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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Orthodox converts

From an Orthodox convert, via Ad Orientem.

From the comments:
No one is making a general call for all Orthodox converts in America to suddenly become Russophiles or Dostoevsky scholars. Well, maybe some people are making that call, but my point is this:

If you take the Lord's Incarnation seriously, and you truly believe that the Church is the *Body of Christ*, you should consider that the Faith becomes "incarnationally" "fleshed out" in real human cultures, with real human people. But this doesn't happen quickly. The Church is a tree with Semitic roots, a Hellenistic trunk, and Syrian, Romanian, Slavic, and yes, even American branches. And you don't have to be ashamed of who you are or be trying to imitate an Eastern European to understand that the American branch is still a tiny little green shoot in the grand scheme of Orthodox history and that we have A LOT to learn from the people who have been living out the Faith for thousands of years. That all seems like common sense, so what's the problem?

The problem is that for some strange reason (maybe it is the internet, maybe it is the wealth of translated material available, maybe it is the fact that Orthodoxy is such a small, weird, and cultural irrelevant pond in this country so any obnoxious voice sounds twice as loud...), but when new converts decide they have opinions, they are usually wrong. And they are usually REALLY loud. In almost any other setting, the new guy is expected to learn...But not so in good ole McAmOrthodoxy. Nope, here the converts all start political blogs, start getting personally involved in the Synod's politics (sometimes to an embarassing degree, especially when they get caught- let's face it, that's why Dreher and the people in Texas were upset), and before you know it, they are in seminary. To be placed in a LEADERSHIP POSITION. Without even spending years (at least 10 or 12) having their Orthodox faith tested in the fires of real life QUIETLY and PATIENTLY! Most of the time it is before they've even had the life experience and intellectual maturity to prove that they wouldn't be a complete failure OUTSIDE the Church. Yes, that is a situation worthy of ridicule.

I hope that explains why some of the joking about converts takes place. If they didn't engage in ridiculous posturing and attempts at teaching without even being exposed to a fraction of the Orthodox world, then the jokes wouldn't come so often. And yes, being Orthodox is being a part of the Orthodox WORLD. American exceptionalism **and** American Orthodoxy's exceptionalism be damned. We are a tiny drop in a 300 million strong family. When the newest member of a family, for example the immature young guy your daughter brings home for the first time so he can meet the family, starts to dictate how you should do things in the house, the temptation is to run him out with a broom. Don't be that guy. "We have to teach the lax ethnics which part of their faith is legitimate and which part is cultural baggage and superstition! We can't do stuff like that! The laity needs to be involved! We need to form a new committee! We need to vote! This is not Russia! This is America!"

No. This is Orthodoxy. This is the ***global*** Church. The fact we're in America just means that it is the American expression of the Church which is still too young to contribute as loud of a voice as it has been doing. I know that Americans feel that they have something to add to every debate and every problem in every culture even though we are a baby country a little over 200 years old and still learning how to walk. But it doesn't work in Church. Once we have a few more saints on our calendar and a more uniform parish life with less influence from extremes on all sides, then we'll talk.

To put the debate in context, the young and very American +Jonah (Paffhausen), a former Episcopalian, was named Metropolitan of the Orthodox Church in America and pushed into resigning four years later. Prominent converts, such as Rod Dreher, are appalled, and this has led to the perennial mutterings between the American converts and cradle Orthodox. This Blogger commenter, Julio Cesar Guerra, provides some good perspective.

6 comments:

Ingemar said...

Jonah was in his fifties when he was elevated. Hardly "young" (though I suppose, young for a bishop. Then again, there's Met. Hilarion).

The Anti-Gnostic said...

He was 49 IIRC, and I went back and forth on this.

55 - 60 is probably an optimal age for the position. Things may have turned out better if he had been a bishop for about five years beforehand.

Somebody reminded me that +Philip was a young metropolitan, and the more time passes the more it looks like the old lion was right about so many things all along.

Anaxagoras said...

Thanks for the kind words.

Anonymous said...

Is there a good intro to Orthodox doctrine that you would recommend to the curious?

The Anti-Gnostic said...

Anon - my personal favorite is a short book by Fr. Alexander (Schmemann), "For The Life Of The World." Also the Sayings Of The Desert Fathers; you will get a sense of the ascetic tradition which formed the Church after the age of the Apostles and the age of martyrdom.

Also the works of St. John Chrysostom, a deeply practical and sophisticated man. Orthodoxy is as relevant and real in the midst of a highly urbanized and consumerist culture (the Eastern Empire of St. John Chrysostom's time) as it is in the remote desert with nobody around but your fellow monastics.

I feel compelled to note that I don't really like anything that emphasizes "how we're different from Catholics."

The Anti-Gnostic said...

Also, comprehensive overview, The Orthodox Church by +Kallistos (Ware).