Crossing the Bosphorus

istanbul-bosphorusby Robert Arakaki

With its many denominations Protestantism is no stranger to people changing churches, but there is something deeply unsettling about a Protestant family deciding to move over to a nearby Orthodox parish.  The phrase “swimming the Tiber” or “crossing the Bosphorus” alludes to the deep chasm separating Protestantism from the two ancient traditions of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.  Constantinople, the site of Orthodoxy’s leading patriarchal see, is located next to the Bosphorus, a narrow strait that separates Europe from Asia.  Thus, there is a certain aptness to the Bosphorus as a symbol of the divide between Orthodoxy and Protestantism.

In this blog posting I will discuss the significance of switching over from Protestantism to Orthodoxy.  I will be using three issues to explore the Protestant versus Orthodox divide: the authority to interpret Scripture, the visible church as the true church, and the meaning of Communion.   I will also discuss the reactions Protestants looking into Orthodoxy may encounter from their fellow Protestants and give advice to Protestants thinking about becoming Orthodox.

Relinquishing Sola Scriptura 

Protestantism is based on the doctrine of sola scriptura (the Bible alone).  A corollary to sola scriptura is “soul competency,” the notion that the individual Christian is competent to interpret Scripture for themselves because they have the Holy Spirit in them as a result of the born again experience.  While historic Protestant churches have tempered this view by insisting on a learned clergy and confessional statements like the Westminster Confession, all these were jettisoned on the American frontier in the early 1800s.  This gave rise to an extreme version that eschews learned clergy and creeds.  This view is popular among Evangelicals and other conservative Protestants today.  All across Protestantism, regardless of denomination, the authority to interpret Scripture is assumed to rest with the individual.  You join a church because they have the same understanding of the Bible as you do, and because doing so is consistent with your conscience.  For Protestants there is no universally binding doctrinal authority apart from Scripture.

One reason why converting to Orthodoxy is so unsettling lies in the fact one must reject the notion of soul competency which accompanies sola scriptura and submit to the Church’s teaching authority.  Orthodoxy claims that because it has received and preserved the Apostolic Tradition it has the right interpretation of Scripture (II Thessalonians 2:15).  This claim is supported by the lists of episcopal succession for the various patriarchates such as Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem.  Furthermore, the Orthodox Church claims that Christ’s promise that the Holy Spirit would guide the Church into all truth (John 16:13) was fulfilled in the formation of the biblical canon and the Ecumenical Councils.  It was at the Seven Ecumenical Councils that the Christian Faith was affirmed and heresy rejected.  And it is thanks to the early Church that we have the Bible we have today.

Many Protestants troubled by Protestantism’s doctrinal anarchy have reached the conclusion that sola scriptura as a theological method is unworkable.  This has led them to seek doctrinal stability in the older Christian traditions.  This quest for doctrinal stability has led many to the Orthodox Church.  Questions about sola scriptura were what precipitated the theological crisis that led this author to Orthodoxy.

Accepting the Visible Church

The Orthodox Church’s claim to be the true Church is a second reason why Protestants crossing over to Orthodoxy is unsettling.  This is contrary to the widespread belief among Protestants that the true church is the invisible church comprised of all born again Christians.  Basically, it means that the true Church is everywhere and nowhere.  In contrast, Orthodoxy asserts that the true Church can be found in the visible entity called the Orthodox Church.

Orthodoxy believes that there has always been one Church.  The Church has never been divided into two or many branches.  Such a notion contradicts Christ’s promise that he would build the Church upon the rock (Peter’s proclamation that Jesus is the Christ) and that the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church (Matthew 16:18).  For this reason the belief by some Protestants that the early visible church fell into apostasy and corruption leaving only an invisible faithful remnant is heresy.  Similarly, Orthodoxy rejects the branch theory that the true Church can be found among either Orthodox, or Roman Catholic, or Anglican churches.

The troubling implication here is that Protestant churches are not really churches and that to be a Protestant is to be outside the true Church.  In Protestantism if one’s belief changes then one change churches through a letter of transfer of church membership.  This is a common practice done all the time.  But in the case of a Protestant becoming Orthodox, a letter of transfer is null and void.  To become Orthodox one must go through the sacraments of conversion: baptism, chrismation, and Communion.

