Magical Thinking in the Orthodox Church

In any sustained discussion regarding the progress of liberal theology in the Orthodox Church, one sooner or later encounters magical thinking. Magical thinking is defined by Wikipedia (that modern oracle) as “the attribution of causal relationships between actions and events which cannot be justified by reason and observation”.  In my experience, it often begins like this: someone (often a convert from a liberal Christian denomination, like the Episcopalians) warns that North American Orthodoxy is exhibiting the same signs of creeping liberalism as did their former liberal denomination, and suggests that this should be a source of concern for those who do not wish Orthodoxy to become similarly liberal.

For example, Orthodox in the west today are reproducing the same patterns of behaviour as did Anglicanism in the 1960s regarding women’s ordination. Some of our theologians are solemnly declaring the issue a very complex one and the question an open one; denunciations are made of those decrying the ordination of women as people who are narrow, stupid, retrogressive, and (of course) fundamentalist; groups are being formed under the dubious patronage of women saints such as St. Catherine or St. Nina for the purpose of advancing the feminist agenda; and the push is made to ordain deaconesses. When one calls attention to the historical fact that these are all symptoms of creeping liberalism in the Church and that this is precisely the road trod by the liberal Protestants a generation ago, one is shouted down as a convert who has no right to speak. One is diagnosed with Post Episcopalian Stress Syndrome, and more or less ordered to bed. One is told that the Orthodox Church in North America was getting on very well on its own without us and our kind, thank you very much. Your warnings are not appreciated or welcome. Please take a pill or something, and chill out.

This means that the Orthodox Church in North America could be the one institution which considers that years of experience of certain events actually disqualifies one from speaking about them. In every other outfit, experience is considering as qualifying one to speak authoritatively, not as a disqualification. It is very strange. It is also a form of bullying and of attempted ideological intimidation. In fact one’s long experience of Anglican liberalism does not mean that that person is afflicted with some sort of nervous disorder, or that their hands begin to shake if a copy of the revised Book of Common Prayer is somewhere in the room. It just means that said person has personal experience of how creeping liberalism works over a generation and can speak from the authority of that experience. That the warnings and words are not welcome does not at all alter the fact that they come from experience.

It is just here that magical thinking comes in. All of these regrettable changes occurred in Anglicanism and Lutheranism and Methodism and God knows where else, but they could never happen here, with us. Orthodoxy is somehow immune to the liberalism and worldliness that afflicts everyone else in North America. I call this conviction “magical thinking” because (to quote Wikipedia again) the supposed stability and sanctity of individual Orthodox in North America “cannot be justified by reason and observation”.   Perusing blogs and their comment sections, and Facebook, and reading journals and scholarly books, and listening to Orthodox lectures on Youtube provide abundant evidence that Orthodox people can be just as thick and worldly as anyone else, and that we have by no means cornered the market on wisdom and holiness. We have many good and wise people, and many worldly ones—just like every other group. Saying that our status as the true Church bestows upon us an immunity from worldliness is triumphalistic nonsense.   It is also lousy history: the Church in the fourth century was also “the true Church” and yet it was greatly afflicted by Arianism which spread like a wildfire for many years. Indeed, at one point, as St. Jerome once wrote, the “whole world groaned to find itself Arian”. The Church as a whole survived, but not without pain, and schism, and the loss of many souls to heresy. We have no justification that we are now somehow immune to heresy simply because we are “the true Church”.

It is undoubtedly true, however, that we are unlike our Protestant friends in one important respect: we define ourselves by the Fathers, and at least pay them lip service, even when we veer off in directions which cause them to spin in their patristic graves. We have to at least pretend we are faithful to the Fathers, even when we aren’t. (Part of the trick here is to denounce fidelity to the Fathers as “patristic fundamentalism”, or as a simplistic reading of the Fathers.) This means that even if parts of the Orthodox Church did ordain women, or marry gays, or conform to whatever the canons of modernity will demand in the future, large parts of the Church would not follow. In other words, such capitulation to the world would result in a schism. No one really doubts this, even if modern liberals like Behr-Sigel might plead for a “disciplinary pluralism”—i.e. a tolerance of heresy. For the issue here is not simply one of discipline, but of the Faith. What would St. Athanasius have thought of a “disciplinary pluralism” which tolerated Arianism? Count on it: if parts of the Orthodox Church ordain women or marry homosexuals, there will be schism.

I often am tempted to think that the certainty of such a schism is the real reason why many bishops would never take such action (though whether their inaction springs from courage to resist heresy or fear of schism is perhaps an open question). As always, the Faith, though defined by the bishops, is guarded by the faithful, as the Patriarchs themselves insisted in their letter to Pope Pius IX in 1848. Our episcopal leaders are smart enough men, and know that such changes would not be countenanced by many of their North American faithful. The liberal proponents of change of course suggest that if the Church were to “modernize” by making these changes, multitudes of secular people would come piling into the Church to fill its empty pews, and this would more than offset those lost to schism. Again, this is magical thinking. The experience of Anglicanism shows that such a happy stampede will never occur. If the Orthodox Church becomes secular in its faith and praxis, the secular world will praise us for our enlightened approach and then go back to ignoring us. We may, it is true, be applauded periodically in the Huffington Post and on the CBC, but this is, to my mind, a thin reward for scrapping two millennia of Tradition and provoking a schism.

What remains certain is that we must live in the real world, and look at our selves as reflected in the mirror or blogs, organizations, and Facebook. There is not a shred of evidence to suggest North American Orthodoxy is immune to the worldliness and liberalism affecting everyone around us. Magical thinking must give place to thinking, and to realistic appraisal regarding our current state.

 

 

 

51 comments:

  1. ‘ Reminds me of a neighbor (as it happens), who at the time (some years ago) was an Orthodox neophyte and fellow-parishioner, who asked, “Tod. do you think the Orthodox Church will ever have women priests?” the sense of my reply was that, if that which, until that time, had been rightly identified as a part of the Orthodox Church, for that reason alone it no longer would be.

  2. “though whether their inaction springs from courage to resist heresy or fear of schism is perhaps an open question”

    I tend to think that it is the latter, based on their reluctance to in Christ’s love correct and censor these groups and individuals (not always necessary of course, but sometimes it is). Indeed, the last priest in the OCA to call for an acceptance of homosexualism was praised by Met. Tikhon for his “positive contributions” on the subject. They don’t resist out of any real courage, rather apathy and a political mind to compromise and “keep the ship afloat” as they see it. That’s my take anyways…

  3. Fr. Lawrence,
    I deeply agree and appreciate the article.

    In our current climate I often hear disparaging things about Moscow, who so loudly criticizes the feminist/gay cultural movements and seems so disinterested in Ecumenism. But when I hear the criticisms, what is not spoken is the positive desire to embrace these innovations. Moscow-bashing seems to be the polite way of being liberal.

    Of course, I’m sure there can be legitimate critiques of Moscow, but the absence of criticism of some fairly ancient and intransigent abuses elsewhere always make me doubt the integrity of those criticisms.

    Like you, I watched the Anglican debacle from the inside for a while. I don’t think we are there – but neither are we immune from disaster. The ecclesiology of Orthodoxy actually makes schism very easy (as compared to Anglican/Roman ecclesiology). And, strangely, it has been a historical safe-guard as witnessed by the many times it has actually preserved the Church in the truth.

    1. Thank you for your comments, Father. I agree with you: we are not there yet. My aim is writing is to help close the barn door before the horse gets out. Closing the barn door after the horse escapes and getting to say, “I told you so” would be poor consolation.

      1. Father,
        Too many are not speaking out publicly, boldly, and that concerns me deeply.
        I pray for the volume to be turned up, and for more voices to be added to the declaration

  4. I’ve been struggling with this article. Not because I think that Church needs to ordain women or bless homosexual union, but because I am so tired of the way this discussion is being framed. Conservative vs. liberal, complementarian vs. egalitarian, traditional vs. ecumenist, submission vs. liberation.

    I am deeply dissatisfied with these dichotomies.

    There is this fear present in much conservative or traditional writing—that there is another side on the attack that must be defended against at all costs (meaning humans with different opinions, not the actual Powers and Principalities). Too often our public discourse promotes this fear and this division. So we must all be careful not to read our personal histories onto the narrative of the community— a disheartening and terrible experience within a liberal church can be countered with another disheartening and terrible experience within a traditionalist church whose interpretations of gender roles are fanatical. Each experience is valid for the individual, but those two individuals would have a hard time finding the words to communicate their commonality. Let me say again: I appreciate your experience with the Episcopal Church, and I hear your valid concern that our Holy, Life-Giving Church not be deceived and led astray.

    Yet I’m not sure that organizations like St. Nina’s and St. Catherine’s Vision are truly as threatening as your reaction to them presupposes. I’d like to pull up a few thoughts from the letter Saint Catherine’s Vision wrote to the Ecumenical Patriarch:

    [quote]That there should be a growth in ministry, and that women should be an equal part of these kinds of things: to “assist in areas such as pastoral care, education, mission, and philanthropy … expand the outreach of the church particularly through evangelism and witness as well as care for the sick, destitute and unchurched, bearing further witness to the values of the Gospel in the wider society,” and to “acknowledge the increasing need for the Church to minister to parents who experience the loss of a child, dealing with end of life decisions, domestic violence, human trafficking and other forms of trauma, addiction and/or affliction.”[/quote]

    If you were to remove the word “deaconess” from the article, what exactly is there to object to? Why does the mere mention of the word “deaconess” necessitate that the person speaking must be a specific kind of feminist?

