The New Christians

The New Christians

A Reader Writes about Orthodoxy

posted by Tony Jones

Claudia, AKA Ragamuffin Diva, read my post in which I proposed that Rod’s opposition to SSM is related to his conversion to Orthodoxy — actually, that certain persons are attracted to EO…  Here’s what she wrote:

Dear Tony,

I was interested to read what you said on Beliefnet
about Rod and Frederica
. I’m not sure if you know this, but oddly, you
were a huge part of why I converted to Orthodoxy. I cherished your book
The Sacred Way, which pointing me to ancient Christianity. Having
braved the wild fires of the black Pentecostal Church, I craved
something solid and sure. The disciplines you laid out in your work
were a feast to me. I dove in head first, welcoming all the smells and

The Orthodox Church was not what I expected. I had a
terrible time connecting to the writers (I related to Catholic writers
so much more) and couldn’t shake the distinctly cultural elements that
were absolutely not my own culture. I felt like I needed to be
Romanian, or Russian to experience it like others were. Or married to a
priest to even begin to understand. I wrote a book review of Ron
Hansen’s lovely novel Mariette in Ecstasy in an Orthodox women’s
magazine, and was horrified that I was asked to apologize for writing
about a Catholic book. Can you imagine. And (gasp) it was a novel! They
so raked me over the coals! My Orthodox days were numbered.

so much because of the one incident. Many things affected my decision
to leave that communion. I’m now happily Catholic. I find it a much
better fit. I can relate to what you’re saying about the Holy Spirit
moving. My Pentecostal roots help me to understand that dynamic. I love
that, despite its many problems, the Catholic Church does make an
effort to clarify and enhance matters of doctrine and such. Of course,
I’m a ragamuffin, so you’ll have to excuse my clumsiness as I talk
about these things. I just wanted to tell you that in the end I wanted
right teaching, sure, but more than that I wanted the Eucharist, as
much Jesus as I could get. I’m glad you pointed me in the direction of
where I could find that satisfying meal.

I pray that we, His Church, become One. Thank you so much, Tony, for your part in my journey to my soul’s home.

claudia mair burney, aka ragamuffin diva

Claudia and I are planning to have an extended conversation about this in this space in coming days…

Comments read comments(22)
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posted April 7, 2009 at 1:02 pm

This is fascinating to me. I just had a brief conversation with the one Orthdox student we have here at Vandy Div about this very stuff.
He does agree that you can’t really understand icons, the Jesus prayer, etc. outside of orthodoxy.
He asked really insistently about “Why would I even use these spiritual practices without being Orthodox?”
Looking forward to hearing more…

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Ted Seeber

posted April 7, 2009 at 1:03 pm

One way I’d like to respond is this- there’s Orthodox and orthodox. The Roman Catholic Church is pretty small-c orthodox; having embraced the idea of Iraenus’ meta-culture pretty well, but standing firm on doctrine. The Big-O Orthodox churches, I find, were often early attempts to use theology to mask patriotism, with the exception of a few that simply lost contact with Rome in the intervening centuries (but those few you won’t find in the United States at all- you’ve got to go to Turkey, Egypt, Ethiopia, or Jerusalem to even find a single priest of one). The only options for an American Catholic are Roman small-o orthodoxy (including Eastern Rite and now that the SSPX has rejoined the communion, 1962 Latin Rite parishes), or marrying into one of the big-O Eastern Orthodox ethnicity-based churches.
Luckily, Benedict XVI is working hard to reverse this somewhat- he’s been in talks over the last couple of years with the Patriarchs of Antioch, Constantinople, and Moscow.

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posted April 7, 2009 at 1:44 pm

i hope against hope that the pope’s efforts to reconnect with the East are genuine. and, given his move to re-instate Luther i hope against hope that within my lifetime we can all get a lot less hung up on these massive divisions and all start just being Christians (big-c)

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Ted Seeber

posted April 7, 2009 at 2:22 pm

I don’t know about within our lifetimes. But it seems to me the first step is going to HAVE to be stopping the abuse of Sola Scriptura and creating new sects and new churches at an average rate of 60 a year. That’s a lot of divisions to heal, especially since it’s basically been going on since a few years after the Reformation.

