Orthodoxy Is the Thinking Man’s Faith (Why Orthodoxy? XI)

One does not normally associate theoretical or intellectual rigor with Orthodoxy. By that I don’t mean that Orthodoxy is incoherent, or doesn’t stand up to rigorous philosophical inquiry. After all, among the most brilliant of thinkers in the history of the Church are the Cappadocians, St. Maximus, and St. Gregory Palamas (who, I hasten to say aren’t Orthodoxy’s unique property, but are nonetheless integral to Orthodoxy in the way St. Augustine is to the West). But Orthodoxy is not a tight, architectonic system like Calvinism, nor does it have the sort of Aristotelian philosophical grid that Roman Catholicism post-Aquinas has. Orthodoxy’s greatest thinkers share no such system or grid.

No, in fact, Orthodoxy has, as Vladimir Lossky’s book title puts it, a “mystical theology.” Which simply means that Orthodoxy thinks in terms of her experience of the revelation of God in Christ. Orthodoxy is quintessentially an experiential religion. She thinks with her mind, but with a mind that has descended into her heart.

This is why, when I have spoken about my reasons for attraction to the Orthodox Church in the past, those reasons derived from the experience of the Faith. In December 2003, I finished up a nine-part post on the reasons I was attracted to Orthodoxy. The Orthodox Church honors the past, respects the present, has a consistent theology, has the fullness of the Christian faith, has both an existential and objective worship and askesis, makes claims that are historically and objectively verifiable and theologically valid, and unites the home and family in the Church. Six months later, I added an additional post on my relief that Orthodoxy not only tells me what salvation is, but shows me how to acquire it. Today, nearly a year after that last post, and more than a year and a half since the last post of the original series, I want to add yet one more post answering, “Why Orthodoxy?” And today I want to talk about Orthodoxy in terms of intellectual consistency.

Let me say it clearly and starkly: Orthodoxy has a purity of thought unmatched by the Roman Catholic Church and by all of Protestantism. I don’t mean Orthodoxy has never had heretics. No, in fact, some of Orthodoxy’s heretics were the most highly-placed of her hierarchy. Rather, I mean that if one conforms one’s mind to Orthodoxy one will quite literally never go wrong.
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Why Orthodoxy? X

A Continuation

Back in December, I wrapped up a series of posts reflecting on why it was that Orthodoxy drew me. I listed several reasons: from the Orthodox Church’s honoring of the past and her respecting the present to the historical validity of her claims, from the unity of Church and home in her belief and practice to the fullness of her faith, and her consistency of theology and objective and existential worship and askesis. In continuing to reflect on why it is that the Orthodox Church is now what I consider to be the end of my spiritual pilgrimage, as well as its beginning, I have decided to add another post on the theme “Why Orthodoxy?”
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Why Orthodoxy? Final Part of IX

Conclusion: What Remains; or, Why I Haven’t Yet Been Chrismated (Part IX of IX)

[Note: The entire series can be found here, with the first entry at the bottom, and this last entry at the top.]

I have tried to describe, as summarily as possible, those aspects of Orthodoxy which have drawn me to seek the Orthodox Church. Being the sort of person that I am, the original force of my inquiry was largely historical and doctrinal. (I have described this aspect of the journey elsewhere.) But once I’d been intellectually satisfied–and for me, an important quest must have intellectual validity–it soon became clear that the journey had only just begun. For it is now incumbent upon me to turn that intellectual gain to lived experience.
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Why Orthodoxy? Pt. VIII

7. Unity of Home and Family in the Faith (Part VIII of IX)

When I first began this series of reflections on why I was attracted to Orthodoxy, I did not intentionally leave this topic for last. It was an accident that I ordered the topics in the way that I did. Yet this topic is, in many ways, the one closest to my heart. And as it so happens, there have been in the last few weeks events that have made this among the most exciting of any of these topics. (I’ll reflect on some of those in the next–and last–reflection.)

In his Ephesians homilies, St John Chrysostom calls the home “a little church.” This had had an immense impact on my life and thought.
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Why Orthodoxy? Pt. VII

6. Historicity and Validity of the (Orthodox) Church’s Claims (Part VII of IX)

When I began my inquiry into Orthodoxy, I was immediately confronted with an alien terrain. Not that the Orthodox Church lacked all the proper evangelical points of theology. There was grace, the Cross and Resurrection, baptism, witness, and so forth. But rather, in Protestantism, I was used to the posture of defense and response. I was used to the idea of giving a reason for why my particular churches were who and what they were, and, indeed, why I was a Protestant as well. But on coming to the Orthodox Church I was shocked that the Church was not all that interested in arguing for its own existence. It just simply was. The Orthodox Church didn’t hope that I would feel at home in the Liturgy–though I was told to make myself at home, and did feel at home, during coffee hour and Sunday School. There was no talk of my felt needs. I wasn’t promised relevance. There was just the simple invitation: Come and see.
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Why Orthodoxy? Pt. VI

5. Objective and Existential Worship and Askesis (Part VI of IX)

My very first experience of worshipping at an Orthodox Church did not take place at my current local parish (All Saints in Chicago), but in Omaha, Nebraska, at St Mary’s. Ironically enough St Mary’s and All Saints are both part of the Antiochian jurisdiction. That worship at St Mary’s was in October 1998, and I was an AngloCatholic Episcopalian. (In fact, during that same trip to Omaha, I attended an AC service of the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.)

My first dip into the Divine Liturgy was mostly observation mixed with confusion. There was little I understood about what happened during the Liturgy (the Hapgood prayerbook they had was tortuous to follow), and a lot I didn’t understand about that which I could grasp about what was happening. I very much felt an outsider. Which is not to say that I wasn’t welcomed by the parishioners. In fact, the gentleman I stood next to did all he could to offer explanations of what was going on in a sort of running commentary, including the proper way to make the sign of the Cross. I was invited to coffee afterwards. I was given all the room I needed to ask questions. But when it came to the worship service itself, I was an outsider.
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Why Orthodoxy? Excursus Pt. II

I wanted to add to the thoughts I posted earlier addressing the question as to whether one’s conversion to Orthodoxy must be either about leaving one’s former affiliation or about embracing Orthodoxy. Here I want to dwell on how one can own more fully the beliefs and life of one’s former religious home precisely by embracing Orthodoxy.

Frequently, onlookers of the journeyings of us inquirers see our journeys in terms of leaving something behind. Truth to tell, so do we. Indeed, that’s pretty much a significant part of conversion of any sort. Our “Let me tell you why I’m Orthodox (an Orthodox inquirer)” usually comes out like “Let me tell you why I’m not Religious Affiliation X.” As I said in the other post: Ain’t nothing wrong with that.

But one of the reactions I got from friends and family in my heritage churches when I was confirmed in the Episcopal Church was one of incredulity. One of the reactions from family was that this was an explicit rejection of my upbringing and all the Christian doctrines I’d been taught. (A little melodramatic, but, well-intended concern was behind it.)

My response was as baffling to them as was my action: I became an Episcopalian precisely so I could more fully own my heritage. In the case of my Anglican confirmation, two of those aspects of my heritage were in particular the unity of the Body of Christ and a deeper life of worship. That is to say, far from abandoning all of my heritage church background, I was more fully and intensely embracing two very important doctrines.

The same is true of my inquiry to Orthodoxy.
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