    Responding to perceived imitation of liberal American churches with dialogue taken from conservative American churches is not going to create fruitful conversation, and it’s not going to deepen our understanding of Truth. In order for any discussion about sex/gender issues within the Church to be productive, we need to completely re-frame the argument and cease repeating the same talking points at one another. We need to start the conversation over.

    It is neither liberal nor conservative to desire to talk about these things, and to desire a conversation that is not laced with fear or acrimony. We need to talk about what spiritually healthy men and women look like and act like, and we need to talk about who we want to be leaders in our parishes, and what we want our ministries to achieve. We also need to stop generalizing each other.

    In Christ,
    tess

  5. Tess: Thank you for your comments, and the irenic spirit in which they are offered. I do think that the ministry of “assist[ing] in areas such as pastoral care, education, mission, and philanthropy” may indeed be done by women, but not deaconesses. That is, there is no reason why such ministry may not be done by laity. Part of our problem in Orthodoxy is our clericalism, and the equation of “ministry” with “ordained ministry”, with the consequent devaluation of the laity. We too easily see ordained ministry in terms of power rather than service, with the feminists wanting a share of the power. In my view, the better reform would be to reconfigure the priesthood so that priests see their work less in terms of power and more in terms of service.

  6. Tess,

    As one of the ecclesiastical refugees from the Episcopal church that Fr. Speaks about, let me see if I can add some light.

    I suppose for “conservatives” they mean this in terms of adherence to the tradition. For my part, a “conservative” in terms of theology in this context simply means someone who assents to the truth of the teaching of the church. A “liberal” is one who dissents and thinks the truth claims of the church in such and so area are false and should then be altered.

    As far as seeing other humans as enemies rather than the devilish hordes, there is some truth to that, but there is also the truth uttered by Morpheus in the Matrix, that these people are plugged into the matrix, so hopelessly dependent on it, that they will defend it at all cost. St. Paul calls unbelieving Israel elect but also in the same breath enemies. It would be naïve to ignore that some people are deceived even if they are sincere and others have ill motives. Humans are quite capable of malicious intent. History teaches us that the powers are ready to employ Trojan horses. The Apostles hand people over to Satan for a reason.

    There is also some truth to not reading into current events our personal histories, if by this we mean some unhealthy pathology where we are obsessed with past pain and we wish to extract our personal pound of flesh from somebody, anybody, who looks remotely like those who caused us harm. On the other hand, if we have learned lessons from battles lost elsewhere, we would be foolish to ignore our experience, which is often the best teacher, especially when what we experienced has happened over and over again across multiple traditions.

    And while your general remarks about painful experiences in different venues is certainly apt, there seems to be a significant difference between them. As a recipient of both, in my experience abuse encountered in say the Episcopal church stemmed from what that body was promoting rather than a moral failure of any given individual as has been my experience in the Orthodox church.

    If St. Nina’s and such do not seem as threatening to you, do you take an attempt to overturn the apostolic deposit of a male only priesthood materially insignificant or is it that you do not think that they present much of a challenge? It is true that they certainly use the language of beneficial language with respect to the church, whether sincere or not, this still falls well within the parameters of the narrative of the destruction of the Episcopal church, the Presbyterian church, the Methodist church, the Lutheran church, etc. As I am sure you well know, Satan comes as an angel of light. If the end is good, but the means evil, then there is nothing morally good about it, regardless of the terms employed. Evil is not in the nature of things, but in the use.

    Fruitful dialog is important, but as has been made clear by the actions of the Roman curia, there comes a point where the rejection of Christianity by one party renders any “dialog” sterile. When the CofE moved to ordain women as bishops, Rome simply, and correctly moved to beef up its mission in England. As some point, there is nothing to discuss. The lines are clear. Some people simply reject Christianity. This is why it is so far as it seems to me, a mistake to view it as problematic to responding with dialog from “conservative” side of things. Is it conservative to affirm the resurrection? Christian/Jewish sexual morality? Why after all think that institutions such s the Episcopal church are Christian at all? What makes them so? At some point the apostolic directive to reject the heterodox after two or three warnings. There is simply nothing to talk about.

    It is not as if those who dissent from the Church’s teaching are ever so eager to “dialog.” One lesson learned was that dialog is simply a tool, a delaying tactic, but also a tactic used to co-opt more moderate members of the other side or to at least lesson their opposition until such time as the dissenting side gains the upper political hand. Then “dialog” mysteriously disappears. I remember the words directed towards the three remaining bishops of the Episcopal church who refused to ordain women candidates from the floor of General Convention, “We know who you are and we are coming after you!” It is therefore a grave mistake to think that “dialog” has anything to do with achieving unity or increasing understanding in such contexts. A church cannot serve two masters.

    1. Tess, wrote… “I suppose for “conservatives” they mean this in terms of adherence to the tradition”
      With all due respect, do you read your bible? There is church tradition, and there is clear statements of scripture.
      It is becoming evermore clearer to me that those who are considered, “conservative” by the liberal thinker, are those who are adhering to those clear statements of scripture, and nothing at all to do with, “tradition”.
      Iconography, and the kissing thereof is tradition.
      Prohibition of homosexual marriage is not tradition.

  7. I would like to speak to Tess’s implication that “fear” that drives “the discussion” or rather non-discussion as she puts it. For example, I obviously oppose the “revival of the deaconness” but I don’t do so out of “fear”, but faithfulness. To me, the only real dichotomy that is important (and it can be thought of as a dichotomy I suppose) is the faithful vs. faithless one. Indeed it is the accusation of “fear” by the faithless that is one of the “talking points” she rightly detests. It’s the “you don’t oppose the deaconess out of faithfulness to Truth and Holy Dogma, you do so out of “fear”” accusation.

    Also, while I appreciate the effort to salvage some good from organizations like St. Nina’s and St. Catherine’s Vision, I am not sure that is the important thing. These organizations don’t really exist for these good reasons – they exist to change the ecclesiology of the Church. That is their Raison d’être and there really is no point in denying it.

    Finally, as with all these modern “anthropological” issues (i.e. womens ordination, homosexualism, abortion, beginning and end of life, etc.), what is needed is not more (and more and more) “discussion”. No “re-framing” of an argument needs to take place (because that implies lack of understanding and/or Revelation). What is needed is faithful, dogmatic and moral CLARITY. We don’t need more discussion, we need more teaching. We don’t need more arguments, we need more obedience to the Church and He who heads her. We don’t need more faithless “calls” and “statements” by those who want to change the Church and instruct it’s Lord on the “progress” of His oh so intelligent, educated, and enlighten modern followers, we need more repentance from said followers…

  8. Father, bless,

    Thank you for your gracious reply. I particularly liked your observation on clericalism and the devaluation of the laity. I am currently reading Paul Evdokimov’s, “Women and the Salvation of the World,” and it is an issue that he has addressed. I agree with your assessment: much of the problem with the deaconess issue does stem from this incorrect valuation of the ordained priesthood, to the detriment of the priesthood of all believers.

    Another work I have read recently is the essay collection of Wendell Berry, “What are People For?” In it he frames the argument of gender inequivalence in terms of both sexes participating in an industrial society that dehumanizes both of them: allowing women a share in the part of the world that dehumanizes men does not elevate, it merely equalizes by dehumanizing both parties. Applying that to clericalism is pretty simple: allowing women into the arena to indulge in clericalism does not elevate women, it exacerbates the power imbalance that is clericalism!

    I have been given to understand that in the early church, the primary function of deaconesses was to assist in female baptism and in home visitation of women, both activities that would have been prohibited to men, thus were culturally necessary. Would this make them, in your view, exercises of economia? I’m also curious about your assessment of St. Nektarios ordaining deaconesses in 1911.

    Perry,

    I appreciate your definitions of conservative and liberal. If everyone used the same definitions, we might get some more clarity! However, there are also other definitions of those words, and if we don’t agree on a set definition, then conversation cannot occur. Also, defining “conservative” as, in essence, conforming to what you believe, and “liberal” as not conforming to what you believe, really does not make conversation easy. (I honor your fidelity to the faith and Truth, so please don’t misinterpret my comment. I am talking about usefulness of definitions.)

    Of course I agree that some people are malicious and some people are ignorant. Ignorance does not necessitate malice, however, and even being mistaken does not necessarily put a person in the Enemy’s camp! If that were true, what hope would any of us have?

    I agree with your comment about learning from experience. My idea is that one experience does not necessarily trump another, and we must be careful not to talk over each other. Just as some people have a history with liberal heterodox churches, others have histories with fundamentalist heterodox churches. Too often, in my experience, people use arguments framed by fundamentalist sources to counter arguments from liberal sources. We also have the unique issue in the American Orthodox Church of dealing with many converts leaving churches that have abandoned tradition. We must be very careful to respond to them using Orthodox spirituality, and not just rewrite fanatic arguments in our own words. (Note: I am by no means equating adherence to Church teaching on anthropological issues to fanaticism. There is a strain of American fundamentalism that teaches a very unhealthy view of the submission of women to men, and it is to this and some of its concomitant attitudes that I am referring.) It’s almost like how the OSB was taken from the KJV and tweaked with the Septuagint— although a work made in good faith, it is not always adequate to our needs.

