12 Reasons Why I Became and/or Remain an Orthodox Christian (Part II)

Venerable Hilarion the Great

Venerable Hilarion the Great

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.

12 REASONS WHY I BECAME AND/OR REMAIN AN ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN (Part II)
by Father Andrew Stephen Damick

7. Orthodoxy is a faith for the whole world.

There are no "target demographics" for Orthodoxy. We don't do market research to figure out how to attract young people, old people, urban people, suburban people, or whatever particular demographic we might desire for our parish. A parish can often have a certain degree of commonality among members, but that isn't by inherent design. There was no committee that met saying, "How do we get the 30-something suburbanites?"

Yes, Orthodoxy is sometimes plagued with ethnocentrism. But that's distortion of Orthodoxy, not faithfulness to it. And it's not everywhere. I've belonged to both more ethnically focused and less ethnically focused, as well as ethnically non-focused Orthodox parishes, and none of them had an ethnic membership card check at the door. Orthodoxy is really a universal faith that has shaped numerous cultures and languages over many centuries.

If people as diverse as Arabs, Greeks, Serbs, Georgians, Russians, Estonians and Finns can all sing the same faith, and if both their young and old can sing it together, then truly, anyone is welcome. (Some Orthodox need to remember that more than others, though.)

8. Orthodoxy is a faith for the whole person.

Mankind is not just emotionally moved by beauty, but he aches to be near it, to create it as much as that is possible. More than any other iteration of Christian faith, the Orthodox Church knows how to envelop the worshiper with beauty in all five (or more!) senses, both otherworldly beauty that transports the worshiper and otherworldly beauty that transforms the earthly.

One might describe this as aesthetic, but it is not "mere" aesthetics in the sense of something that appeals only to the senses, perhaps for entertainment value, but goes nowhere in particular. This is aesthetic in the sense that God Himself is beauty. That is why Orthodoxy, while sometimes homely or homey, is never cheesy. It is timely and timeless, but not "contemporary."

The beauty of Orthodoxy addresses the whole human person in multiple ways. It is not a faith just for the "soul" or the "heart," but for the body, as well, including our ability to apprehend beauty.

9. God really does love you the way you are, and He loves you so much, He won't leave you that way.

There seems to be a constant battle these days, especially within Protestantism, over whether God should be perceived as loving or as a judge. Even those who preach that God is love still tend to preach a God Who is angry at you for your sins and has to be appeased. But Orthodoxy preaches the God Who is consistently loving, a God Who loves with such strength that His love will change you, if only you will cooperate with it. The change won't be lousy, either, turning you into some goody-goody prude. Rather, it will be a change into authentic personhood, where virtue is striven for because of communion, not because of adherence to arbitrary rules.

10. Orthodoxy is both mystical and rational.

Some Orthodox will oppose the mystical to the rational, but that's a mistake, I believe. For all the apophatic theology (theology which emphasizes our inability to know God with our minds), there is also a lot of cataphatic theology (theology that makes clear, positive truth claims) in the Tradition of the Church. We don't have to choose one or the other, nor are the two really alternatives to each other. Apophatic theology is also not merely a "corrective" to cataphatic theology. Rather, both are simply ways of talking about theological emphases within Orthodoxy.

It is not as though, when I am serving the Divine Liturgy, I switch on the "rational" part when preaching the Gospel and then toggle the switch to "mystical" when I drink the Chalice. All these things are in play simultaneously, I love that, and I haven't really encountered that anywhere but in the Orthodox Church.

11. Orthodoxy is ascetical.

No Christian body takes asceticism as seriously as Orthodoxy does. Roman Catholicism has it in its tradition, but it is mostly ignored. Yet Orthodoxy expects all Christians to fast, to stand vigil, to be as non-possessive as possible, etc., and it provides a programme for how to do that. You don't have to make it up for yourself, because the tradition is already established. And it's also customizable according to the pastoral discernment of your father-confessor.

