Reading the dissidentcopts entry, for example, I have to say that I'm completely sympathetic to the frustration that comes through the tone there.
But I would urge caution. Before taking a heavy hand to this problem, we have to ask why did it arise?
Everything you’ve typed is sound advice, Jonathan, and as I hope you can tell, it was the path we had chosen from the start. I linked the blog post not because I approve of the combative tone (I don't - although like you I do understand the frustration and share the author's sentiment in terms of the actual complaints made) but as just one example of the many complaints made about this sort of thing online and in the real world.
No one here is advocating a “heavy hand”. This is an effort that must be carried out with caution, humility, and above all, love. The mistakes that were made may have been made with the best of intentions as you describe, but they are mistakes still. Addressing them, at least having the conversation, is necessary. For the most part, whether it’s because we don’t want to offend anybody or in the interests in displaying the kind of prideful humility that makes a public show of saying, “It’s not for me to correct anyone about anything ever because I’m a sinner”, so far we’ve been shying away from doing anything more than griping about this on the internet and at youth meetings, basically preaching to the choir, and all the while the frustration simmers on the one side and a generation of youth are led astray on the other. It’s time to have the conversation.
If we consider SMSV for example, it did not arise in a vacuum. It arose with the best intentions. There was no desire to make an evangelical community with an Orthodox veneer. The problem was that many of the youth were leaving the church because their culture was not egyptian, but north american. They felt like foreigners in their own church.
SMSV is a great place in that people who have not felt they have any place in the church feel at home. People who have never served before serve there. People who have always felt like second class at best feel that it is their church. This is wonderful. But they're too accepting, not just accepting people, not just rejecting self-will and bullying, but accepting everything, being afraid to rightly divide the word of truth for fear of offending. So there is an exceptionally strong evangelical influence, to the point where even the priests have been sucked in. It is not a malicious movement though, it is a reaction to another wrong.
This is valuable information to have, and I thank you for it. It seems that, as frequently happens, we have once again confused acculturating in the West with accepting heterodox faith and practice.
For many people in our Oriental Orthodox communities Orthodoxy = the “faith of the homeland” and Protestantism or Catholicism = “the faith of the land of immigration” and we start thinking that the differences are mostly “cultural” when they’re anything but. We can make the Faith relevant to the youth and the Western born without adopting Protestant errors in faith and practice.
I honestly think that with a little education, presented in a gentle, loving manner, people will see the truth for themselves.
Now, wanting to teach true Orthodoxy to those who have been fed only Orthodoxy-lite is laudable. A zeal for the truth is wonderful. But it has to be done carefully.
If we just go correcting with a firm hand, pointing out what is wrong everywhere, criticizing, etc., if we allow ourselves the tone of that blog post, which we are all tempted to take and feel comfortable in, how will it be perceived?
Amen. We agree here.
It is not the role of the church to dictate to people who to live their lives. God allows us freedom to sin or not, to follow him or not. The role of the Church is to invite people to the truth, to teach people the way to God, to show them His love so that they want to follow, and to guide them along the way.
I agree here as well, but with one caveat: God gave people free will, and what they do with that in their private lives is their own business, but our corporate worship is another thing. Free will doesn’t cover the right introduce heterodox faith and practice into the Orthodox Church. I don’t recommend reading Rick Warren or Joyce Meyers books or listening to “pop Christian” music, as you’re bound to pick up some bad theology there, but if that’s what you want to do in your private life (not you, Jonathan, but a general “you”) then go for it. Once you try to introduce into the life of the Church, however, especially the life of the youth, then it becomes problematic.
If we want others to want Orthodoxy, the way is not to argue with them about how wrong the way they know is. It is to show them how beautiful Orthodoxy is. The only way to do that is to live Orthodox lives that are filled with the presence of Christ so that other people want to live that live. Not yelling at them angrily about how much better the love of Christ is experienced in the narrow way of Orthodoxy.
Amen, not yelling, but showing them the joys of the narrow gate and the spiritual poverty of the wide gate.