    While I may not agree with the course of action taken by St. Nina’s and SCV, I do have personal experience with a priest involved with SCV. He and his wife’s work with the prison ministry in my county have been nothing short of true Christian endeavor. I would hardly classify him as an enemy of the Church just because of his association with SCV, and I extend the same courtesy to the other members who I do not know personally.

    Christopher,

    You’re absolutely right that we don’t need more calls and statements, but of course there is need for more conversation! We don’t need institutionalized talking-points, we need to talk to each other, one on one, with love.

    I’m also sorry that you interpreted my comment as an accusation of fear. I certainly did not mean that those who oppose women’s ordination are afraid of it! I was referring to the tenor of dichotomous dialogue, which casts the people on the other side as enemies. I think individual people are most often not our enemies. It is a tactic of our true Enemy to make them seem so. (Though of course free will allows for some individuals to work for him.)

    We must keep talking about women’s issues because there are good people who are attracted to soft feminism because of the validation it provides against fundamentalist abuses. The nineteenth and twentieth centuries saw a devaluation of women in the Western world, and some of that seeped into the Orthodox world by proxy. We must answer as the Holy Church that women are co-heirs to the kingdom, and we must not commit the errors of our fundamentalist brothers and sisters. The people who espouse deaconess issues are attractive precisely because they are talking about things women can do, as opposed to things they can’t.

    Re-framing does not imply lack of understanding or revelation. It means to stop using institutionalized language, and start the discussion over so that understanding can happen. Not all women’s issues are to be dismissed with the deaconess issue; without re-framing, those issues get lumped together and alienation happens.

    Thank you so much for your deeply felt comments! Let’s keep talking!

    In Christ,
    tess

    1. Tess: In my view the pastoral ministry of deaconesses in the early church were not so much an exercise of economia (or stretching the boundaries) as the simple faithfulness of women in carrying out their ordained ministries. Male deacons exercising such a pastoral ministry to women would have involved economia, I suppose, but the risks involved meant that such work should more properly be left to the deaconesses–as they were. Regarding St. Nektarios: to the best of my knowledge, he ordained nuns as deaconesses, women who as well as being celibates were also of the canonical minimum age for such an office. Thus, they were true deaconesses according to the ancient model, and not like the proposed modern order. I can only assume that these deaconesses were ordained by him because he deemed their ministry pastorally necessary. Thus, I have no problem with St. Nektarios, but his actions offer little justification for the modern proposals.

      1. Thank you, Father, for such a clear reply!

        It sounds to me like you would agree that there is not something defective in womanness that prevents women from the ministry of the deaconess, but that the scope of the deaconess is part of women’s ministry to the world. Subsequently, the modern revival (speaking only here of Orthodoxy) has been undertaken with wrong premises. If one feels called to serve, then serve! If the issue is only about who gets to go behind the iconostasis, then I think somewhere along the line someone has inflated the importance of small things.

        I most especially appreciated the thought that “Male deacons exercising such a pastoral ministry to women would have involved economia.” I am still chewing on the thought.

        That it is possible for a worthy woman to be or have been a deaconess has much more meaning for me than that a woman who wants to be one should be able to do so.

        In Christ,
        tess

  9. Tess,

    Thanks for the reply. Maybe we can make some progress by thinking about the matter this way. Use whatever definition for self-designation that you or anyone else wants. Does X believe the resurrection happened? That God exists? That sex is reserved for heterosexual marriage and so on? If the answers are no, whatever we call that, by the historical usage of the term “Christian” or “Orthodox Christian” such persons fail to meet the necessary conditions for inclusion under that term. So it isn’t a matter of using terms that fit what I already believe.

    If someone wishes to use the term “Christian” or “Orthodox Christian” in some other sense as making those beliefs optional, then I would simply point out that sans the Cheshire Cat, word meaning just isn’t established that way and second, that it just proves the point-we aren’t talking about the same thing.

    When we have numerous clergy of TEC for example who openly and freely deny the existence of God, the resurrection of Christ, and just about any other creedal doctrine, why would we use the term “Christian” to describe them? What could “Christian” possibly mean? How is it not a wax nose or rather someone painting a target around their own bull’s-eye, with the help of Marx, Freud or Nietzsche?

    As to ignorance, let’s take a historical case for ease of usage. Take Arius for example, the veritable Hitler of historical theology. Surely Arius was ignorant in many ways, particularly of seeing how his good intentions of protecting the church against Sabellianism were grossly distorting and his reasoning was wrong. He was culpable nonetheless. More to the point, figures who enter the church and have either explicitly or implicitly sworn to uphold all the teachings of the church and yet openly teach otherwise seem likewise to be culpable. It is one thing to take a side when the church has not made decisions on such matters. It is quite another to take a fundamentally Protestant or Humanist view that the church is in principle fallible and so any point is up for dispute. I can’t see how that isn’t an in principle denial of their oath.

    I am not and I do not think Fr. Is using arguments that are entailed by fundamentalist commitments. And I would need to know what the word “fundamentalist” means. As the Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga once remarked, “fundamentalist” means “that SOB over there that disagrees with me.” If we take some episcopal clergy for example that denies the existence of God or the resurrection let’s say, is a rejection of that position a matter of being grounded in arguments from fundamentalist sources? What could only be relevant is if such judgments and arguments were distorted in their theological content by being used by others, particularly fundamentalists. Otherwise it just strikes me as an ad hominem. And I wouldn’t know what it means for one experience to trump another. Experiences are not arguments.

    On ideas such as the resurrection, the existence of God, ethics and such, I don’t think there is any basis to worry that we will frantically be cobbling arguments from the likes of Bob Jones University. First because, we have plenty of adequate sources on those matters and second, many of the arguments the Bob Jones crew deploy, they historically got from us. I’ll just leave your complains about the OSB aside except to note that the church’s use of the LXX suits me just fine and frankly, since the church has been in the US for a long time, it seems rather petty to blame converts for minor errors for doing something that those stuck in ethnicity belief confusion syndrome should have done a long time ago.

    I have no doubt that there are participants in said groups that do many good things, but that is irrelevant. Here is why. First because as Jesus said to the Jewish rulers, they should be doing both, not one and neglecting the other. Second, because many evil people do good things as well. What is relevant are the evil actions, not whether Hitler provided affordable cars for people and was a vegetarian or that Stalin loved his mother very much. It is not as if Arius was having sexual relations with cats and dogs, stealing candy from infants and was evil in every way imaginable. Do I know Arius? No. Did I know John Spong? No. Did I need to, to know what they professed was heterodox? No. Was Arius an enemy of the Church or no? What is the principle difference in the two cases? If there is one, I can’t see it.
    For my part it isn’t personal. It is just a matter then of saying this is X and these are the conditions for being a member of X and I am required to meet those conditions. Fred comes along and says he is a member of X and yet rejects all or some of those necessary conditions and that we should all go along with those changes. Added to the mix is the fact that the conditions are established by God who happens to be infallible. I simply look at Fred and say “Huh?” Then I kindly direct him to the local Unitarian church down the street where his beliefs and commitments actually fit.

  10. There is a clerihew that runs along the lines of “I am devout, you are zealous, he is fanatical,” and I have often had cause to think that the term “fundamentalist” is one of those “bug’s words” (to use a 16th-Century phrase) which is censorious in connotation while vague or vacuous in denotation, and often can be rendered as “more conservative/ more ‘orthodox’/ more dismissive of contemporary cultural or social mores, or of prevalent social ethics” than the deployer of the term “fundamentalist” is prepared to be. Indeed, sometimes it seem to mean no more than “orthodox,” with a disparaging spin.

  11. Hi, again, Perry!

    Please don’t misunderstand me. I am by no means supporting the views of the Episcopal church, and I am not arguing for deaconesses in the Orthodox Church. I understand that you are saying we must draw a line in the sand somewhere: how much heterodoxy can be tolerated before we must remove the label “Christian” to describe a body of people who hold a certain set of beliefs?

    I also understand your desire to make that demarcation at the boundaries of the Orthodox Church, and I believe you are fully justified in doing so, especially in terms of the arena of theological argument (of which I understand you are greatly informed and educated). I agree that no one has the prerogative of changing the dogmas of the Church. I also see where the mere topic of deaconesses crosses this line for you.

    I do agree with you that ignorance can lead to evil—it is sin, after all. But I disagree that ignorance is always and necessarily malicious. I suppose that’s why we pray for our sins both deliberate and in ignorance—because we know that we can have the best of intentions, but still be wrong. Thankfully, the Spirit can work with that.

    Yes, I know the term “fundamentalist” has been abused in the realm of tinned dialogue and talking points. I tried to clarify what I meant by the term in my comment above, but let me try again. Within Orthodoxy, there is faithful adherence to the Tradition of the Church, and then there are the traditionalists who maximize “small-t” traditions. Within American religion, there are groups who are often called liberal, who desire fewer and fewer necessary dogmas/beliefs/etc. Also within American religion, there are groups of believers who elevate what we would call non-dogmatic teachings to the level of dogma. One of those distortions is present in teachings on gender issues, and leads to very unhealthy beliefs on the relationships between men and women, and often the term “fundamentalist” is used as a descriptor in these cases, where the more accurate term would be “fanatic”.

