Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | November 30, 2009

From Fr. Andrew’s “On (Becoming and) Remaining an Orthodox Christian”

Given what appears to be an unusual amount of traffic (i.e. more than four or five folks), it seemed appropriate to update the title to clarify that this piece is NOT a newsbreak, but simply an illumination of some of our (my) collective struggles in conversion. Please forgive me: the other possibility did not occur to me as it should have, and was certainly not intended.

Today, I re-read one of the links in my list of articles for Inquirers. I guess, sometimes even when you think you’re way past the convert stage… I mean chrismation… you’re still inquiring. Maybe that’s only me, and maybe I’m still wondering why I’m here… much less why all those other guys are here! LOL. I mean, I KNOW I’m crazy… but these other guys… I thought one of us had more sense.

But I digress. The other day, I stumbled on a comment on a priest’s blog by a person who identified himself as worshipping in the Western Rite of the Antiochian Archdiocese… something I do happen to know a bit about The commenter decried the current mess of things as well as what he referred to as the Russification of American Orthodoxy. Okay. So we see some of that… but we also see the pull of Grecodoxy, Syradoxy, and all other local resident doxies… and I’d imagine what’s up now will pass as well in the WWF to become just another sideshow. But the commenter felt otherwise and suggested perhaps it was time to revisit his native Anglicanism until the storm passed. ‘Course I could only chuckle to myself “…like the shelter from the storm is to stand outside and get more storm.” Or as the International 14 sailors’ recruitting poster used to say, “I do this… because… because…. er….  yes, I know it’s like hitting yourself over the head with a hammer… but y’know you just have no idea how good it feels when it stops and you have a moment to reflect on the thrill.” Gotcha. Right. I’ll be over with the “it’s so easy it must be a Hobie Cat” people… only we won’t talk about what happened to poor old Isabelle.

Anyway…. so I found it very helpful to re-read Fr. Andrew’s (St. John’s Orthodox Church, Colchester, UK – ROCOR) piece in Orthodox England, “On Becoming and Remaining an Orthodox Christian”. And because it seems to encapsulate for me some of the struggles I see others struggling with as well, and as much as I hesitate to take any of it out of context and thereby lead someone to miss the oh-so-excellent other perceived issues in the process of becoming Orthodox, I’ll share the part that resonates this day:

Contact with this reality can be very helpful in putting paid to misguided zeal, to convert ghettos, to what I call ‘the greenhouse effect’. It gets people’s feet back on the earth, and remember that is where they should be, because our religion is the religion of the Incarnation. What other people think and do is none of our business, our task is the salvation of our own souls.

On this subject, one of the main reasons why some converts do not stop being converts and so do not become Orthodox is because they do not have a job. The need to earn your daily crust, to be with other people, is an excellent way for people to start living (as opposed to just thinking about) their Faith. This can avoid what is called the temptations from the left and the right. Temptations from the left are laxism, weakness, compromise, indifference. Temptations from the right are censorious judgement of others, the stuck-up zeal of the Pharisee, ‘zeal not according to knowledge’. These temptations are equally dangerous and equally to be combatted. Both waste an enormous amount of time and energy on sideshows like the discussion of irrelevant issues like ecumenism, rather than praying. Being in society is the way in which we can get to know ourselves, see our failings and avoid being sidetracked into theoretical concerns.


Some people can be so full of themselves! Some people can be very self-important and very puffed-up. They will first tell you – if you let them – their detailed life-stories and then all the latest gossip about Priest X, Bishop Y, and then Jurisdiction Z. Even though they do not know the ABC of the children’s Faith. The thing is though, that Christianity, and that is what we are about, is about none of these things. If you don’t have contact with reality, then you will never learn about real things. Church life is not about any of that nonsense. There is nothing so boring as discussing the personalities and activities of various clergymen or laymen, except of course sin, because sin is always boring, always the same thing. Ask anyone who hears confessions.

Church life is about: Who will make the coffee? Who will do the washing-up? Who will do the flowers? Who will cut the grass? Who will bake the prosphora? Who will clean the toilets? St Nectarios performed the latter task when teaching in Athens, even though he bore the mighty title of ‘Metropolitan of Pentapolis’. So why should we object? It is after all one of the first obediences given to novices in monasteries.

Of course, these are not the main tasks in Church life. Let us go on:

Church life is about: Who will learn to sing? Who will stand at all the church services? Who will keep all the Church fasts? Who will read their morning and evening prayers every day? Who will prepare themselves properly for confession and communion? Who will read the daily Gospel and Epistle readings?

And actually, if you want the blunt truth, which will shock some ‘converts’: Church life is also about: Who will pay the bills?

Yes, Church life is about commitment, the one thing which is so missing in our present-day luke-warm, indifferentist British culture. Being a Christian, and I remind you again, that is all that the word ‘Orthodox’ means, is very difficult. Nobody, from Christ down, ever said anything else. Without commitment, we will never remain Orthodox. Being a Christian is about loving God and loving our neighbour. If we are not prepared to even try and do that, then there is no point anyway. Unfortunately, some people think that being an Orthodox Christian – that’s a tautology, I know – is not about loving God and loving our neighbour. They think that it is about reading books, having opinions, condemning others, eating weird food, being intolerant, or dressing strangely. Our Lord never said any of that. He said: ‘Behold, I give you a new commandment, love one another’.

The fact is that all Christians were once Orthodox Christians, but most of them could not take it and they fell away. Orthodox Christianity is not about being received into the Orthodox Church and then saying: ‘That’s it, I’ve done it’. It is about entering the Arena, it is about being on the Cross. So often I have heard from Anglicans: ‘I know Orthodoxy is the real thing, but I could never do it’. I suppose that at least has the merit of honesty. I always think of the words of that righteous priest, Clement of Alexandria, in the third century: ‘If a man is not crowned with martyrdom, let him take care not to be far from those who are’.

The solution is to read St John’s Gospel, to establish a prayer routine. ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is taken by force’, says the Gospel.


  1. Amen, Amen, Amen !

  2. Ditto. Ditto. Ditto. I’m stealing this for sure.

  3. Elizabeth: Thanks for visiting!
    Steve: Uh… somehow, I figured this might warm a subdeacon’s heart.

  4. Orthodoxy as discipleship to Jesus. Amen! Thanks for posting this refreshing piece James!

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