Recently many Evangelicals have reacted to the extremes of the invisible church view and embraced the high view of the church espoused by Calvin and other Reformers and the ecumenical movement’s vision of restoring visible church unity.  Among them are some who claim to be more “catholic” than the Catholic Church!  They view doctrinal differences between Protestantism and Orthodoxy as arbitrary lines drawn in the sand, unnecessarily divisive and obstructive to “true” church unity.  They believe that we can enter into ecumenical dialogue, negotiate our differences, and make compromises and adjustments that will result in church unity.  An Orthodox Christian can only be skeptical of such a claim.  To take this route is to define the Church according to what we want rather than following Apostolic Tradition.  Because Orthodoxy will never compromise Holy Tradition this kind of ecumenical venture is unfeasible.

The Meaning of Holy Communion

There are two things Protestants find disturbing about the Orthodox approach to Holy Communion.  One is that Orthodoxy believes that in the Eucharist we feed on Christ’s body and blood.  This is something all the early Christians believed, but sadly many Protestants today believe that Holy Communion is just a symbolic reminder of Christ’s death.  More traditional or high church Protestants might protest that they too like the Orthodox Church believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.  But this claim is highly suspect in light of the fact that they lack bishops and have no apostolic succession.  Without apostolic succession there is no covenantal authority to perform the Eucharistic sacrifice.

When I was a high church Calvinist (Mercersburg Theology), I strongly believed in the real presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper.  But one day I realized: “They’re right.  It’s just a symbol.  It’s a symbol because it’s not the real thing.  It’s not the real thing because there’s no valid priestly authority to consecrate the elements.”  I was at an InterVarsity Christian Fellowship student retreat when I had this realization.  InterVarsity is a parachurch organization, but as I began to think about the more established Protestant churches I realized with a sinking feeling in my stomach they were in the same boat as InterVarsity – lacking proper covenantal authority that comes from apostolic succession.

Furthermore, the claim to a valid Eucharist is suspect in light of the fact that much of Protestantism is at odds with the Seven Ecumenical Councils.  For example, to use the Filioque version of the Nicene Creed is in violation of Canon VII of the Third Ecumenical Council (Ephesus 431) which prohibits alteration to the Creed.  To refuse to honor Mary as the Theotokos (Mother of God) is to reject the Third Ecumenical Council (Ephesus 431).  To refuse to venerate icons is to reject the Seventh Ecumenical Council (Nicea II 787).  In light of these numerous deviations from the Ecumenical Councils it is highly doubtful that Protestantism can claim doctrinal agreement with the early Church.  There can be no valid Eucharist where heresy is embraced and promulgated.  And even if a person or a congregation did agree with all of the above points, they would need to be in communion with the five ancient patriarchates: Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem, endorsed by the Ecumenical Councils (see Canon VI and VII of Nicea I (325), Canon III of I Constantinople (381), and Canon XXVIII of Chalcedon (451)).  (Note: It is tragic that the Schism of 1054 has resulted in Rome’s departure from the ancient Pentarchy.  While Orthodoxy disagrees with the Roman Catholic Church, it recognizes its episcopal lineage as one going back to Saints Peter and Paul.)  Thus, unless one is in communion with one of the ancient patriarchates one’s link to the early Church is imagined and not real.

Another unsettling fact is that Orthodoxy practices closed communion, that is, Communion is reserved only for those who belong to the Orthodox Church.  Lutherans or Anglicans who hold a high Christology and affirm the real presence in the Eucharist become upset when they learn that they are barred from receiving Communion in an Orthodox Church.  They view this as a judgment on their faith in Christ but this is not the case.  In Orthodoxy receiving Communion means that one accepts the Tradition of the Church and that one submits to the magisterium (teaching authority) of the Orthodox Church in the person of the local bishop.  For me to receive Communion at Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Honolulu puts me under the authority of Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco and in communion with Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople.  Therefore, communion in Orthodoxy is not just a matter of being in doctrinal agreement with the bishop but submitting to his authority as well.

Becoming Orthodox

The general pattern in the Greek Orthodox Church is for Protestants to be received into the Orthodox Church through the sacrament of chrismation and the receiving of Holy Communion.  Prior to that the priest will ask for evidence or documentation that one has been baptized in the name of the Trinity, that is, baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Most Protestant denominations follow this practice, but some baptize in Jesus’ name (e.g., Oneness Pentecostalism); for Orthodoxy this is not a valid baptism.  Similarly, a baptism done in a liberal church using inclusive language like: Parent, Child, and Holy Spirit, will be rejected.  Some Orthodox jurisdictions, like the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, are especially strict and will insist that all Protestants and even Roman Catholics be baptized for reception into the Orthodox Church.