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Claudia Mair Burney (ragamuffin diva)

posted April 7, 2009 at 2:35 pm

I’m horrified that Tony didn’t fix my typos! LOL. Sorry about that y’all. I can assure you those were invisible (to me) until just now.
I’m really looking forward to the discussion. My meandering spiritual path has been an unrelenting search to find more of Christ. God has been patient with me and very kind. I’ve learned to honor what each bend in the road has taught me. Protestant Pentecostal, Emergent, Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic; Jesus has revealed Himself as altogether lovely through all. It’s an honor to share some of my journey with you.
Thanks, Tony, for the opportunity.

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posted April 7, 2009 at 3:16 pm

Hi Tony,
Last sunday evening i had a very inspiring conversation with a Eastern Orthodox priest (he’s first among equals in the Dutch Orthodox Churches).
It’s been a while since i started to gain some interest in ancient traditions, and more and more i begin to see the richness of this tradition that is neither roman catholic nor protestant. I think we lost a lot of spiritual insight along the way, especialy since the Great Reformation. I don’t think i will ever convert myself to be an orthodox christian, i think i’m too much postmodern and too much emerging for that. Anyway it’s quite enriching and i have a lot to discover. I’m so glad about God putting all kinds of different types of his children in several corners of His Body!
The Emerging Church proclaims to put Christ in the centre, and because of that i think we can learn a lot, by example from this Orthodox Tradition. But you knew that already i presume, i’m not only halfway to where you are now, i think.

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posted April 7, 2009 at 3:39 pm

I would welcome more conversation on this topic, but it might really help matters to include a faithful Orthodox voice. Comments like Ted Seeber’s above are not helping matters, as they only rehearse tired stereotypes about Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy in America is a growing movement, and with the increasing number of American converts, the emergence (dare I say it?) of a genuinely American Orthodoxy is well under way–one that is wholly Orthodox in a traditional manner, yet American in flavor and not beholden to old world ethnicities. Yes, there are problems, and yes the situation is complicated but please, please let us not resort to straw men.

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Ted Seeber

posted April 7, 2009 at 3:57 pm

Sorry for the double post- I thought I had been caught by the captcha again.
An American Orthodoxy scares me as much as Russian Orthodoxy does. Why? Because it’s YET AGAIN splitting up Christ among the nations, dividing the Body of Christ. When can we stop dividing and start merging again? What is so great about starting new churches and “being your own patriarch” that everybody has to keep doing it?
And don’t we already have one worldwide meta culture in Catholicism itself, that can contain all of these differences?

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posted April 7, 2009 at 4:01 pm

Interesting thoughts Claudia. I just picked up Hansen’s novel Mariette in Ecstasy recently along with A Stay Against Confusion. I was curious after reading an essay he wrote in Image Journal and hearing an interview with him on NPR’s Fresh Air.

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Ted Seeber

posted April 7, 2009 at 4:04 pm

I’ve stopped understanding the rules of posting here- I thought my last one got in, but a few captchas later and bam, it’s gone.
Annie- I didn’t mean to “rehearse tired stereotypes”. I really honestly don’t understand schism in Christianity to begin with, I don’t understand the need for “reading the Bible on one’s own” totally cut off from historical context, nor can I hope to understand the pre-reformation schisms.
But I will say this- unless we stop creating new churches, we’ll never catch up with healing the divisions. And no, I don’t see the Holy Spirit driving a new “American Orthodox Catholic Church” any more than I see the Holy Spirit driving a “mega church of the week” movement. Christ wanted us to be ONE. We shouldn’t be working on creating new divisions, but rather healing the sad divisions we already have.

