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Author Topic: Stumbling blocks on the road to Orthodoxy  (Read 1485 times) Average Rating: 0
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quester
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« on: May 31, 2012, 09:33:45 PM »

Although I still attend the liturgy and still intend to become Orthodox, I am rather cynical about Orthodoxy in some regards. Here is an overview of some stumbling blocks. Some of my objections and criticisms are theological in nature while others tend to concern attitudes more than dogmas or doctrines. If this reads too much like a rant, I’m sorry, but that’s because it is. All of it is based on personal experiences, observations and research.

1. For one thing, there is a serious lack of clarity on a number of theological issues as there seems to be no center of authority that serves as a litmus test for Orthodoxy. This would be fine were it not for the fact that certain patriarchs, bishops or communions tend to put forward their interpretations as authoritative.

2. To illustrate the above point, let me give the example of capital punishment, which is often said to be opposed by Orthodoxy, e.g. by the OCA (or just check the Orthodoxwiki entry). Yet there is no authoritative condemnation of capital punishment binding all Orthodox to reject it. Similar story with the issue of contraception, the statements from various communions having changed in recent decades yet not really having any binding authority. Not to mention the whole calendar issue.

3. Speaking of contraception and capital punishment, there is also the Orthodox attitude to divorce. I honestly think both Roman Catholic & Orthodox approaches to divorce are deficient and not mutually exclusive, but while I have no problem with permitting remarriage to the party not guilty of adultery, I can’t agree with any reasons other than adultery being valid grounds for divorce. How annulments are so much worse is rather beyond me. Rather, I'd say they’re more or less equally valid if imperfect approaches to dealing with divorce.

4. This leads me to the issue of ekonomia. I have noticed a tendency of some to rationalize their conforming to worldly standards on issues like premarital sex in the name of ekonomia, saying the Church is like a Mother giving advice and not a set of absolute laws (which of course supposedly is what the West is all about, and God forbid Orthodoxy sound too much like Roman Catholicism or Protestantism, even if some Western approaches were never truly considered grounds for schism in the first millennium). No matter how much mystical mumbo jumbo some come up with to make excuses for sin sound intelligent, spiritual and sophisticated, it's still hogwash. Let me explain why I think it is in the following point.

5. Let’s talk about The Law. What exactly is so abominable about the Law that many Orthodox need to dismiss it with such ferocity? Is it just a knee-jerk reaction to Evangelicals who adopt Judaic elements or is something amiss in Orthodox theology on this point? Now, I agree we are not bound by the Law, but if the ceremonial laws can serve as an inspiration to or source of the Liturgy, who are we to brush aside the moral laws found in the Law in the name of ekonomia, with some saying it’s barbaric, and no better than Sharia law? Why contrast Christ with the God of Moses? If Christ is God, are you saying Christ is opposed to Himself? Christ fulfilled the Law but the Law was never essentially wrong. Certainly, the underlying fundamentals of the Law apply even to this day and we live by God’s natural law through the Holy Spirit. Nobody would argue bestiality is now permissible just because we’re no longer under the Law that condemned it. To put Christ in opposition to the God of the OT is to deny God’s unchangeable nature and the Trinity.

6. Related to the above issue is the issue of capital punishment I mentioned earlier. Throughout Christian history, capital punishment has generally been regarded as a permissible practice by civil authorities. Those Orthodox who today claim Orthodoxy is absolutely opposed to capital punishment seem to reject a valid tradition within Christianity, and I have reason to believe antinomianism must have something to do with it. Basically I believe opposition to or support for capital punishment should not be dogmatized as it is by no means a matter of salvation. In a similar fashion, I must say I am quite appalled by some Orthodox’ support for vegetarianism for whom fasting rules become more important than the revelation to St. Peter that the dietary laws are no longer applicable. Likewise the “environmental theology” of the Green Patriarch. When did nuclear power plants become sinful? These are merely human opinions that don’t matter to our salvation. It’s certainly not wrong to look at the environment from a Christian perspective but there is a thin line between this sort of “theology” and activism. Where is the Gospel in all this?

7. “We’re not out to win souls”. That’s what my priest said. He's also not too sure whether homosexuality is a sin, but that's another matter. I sure don’t approve of certain types of aggressive evangelization campaigns either (mostly because of the blatant heresies they spread), but seriously, when did Christianity become a non-proselytizing religion? Is it a knee-jerk reaction to Pentecostalism, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses or not wanting to be equated to zealous proselytizing Muslims? It seems that much of Orthodoxy has become very insular when it would never have existed were it not for the preaching of the Apostles and Martyrs in the first place – all of them fine “winners of souls”, or as Christ would say, “fishers of men”. How about giving up on whining about Islam all the time and go out to evangelize them instead of indulging in self-pity and continuously evoking national grievances and grudges? None of us approve of Kosovo independence but for the love of God let's also not forget Christ’s command to love our enemies.

8. Related to this is the issue of interdenominational and interreligious dialog or “ecumenism”. Now, some forms of ecumenism, dialog and “diplomatic relations” are undoubtedly good (I long for Catholic-Orthodox reconciliation as long as it's done properly) and well-intentioned but it seems it often goes at the expense of “winning souls” for Christ. I've witnessed this among many Orthodox Christians. Their relativistic mindset reminds me of Buddhists who care more about their own spiritual development by seeking inner enlightenment and vain utopias of world peace and harmonious relations between religions (which sounds more like setting up the stage for the Antichrist to me) rather than seeking God’s Kingdom (which is not of this earth, as I recall). Maybe these activists need to be reminded of Luke 12: 51-53.

9. It is also very unclear what the status of Christians is outside of the Orthodox Church. It’s religiously incorrect for Catholics to become Orthodox or vice-versa, for instance, because it implies one is “better” than the other. Except when Orthodoxy is seen as just another equally valid type of Christianity which happens to have a superior “spirituality” and therefore merit “converts”. Yet others won’t admit former Catholics without them being baptized again into the Orthodox Church. And btw, I'm not Catholic, I'm merely using Catholicism as an example.