    The issue of deaconesses is important, not because we should consider changing the Church to fit into new ideology (God forbid!), but because we live in America, and the cultural milieu is saturated with these issues. The Orthodox Church is not “fundamentalist” and she is not “liberal”— she is “traditional,” which preserves and protects what is necessary, and is also dynamic in that conformity to Christ which is not a motionless endeavor (I am trying to avoid using language about change and progress, since those are terms loaded by other conversations and not precisely what I intend).

    It is an important issue because it has become wrapped up in all sorts of gender issues, and people care about having better answers to their questions.

    Your observations about the non-beliefs of the Episcopal church are true, and yet… that church has given unto the Orthodox Church such delightful people! Look at the contributions just here, on this website! Out of its ashes Christ has made phoenixes, and I think that is something to celebrate, if only in memorium.

    Also, I’m not complaining about the OSB; I have two dog-eared copies and a third one I’m working on. There have been a number of observations by a number of people more qualified than myself that have noted that it is not a direct translation of the Septuagint, and as such could be improved upon. My comparison was to note that there is projection of American religion onto both the OSB and to gender issue arguments, and that it is necessary to move beyond the cultural milieu in which those arguments have been useful, to a place where we access deeper waters. I was not “blaming” anyone for a well-done effort made in good faith.

    I understand your argument that we cannot allow our personal affections to cloud our evaluation of heterodoxy, and I agree with you. However, I find it imprudent to assess people I haven’t met, especially if I’m getting information from the internet, which is a medium of great impersonality. I suspect that if we were having this conversation face-to-face, we might have an easier time understanding one another. 🙂 But this is what we have, so this will have to do!

    Thank you for your conversation!

    In Christ,
    tess

    1. Tess, I still believe your use of the term “fundamentalist” is in error. Sticking with it’s original meaning, it describes a certain protestant theology. I grew up with these people and I am quite familiar with them. Not only are they not nearly as numerous as many believe, they have nothing to do with Orthodoxy. To expand the definition into something that might be termed “Orthodox fundamentalism” is also very problematic. Who do you mean? Are you referring to the “True Orthodox” and the “Old Calendarists”? If so what have they to do with St. Nina’s and SVC since they are SCOBA groups aimed at squarely at the EP. Do you mean Moscow and/or ROCOR? If so then are you alleging head covering is a “unhealthy beliefs between men and women”. Do you mean anyone in Orthodoxy who criticizes a modern, feminist oriented critique of “gender issues” (or any of the modern anthropological issues for that matter)?

      The fact is “fundamentalist” is really only used one way in american Orthodoxy: by those who are “liberal” (to use Perry’s definition) or “faithless” (to use my definition) in a disparaging way against their faithful brothers and sisters. In my opinion, it is used by them in mostly an ignorant way because when you spend any time with their arguments (e.g. of the “liberal” OCA priest Robert Arida) they seem quite ignorant. That is to say they seem genuinely confused as to what Orthodox anthropology is, and what protestant fundamentalism really is. So they really do believe (wrongly) that this protestant strain has some influence on those who oppose their liberal and faithless project. To me it is an indication of either there true “trojan horse” intentions, or their lack of basic catechises (or both)

      While I find your belief that a modern version of deaconess or at least a discussion of it to be something important because of what is happening in the culture and the Church’s relationship to said culture a little intriguing, I am not at all convinced. Indeed, the only discussion taking place so far is from a modern, feminist or “power vs power” anthropological understanding. St. Nina’s and SVC are certainly doing nothing to change that – they are simply continuing on in this sad and destructive line of thought and “dialogue”

      Indeed, as I said above I do not believe ours is an age (i.e. our culture) that needs “dialogue”. There is simply no way to dialogue with modernism because it places certain terms and conditions on this “dialogue” that necessarily corrupts it from a Christian point of view (The atheist Stanley Fish is one person who describes why – Google his name and First Things for a set of articles he wrote for that RC magazine in the 1990’s). Ours is an age and culture that needs anthropological, theological, and moral clarity, preaching, teaching, and witness.

      1. First, let me apologize to everyone for my use of the word “fundamentalist.” I see that it has been interpreted in ways that I had not intended, and I ask your forgiveness.

        I hope that we can all admit that, on the spectrum of Christian religious belief and practice, there are those who desire little commitment, who we frequently call “liberal,” and there are those on the other side of the spectrum whose severity of religion is not so much violence to the Kingdom of Heaven as it is violence to their brothers and sisters. Sometimes the word used is “fundamentalist,” though that word admittedly has connotations to it that are somewhat slanderous and not useful. Can we agree to call the other side of the spectrum, those whose Pharisaical religion creates not life, but death, fanatics? Or is there a better term? (Please note, I have not accused anyone in this conversation of actually being a fanatic. I am merely trying to create a space where the existence of such practice is acknowledged.) As far as numbers, that’s a relative observation, and impossible to quantify. One is too many if it leads a little child astray— even Christ said something about millstones. 

        I will not commit to labeling anyone from the communities you mentioned, Christopher, as fanatic. I do not believe that labeling groups is an effective way of connecting and communicating with other individual persons. No person deserves to be evaluated solely on group labels (which was part of my earlier point, which must have been unclear).

        (Incidentally, women’s head covering is not a matter of dogma. And I would like to refrain from bringing international Orthodoxy into this discussion, since we are (mostly, I assume) American Orthodox Christians with no direct, organic experience with native Russian/Romanian/Greek/Arab/etc. Orthodoxy.)

        The problem with arguments against women’s ordination is that they are not usually effectively separated from arguments against women’s ministry. Protestant arguments against women in ministry typically appeal to very specific interpretations of Pauline verses such as 1 Timothy 2:12 or Colossians 3:18, among others. Orthodox arguments against female ordained priesthood are very different: they appeal to the archetypically masculine nature of the priesthood and its concomitant symbolism, which is a whole mine of conversation starters. 

        The praxis of Orthodoxy with regards to women in authority has been much different from that in other American churches. Actually, according to Orthodox arguments, there is no reason for a woman not to become a Protestant pastor, since Protestant pastoral ministry is not sacramental. As I said in my initial comment, if you removed the concept of “deaconess,” what really was there to disagree with in the SCV statement?

        As a woman, when I read an article like the one above, I become very concerned that the author is defending the praxis of the Church from an Orthodox position, which has historically defended and celebrated the charismatic gifts of both women and men. It matters very much to me that well-meaning people not bring accidental baggage into Orthodox teaching. Fr. Lawrence’s subsequent responses have helped to alleviate me of my concern. And I disagree with you that what you have called a “strain of protestant fundamentalism” has not had an effect on American Orthodoxy— how could it not when some of us are converts from Protestant fundamentalism?

        It seems these days that all public American discourse is dichotomous, industrial dialogue. I certainly agree with you that that endeavor is fruitless. What we need more of is conversation, connection, and communion– which we can’t have with modernism, because that’s just a label and not a living, breathing image of God. If we can figure out how to do that on an impersonal medium like this, then maybe there is hope for more connection in our society.

        As far as discussion about deaconesses, or any subject under the heading of charismatic gifts of men and women, let’s make a new conversation. Or, if you find that it is an issue that does not interest or reach out to you personally, then maybe kindly step aside and just listen to the people who want to talk about it? Let us, with patience with each other, encounter the teachings of Orthodoxy and our cultural milieu, and in a spirit of creative fidelity, commune with each other. 🙂

        Thank you, Christopher, for your deeply felt reply and continued conversation.

        In Christ,
        tess

        1. Tess: Would it help if I enumerated some of the ministries which women can undertake? I believe that women can be prophets, counsellors, iconographers, healers, evangelists, and teachers of good (Greek kalodidaskalos; Titus 2:3). None of these ministries require ordination. I also believe that women can exercise the ordained ministry of deaconess, assuming that the ministry is 1) pastorally required by Church; and 2) canonically identical to the ministry of deaconess in the early church. My main problem with deaconesses as envisioned by SCV is that the proposed model fulfills neither of these two criteria. But surely there is ample scope for women in ministry apart from ordination? As I mentioned before, the more pressing need is not the novel introduction of women into ordained ministry, but the recovery of ministry as broader than ordination, so that laity, both men and women, exercise a valued and essential ministry as laity. This would also help the ordained ministers to view their own ministries in terms of service, and not power. I regard the devaluation of lay ministry as a grave problem. Ironically, both those advocating for the ordination of women and those opposing it are often united in this tragic devaluation of lay ministry.

