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Author Topic: Protestants Attending Orthodox Churches?  (Read 1743 times) Average Rating: 0
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Aaron M
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« on: September 11, 2010, 06:07:02 PM »

Hello - (I must warn apologize for the indirectness of this post, that is why I almost never post here or on other forums-)

This is my first post although I registered as a member on this forum almost a year ago, and I'm putting in the Orthodox/Protestant section in case my posts (or later ones in the thread) hint at any of the differences the two groups have that might merit further discussion.  I grew up with a mix of Pentecostal/Assembles of God and evangelical Friends (Quaker) church attendance and approach to the Scriptures, and in the last few years, with attraction to liturgy I got baptized in an Episcopal church, which I guess I am an as-yet unconfirmed member of that denomination.  So I would have to say that I am 'by default' a Protestant and not just a generic "Christian", because I still have quite a few reservations about many Orthodox beliefs for the usual Reformation-ist reasons, this in spite of reading only Orthodox (and some Catholic) apologetics material on the Internet for more than a year.  (No comprehensive theology books though, as yet.)  With that said...

Is it acceptable to Orthodox minds for self-identifying Protestants to perhaps regularly attend an Orthodox church (either the same one, or several concurrently) for an indefinite, ongoing period of time, without declaring an intention of enrolling as a catechumen or even meeting with a priest to discuss the prospect of this?  (Or perhaps, should I, if inclined to do this, meet with the priest anyway and explain that I would like to attend the services without becoming a catechumen?)  I should say that I have attended Orthodox churches in my city - one, a Serbian Orthodox church, three times, and a Greek Orthodox church once - and on outward appearance, I feel very out of place if I do not do any of the things that actual Orthodox do physically.  Now, if I am not Orthodox or on a declared path to become one, need I worry about this feeling of un-ease?   (It is why I only went to an Orthodox service once a month or so, and have not done so since the time of Pentecost.)

Perhaps I would, at a time foreseeably far ahead in the future, submit to “the mind of the Church” as I read about its defense all over this forum and on other online sources, and some snippets of a few books that I have read.  Right now, I am not there although I admire what is, for the Orthodox who “get” it (or enough of it), the stalwart solid-rock defense of an ancient belief system continually renewed and re-articulated from previous into the present generations, without having diluting the traditions that have consistently voiced, imaged, written down and used all manner of faculties to express it.  Where I am is theologically (for whatever that’s worth as a comparatively uneducated layman) conservative, aghast at the populist and “mega” trends attempting to deliver solid biblical truths in evangelical Protestantism, the seeming scholastically atheist and revisionist trends in mainline Protestantism, the saddening resignation of the “no-church” and “house-church” Bible-believing types – also I am enamored of historical continuity and so of traditional liturgies, disappointed by the passing of time-honored traditions in the liturgical Protestant groupings, and absolutely enamored of the thick and multi-layered liturgical and patristic offerings that I have seen in Orthodoxy.  (I also see many, by the way, in Roman Catholicism, which also interests me but less so than Orthodoxy, and I’ll leave it at that.)   What I have read of the Incarnation from several Church Fathers, and recalled in the texts of various church services that I have read online, as well as the centrality of the Life of Christ in Orthodoxy and worship of the Trinity is…well, transcendent, sublime.  (Not to sound glib – the ‘stuff’ really is to me.)  At the same time, I have typically Protestant “gut” reactions to much of Mariology, the understanding of icons as windows to Heaven, the seeming absolute denunciation of any concept of Christ’s death as substitutionary atonement, or the seeming lack of any serious consideration of the possibility of eternal damnation.   (These are to name a few – and I wonder if the last two I mentioned are not used more polemically by zealous Orthodox apologists.)  All that to say I feel like I am presently in an ecclesiastical ‘no-Christian’s-land’, if I may call it that.

So just to attend your services, read your literature, listen to your music and the like – but not declare or evince any immediate or even “soon” embrace of the Orthodox faith as a catechumen.  How do you reckon most Orthodox would feel about that?  (If it would probably be marked, that is.)  Does one call attention to him- or herself if they, quietly and reservedly, frequently attend Orthodox services but do not make the sign of the cross, do not line up to venerate the icons, and do not meet with the priest to announce his or her visit either beforehand or after?

