More Orthodox Than Thou (A Protestant Convert to Orthodoxy Rant)

At the risk of engaging the passions–not a good thing to do at any time, let alone Great and Holy Lent–I want to take on this notion going around the Protestant-convert-to-Orthodoxy blogosphere in which Protestant converts to Orthodoxy are criticizing fellow Protestant converts to Orthodoxy about things such converts are doing that just aren’t Orthodox enough. Oh, and by the way, I’m a Protestant convert to Orthodoxy. The ironies abound.

My rant, er, post, is occasioned by, but not limited to, the recent criticisms of the Orthodox Study Bible. But we might as well bring in the criticisms of Ancient Faith Radio, Conciliar Press, and other Orthodox entities fueled by a lot of Protestant convert energies. I am, quite frankly, reeeeeaaaaallllyyy tired of the crap, er debate. I suppose I should expect such crap, er, debates, during Great and Holy Lent since this is the time of year when we Protestant converts to Orthodoxy lose our ever-lovin’ minds and succumb to our inner Protestant critical spirit.

You Protestant converts to Orthodoxy remember those days, right? When we tried to determine whether some other Protestant evangelifundamentaneoorthodox was “really” saved? You know: “when you asked Jesus into your heart, did you really, really mean it, or did you hold a little bit back?” Or when we judged people in terms of their music style. “Oh, that church isn’t very evangelistic or mission-minded. They’re still using outdated hymns.” Or when we judged fellow Christians’ maturity as to whether they were serious Bible readers (i.e., used a wooden English translation like the NASB), or were still “milk-drinkers” (i.e., used a free paraphrase like “The Message”). Or, worse–whether they used one of those heretical gender-equivalent translations.

Oh, the good ol’ days.

But I guesss the good ol’ days are still with us Protestant converts to Orthodoxy, because we’ve simply baptized our critical spirits with our newly acquired Orthodoxy and continue to criticize our fellow (former) Protestant brothers and sisters over form instead of substance. I wonder whether those critics of these “too Protestant” endeavors of the OSB, AFR and Conciliar Press have been Orthodox long enough to really ascertain if the alleged “Protestant forms” of these works are, in fact, prohibitive of substantial Orthodoxy. Forgive me for my impertinence, but I’ve been taught that the substance of Orthodoxy is prayer, fasting, almsgiving, worship at the Liturgy, confession and participation in the Sacraments. But I’ve been taught this by a priest and other clergy who are Protestant converts to Orthodoxy, so maybe I’m imbibing too much Protestant form and not enough Orthodox substance.

And by the way, can my fellow Protestant converts to Orthodoxy please point out to me just when and where this Golden Age of Orthodox Ethos actually existed? It can’t be nineteenth century Russia, because all the icons are too three-dimensional and “Roman.” It can’t be the Byzantine Empire because of all those heretical Emperors manipulating Church Councils and promulgating iconoclasm and monophysitism. It can’t be any of those smaller so-called “Orthodox countries” because surely they were filled with caesoropapism? And goodness knows it has never been North America!

So, maybe this Golden Age of Orthodox Ethos is one of those Protestant convert to Orthodoxy myths. Sort of like the Protestant myth that the founding fathers of America were all evangelical Christians and intended America to be a Christian nation (oops! erastianism!).


Can I ask all my fellow Protestant converts to Orthodoxy who are spending inordinate amounts of online time criticizing other Protextant converts to Orthodoxy to stow it? None of us have been Orthodox long enough to be allowed to have an Orthodox opinion about anything. (I’m sure there’s an Ecumenical Council somewhere that has a canon for just this sort of thing.) Shut up and pray is probably good advice for us all.

Happy Lent, everyone.

30 thoughts on “More Orthodox Than Thou (A Protestant Convert to Orthodoxy Rant)

  1. I suppose as a life-long Orthodox Christian who’s grandfather, father, and three uncles were priests, I obviously don’t have a clue about what’s really Orthodox. But I’ll give it a try.

    I believe that the few bloggers who have been piling on about the aforementioned things are an extremely tiny minority of people who are, nonetheless, entitled to their opinion (and from the looks of it, post on each other’s blogs). Unfortunately, the Internet has a way of distorting the representative sample of any one particular opinion, no matter how bizzare. We should keep that in mind when we’re reading those particular opinions.

