Christ is born!
I just discovered this forum yesterday and decided to register.
By way of introduction as a potential/prospective convert to Eastern Orthodoxy, here is something I wrote a few months back about how we (my wife and I) became interested in the Orthodox church. It's sort of a testimony, but more of an essay.
We currently visit an OCA church and have been attending catechumen classes, though we are not yet officially catechumens.
WHY THE ORTHODOX CHURCH?
Being a short essay on some of our thoughts concerning our interest in the Orthodox Church
What attracted us about, or initially attracted us and continues to draw us toward, the Orthodox Church (initially both the Orthodox and the Catholic Church, but now almost exclusively toward the Orthodox Church) is its historicalness, or claim to such, which we were made aware of and have had somewhat confirmed to us by reading the Apostolic and Early Church Fathers.
As Evangelical/Charismatic Protestants (I’ll use “ECP” for short), our understanding and reading of the New Testament was almost in a vacuum - i.e., bringing 20th-century ideas and mindsets (informed by ECP scholarship and books and preaching and teaching, of course, much of which also seemed to suffer from the same shortsightedness) to our reading. Church history for us was largely the Book of Acts, and then a hop, skip and jump to the Protestant Reformation (briefly acknowledged with a tip of the hat), followed by Azusa Street (the beginning of Pentecostalism) and the Charismatic Movement. We'd heard of the "Church Fathers" but had never read them, or only just a little. We'd learned of Tyndale, Wycliffe, Calvin, Luther, Zwingli, Hus, the Reformers and the Reformation, etc., in high school and maybe also in college history, but had only read excerpts of their writings, or learned the parts used to support modern Protestantism - e.g., "the priesthood of all believers"; "Sola Scriptura" (i.e., the Scriptures alone are the rule of faith); "Sola Fide" (i.e., we are saved by faith alone); etc.
When we began reading the Apostolic and Early Church Fathers in earnest (well, sort of - it’ll really be "in earnest" when/if we read or read through the 38 volumes of their writings, and not just extracts), we felt we had entered another world, a world not familiar to modern ECPs.
* It called Baptism and the Eucharist "mysteries."
* It kept its central rites (esp. the Eucharist) a secret from outsiders and/or restricted them to initiates.
* It viewed the Eucharist as a sacrifice, and the bread and wine as being and being changed into the body and blood of Jesus.
* The Eucharist was in many ways the focus and climax of the worship service.
* It equated baptism with being "born again," and the concurrent chrismation (i.e., the anointing with oil), or sometimes baptism as well, with "receiving the Holy Spirit" or a "sealing."
* It had liturgical worship.
* It had a structured hierarchy, with bishops who were believed to stand in the place of Christ, and elders who stood in the place of the Apostles.
* It esteemed the Church at Rome and its bishop above the others.
* It exalted celibacy and had a special place for consecrated virgins.
* It called Mary the "Mother of God" (Theotokos), and many believed in her perpetual virginity.
* It offered sacrifices and prayers for the dead.
In other words, it looked very, very Catholic or Orthodox
And most uncomfortable for us ... these Christians claimed that the church’s teachings and practices were what they had received directly from the Apostles - who had received them directly from the Lord, and who had passed them down faithfully to their successors. And some of these writings were by those who had been personally appointed and taught by the Apostles themselves, a fact that not even Protestant scholars contest.
(I’ve read that Calvin knew and quoted from the Church Fathers so well - St. John Chrysostom was his favorite, I recall - that he is rightly considered a Patristics (i.e., pertaining to the Early Church Fathers) scholar. Yet I suspect that, like us, few of today's ECPs, who accept much that is Lutheran or Calvinistic in thought or origin, even read these writings which were a major influence on the Reformers' faith.)
We learned that Luther and Calvin regarded baptism and the Eucharist as being sacramental and involved in one’s salvation. Yet most of the churches we’d been in that claimed to be Protestant and heirs of sorts of Luther and Calvin viewed both as merely signs or symbols, and optional. (Thus, in addition to rejecting the sacramentalism of the Early Church Fathers, ECPs apparently also have rejected the similar sacramental or "Catholic" elements of Calvin's and Luther's beliefs.)
It became philosophically and theologically troubling for us as modern ECPs to be taught to accept all the doctrinal conclusions and statements of the Early Church with respect to the nature of God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Trinity, etc., but be told to reject that same Church's views of salvation and the sacraments, and church structure and worship. It seemed inconsistent to be told to reject some of the practices of these first Christians as not being "what the Bible teaches" when they were the very people who preserved and gave us the books and canon of Scripture, and who saw no discrepancy between 1) what they did and believed and 2) what they claimed the Apostles and their successors had taught them and 3) what the Bible said (and they frequently quoted from and appealed to the Scriptures in their writings). They described their beliefs and practices as what had been believed by everyone everywhere at all times - i.e., the church and its practices and beliefs were "catholic" (universal); they were the same everywhere, and always had been, they said. In fact, that was how they countered heresies and heretics - i.e., by showing that what the heretics taught was not
what the church had received from the Lord and His Apostles, and that the heretics could not show that their bishops formed an unbroken line from the Apostles, and that indeed the heretics and their teachings were "a new thing."
