georgian, rather than Greek.

    Prior to the Ottoman period quite a few, if not most, patriarchs of Alexandria and Jerusalem were Arabic-speakers (ethnic identity, rather than linguistic, sectarian or regional identities, really doesn’t start to be people’s main way of self-identifying in the Eastern Mediterranean until around the time of the Greek War for Independence). In Antioch, the only periods when the patriarchs weren’t local (mostly Arabic-speaking) Syrians were the Crusader period and the span from 1724-1899…

    1. Dale

      I think that even a cursory study of especially the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem and its control by the Greek Brotherhood, which is still in control today, will show most of what you have posted is simply not true.

      In 1972 Patriarch Athenagoras forbade the use of English in the Greek diaspora, pastoral issues made its implementation impossible, but the fact that a language was actually forbidden shows that the touted use of the vernaculars is not as free as you seem to imply.

      Please, do give us your interesting interpretation of the situation as it existed until the 19th century in Romania? In that country, it was the Greek Catholics who introduced the language of the people, not the Byzantine Orthodox.

      1. If you want, you can read the book I recently co-edited, entitled “The Orthodox Church in the Arab World 700-1700”, where you can find up-to-date references about the linguistic situation in the Melkite patriarchates during that period. Or, for more dated but still useful references, you can look at the 3rd volume of Cyril Charon/Korolevsky’s “History of the Melkite Patriarchates” and the Joseph Nasrallah’s massive, 5-volume “Histoire du mouvement littéraire dans l’Eglise melchite du Ve au XXe siècle”.

        In Romania prior to the 19th century, the liturgical language was for the most part Slavonic, not Greek.

        1. Dale

          Then you should be well aware of the situation in both the Greek Orthodox, notice GREEK, imperial patriarchates of Jerusalem and Alexandria…very, very Greek. In Romania, it depended, but during the time of the Turkish occupation, the whole church IN Romania was controlled, much as Jerusalem is today, by Greeks. What about the Turkic speaking Orthodox in the Black Sea area? They are absolutely forbidden to use their own language. In the 1970s a small group of left-overs from the German speaking Orthodox communities of mostly Volga-Germans asked for permission to celebrate in German, they were refused.

        2. Dale

          I am very much aware of Korlesvsky’s works, it does not really support your thesis that the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch was as Arabized as you seem to imply. He also wrote a very interesting book, also now out-of-date, “Living Languages of the Catholic Church,” which mentions the non-Latin languages used in the Latin rite, including Slavonic, Greek and classical Arabic.

          The fixation on Greek was such that even today, there are more Byzantine liturgical text translated into English than Arabic. It should be noted that the Greek Catholics were at the forefront of using Arabic as well.

        3. The entire Byzantine cycle as we know it in modern times exists in both Arabic and Syriac, in Syriac since the 13th century–that is, simultaneous to its existence in the modern form in Greek, and in Arabic since the 14th-15th century (for the Syriac see: http://araborthodoxy.blogspot.fr/2011/10/orthodox-liturgy-in-syriac-sinai.html )

          Korolevsky didn’t know Arabic, but he did a good job of cataloging the Byzantine Syriac manuscripts that were available to him in Europe. Take a look at Nasrallah for the Arabic.

        4. Dale

          I think that we have to be very careful, the article makes mention of “Orthodox” liturgical cycle in Syriac, but this is not necessarily the same as “Byzantine.” The Syraic Orthodox Church, which has nothing to do with Byzantine Greeks, has always worshiped in Syrian, and later Arabic, but they have nothing in common with the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch; the Syriac Orthodox broke with the Byzantines, mainly over forced Byzantinization parading as theological issues.

          1. Pointing out that he’s the author is quite legitimate! 😀 It shows he knows what he’s talking about. Yes, possibly the strongest retort (without being offensive) that I’ve seen in a long while too.

          2. Dale

            Then you are not being completely honest in your article, even if you did write it; you do make the same mistake that Metropolitan Bashir made in calling the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch the Syrian Orthodox Church. They are not the same and are not in communion. The Syrian Orthodox did indeed use Syrian and Arabic, the more the Greek character of the Byzantines was impressed upon the Melkites (not the present Greek Catholics) the less and less Syrian they became, eventually the Greeks even robbed them of their Syriac traditions and rites (getting back to a Byzantine inability to accept any tradition other than the Greek one as authentic). I do believe, even if your fellow Byzantines on this site like you, that this is not historically honest and your article is mostly wishful thinking in its refusal to accept the historical reality of the forced Hellenization of the Melkites, but the time of the middle ages, the Greek Orthodox Antiochians had been completely Hellenized both in language as well as rite…you are indeed mixing apples and oranges. I am, by the way, not a bro.