11. That said, I don’t quite like the word “spirituality”. Too many people seem attracted to Eastern Orthodoxy because they are fascinated by mystical practices and like to draw parallels between, say, meditation/mantras and the Jesus Prayer. This does not seem to be conversion of repentance of the heart but rather one out of appeal - it's different, it makes you stand out. Orthodoxy, it seems, has also turned itself into something of a caricature. As if modern Eastern Orthodoxy is not culturally biased. To distinguish itself from all-out evil, corrupting, heretical or otherwise misguided Western Christianity, even biblical concepts of a wrathful, angry and judging God are brushed aside. Laws, rules, commandments and punishment are somehow incompatible with a supposedly “Eastern” conception of a loving God. Sin cannot be a breaking of God’s law, it has to be a disease only. Christ’s substitutionary atonement is rejected on grounds of its supposed legalism and St. Augustine becomes an all-out heretic to some. Salvation is reduced to deification and, it seems, deification alone. I have noticed even “sin” being something of a dirty word. Yet people all too readily accept and promote speculative theological opinions like the toll houses of Fr. Seraphim Rose which may be interesting but are irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. People get lost in mysticism and “spirituality” at the expense of the fundamentals of the Faith. This is not necessarily a condemnation of Orthodox mysticism and theology as such (though at times I'm unsure of Hesychasm), but rather of people not getting their priorities straight.

12. Ecclesiology. If according to Eucharistic ecclesiology each bishop is Peter and every church in communion with that bishop is in that sense a catholic church in its own right, why does every church absolutely need to be connected to and obey a patriarch in addition to their local bishop? I know there are good reason for this but then I wonder why Constantinople is still first among equals in this day and age when nothing remains of Constantinople? And does the Moscow Patriarchate really have such a strong claim to authority in the Ukraine when it was arguably in Kiev that “Rus” and Russian Orthodoxy was born, rather than Moscow, which came later? Why Autocephaly for some and not for others? Maybe these superstructures really need some adjustment to suit the geographic realities of the 21st century. They were never divinely instituted to begin with and emerged for organizational/administrative/political reasons. Maybe inflated egos and insularity are to be blamed.

13. This brings me to a criticism of an attitude among some Orthodox to glorify and idolize “Holy Mother Russia” and brand it an exemplary Orthodox nation in contrast to the wicked, liberal, capitalist pigs in the West. Now I am by no means anti-Russian, and I agree the West is in a miserable state, but these propagandistic musings of an odd hybrid of Orthodox hubris and Soviet nostalgia are cartoonish and laughable. The more so when you consider all the societal ills Russia and most if not all “Orthodox” countries are plagued with, and the general lack of importance of religion to most inhabitants of these supposedly exemplary countries. These "Russia[n] Supremacists" make Orthodoxy look stupid and reduce it to a political tool and a mere national symbol rather than a living faith, which I still suppose it ought to be. This is no more ridiculous than, say, 21st century Spain or France being upheld as protectors and defenders of Roman Catholicism.

--

None of this is intended to dismiss Orthodoxy as I have had and no doubt will continue to have many good experiences. These are just some of the issues that really get under my skin. Some of these issues do make me have second thoughts on whether Orthodoxy really is that one holy catholic apostolic Church. Input is welcome, but if you do comment, please do so on each point separately.
« Last Edit: May 31, 2012, 09:48:37 PM by quester » Logged
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« Reply #1 on: May 31, 2012, 09:49:35 PM »

Regarding #4

Pre-marital sex is wrong.

I do not know of any Orthodox jurisdiction that condones it.

However, certain priests will treat the sinners differently using economia. I have heard that some priests will impose a penance (not receiving the Holy Mysteries) for one year. Yet, other priests believe that the Holy Mysteries themselves (Confession and Holy Communion) will help the sinner remain pure if that sinner sees the folly of his/her sins and has repented with tears.

Therefore, I think some latitude is important as the priest can (or hopefully can) see into the sinner's heart and thus prescribe the correct medicine.

I hope this helps.
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« Reply #2 on: May 31, 2012, 10:12:30 PM »

Regarding #4

Pre-marital sex is wrong.

I do not know of any Orthodox jurisdiction that condones it.

However, certain priests will treat the sinners differently using economia. I have heard that some priests will impose a penance (not receiving the Holy Mysteries) for one year. Yet, other priests believe that the Holy Mysteries themselves (Confession and Holy Communion) will help the sinner remain pure if that sinner sees the folly of his/her sins and has repented with tears.

Therefore, I think some latitude is important as the priest can (or hopefully can) see into the sinner's heart and thus prescribe the correct medicine.

I hope this helps.

Thanks for the reply, Maria. Neither do I know of any. But that's exactly my point. It's not permitted in principle yet ekonomia is invoked to make exceptions. One might argue this is an abuse of ekonomia, but at times I wonder whether ekonomia doesn't lend itself to abuse in the first place. Again, I could be wrong about this but at times ekonomia strikes me as being too prone to invite relativism to the point where you might have different standards depending on the time/culture/setting/individual instead of people living up to the "original" standard and repenting of sinning against it. In fact, I think the Orthodox view on divorce is one such example, where exceptions based on ekonomia have become standard practice. So on the one hand, divorce is wrong, but then again, it isn't.
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« Reply #3 on: May 31, 2012, 10:23:03 PM »

Regarding #4

Pre-marital sex is wrong.

I do not know of any Orthodox jurisdiction that condones it.

However, certain priests will treat the sinners differently using economia. I have heard that some priests will impose a penance (not receiving the Holy Mysteries) for one year. Yet, other priests believe that the Holy Mysteries themselves (Confession and Holy Communion) will help the sinner remain pure if that sinner sees the folly of his/her sins and has repented with tears.

Therefore, I think some latitude is important as the priest can (or hopefully can) see into the sinner's heart and thus prescribe the correct medicine.

I hope this helps.

Thanks for the reply, Maria. Neither do I know of any. But that's exactly my point. It's not permitted in principle yet ekonomia is invoked to make exceptions. One might argue this is an abuse of ekonomia, but at times I wonder whether ekonomia doesn't lend itself to abuse in the first place. Again, I could be wrong about this but at times ekonomia strikes me as being too prone to invite relativism to the point where you might have different standards depending on the time/culture/setting/individual instead of people living up to the "original" standard and repenting of sinning against it. In fact, I think the Orthodox view on divorce is one such example, where exceptions based on ekonomia have become standard practice. So on the one hand, divorce is wrong, but then again, it isn't.

I think we must trust that the Holy Spirit will guide our priests who are responsible to God for our souls.