    What is most bothersome is that of all the words and claims that I read, I know of no significant contribution to the building up of Christ’s Church in the realm of publishing in print or audio in those particular areas that they claim such authority. None. But I would be happy to be corrected. It’s so easy to be a Monday morning publisher/podcaster.

    I must say, one of the opinions in the blogs in question that really made me laugh was, “Now if someone could just find a way of doing Orthodox podcasting right.” Apparently there’s some alternate universe that’s been doing Orthodox podcasting and we just weren’t aware of it. Or maybe it’s listed in the Typicon or there’s an ancient canon somewhere about podcasting…

  2. Part of this issue comes from Protestant converts who are fed up with the theology in the tradition they came from. For me, I no longer find joy in systematizing the faith like my former Calvinist brothers do and did. So, when I see something like the OSB, I have a gut reaction and want to make sure we aren’t systematizing the fathers or this wonderful Orthodox faith because I’ve seen the dead spirituality that practical syllogism and systematic, scholastic theology produces. That’s why I have some pause to something like the OSB.

    I am with you in saying that all this bickering needs to stop (already!), but I also understand that all this discussion is just part of the long, long process of converting to a completely different mind state, spirituality, and theology than the Western one we grew up with. Do I now, being a former Calvinist and current Catechumen in the Church, demonize all things “western?” No. I don’t think that line is easy to find, and I’m certainly not in the place to find it (at least right now).

  3. As a soon-to-be catechumen from Anglicanism, all I know is that I’m extremely grateful to have so many Orthodox resources, websites and radio stations available for me. Anglicanism has no radio stations, Anglican publishing is hard to find, and Anglican artwork and statuary is tough to find as well. I think most of those commentators on that website just don’t appreciate how good they have it. It’s seems to me that complaints without constructive suggestions or alternatives are just wasted wind.

  4. WOW!!!
    I’m a Pentecostal, you know, te dress wearing no makeup kind,although, I still wear a bit ofmakeup once in a while, but I see this same spirit in the pentecoastal churches too. Some are not Christian enough, maybe because they don’t hold strong enough “holiness” standards, or they lettheir women cut their bangs, or maybe they wear jewelry. It is enough to makea person sick, but you know, this way is something that I have no intention of turning back from. I still appreciate and desire to beconnected to the “greater” body of Christ as a whole. Do I really care what someone else is doing that I mightnot be doing right now? NO! I’ve got better things to do with my time, so maybe those people you feel are being too overly critical need to get lives! And you know,there are so many diffrent shades of Christianity, and any time some group feels like they now have “the truth” those are the ones who need the most help fromGod. Take heed when you think you stand,lest yefall!

  5. Amen Amen Amen! I’m like “Hey folks, we live in AMERICA… if you don’t like how something is done, go do it better yourself and market it” don’t just sit back and toss crap, anyone can do that. Most of us really haven’t “metanoia-ed”, we’ve just imported our old mind to a new set of texts, clergy and issues.
    sigh. Thanks for the reality check.

  6. Some of the strongest criticisms of the OSB come from this guy:

    and he is a cradle Orthodox, not a convert from Protestantism or any other -ism. Also, the new OSB apparently suffers from some of the same flaws described in this review of the original OSB (NT + Psalms):

    Thus, I don’t think the criticisms of the OSB can be blamed on Protestant converts.

  7. Architect,

    No, not all criticism comes from converts. In fact, some of it almost seems to come BECAUSE the editors of the OSB ARE converts, themselves. Some of the criticism is justifiable; much, in my opinion, is way overblown, and is not generally levied against other books with similar flaws.

    The OSB is not perfect. Neither are its detractors. I think all would do well to calm down a bit. I have a copy, and it’s not that bad. Not perfect, but not so disastrous and dangerous and “Dear God save us from it!” as some would lead us to believe.

