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So, he likes liturgy....
March 29, 2011 3:54 PM   Subscribe

So, my son has decided he's converting to Eastern Orthodox. I'd like to know more about it.

He lives in a distant state so it's not a question of my attending church with him (although I certainly would do that if it were an option. ) I'd like to know about the theology, and how it is similar-or different-to regular Protestant theology. I'd also like to hear from any Mefites who are presently orthodox to share their experience with the church.

If it matters, the one he attends is Greek Orthodox, and from what he tells me, fairly conservative.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies to Religion & Philosophy (35 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
(Oh, and fwiw I have no objection to his choice-I have a lot of respect for the reasoning he has shared with me-I would just like to understand this particular faith better.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 3:54 PM on March 29, 2011


Google throws me this:
christianity comparison

and also this:
a blog about moving from evangelical to greek orthodox.
posted by theKik at 3:59 PM on March 29, 2011


Well, if it makes you feel any better, I think your son made an excellent decision.

Your question is very open-ended, so it's hard to know where to start without any specific questions.

If I had to come up with the big differences between Orthodox and Protestant theology, I would list these:

o The role of liturgy in spiritual experience-- worship of God is supposed to incorporate your body and all of your senses as well as your intellectual mind. That's why there are icons and incense and singing, as well as scripture reading and sermons.

o Related to this is the centrality of the Eucharist in worship: it's the entire point of showing up to church on Sunday.

o The belief that the Orthodox church is the literal Church/institution that Christ founded-- it's not just that the Bible describes a set of historical events, but that the Apostles in the Bible are directly connected to the early history of the church and that the early church is directly connected to the Orthodox church.

Issues of Christology will be identical to what you would find in Protestantism. The understandings of Christ's divinity and humanity and the nature of the Trinity are, it would be argued by an Orthodox, formalizations and understandings that the Orthodox themselves established.

Obviously, there's much more, but a bit of guidance about what you're specifically concerned about/interested in would help.
posted by deanc at 4:06 PM on March 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


deanc, that's excellent-I'm interested in all kinds of info and much of what you have shared is what he has shared with me. I do know that their take on salvation might be a bit different than "evangelical", also I'm interested in their take on Mary-I read the liturgy and altho my son assures me he's not "worshiping Mary" and it doesn't look to me as if that's what exactly is going on, it is apparent she holds a greater importance in that faith tradition.

But, my questions are not limited to those. I find this all fascinating.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:14 PM on March 29, 2011


Oh, and looks like those are great links, theKik!
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:15 PM on March 29, 2011


How big are you on Catholicism? Depending on your prospective, the Orthodox and Catholic churches are basically the same thing from a theological perspective. Obviously, they differ on some large issues, and I would consider the Eastern Orthodox Church to be more liberal than the RCC, but if I was looking at this as a mainstream American Protestant, I'd say they're both pretty much the same.

also I'm interested in their take on Mary-I read the liturgy and altho my son assures me he's not "worshiping Mary" and it doesn't look to me as if that's what exactly is going on, it is apparent she holds a greater importance in that faith tradition.

The position of the Orthodox Church is pretty similar, if not aligned directly to their Roman counterparts. Neither worship Mary, but regard her as an intercession between people and God, on par with the Saints.

Really, the biggest differences between the two faiths are the cultures. There's a lot of ifs and buts in there, but I think if Crusaders didn't shit all over the Eastern Roman Empire, we probably would have seen a reconciliation at some point.

This is all from memory, I took several early Christian history courses (damn you Koine Greek!) at a Jesuit University, from an Eastern Orthodox professor.
posted by geoff. at 4:20 PM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


geoff is right that the Eastern Orthodox view of Mary is very similar to that of the Roman Catholic Church. Namely, they both holder her to be essentially the highest of the saints, because they believe in giving types of honor to saints (such as prayer) that aren't given in most Protestant traditions, this is the difference you're most likely to notice. That said, Catholicism teaches the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, that Mary was born free of original sin, which isn't taught in the Eastern Orthodox church. The Eastern Orthodox doesn't teach original sin per se, so there's no reason for Mary to be born free of it.