As much as one might desire to become Orthodox, the decision is made by the priest with the approval of the bishop.  Some Orthodox priests will insist that one attend the Liturgy for at least a year to show one’s seriousness about becoming Orthodox and in order to learn what Orthodoxy is all about.  Other priests will want you to attend a 24 week class along with regular Sunday attendance.  The priest is concerned not just with how much doctrine you understand, but also with your commitment to the worship life of the Church, your willingness to accept the spiritual disciplines like fasting, and your willingness to submit to the authority of the Church.

The Orthodox attitude towards people wanting to become Orthodox is that of welcome and caution.  We want people to become Orthodox, but we also want them to realize the seriousness of the commitment.  We often counsel patience in the case of people who are married and have children.  We prefer the whole family become Orthodox in due time rather than the father becoming Orthodox right away with the wife and the children remaining Protestant.  Orthodoxy believes that God intended the family to be a spiritual unity.  Conversely, a spiritually divided household falls short of the ideal.  Oftentimes patient waiting can result in a greater blessing for more people.  That is why sitting down with the priest is so critically important.  Letting the priest guide you in transitioning to Orthodoxy is a key step in learning to humbly submit to pastoral authority (Hebrews 13:17).

Due Diligence

The famous investment guru, Warren Buffet, before making a major purchase in a company does due diligence.  He researches the company’s history, its performance record, as well as its assets and liabilities.  To not do this is irresponsible.  Similarly, with respect to having the right faith and ensuring the spiritual well being of one’s family, it is important that due diligence be done before converting to Orthodoxy.

I recently had pleasant breakfast conversation with ‘Jim’ who was raised in an ethnic Orthodox parish.  Because there was very little emphasis on explaining the Orthodox faith in that parish, he drifted over to Calvary Chapel.  Recently, he started looking into Orthodoxy and was pleasantly surprised to find the spiritual and biblical depths of Orthodoxy.  While strongly drawn to Orthodoxy and thinking about returning to Orthodoxy, ‘Jim’ is at the present time still a Protestant.  Some of his Calvary Chapel friends became quite concerned and warned him that he might lose his salvation.  In our conversation over pancakes and coffee we talked about the Bible and the Orthodox faith.  He is, as he puts it, doing “due diligence” by studying Orthodoxy and looking carefully at the Scriptural and historical evidence.  I admired the wisdom of his approach and recommend this for others.

Folks considering becoming Orthodox should at a minimum do the following:

    • Read basic works like Timothy Ware’s The Orthodox Church,
    • Attend the Divine Liturgy several times,
    • Meet one on one with an Orthodox priest, and
    • Complete a catechism class if offered.

Joining the Orthodox Church is a lifetime commitment.  It is more than agreeing with a theological system; it also entails a commitment to a way of life and submission to the teaching authority of the Church.  Unlike cults, clerical authority in the Orthodox Church is circumscribed by Holy Tradition.  There is no secret hidden Tradition.  Neither will there be a new doctrine or a new marriage ceremony coming down from the denominational headquarters.  Everyone in the Orthodox Church, from the newest convert to the bishop, is constrained by Holy Tradition.  And just as important everyone, both laity and clergy, is responsible for guarding Holy Tradition.

Protestants who read a lot or have gone to seminary may find it harder to become Orthodox.  They have a lot more to unlearn.  It took me several years to review my Protestant beliefs and come to the point where I could sincerely and intelligently renounce my Protestant beliefs.  (I could not in good conscience do a theological lobotomy.)  Having gone to a leading Reformed seminary and majored in church history I knew that the core of Protestant theology rested on the five solas: sola scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia, solus Christus, and soli Deo gloria.  It was the questions about sola scriptura that started my theological crisis, but it was sola fide that was the straw that broke the camel’s back.  When I reached the conclusion sola fide was based on a misreading of Scripture and was never taught by the early church fathers, I realized that my days as a Protestant were over.