  8. As a mere inquirer, I wonder why some Orthodox Christians aren’t willing to acknowledge that Protestants do some things really well, maybe even better than the Orthodox. (gasp!) For instance, Bible study. (surely not!) So, perhaps ironically, my criticism of the OSB was that it is not enough of a Study Bible–it doesn’t have all of the bells and whistles that I would like to have at my fingertips. Of course, it’s hard to condense 2000 years of theology into a carriable, one-volume Bible. So for now, I’m just happy to have what I have. “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” –St. Pragmaticus of the Holy Hill Country

  9. Convert here; something for Orthodox in the English speaking world to consider (and shudder). If the Orthodox had been the ones to translate the Bible into English…..Well first off, it wouldn’t have happened yet. Second, it would sound like the *worst* translations you ever saw in liturgical disasters; Nassar, anyone? Hapgood? Third, it would be in small bits and pieces, dribbed and drabbed out over several centuries. We have alot to be thankful about. Roman Catholics and Protestants have given alot to this culture in the Bible. Orthodox who blanch because Psalms aren’t *Septuagint* or a Bible lacks the Apocrypha (Oh, that gets read ALOT) are spoiled. The usual translations of Septuagint Psalms are just unusable.
    The convert frequently thinks an Orthodox book also has to “look” Orthodox, that is English letters that have a Greek or Russian accent? This is usually found on icons, but it gets around elsewhere. I don’t think Russians have the same fetish, writing Russian with Cyrilic letters that are supposed to look like Latin ones. I could continue, but these are probably well known.

  10. (Fr Soroka, would a monastic, ordained, former seminary instructor fit your category of “contributing”? Perhaps publications in other languages than English? Translation and other work in progress toward publication, whether in a popular or academic press? The statement that you noted from “Felix Culpa” regarding podcasts was an inside joke, not some “alternate universe” commentary.)

    I do recognize that I’m responsible for some element of these critiques, but I think too that some of the things that I and others are complaining about have been misunderstood. I can speak only for myself in an attempt to clarify and will let the others address this as or if they wish.

    I certainly bear no rancor toward any converts to Orthodoxy from Protestantism (Lord have mercy!), and I think it’s a good thing that materials exist which are precisely geared toward explaining things to Protestants (and Catholics and others), as a kind of literary evangelism. Other things are at issue here; in particular, aesthetic. The aesthetic of the OSB is something that I was complaining of as a distinctly Protestant one (which is fairly obvious), and that it is not one that is appreciated by a number of people, not that the former Protestants are not appreciated. I’m a former Catholic, and didn’t grow up knowing much about Protestantism, but did recognize that there is a slickness to everything they touch, which is apparent. It doesn’t look neat or appealing to many of us, but heretical, and therefore dangerous. This is a subconscious or even unconscious reaction, more instinctive than rational. People who are inured to that aesthetic (especially, perhaps, say, former Protestants) are of course not going to notice its strangeness at all, nor notice the bristles it raises in so many others, nor really comprehend, I daresay, what the whole big deal is about when others are deeply uncomfortable with it.

    A Bible, containing God’s Word to man, should have the best effort put into it in order to make it the highest quality product, so as to properly reflect the holiness of the Church, the Body of Christ. This OSB fails that test in merely the points of paper, printing, and binding, before even getting to the content. There are better exemplars for nearly every image used, world famous ones recognized as works of art by even atheists, which could have been included as exemplary images of icons. But this is enough. I could (and will, elsewhere) go on.

    I hope that might be considered to contribute something to the discussion, little as it is.

  11. Kevin,

    In answer to your question to me: To the extent that these activities build up the Body of Christ (that is, since we’re speaking specifically about your critique of the OSB, specifically of the Orthodox Church), yes, they would ‘contribute.’ Sadly, not all tonsurings, ordinations, translations or publications do that.

    However, I hardly see how the somewhat mean-spirited and complete dismissal of the OSB is helpful at all when there is so much important work to be done within the Church. Some of the commentary smacks of being self-serving and intellectually arrogant. It does not mean that the OSB is above criticism, but the spirit of that criticism must be in humility, and with the purpose of building up, not tearing down. If we’re going to claim an Orthodox aesthetic, let’s start there and not be inconsistent.

    The other sujbective thoughts regarding ourtward aesthetics, ‘slickness,’ paper, binding, etc are symptomatic of a much deeper suspicion which is truly unfortunate and to be pitied.

