Seems like Eastern Orthodox churches are declining and losing members

Discussion in 'Anglican and Christian News' started by Stalwart, Dec 6, 2017.

  1. Invictus

    Invictus Member

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    I was Orthodox for over a decade. My experience of it was actually quite positive overall. I found the people in my parish to be warm and welcoming, the clergy were genuine and dedicated, the services were in the vernacular (albeit KJV-ish, which I didn’t and don’t mind, though it seemed out of place), and there was a healthy balance between “cradle” and “convert” members of the parish I attended. There was no defining moment or experience that led me to make the move to Anglicanism. It was instead the result of the slow realization that Orthodoxy and I are simply incompatible.

    1. I had always understood my vocation as including marriage and a family. If you are a convert to Orthodoxy and you find a potential spouse who is either already Orthodox or is willing to convert to Orthodoxy, and who is compatible with you more generally, you are a statistical anomaly. The vast majority of marriages I witnessed were mixed marriages, the result of which were married couples who subsequently rarely attended. Orthodoxy as a system does nothing to make things easier for either the Orthodox or the non-Orthodox spouse. It all comes across as extremely authoritarian and overbearing. The choice for me ultimately became “either marry someone you’re actually compatible with, or be Orthodox.” I chose the former and I’ve never regretted it.

    2. I am also incurably Western. Having Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas be “off limits” was extremely limiting as well as arbitrary. Orthodoxy has no soteriology, theory of atonement, or systematics of any kind. Its trinitarian and christological doctrine, such as it is, is decidedly underdeveloped compared to what became standard in the West. There are no Eastern Orthodox bible commentaries. There are very few EO biblical scholars, and none who are generally well known as such. There is only one Orthodox college in the US. Spiritual formation in Eastern Orthodoxy is entirely dependent upon the liturgical calendar. Scripture is accorded a secondary place at best, and oftentimes at the local parish level when there is a choice to be made between Scriptural and Sanctoral elements, the latter typically wins. Even when there is no inherent conflict, Scripture is still often truncated to make room for Byzantine hymnody. I have never been to a Vespers in which a full Kathisma of the Psalter was read or chanted, ever. Old Testament readings are typically assigned to services that aren’t offered at the parish level, and in services such as Matins, the biblical Odes have been entirely crowded out by later accretions, such that only the Magnificat remains. Biblical literacy and theological literacy are the rare exception. There are no authoritative statements of Eastern Orthodox doctrine and practice. What looks like rigid uniformity on the surface is merely a cover for confessional chaos. Even this is just scratching the surface of the problem. If one is at all intellectually inclined, Orthodoxy will not satisfy you on that level. At least, it did not for me. There are many problems in Christian faith and practice that are not only unresolved in Eastern Orthodoxy, they are not even acknowledged as requiring any resolution. For all its beauty and grandeur, being Orthodox did not and could not help me to be a better Christian or help me think through how to be one or how to increase in my understanding of the faith. None of this was apparent to me at the beginning. Like many, I was overwhelmed by the liturgy. But when you start to try practicing it in the real world, among non-Orthodox Christians, when you use an esoteric vocabulary that no one understands, and try to explain why you celebrate Easter on a different date from everyone else, and engage in practices that look crudely idolatrous while denying that they are with a straight face, cracks start to appear all over the place. The only way to avoid them is to retreat further inward. I reached a point where I simply couldn’t do it anymore.

    I love the Orthodox liturgy and its commitment to beauty and solemnity. But that beauty and solemnity has to be related to something that recognizably represents what God has revealed about himself, or it is of little advantage. Ultimately, I decided that if I couldn’t fulfill my vocation or advance in the faith, there was simply no reason to stay.
     
    Last edited: May 3, 2021
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  2. Botolph

    Botolph Well-Known Member

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    Thankyou for sharing, I feel like I know you better now.
     
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  3. Invictus

    Invictus Member

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    You’re welcome, and I’m glad. That was the first time I felt like I was truly able to put what I had learned into words.
     
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  4. Tiffy

    Tiffy Well-Known Member

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    Growing out of religion by discovering truth, which sets one free, is what Christ encouraged in his disciples. Denominations are merely a convenient 'house on earth' within which to live out our faith with others with a similar vision of what Christ wants of us, in this life. Our true home is in heaven which is where our life is safely hid. Col.3:3. Meanwhile we wonder as we wander, out under the sky and are in the world but not of it. John 15:19, John 17:6, John 17:15.
    .
     