How much does one need to know before one becomes Orthodox?  If becoming Orthodox is like getting married, then the catechumenate is like courtship.  During the dating phase you check out the other person, you find out what they’re like, their likes and dislikes, you spend time with them, and then you ask yourself: Do I want to spend the rest of my life with so-and-so?  Becoming Orthodox is really about making a commitment to Jesus Christ the head of the Church.  Everything in Orthodoxy is for the purpose of uniting us with Christ.  The Liturgy is not just a beautiful ceremony; we receive the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist.  Whenever we behold the Virgin Mary, we see the one who said: “Do whatever He (Jesus) tells you” and whom the Church honors as the Mother of God.  So the basic question is: Is this the Church founded by Jesus Christ?

Many inquirers come to Orthodoxy with theological concerns.  However, it is important to keep in mind that Orthodoxy is more than a theological system.  It leads us into the mystery of God.  Orthodoxy teaches that beyond our conceptual understanding of God is the mystical encounter that is beyond words.  We come to a true knowledge of God through worship.  That is why the Divine Liturgy lies at the heart of Orthodoxy.  There is an ancient saying:

“If you are a theologian, you will pray truly; if you pray truly, you are a theologian.”

This emphasis on mystical knowledge in Orthodoxy stands in contrast to the Western Christian tradition which emphasizes scientific study of the biblical text and reliance on logic for doing theology.

Transitioning to Orthodoxy

My transition from Protestantism to Orthodoxy was gradual and low key.  My former home church had several Sunday morning services.  I would often attend the 7:30 service then head over to the Greek Orthodox Church for the 9:30 Liturgy.  When the priest offered an Orthodoxy 101 class on Thursday night I would go without raising any eyebrows.  This is the Nicodemus stage of quiet inquiry (John 3:1-2).  The main value of the Thursday night class was that I could find out whether I had a good grasp of what Orthodoxy was about.

For me the biggest obstacle to becoming Orthodox were issues like sola scriptura, icons, and sola fide.  I handled the problem like any good graduate student, I wrote research papers.  To my great surprise Orthodoxy was indeed biblical in its teachings.  I remember the moment when sola scriptura fell apart and I said to myself:

“My God!  I’m going to have to become Orthodox!”

When sola fide fell by the wayside, I met quietly with the leaders of the church and shared with them my decision to become Orthodox.  I also gave them the opportunity to talk me out of it.  Part of me desperately wanted them to talk me out of it because I knew becoming Orthodox would change our relationship in very fundamental ways.  Unfortunately the Evangelical response was not a vigorous one.  I remember the dean of a local Evangelical seminary responding to my paper on sola scriptura by asking:

“Have you read Packer’s Fundamentalism and the Word of God?”

My response was a mildly exasperated:

“Yes, I’ve read Packer, so what about my critique of sola scriptura?”

I didn’t hear anything more from him.  My pastor wasn’t able to rebut my critique of sola fide.  I remember thinking in my head in dumbfounded amazement:

“That’s it!?!? You mean I’m going to have to become Orthodox?!?!”

Even now I find myself baffled and disappointed by the unwillingness of many Protestant pastors and theologians to defend the basic tenets of Protestantism.

Going Through Customs

A common experience when travelling abroad is going through customs.  One purpose of customs to prevent contraband items from entering the country.  When I was received into the Orthodox Church the priest asked me: “Do you renounce all heresies, ancient and modern?”  This was a big question because it meant not just the ancient heresies of Arianism and Nestorianism but also Protestant doctrines like sola scriptura and sola fide, dispensationalism, double predestination, congregationalism etc.  I was ready for that question because I had read up on Orthodoxy, attended the Liturgy, attended the catechism class, and spoke with the priest.  For me there was no surprise, I knew that there would be big changes but I was prepared.  Becoming Orthodox did not mean I rejected my Evangelical past.  I took with me many good things from Evangelicalism: a love for studying Scripture, the discipline of daily prayer, and a passion for world evangelism.

Once I met with a former Protestant who had converted to Roman Catholicism.  For some strange reason he didn’t know about the Pope’s infallibility when he joined the Catholic Church.  Later when he was reading the official catechism he learned that anyone who did not accept the Pope’s infallibility was a heretic.  ‘Hank’ told me he sat there stunned with the realization that in the eyes of the Catholic Church he was a heretic, but he stayed on because of his godson.  It was a short breakfast meeting, but as I drove to the airport I reflected on his perplexing story.  Two thoughts came to me:

  1. he was probably catechized by folks who glossed over some of the more difficult aspects of Roman Catholicism, and
  2. “‘Hank’ you were snookered!”  The lesson to be learned is that leaving Protestantism is going to be a costly decision and one needs to have done the necessary due diligence prior to making that change.