          1. Yes, Father, I think it does help, and I’m in complete agreement with your assessment about the spell of clericalism and its effect on modern organizations promoting the ordination of deaconesses in the Orthodox Church. I really think it’s important to emphasize, though, that the Church does not oppose women’s ordination through any argument that appeals to the superiority of the masculine. That’s probably pretty self-evident to you, being immersed in Orthodox theology, but I’m concerned that it’s not self-evident to others, especially women and men who come from a background that has promoted a destructive understanding of sex and gender. For example, the dichotomy of egalitarian/complementarian is used to describe the different opinions on gender roles within American Christianity, and the more I read from the deeps wells of Orthodox spirituality, the more I am convinced that neither group accurately represents the true teachings of the Church. It was in this spirit that I originally commented, in the hopes of clarifying that for an imaginary reader who might have misunderstood. 🙂

          2. Yes, Father, I think it does help, and I’m in complete agreement with your assessment about the spell of clericalism and its effect on modern organizations promoting the ordination of deaconesses in the Orthodox Church. I really think it’s important to emphasize, though, that the Church does not oppose women’s ordination through any argument that appeals to the superiority of the masculine. That’s probably pretty self-evident to you, being immersed in Orthodox theology, but I’m concerned that it’s not self-evident to others, especially women and men who come from a background that has promoted a destructive understanding of sex and gender. For example, the dichotomy of egalitarian/complementarian is used to describe the different opinions on gender roles within American Christianity, and the more I read from the deeps wells of Orthodox spirituality, the more I am convinced that neither group accurately represents the true teachings of the Church. It was in this spirit that I originally commented, in the hopes of clarifying that for an imaginary reader who might have misunderstood. 🙂

        2. Tess, allow me to respond to some specific things you said:

          “Can we agree to call the other side of the spectrum, those whose Pharisaical religion creates not life, but death, fanatics? Or is there a better term? (Please note, I have not accused anyone in this conversation of actually being a fanatic. I am merely trying to create a space where the existence of such practice is acknowledged.)”

          Ok, but where is it? Are you saying that this is a tendency that affects every human heart and thus is to be found to one degree or another in every parish in America, or are you saying that this is held by one or more parish’s in particular, or one or more “jurisdictions”, or again are you pointing to the “non-canonical” churches? I ask because I converted in the mid 90’s and because of my job I have lived in more places and been a part of more Orthodox parishes than is good for me. They were all “SCOBA” parishes however. The thing is, I don’t recall a single person (let alone a priest, or whole parish or “jurisdiction”) that can be accurately described by this category. I suppose a few “zealous” converts might approach such a description, but they were always surrounded by clergy and laypersons who knew better. My experience is singular and not exhaustive obviously, but it is also not insignificant. Most importantly, these “zeolots” (those who were approaching your definition but not reaqlly fitting it) were never to be found among the clergy, those in leadership positions in laity, and certainly not the bishops.

          Now, their “opposites”: the “liberal” or “faithless” or “modernist” lay persons I found everywhere. I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that in some parishs I was a part of over 50% of the laity fit this description (most parishes they were a minority in my judgement thankfully). I have had two priests who fit this description, though they were a contradiction in other ways also. I know some bishops of some of the American jurisdictions also fit this description.

          This is not surprising, given the culture in which we all live. You seemed focused on a non problem and ignoring the proverbial elephant.

          ” As I said in my initial comment, if you removed the concept of “deaconess,” what really was there to disagree with in the SCV statement?”

          Its feminist presuppositions. Thus, you really can’t remove the concept of “deaconess” because a feminist conception of deaconess is the underlying philosophy and therin lies it’s coherency. The rest is window dressing

          “I disagree with you that what you have called a “strain of protestant fundamentalism” has not had an effect on American Orthodoxy— how could it not when some of us are converts from Protestant fundamentalism?”

          The number of actual protestant fundamentalist are much lower than is typically assumed. Many people even self report that they came from a “fundamentalist” background when in fact they did not. A southern baptist is not a “fundamentalist”. Besides, I think the burden of proof is on you to explain how a persons history colors his or her conversion. Seems like you are saying that these persons are not completely or truly converted – that they still retain some of their previous beliefs and thus are coloring not only themselves and their fellow parishioners, but perhaps the clergy and the bishops also.

          Let’s do an experiment. You know a little about me and the way I think and believe just by this short conversation we have had here. I am a convert. What is my background? I will tell you only that it is protestant. If you wish, I will give you 3 guess and a wager on it if you wish – just to keep it lite and exciting!! And no cheating as I have said some things about my background on other blogs! 🙂

          “As far as discussion about deaconesses, or any subject under the heading of charismatic gifts of men and women, let’s make a new conversation.”

          If ministry to the churched and unchurched is what you are concerned about, what does modern conceptions and dilemmas (i.e. “gender issues”) have to add? Does that not simply important the culture, the “spirit of the age” into the Church? Are we not supposed to avoid that (insert your favorite Apostolic warning here). Ok, new conversation – I sit on my church council and am involved in a medical ministry. In these two “ministries” I simply don’t see the advantage of bringing “gender” into them, most certainly not in the terms and assumptions of the culture. I am however ready to learn: why should I reconsider this?

    2. Hey Tess,

      I am not saying you are supporting any heterodox view. I am just using the Episcopal church as an example.

      I suppose I am asking a different question rather than engaging in line drawing. If the term Christian means such and so, why think X qualifies?

      I can’t see how advocates for deaconesses (which they regularly equate with deacons) is anything other than a camel’s nose for women’s ordination. That is how it has functioned in just about every other tradition and what its (at least some) advocates have said is the project goal. And they use the same arguments and tactics. I am just fine bringing back the canonical order of deaconesses as outlined in the ecumenical conciliar canons, but I know that that is not the goal for many of its advocates, because, well they say so.

      I agree ignorance is not always malicious as Christ was ignorant and so it is per se blameless. My point was that ignorance among the heterodox isn’t necessarily exculpatory and doesn’t warrant perpetual dialog. (Paraphrasing Twain, it is not what I do not understand what they say that worries me, it is what I do understand.) And this is so because I do not assume that dialog is about reaching the truth by the presentation of reason and evidence for such advocates. Dialog is a tactic until such time as they have sufficient power to exclude Orthodoxy.

      I am well acquainted with the coverts who are more Orthodox than the Orthodox. I am not one of them to be sure as anyone who knows me can attest. I do not obsess over fasting rules, let alone speak around adults much better than your average sailor. I do prefer head coverings for women in liturgy, truth be told, because as far as I can see i is per the scriptures warranted in the Creation mandate, as is heterosexual marriage. That said, frankly I think the Yahoodi Orthodox (Yahoodi are converts to Judaism who are more Jewish than the Jews or so I am told.) are not what we need to be worried about. They aren’t passing laws, laws that will most likely affect the church and its members in all sorts of negative ways. Nor are they directly acting to alter the faith, even if their good intentions at time distort its spirit. They do not represent the spirit of the age as it were. Not by a long shot.

      As far as “gender” I don’t think that concept is compatible with Orthodox theology, let alone being a scientifically grounded concept. Sex and gender are two distinct things conceptually. For my part, you are your plumbing with all of the created teleology that goes with it. I find it a little ironic that you write about bringing in secular and other ideas and then talk about “gender” though. 😉

      I disagree with your explanation of why deaconesses are important. First, there is no great surge of women waiting to enter the church, let alone those of feminist disposition, if golly gee, we only had deaconesses. Second, it gets the cart before the horse. You come to the church because it is the body of Christ and because you believe in Christ and his apostles and that the church has that apostolic ministry, not because one has a commitment to X (in this case feminism) and the church happens to agree with your core beliefs. That is building Orthodoxy on the wrong foundation. One can’t serve two masters.

      Don’t get me wrong. I’ve read McKinnon’s work on the sexual harassment of working women and other feminist works. We have indeed come a long way and in many ways very beneficial and right ways in correcting wrongs of the past. But feminism is not the church’s one foundation. Get the church’s teaching out right and the rest will take care of itself.

      Given that I am more Wittgenstinian about language and meaning, I suppose I don’t know what a “direct” translation would be.

      I suppose my assessments are not of people as such or of their eschatological destinies. I can assess (and aren’t all Christians to at least some degree) what they profess and argue for and how they behave. If I can’t assess it, then on what other basis could I ever be in a position to agree with it?

      In short, I see no reason to dialog with persons who consistently reject the truth of Christianity. For those who favor WO for example, they either do so already or have done so implicitly. That was and is the entire point of WO, namely that if the church is wrong about the apostolic ministry, everything else is alterable. And that is why once that has taken place, everything else has been so altered. And this is why the moral permissibility of homosexual behavior and ordination follows invariably on the heels of WO because it is the same thesis-namely our bodies are irrelevant to soteriology and the church was wrong about its own self-understanding in core areas in the past. Que Marcion. Such advocates entered the church in most cases knowing what the church teaches and took an oath, either explicitly or implicitly to uphold its teachings. If they cannot in good conscience abide by that oath, they should simply be honest and go somewhere where they can be honest with themselves. If they cannot do that, then the church should use its apostolic toolbox to show them the door. As with cancer so it is with heterodoxy, either you get the cancer or the cancer gets you.

  12. Okay, wow. I feel like we’re having a bunch of different conversations here, and it seems like understanding is getting lost in the mix. 🙂 I’m going to try to restate my position, which will hopefully clear the water and answer a few questions I see as common to both of your comments. In the interest of brevity, Christopher and Perry, I’ll respond to your more specific points in a different comment.

    1. I’m approaching our interaction as conversation, not debate. That means I’m trying to seek understanding and foster communication, rather than prove a point or win an argument.

    2. Whether you choose to call it group psychology, identity politics, or by some other name, talking about “groups of people” as such is an utterly useless endeavor. You can’t actually “dialogue with persons”. It is also why I’m not a feminist, conservative, egalitarian or complementarian. Fitting people into ideologies is putting square pegs in round holes. We can certainly assess ideas, but when it comes to individuals, we have to talk to them as such, and not as representatives of ideologies.