It is always tempting to correct other people. It's the Coptic pass-time. But it's always wrong to correct others if it is out of anger, or frustration, or anything other than love and a desire for their salvation. Those who are called to fight heresy are few and far between, and great, like St. Athanasius.
It’s not about correcting people, per se, but correcting behaviors. Of course we can’t all be St. Athanasius (may his prayers be with us) but this doesn’t absolve us of our duty as Christians to speak up when we see something wrong in the Church, even if all that means is to make our hierarchs aware and let them take the wheel. What love are we showing to the youth if we see them being led astray and shrug and say, “Not my problem”?
God doesn't need us to save the Church. If we focus on our own salvation, He may choose to use us in small ways. But that is the only way, the inner way, not to start a war as if we were qualified to teach it, not through self calling.
Amen. God doesn’t need anyone to “save the Church”. No one here is under any delusions about that. Focusing on our own salvation and keeping our own sins before our eyes when we do any work for the Church, or when we think of correcting, in love, anyone else is the only way to go. That said, it doesn’t free us of our responsibility of speaking up when we see something very wrong happening in our Church.
Thanks again for all your sound advice. Pray for my weakness.
I totally second Jonathan's response. I am OO myself from the Indian church, and we have some pseudo-protestant trends rising once in a while.
But correcting someone or teaching the Orthodox faith much less defending the Orthodox faith requires a substantial amount of spiritual maturity, ascesis , prayer and self-purity. I write as someone who has been down the path and regret how stupid I was when I was younger.
Zeal for our Holy Faith and our Holy Orthodox Church is good, a gift of the Spirit to be treasured, so don't loose it amongst the many temptations this world will throw, but go about this business with caution, knowing in your heart that you are taking a heavy responsibility for which you may be called to account.
As Jonathan said, don't overreach, your efforts must bring back people to the Church not cause them to go farther away.
Amen. Thank you for this excellent advice. Pray for us.
It would be nice with some kind of OO project though. We really don't have much easy to find resources on the internet compared to others.
This is true. We need to work on this. I’m sure Apu Jose isn’t the only one looking to address this issue in his local community who is in search of resources on this issue from an Oriental Orthodox perspective.
Just going by what I can find on Youtube about Oriental Orthodoxy vs. Protestantism, I think it would be extremely beneficial if someone with knowledge of both Amharic and English could provide English translations of the many, many videos coming out of the EOTC that address the encroachment of Protestantism upon Orthodoxy. Some appear to be quite in-depth in a way that I have not seen from my own church (I remember HH Pope Shenouda III addressing particular Protestant sects, but then his writings were never very well-translated, either).
For those of you who have never seen them, I am referring to videos like this one on the "Protestantawi Jihad" against Ethiopian Orthodoxy. The Tewahedo have made a lot of efforts against Protestantism, which is great to see given the success of various Protestant sects in Ethiopia, largely at the expense of Orthodoxy. We in the other OO churches ought to be doing the same, before we end up in a similar situation.
Amen. I was actually in touch with one of the guys who made those videos awhile back and we shared resources with one another. I’m going to see if I can find his contact info again. This is a great idea, dzheremi!
Some of it is a little too hard maybe (whole enemy thing) but I agree with and have noticed myself what he writes under "Religious Dangers"...
Dangers of the Diaspora
by Bar Yohanon
Fr. Dale A. Johnson is a Syrian Orthodox Priest formerly a clergyman of the United Methodist Church
Recently I did a thought experiment in Christology. I asked myself what would happen if we found the DNA of Jesus? How would this affect the theological formulation of the Son of God? First of all, what would his chromosomes looks like? Most humans have 46 chromosomes, twenty-three from the mother and twenty-three from the father. Would half the chromosomes of Jesus be human and the other half of the Holy Spirit?. In other words, "Conceived of the Holy Spirit" fully human and fully God.
With these questions one can see the Christological dialectic emerging. But in this case we have scientific facts before us. If we had the DNA of Jesus we would know once and for all if He were fully God or fully man. Or would we know. Would we recognise the DNA of God? From the standpoint of natural reason we would have all the evidence before us. But is it possible that there might be information that lies outside of the natural paradigm? If our paradigm is not correct them we can not interpret the evidence correctly.