  12. Fr Soroka, thank you for your concern. The physical qualities of the volume (have you even seen it yet?) are plainly deficient, not something “symptomatic of a much deeper suspicion.” There are papers and inks available that are used in Bible printing which completely avoid bleedthrough, and superior methods of binding (a “leather” Bible should never be bound by glue!), and better leather (or even simulated leather) covers to be used than were used in the expensive OSB “leather” edition. I don’t have the hardback, but it’s safe to assume that the text block is identical, and merely the cover differs. My tone in my “reviews” (of which there have been precisely one and a half!) have in fact been consitently respectful to the persons involved in the project. The product itself, however, is deserving of every critique it receives, none of which are fabricated or inaccurate.

    Regarding aesthetic, we will quite obviously continue to differ. Aesthetic has been taken up, however, by a number of philosophers of religion (Orthodox and others) over the course of the past century, as a very important component of worldview, and this is something that I’ll post on soon in greater detail. It’s not something to be so flippantly dismissed. That so many find the aesthetic of the OSB off-putting, and you dismiss their concerns as “deeper suspicion” is entirely unfortunate. To call into question another’s ordination is, however, truly something to be pitied, this setting up of a “who’s more Orthodox than who” kind of thing that you would ostensibly decry. I can see that, as a presenter for Ancient Faith Radio, you are perhaps stung by some of the critiques of it. That’s unfortunate. But you needn’t take it out on others who differ with you.

    1. Kevin,

      Compared to the affordable (+/-) $25.00 hardcover that is the OSB, how much more would your amplified-aesthetic version sell for?

      I’ll be honest, this sounds like vanguard elitism.


  13. Former Calvinist, and then Anglican priest, now Antiochian Orthodox.

    Don’t like the OSB? Believe the critiques? Here’s a hint: DON’T BUY IT!!

    If you want a real English translation of the LXX, there are alternatives.

    If you want more substantial interaction with patristic exegesis, surely you did not expect a study Bible to really fill that bill with footnotes, did you? Get real. Where I come from, real exegetes don’t use study bibles in the first place.

    Perhaps everyone would’ve been happier if they’d called it “An Orthodox Study Bible” rather than “THE Orthodox Study Bible.” I mean, isn’t it obvious that Conciliar is trying to style itself as the Orthodox Magisterium?

  14. over form instead of substance

    Oh, my … how very scholastical of You to say this, my little doubting Thomas [Aquinas] ! >:) That’s, like, SO NOT Orthodox!

  15. From the criticisms I’ve read of the OSB, a regular theme seems to be that it does not live up to either the hype by which it was and is being promoted, nor the expectations of those who have waited 15 years for a complete LXX-based-OT + NT OSB.

    That its binding and printing and page layout* also fall short of what could have been done only adds to the disappointment.

    While some of the criticisms might be a bit too sarcastic, I also feel that those who are strongly defending the OSB or taking umbrage at the tone of its critics are being too defensive.

    The promotion and defense of the OSB seems in part reminiscent of the way the Evangelical Protestants (Grudem, Packer, etc., and of course Crossway) have been promoting the English Standard Version (ESV) as a “better” and “more accurate” alternative to “thought for thought” translations like the NIV, including (or especially) its more gender-neutral versions. I.e., some of its defenders don’t seem willing to admit that there are valid reasons to fault it.

    * E.g., it’s nearly impossible to easily highlight or underline whole lines in the inner column, because the wording runs right into the binding – but that’s also sadly true of other study Bibles, including Thomas Nelson’s own Nelson Study Bible, though it wasn’t the case with the original OSB NT + Psalms.

  16. The Venerable Bede (an Orthodox Christian) translated large portions of the Bible into English (well, Old English) centuries before Wycliffe. The Orthodox Church has always believed in making the Scriptures available to people in the vernacular.

  17. I’ve read some of these comments, scanned others and have listened to quite a few orthodox pod casts…. and I just have to say something. I am a “cradle” orthodox… that is far less knowledgeable about the faith as most converts.. but I cringe every time I hear an interviewer slide in a comment about corporate style of the catholic faith as he’s interviewing a convert to orthodoxy or some blogger making judgmental, belittling, statements towards other people’s religious beliefs or interpretations or observance , social behaviour , or people in general dissecting faith to the point that it becomes absolutely ridiculous. What is with the “tisk-tisk” tone of those who claim to have faith in God?

