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Author Topic: convert questions (controversial)  (Read 6744 times) Average Rating: 0
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arjuna3110
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« Reply #45 on: July 07, 2005, 10:53:02 PM »

(sixth and final post by arjuna3110/harmon3110 on Orthodoxy at another forum)




Dear Marc,


You wrote:

quote:
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 the standard of Catholic theology is the Catechism of the Catholic Church. What is theologically deficient in it?
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In my opinion, it is deficient because Catholics rely on a book for their theology. It is deficient for the very premise: that theology is an intellectual subject or a religious philosophy. It is deficient because it is a bunch of ideas about God. It is deficient because it represents a fundamentally cataphatic attitude toward God: that we can know Him by having ideas about Him.

In my opinion, theology is not mostly or only an intellectual subject. In my opinion, theology is not religious philosophy. In my opinion, theology --which is the knowledge of God-- is beyond all human forms of knowledge because God is utterly beyond us. Yet, by God’s grace, God descends to our level in order to raise us up to His level. God the Father does so through His Son, Jesus Christ, and through His Holy Spirit. Hence, in my opinion, Christian theology is the direct, personal experience of God by partaking of His Trinitarian life. In my opinion, therefore, theology should represent an apophatic view towards God: that God is utterly beyond our knowledge, but He nevertheless shares His life with us, and thus we can only “know” Him only by going beyond human knowledge to direct experience of Him.

I’m not trying to be flippant. I’m trying to express a fundamentally different way of understanding God and religion.

For Catholics, Christianity is based on official Catholic teachings and obedience to the pope.

For Protestants, Christianity is based on the Bible and however the individual interprets the Bible.

But for Orthodoxy, Christianity is based on the direct, personal experience of God by partaking of His Trinitarian life.

Hence, if an outsider asks a Protestant for suggestions to learn more about Christianity, the Protestant will probably suggest reading the Bible, a number of other books about the Bible, and talking to a pastor.

Hence also, if an outsider asks a Catholic for suggestions to learn more about Christianity, the Catholic will probably suggest reading the Catholic Catechism, maybe some other books, and talking to a priest.

For both Protestants and Catholics, inquiring into Christianity usually begins with reading a book. That is because their theology is ideas about God. Their specific ideas about God can be very different, but both Catholics and Protestants share a view in common: theology is ideas about God. That is cataphatic.

Orthodoxy is different. If an outsider asks an Orthodox for suggestions to learn more about Christianity, the Orthodox will probably suggest coming to Divine Liturgy. Books and talking to a priest come later, but (in my experience) the *first* thing which the Orthodox suggest to an inquirer is to visit Divine Liturgy. For the Orthodox, theology is experience of God. That is apophatic.

Put another way: In Orthodoxy, there is no difference between mysticism and theology. In Orthodoxy, the whole point of Christianity is the direct, personal experience of God by partaking of His Trinitarian life. That is because God is utterly beyond us, yet God loves us so much that He comes down to our level in order to raise us up to His level: starting now and foretasting forever. It is the process of salvation and sanctification that is worked by God with our active co-operation. That is theosis. That is also theology. For the Orthodox, knowledge of God can only be learned by direct, personal experience of God by partaking of His Trinitarian life. Hence, for the Orthodox, theosis is theology.

Indeed, if the word “orthodox” is properly understood --as correct knowledge of God that only comes from experience of God-- then theosis is Orthodoxy. And, anything less than Orthodoxy is less perfect or less complete theosis. To the Orthodox, Orthodoxy is theosis is theology.

In sum, the issue between us is not which text to look at, nor which logical proposition is sound, etc. The issue between Western Christians and Orthodox Christians is our fundamentally different understandings of theology. Both agree that the word “theology” means “knowledge of God.” Hence, the core question is: How do we know God? How do we understand theology? Western Christians (Catholics and Protestants) have a fundamentally cataphatic answer. Namely, Western theology is ideas about God. Orthodox Christians have a fundamentally apophatic answer. Namely, God is utterly beyond our ideas, but He nevertheless shares His life with us. Hence, Orthodox theology is direct, personal experience of God by partaking of His Trinitarian life. In other words, Orthodox theology is a process, theosis, that produces experiential knowledge of God by partaking of His Trinitarian life.


