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Saturday, 14 August 2010

Dead Dog No. 3: Baggage Orthodoxy

I will make one admission about myself ... I was received into Orthodoxy from another Christian body.  Part of the process of reception included a rigorous self examination assisted by my Orthodox spiritual guide and confessor.  What we were looking for was unwanted baggage that consciously or unconsciously I might drag with me into Orthodoxy from my previous Christian confession. 

Of course not everything I brought with me was of this nature.  We all have good things in our past that are of God and find a ready home in the Orthodox Church.  However, there are other things that are incompatible with living an Orthodox life and these must be rooted out, confessed and discarded; hopefully before reception but if not s soon as possible in the years that follow. 

Becoming Orthodox therefore is a life long process and this involves acquiring an Orthodox "phronema" or frame of mind.  The well known author Dr. Maya Angelou said this once in an interview:-
I’m trying to be a Christian. I’m working at it, and I’m amazed when people walk up to me and say, “I’m a Christian.” I think, “Already? Wow!”  ....   It’s not something you have and you sit back, “Whooo, I have that now!”
We are all a "work in progress" in God's hands and we need to make sure that, for our part, we are discarding our "excess baggage."  At spiritual "check in" (I won't labour the metaphor!) this check list for unwanted items might prove useful ... whether you are moving into Orthodoxy from another religious confession or if you are already Orthodox and you need to take stock:-

Unwelcome Excess Baggage
  1. Hatred of any kind for anyone.  We need to be careful here.  We may think that we don't hate anybody but a key test might be:- "Would I be happy to share my home with this person as a lodger?"  So if you have issues with gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, political or ideological opinion, that needs to be acknowledged and worked on.
  2. Pet issues.  It might be that in your previous religious body you had issues that really exercised you and made you a "one trick pony" campaigner.  Maybe you found yourself fighting against things in this body that annoyed you (with or without good reason).  If you bring that mindset into Orthodoxy you will be told to desist and confess.  We don't have campaigners and reformers we have penitents and prophets.  Don't think of yourself as a prophet though; strive only for holiness and all else will follow.
  3. Unexamined beliefs.  You may assume that long cherished beliefs that you already have are the common patrimony of all Christians and are therefore Orthodox.  You are seriously mistaken.  Many of the words are the same; for example, Salvation, Church, Trinity, but the Orthodox Church means very different things by these doctrines.  Get better acquainted with the teaching of our Church before you make any assumptions.
  4. What I want.  Some people think that they have a right to certain things when enterring the Church.  They may be ministers or priests in another Christian body and think that this qualifies them somehow to be ordained in the Orthodox Church.  They may get grumpy or slighted when faced with the prospect of ordination afresh on the grounds that they want recognition of what they were before.  Others (not necessarily ordained) may feel that they can bargain or push for the Orthodox Church to accept certain things just because they are usual elsewhere.  The truth is that you must accept Orthodoxy with humility and be ready both to unlearn and relearn.  That doesn't mean that you cannot express an opinion ... but it is an opinion you express, not a right or a platform for your own desires and goals.
Over the years I have had to examine more and more closely my beliefs and practices to make sure that they truly are compatible with Orthodox faith and life.  This is not because I want to lobotomise my will or critical thinking.  Far from it!  But, it is to ensure that excess baggage doesn't weigh me down and hinder my prospects of salvation.  Basically, I trust both God and His Church to teach me.  Sure, it is sometimes a dialogue, particularly over difficult or even contentious questions that I am wrestling with, but it is never a conflict but rather an attentive engagement within and with the Tradition of the Church.  That is what you buy into when you become Orthodox.

1 comment:

  1. Greetings!

    Do you mind my asking which tradition you entered Orthodoxy from, and to which national/ethnic church you currently are attached to? I myself have been really interested in Orthodoxy myself--I've found much to admire and learn from in Orthodox theology and devotional practice--but have also found many barriers to even exploring the possibility of conversion.

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