Other important differences with Catholicism(which you might be more familiar with)
Purgatory: The Eastern Orthodox church teaches that you can pray for the dead, and that this prayer can be helping in bringing them salvation; they do not, however, believe in Purgatory like the Catholic church
The Eucharist: The Catholic church believes in transubstantiation, a process by which the bread and wine cease to bread and wine and become literally Christ's body and blood. Orthodoxy believes the bread and wine become literally the body and blood, but do not describe the process by which it happens.

Other wise, a lot of what you see in Catholicism, you'll see in Orthodoxy: prayers for the dead, prayers to saints, honoring icons, to name just a few.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 4:32 PM on March 29, 2011


Well, I'm sure some influence from one of his former philosophy professors had some bearing, but he's a deep thinker and despises shallowness in any form. (And I can't argue the fact that much charismatic worship is on the shallow side. There I agree with him.) He is aware of the insularity, but hey, if you can find Orthodox in Cheyenne, Wyoming you can find it anywhere. For that matter, we have an Orthodox church here where I live as well.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:32 PM on March 29, 2011


Oh, difference that's worth mentioning, Orthodox priests can be married. From what I understand, the priest's wife is a big part of many church communities, like you would expect in a Protestant church.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 4:37 PM on March 29, 2011


I do know that their take on salvation might be a bit different than "evangelical"

While Orthodox and the evangelicals would agree on Christ's role as dying for the forgiveness of sins (it's right there in the Nicaean Creed!), many Orthodox talk about salvation in terms of theosis, best translated as "divinization":
Through theoria, the knowledge of God in Jesus Christ, human beings come to know and experience what it means to be fully human (the created image of God); through their communion with Jesus Christ God shares Himself with the human race, in order to conform them to all that God is in knowledge, righteousness and holiness. Theosis also asserts the complete restoration of all people (and of the entire creation), in principle. This is built upon the understanding of the atonement put forward by Irenaeus of Lyons, called "recapitulation."

For many fathers, theosis goes beyond simply restoring people to their state before the Fall of Adam and Eve, teaching that because Christ united the human and divine natures in his person, it is now possible for someone to experience closer fellowship with God than Adam and Eve initially experienced in the Garden of Eden, and that people can become more like God than Adam and Eve were at that time. Some Orthodox theologians go so far as to say that Jesus would have become incarnate for this reason alone, even if Adam and Eve had never sinned.
For the Orthodox, you are going to hear a lot about the importance of the Incarnation in salvation-- the idea that God becoming human associates creation with God and divinity in a way that it didn't before. So while the evangelicals might concentrate primarily on the legal ramifications of sacrificing Christ to ensure forgiveness on God's legal ledger, the Orthodox are going to concentrate on the paradox of God experiencing and participating in death and how that saves humanity.

if you can find Orthodox in Cheyenne, Wyoming you can find it anywhere.

I've been to that church!
posted by deanc at 4:37 PM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


If I had to come up with the big differences between Orthodox and Protestant theology, I would list these...

Well, the single biggest difference between Orthodox and Protestant theology would almost have to be the nature of the Eucharist: like Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox Christians believe that the Eucharist is the literal body and blood of Christ.

Related to this is the centrality of the Eucharist in worship: it's the entire point of showing up to church on Sunday.

In my experience, only a small number of the attendees at a given celebration of the Liturgy will partake in the Eucharist. The celebrants always take the Eucharist, but it's seen as something that requires serious preparation (including fasting), so a typical lay member of the church will take it only a few times a year. This may vary a lot from parish to parish and between the various national churches, though. I can't speak to Greek specifically.
posted by mr_roboto at 4:41 PM on March 29, 2011


I spoke to a Catholic priest this past weekend, and one small difference he noted was that Catholic communion wafers are made of just water and wheat flour, because they must be unleaved. But Orthodox communion wafers (not sure if the same term is used) are leavened.

