Why am I interested in Orthodoxy?

April 4, 2008

In response to Danny’s comment on my last post.

A more accurate perspective on Christian History

5 years ago, I knew almost nothing about the middle ages. From Acts to the Reformation was a blank for me, not only as far as the church but also history in general, except for a few things like “Magna Carta – 1215” or etc. Since then, I’ve taken to reading the encyclopedia (and now Wikipedia!) a lot, especially on medieval history. Kings, priests, popes, people groups, what they did, their empires, customs, history, and etc. The Byzantine empire held for me the most interest, because a) I knew almost nothing about it b) what I did know was a really cool story. I remember, in fact, going to an art gallery and seeing “Byzantine art” which piqued my interest enough that I started finding out all I could about Byzantine culture and history, including music. (Though I suppose at that point I had already seen some at the Hagia Sophia). It intrigued me. I had (somewhat unknowingly) also begun an interest in Orthodox liturgical music, simply because of the beauty and Christian significance of it (similar to the mass). A big part of this, too, was wanting to know where we had come from, how the church had gotten to the Reformation. I knew a bit about Augustine and a few others, and I was already starting to get a little disillusioned with the Reformers, but again, I knew very little of what else had happened. I wanted to know, simple as that. I like knowing things.

Their claims make it important to evaluate

They say that they are the only “real” church — and most cults do, too — but they actually have what I consider a few good reasons their claim should be taken seriously where others shouldn’t. Because of the plausibility and seriousness of the claim, I consider it important to evaluate.

Curiosity, and interest in the unknown

Actually, I think I talked about this already, but Orthodoxy piques my curiosity, for many reasons. Unknown, different and yet similar in many ways, a portal to a past age shrouded in mystery.

Family and friends who are Orthodox / or halfway

My mother in law is a chrismated Orthodox parishioner, my wife’s uncle is about halfway there, one of Bonnie’s professors (and probably the sharpest guy at Biola) is Orthodox, etc. Their interest prompted my interest.

(What I perceive as) More “Orthodox” theology

I agree with the Orthodox church on most of the deviations from Reformed theology. They are the ones who called the councils, and in many ways they’re still functioning as they did when those doctrines were set in stone. This is all a little more recent, but the more I read about the filioque, confusion of person and nature, their soteriology and etc., the more I think they’re the ones who are right. The other differences (icons, theotokos, etc.) are not a big deal to me – or rather, I’m willing to say they are right. My only real point of disagreement with them is probably their ecclesiology / “fulness of the faith”, and who’s to say whether that will change. I definitely could not say that about any Protestant doctrinal statement. But, unfortunately, the Orthodox require a lot more agreement in some ways. 🙂

Searching for a more effective way to meet God

We’re all constantly trying to improve our walk with God, aren’t we? (or we should). Part of me is curious as to whether my walk with God wouldn’t improve with a clearer understanding of communion, the discipleship they claim is available through confession and etc., the pictures of God you can get through icons. I’m wondering if this might be the next step God is leading me to.

Depth, otherness, beauty, etc.

I don’t know if you’ve experienced a good Orthodox service, but there are many aspects that I felt helped me to worship better. This might not be the case if I did it every week, but the few times I have have been powerful. If I could replicate that on a regular basis, I’d like to.

What do you think, Danny, does that answer your question?


13 Responses to “Why am I interested in Orthodoxy?”

  1. Danny Slavich Says:

    Yes, broadly.

    But, honestly, I think you are going to run into/have run into major points of disagreement with the Orthodox church, as you have with most nooks and crannies of the evangelical church. I think you’re really intelligent with a critical (in the most literal sense of the word) bent — you find holes, as you should, of course. However, I think you might be falling into a “grass is greener” type of mindset.

    I think the “filioque” is a bigger deal that you realize — it reveals the dangerous tendency of Orthodox trinitarianism to subvert the Son and the Spirit under the Father ontologically, or to divide the Godhead into three so much so that the oneness dissipates.

    I went to a Roman Catholic mass last Saturday (a wedding). And I see the appeal of the sacred/liturgical approach to worship. But there comes a watershed in theological viewpoint that cannot be crossed — when one of the priests proclaimed that Christ presently humbles himself to being slain on the altar in the Eucharist (almost an exact quote), I can only cry (or, in this case, whisper to my wife) “That’s blasphemy!” My point is this: whatever your beef with the evangelical church, do not abandon it simply from a desire to “get deeper” or some ambiguous reason like that. Decide based on truth, and not on whether or not an Orthodox service makes you feel “close to God”.

    Can you honestly say that when Jesus said, “I will build my church!” he only meant Eastern Orthodoxy. Being an evangelical does not automatically preclude Orthodoxy. But I think being Orthodox precludes recognizing the legitimacy of Protestant/evangelical faith (as you yourself have said).

    It just seems like your whole attraction to the Orthodox church is an ambiguous, mystical sense that God might meet you there. I submit that he is not more likely to meet you there than where you are right now.

