Why Orthodoxy? Excursus Pt. I

Alana and James of the Northwest both comment on a particularly pertinent question for those of us who have made (or in my case are still making) the journey to Orthodoxy:

Alana: “If one were to use Orthodoxy to protest Protestantism, wouldn’t that still be being protestant?”

James OFTNW: “Has our journey into Orthodoxy been fueled by what we leave behind, or by what lies ahead?”

These are good questions. And as with many good either/or questions, the answer is “Both.”

It seems to me that it cannot but be both. If one is choosing to leave one’s religious affiliation for the Orthodox Church, there is necessarily a negative relation with one’s former affiliation. In choosing Orthodoxy one is “un-choosing,” to say it in as neutral if neologistic way as possible, the former affiliation.

But this isn’t really the question is it? For there are some aspects of “un-choosing” which are forceful, radical, and, shall we say, spirited. So the question really becomes, Are we choosing Orthodoxy primarily on its own terms, or primarily on the terms of “un-choosing” our former affiliation? That is to say, is our act really more about choosing Orthodoxy or leaving Church Body X?

I have had it put to me that I am choosing Orthodoxy, not because of the reality of what the Orthodox Church really is (in which case I don’t really see it as it is but as I want it to be), but, disappointed at excruciating failures of the church bodies of which I have been a member, I have reified my desire for the sort of church I seek and have overlaid that reification on the Orthodox Church. Or, to say it more simply, my pursuit of Orthodoxy is little more than the projection of my desire for the perfect Church on the Orthodox Church. Understandable, given my personal history, but in the end escapist.

Of course, we Orthodox inquirers want to assert that we seek Orthodoxy for itself, while our critics and sceptics want to assert that we seek Orthodoxy as an escape from something else. We Orthodox inquirers are hesitant to admit any escapist motivations lest it delegitimize our search or denigrate the Orthodox Church. Our critics and sceptics are perhaps hesitant to admit that we seek Orthodoxy for what it is lest our search cast doubt on their own situations.

But the fact of the matter is, any change of religious venue–if it is sincere–will include elements of attraction to the newly-owned affiliation and rejection of the former affiliation. How could it be otherwise?

We Orthodox inquirers need not be fearful that admission of certain so-called escapist motivations are somehow illegitimate or not a pure enough basis from which to start and finish our journey. After all, if what we believe about the Orthodox Church is true, then we should wish to escape (or, more neutrally, leave) our one-time homes.

Our Orthodox inquiries almost always begin in disquiet. That is to say, we are moved on our journey by some disconnect or contradiction, something that lacks resolution. A problem, contradiction or conundrum–an aporia–confronts us. To be true to our convictions, and to ourselves, we have to resolve this impasse.

For me personally, I came to impasses in my heritage churches of the Restoration Movement, and to my one-time adopted churches of the Episcopal Church. In my heritage churches there was a disconnect from the historic Church and there were inconsistencies of biblical interpretation and of doctrine relating to baptism and the Lord’s Supper. In the Episcopal Church the impasses had to do with the implicit and explicit rejection of Scripture and Tradition. In both these church bodies, the impasses could not be resolved from within the resources of the groups themselves. Furthermore, these contradictions in each of these groups were unlivable. Therefore I had to seek resolution of these impasses from sources outside them.

Now it is true that in bringing resolution to these matters, the Orthodox Church does so, at least implicitly, on the original terms of the groups themselves. That is to say, these resolutions take place from the Orthodox Church allowing itself to be limited to, in a certain sense, and understood in, the presuppositions and on the terms of the original groups. How could it not? What sort of resolution would it be if it did not, in part, meet the original terms and conditions of the impasse?

But if the search for Orthodoxy is left there, if one makes the decision to become Orthodox merely because Orthodoxy best resolves the impasses of our former religious affiliations on their own terms, and does not proceed from there, then our sceptics and critics would be justified in their allegations and complaints of escapism. And such a state may well be worse than the first, as our house may well have been swept clean but left empty.

However, it’s hardly the case that, simply becaue our journey begins as a reaction to a problem, that it must end there, or be characterized only as a negative reaction. Indeed, it is our disquiet that is itself evidence of another desire, a desire different from mere quiet of soul. We do not seek mere comfort. There are remedies, however unhealthy, present to hand for that. We seek Truth.

And it is here that we move from the realm of escapism to the arena of authenticity. The second most important question after “Who do you say that the Christ is?” is “What is the Church?” If our answer is merely: “Spackle to fill in the holes of the walls of our religious affiliations,” we are a sorry lot indeed. I daresay for all those I know, and, if I may, for myself, the answer may have begun with the filling of holes, but it has moved on to something else. Indeed, we are leaving, or have left, behind the spackle-covered walls for an altogether different home.

I have been formulating an account of my journey to Orthodoxy in this series of reflections. As is clear, my account is a mix of leaving behind and of stretching out toward. For myself, I suspect this dual nature of my journey will remain long after the oil of the chrism (may that day come soon!) has dried. But eventually the character of that journey must cease having this dual nature. Eventually the leaving must give way wholly to the arriving and staying. Who knows how long this will be? One can never say, for repentance and salvation are lifelong projects.

8 thoughts on “Why Orthodoxy? Excursus Pt. I

  1. “We Orthodox inquirers need not be fearful that admission of certain so-called escapist motivations are somehow illegitimate or not a pure enough basis from which to start and finish our journey.”

    Amen.

    I ran away. I confess I did. I ran away from what wasn’t the church, not in any way shape shape or form. I ran away from what was only secularist ritual with a tinge of non-spooky Christianity.

    Escapeism is only a valid worry if they are, somehow, also, really, you know… the Church. They ain’t.

    But I don’t know about the finishing. In one way, I was prepared to find Orthodoxy was just another denomination – even though I knew it wasn’t, or couldn’t be. But having found that – Praise God – to not be the case, the finishing of my journey will not be here – on this earth.

  2. Some of us take our time coming to Orthodoxy, not because of theological or doctrinal difficulties, but because of family. It took me 6 years to become Orthodox. I probably would have done it in 2 or 3 if it was only me involved. When I finally talked about taking the chrismation step, my wife said, “I’m surprised you didn’t do it before now.”

  3. Might I make a proposal?

    When Clifton does finally get “brushed” maybe a mass exodus to the greater chicago area (is my memory correct Clifton?) is in order?

    It would be pretty cool to see a big Orthodox blogosphere showing to join in the hollaring: “SEAL!”

    Keep us posted ๐Ÿ™‚

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