The only person I know who converted to Eastern Orthodox as an adult is a very well-educated, intellectual person, with a great sense of humor, and very devout. From all appearances, the conversion (a number of years ago) has been a positive thing for her.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:41 PM on March 29, 2011


In my experience, only a small number of the attendees at a given celebration of the Liturgy will partake in the Eucharist. The celebrants always take the Eucharist, but it's seen as something that requires serious preparation (including fasting), so a typical lay member of the church will take it only a few times a year.

Well that's true, but the structure of the liturgy is such that it's centered around the Eucharistic ceremony. Even if an individual worshipper isn't taking it that Sunday, the prayers he or she is saying are all focused on communion.
posted by deanc at 4:45 PM on March 29, 2011


If there's a church in your community, maybe have his priest make an introduction to your local prriest and they can help you out with suggested readings?

Obviously that's for an internal view of the religion, but may be a good place to start.
posted by Salamandrous at 4:47 PM on March 29, 2011


Orthodox and Catholic churches are basically the same thing from a theological perspective.

IIRC the RCC regards icons, which have an important role in the Orthodox tradition, as graven images (but I see how w/r/t things like Marian mysteries they look similar from the Protestant side of the street).

One thing I haven't seen here is that depending on what Protestant tradition you participate in, the Orthodox Church's belief in the role predestination, good works, and faith play in salvation is quite possibly different from yours.

I have met people that have converted from RCC to EO because they say the ritual aspects of the ceremony remind them more of the pre-Vatican-II RCC, and that its like...not a theological issue, but that they feel this manner of celebrating feels more beneficial to them.
posted by jeb at 4:49 PM on March 29, 2011


IIRC the RCC regards icons, which have an important role in the Orthodox tradition, as graven images

You do not recall this correctly. Iconoclasm is a Protestant thing.
posted by mr_roboto at 4:53 PM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Don't know a lot about it, but the icons and art are beautiful, as is the music and formal liturgy, which is a longer and more strict ritual than the Catholic Mass. The view of Mary is the same as in the Catholic Church. She is called "Theotokos" or God-Bringer and revered as an intercessor, not a deity. There are various ethnic Orthodox Churches, and some are still aligned with the Catholic Church like Ukrainian Catholic, who acknowledge the Pope but have the Orthodox liturgy. I think that the Armenian and Coptic Orthodox are the oldest ongoing Christian Churches. A lot of Christian theology is founded on Orthodox belief. Your son has made a good choice if it works for him.
posted by mermayd at 5:02 PM on March 29, 2011


I have heard that the Holy Spirit is given a more prominent role in worship. If protestants view the Trinity as a triangle with the Father at the top, Orthodox Christians view it as an inverted triangle with the Son at the bottom. I could be way off, though.

I really enjoyed a Veritas talk by Frederica Mathewes-Green on moving through various stages before settling into the Orthodox Church.
posted by monkeymadness at 5:10 PM on March 29, 2011


I converted to Greek Orthodox in order to marry within the faith. These are my observations--

The Orthodox Church appeals to a deep human need to worship, to be transformed and lifted up. The experience begins in the senses, with incense, music, color. We cross ourselves, stand, kneel, sit. Then the experience moves to the emotions, we feel humility, empathy, gratitude. Finally, we step outside ourselves, an exaltation of the spirit.

The saints, the angels, Mary and Christ, are members of the community of worshippers, they are with us in the church, we kiss the icons as we would kiss family members. We beg them to look out for us, show mercy, intercede on our behalf with that remote deiety, too vast for us to comprehend.

Many of the saints and feast days honor local divinities who were ancient at the time of Christ. There are stories about the very early Christian missionaries who embraced and adopted traditions and rituals. Pre-Christian Athenians carried a bier draped in flowers thru all the streets of the city, honoring the return of Athena to her temple. The "Assumption of the Theotokis [Virgin Mary]" celebration is identical, the worshippers drape the bier with 1000's of flowers and carry it thru the streets.

As a largely pagan non-believer, I am very happy in the Greek Orthodox church.

