Monday, April 23, 2007

"Converts"?

I read these comments quite some time ago and intended to make a post of them. Fr. Thurman's recent post gave me the impetus to do it. Two friends, also Orthodox bloggers, had good insights on the idea of "converts." Let's begin with Eric John's comments on conversion from the blog "Orthodixie."
When people start talking about "converting" to Orthodoxy, I begin to wonder: "What does that really mean?" Most so-called "converts" to Orthodoxy are Christians, former Roman Catholics and Protestants. As such, they are merely returning to the true Church. Quite unlike pagans, Hindus, Mohammedans, etc., who are embracing the revelation of Christ. Roman Catholics and Protestants already know Christ, even if nominally. I don't like it when all the non-Orthodox are thrown into one category: either Orthodox or not. There are degrees of Orthodoxy because the Roman Catholics and Protestants have their roots in Orthodoxy. These Christians have forgotten their roots, but the others had no Christian roots in the first place. Thus, I don't see that other Christians being received into the Orthodox Church have to undergo a process whereby they are converted to Christ (one can argue whether or not conversion in Orthodoxy is to Christ or to an idol of Orthodoxy), rather they simply come into the fullness of the Christian faith. I'm not sure that such a thing really calls for the inner change that conversion to Christ does.
Important insights — made the more pleasant by his un-PC reference to Muslims (look again if you must). Thus, when Christians join the Orthodox Church, they must forsake their "former delusions," but it is also clear they are not accepting a new religion, like Buddhists, Hindus, etc.

Next, I offer these words from Eric Jobe. (Yes, they are two different people, like me and Subdn. Benjamin Andersen):

As a catechumen, I dealt with many feelings of inadequacy that were very discouraging. Watching small children receive the sacraments while I was made to wait an interminable amount of time until my own Chrismation was very troubling. I was often made to hear that I was "not yet Orthodox" even though I had been enrolled as a catecumen and, for all intents and purposes, identified myself fully with the Orthodox faith. While these feelings were no doubt from the Enemy, they were perhaps aggrevated by the attitude of the faithful towards those 'outside' of the faith as well as those who are 'newly illumined'.

Of course, for many, it would seem, 'newly illumined' really means 'not yet fully illumined' or 'not as illumuned as we are.' This phrase, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, is used to establish , in my opinion, an us/them mentality that is harmful to the unity of the parish community and the Church as whole.

As I posted several months ago, I feel that the Orthodox Church has not yet found a reasonable and agreeable position on how to deal with the number of converts who are entering the Church. We continue the tired old disitinction between 'convert' and 'cradle' (albeit a necessary distinction). We hear about 'convert baggage' and 'ueberfrommichkeit' among the zealous covnerts who are desparately trying to 'blend in' and not stick out as one of those pejoritavely-termed 'converts'.

...Approaching Pascha, I thought that those feelings of inadequacy and isolation would go away once I was fully received into the Church through the sacrament of Chrismation. Unfortunately, they have not. If the catechumen/faithful distinction was no longer there, the newly-illumind/illumined-longer-than-you distinction remains. The us/them mentality remains.

To be sure, we are all at different levels of maturity in the faith. Some of us are 'newly illumined' and new to the ways of the faith, new to the 'phronema' or 'mind of the Church', while others are more advanced in the Way. Yet I do not believe that the relative progress of individuals in thier journey toward salvation should create an artificial and defacto hierarchy among the laity.

...If there is a problem here, is it not in part because of a lack of proper and sufficient catechesis before and after one is received into the Church? If one wrongly articulates the faith, is it not possibly due to a failure to teach the Orthodox faith in the proper manner?

...But then again, I am only 'newly illumined.' What do I know?

This is worthy of exploration on its own. For the purposes of our ongoing discussion — Eric, just imagine: numerous vagantes, particularly grouped around the Yahoo Group Occidentalis, condescendingly refer to lifelong Orthodox as "unconverted Orthodox," because they do not celebrate a Byzantine Liturgy or the "Old Sarum Rite Missal," a recent, homemade "Western" innovation nearly indistinguishable from Byzantium. Evidently, only after Western Rite Orthodox follow the vagantes' every decree can we become "newly illumined" know-nothings. Then, Eric, you can lord over us! :)

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4 Comments:

Blogger Dixie said...

As Christians we are told to live as strangers in a strange land...the lack of comfort we have in the convert label reminds us of this...and it's not so bad that this discomfort helps to keep the understanding of living in a foreign land ever at the surface. At least that's the advice of my spiritual father.

So I am guessing you Western Riters will do well with this! ;)

2:20 PM  
Blogger Eric Jobe said...

As a disclaimer of sorts, I confess that that post, which was written about seven months ago, was written with a lot of pathos as a reaction to some circumstances I was then dealing with. That was my experience, or at least my personal feelings regardless of whatever the objective truth of it all really is.

Seven months later, I still believe that that the convert/cradle distinction is harmful. Essentially, one's "Orthodoxy" is something that the individual must hammer out with his or her spiritual father in confession. In my opinion, the only standard of "Orthodoxy" is one's faithfulness to Christ. I also still believe, that for those who are in the process of or newly received into the Church ought to be treated with extra care, patience, love, and forbearance. Many are in very spiritually and psychologically vulnerable positions, and for such a reason, along with the general unfamiliarity with Orthodox practice, may make many mistakes along their path to maturity (I am still making them).

9:35 PM  
Blogger Margi (juliansdaughter) said...

I am surprised. I honestly thought there were so many parishes in America with both priests and faithful who started as Catholics or in Protestantism that the cradle/convert issue would not be much of a problem. I'm disappointed to find out I was wrong.

10:24 AM  
Blogger Ben Johnson said...

Thanks for commenting.

Eric, no disclaimer needed; I think many catechumens have precisely the same reaction, regardless of "the objective truth of it all." Lifelong ministers/priests/pastors suddenly see babies commune, but they cannot...the psychological toll should be appreciated.

Dixie, a truly spiritual person can turn any adversity into a moment of spiritual progress. Good advice. However, we must also weep for the misguided pride of our detractors.

Margi, there are so many Orthodox walking the path to theosis, I'm profoundly disappointed how badly messed up the planet still is. :)

God bless,
Ben

2:09 PM  

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