Reading the various threads in which Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox have gone back and forth over the past few months has led me to ask a question which I cannot answer for myself (and I have a feeling I already know the answer to it, but decided it would be nice to ask the rest of you). Basically, the immediate impetus for starting this thread is a couple of remarks Ben and, I think, Edwin made, perhaps in different threads.
This doesn't necessarily apply to "cradle" Orthodox.
One would assume that converts to the EO, reknowned on the internet for their knowledge of church history, teaching, praxis, etc. (often the result of years of study before joining the Church), would have considered the Oriental Orthodox before making a decision, and in choosing EO over OO, would have a well-reasoned defence for that decision. However, it is my perception from reading these boards for about four years that this is not the case. It seems that when they are lucky enough to find Orthodoxy, the local parish (and "local" can mean five minutes down the street or twelve hours away by car) is, more often than not, Eastern Orthodox. If there are multiple parishes in a given town, chances are that converts will avoid the more ethnic parishes, and Oriental Orthodox parishes inevitably wind up in this group. So they join the local parish, convert, live Orthodoxy for a while, and then when they learn about the Oriental Orthodox, two reactions can surface--"Wow, we believe the same things after all, I hope our bishops and yours will fix the situation" or "Anathema!" After this, they may learn more about Oriental Orthodoxy, but the latter group is prone to learning more in order to prove their heretical status.
I have no problem with any of this. I am glad that they have found Orthodoxy in the Church of the Chalcedonians, now that we are for the most part sure that they are Orthodox as we are, and I am glad that they want to learn more about their Faith and the beliefs of other groups in order to properly compare and contrast.
But what I do wonder is how much of one's feeling toward another group (in the case I've laid out above, it is Oriental Orthodoxy, but theoretically this could apply to any "other" group, e.g. Roman Catholics) is actually based in historical facts and data used to demonstrate a point and how much of this is parochialism ("I know I'm in the right Church, and you are not with me, so I know you must be wrong, and I'm gonna show you")? And, since the "historical facts and data" we are talking about deal primarily with matters of faith, how do you ever really know?
I could ask every EO in here who thinks my Church is heretical how they can prove that their Church is not. Invariably, they will point to their own doctrines and their own interpretation of what they have received. But what if it's wrong? What if that group you are preaching against now actually has the Truth, and yours is lacking? Surely this scenario is not impossible--many converts find themselves in just such a position in their past denominational affiliation. I am of the opinion that EO and OO believe the same things, and anything that seems to go against that, when properly understood, can be demonstrated to not go against that, and so the "rightness" of belief in this case is demonstrated by both of these sides saying substantially the same thing; whether this can be extended to other Christian groups I do not know--it's possible, but I don't know. Is the basis of our faith that we are right (and the basis upon which we tell others they are wrong) really so shaky, since it seems we ultimately decide what we think is right and wrong, and we are prone to error?
How do you ever really know?