            I am always amused by the Byzantines using the Ethiopians as a way to “prove” their inclusivity, never mentioning to anyone that the Ethiopians are no more Orthodox, in the Greek sense, than the Latins.

            If you have ever bothered to speak to an older Arabic speaker from the Greek Patriarchate of Jerusalem the use of Arabic is very recent in the parishes of that group…and like Antioch until recently, everyone in a position of power is a Greek and the services in all of the main centres are all in Greek.

          3. The Syriac liturgical manuscripts that I linked to are all Chalcedonian. For an easy example, here’s a link to my transcription of that most Byzantine of hymns, the Akathist (written, like most Byzantine hymns, by a Syrian), from one of the linked manuscripts– http://araborthodoxy.blogspot.fr/2012/09/the-akathist-hymn-in-syriac.html

            A very good overview of the history of Arabic-speaking Orthodox Christianity can be read here, and in general it’s a good place for you to start: https://www.academia.edu/3674236/The_Arabic_Christian_Tradition_An_Overview

            But if you want to go further–

            Smelova, Natalia, ”Melkite Syriac Hymns to the Mother of God (9th-11th Centuries): Manuscripts, Language and Imagery”, Pages 117-132 in The Cult of the Mother of God in Byzantium: Texts and Images. Edited by Brubaker, Leslie and Cunningham, Mary B.. Birmingham Byzantine and Ottoman Monographs. Farnham, England: Ashgate, 2011.

            Jacob Barclay, ”Melkite Orthodox Syro-Byzantine Manuscripts in Syriac (Edessene Dialect of Aramaic) and Palestinian Aramaic (Indigenous Palestinian Dialect of the Peasant Jews)”, Liber Annuus 21 (1971): 205-219

            Every, George, ”Syriac and Arabic in the Church of Jerusalem”, Church Quarterly Review 145 (1947-1948): 230-239

            Hunter, Erica C.D., ”Syriac Inscriptions from a Melkite Monastery on the Middle Euphrates”, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 52:1 (1989): 1-17

            If you read French, then the Nasrallah volumes are the place to start, as well as:

            Jean-Marie Sauget, Premières recherches sur l’origine et les caractéristiques des synaxaires melchites (XIe–XVIIe s.) (Brussels: Société des Bollandistes, 1969)

            Cannuyer, Christian, ”Langues usuelles et liturgiques des Melkites au XIIIe siècle”, Oriens Christianus 70 (1986): 110-117

            Nasrallah, Joseph, ”La liturgie des Patriarcats melchites de 969 à 1300”, Oriens Christianus 71 (1987): 156-181.

            If you read German, then take a look at:

            Johannes Pahlitzsch, Griechisch-
            Syrisch-Arabisch: Zum Verhältnis von Liturgie- und Umgangssprache bei den Melkiten Palästinas im Mittelalter,” in Language of Religion, Language of the People: Medieval Judaism, Christianity and Islam, ed. Ernst Bremer et al. (Munich: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, (2006), 37–48

            Johannes Pahlitzsch, Graeci und Suriani im Palästina der Kreuzfahrerzeit: Beiträge und Quellen zur Geschichte des griechisch-orthodoxen Patriarchats von Jerusalem (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 2001)

            Husmann, Heinrich, ed. Ein syro-melkitisches Tropologion mit altbyzantinischer Notation Sinai Syr. 261. Göttinger Orientforschungen, I. Reihe: Syriaca 9. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1975

            Husmann, Heinrich, ”Ein syrisches Sticherarion mit paläobyzantinischer Notation (Sinai syr. 261)”, Hamburger Jahrbuch für Musiekwissenschaft 1 (1975): 9-57

            If you want more, I’m happy to provide you with more references… But don’t start going off on things you don’t know anything about without reading up first!

          4. Dale

            Once again,you are mixing apples and oranges. All of this long list, concerns the Patriarchate of Antioch when they were still using the Syraic rite, not the Greek Byzantine. By the 15th century the Syraic rite no longer existed as the liturgical rite in the Greek Orthodox parishes, it had been supplemented by the Greek rite, in Greek.