    3. Nearly every argument made against women’s ministry ends up appealing to the premise that something about women is inferior to men, which is, of course, heterodox. The exception is the sacramental/liturgical symbolism argument, which is thankfully much more interesting and complicated. It also has allowed in the past for real, true ordained Orthodox deaconesses— which means that there is nothing about masculinity that is inherently superior to femininity.

    4. It seems the division of the Anglican/Episcopal Churches into low and high has forced a kind of ‘least-common-denominator’ approach to theological commonality. So I think that the Episcopal Church didn’t have a good chance of defending its priesthood based on sacramental arguments, because their low-church brethren didn’t buy into those premises. So they had to include arguments that appealed to the superiority of the masculine/inferiority of the feminine, to which nowadays only fanatics/zealots adhere, and others rightly reject.

    5. Whatever you choose to call it, sex and gender issues are important because our culture does sex and gender very badly. The marriages of American Christians fail nearly as much as their secular counterparts do. Through my reading, I’ve come to the conclusion that although the tension between the sexes is part of the Fall, it has lately been exacerbated by the Industrial Revolution and the destruction of rural communities based on small-scale agriculture. I think the healing wisdom of the Orthodox Church is the necessary medicine, so it’s very important that Orthodox Christians appeal to that wisdom and not mistakenly to heterodox arguments.

  13. Christopher,

    1. I think fanaticism is a temptation for all devout Christians, because our personalities naturally suit us to different parts of the spiritually better than others. Conversely, when we cut ourselves a break on some spiritual practice that is difficult for us, aren’t we just being liberal on a smaller scale? What’s more useful— labeling groups of people, or applying ourselves to the great work of synergy that is our salvation?

    2. One line I’m willing to draw is that the appeal to women’s inferiority is an argument made from zealotry/fanaticism, and has no place in the Church. I was concerned with Fr. Lawrence’s original article because he didn’t make that distinction; however, his subsequent comments have alleviated my concerns.

    3. I disagree with your assessment that fanaticism is a non-issue. Millstones. Toxic religion kills souls.

    4. Becoming a new person in Christ does not mean that we become persons without history, or that our stories disappear. Conversion is a process of healing— most people are not instantaneously completely changed. The Holy Spirit takes time.

    5. I don’t understand where you’re going with me guessing your background, or where you’re going with your parish council/medical ministry example. Perhaps you can be clearer?

    Perry,

    1. I think I’m hearing you say that you wish that groups like SCV and St. Nina’s would just join the Episcopal Church? Is that right? You see them as weakening the ecclesiology of the Church by promoting schism?

    2. Re: the importance of the deaconess conversation:
    I think Fr. Lawrence’s point about clericalism is extremely pertinent, and about expanding the importance of lay ministry in general. Both women and men can do so much service: “prophets, counsellors, iconographers, healers, evangelists, and teachers of good” as well as “pastoral care, education, mission, and philanthropy … evangelism and witness as well as care for the sick, destitute and unchurched… [ministry] to parents who experience the loss of a child, dealing with end of life decisions, domestic violence, human trafficking and other forms of trauma, addiction and/or affliction.” These are all areas that can be handled by the lay ministry in the Orthodox Church, but are up for debate within different Protestant groups. Therefore, we need to stop making this about ordination in particular, and make it more about service in general. Does that make more sense?

    3. Your statement, “You are your plumbing with all of the created teleology that goes with it,” I find to be a gross over-simplification of a much more nuanced and complicated issue. Your blithe dismissal surprises me. I’m also not sure what you’re referring to with this statement: “I find it a little ironic that you write about bringing in secular and other ideas and then talk about “gender” though.”

    4. Your statement “feminism is not part of the Church’s foundation,” I also find to be overly simplistic. Orthodox Christianity has consistently emphasized that women are not inferior to men, and has celebrated the charismatic gifts of all of its members, both men and women.
    In other words, I agree with you that there’s a lot of dirt bathwater in discussion of women’s ordination, homosexuality, et al…. but don’t throw out the baby, which is that both women and men can be more involved in all sorts of ministries minus the clericalism!

    Thanks again for your time.
    In Christ,
    tess

  14. Father, bless,

    I was just wondering what happened to the responses I posted on Wednesday? If you chose not to post them, that’s okay, I just wanted to know.

    Thanks!

    tess

    1. Tess: I didn’t get your post; my policy is to post pretty much everything that people send. You would please send it again? If you don’t see it right away, try emailing me at email hidden; JavaScript is required

  15. Okay, wow. I feel like we’re having a bunch of different conversations here, and it seems like understanding is getting lost in the mix. 🙂 I’m going to try to restate my position, which will hopefully clear the water and answer a few questions I see as common to both of your comments. In the interest of brevity, Christopher and Perry, I’ll respond to your more specific points in a different comment.

    1. I’m approaching our interaction as conversation, not debate. That means I’m trying to seek understanding and foster communication, rather than prove a point or win an argument.

    2. Whether you choose to call it group psychology, identity politics, or by some other name, talking about “groups of people” as such is an utterly useless endeavor. You can’t actually “dialogue with persons”. It is also why I’m not a feminist, conservative, egalitarian or complementarian. Fitting people into ideologies is putting square pegs in round holes. We can certainly assess ideas, but when it comes to individuals, we have to talk to them as such, and not as representatives of ideologies.

    3. Nearly every argument made against women’s ministry ends up appealing to the premise that something about women is inferior to men, which is, of course, heterodox. The exception is the sacramental/liturgical symbolism argument, which is thankfully much more interesting and complicated. It also has allowed in the past for real, true ordained Orthodox deaconesses— which means that there is nothing about masculinity that is inherently superior to femininity.

    4. It seems the division of the Anglican/Episcopal Churches into low and high has forced a kind of ‘least-common-denominator’ approach to theological commonality. So I think that the Episcopal Church didn’t have a good chance of defending its priesthood based on sacramental arguments, because their low-church brethren didn’t buy into those premises. So they had to include arguments that appealed to the superiority of the masculine/inferiority of the feminine, to which nowadays only fanatics/zealots adhere, and others rightly reject.

    5. Whatever you choose to call it, sex and gender issues are important because our culture does sex and gender very badly. The marriages of American Christians fail nearly as much as their secular counterparts do. Through my reading, I’ve come to the conclusion that although the tension between the sexes is part of the Fall, it has lately been exacerbated by the Industrial Revolution and the destruction of rural communities based on small-scale agriculture. I think the healing wisdom of the Orthodox Church is the necessary medicine, so it’s very important that Orthodox Christians appeal to that wisdom and not mistakenly to heterodox arguments.

    1. Tess: Sorry that I am not ‘up’ on terms like “complementarian”. But let me stress again as I did in my book Feminism and Tradition (yep; this is a ‘plug’) that the distinction between masculine and feminine or even the concept of headship do not involve superiority or inferiority of one over the other. Men are not superior to women, nor the husband superior to his wife, despite being her “head” (Eph. 5:23). God is the head of Christ (1 Cor. 11:3), and yet Christ is not inferior to God/ the Father. I was indeed assuming that no one would read my piece as implying that women were inferior to men, but perhaps this simply proves the folly of making assumptions. Anyway, thank you for the opportunity to clarify.

      1. I’m curious, Father, whether in your book you’ve located the term “headship” in its classical “generative” sense? That is, that the Greeks understood the term “headship” in terms not of leadership, but of generation. The head being the location of the generative fluid, sperm— this understanding being illustrated by such myths as the Zeus/Athena construct.

        I can totally see how unless one was plugged into the world of the complementarian/egalitarian debate, that one wouldn’t even be aware of it. It’s pretty common in home education circles, where one is likely to find devout and pious representatives of their respective traditions (though, of course, religion is not the only reason most choose to home educate). Devotion and piety in America seem to be related to traditional and conservative beliefs, often blurring the lines between strict adherence to T/tradition and the freedom of pious opinion.

        I’d think it would never hurt to continue to underscore that the Orthodox praxis of the headship verses is entirely different from the Protestant understanding.

        1. The (possibly unanswerable) question of what was in St. Paul’s mind when he used the term “head” I do not examine much in the book, mostly because I consider it unanswerable from the limited Pauline data we have. What is answerable and germane to the issue I was examining is that the husband leads his wife as Christ leads the Church, and that there is a hierarchy in the domestic world of husband and wife as there is in the spiritual world.

  16. Christopher,

    1. I think fanaticism is a temptation for all devout Christians, because our personalities naturally suit us to different parts of the spiritually better than others. Conversely, when we cut ourselves a break on some spiritual practice that is difficult for us, aren’t we just being liberal on a smaller scale? What’s more useful— labeling groups of people, or applying ourselves to the great work of synergy that is our salvation?

    2. One line I’m willing to draw is that the appeal to women’s inferiority is an argument made from zealotry/fanaticism, and has no place in the Church. I was concerned with Fr. Lawrence’s original article because he didn’t make that distinction; however, his subsequent comments have alleviated my concerns.

    3. I disagree with your assessment that fanaticism is a non-issue. Millstones. Toxic religion kills souls.

    4. Becoming a new person in Christ does not mean that we become persons without history, or that our stories disappear. Conversion is a process of healing— most people are not instantaneously completely changed. The Holy Spirit takes time.