Re: Divorce

I used to be Catholic, and some marriages were annulled even though the couple was married for years and produced many children.

While the Catholic Church will declare that the marriage never existed, the Orthodox Church will declare that the marriage failed.

While the Catholic Church will simply give an annulment and allow one or both parties to marry again, the Orthodox Church, if the ecclesiastical court gives a blessing for a remarriage, will issue a penance for a year or even for three years before the parties can marry again.

I have heard of several Orthodox persons who sought a blessing to remarry in the Orthodox Church, but who were denied. The Bishop and priest honestly felt that person should not marry again, or marry the person whom they were dating. In one case, the person who was told "NO" by the bishop, was ultimately excommunicated because of the dissension that person was causing resulting in serious harm to the parish (declining membership).

How many people are publicly excommunicated today in the Catholic Church? Very few.
« Last Edit: May 31, 2012, 10:34:22 PM by Maria » Logged

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« Reply #4 on: May 31, 2012, 11:49:06 PM »

How annulments are so much worse is rather beyond me.
that's easy: in an annullment you tell children that their parents were never married, and that they were never a family.

Also, since no one is at fault, there is no need for repentance.  So if the non-existent marriage falls apart from the apparent adultery (apparent because the annullment retroactively says there was no marriage to cheat on) of one partner, they are free and clear to marry again, no repentance necessary.

Then there is the cynicism of denying facts....and the corrosive effect that entails.
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« Reply #5 on: June 01, 2012, 12:56:12 AM »

6. Related to the above issue is the issue of capital punishment I mentioned earlier. Throughout Christian history, capital punishment has generally been regarded as a permissible practice by civil authorities. Those Orthodox who today claim Orthodoxy is absolutely opposed to capital punishment seem to reject a valid tradition within Christianity, and I have reason to believe antinomianism must have something to do with it. Basically I believe opposition to or support for capital punishment should not be dogmatized as it is by no means a matter of salvation.

You may wanna look up what St. Vladimir did with capital punishment during the Christianization of Rus'. Also, St. Ambrose made the reducing of executions a condition for St. Theodosius's readmission to communion.

Anyways, it hasn't been dogmatized either way.
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« Reply #6 on: June 01, 2012, 03:48:11 AM »




I believe that Orthodoxy has few absolutes for good reason.  This doesn't mean that things are relative or subjective.  I think it simply means that the Church takes each person where they are and starts there.  And if that is the case, we cannot have a 'one-size-fits-all' answer for every issue.


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« Reply #7 on: June 01, 2012, 03:58:59 AM »

Most of your stumbling blocks appear to be the same complaint to me 'Orthodoxy is not legalistic enough'. What for you is a stumbling block was a positive draw for me, then and I think it's only right that we are not so legalistic as a faith. The purpose of the Church is not to prescribe your every action. If you start to think of the Church as a hospital for sinners you'll maybe understand better. Sometimes economia is better because it is the more effective treatment. Sometimes it is not. I don't doubt that sometimes economia is misapplied but I believe that misapplication of economia with good intentions is better than legalistic exactitude disregarding what is best for the individual. In a similar vein, I'm eternally glad that we don't dogmatise every single belief and attitude. We should only demand adherence to those things that are necessary for salvation. My opposition to capital punishment, then, may be and is informed by my faith but should not be dictated to me by the Church. To return to the hospital analogy - it's rather like a doctor telling you it's better if you eat healthily, drink moderately and avoid tobacco. I certainly wouldn't expect the doctor to stand over you cracking the whip if you ignore him, but it's still abundantly clear exactly what his advice is and what effect ignoring it might have.

As for glorifying Russia or any Orthodox nation, I agree with you on that, but you do know that this ethnic attitude is actually condemned don't you? I wish that the condemnations of phyletism were more universally taken to heart (indeed I think the existance of such attitudes do great damage to the Church) but the people who think Russia is intrinsically holy or Greeks are more Orthodox than other ethnicities are still just people, sinners who need the help of the Church just as you and I do and I would hesitate to suggest that their sin is greater than my own.

James
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« Reply #8 on: June 01, 2012, 08:01:48 AM »

Although I still attend the liturgy and still intend to become Orthodox, I am rather cynical about Orthodoxy in some regards. Here is an overview of some stumbling blocks. Some of my objections and criticisms are theological in nature while others tend to concern attitudes more than dogmas or doctrines. If this reads too much like a rant, I’m sorry, but that’s because it is. All of it is based on personal experiences, observations and research.

1. For one thing, there is a serious lack of clarity on a number of theological issues as there seems to be no center of authority that serves as a litmus test for Orthodoxy. This would be fine were it not for the fact that certain patriarchs, bishops or communions tend to put forward their interpretations as authoritative.

2. To illustrate the above point, let me give the example of capital punishment, which is often said to be opposed by Orthodoxy, e.g. by the OCA (or just check the Orthodoxwiki entry). Yet there is no authoritative condemnation of capital punishment binding all Orthodox to reject it. Similar story with the issue of contraception, the statements from various communions having changed in recent decades yet not really having any binding authority. Not to mention the whole calendar issue.

3. Speaking of contraception and capital punishment, there is also the Orthodox attitude to divorce. I honestly think both Roman Catholic & Orthodox approaches to divorce are deficient and not mutually exclusive, but while I have no problem with permitting remarriage to the party not guilty of adultery, I can’t agree with any reasons other than adultery being valid grounds for divorce. How annulments are so much worse is rather beyond me. Rather, I'd say they’re more or less equally valid if imperfect approaches to dealing with divorce.

4. This leads me to the issue of ekonomia. I have noticed a tendency of some to rationalize their conforming to worldly standards on issues like premarital sex in the name of ekonomia, saying the Church is like a Mother giving advice and not a set of absolute laws (which of course supposedly is what the West is all about, and God forbid Orthodoxy sound too much like Roman Catholicism or Protestantism, even if some Western approaches were never truly considered grounds for schism in the first millennium). No matter how much mystical mumbo jumbo some come up with to make excuses for sin sound intelligent, spiritual and sophisticated, it's still hogwash. Let me explain why I think it is in the following point.