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  5. Stalwart

    Stalwart Well-Known Member Anglican

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    Amazing post, thank you. It matches my own experiences with Orthodoxy as well. It seems there’s a pretty big exodus of tradition-minded Westerners out of Orthodoxy. They first entered in because of its surface attractions, but then saw pretty irrevocable incompatibilities underneath. YouTube has a bunch of post-orthodoxy Roman Catholics, and actually on these forums I’ve seen a whole bunch of post-orthodox Anglicans.
     
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  6. bwallac2335

    bwallac2335 Well-Known Member

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    Orthodoxy has no soteriology, theory of atonement, or systematics of any kind........ Can you explain that better
     
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  7. Invictus

    Invictus Member

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    If one searches for an Eastern Orthodox systematic theology, one will not find it. It simply doesn’t exist. There are summaries of dogmatic theology, but nothing that I would call properly systematic. The very concept is foreign to the Orthodox ethos. Any Orthodox priest will tell you that only those doctrines were defined whose underlying principles were challenged by heretics. They do not see being biblical exegetes as part of their job. Practically all of the soteriological heresies arose in the West and were dealt with there, in Latin. Consequently there is no magisterial theory of the atonement, of justification, or even of the sacraments themselves. Historically, the Orthodox understood the presence of Christ in the Eucharist and the latter’s sacrificial implications in the same way that their Roman Catholic counterparts did, though they used different words to describe it. Ask an Orthodox person today if he or she believes in transubstantiation and see what answers you get. Ask what document you can consult which would resolve a dispute on the subject among fellow Orthodox. There are candidates for this, but none which are broadly accepted as such. There has never been an Orthodox counterpart to St. Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo (though there are statements in the Greek Fathers that distantly approach it). And because Protestants often confuse satisfaction theory with the later theory of penal substitution, Orthodox who are knowledgeable on the subject tend to reject both. The various metaphors employed to describe the Atonement are either derived from, or dependent upon, those of the patristic era (e.g., ransom theory and incarnation-deification theory), and no systematic understanding of the subject has ever arisen which has received the stamp of official approval. One peculiar modern Orthodox error (which has been driven almost entirely by just plain bad scholarship repackaged for popular consumption) is that many EO now reject the traditional doctrine of original sin outright, which makes the formulation of an adequate Orthodox understanding of the Atonement radically more difficult if not impossible. The Crucifixion thus becomes the occasion enabling the Resurrection to take place, and then the Resurrection does all the heavy lifting.
     
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  8. bwallac2335

    bwallac2335 Well-Known Member

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    Yes they call it ancestral sin correct?
     
  9. Invictus

    Invictus Member

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    Many do now, yes. It’s become something of a faddish term, more conspicuous for what it denies than what it affirms.

    It was popularized by a book of that title by John Romanides, whose work, as David Hart once put it, was “almost miraculously devoid of a single accurate statement.” It’s faux scholarship but nonetheless quite popular.
     
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  10. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    Similar situation with my son in regard to the marriage issue. He seriously dated a Russian Orthodox woman for a couple of years. But he finally broke off the relationship when he saw that there was no way either of them would compromise on the RO issue: she would not marry him unless he became RO and agreed to raise their children (if any) RO, and he (a solid Christian) would not become RO because he could see its problems and shortcomings.
     
    Last edited: May 4, 2021 at 11:45 AM
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  11. Invictus

    Invictus Member

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    That kind of thing happens a lot. I suspect that in some mixed marriages you’ll even see the cradle ultimately leave the Church while the convert who was originally forced into it opts to stay. Another thing that is sometimes overlooked is that converts to Orthodoxy are overwhelmingly male. So this creates a huge disparity when those raised in the Church come of age. A lot of the men just leave. This is anecdotal, but I have found it to be true in my own experience. And I’m not trying to beat up on the Orthodox here. They do a lot of things right, and they certainly aren’t the only ones with a membership retention problem (though their convert retention is a major problem). As I mentioned above, my experience in Orthodoxy was positive. I just couldn’t ignore the shortcomings where the rubber meets the road indefinitely. In a number of ways the Church’s stance seems to setup its members for eventual failure.
     