* * *


I would add this: This debate is increasingly impressing me with just how different Western Christianity is from Orthodoxy and vice versa. Truly, [as Vladimir Lossky observed] we have become different men.  Western Christians (Catholics and Protestants) see things so differently from the Orthodox that the two are almost foreign to each other. That is true even here at a forum which is dedicated to “Byzantine” Christianity: supposedly a bridge between Catholicism and Orthodoxy. Maybe it is a bridge, but probably not as it is hoped by the Byzantine Catholics themselves. (Unless, of course, Dan Lauffer is right.) Byzantine Catholicism is not a bridge of union; it is a bridge for learning about the very real differences between Orthodoxy and Catholicism and why they are very separate.

Perhaps, one day, the various churches will reunite: sharing some kind of communion without a unified organization and agreeing to disagree.

That would be nice, but I am not holding my breath. Reunion is not a matter of position papers by theologians, nor is it a matter of pride (as I so often used to think).

We have become different men. That is the issue in ecumenism. Hence, I increasingly think that reunion takes place in the Holy Spirit. Hopefully, we will all see each other in heaven. Till then, I increasingly think we should be good neighbors by being polite but also by maintaining good fences.


* * *


Marc also wrote:


quote:
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And I utterly disagree with the "sometimes devotion to the Eucharist" point. [ . . . ] The Eucharist is CENTRAL to the Latin Church.
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I wish that were true. Theologically, it is true. In practice, it is something else. In my experience here in the U.S., I have found a range of devotion to the Eucharist. I haven’t done a formal study, but the range of devotion seems to follow a curve. A small group (10 - 20 % of Catholics?) are very devoted to the Eucharist; they attend Mass daily or as often as they can, and they go to Eucharistic adoration, and so on. A larger number of Catholics (30% ?) find the Eucharist to be very important; they get to Mass on Sundays and they generally keep the Gospel. That is, perhaps, one half of the curve. The other half of the curve starts with a large group of Catholics who find the Eucharist to be mostly a symbol or a tradition. They (30%) go to Mass anywhere from once or twice per month to once or twice per year. Then, there is another group (10 - 20 % ?) who are the lapsed Catholics who never go to Mass but who haven’t converted to anything else (except, perhaps, secularism).

From what I can tell about Orthodoxy in the U.S., the range of Eucharistic devotion is probably similar to the range of Catholic devotion. If it is different, I would expect devotion to be somewhat higher among the Orthodox because of the high percentage of converts in American Orthodoxy.


* * *


Finally, Marc wrote:


quote:
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[unsolicited and possibly bad advice] Before you convert I would recommend attending an Orthodox parish for at least a year. [ . . . ] talk to the priest in depth [etc.]

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Actually, that is very good advice, and I plan on doing that.

Thank you, Marc and all you others, for your heartfelt and sincere and generous concern; and for some really good discussion.
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Jennifer
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« Reply #46 on: July 07, 2005, 11:01:18 PM »


Now here (to be honest) is what I'm not sure of: I don't know if that is because Orthodoxy is actually closer to the Truth or whether is a better vehicle to the Truth for me with my personality. I'm also not sure how pure my motives are: whether I am genuinely trying to get closer to the Truth or whether I am just trying to do what feels good to me. Is Orthodoxy really God's will for me, or is it my selfish will for me, or is the choice between Catholicism and Orthodoxy one of those things where God is leaving me free to choose between two equal optioons. These are the things that I have to dsicern. I also have some personal obligations, which I have shared with you but which I do not wish to share in public, that require me to stay Catholic for the immediate fuutre.

So, that is what is vexing me; but I'm not jumping ship just now; and I deeply apologize if I offended you.