Border Crossings

We live in interesting times.  There once was a time when hardly anyone knew about the Orthodox Church.  But that is changing as growing numbers of people become interested in Orthodoxy and even go so far as to become Orthodox.  But why the change?  I suspect that it is due to massive changes in the Protestant landscape following World War II.  Up till then, denominational lines remained stable but that began to change dramatically.  Now we have Fundamentalists discovering Calvin, and Calvinists rediscovering the church fathers; we have Pentecostals becoming Anglicans, and we have Evangelicals becoming post-Evangelicals or Emergent Christians.  In addition to all this confusion is the growing apostasy among the mainline Protestant denominations.

The situation today is much like the early days of the Cold War before the Iron Curtain came down.  In the early days the borders were relatively open.  Many families quietly packed their belongings and crossed the border in the dark of the night.  But as growing numbers of people began to leave, the authorities became alarmed and finally began erecting the infamous Berlin Wall to keep their people in.

Similarly, many Protestant families today quietly say goodbye to their friends and start worshiping at a nearby Orthodox parish.  There are reports of a growing uneasiness in certain leadership circles.  Interest in Orthodoxy or in icons and the saints is discouraged or viewed as drifting away from the true faith.  People expressing an interest in Orthodoxy are warned that they could be in danger of losing their salvation.  In such a situation a chill is in the air and a feeling of distrust comes between once close friends.  In some churches they come under closer pastoral surveillance, pressured not to stray from the true faith, and even excluded from certain functions in the church for fear that they might infect others with their interest in Orthodoxy.

I am glad in that my former home church provided me with a warm Christ centered fellowship where I could study Scripture, and read up on theology and church history.  I found it quite frustrating that many of my Evangelical friends were not able to understand the questions I had about the basis for Protestant theology.  So when I became Orthodox, many were surprised and a little confused, but we remain friends.  My experience has been more like a friendly border crossing.  I picked up my belongings and one Sunday morning I crossed the border into the Orthodox Church.

I feel sad for those whose transition has been marked by suspicion and judgment.  It is my hope that open relations between Protestants and Orthodoxy will not be replaced by a Cold War atmosphere marked by barbed wires and aloof guards with grim stares.  Barbed wires and restricted exit are signs of defensiveness and tyranny.  An open and healthy society is marked by hospitality to strangers and mutual respect among its members.  More preferable is a Glasnost in which Protestants can read up on the early church fathers and the Ecumenical Councils, and investigate the issues of icons, the Virgin Mary, and liturgical worship.  In this period of openness curious Protestants should feel they have the freedom to visit the Orthodox worship services and come back with questions about what they saw.  The best defense is not: “Those people are wrong!” but “Come and see!”


The Pearl of Great Price

Someone reading this blog posting might be thinking to themselves:

“Why would someone give up all the benefits of Protestantism to become Orthodox?”

My answer is Matthew 13:44-45:

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field.  When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.  When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.  (NIV; emphasis added)

If the Orthodox Church has kept the teachings of the Apostles intact for two thousand years, if there is only one true Church, and if the Eucharist is truly the body and blood of Christ given for you, wouldn’t that be enough reason to come home to the Church of the Apostles?

Source: Orthodox-Reformed Bridge


  1. I never understood why Catholics see Orthodox more kindly than the orthodox see them. For instance, they believe that the Orthodox are the true church just in schism whereas Orthodox say the Catholics are heretics plain and simple.

  2. It is not out of lack of charity or kindness, but out of love for the Truth of Christ. While Catholics indeed consider Orthodox to be schismatics, it is a false designation which indicates that we have no differences theologically, which is just not true. Orthodox do not consider most Roman Catholics to be willful heretics (not willfully rejecting the truths of the Church) because they have been falsely told that there are no theological differences! We believe unity will come with Truth in Love, and not without Truth with kindness. Still, we eagerly desire a unity based on Truth and love.