    5. I don’t understand where you’re going with me guessing your background, or where you’re going with your parish council/medical ministry example. Perhaps you can be clearer?

    Perry,

    1. I think I’m hearing you say that you wish that groups like SCV and St. Nina’s would just join the Episcopal Church? Is that right? You see them as weakening the ecclesiology of the Church by promoting schism?

    2. Re: the importance of the deaconess conversation:
    I think Fr. Lawrence’s point about clericalism is extremely pertinent, and about expanding the importance of lay ministry in general. Both women and men can do so much service: “prophets, counsellors, iconographers, healers, evangelists, and teachers of good” as well as “pastoral care, education, mission, and philanthropy … evangelism and witness as well as care for the sick, destitute and unchurched… [ministry] to parents who experience the loss of a child, dealing with end of life decisions, domestic violence, human trafficking and other forms of trauma, addiction and/or affliction.” These are all areas that can be handled by the lay ministry in the Orthodox Church, but are up for debate within different Protestant groups. Therefore, we need to stop making this about ordination in particular, and make it more about service in general. Does that make more sense?

    3. Your statement, “You are your plumbing with all of the created teleology that goes with it,” I find to be a gross over-simplification of a much more nuanced and complicated issue. Your blithe dismissal surprises me. I’m also not sure what you’re referring to with this statement: “I find it a little ironic that you write about bringing in secular and other ideas and then talk about “gender” though.”

    4. Your statement “feminism is not part of the Church’s foundation,” I also find to be overly simplistic. Orthodox Christianity has consistently emphasized that women are not inferior to men, and has celebrated the charismatic gifts of all of its members, both men and women.
    In other words, I agree with you that there’s a lot of dirty bathwater in discussion of women’s ordination, homosexuality, et al…. but don’t throw out the baby, which is that both women and men can be more involved in all sorts of ministries minus the clericalism!

    Thanks again for your time.
    In Christ,
    tess

  17. Tess,

    I think we are at an impasse on something called “fanaticism” within mainstream or SCOBA jurisdictional American Orthodoxy. While it might be an issue with the “non-canonical” Orthodox groups (I don’t claim it is but I have heard it reported, and based on some of the things I have read I tend to believe that it is certainly possible or even probable) I just don’t see it the mainstream – and I mean not even just a little bit. You can always point to an exceptional individual or two, but that is the “exception that proves the rule”. It most certainly does not influence anyone in any position of real authority. If you have any evidence to the contrary I would certainly entertain it, but like I said above each and every time I have heard the accusation of “fundamentalist” or “fanatic” or the like it was coming from the mouth of an innovator. It is a non-problem as I see it, so talking about it like it is a problem is something that is a problem – one has to examine the underlying motivations/assumptions for trying to keep it in play when in fact it is not.

    I agree with you about conversion, but then everyone is “converting” through out their lifetimes. I have known many a cradle orthodox who was really only starting to truly convert in their old age, and I have known recent young converts who were beyond my comprehension to understand where they were at and whom I could really only ask them for their prayers. I asked you to guess at my background because you seem to want to focus on it in a way I don’t really agree with, because individuals are the ones who convert, not their backgrounds and certainly not as “Episcopalians” or some other external group. I’m not sure if I said it here or elsewhere but I actually grew up with real, honest to goodness fundamentalists – people who actually can be correctly identified as such. I have even known a few of them to convert to Orthodoxy. As a group, they do a better job at it (truly getting Orthodoxy and taking on an Orthodox ethos, etc.) than any other “group” that I have known. I asked you to guess because I wanted to see what assumptions you were bringing to the table and how they colored (rightly or wrongly) your beliefs about what a persons background does (or would you say in some important sense determines?) their conversion to an Orthodox ethos and understanding of Him, the Church, “ministry”, etc.

    Finally, even though you addressed it to Perry I want to speak about groups like SVC and St. Nina’s being in schism. I think that it is possible that they already are. I think it is possible that that many or most of the individuals in these groups are in fact “Orthodox Episcopalians” in mind and belief. This is to say they really no longer believe in Orthodox anthropology and ecclesiology but are “trying to reform the institution from within”, and thus they are truly subversive. I don’t know this as a certainty, and I hope and pray I am wrong, but I think it is a definite possibility…

  18. Christopher,

    I think I understand what you’re saying now— that you have real experience with fundamentalism and fanaticism in your Protestant background, that you do not see it present within normative American Orthodox experience, and that you are wary of such observations because so often they come from the other side of the spectrum, those who do not value the Tradition that has been handed down through the ages. In this I would certainly agree with you!

    In bringing up the backgrounds of those of us who have converted to the Faith, I didn’t mean to single you out or insinuate that you were representative of fundamentalism/fanaticism because of your opinion on St. Nina’s/SCV. I think that such a position can be validly upheld, as long as it appeals to Orthodox anthropology. It has been my experience that some of our deeply held subconscious beliefs hold on for a long time, and I think gender/sex issues are some of those. Thus, you have people basically understanding the headship verses to mean that men are “in charge,” and that a woman cannot be “in charge” without a man “in charge” of her.

    Even the phrase that Father just used, “the husband leads the wife as Christ leads the Church,” can be misinterpreted fairly easily within certain circles. For one, *men* don’t lead *women*. For another thing, think about the very nature of the leadership of Christ: the whole point of His Incarnation was to elevate us to the levels of His very brothers and sisters! This is not leadership as it is understood in the typical American sense. Another thing that comes to mind is that we refer to the Theotokos as the Victorious Leader of Triumphant Hosts— so I’d even go so far as to say that spiritual leadership in general is relatively misunderstood in our culture.

    All of this is to say that in opposing deaconesses, I think it’s extremely important that we Orthodox Christians underscore that **we are not denying spiritual leadership to spiritually qualified women**. To be a cleric is not to be, de facto, a spiritual leader, just as to be a man is not to be, de facto, a spiritual leader over one’s woman.

    I cannot tell whether or not that is your personal position. I hope that we can agree, just as I hope that we all can continue promoting clarity in understanding each other’s spiritual charisms.

    I, too, come from a mixed-bag of fundamentalist backgrounds, and I agree that I do not see the same problems in my parish that I encountered in my pre-Orthodox spiritual life. However, one of the things that has occasionally given me pause over the years is the confusion of beliefs I saw in Orthodox engagement with “mere Christianity” fora— in an effort to talk to their conservative Protestant and Catholic brothers and sisters, they adopted some of the forms and language usage, one of which was the way they stated their understanding of men’s and women’s roles. Perhaps your experience and mine are very different. I do believe, however, that womens’ charisms are not limited to the building of the home and the care of the family— and there is a good portion of the Protestant fundamentalist/fanatic world that believes just that.

    I do believe we’ll have to agree to disagree whether that is an issue or a non-problem. Though I don’t think my disagreement with you should necessarily make one suspect that I am an innovator. We are within the realm of pious opinion when speaking about these things, I think.

    As to the charge of schism, that is not something that I feel personally qualified to speak to. All I can speak to is that I’ve known one of the priests off and on over the years, and I’ve only had respect for his ministry of love.

  19. Tess,

    I was raised a Unitarian Universalist and was one till about my mid 20’s. Modern Unitarians are excellent examples of modernists – they simply bless and worship the secular – they are true believers in scientism. Our longtime pastor was however a Theist (a Deist to be more technical) and this was a source of scandal and controversy in the church because of this. In my town in the south, there were many “recovering Fundamentalists” in our “church”. The first time I heard of of a “church” being a hospital was in this context, for many of these people were deeply scared by their fundamentalist backgrounds. Now of course, I realize now that Unitarianism was and is an overeaction ultimately to any “fanatical” or fundamentalist belief system, but God bless the Unitarians, they welcomed many. I also had friends who were from fundamentalist backgrounds as a teenager and young adult, who were not UU. Our relationships were a scandal to their parents, and to a lessor extant my own.

    Because of this background, I think it can be said that I have experience with both the left and right of the narrow and difficult Way that is Christ. This is why I am confident (without being over confident God willing) about current SCOBA Orthodoxy. I see more ‘danger’ (realizing of course we don’t really need to try to burden ourselves with “defending” the Church because it is beyond us and in God’s providence) or rather confusion coming from the “left” than the “right”. This is my experience anyways.

    I also believe I understand the Orthodox view of male “headship”, sacrementality, etc. and I don’t see any fanatical, “women are to stay at home and keep quiet” interpretation of women’s role in the Church or family at all in my Orthodox experience. I do see some Orthodox criticizing the pressure put on women AND men AND families by our consumerist culture, thus questioning the need for both mother and father to work and allowing daycare professionals to raise their children, etc. That is a conversation that needs to happen more I think. When I think of Sr. Vassa, or when I think of my own wife (she is the medical director at a local hospital – that is she is the doctor who is in charge of all the other doctors and is thus no pushover in any way whatsoever 😉 – we would not be Orthodox today if she thought this ‘fanatical’ view of women was in any way influential at all) I just don’t see this as a problem. Perhaps it is in some parishes??? It certainly is not normative in our culture and I take the backwaters of Protestantism where this view is still held to have their days numbered. I would be more concerned about a Godless culture rebounding from it’s own emptiness and nihilism into Islam or some other robust religion/worldview where women truly are subservient. By the way, I happened to ask my wife if she thought “womens issues” or “gender” could be brought in in some way, shape, or form in the medical ministry we are a part of and she could not see how it was important. This is not to say I mean to negate the idea completely, I just am having trouble applying it to my corner of Orthodoxy.