Many thanks for your thoughts!
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mike
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« Reply #1 on: September 11, 2010, 06:20:31 PM »

As you don't try to "play Orthodox" eg. take Eucharist or other sacraments I don't see any problems. Who knows? Maybe you will be enlightened in the future?
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augustin717
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« Reply #2 on: September 11, 2010, 06:22:42 PM »

Why wouldn't you make the sign of the Cross, at least?
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Rufus
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« Reply #3 on: September 11, 2010, 07:36:06 PM »

Yeah, go ahead and attend. If you don't want to participate in making the sign of the Cross or venerating icons, that's OK--no one should put any pressure on you to do so. You cannot force someone to believe in something. The Church is a free place. During worship, we should pay attention to God only, not to what other specific people are doing. So it would not be right of anyone to be judgmental towards you for selectively participating, and I doubt that anyone will.
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genesisone
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« Reply #4 on: September 11, 2010, 07:40:46 PM »

Aaron, you will find all types of Orthodox. In general we try to be very welcoming of visitors and do not expect you to do anything that you find uncomfortable doing. In many, if not most, North American parishes you will find former Protestants of all stripes who will easily identify with you. I attended probably a half dozen times before trying to cross myself, and more than six months before venerating an icon. Don't feel pressured about anything. Though of course I hope you will feel comfortable enough to visit with others at church including the priest!

I think you've picked up quite rightly that Orthodoxy cannot be learned from a book or an internet forum. It must be experienced.

Please do visit - and share your reactions with us!

**Just about to post: I'll let this stand but I see someone else has said much of what I've written.
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MyMapleStory
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« Reply #5 on: September 11, 2010, 07:45:39 PM »

So long as you do not take Eucharist, I think it should be fine. But I couldn't help but think you would be more comfortable around a protestant church with like minded people.
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Aaron M
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« Reply #6 on: September 12, 2010, 01:06:23 AM »

Thanks so far for the reception...

Actually, I do (very often) make the sign of the cross when praying, either in a church service (Episcopal or whatever Protestant, as well as possibly Orthodox) or when praying privately, so for me the hesitance on doing it in an Orthodox service is that I might not do it "correctly."  I am quite extremely inverted and also, unfortunately, very self-conscious.  I perceive that most Orthodox know exactly what they are doing when they cross themselves, bow and venerate icons at the various and appropriate times, so I fear that I would stand out whenever I would do something not in the precise way.  But yes, I do find the sign of the cross a very meaningful and powerful physical act.

Venerating icons is more difficult for me to grasp.  I won't say anything on the theology of it because I know there are many threads on icons (I have read most of the recent ones) and I could post there if I wanted to.  As relates to my issue here and taken with the sign of the cross, I wonder if I should consider it a disconnect (in an Orthodox context) for a Protestant to be perfectly okay with making the sign of the cross, but quite wary of bowing and kissing icons.

Aaron
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Azul
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« Reply #7 on: September 12, 2010, 03:15:02 PM »

by honouring Icons we honour Christ who is the Living Icon of God.. Here is an article from another site/forum:

http://forums.carm.org/vbb/showthread.php?18741-Icon-veneration-is-an-abomination-of-desolation
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genesisone
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« Reply #8 on: September 12, 2010, 03:18:00 PM »

... I might not do it "correctly."  .... I perceive that most Orthodox know exactly what they are doing when they cross themselves, bow and venerate icons at the various and appropriate times, so I fear that I would stand out whenever I would do something not in the precise way.  But yes, I do find the sign of the cross a very meaningful and powerful physical act.
Then you need to come to my little mission parish! If we have fifteen people present, you'll see fifty ways of doing things Grin! You have no idea how many "mistakes" happen in any service. As chanter, I've belted out the wrong troparion; our priest has skipped over two or three pages of the Liturgy (and had to scramble to regroup!); etc. Yes, I know what you mean by feeling self-conscious, but really, we're just there to worship. If anyone is watching you, they're not worshipping, so they are no authority to tell you what or how to do it.

Quote
Venerating icons is more difficult for me to grasp.  I won't say anything on the theology of it because I know there are many threads on icons (I have read most of the recent ones) and I could post there if I wanted to.  As relates to my issue here and taken with the sign of the cross, I wonder if I should consider it a disconnect (in an Orthodox context) for a Protestant to be perfectly okay with making the sign of the cross, but quite wary of bowing and kissing icons.

Aaron
Take your time. Venerate the icons if and when you're ready. No one will fault you for not doing so, and if you do, it probably won't even be noticed that you've started if you've been attending regularly already. Hopefully, some gentle person will gradually warm up to you and kindly help you with these things.
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katherineofdixie
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« Reply #9 on: September 13, 2010, 03:24:32 PM »

...most Orthodox know exactly what they are doing when they cross themselves, bow and venerate icons at the various and appropriate times, so I fear that I would stand out whenever I would do something not in the precise way. 
Not really. At our parish, we have converts and Orthodox of various ethnic backgrounds, so there are variations. Also probably no one will be looking at you anyway. Most visitors are self-conscious but I can assure you that very few people, actually probably none, are paying any attention to whether or not you are "doing it right."