Hi Arjuna.  I wondered if you were Harmon over on Byzcath. 

What you're going through sounds very familiar to me and I'm sure to other posters here as well.  I really struggled with trying to figure out my motives for wanting to 'dox.'  Was I doing what I wanted or doing God's will?  I prayed about it a lot.  I talked about it with several prayerful people.  I came to believe that it was God's will that I convert but I certainly didn't get a pronouncement from on high or anything. 

One thing that was very difficult for me to reconcile was that people I respected, who were pious and holy, completely disagreed with each other over my conversion.  It was hard for me to understand how good, holy and prayerful people could see the Church so differently. 

Basically I finally came to the conclusion that it's impossible for any person, except a saint which I am certainly not, to have pure motives.  My wanting to be Orthodox was partially due to my dissatistication with modern day American Catholicism.  There was also a social element.  My Orthodox church is small and people know each other.  The local RC parishes are huge and nobody talks to anyone.  Plus, I have to admit I've always been drawn to the 'exotic' side of Orthodoxy.  But I realized that something can have both good and bad motives.  Does that make sense? 

It's a very hard decision to make.  I could not make the final decision until I made a break with Roman Catholicism and started attending only Orthodox churches. 

I think another thing we need to remember is that we need to get rid of that legalistic RC view of God as the judge who will damn us if we make the wrong choice.  When I announced my conversion on another board, one of the Catholic cheerleaders said that she was saying a novena for me.  They debated whether I was going to hell.  I can see how there were 'impure' motives in my decision and there is a possibility that I made the wrong choice but God is loving and He knows that I was trying to serve Him.  Does that make sense? 

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arjuna3110
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« Reply #47 on: July 07, 2005, 11:25:57 PM »

Hi Arjuna.ÂÂ  I wondered if you were Harmon over on Byzcath.ÂÂ  

Hi !  It's little me  Wink  under either screen name. 

Quote
What you're going through sounds very familiar to me and I'm sure to other posters here as well.ÂÂ  I really struggled with trying to figure out my motives for wanting to 'dox.'ÂÂ  Was I doing what I wanted or doing God's will?ÂÂ  I prayed about it a lot.ÂÂ  I talked about it with several prayerful people.ÂÂ  I came to believe that it was God's will that I convert but I certainly didn't get a pronouncement from on high or anything.ÂÂ  One thing that was very difficult for me to reconcile was that people I respected, who were pious and holy, completely disagreed with each other over my conversion.ÂÂ  It was hard for me to understand how good, holy and prayerful people could see the Church so differently.ÂÂ  

Yes.  That is part of what I dread.  I dread losing good relationships over this.  Then again, those who are true friends will stick with me regardless...


Quote
Basically I finally came to the conclusion that it's impossible for any person, except a saint which I am certainly not, to have pure motives.ÂÂ  My wanting to be Orthodox was partially due to my dissatistication with modern day American Catholicism.ÂÂ  There was also a social element.ÂÂ  My Orthodox church is small and people know each other.ÂÂ  The local RC parishes are huge and nobody talks to anyone.ÂÂ  Plus, I have to admit I've always been drawn to the 'exotic' side of Orthodoxy.ÂÂ  But I realized that something can have both good and bad motives.ÂÂ  Does that make sense?ÂÂ  

Completely.  *Thank you* for sharing that.


Quote
It's a very hard decision to make.ÂÂ  I could not make the final decision until I made a break with Roman Catholicism and started attending only Orthodox churches.ÂÂ

I am not at that point (yet?).   Getting to the Orthodox priest's office for that first official chat will be a big enough step.  Meanwhile, I have some other plans that I must follow through on; and those other plans do not allow me the psychological or other room for a conversion.  I won't be able to devote myself to anything official at least till the end of this year, maybe longer.  Neverthless, I hope to start visiting an OCA parish on a somewhat regular basis starting this fall. 