5. Let’s talk about The Law. What exactly is so abominable about the Law that many Orthodox need to dismiss it with such ferocity? Is it just a knee-jerk reaction to Evangelicals who adopt Judaic elements or is something amiss in Orthodox theology on this point? Now, I agree we are not bound by the Law, but if the ceremonial laws can serve as an inspiration to or source of the Liturgy, who are we to brush aside the moral laws found in the Law in the name of ekonomia, with some saying it’s barbaric, and no better than Sharia law? Why contrast Christ with the God of Moses? If Christ is God, are you saying Christ is opposed to Himself? Christ fulfilled the Law but the Law was never essentially wrong. Certainly, the underlying fundamentals of the Law apply even to this day and we live by God’s natural law through the Holy Spirit. Nobody would argue bestiality is now permissible just because we’re no longer under the Law that condemned it. To put Christ in opposition to the God of the OT is to deny God’s unchangeable nature and the Trinity.

6. Related to the above issue is the issue of capital punishment I mentioned earlier. Throughout Christian history, capital punishment has generally been regarded as a permissible practice by civil authorities. Those Orthodox who today claim Orthodoxy is absolutely opposed to capital punishment seem to reject a valid tradition within Christianity, and I have reason to believe antinomianism must have something to do with it. Basically I believe opposition to or support for capital punishment should not be dogmatized as it is by no means a matter of salvation. In a similar fashion, I must say I am quite appalled by some Orthodox’ support for vegetarianism for whom fasting rules become more important than the revelation to St. Peter that the dietary laws are no longer applicable. Likewise the “environmental theology” of the Green Patriarch. When did nuclear power plants become sinful? These are merely human opinions that don’t matter to our salvation. It’s certainly not wrong to look at the environment from a Christian perspective but there is a thin line between this sort of “theology” and activism. Where is the Gospel in all this?

7. “We’re not out to win souls”. That’s what my priest said. He's also not too sure whether homosexuality is a sin, but that's another matter. I sure don’t approve of certain types of aggressive evangelization campaigns either (mostly because of the blatant heresies they spread), but seriously, when did Christianity become a non-proselytizing religion? Is it a knee-jerk reaction to Pentecostalism, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses or not wanting to be equated to zealous proselytizing Muslims? It seems that much of Orthodoxy has become very insular when it would never have existed were it not for the preaching of the Apostles and Martyrs in the first place – all of them fine “winners of souls”, or as Christ would say, “fishers of men”. How about giving up on whining about Islam all the time and go out to evangelize them instead of indulging in self-pity and continuously evoking national grievances and grudges? None of us approve of Kosovo independence but for the love of God let's also not forget Christ’s command to love our enemies.

8. Related to this is the issue of interdenominational and interreligious dialog or “ecumenism”. Now, some forms of ecumenism, dialog and “diplomatic relations” are undoubtedly good (I long for Catholic-Orthodox reconciliation as long as it's done properly) and well-intentioned but it seems it often goes at the expense of “winning souls” for Christ. I've witnessed this among many Orthodox Christians. Their relativistic mindset reminds me of Buddhists who care more about their own spiritual development by seeking inner enlightenment and vain utopias of world peace and harmonious relations between religions (which sounds more like setting up the stage for the Antichrist to me) rather than seeking God’s Kingdom (which is not of this earth, as I recall). Maybe these activists need to be reminded of Luke 12: 51-53.

9. It is also very unclear what the status of Christians is outside of the Orthodox Church. It’s religiously incorrect for Catholics to become Orthodox or vice-versa, for instance, because it implies one is “better” than the other. Except when Orthodoxy is seen as just another equally valid type of Christianity which happens to have a superior “spirituality” and therefore merit “converts”. Yet others won’t admit former Catholics without them being baptized again into the Orthodox Church. And btw, I'm not Catholic, I'm merely using Catholicism as an example.

11. That said, I don’t quite like the word “spirituality”. Too many people seem attracted to Eastern Orthodoxy because they are fascinated by mystical practices and like to draw parallels between, say, meditation/mantras and the Jesus Prayer. This does not seem to be conversion of repentance of the heart but rather one out of appeal - it's different, it makes you stand out. Orthodoxy, it seems, has also turned itself into something of a caricature. As if modern Eastern Orthodoxy is not culturally biased. To distinguish itself from all-out evil, corrupting, heretical or otherwise misguided Western Christianity, even biblical concepts of a wrathful, angry and judging God are brushed aside. Laws, rules, commandments and punishment are somehow incompatible with a supposedly “Eastern” conception of a loving God. Sin cannot be a breaking of God’s law, it has to be a disease only. Christ’s substitutionary atonement is rejected on grounds of its supposed legalism and St. Augustine becomes an all-out heretic to some. Salvation is reduced to deification and, it seems, deification alone. I have noticed even “sin” being something of a dirty word. Yet people all too readily accept and promote speculative theological opinions like the toll houses of Fr. Seraphim Rose which may be interesting but are irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. People get lost in mysticism and “spirituality” at the expense of the fundamentals of the Faith. This is not necessarily a condemnation of Orthodox mysticism and theology as such (though at times I'm unsure of Hesychasm), but rather of people not getting their priorities straight.

12. Ecclesiology. If according to Eucharistic ecclesiology each bishop is Peter and every church in communion with that bishop is in that sense a catholic church in its own right, why does every church absolutely need to be connected to and obey a patriarch in addition to their local bishop? I know there are good reason for this but then I wonder why Constantinople is still first among equals in this day and age when nothing remains of Constantinople? And does the Moscow Patriarchate really have such a strong claim to authority in the Ukraine when it was arguably in Kiev that “Rus” and Russian Orthodoxy was born, rather than Moscow, which came later? Why Autocephaly for some and not for others? Maybe these superstructures really need some adjustment to suit the geographic realities of the 21st century. They were never divinely instituted to begin with and emerged for organizational/administrative/political reasons. Maybe inflated egos and insularity are to be blamed.

13. This brings me to a criticism of an attitude among some Orthodox to glorify and idolize “Holy Mother Russia” and brand it an exemplary Orthodox nation in contrast to the wicked, liberal, capitalist pigs in the West. Now I am by no means anti-Russian, and I agree the West is in a miserable state, but these propagandistic musings of an odd hybrid of Orthodox hubris and Soviet nostalgia are cartoonish and laughable. The more so when you consider all the societal ills Russia and most if not all “Orthodox” countries are plagued with, and the general lack of importance of religion to most inhabitants of these supposedly exemplary countries. These "Russia[n] Supremacists" make Orthodoxy look stupid and reduce it to a political tool and a mere national symbol rather than a living faith, which I still suppose it ought to be. This is no more ridiculous than, say, 21st century Spain or France being upheld as protectors and defenders of Roman Catholicism.