  12. Ananias

    Ananias Active Member Anglican

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    I think one of the major problems in Eastern Orthodoxy was that it never underwent the "systematizing" process that Western Christianity did. The Western church was essentially forced into an intellectual revolution by being subject to first Roman rule and then fractured post-Roman political systems (not to mention the substantial remaining pagan influences from Germania and Brittania). Augustine was the first intellectual inflection point between the early church and the later early-medieval church; then the likes of Duns Scotus and Aquinas; then the Reformers. Each "wave" of intellectualization and "systematizing" forced the Western church to explain itself (so to speak) to believers.

    The Byzantine church, after western Empire fell, never had to labor under foreign (and often pagan) powers in the way that the Western church did. Church and State in Byzantium were basically one thing, and remained so more or less for a thousand years. The Eastern way of Christianity retained that mode of the early church that focused on what we might call "charismatic" feeling these days rather than Western-style theology. In fact, you can go so far as to say that the Eastern form of Christianity become almost Gnostic in practice -- inward-turning, mystic, more concerned with the abstract and amorphous than the temporal and physical. In fact, to this day one of the primary complaints of the Eastern churches against the Western is that RC and Protestant Christians are too much head and too little heart. Many EO feel that their Western counterparts focus too much on biblical hermeneutics, and on extra-biblical sources (like Augustine and Aquinas) as sources of theology. (I've actually heard EO Christians say that Protestants treat the Holy Bible as an idol, whereas Protestants often accuse the EO of treating the Bible as a study supplement than as God's revealed Word.)

    The fracturing of the EO churches after the fall of Constantinople in 1453 further truncated any EO tendency to hermeneutics, systematic theologies, or even substantial commentary on the Bible itself. The various EO congregations began to drift further and further apart, separated by languages and cultures in a more fundamental way than in the West. In the West, the church spoke Koine Greek at first and then Latin for the next 1700+ years; in the East the Greek slowly gave way to a multitude of Slavic and Mediterranean tongues. The cohesion of the Byzantine church for so long ended up being a detriment, since the Byzantine church fell just prior to the Gutenberg press being introduced in Europe. (In fact, Byzantine Christians fleeing Constantinople were some of the early sources for Greek manuscripts used by Erasmus for his first Novum Testamentum Graecum.) The EO culture for centuries had been primarily formed around liturgy, ritual, chant, art (even though there was a brief and vicious period of iconoclasm in the late 700's CE). The intellectual and hermeneutic side of Christianity never developed in the East as much as the West because the East never had the experience of widespread literacy among the laypeople, or even of the clergy.

    In short: Christianity in the West had to learn to defend itself intellectually, and never really stopped "reforming" in the literal sense of the world. It was always, right from the first, under intellectual pressure both from within and without. The Byzantine churches didn't experience the same kind of pressure until much later, and by then they were too weak to adapt.

    This is not to say that there is no significant literary tradition in the EO churches. There is a large corpus of works in various middle Greek and slavic languages (particularly Church Slavonic and Russian) that has not been translated and hence has not entered the wider Christian communion. Which is a shame, but also shows the relative disinterest the EO churches have in the literary form.

    For a modern example of the problems besetting the EO churches, you have only to look at the schism between the Russian Orthodox church and the Patriarch in Constantinople. This is far less of a religious dispute than a nationalistic one; Russia considers itself the "protector" of the Orthodox faith, and has always been rather resentful of oversight from Constantinople.
     
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  13. Invictus

    Invictus Member

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    The course of Arianism is a good example of this. Arianism was defeated politically in the Eastern Empire by the end of the 4th century. But the various Germanic tribes who surrounded (and later ruled over) the remnants of the Western Empire were Arian: the Ostrogoths, the Visigoths, the Vandals in North Africa, etc. A significant portion of Western Christendom (southern Europe and North Africa), including at times the Papacy itself, was under Arian rule until near the end of the 6th century. New arguments had to be fashioned and refashioned, new creeds had to be drawn up and explained, synods convened, often at considerable risk of life and limb, etc. People often forget that a significant portion of St. Augustine’s works were anti-Arian writings. The Vandals invaded North Africa the year before he died.
     
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