    Finally, I do recognize a certain sincerity and compassionate concern on the part of many who support womens ordination, communion of non-repentant civilly “married” homosexualists, etc. This does not mean they are correct and we have to remember we have to love in truth and not in a sentimental way. I recall one fellow parishioner I knew from a few years ago (at another parish than I am a part of now) who had this strange (or maybe not so strange and uncommon) belief that the Virgin Mother was in essence co-equal to her Son, and the Church just had not caught up with this yet, but that is why God keeps her in the Church as she is now to help us grow toward this right understanding (this is at least my best interpretation of what she was saying – it was often difficult to follow as she was not a “systematic” thinker lets just say 😉 ). Anyways, I suppose there are many who sincerely believe the Church is wrong on these things. Thank God he covers all of our shortcomings and sins with infinite mercy!!

  20. Christopher,

    I can definitely understand where coming from a background like yours, you would see liberalism and the watering-down of the faith to be a much greater danger than fanaticism/fundamentalism. I’d even be willing to concede that of the two, it is the more imminent problem.

    My experience with fundamentalism/fanaticism in my pre-Orthodox life was much different than yours. If I were as confident as you that it is merely “backwater” with numbered days, perhaps I would not be so troubled. But I am not convinced.

    I also understand your reference to the medical field now, and I agree that it is one arena of our modern experience that is insulated from the effects of gender discussion. I, too, work in healthcare. I’ve come to the conclusion over the years that interpersonal dynamics in healthcare allow for relationships that do not have a developed sexual dimension, perhaps due to adherence to ethical boundaries that have dissolved elsewhere in society, and perhaps due to medicine’s predominant focus on the physicality of our existence.

    One thing that puzzles me with this entire thread is that I feel like each of the responses to my comment has made the assumption that I am representative of some strain of feminist/liberal thinking just for wanting to have this conversation. Gender differences, roles, psychology, theories of leadership– all these I’ve found to be delightfully nuanced topics, with areas open to theologoumena. I do feel like dismissing the topic, or casting those of us interested in it as on some sort of slippery path to liberalism, demonstrates a type of mental rigidity that I’ve found in my experience to be a precursor to a severe religion (note that I’m not accusing you as such, just making an observation based on my experiences with others).

    As far as your fellow parishioner’s view on the Theotokos, I think that while it’s quite obvious that Orthodoxy does not consider her a fourth member of the Trinity, Orthodoxy does have a special understanding of how the Spirit works through feminine spirituality, as demonstrated archetypically in the person of the Mother of God. And this feminine spirituality is not considered a lower rank than masculine spirituality. Also, one could interpret your fellow parishioner’s comments as trying to express that the Virgin is the first-fruits of theosis— which, though it sounds scandalous, is to become a god and a co-heir with Christ.

    Interesting thoughts. A blessed Nativity to you and yours!

  21. Tess says:

    “One thing that puzzles me with this entire thread is that I feel like each of the responses to my comment has made the assumption that I am representative of some strain of feminist/liberal thinking just for wanting to have this conversation. Gender differences, roles, psychology, theories of leadership– all these I’ve found to be delightfully nuanced topics, with areas open to theologoumena.”

    Well, I would say that I have never heard “gender” discussed in Orthodoxy in a way apart from feminist presuppositions, even if they were largely “uncounscious” (to abuse a term from psychology a bit). I suppose if you live near a cave and bears keep coming out of it and eating the villagers, it’s up to you to prove that something else besides bears live in the cave and that if you come out roaring, you are not in fact a bear 😉

    I hope I don’t offend you with the following: I would say that my background does not determine me and my thinking/concerns in the way you describe. I am not concerned about “liberal”, “secular”, “modernist” influences on the faithful because my background predisposes me to be able to see these things and to exaggerate them past their actual, objective level of influence. I am concerned about them because they are in fact the standard mode of thinking for us “modern” people (you and I both fall into this category). This is especially evident in the youth, who every priest/parent I have ever talked to will tell you that they almost uniformly believe the church is “wrong” on these anthropological issues (womens ordination, homosexualism and “gay marriage”, even abortion, etc.). Perhaps up to 50% of the adults also tend to side with the culture on these things also. Those who really truly are “fanatics” as you describe are few and far between, have no influence on the culture/youth, and certainly are not to be found among the clergy, bishops, seminary professors, and any other sort of “leader” in SCOBA Orthodoxy. Like I said above, to focus on a non problem as if it is a problem is itself a problem…

    Christ is born!!!

  22. Father Farley’s writ is spot on. My only critique I would have is that he left out the plethora of scripture that not only supports his writ, but in fact enforces it, and also the stalwart and immovable position of the Church. But, I suppose if he had done that, his writ would have read like a short novel.
    Nonetheless, my point is this.
    Never have I seen so many who ascribe to this Liberal Theology who either do not know, or who are ignoring what they know as dozens of, “clear statements of scripture”. Scripture that address directly, clearly, and concisely these issues they have with the church’s position on homosexual marriage, abortion, end of life issues, female priests & deacons, and the various issues of politics in our worldly lives.
    Add to this all of the writings by Church Fathers over these last 2000 years, and it boggles the Christian trained, honest mind as to why such issues are being once again brought up for, “dialogue”.
    Where else would Satan’s diabolical work be as effective than in the minds, and hearts of so many (so-called) “liberal thinkers” within the church?

    2 Cor, 4:4 “Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God”.

    You who somehow believe that the church should change with the social times, really and truly do not see and realize (or refuse to) that God’s word is static. It has not changed. It is not a living document up for new interpretation (new light, as it were), and is not to be watered down.

    2 Tim 3:5-7 Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.

    2 Tim 3:16-17 (Aramaic to English Bible) Every writing which is written by The Spirit* is profitable for teaching, for correction, for direction and for a course in righteousness, That the man of God will be perfect and perfected for every good work.

    What has changed?

    Hebrew 4:12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

    So let us cut to the chase here… The Church’s position Is, The Word Of God, and The Word Of God is, the position of the church.

    You who push this other gospel, and you who make issues of those things that have already been settled once already, and for all times have no footing in the Church.
    Do you want, or do you have no problem with homosexual marriage? Do you want, or do you have no problem with women becoming priests, and deacons?
    Then the answer for you is very easy, and straight forward. Become Episcopalian. They too openly ignore those clear statements of scripture, and they too ignore those already been settled, once already, and for all times the issues that you hold so dear.

  23. It’s sad to see so much of Orthodoxy polluted by Ecumenism, Western Philosophy and Psychology, ignorant converts, love of money, etc. One must pick one’s Orthodox Church very carefully today – too often, the old Spirit is gone – I can sadly feel in my heart its absence. More heretical examples include websites such as “Progressive Orthodoxy,” “Traditional Orthodoxy,” “Feminism in Orthodoxy,” etc. Show me five “Orthodox” today and I will show you six interpretations of what Orthodoxy is, just as in Protestantism. We must “renew” the Liturgy…. You took Confession last week? You’re good to go for a while ….. Just come up and receive Communion, if you wait till you’re “perfect” you’ll never come up…… You ignorant Cradle Orthodox – I was Lutheran till two weeks ago and I now know more than you about Orthodoxy….. Please don’t tell me you’re Bulgarian, it’s irrelevant and ethnicity just gets in the way….. etc. etc. etc. etc. God Help Us!!

  24. Of course my comment is awaiting “moderation.” The Big Brother Ecumenists that manage this website resent the TRUTH. It doesn’t fit their AGENDA. YOU HAVE JUST PROVEN MY POINT! “Orthodox” are constantly bickering today because most of us are no longer Orthodox and our churches REEK WITH HERESY. We are no longer of One Spirit in real Orthodoxy like we once were – we have been infiltrated with globalism, Freemasonry, Rotarianism, Protestantism and Catholicism, etc. One priest told me to practice the Faith the way I learned it. If I do not find a real Orthodox Church, I will stay home, pray and listen to the Holy Liturgy. God Help Us!! I EXPECT YOU TO MODERATE THIS, OF COURSE! So long “mainstream Orthodoxy.” I will not follow you into more heresy – I’ve had enough – goodbye!!

    1. Michael, I have just received your comments now. I am unsure how to respond, since you have arrogantly and pridefully decided to reject the Church already and are not open to a response. I hope you will repent and return. God bless and direct you.

  25. Ok. Immune to liberal changes? My priest is a privately self professing gay man and not practicing chastity. Ditto his prior bishop. What i see in orthodoxy are massive pretenders who spout strictness austerity and tradition while personally cross dressing. I’m orthodox so I’m in favor of telling the truth about how the church is. Stop the pretensions and hypocracy. We arent so great at keeping ANY traditions. Ortho praxy? Churches with bouncers, huge numbers of sex offenders, beaten women and child abuse, drag queen bishops, what is a tradition that leads to that? Or Stalin and Marx? Massive corruption. A faith that doesnt produce transformation is no faith at all.

    1. I am not sure you quite understood my point, which is that Orthodoxy is NOT in fact immune to liberal changes. Perhaps the piece would repay a second reading.

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