  3. Nicholas Griswold says:

    As a graduate of a Protestant Seminary I understand the unlearning process for I have to go through the process myself. I say have to for it, like salvation is a journey not a microwave process. I found similarly, that the only arguments that my contemporaries could offer were emotional based ones (“You might lose your salvation.”). I had already discovered that, at its core, Protestant doctrines, such as Sola Scriptura, are indefensible and contradicted by Scripture. The inability to defend one’s doctrinal beliefs is a major reason that Protestantism is so easily infected with incorrect and heretical ideas. I left the Protestant world because I could not defend the Statement of Faith of my Denomination against Cultic beliefs, not because I did’t know the basis of these beliefs but because of the lack of any authority that would support me.

  4. Dn. Paul S. Speed says:

    My family and I were blessed to have two understanding, loving Orthodox priests when we began swimming the Bosporus. Both took the commitment seriously and wanted us to be sure we weren’t just church shopping. Twenty years later we have been members at one parish for those years, and I was recently ordained a deacon by His Eminence Metropolitan Iakovos of Chicago, We were involved in the Episcopal parish we left and it was not easy, but by the grace of God and the good people he sent our way it was done. And it was done for theological reasons, first among them being the very idea that you could change the nature of a sacrament (in this case, ordination) by a vote.

  5. Athansasia says:

    “I also gave them the opportunity to talk me out of it. Part of me desperately wanted them to talk me out of it because I knew becoming Orthodox would change our relationship in very fundamental ways. Unfortunately the Evangelical response was not a vigorous one.”

    This was my experience exactly to a tee, to such an extent as some of the pastors chuckled at me and my bewilderment over ‘never having heard of or been taught about the Church Fathers.’

    Thanks for sharing this very poignant essay.

  6. An Awkward Aardvark says:

    What about Continuing Anglicans, such as the Anglican Province of Christ the King and Anglican Catholic Church, who left the heretical Episcopal Church when they began ordaining women? They suscribe to the the St. Louis Congress which upholds all 7 Ecumenical Councils and believe the Eucharist is truly Christ’s body and blood.

  7. That alone does not make them Orthodox, nor make them members of the Church – it does however point them in the right direction and hopefully, seriously, they will retrace the ‘Old Schism Trail’ to the Orthodox faith.

  8. Robert Arakaki says:

    Awkward Aardvark,

    I agree with Fr. John. It is not enough to be in agreement with the 7 Ecumenical Councils, one must also be in communion with the Church of the 7 Ecumenical Councils. My understanding is that the Continuing Anglicans are in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury. That being the case then you are out of communion with the Pentarchy (Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem) endorsed by the 7 Ecumenical Councils. This leaves you with the choice of returning via Rome or the other ancient patriarchates. It might interest you to know that the Antiochian Archdiocese allows for the Western Rite. If you are interested, feel free to contact them.


  9. And thank you for this outstanding article, Robert. Once again, your gift magnifies the Lord!

  10. Brian McNeil says:

    Continuing Anglicans are NOT in communion with Canterbury!

  11. Thank you for that correction, Brian.

  12. I am a will-full heretic. I have studied the history and the Scripture and I still believe in the pope’s primacy. Guess I’m going to hell. Thanks for being charitable. You have been nicer than most Orthodox folks I’ve met but still, I utterly reject your church’s protest against the papacy and I know somewhat of the theological differences so I guess my soul isn’t in a pretty place. But I would like to add that it is stubbornness and pride on BOTH sides that causes the division. I can’t propose any solutions but I’d like to see it end because the persecution of Catholics is coming very soon and has already started. Forgive me for being sentimental but I would like for us to die side by side when they kill us. As Benjamin Franklin said “If we don;’t hang together, we’ll hang separately”

  13. It is not papal primacy that Orthodox reject, but papal supremacy – let’s keep things accurate. This is also why the Orthodox have never installed a new Bishop of Rome, though the Pope has installed Patriarchs to replace the Orthodox. We know the Lord will bring us together in love AND Truth someday.

    Also, the persecution of Orthodox never has ceased, only lessened. Catholics also have and will receive it. It’s the spirit of this age. Yes, we must hang together – on that we can agree.

    And don’t worry – no one is judging you!

  14. Hello hnoburns, I like your honesty and feistiness! My husband and I and our 18 year old son just converted from Catholicism to Russian Orthodox this past autumn. We have a 20 year old girl and 16 year old boy at home that remained very good, God-pleasing Catholics. We pray for God’s Will in their life everyday. I tell them to just be open to Truth. God bless you!

