Whew! I’ve thought pretty long and hard about these. I hope it shows.
1. You have the phrase “Mother Russia” on your blog and that it is a strange thing to get used to. What in particular is so difficult or strange about it?
Although the United States takes pride in being a multi-ethnic melting pot, the core of our culture has been defined by British culture generally and English culture specifically. Though we have had many nursemaids of diverse nationalities, American culture was originally mothered by England. Ideally, in a religious context that was not fraught with the division and fragmentation caused by the heterodoxy of the West, Christians in this country would have no problem in looking to “Mother England” for guidance and spiritual support. However, even the most cursory glance at the last few centuries will reveal in Anglicanism a growing disdain for classical Christianity and an increasing approbrium given by Anglicans to adultery with foreign gods.
It is clear we must look elsewhere.
I grew up under the spectre of the USSR, which we often abbreviated as “Russia.” Technically the USSR included more than Russia proper, and indeed it was a betrayal of Russia’s truest self in every respect. Yet for most Americans, the Russian bear is still not the bearer of true religion, but the wraith of Mutually Assured Destruction.
This is why I remain so adamantly opposed to those who build churches with Slavic-style cupolas (“onion domes”) — though they are truly beautiful and shot through with the Spirit, the glory of the eternal Father and his only Son. They are symbolic for Americans not of the Orthodox Church, but of Russia. Every night we were presented with images of Conkrite, Jennings, Brokaw, et alia, against a backdrop of the Kremlin, the core of Moscow, with its heart of cathedrals and golden cupolas, while they told new stories of dread — the advent of thermonuclear destruction. Onion domes became the very image of the cold-war Soviet state; even the more enlightened and most Orthodox-minded see in the cupola a symbol of Russia in her fulness. A cursory glance at the cover of any book about Russia will reveal the link between the cupola and Russia in the American psyche.
And in spite of the animosity of the Soviet era, the Russian Church steps in as a surrogate mother, adopting us as lost children, rescuing us from the midst of the spiritual devastation of Western Christianity. There is an amazing image here, one of an ailing mother regaining her health, both helped by and helping her adopted children. So, part of the strangeness is the same strangeness that every adopted child feels toward its new parents. Part of it is also the added strangeness of someone who has been an adversary taking you into her home.
Although it is imperative that American Orthodoxy find a voice of her own, we shall continue to look to Moscow, as well as Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria, Jerusalem, et alia, for spiritual support and guidance. Americans are used to being self-reliant. There is strangeness here, too; the strangeness of relearning what it means to be dependent upon others.
Yet there is life here, for all of the strangeness.
2. How long have you been Orthodox (trans: affiliated with The Church)?
Two and a half years. Before our chrismation on the Feast of the Encounter, however, our parish was Evangelical Orthodox. The EOC was marked primarily by fidelity to Orthodox doctrine, as best we understood it, and disdain for many Orthodox practices we identified as “ethnic.” I cannot describe to you the process of realizing that many things which we thought unnecessary are actually inseparable from the tapestry of Orthodox faith. It is difficult to precisely answer this question, because we were in many ways Orthodox before, but we did not yet accept the Orthodox Church in its catholic fulness — therefore, we were not fully Orthodox. And though we are Orthodox now, we continue to be formed in startling and wonderful ways by Orthodox praxis.
3. What was your first major learning about Orthodoxy?
As a youth, I was involved in a Catholic retreat called TEC — Teens Encounter Christ. It is essentially a youth Cursillo. (See also my bio.) It was sponsored by the Catholic chaplains on the Marine Corps base in Okinawa, and the Diocese of Naha. While preparing for one retreat, Fr. Ignatius Smith showed us the Orthodox chapel.
I remember only snatches. There were the wooden folding chairs with hymnal holders, omnipresent in small Navy chapels, which served as pews nearly up to the iconostasis, old wood with worn, red velvet padding for the seats. The narthex was separated from the nave by a metal latticework screen; this same material was also used for the bulk of the iconostasis. I remember lots of gold color — though I doubt it was really gold. The only thing I remember about the icons is that they were strange!
In fact, the whole tenor of the experience is one of familiarity and strangeness.
4. Are you a musician? If so, for how long and what is your prefered instrument?
My preferred “instrument” is a hot, steaming horn section ladeled over some crunchy guitars and syncopated drums, a la Chicago. What I can actually play is a very weak piano and an only slightly stronger voice. I studied as a vocalist at Asbury College, while also hoping to be a rock star and studying composition and music theory. My mother is actually a real pianist, and so I have always grown up with music in the house. I guess I really got interested as a teenager, once again because of the rock star siren-song.
5. I have met many “converted” folk online who claim Orthodoxy their home. What is the theology of evangelism of the Orthodox Church? (Note: Baptist asking the question)
Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me./ Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me./ Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit./ Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee. —Psalm 50(51).10-13
Attain the Spirit of peace, and a thousand around you shall find salvation. —St. Seraphim of Sarov
Evangelism is the fruit of repentance. In Orthodox soteriology, Christians are not justified by a legal fiction and then imputed an equally fictitious righteousness (cf. St. Anselm). Instead, salvation is sacramental union with Christ’s divine nature, restoring our wills and actually become holy in Spirit and in truth. This is the free gift of God, but we must actively accept this grace.
The result of this is “joy and peace in the Spirit.” This state of blessedness, the Orthodox Church affirms, is attainable in this life. And it is the inherent attractiveness of this state that draws people to the Church — that is, to be united to Christ through his body. Moreover, it is a state of being filled with “all the fulness of God,” of being shot through with his glory. Hungry souls who are seeking God intuitively know when they have found the “genuine article,” as it were. And, ultimately, it is God who is attractive to seekers. To use biblical imagery, when they find the pearl of great price, they sell everything they have to attain it.
Orthodox evangelism consists primarily in “not getting in the way” of this pearl, which is God. As St. Innocent said in his manual for missionaries to Alaska, “It is God, and not the missionary, who converts souls to the Gospel.”
Now, as to the mode of evangelism, there tend to be two schools of thought. One school imitates Protestant evangelical methods using Orthodox content. This school is most clearly embodied in the former EOC members who became Antiochian under Archpriest Peter Gilquist and his emminence Metropolitan Philip (Saliba).
The method I have been taught is what you might call “relationship evangelism.” It consists of establishing relationships — ties of communion — and being sensitive to the leading of the Spirit. It avoids the hard sell, but it believes that all men are called to be united to Christ in the Orthodox Catholic Church.
- If you want to participate, leave a comment saying “interview me.”
- I will respond by asking you five questions — each person’s will be different.
- You will update your journal with the answers to the questions.
- You will include this explanation and an offer to interview others in the same post.
- When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.
- And, sure, I will answer reasonable follow up questions if you leave them in my comments.