            I knew Nasrallah when he as cure of the Melkite parish in Paris, and his works were concerned with the Syriac tradition before it was replaced with the Greek. This is not rocket science.

            I do now know what seminary you studied at, but this was certainly not what was taught concerning the destruction of the Syriac tradition in the Greek Orthodox patriarchate of Antioch at S Serge, Paris.

            Your final remark: ” But don’t start going off on things you don’t know anything about without reading up first!” is fairly rude.

            Trying to confuse readers by mixing the Syraic rite with the Greek is simply dishonest. The same type of dishonesty that comes with trying to pretend that the Greek Church is in some ways or manner not tied to a single liturgical tradition, which is fairly recent, but now general.

            Once again, all of the examples that you have given concern the Melkite Greek Orthodox in Antioch when they were still using the Syriac rite; later, and in some cases as late as the 15th century when this tradition was replaced with the Byzantine Greek it was the modern Byzantine rite, and in Greek. Good Lord even allowing the use of Arabic for their communities in Jerusalem is fairly recent.

  25. Reed Robinson

    I believe that I left because I felt as though I was an intruder in the Liturgy.
    I loved the whole experience, yet always felt that I strayed too far from what I knew. The bowing, the kissing, the repetition, felt both right and wrong for me simultaneously.
    I miss the Orthodox Church terribly, yet have no answer as to how I could go back and stick it out. I could never “catch up” in the culture.
    As I write, my reasons sound silly, yet I’m not sure how to reference my heart in these few words. I wish that I had been born in to the Orthodox tradition. I still search, but at sixty I have begun to doubt that I will find “home” until I pass and enter into Glory.

    1. Steven

      I can relate, to an extent, and I miss the Divine Liturgy tremendously, too. I suspect you’ve already given the Catholic Church a try, but may I suggest another visit? While the Mass doesn’t compare to the beauty of the DL, it doesn’t feel like trying to fit in with someone else’s religion (like an intruder, or stranger, which I often did experience), or “keeping up”, for me. Many of the key elements are present in the Mass that are in the Orthodox Liturgy, such as (much less repetitive) litanies, the reading of the epistles and the Gospel, a homily, making the sign of the cross, singing hymns, and most importantly, the partaking of the Holy Mysteries. Again, at 60, I can’t imagine you haven’t given the Catholic Church a whirl, but while I miss certain things about Orthodoxy, I have found as a western, mostly German Canadian, that Catholicism is a good fit. Regardless, whether Orthodox or Catholic, the tools are there for one’s salvation, in my opinion. It’s what we do with it that counts, and I believe that Jesus Christ is surely present in the Eucharist at both tables.

  26. Rod

    Wow, great discussion, I hope I’m not too late to the party! I’m in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (Oriental Orthodox), lapsed Lutheran, started seeking in 2010 with the baptism of my son (wife is Ethiopian) and was baptized myself in 2012, just in time for Lent. I haven’t completely left, but for the past several months I’ve struggled.

    My problem is cultural. I learned enough language to participate in the liturgy, but not enough for the bible readings or sermons, but that’s ok. What I can’t overcome consists cramming 500 people in a room with capacity for 300, cranking the sound system up to full volume, the serving of the Eucharist to no one between the ages of 12 to 70 except me and pushing and shoving each other afterwards to get a crust of bread & some tea. I’m not joking; most of the Eth. Orthodox churches are like this. I’m not a young man & can’t take these conditions anymore so I stay out. I actually attend a Lutheran church when I can & have realized the problem was with me all along. Orthodoxy brought me back to God but I can find what I need practicing as a Lutheran.

    I’ve been involved in discussions about having an English service, but we don’t have the leadership support to make it happen, at least not in the near future. The church has only been in the US since the early 70s & is truly an immigrant church. Same problems as the other ethnic parishes: everyone says (in their native language) “we need to do more in English to keep the young people” and nothing happens. I’ve tried to point out the good work the Antiochians & the OCA have done, but they don’t get it. They think if they teach enough Amharic the kids will stay. Tell that to the Greeks.

    God willing we’ll have an English speaking church someday. For the sake of family peace & not wanting to give up on the Ethiopians, I do not desire to join an Eastern Orthodox English speaking parish, as much as I admire what you all have done. Thank you for letting me share my story.

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