    Does any of this matter- really? What about the poor, the destitute, the unemployed? What about rolling up our sleeves and loving our neighbours? What about humility and kindness? People are losing their jobs, their homes, clean air, polar ice caps are disappearing, people dying in wars, …there is so much going on in the world that would be a better focus of attention..

  18. I’m Catholic but have often found myself drawn to Orthodox writings, music and liturgy. I was delighted to find Ancient Faith Radio. I had (have) no idea how many of the people involved are recent converts, but the more I listened the thought kept coming to me that this sounds very protestant. It had me wondering whether I was getting “the real deal”. I find it fascinating to discover that the OSB (published, I assume, by the same folks) has ex-protestant roots. I don’t know if it’s important or not, just very interesting!

  19. Dan:

    You need have no fear whether AFR gives you genuine Orthodoxy, even if the “style” of broadcasting might “feel” Protestant. Like it or not, when it comes to religious broadcasting, the Protestant style of broadcasting is the dominant model. But in my view the style of presentation does not diminish or alter the substance.

    1. I’ll bet there are Orthodox who lie on their backs in bed putting both legs in their pants at once because Protestants do it one at a time. Even Arius was right when he said it was raining when it was.

      By the way, enough with the pedigrees – concluding that the Lord Jesus Christ would be impressed is a hard sell vis-a-vis his ripping of the pharisees.

  20. Wow… I just read through all of this. I’m a convert to Orthodoxy of a sort. My mother surprisingly raised me very much an Orthodox without knowing as she was not and still isn’t Orthodox. I practiced various religions before converting to Orthodoxy as well. I’m not a Protestant-to-Orthodox convert but a Pagan-to-Orthodox convert which I know I could very well catch flack for.

    However, back to my point, when I started attending an Orthodox church in the US (where I was born), I happened into a Greek Orthodox Church which is a bit different from other Orthodox Churches from the beginning. My quest into the Church started as a mission to learn about Orthodox as I was moving (and now live) in Belgrade, Serbia. I knew only the things my best friend at the time (now boyfriend) could explain to me about Orthodoxy. So I had meetings with the Father of the Church weekly as well as attending on Sundays. His youngest daughter is now my godmother. He recommended me the OSB as a way to get a feel of Orthodoxy. He told me from the beginning though that it wasn’t perfect. He said many things are lost in translation from the Greek, Russian, Serbian, etc versions of the Orthodox Bible. But he did say the OSB would guide me to the answers I might look for eventually. I have the hardback version of the OSB. I brought it with me to Serbia knowing I’d want a Bible in a language I could understand as the Bibles here in Serbia are either in older Serbian or Old Church Slavonic.

    For those who criticize the OSB – be grateful you have something even close to the original Orthodox Bibles in English. They are not as common as the million over non-Orthodox versions. Another thing, if you are going to complain about the looks and feels of the OSB, don’t buy it. Third, if you want to ensure you have the proper language and foundation of Orthodoxy in your Bible, learn the languages they were originally written in. Greek and Russian will be your easiest. And many Russian and Greek Orthodox Churches offer language classes from what I’ve witnessed. If you’re too concerned that the pages are too thin or you can’t highlight properly then I think you’re missing the point of the Bible altogether. True, it’s a study Bible, but it should be about the message your reading, not what or how it’s printed before you.

    Kyrie Eleison!

    Greetings from Serbia,

  21. I’m a little late to the party, but I say right on! Perhaps those of us who are converts are so excited by our conversion that we do tend to get a bit ‘crazy’ for a time. I’m a recent convert to Orthodoxy from Roman Catholicism and I have to admit I have to watch myself with the constant comparison and if it seems the slightest bit “Roman” I want to deep six it. However, I’m learning thanks to loving bros and sises in my parish and online that such things aren’t truly Orthodox. Sometimes it just takes time and lessons to be learned. Actually, I like the OSB. It’s nice to have a full Bible. However, I do miss the thees and thous of the KJV, too. Who says one has to read only one Bible anyway? I like to look at various versions esp. online. It’s very enlightneing that way.

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