--

None of this is intended to dismiss Orthodoxy as I have had and no doubt will continue to have many good experiences. These are just some of the issues that really get under my skin. Some of these issues do make me have second thoughts on whether Orthodoxy really is that one holy catholic apostolic Church. Input is welcome, but if you do comment, please do so on each point separately.

Hi quester. I'm not going to comment specifically on any of #1 - #13 at the moment. I just want to ask: You do realize that starting threads has no one-per-poster limitation, right?  Wink
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« Reply #9 on: June 01, 2012, 08:10:20 AM »

Thank you all so far for the interesting and thoughtful replies. Here are some of my thoughts.

- On the issue of divorce, I found the replies very well put and I actually learned a thing or two. When I said I don't think annulments are worse than the current Orthodox approach, I had in mind the fact that Catholic theology in principle does not allow divorce in the first place. I am quite sure we agree this is the ideal, but we all know that divorce is a reality we have to deal with. Having said that, the Orthodox emphasis on penance is commendable, though I am still troubled by the fact that, at least in principle, there are many more supposedly valid reasons for divorce that go beyond adultery. This rather than the current approach to divorce is what worries me most. Even if it's more theory than practice, I fear it can easily lead to relativism.

- On the issue of legalism, I don't have a problem at all with the medicinal approach to sin. In fact, this doesn't put me off at all, rather it's the idea that this take and the more "legalistic" (i.e. law & commandments-centered) Western approach are mutually exclusive. I believe in living by the spirit of the law (or even Law with a capital, or "natural law" if you prefer) rather than the letter, through the Holy Spirit. And that's exactly my point. The Holy Spirit should enable us to live more perfectly by God's will, but instead I see it being used as an excuse for exceptions to the rule.

I believe those who think I want legalism are mistaken. I'm naturally drawn to rules and laws because I believe in good order, but I would only go as far as those things that are clearly condemned in the Bible and not dogmatize beyond those things. I don't want absolutism, either, I am merely pointing out what I see as a possible weakness in Orthodoxy. As said earlier, I believe that the Schism may have created a situation where the "Eastern" approaches have become too synonymous with "Orthodoxy", i.e. that valid Western viewpoints and approaches (as long as not excessively "Papist") are being ignored or implicitly condemned.

For instance, how exactly is it unorthodox to fear God, to preach obedience to God and submission to His will, to believe in God's sovereignty, to believe in a God of justice and order who chastises his children? Again, these approaches can certainly lead to excesses when not balanced by God as a loving Father and Savior, but I see nothing inherently wrong with them. We could probably not bear to listen to the prophets of old if they were sent to us today.

Perhaps I should add that this partly stems from a personal disappointment. I have my demons and my sins to overcome, and I prefer being told that indeed what I do or did is sinful, and that I should repent. Instead what I witness is a reluctance to identify sins by name and even what I perceive as a knee-jerk reaction against Catholic excesses, minimizing the importance of guilt. I was once told not to feel guilty about a sin. The sin in question, though condemned by the Fathers, was brushed off as not being sinful at all - by a priest. When did guilt and shame become unchristian concepts, really?

A final thought on the issue of legalism. The Orthodox Church has canons and fasting rules which to some are rigidly to be applied as if they were more absolute than other principles that stem directly from the Bible. Catholics have been far less rigid in terms of fasting rules despite being more legalistic in their overall approach. I'm pointing this out because I am afraid of people getting lost in traditions while ignoring other more fundamental aspects of the Faith. Then again this is more likely a shortcoming of men than of the Church.

- Turning to capital punishment, I have no problem with those who disagree with it. I believe capital punishment is a matter to be left to civil government. Since (a) the very God who came down in the Flesh and was crucified Himself mandated capital punishment, (b) there is no a clear overall condemnation of it in the NT or the Church Fathers, I believe it to be morally justifiable today, although it is unnecessary to dogmatize it.

- Finally, I didn't know ethnocentrism in the Church was officially condemned. I have no problem with people being proud of their heritage at all, but I have found Orthodoxy to be too insular. It is almost comparable to Hinduism, the Brahmanic religion being the "native" religion of the Indians, and therefore too ethnically-defined to be accessible to non-Indians, unless in some watered-down New Age form. Christianity is not an esoteric religion but one of an accessible and revealed truth intended for all to hear. As pointed out earlier, I think the Schism may have blurred the distinctions between what's culturally-influenced and what is true "Orthodoxy" so that today becoming Orthodox is akin to becoming "Greek" or "Russian".
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« Reply #10 on: June 01, 2012, 08:55:11 AM »

Since (a) the very God who came down in the Flesh and was crucified Himself mandated capital punishment

Really? Do you say that Christ deserved crucifixion?

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« Reply #11 on: June 01, 2012, 09:04:36 AM »

Since (a) the very God who came down in the Flesh and was crucified Himself mandated capital punishment

Really? Do you say that Christ deserved crucifixion?

wow

I beg your pardon? Let me rephrase that - The very God who came down in the Flesh and was crucified, Himself mandated capital punishment in the Old Testament. I believe I can say this because Christ is God and God is unchangeable, so Christ's crucifixion is not an argument against capital punishment per se if that's what you're getting at. EDIT: I'm bringing up this issue because there is no dogmatic statement against capital punishment (and there ought not be one) and yet several communions officially condemn it. The underlying issue then is ecclesiastical authority and abuse (i.e. what I perceive as misguided political "activism").
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« Reply #12 on: June 01, 2012, 09:06:02 AM »


- On the issue of legalism, I don't have a problem at all with the medicinal approach to sin. In fact, this doesn't put me off at all, rather it's the idea that this take and the more "legalistic" (i.e. law & commandments-centered) Western approach are mutually exclusive. I believe in living by the spirit of the law (or even Law with a capital, or "natural law" if you prefer) rather than the letter, through the Holy Spirit. And that's exactly my point. The Holy Spirit should enable us to live more perfectly by God's will, but instead I see it being used as an excuse for exceptions to the rule.