  2. Ben Says:

    The “sacrifice of mass” is Roman Catholic. The Orthodox don’t believe that, although they do believe the Eucharist is literally Christ’s body and blood, though they make a point of not nailing down what that means. I don’t get the impression that the Orthodox Eucharist is too much different from Lutheran or Anglican Communion, though they’d never admit it. Speaking of, are you a “memorialist”?

    Most evangelical problems with the RCC are not ones held in common with Orthodoxy — celibate priests, sacrificial mass, immaculate conception, Papal infallibility, etc.

    More in a second.

  3. Ben Says:

    “Build my church = EO”: As I’ve mentioned, that’s my primary problem with them.

    “Ambiguous and mystical”: Really? I thought I laid it out pretty clearly. Maybe I did it wrong … here’s my concrete reasons. I agree with their theology (in general) and think their claims of legitimacy have a ring of truth, if not perhaps to the extent of infallibility. In addition, I have many non-concrete reasons.

    Obviously, none of these have been enough to get me in the door so far.

    Filioque: Well, honestly, I think it’s awfully uncharitable for them to make a big deal about it, and I feel the same way about the monophysite controversy: it’s splitting hairs, and unnecessary to divide over. I think I do realize some of the implications of taking out the filioque, but I think I agree with the EO on them.

    Why? They seem more consistent with Scripture, and it’s pretty obvious to me that the Eastern church has a lot more theological legitimacy on their side for a number of reasons (that is, in a face off between the pre-Reformation post-schism East and West). Does that make sense? I can give those reasons if you want.

  4. Ben Says:

    One more.

    “Grass is Greener” / “not more likely to meet you”: I might agree with you there. I am not really confident that I would be more sanctified and have more joy in Christ in the Orthodox Church than I would otherwise. You may think I’m doing a “grass is greener” thing but I am pretty sure I have an idea of what kind of problems I’ll run into there, many of which would be the same as I experience now.

    There’s a chance, though, that it would be really good for me; and there’s a chance, too, that their “fulness” claims may mean that in the Orthodox church I’d experience a greater degree of fulfillment in Christ. There’s also the chance that I would be able to accept and have confidence in their theological authority, to a level that I am now confident I never could in any Protestant church. If all those things aligned in the right way, it could be really good.

    Honestly, though, I’m not holding out a lot of hope that it would, which is why I’m hesitant to make a move. Unfortunately, though, I am still unhappy with evangelicalism. I don’t want to go to a liberal church, or one that doesn’t care about theology, necessarily; but I couldn’t stand going to another church where I’m marginalized for not being Reformed enough, or where my mind is feared rather than appreciated because the leadership requires conformance to something with which I cannot agree. Part of me hopes that these problems are due to the fractured, denominational nature of the Protestant church, and that in “God’s true design” the church would not experience these problems, but deep down I know this is not true.

    So I’m conflicted.

    But you didn’t ask “Why am I thinking about joining the Orthodox church” … you asked “Why am I interested in it?” 🙂 I find it very interesting, even if I can’t get enough resolution either way to be happy where I am or confident in a move.

  5. drewsive Says:

    ‘There’s a chance, though, that it would be really good for me; and there’s a chance, too, that their “fulness” claims may mean that in the Orthodox church I’d experience a greater degree of fulfillment in Christ. There’s also the chance that I would be able to accept and have confidence in their theological authority, to a level that I am now confident I never could in any Protestant church. If all those things aligned in the right way, it could be really good.’

    YES! This is more true than you realize.

    Keep reading, thinking, and praying!


    Drew Harrah

  6. Krause Says:

    Danny, as far as Trinitarian theology goes:
    You may be venturing into water that is too deep for you. The only reason you would say things like that is that you just haven’t interacted with actual Orthodox thought regarding the Trinity. For starters, I suggest you immediately read “The Five Theological Orations” by St. Gregory Nazianzen and “The Mystagogy of the Holy Spirit” by St. Photios the Great. If you haven’t bothered to read these, much less the secondary liturature written about them, then you don’t know even what you’re critiquing.

    You do realize that the filioque was not in the Nicene Creed. Thus, you’re saying that the Fathers responsible for formulating the doctrine of the Trinity were gravely and perhaps heretically mistaken.

    It would only be an ontological suboordination if we confused person and nature like the west does.

    Divide the Godhead into three? How? By asserting that there are really three persons (not three “relations”)? There are three persons (agents) that share one nature (set of natural faculties like the will).

    The fact is that St. Augustine and Aquinas were both blatant modalists. I challenge you to read De Trinitate and The sections on the Trinity from Thomas’s Summa and tell me they’re not. They confuse person and nature, which is what St. John of Damascus says is at the root of basically all heresies. For goodness sake, Aquinas at multiple points says that by person he is refering to the essence of God!!! How much more could he conflate person and nature?

    I suggest you take a look at a couple old posts on my blog about the filioque. Specifically, look at the posts “Game, set, match,” and “Another argument from St. Photios on the Filioque.” These two arguments put together should show you that the Filioque leads to various dilemmas in which all the choices are heretical. That’s why the filioque wasn’t in the Creed.

    You think we’re being uncharitable about the filioque and monophysitism? How? You don’t think that Trinitarian theology and Christology are imporant? Why not just be a Mormon?