Quote
I think another thing we need to remember is that we need to get rid of that legalistic RC view of God as the judge who will damn us if we make the wrong choice.ÂÂ  When I announced my conversion on another board, one of the Catholic cheerleaders said that she was saying a novena for me.They debated whether I was going to hell.

That would be so funny . . . except I know people like that, and they would be very serious and genuinely concerned for the welfare of my soul.  Funny and sad and exasperating.

Quote
  I can see how there were 'impure' motives in my decision and there is a possibility that I made the wrong choice but God is loving and He knows that I was trying to serve Him.ÂÂ  Does that make sense?ÂÂ  

Yes, thank God.
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Jennifer
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« Reply #48 on: July 09, 2005, 09:46:13 PM »


Yes.  That is part of what I dread.  I dread losing good relationships over this.  Then again, those who are true friends will stick with me regardless...


The sad thing about converting is that it is inevitable that you will make someone angry.  If you convert you'll make some RCs angry.  If you decide not to convert, you'll disappoint some Orthodox people. 

It's a hard position to be in.  When I went through it, I got very frustrated with people.  However, I came to understand that my choice to convert affected Roman Catholics.  I could pretend that it was solely an individual decision but that's not really the case. 

In my experience, most people were able to "stick with me" even though I decided to "dox."  But there were other people who took my decision as a personal attack.  Like my choosing to leave the RCC was interpreted as me saying that there was something wrong with them for staying.  I think these people were deeply insecure and I suspect that some of them had some emotional problems.  So the hostility was about them and had nothing to do with me. 

When I was making my decision, I told people that I felt like I was a kid in the middle of a custody battle.  It was a very painful decision to make.  And being a catechumen was also painful for me.  It seems like most catechumens are filled with joy but I found the process to be painful. 

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suzannes
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« Reply #49 on: July 10, 2005, 03:47:30 PM »

 Jennifer,

Your analogy of a kid in the middle of a custody battle is a very apt one.  Sometimes, I felt like my feelings towards the RCC and Orthodoxy were like a really, really painful divorce.  One thing that seemd to make the situation worse was web boards where every comment was: "the Papists are all evil and lost", etc.  I finally decided that I don't HAVE to hate the RCC, Jews, Muslims, Protestants or anyone else!  Do I think they have the truth, no, but I have no animosity towards any group (though obviously some groups do do harm to the Orthodox, especially regarding conversion.)  I'm finally at a point now, where Orthodoxy feels like "home."  I hope that it's a first step towards becoming Orthodox.  Btw, I've taken over three years, NOT because of doubts towards the Church, but rather doubts about myself.
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« Reply #50 on: July 12, 2005, 09:13:14 AM »

Pedro,

Quote
His books were written for intellectual evagelical Protestants in an appeal for them to turn to the Orthodox faith, and, as such, can find a receptive audience.  But they do little to convince Roman Catholics (as he never was one, he really doesn't know how to talk to educated RCs--Michael Whelton's Two Paths does a better job of dealing with RC issues, by the way).

Two Paths is an incredible (yet very accessable) book - it really gets to the heart of the matter, and "backs it up".  If I could buy a copy of this book for every Roman Catholic I knew, I would.

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« Reply #51 on: July 12, 2005, 09:27:53 AM »

Arjunna,

While the polemical stuff can be good (even necessary) reading for the prospective convert, I think the "positive sell" is ultimatly what will make someone take the voice of the Orthodox Church seriously.

In that spirit, I'd recommend any of the Little Russian Philokalia series books published by the St.Herman of Alaska Brotherhood.  In particular, check out the first volume, St.Seraphim of Sarov (and find out why his namesake/patronage is so popular amongst converts to Orthodox Christianity).   I'd also suggest the 19th century Russian spiritual-novel (though some have argued this anonymously authored work is in fact very much an autobiography) The Way of the Pilgrim.

Books like this will also do you the service of helping you see past the sins of invididual (though many, sadly) Orthodox Christians, and get to the heart of what Orthodoxy is - and what can be had by faithfully attending to what is going on in that little "ethnic Church" on the other end of town.

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