We have had quite a few people who have attended, off and on, for years. Most have become Orthodox - some have not.


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sainthieu
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« Reply #10 on: September 13, 2010, 10:19:40 PM »

Aaron:

My church in Chicago has a ton of visitors, most of whom are Protestant seekers. We love them and try hard to make them feel welcome.  We believe that if they walk through our doors, they Lord sent them to us. They can attend as long as they wish without any pressure whatever. We encourage them to ask questions, sing along with us, hang around for Sunday school, and come up during the eucharist to get a blessing. They are welcome at brunch after the liturgy and, in fact, the priest and his wife will often take them out to lunch to get to know them better. Virtually all of them join the church within 2 years.

In my experience--and, comparatively speaking, it ain't much as I've only been Orthodox for 3 years--any Protestant the Lord sends us is already half-way there. You're Orthodox--you just don't realize it yet. I suspect this is because Orthodoxy is at such a remove from Protestantism, that the person has had to have been seeking for quite some time.
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Alveus Lacuna
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« Reply #11 on: September 13, 2010, 10:48:20 PM »

At the same time, I have typically Protestant “gut” reactions to much of Mariology, the understanding of icons as windows to Heaven, the seeming absolute denunciation of any concept of Christ’s death as substitutionary atonement, or the seeming lack of any serious consideration of the possibility of eternal damnation.   (These are to name a few – and I wonder if the last two I mentioned are not used more polemically by zealous Orthodox apologists.)

Welcome to the forum, and Glory to God for all things!

I think you're perceptive to be leery of the last two. I think the core issue for us is that God does not need to be satisfied by punishment. "Atonement" is fine if we are state that Christ dies with us (rather than only for us) and is likewise risen before us yet with us. You are right that we do not teach it is correct to speak of Christ dying "instead of us", as we are all called to imitate his death and sufferings. So it's really the "substitutionary" bit that trips up the Orthodox, but as far as being reconciled to God and made ONE (at-one-ment) with Him by Christ's death, burial, and resurrection, then this is absolutely the Orthodox truth. But some Orthodox go overboard in denouncing some of these ideas, because this concept is often lazily seen as being interchangeable with Penal Satisfaction, which it is not. We absolutely reject the idea that Christ had to be punished to appease God's wrath; that He requires suffering and death to assuage His anger. This is a pagan understanding of God, that we lure him in with sweet sacrifices to court his favor. But I also find myself seeing holes in this all of the time, which makes me try to remain silent on the issue.

We do not only affirm the possibility of eternal damnation, we affirm the reality of it. Where did you get the idea that we don't?
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Gamliel
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« Reply #12 on: September 14, 2010, 12:09:41 AM »

My little Church would allow protestants to attend as long as they want.  There was one, me, who ended up becoming Orthodox.
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quietmorning
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« Reply #13 on: September 14, 2010, 08:52:30 AM »

There are many in my church who come with their Orthodox Spouses, but are not Orthodox themselves - and they do what they feel comfortable doing.  We just love them and are glad they are there - in whatever capacity they bring themselves to be. 
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BethAnna
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« Reply #14 on: September 16, 2010, 04:39:32 AM »

I don't think it would be a problem for you to attend. I would, of course, inform the priest of the parish beforehand if it is a small church where you might stand out, but you shouldn't find any resistance to your attendance. The veneration of the icons and other such pieties wouldn't be required, as long as you stand at the proper times during Liturgy, at least (and there are few times to sit; I only sit when the Matushka does, for example).

I decided to go to my small church, with the blessing of the rector, with acceptance and welcome exceeding my wildest dreams. Of course, very, very traditional parishes consisting of immigrants and second-generations might be a tad hostile, understandably (my small church did once deal with a priest who was a secret Roman sent to "Catholicize" the parish), but most churches shouldn't have any issue with your continued presence whatsoever. At the "May all catechumens depart, let no catechumen remain" part, of the Liturgy I never left, and never met any resistance so far regardless (eating of the blessed bread and drinking the wine all the time). And you say you wouldn't claim to be a catechumen, so it shouldn't matter in my opinion.

Please go! Most Orthodox are pleased to have inquirers. I am the only catechumen with another man in my church, and he's been attending for months and months without issue.
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KevinOrr
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« Reply #15 on: September 16, 2010, 08:54:15 PM »

I am a Protestant, in fact an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. I have sensed an attraction toward Orthodoxy for many years. The past couple of years I have had the opportunity to attend liturgies on a consistent basis (those offered during the week, of course). I have talked extensively with the priest at one of these churches and he has been quite welcoming and supportive. He has encouraged me to continue to pray, to read, and to be patient and open to how God might lead me.