Asceticism is a way to do real battle with the broken modes that the human will functions in. It allows a man to take control of himself in a powerful way so that he can redirect his God-given power and energies back toward God and away from his base appetites. Asceticism doesn't save anyone, but it certainly does help. Why? Because we are only saved to the degree that we want it. Asceticism helps us to want it.

And as anyone who has really fasted for all of Lent and then tasted that first taste of roast lamb at Pascha can tell you, asceticism actually makes the good things of this earth taste better. Far from being a denigration of God's good creation, asceticism returns the creation to us and opens up its beauty in ways that consuming it without restraint cannot ever do.

12. Orthodoxy aims higher than any other Christian faith.

While theosis (Deification) is not the only model of salvation in Orthodox Christian theology, it certainly makes some of the strongest claims. There are hints at doctrines of theosis in Roman Catholicism. (I am not aware of any Protestant groups that teach it.) Yet it is only in Orthodoxy that one is taught that salvation means to become by grace what Christ is by nature, that "God became man so that man might become divine" (St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation) that becoming "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4) is actually expounded upon. "I have said, 'ye are gods, and all of you are sons of the Most High" (Psalm 82:6) is taken very seriously. You won't find that anywhere else.

Even Pentecostals who teach that you can be chosen by God, spoken through by God, etc., aren't really teaching that you can enter such union with God that you begin to take on the divine attributes. But that is exactly what Orthodoxy teaches, that the transfiguration, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ are all what it truly means to be a Christian, that mankind is now seated on the very Throne of God Himself, and being in Christ means being seated there, too.

Pretty daring. But why settle for less?

So those are some of my reasons. What are yours?

[About Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick: The Rev. Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick is pastor of St. Paul Orthodox Church of Emmaus, Pennsylvania, author of Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy and An Introduction to God, and host of the Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy and Roads from Emmaus podcasts on Ancient Faith Radio. You can also follow him on Facebook and Twitter.]

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Please note: Our Holy Orthodox Christian Church seeks the salvation of all. Our Holy Church adheres to our Lord's command to His disciples, "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (St. Matthew 28:19-20). Our Church doors are open to receive all those seeking the Truth, Christ. Once one has been accepted, he/she, become immediately members of the Body of Christ, the Church.

My prayer always is that when people who call themselves 'converts', it means that they are converted to Christianity (which is the correct word for Orthodoxy). I also hope that when they say that they are 'converts,' it means that they were received into our Holy Church very recently. I am perplexed, however, when one has joined the Orthodox Christian Faith for many years, and he/she still refers themselves as a 'convert'. It is a label that has been used by and through personal choice. Of course that is unorthodox and absolutely totally unnecessary. One does not remain a 'convert' for life.

Perhaps it may mean that even after years of being nominal members of the Orthodox Church, they still have not become Orthodox Christians, they still have not integrated the Church, they still have not grown naturally into Orthodoxy, and still do not live an Orthodox way of life, they still have not acquired that phronema (spirit) or instinctive feel for Orthodoxy, which means that Orthodoxy is their one spiritual home, that it is in their bones and blood, that they breathe Orthodoxy, because their souls are Orthodoxy. It may mean that one has not converted completely and totally. It could also mean that they did not receive the appropriate Orthodox Christian Catechism or given the necessary time to make the necessary adjustments and commitment to the Faith.

An Orthodox Christian is never a selective Christian who chooses what he likes about the Faith and what he/she dislikes. In order for the conversion to be true and genuine, the person must accept the Faith without reservations or not out of necessity, i.e., because one needs to marry in the Church or to try something 'new'. One must have honest intentions, honest faith, honest commitment, honest relationship with Christ and the Church.

We, Orthodox Christian Clergy, should only receive people into the Orthodox Church for positive reasons and not for negative reasons, i.e., out of spite for a denomination or a minister. Others who were ejected from their previous denomination by their minister and need to belong to a church, any church.

Orthodox Christianity is not about being received into the Orthodox Church and then saying: "That's it. I have done it.' It is about entering the Arena, it is about being on the Cross. Saint 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."

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MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU

The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

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Glory Be To GOD For All Things!

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With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George