I believe those who think I want legalism are mistaken. I'm naturally drawn to rules and laws because I believe in good order, but I would only go as far as those things that are clearly condemned in the Bible and not dogmatize beyond those things. I don't want absolutism, either, I am merely pointing out what I see as a possible weakness in Orthodoxy. As said earlier, I believe that the Schism may have created a situation where the "Eastern" approaches have become too synonymous with "Orthodoxy", i.e. that valid Western viewpoints and approaches (as long as not excessively "Papist") are being ignored or implicitly condemned.

For instance, how exactly is it unorthodox to fear God, to preach obedience to God and submission to His will, to believe in God's sovereignty, to believe in a God of justice and order who chastises his children? Again, these approaches can certainly lead to excesses when not balanced by God as a loving Father and Savior, but I see nothing inherently wrong with them. We could probably not bear to listen to the prophets of old if they were sent to us today.

Perhaps I should add that this partly stems from a personal disappointment. I have my demons and my sins to overcome, and I prefer being told that indeed what I do or did is sinful, and that I should repent. Instead what I witness is a reluctance to identify sins by name and even what I perceive as a knee-jerk reaction against Catholic excesses, minimizing the importance of guilt. I was once told not to feel guilty about a sin. The sin in question, though condemned by the Fathers, was brushed off as not being sinful at all - by a priest. When did guilt and shame become unchristian concepts, really?

I don't disagree with you at all. It isn't either/or - it's both. BUT you have to think what the purpose is at all times. We have ideals (rules and regulations if you like) but they are applied on an individual basis. Should we strive to follow them to the best of our ability? Absolutely, but if our priest advises economia in one aspect or another because he sees that this is the better course for us (in other words he is actually doing his pastoral duty properly not just handing out prescriptions from a rulebook) then that is what we should do. Of course he could be wrong, he's human too, but I've rarely if ever seen economia used as an excuse not to live up to the ideal. As for guilt and shame - it's not wrong to feel those things and certainly not un-Christian but that should lead you to confession and after your absolution it certainly can be destructive to dwell on them. You need to accept that you fell, get up and try again. Wallowing in guilt helps no-one. Maybe this is what your priest meant and you misunderstood? I've no idea of the context or the sin in question but I've never come across a priest saying a sin is not sin at all.

Quote
A final thought on the issue of legalism. The Orthodox Church has canons and fasting rules which to some are rigidly to be applied as if they were more absolute than other principles that stem directly from the Bible. Catholics have been far less rigid in terms of fasting rules despite being more legalistic in their overall approach. I'm pointing this out because I am afraid of people getting lost in traditions while ignoring other more fundamental aspects of the Faith. Then again this is more likely a shortcoming of men than of the Church.
Those who would legalistically and rigidly apply all the fasting rules to all are indeed being legalistic but they are also wrong. Your fasting is to be worked out with your priest. I've been told to stop fasting so strictly (I went through a Hyperdox, overly legalistic phase like many converts so I think I understand where you are coming from but the solution is balance between economy and exactitude), to stop reading labels etc. precisely because I was becoming so obsessed with the minutiae that it was counter-productive. I wasn't really fasting, I was dieting. Conversely that same priest (who I owe a great deal to for making me the generally balanced and hopefully well-grounded Orthodox Christian I am today) would rail about women who could diet for vanity but said the fast was 'too difficult' (we had a few). The point is, for me being too strict was a hindrance whereas for others being too lax was. I trusted my priest's judgement and found him to be right - strict legalism is not conducive to nurturing faith in my opinion but nor is a laissez fare attitude. Being a father myself I see it as a good reflection of the attitude to raising children - over-strictness and excessive laxity are equally counter-productive. It's little wonder to me that we refer to priests as Father.

Quote
- Finally, I didn't know ethnocentrism in the Church was officially condemned. I have no problem with people being proud of their heritage at all, but I have found Orthodoxy to be too insular. It is almost comparable to Hinduism, the Brahmanic religion being the "native" religion of the Indians, and therefore too ethnically-defined to be accessible to non-Indians, unless in some watered-down New Age form. Christianity is not an esoteric religion but one of an accessible and revealed truth intended for all to hear. As pointed out earlier, I think the Schism may have blurred the distinctions between what's culturally-influenced and what is true "Orthodoxy" so that today becoming Orthodox akin to becoming "Greek" or "Russian".

Orthodoxy can be insular but shouldn't be. It should be open and welcoming and unconcerned with ethnicity. The man (nameless I regret) who started me on my journey was the example of how I think we all should be. He was a Romanian monk in the monastery in Suceava. I was visiting with a friend and he spoke good English while I spoke little Romanian. When the monk heard us speaking English, he came over spoke to us, asked what I was doing in Romania, expressed great encouragement for my charity work, never once tried to sell Orthodoxy to me but asked if I'd accept a prayer book (which I did). His outward-looking, hospitable truly Christian attitude has stayed with me as an example ever since and I whilst I don't know his name I met him in front of the relics of St. John the New so that's why I've used St. John's icon on this site - as a reminder. Equally I've come across ethnic parishes in the diaspora which have made me feel less than welcome. The only way to respond, in my view, is to follow the example of that monk and hopefully my example might affect them as his example affected me. The Church is full of imperfect people. We should just try to be the best Christians we can. I've seen how the quiet, simple example of a good Christian can affect others so many times and I've never seen it come by complaints, criticism or argument.

James
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« Reply #13 on: June 01, 2012, 10:05:52 AM »

Most of your stumbling blocks appear to be the same complaint to me 'Orthodoxy is not legalistic enough'. What for you is a stumbling block was a positive draw for me, then and I think it's only right that we are not so legalistic as a faith. The purpose of the Church is not to prescribe your every action. If you start to think of the Church as a hospital for sinners you'll maybe understand better. Sometimes economia is better because it is the more effective treatment. Sometimes it is not. I don't doubt that sometimes economia is misapplied but I believe that misapplication of economia with good intentions is better than legalistic exactitude disregarding what is best for the individual. In a similar vein, I'm eternally glad that we don't dogmatise every single belief and attitude. We should only demand adherence to those things that are necessary for salvation.