We ECPs, too, called people like the Arians (from Arius, who taught that “there was a time when the Son was not” - i.e., the Son was a creature) and the Gnostics and Marcion and the Sabellians and monophysites "heretics." I.e., we accepted the Early Church's judgment on these sects and movements and persons, and heartily agreed with the Early Church Fathers about these things and their leaders. Yet at the same time we declared or implied that many of the commonlyÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“held and foundational practices and beliefs of these same Church Fathers were not "what the Bible teaches." My wife and I increasingly found it odd that we accepted their conclusions and judgments about heretics and heresies (as well as their determination as to which books should be in the Bible), but rejected their beliefs about salvation, baptism, the Eucharist, bishops, liturgical worship, etc. If they were wrong about the latter, then why did we insist that they were right about the former? The very thing that caused the True Faith to persevere and triumph (i.e., the declaration and defense by the Church and the Church Fathers of what they claimed they had preserved of the authoritative teachings of the Lord and His Apostles in their traditions and teachings and texts and practices) was what we in some measure (and in some cases in large measure) had rejected in favor of holding to "just what the Bible teaches." (Or what we or our denomination or group said it teaches!)
Hence our attraction to the Ancient Church. But not the "New Testament Church" that "Bible Protestants" were and are always trying to recreate or follow or pattern themselves after while looking only to the New Testament for their answers, a practice we followed for many years. Instead, we are trying to find and understand the church and Christianity in the company of those who were closest to the Apostles and the writings of the New Testament and/or who received their traditions and teachings, and with their insights and comments to aid and inform us.
For us it has come down to a couple questions:
* What do Christians believe, and why do they believe it?
* What do Christians do, and why do they do it?
The answers the Early Church Fathers seem to give to these questions are changing some of our assumptions, and making us question some of our beliefs and practices.
- - -
From an earlier explanation of our changing views:
To us, context and the historical/contemporary background are important. E.g., ECPs (including myself) wrangle hard and mightily to explain away the idea of baptismal regeneration, or baptism removing one's sins. They write and struggle and work to explain John 3:5 and Acts 2:38 nonÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“sacramentally, despite the fact that the overwhelming testimony of even the earliest Early Church Fathers (and of the church and Christians for centuries thereafter as well) was that John 3:5 referred to water baptism, and baptism was called, and effected (i.e., brought about or resulted in), being "born again," "illuminated," "sealed," "sanctified," "having one's sins forgiven," etc.
So given the fact that the New Testament can be made to read or be understood either way, we asked ourselves which was likely more correct:
1. The teaching of the Apostolic and earliest Early Church Fathers (some of whom were living and writing at the time that some of the New Testament documents were being written or being accepted into the church’s canon, and some of whom were instructed or ordained by the Apostles Peter and John) that baptism was how one was "born again" and had one's sins forgiven or washed away, and included or could include infants?
- Or -
2. The teaching of present-day ECPs that water baptism is symbolic and even unnecessary or optional (but something that believers "ought" to do as a testimony of their faith), since one’s belief is what counts; and that it's only for "believers," as opposed to infants who can't yet "believe"?
We found this situation sort of analogous to the following:
Suppose we had the writings of James Madison's friends and students, as well as the students' students, and in their writings they explained that the Second Amendment to the Constitution ("A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.") means that the citizenry is allowed to own guns and rifles. (Madison, the "Father of the Constitution," was the primary author of the Bill of Rights, which included the Second Amendment.) We also have evidence that for the first 150 years of our country, everyone owned and kept guns and rifles. To this day the followers of these students teach and believe that private gun ownership was and is how to keep this country "saved," and they call themselves the National Rifle Association (NRA), as their forefathers had called themselves, and they cite the writings of Madison's friends and students in their by-laws or “catechism” (instruction).
But then about 1950, a dissenting group arose and complained that the leaders of the NRA have deceived their members by misreading and misunderstanding the Second Amendment, and wrongly teaching them to think that owning guns is the way to keep the country "saved." The dissenters say that the word "Militia" in the Second Amendment really means the official National Guard of each State, and only the National Guard troops are allowed to own and bear arms - and THAT, they say, is the best and historicallyÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“accurate way to "save" this country and its people, and they also say that this was how this country was originally "saved."
Now, which of the two - i.e., 1) the NRA and Madison's contemporaries, etc., or 2) these modernÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“day dissenters - do you think has a better idea of what Madison and the authors of the Constitution meant and intended, and has a better basis for their position? Remember, both groups are reading the same text (i.e., the Second Amendment), and both groups are basing their arguments on their reading and understanding of that same text.