I wouldn't have joined any bible thumping, hell-fire burning Protestant Church in America, I would NEVER embrace Catholicism. Perhaps the High Anglican church has the same blend of Beauty and Ritual as the Orthodox church.
posted by ohshenandoah at 5:27 PM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Maybe it would be helpful to look at works by various early Church fathers. I love St. Athanasius (bonus: the linked book contains an intro by C.S. Lewis, if you're a fan). Even reading Wikipedia articles about the early church could be really interesting, such the schism that took place between the East and the West.

I think what I've been learning recently, as I've read more Orthodox theologians and writers and have had a lot of intense conversations with my Orthodox friends, is that Protestantism, in most of its forms, is mostly derived from the Catholic Church. Protestants are fundamentally influenced by being in the West, for better or for worse. The influence of classical thought on the Western Church sees to have mostly passed the East by, which means that fundamental Protestant emphases on doctrinal issues, such as original sin, are very different from the East. As others have mentioned above, the Incarnation of Jesus is tremendously important; a lot of times the evangelicals I know seem to think, even if they don't admit it, that the Incarnation was simply a necessary step so that Jesus could end up dying on the cross.

I think that your son's conversion could be really good for your own faith, if you let it. I know that my understanding of faith and salvation is dramatically changed, for the better, because I've forced myself to work through the Orthodox understanding of things.
posted by pecknpah at 5:50 PM on March 29, 2011


You've gotten a bunch of good response already. I would add, though, that while Protestants tend to say "Catholic and Orthodox are a lot alike," Orthodox writers and thinkers tend to say "Catholic and Protestant are a lot alike." Protestants tend to see it as "do you have smells and bells?," whereas Orthodox people see the Western branches of Christianity as being united on substitutionary atonement for salvation, while the Orthodox are serious about theosis, which was explained well above. Salvation isn't so much about sins being forgiven as about the whole person becoming more and more like Christ.

Frederica Mathewes-Green, also mentioned above, has a great book called At the Corner of East and Now about her experience moving into Orthodoxy. Kalistos (formerly Timothy) Ware, also a convert, wrote the classic text on the matter, titled The Orthodox Church. You might be especially interested in The New Faithful: Why Young Adults are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy, by Colleen Carrol. Your son is part of a large trend these days.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 5:58 PM on March 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


Oh, I forgot to mention: you can listen to Orthodox music and talk online at Ancient Faith Radio.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 6:00 PM on March 29, 2011


There's a lot to mine here-thanks everyone! The more I learn the more I see why my son is attracted.

The concept of theosis is intriguing....in my terminology I would consider that sanctification?
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:43 PM on March 29, 2011


in my terminology I would consider that sanctification?

Yes, precisely.
posted by deanc at 6:47 PM on March 29, 2011


Just to clarify something said above, the Ukrainian Catholic Church and Ukrainian Orthodox Church are two different churches. Please don't get my Ukrainian Catholic friends started on this. Only the Ukrainian Catholic church is in full communion with Rome.

This is all fascinating and I especially enjoyed the blog post by the guy who converted from being a Baptist to being Orthodox. As someone raised Catholic who has frequently questioned the appropriateness of tradition, I found it interesting and compelling.

I just wanted to add that if you've never been to an Orthodox wedding and ever have the chance to go, I strongly reccommend it. It's a long ceremony different from any other I'm familiar with, but filled with lots of beautiful symbolism. If the priest is a good one, he'll know that there are many non-Orthodox guests and explain everything as he goes along.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:57 PM on March 29, 2011


Oh, difference that's worth mentioning, Orthodox priests can be married.

But not bishops or more senior members of the clergy.

The position on Original Sin (humans inherit it, but are not guilty of it) and the belief that the scriptures are understood through the interpretation of Church scholars (rejecting solar scriptura) are probably two of the biggest difference with mainstream Protestant thinking, and there's no notion of biblical literalism.
posted by rodgerd at 7:34 PM on March 29, 2011


I suggest that you check out the writings of Bishop Timothy Kallistos Ware, who grew up Anglican and converted to the Greek Orthodox Church.