Excellent! As I was reading the OP's points, I was thinking, but all this is what resonates the most with me: Orthodoxy has a pastoral and individual approach to peoples' struggles and problems, sins and failings, and is ok with saying we don't understand everything.
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« Reply #14 on: June 01, 2012, 10:51:08 AM »

Most of your stumbling blocks appear to be the same complaint to me 'Orthodoxy is not legalistic enough'. What for you is a stumbling block was a positive draw for me, then and I think it's only right that we are not so legalistic as a faith. The purpose of the Church is not to prescribe your every action. If you start to think of the Church as a hospital for sinners you'll maybe understand better. Sometimes economia is better because it is the more effective treatment. Sometimes it is not. I don't doubt that sometimes economia is misapplied but I believe that misapplication of economia with good intentions is better than legalistic exactitude disregarding what is best for the individual. In a similar vein, I'm eternally glad that we don't dogmatise every single belief and attitude. We should only demand adherence to those things that are necessary for salvation.

Excellent! As I was reading the OP's points, I was thinking, but all this is what resonates the most with me: Orthodoxy has a pastoral and individual approach to peoples' struggles and problems, sins and failings, and is ok with saying we don't understand everything.

What makes you think I don't know this? I don't oppose this approach, I am merely pointing out that this approach at times goes at the expense of right belief, i.e. orthodoxy. The way I see it this approach is being taken beyond its original intent by many to the point where I don't even feel confident stating my mind around Orthodox people because they're likely to accuse me of "puritanism" (with even the more educated saying that "pure" Orthodoxy is for monastics... come again?!). Orthodoxy rightly criticizes the excessive individualism of Western Christianity but economia seems to become almost a substitute. I am not against economia, but I am questioning whether the principle is really not being exploited.

There is a lot of "religious correctness" in the Church from my experience. That is what I meant when I said that Orthodoxy seems to have made a caricature of itself by over-emphasizing certain aspects that distinguish it from Western Christianity. My experience has been one where I find people wanting to prove just how un-Roman Catholic they are by minimizing the very concept of "sin" and dismissing guilt. It's easy to accuse people of legalism but the fact of the matter is I was always attracted to Orthodoxy precisely because it does permit greater Christian liberty in terms of piety and indeed leaves some questions open to debate, while at the same time having a clear Tradition and sense of right and wrong on the essentials of the faith.

To be fair, I absolutely agree with James that guilt can be misguided and in fact can become self-pity, which is by no means "godly sorrow". Writing it off because of perceived Catholic excesses is, however... excessive. I know the priest did not agree with that particular sin being sinful because he asked me why I possibly thought it was sinful. So tradition and faith become "pick-and-choose" and something changeable according to modern mores rather than eternal, and "spirituality" takes precedence. I'm put off by this as it just seems incoherent.

I will also agree with James that a quiet Christian life can be equally valid as we're not all called to be great missionaries like Paul, Cyril or Methodius, but I honestly hear too much talk about spirituality and environmentalism at a time when families are being ripped apart and natural order is being turned upside down. Why the silence? How are people to tell right from wrong without them being taught? Icons aren't going to tell me right from wrong, are they (please don't accuse me of iconoclasm now)? Isn't Orthodox "spirituality" being disconnected too much from the fundamentals of Christianity? Kind of like meditation being disconnected from Buddhism? At that point, Orthodoxy is reduced to a matter of fashion instead of truth.

Again, these are simply concerns I'm having. I don't intend to offend anyone and if somehow I do, I apologize.
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« Reply #15 on: June 01, 2012, 10:53:37 AM »

You think the Orthodox don't talk about 'natural order' and the family?

How long have you been on this board?

 Huh
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« Reply #16 on: June 01, 2012, 10:55:56 AM »

You think the Orthodox don't talk about 'natural order' and the family?

How long have you been on this board?

 Huh

How is a discussion board representative of the Church? People visiting religious boards are more likely to take their religion seriously. I am talking about attitudes I have witnessed that are a real concern to me.
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« Reply #17 on: June 01, 2012, 11:06:06 AM »

You think the Orthodox don't talk about 'natural order' and the family?

How long have you been on this board?

 Huh

How is a discussion board representative of the Church? People visiting religious boards are more likely to take their religion seriously. I am talking about attitudes I have witnessed that are a real concern to me.

People on discussion boards are more likely those who want to score points and win arguments first.
Talk with your priest. If you are not comfortable with him, then visit another church.

Yes, Archbishop Joseph of the Antiochians, who stresses stability, outspokenly disagrees as he believes that one should stick with one priest, but priests are not infallible. In fact, I have met several who were on psychoactive drugs, and who had such serious problems that the parish council could not give them a vote of confidence. So, the bishop had to appoint another priest as pastor. Then there were those priests who were in adulterous relations, and who had to be defrocked. These are in the minority, thank God.
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« Reply #18 on: June 01, 2012, 11:39:23 AM »

What makes you think I don't know this? I don't oppose this approach, I am merely pointing out that this approach at times goes at the expense of right belief, i.e. orthodoxy. The way I see it this approach is being taken beyond its original intent by many to the point where I don't even feel confident stating my mind around Orthodox people because they're likely to accuse me of "puritanism" (with even the more educated saying that "pure" Orthodoxy is for monastics... come again?!). Orthodoxy rightly criticizes the excessive individualism of Western Christianity but economia seems to become almost a substitute. I am not against economia, but I am questioning whether the principle is really not being exploited.

I'm not sure if you properly understand the principle of economia. A survey of the old canonical guidelines on penances shows that they always include the provision that the penance for certain sins can be reduced at the discretion of the pastor, based upon the repentance of the penitent (See, for example, St. Basil's Epistle 188, which has canonical status). No right-believing, God-fearing pastor will deny that premarital sex, murder, abortion, divorce (guilty party), etc., are sins. What has changed through the ages are the penances attached to these sins, which is rightfully at the discretion of the bishop. What penance was appropriate for one of St. Basil's parishioners in 360 AD will not necessarily be appropriate for a parishioner in 2012 AD. Perhaps in the year 3000 AD, a penance twice the length of what was given in 360 AD would be appropriate, but regardless we must never confuse the strictness of the penance for doctrinal orthodoxy and rigidity. The two are separate concepts.