So, I can say from my own experience that attending liturgies as a Protestant and participating in every way that is available to me (which, of course, participating in the divine mysteries is reserved), has been a source of great spiritual strength for me. I believe I am a better Christian and pastor. And, yes, I still yearn to be able to participate in the sacraments, yet at the same time still have a strong sense that I need to remain as a pastor in the United Methodist Church. Makes for a dynamic spiritual life, you might say.
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Russell
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« Reply #16 on: September 20, 2010, 10:09:34 AM »

You would be welcome in our little parish. 

I started attending this year just after Easter. 

At my  first visit, I had a warmly welcome by the usher and was told I did not have to participate but strongly encouraged to stand during the Eucharist, I must sit for the gospel reading and not to take communion.

I would recomend talking to the priest after/before services.  Our priest told me to take in things slowly and do not try everything at once.  This was excellent advice and I was very happy for it on my journey to becoming Orthodox.
« Last Edit: September 20, 2010, 10:11:52 AM by Russell » Logged

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genesisone
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« Reply #17 on: September 20, 2010, 01:27:36 PM »

... was told ... I must sit for the gospel reading ...
That strikes me as odd, never having heard anything like that before, but rather the contrary. Have I missed something?
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arnI
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« Reply #18 on: September 20, 2010, 07:52:13 PM »

If there are community sponsored coffee hours, bring some delicious baked goods. Smiley This is always helpful when making friends and provides conversation material if you baked them yourself.
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Aaron M
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« Reply #19 on: October 03, 2010, 04:59:08 PM »

Updating...

I have gone the last three weeks (including today) to the same Orthodox church.  Nothing has changed as far as the externals (no venerating the icons, I don't talk to any one including the priest and I leave at the end, I do cross myself in some imitation of what I see 'every' one else doing), but internally... hmm, I think I have for the time being warmed up to some of the pieties from an intellectual standpoint.  The last two weeks, I thought each time that I might like to get a blessing from the priest, but did not go up because the procession stops at two icons along the way and let's just say, I am frightfully self-conscious and would probably act too 'sporadic' and jittery to have any idea what to do when facing them.  (My honest thought is that my inclination would be to nod/bow to the image, but absolutely every one performs the act of crossing thrice, working down to the feet, and kissing the icon...too much yet for my comfort or conscience.  Now my thoughts split into two tangents, asking myself why I would be comfortable nodding or even bowing, which are forms of reverence, as opposed to the standard practice which includes kissing the image, which probably no one thinks about so intensively, so I just have a session with a regular and find out how they do it and follow suit, but... Roll Eyes)

I think I will e-mail the priest and try to talk with him.  As I recently told an Evangelical friend of mine, it seems to me that, eventually, I will end up being Orthodox, so I might as well fess up to the present futility of struggling alone and seek some guidance.  Even if I do not ultimately convert, if I want to keep attending this church where I inevitably get conflicted feelings about being there whille not doing as Orthodox do, yet not imagining a better type of church to attend at this time, talking to this priest might clear up some of my anxieties.  What is the proper address for a priest for one who is not Orthodox (an inquirer?)

Thank you...
Aaron
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genesisone
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« Reply #20 on: October 03, 2010, 05:14:52 PM »

I think I will e-mail the priest and try to talk with him.  ... What is the proper address for a priest for one who is not Orthodox (an inquirer?)

Thank you...
Aaron
Very simple: Father......

As you've noticed, we Orthodox appreciate receiving our priest's blessing, so it is common to begin a letter with "Bless, Father", which I do when writing a priest other than my own. When writing my own priest, if it's a personal matter, I would begin by asking his blessing, but most of my emailing to my priest deals with parish business of one sort or another, so I use more simply, "Father David", just as I would if talking to him in extended conversation.

However, since you are not Orthodox, it is not expected that you would ask for his blessing (but not wrong if you do), so just "Father...." (or "Dear Father") would be correct.

I don't remember if I mentioned this before, but it was about six months before I began to venerate icons, crosses, etc. Take your time. One of these days, you'll just find yourself doing it.
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« Reply #21 on: October 03, 2010, 09:48:20 PM »

I like what Genesisone said. As a matter of fact, I will be meeting with the dean of the Greek Orthodox cathedral I have been attending recently, since July. I just called him and asked if I could meet with him to introduce myself and tell him a little about my story, including the reality that I am an ordained United Methodist pastor who has been drawn toward Orthodoxy for many years. He gave me his first available time slot. It was also interesting that when I told him of the Greek church I had been attending in Cincinnati and the priest there, Fr. Michael said that Fr. Bill had been his parish priest when he was a boy! Much looking forward to our meeting. So, Aaron, if your experience has been like mine, you will be affirmed in your journey, encouraged to pray, be patient, and let the Spirit lead you.
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