I bring this question before us to suggest how it is possible that we might not recognise evidence before our very eyes. It is one of the problems Christians from the Middle East who have migrated to the West. They may have a view of the world that does not correspond to the realities of the western world and thereby not perceive correctly.
In a Syriac dispute poem, there is a dialogue between Joseph and Mary. Mary informs Joseph that she is pregnant. Joseph asks who is the man who violated her. Mary tells him it was not a man but an angel. Joseph cannot believe this. He warns Mary not to tell this to him again. Again he asks who led her astray. Mary gets slightly angry and insists that Joseph believe her. But Joseph cannot believe her and is greatly troubled. Not until in a dream that night does he understand that Mary is carrying the Lord of the Universe. His natural mind could not see this possibility even though Mary told him, a firsthand witness. Mary's information does not fit into his natural view of the world so he does not recognise the evidence before him.
I say all this to suggest how it is possible to not recognise the dangers to Syriac Christians in the Diaspora in Europe and the west. Christians who come from the Middle East have lived for centuries in the context of an Islamic dominated society. They have faced hostile governments, religious and ethnic bigotry. The paradigm of their reality is formed before they move to the West and it does not always fit the New World in which they now live.
In Europe and America, members of the Syriac Diaspora no longer live in a Moslem dominated culture. For the most part they live in a post-Christian culture primarily Protestant. In the Middle East it was easy to identify the enemy. He was the one who called you "gower". He was the one who said it was illegal for you to repair your churches and speak your language. He was the one who kidnapped your children and confiscated your property. In the West the dangers are far more subtle and pernicious. The trouble is that we do not recognise the dangers even though they are in front of our eyes.
Generally among Christians in the Middle East there is solidarity. On the most fundamental level Christians of any denominations are recognised as Christians. As a monk in Turkey once told me, "If you are baptised then you are a Christian and we are brothers." In the West this may not always be so. Many evangelical Protestants do not look upon Syriac Christians as "saved". This means that they do not view Syriac Christians as Christians at all. Unless one accepts Jesus Christ as his or her personal saviour by praying the sinner's prayer, one cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven. This specific formulation is characterised in the four spiritual laws of Campus Crusade for Christ, which is an evangelical organisation in Universities and Schools all over the world. Anyone who listens to Billy Graham, perhaps the most famous preacher in America will hear at the end of every sermon a call for people to come to the front of the podium and give their heart to Jesus. Even though Syriac Christians in the Diaspora have been baptised, this makes no difference to the evangelical Christian. Infant baptism does not count. You must be of "the age of accountability". This means that you must be old enough to consciously understand that you are a sinner and must repent and ask God for forgiveness. The reason for not recognising the form of Christianity that Syriac Christians bring to the West is that evangelical Protestants do not have a sacramental view. Their paradigm of reality blocks out seeing the spiritual miracle in the Syriac people( I shall comment on the spiritual miracle of the Syriac people later in this essay).
Syriac Christians often view Protestants in the West as one and the same. Many, if not most see Protestants as fellow Christians because they are baptised. This is precisely where the problem lies. This paradigm works in the Middle East because most Christians come from sacramental Churches except for a few protestant groups. But in the lands of the Diaspora, Protestants vary greatly and we must relate to them differently.
This naivete has been evident in Russia where the Russian Orthodox Church opened its arms to missionaries from the West. They saw them as fellow Christians coming to help them. But in fact the Church experienced a terrible assault from evangelical Christians and other groups not even considered by Protestants as Christian. The Russian Orthodox Church thought that this fellow Christians would respect their spiritual heritage and identification. What they did not realise is that Protestants did not view them in the same way. They felt free to pillage the church by planting doubts and questioning the legitimacy of the Orthodox Church.
There were also Jehovah Witness, Mormon, and Seventh Day Adventists who brought their doctrines into Russia. These groups savagely attacked the Christians of Russia in the same way they attack the Christians of the Diaspora. They use scripture to prove that their particular theologies are correct and convert Syriac Christians to their denomination. For the most part, Syriac Christians of the Diaspora are poorly prepared to defend themselves against such Bible based arguments. Knowledge of the scriptures is very low among Syriac Christians and because Syriac Christians love the Gospel they are particularly vulnerable to the predatory nature of some Protestant and cult groups.