Quote
I will also agree with James that a quiet Christian life can be equally valid as we're not all called to be great missionaries like Paul, Cyril or Methodius, but I honestly hear too much talk about spirituality and environmentalism at a time when families are being ripped apart and natural order is being turned upside down. Why the silence? How are people to tell right from wrong without them being taught? Icons aren't going to tell me right from wrong, are they (please don't accuse me of iconoclasm now)? Isn't Orthodox "spirituality" being disconnected too much from the fundamentals of Christianity? Kind of like meditation being disconnected from Buddhism? At that point, Orthodoxy is reduced to a matter of fashion instead of truth.

We cannot teach those who do not wish to hear.
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« Reply #19 on: June 01, 2012, 12:09:30 PM »

Icons teach the truth of the incarnation, and many other things.

Are families being ripped apart? I would rather say that we fail in being in communion with each other, because we are are not strong enough in our communion with God.
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« Reply #20 on: June 01, 2012, 01:00:54 PM »

This essay by St. Maria Skobtsova (martyred by the Nazis) lays out much of the nonsense that permeates in cultic alleged 'traditionalism" in Orthodoxy:  http://www.incommunion.org/2005/01/20/types-of-religious-lives/

Those who could do good usually get snuffed out by the status quo see:   http://novaonline.nvcc.edu/eli/evans/HIS242/Notes/Gapon.html
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« Reply #21 on: June 01, 2012, 01:01:35 PM »

You think the Orthodox don't talk about 'natural order' and the family?

How long have you been on this board?

 Huh

How is a discussion board representative of the Church? People visiting religious boards are more likely to take their religion seriously. I am talking about attitudes I have witnessed that are a real concern to me.

People on discussion boards are more likely those who want to score points and win arguments first.
Talk with your priest. If you are not comfortable with him, then visit another church.

Okay, thanks for the advice. I'm not here to win a debate though. When I came here and posted these criticisms I knew there was a risk of coming across as judgmental or self-righteous to others, but I'm willing to take that risk. Perhaps the problem with my points is that none of them are a real impediment to becoming Orthodox. They are frustrations more than anything else, issues I struggle to overcome, but which I think are still valid questions. I may simply have the misfortune of living in a place prone to liberalism and political correctness. This local trend may be clouding my judgment of real Orthodoxy. The greater issue is how to reconcile being a Westerner and Orthodox, and where to draw the line between what is cultural and acceptable, and that which is truly to be rejected, not so much because it's Western but because it's unchristian. I don't want a dead self-serving orthodoxy, but a living orthodoxy - often I think I was more Christ-centered as a "heretic" than I am now. I had a sense of mission, and now I feel restrained rather than encouraged. I even find myself being understood more by, say, Catholics or even Muslims (despite the obvious theological disagreements) than by many Orthodox I know of, who are overly indulged in strange mystical theories but reject and question traditional Christian values. Regardless of Orthodoxy's truths, I find the navel-gazing very sad, especially for those from other faiths or denominations seeking Christ. In some parishes or jurisdictions excessive ecumenism also just discourages conversion. To someone like myself who's not Catholic this is a very confusing attitude as it seems to indicate a lack of belief in one's own belief system.
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« Reply #22 on: June 01, 2012, 01:03:29 PM »

This essay by St. Maria Skobtsova (martyred by the Nazis) lays out much of the nonsense that permeates in cultic alleged 'traditionalism" in Orthodoxy:  http://www.incommunion.org/2005/01/20/types-of-religious-lives/

Thanks, I'm going to read that essay one of these days.

Cavaradossi, thanks, I will look into the issue at greater depth.
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« Reply #23 on: June 01, 2012, 01:39:23 PM »

There are others, outside the status quo that are worth remebering although we cannot venerate as a saint like Fr Pavel florensky who wore his cassock in front of the red Trotsky. see;  http://orthodoxwiki.org/Pavel_Florensky
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« Reply #24 on: June 01, 2012, 03:29:22 PM »

They are frustrations more than anything else, issues I struggle to overcome, but which I think are still valid questions. I may simply have the misfortune of living in a place prone to liberalism and political correctness. This local trend may be clouding my judgment of real Orthodoxy. The greater issue is how to reconcile being a Westerner and Orthodox, and where to draw the line between what is cultural and acceptable, and that which is truly to be rejected, not so much because it's Western but because it's unchristian. I don't want a dead self-serving orthodoxy, but a living orthodoxy - often I think I was more Christ-centered as a "heretic" than I am now. I had a sense of mission, and now I feel restrained rather than encouraged.

Just throwing this out there, but often the struggle itself is what helps us to grow.

Quote
...many Orthodox I know of, who are overly indulged in strange mystical theories but reject and question traditional Christian values.
This may just be a local phenomenon, as you noted. Because I have never met Orthodox people who question traditional Christian values. Unless you are defining "traditional Christian values" differently.


Not dissing your experience, you understand, but I have never seen the Orthodox people, priests and parishes that you describe. Just anecdotal, I know, but your experience may be atypical.
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« Reply #25 on: June 01, 2012, 03:47:15 PM »

They are frustrations more than anything else, issues I struggle to overcome, but which I think are still valid questions. I may simply have the misfortune of living in a place prone to liberalism and political correctness. This local trend may be clouding my judgment of real Orthodoxy. The greater issue is how to reconcile being a Westerner and Orthodox, and where to draw the line between what is cultural and acceptable, and that which is truly to be rejected, not so much because it's Western but because it's unchristian. I don't want a dead self-serving orthodoxy, but a living orthodoxy - often I think I was more Christ-centered as a "heretic" than I am now. I had a sense of mission, and now I feel restrained rather than encouraged.

Just throwing this out there, but often the struggle itself is what helps us to grow.

Quote
...many Orthodox I know of, who are overly indulged in strange mystical theories but reject and question traditional Christian values.
This may just be a local phenomenon, as you noted. Because I have never met Orthodox people who question traditional Christian values. Unless you are defining "traditional Christian values" differently.


Not dissing your experience, you understand, but I have never seen the Orthodox people, priests and parishes that you describe. Just anecdotal, I know, but your experience may be atypical.

I'm going to reply in private if you don't mind. I think I have written this thread too rashly. I'm going to ask the moderator to delete it. I'll have to overcome/deal with the issues I raised differently.

Please pray that I may have the strength to overcome any disappointments and to remain humble. Thanks.

Q.
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« Reply #26 on: June 09, 2012, 03:30:18 PM »

At the request of the original poster I am closing this topic. He would like us to delete the post but this is against normal policy so I will do the next best thing and close the topic.

Sincerely,
Thomas
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