He has written several widely-read introductory works to Orthodoxy, excerpts to one of which are linked to at the bottom of his Wikipedia page.
posted by tivalasvegas at 9:00 PM on March 29, 2011


You do not recall this correctly. Iconoclasm is a Protestant thing.

Actually, the issue of iconoclasm precedes Protestantism by several hundred years. The historical difference between the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church in terms of how they use icons is pretty interesting.

Obviously any use of images is something pretty foreign to Evangelical Protestant Christianity, and it can be easy to lump Roman Catholic with Eastern Orthodox (and historical with contemporary). However, it would be worth asking your son what he is learning about the role of art in church. Just as young people raised Evangelical Protestant can long for liturgy (in the same way that their parents longed to escape structured worship practices), those raised Evangelical can also long for ways to embrace art and beauty in their spiritual lives (in the same way that their parents rejected heavy visual symbolism in churches).
posted by Meg_Murry at 9:04 PM on March 29, 2011


Yes, it's true that iconoclasm precedes Protestantism. But as far as I know, iconoclasm is only now extant in some Protestant churches -- the Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox both consider that iconoclasm leads to a denial of the Incarnation (a position with which I sympathise: if God was truly made flesh in Jesus Christ, then representations of God can be safely made without them being idolatrous.)
posted by tivalasvegas at 9:15 PM on March 29, 2011


If you want to know more about the differences between the Othodox and Western Churches, some persisting to this day, check out the reasons for the Great Schism of 1054. The leavened versus unleavened wafer was just one of many disagreements (that one went back to arguments about the kind of bread eaten at the Last Supper). A major point of disagreement was about the so-called filioque clause in the (I think) Nicene Creed. Filioque means 'and the Son'. The Western Church described the Holy Spirit as coming from the Father 'and the Son' equally. The Eastern Church had both the Son and the Holy Spirit coming from the Father. The consequences of the Schism were dire, including the sack of Constantinople in 1204.
posted by londongeezer at 1:40 AM on March 30, 2011


One name:

Metropolitan Anthony Bloom!

Here's a talk of his on Orthodoxy.

This site has bio, some sermons and writings and so on. He seems like a very influential figure, and has followers among other orthodox Christians e.g. my favourite Catholic deacon, Scott Dodge.
posted by KMH at 3:27 AM on March 30, 2011


If you want an entertaining but fact-filled account of the Great Schism with a lot of context, you could do a lot worse than John Julius Norwich's _History of the Byzantine Empire_. It is both more and less than you are asking for, but I personally find context useful. Plus it is just a ripping read, whether you go for the one volume abridged version or the full three volumes.
posted by QIbHom at 7:26 AM on March 30, 2011


I converted from my non-denominational church to Orthodoxy 2 years ago, so feel free to MeMail me if you have any questions. I'll try to touch on some of the differences later in the thread when I have some time.
posted by flod logic at 8:32 AM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thank you so much, everyone!


I have marked a bunch of these as best answer but please know that ALL the input here has been excellent and appreciated. If anyone would like to add anything feel free, of course.

I'm feeling better and better about his choice. Mind you my theology still differs in a few places but it looks like in other places the orthodox have an even better understanding....confirming my belief that almost all denominations have real value in communicating the truth of God.

Again, thanks!
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 11:13 AM on March 30, 2011


I knew several evangelical guys in college who became Orthodox. At the risk of being reductionist, my interpretation focused much less on dogmatic theology and much more on history: they were compelled by the nature of the arguments from tradition, but were too well-versed in Protestant history to ever feel comfortable with a Pope. The Marian theology and even the lack of clearly-defined doctrines pertaining to substitutionary atonement were largely irrelevant--they just dragged their pre-existing thoughts along with them. The real issue was that evangelicalism is a bit intellectually lacking, but adopting the intellectual history of Roman Catholicism causes some cognitive dissonance--especially as related to the papacy. Orthodoxy is just the resolution of that cognitive dissonance.

No trying to be dismissive, but rational argument is rarely what compels conversion. Some "experience" is usually the source, and resolution of cognitive dissonance is highly experiential.
posted by jefficator at 11:15 AM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


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