Recently I visited a Syrian Orthodox priest in Switzerland. I was happy to see him teaching several bible study groups. He admitted that some of his families had been divided by influences from what he called "Protestants." Upon further questioning it was clear that he made no distinction between the various protestant groups who were impacting some of his congregation. Through his clergy associations he was familiar with Calvinist and Reformed Protestants. He thought they were all like these Protestants who were quite liberal. He could not understand how some of the evangelical protestants were so aggressive with some of his people. He appreciated our discussion for it helped to clarify for him the differences he was beginning to notice.
Mainline Protestant groups for the most part will not directly encourage Syriac Cbristians to leave their churches. But in some ways they are more dangerous to the Syriac Diaspora. Liberal social attitudes invade the Syriac Church through contact with the young people primarily. Issues such as birth control, abortion, sexual relations outside of marriage, homosexuality, divorce, and euthanasia are considered to be broadly permissible in varying degrees. Syriac Christians coming from the Middle East have very conservative and historic mores. Because the Church out of modesty and cultural conditioning, they have been relatively silent on these subjects. It has put our young people in conflict and created doubts about the authority and relativity of the Church. These cultural mores of the West seem enlightened to some of our youth and a dichotomy arises in their minds so that they feel they have to choose between the secular culture and the Church. The mainline Churches embody of these secular views. In ecumenical councils there has been conflicts between the moral and ethical perspectives of the Orthodox Churches and Churches of the West. Some Orthodox Churches have pulled out of the World Council of Churches for this very reason.
The Roman Catholic Church is much more in line with the social mores and sacramental perceptions of the Syriac Christians of the Diaspora. Fortunately, the Catholic Church is less of a threat to the Diaspora. The theological arrogance of the past suggesting that they are the one true church has given way to more enlightened acceptance of the legitimacy of the See of Antioch and the Churches associated with it.
The more sacramental a church is the more it is aligned with the views of the Syriac Diaspora. Anglican, Lutheran, and Methodist Protestants have varying degrees of sacramental perspectives. Although protestant, they are vastly different than groups on the other end of the spectrum such as Assembly of God, Pentecostal, some Baptist denominations (There are 42 Baptist denominations in the USA), and cult groups previously mentioned. In the middle are Calvinist groups such as the Reformed, Presbyterian, Nazarene, and Covenant churches.
The miracle of the Syriac Christians is that they have been saved by God through centuries of oppression and persecution. By my own count at least 38 ethnic cleansings have occurred in the regions of the Fertile Crescent. Syriac Christians have faced the sword and the bullet, the politicians and the police yet somehow survived. They rebuilt their churches and villages again and again. They migrated to new lands and still the language of Jesus is heard in their homes and in their hearts. The danger of freedom in the West threatens Syriac Christians as never before.
Drugs, divorce, and the very nature of the Diaspora are pulling families and the religious culture apart.
I believe God has saved the Syriac Christians for a reason. Syriac Christians are a holy remnant. To go back to the thought experiment I used at the beginning of this essay, we can say that some of the protestant groups would look at the genetic data of Jesus purely in a scientific and materialist way. There would be no supernatural considerations and therefore even if presented to the sense it would not be perceived. In the same way Joseph did not perceive the miracle before him in the pregnancy of Mary.
Only when Mary came to Joseph in a dream did he finally "see" the miracle. The Syriac Christians can be to the post-protestant culture of Europe and the West a new light. We are the Angel and the Diaspora is the dream. It is a dream that came true for the people of the Diaspora, finding a land of freedom. But it can be a dream come true in another way. It can be a dream for the West to awaken them out of their naturalist and materialistic hallucination. We have an obligation to proclaim the Gospel to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Perhaps in the third millennium, a light from the East will appear once again through the Syriac Diaspora. So whether we are looking at the chromosomes or Christ or even the chromosomes of Christ we can see the miracle of creation and the creator himself.
Thank you for this! This is an excellent article. Do you know where I could contact the author?