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posted April 7, 2009 at 4:42 pm

I’m a big fan of Claudia’s….I read her novels and her blog religiously. I will definitely be excited to read this conversation. Thanks!

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posted April 7, 2009 at 6:12 pm

I’d like to second the suggestion to include in the discussion a learned and practicing Orthodox Christian.

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posted April 7, 2009 at 6:37 pm

I studied EO independently for about 2 years (including experiencing it as much as a non convert could) – in fact, it was in part that study that led me out of my conservative evangelical pentecostal experience by confirming many things I had been feeling in my heart. But in the end, it did not lead me to EO or RC..instead, I found/find communion with a hodge podge eccumenical group of people who follow the Way of Jesus – in our faith community we have Episcopalians, Lutherans, Vineyard folks, E-free, skeptics and more. And beyond our local group, I find communion/fellowship with those identifying with the emerging conversation – also a very diverse group.
I can honestly say that if EO was more true to the heart of what it “should be” I might be lured into the EO church but as it is now, esp. in the west, I just cannot.
But I can understand why many pentecostals especially do convert…and it very often starts with being tired of all the confusion, tired of the conflict, tired of the debates…they just want someone to say “here is the church, be it”. Now, I can only speak of the friends *I* know, all of whom are converts, not cradle EO.
i think there is a certain peace and rest that people find by accepting the “one true church” as the EO church. They are free to disagree with things that are taught without feeling like they have to fight or leave to go somewhere else. But I personally have found that same peace and rest by accepting that we don’t HAVE one true church and that we never will because the Church is US, the Church is all the diverse groups present in my faith community and beyond…and apart from leaving the faith completely, I couldn’t leave THAT Church if I tried.

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posted April 7, 2009 at 6:39 pm

I thought some might find this blog post enlightening

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Ted Seeber

posted April 7, 2009 at 7:05 pm

Thank you Makeesha for this link. Truly Fr. Stephen, like all orthodox Catholic (Latin and Eastern, in communion with Rome or under another of the Apostolic Patriarchs, matters not) priests should, has received his teachings from the great tradition of the Apostles.
I love it- Ritual is not the end, but the means. The seven sacraments are really an evolved way to teach the seven virtues, and avoid the eternal cost of the seven mortal sins. Beautiful.

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Theresa Seeber

posted April 8, 2009 at 12:41 am

One of the things I find most appealing about the Emergent movement is that we are not trying to create more divisions, nor plant new denominations, but rather quite the opposite. Jesus is afoot, and he desires us to be one like he and the father are one. I love it. We are the church, the body, the Kingdom. We don’t need to have lists of who is out and who is in, for that is God’s job alone. Ours is to love him with all of our hearts and love our neighbors as ourselves. How sweet is that?

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Ted Seeber

posted April 8, 2009 at 5:44 pm

In that case, dear cousin-in-law, I don’t understand the point. In Roman Catholicism, everybody’s in unless they specifically deny one of the Apostolic Teachings, and even then, a simple taking advantage of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and they’re back in.
There’s no need for lists of who is out and who is in, because that’s up to individual conscience. All we ask is that people inform their conscience so that they don’t make stupid mistakes like labeling a deviant sexual practice done by less than 10% of society as “normal”, when any statistician will tell you the very definition of normal is WITHIN the first sigma of a standard distribution, not outside of it.
Does it matter to Jesus that somebody’s abnormal? NO- he spent most of his time with the abnormal people of his day, lepers and tax collectors and the like. But if we have to call evil good and good evil, then yes, we’re creating a new denomination, one that denies the ideal of a moral compass and replaces it with moral relativism. And that, is what we cannot do and remain orthodox, or, I would dare say, Christian.

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posted April 10, 2009 at 10:15 am

The emergence of a new American Orthodox Church is not schism. That is a profound misreading of the nature of Orthodox unity, and not at all what I intended to say. That is also precisely why this conversation needs an Orthodox voice.

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Annetta Barchacky

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