    Tridialogy and Christology are the axis which the entire Orthodox theological paradigm turns on. Everything makes sense and falls into place only given this foundation. Our whole faith, worship, and life in Christ would be compromised. For the Orthodox, the spiritual life and theology are not separate. Both completely interpenetrate one another and make sense with each other. Mess with either and the other one will fall. I suggest you study up on St. Maximus the Confessor. He’s a perfect example of how Orthodox theology and spirituality are completely intertwined.

  7. Ben Says:

    Hey Mark, you’re young and a new Orthodox convert, probably drunk on your new-found power from discovering in college that you are smart. You’re making the same mistakes that people often make in that position (myself included): you assume because you have just passed over from childhood to adulthood, that everyone else is still a child. Don’t bet on it. Just because Danny doesn’t agree with you doesn’t mean he’s uninformed, he’s just informed from the other direction. He’s a seminary student, a college grad, and an intelligent, well-read Christian within the evangelical context. Two or three years ago you could have been in his youth group.

    Which is to say, you catch more flies with honey, and a little humility goes a long way in discussions like these.

    I have no problem with your criticism of my points, of course. I do think trinitarian theology is important, and Christology as well. I think that as the guardian of the faith, it is right for the Orthodox church to defend the correct theology. But I don’t think that those things are the core of the Christian faith. You will, of course, say, “There isn’t a core to the Christian faith. It’s all or nothing.” In response I can only say that the person who accepts the Trinity, Jesus’ death and atonement, the authority of the scriptures, and lives a holy and sanctified life in communion with God, doesn’t need to decide on the question of whether Christ had two natures or one. It isn’t important enough. You can still live a perfect Christian life without ever even asking the question (the apostles did!). The filioque has more consequences of course, but again, the Orthodox church seems to be all about splitting hairs, which I would say is a reflection more of the cultural and political context that shaped the Orthodox Church in its present form than of the teaching of Christ and the Apostles.

    The mormon charge is one I’ve heard before from Orthodox guys … but I think the differences are much greater than you realize. Maybe I will post a real quick summary of why I disagree with you here.

  8. […] on Why am I interested in Or…Krause on Follow-up: Still not Orthodox,…Krause on Why am I interested in Or…drewsive on Why am I interested […]

  9. drewsive Says:


    ‘Just because Danny doesn’t agree with you doesn’t mean he’s uninformed, he’s just informed from the other direction. He’s a seminary student, a college grad, and an intelligent, well-read Christian within the evangelical context.’

    The issue is whether Danny is up to speed on Triadological issues. Mark specifically said ‘as far as Trinitarian theology goes’; meaning, of course, that Danny may very well be an intelligent guy — which I’m sure he is! — but his blundering statement that the eternal procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father ALONE runs dangerously close ‘to divide[ing] the Godhead into three so much so that the oneness dissipates’ betrays a substantial lack of understanding of the Orthodox faith — both East and West! — prior to the dogmatizations of the speculations of one St Augustine of Hippo by the West.

    Mark’s a little rough around the edges. No doubt about it. And he’ll be the first to tell you, too. I was as well — probably worse than him — as a staunch and abrasive Lutheran prior to the day in, day out softening of my stony heart by the Orthodox prayers, both private and corporate.


    Drew Harrah

  10. drewsive Says:

    This probably goes without saying, but my heart is still hardened. There is a great danger, at least for me, in thinking, ‘Look how far I’ve come!’. It very often leads to pride.

    Pray for me.

    Drew Harrah

  11. Ben Says:

    Of course, pride is a danger for any of us, and me not the least.

    I’ll let Danny defend himself if he wants, but the implication of Mark’s post, I believe, was that Danny was not qualified to speak to the distinction between Eastern and Western triadology being a bigger issue than I (Ben) think it is. Danny is an intelligent guy and knows Protestant theology as well as any of us — and he knows me much better than either of you 🙂 — so I don’t think he’s “out of his depth” making a statement like that.

    I imagine that Danny would probably say that Augustine was the correct one in this case, and that would form the basis of his criticism. Certainly he’s got every Orthodox Christian standing against him there — but he’s also got every Catholic and Protestant standing behind him. That’s not how I do business, but he’s got just as much right to talk about it unilaterally as you folks do.

  12. Krause Says:

    First of all, that stuff about me being a college student drunk on my new found power: I suppose that I can be a bit of an ass and can come on a little stronger than I mean too, but notice that I didn’t say that Danny was uninformed simplicitor. He’s probably read tons more Catholic and Protestant works on the Trinity than me. What I said was that he didn’t know the Orthodox side of the issue. He wouldn’t make the charge of ontological subbordination if he knew the Orthodox position well. Period.

    However, I should have been more gracious especially since I am not on my own blog. I apologize.

  13. Ben Says:

    No problem, I might have been harsher than I intended. Maybe you’re not like me, but that’s what I was like and still am in many ways.

    You are probably right that he does not know the Orthodox side, but we are all learning. Please continue to comment if anything occurs to you, I value the discussion.

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