  15. I wish you had said that “your (sic) husband and you (sic) had your 18 year old son entered the Orthodox Church as opposed to using the descriptive “Russian” adjective. It perpetuates the ethnic ghettoism that infects so much of Orthodoxy today. Folks walk by church with names like “St Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church” or “St Alexander Nevsky Russian Orthodox Church” and think to themselves, “Well, this church is for Greeks or Russians and not for me.” And sadly, in many of these churches we find the cradles huddling together during coffee hour and perpetuating that very thing as well as converts trying to “be” more Russian than the Russians by wearing kerchiefs, dressing in flowered dresses, growing scraggly beards and even adopting a bit of an eastern accent. It’s all so very sad and all so very revealing as to why Orthodoxy is NOT growing here in America the way it should.

  16. Robert Arakaki says:

    James D,

    Please keep in mind that Orthodoxy in America is in transition. It is growing in some places. Don’t get too concerned about those who confuse ethnicity with faith in Christ. Focus on the positive, and support those who have the vision of Orthodoxy reaching out to America!

    Orthodoxy is not about ethnic customs, rather it is about the Holy Tradition Christ commissioned His Apostles to bring to all nations (ethnic groups). Let us do all we can to bring America to Orthodoxy and to make the Orthodox Church a place where American can feel welcomed and at home.


  17. You’re making excuses and that’s not going to help the situation. Orthodoxy has been in NA for over 200 years and yet it still clings to its European and Mediterranean roots. I was told by a Ukrainian priest that my wife and I would be happier at an Antiochian parish where English was primarily used. Evidently his dwindling and dying parish only speak Ukrainian. One wonders how they fare from Monday through Friday in the work place. I telephoned a Romanian priest and during a ten minute conversation received the same response. It doesn’t surprise me that both churches are dying and that both jurisdictions are losing ground. AND this story is not confined to those two priests.

    A few years back I was approached by an elderly American of Russian heritage who asked my name when I visited his church. When I told it to him he asked me, “What the hell you come to my church?” His church? Really? One wonders if The Lord of Jewish parentage would be welcomed there.

    Look. Ive been Orthodox for 21 years now and I can tell you… it’s been a bumpy ride and it’s not getting any better. And excuses like yours no longer cuts it with me.

  18. JamesD – thanks for pointing out that this is not a primrose path – but dotted with the litter of past generations’ insular priorities.

    But things are getting better, and quickly. There is no universal standard of improvement, but all over North America and indeed, the whole world, Orthodox Christianity is beginning to flourish – by following it’s own long ignored rules. We have much to offer a tired world choking in the dark for a drink of pure water and warmth.

    Sometimes they are in our own Church. Thanks for all your sacrifices JamesD. They inspire us all the more.

  19. Robert Arakaki says:

    James D,

    I’m not making excuses for ethnic clubs. I agree it is a serious problem. I’ve been frustrated too, but I don’t want to fall into the trap of becoming critical and cynical. I want to have a positive proactive attitude that will result in an Orthodoxy rooted in America’s rich cultural heritage. I am pushing for change. Please read my article: “Why Americans Need an All English Liturgy.” We need to make our side of the Bosphorus welcoming.


  20. Dn. Paul S. Speed says:

    We do indeed, though I must say in our experience we Anglo-Celts have been very welcome. But we also need to remember that the more recent nature of the immigration of some of us makes a difference too. A century ago, in this part of the country, there were specifically Swedish and German churches; it was included in the name as well. I absolutely agree we need to be welcoming; but we can go to the other edge. You cease to use the original immigrant tongue too early and alienate the members you have left for whom it is a first language. It has to be in God’s time.

  21. Greetings James, actually we did by the grace of God enter into the Orthodox Church through a beautiful little Russian monastery in the middle of a neighborhood very near Detroit, St. Sabbas to be exact. It is FILLED with American converts. Our dear Archimandrite Pachomy has baptised many [ just 5 the other month];lots of young adults.Actually, most of the service, about 80%, is in English. It’s awesome.[I’m celebrating the feast of St. Tatiana of Rome today, my name day. ]There are no cliques here because it’s a monastery, without the coffee social hour. Lots of genuine love and Orthodox struggle here though! I have a long way to go towards the perfection. Please pray for me and our family.

  22. Tell me about it. I never even knew what it felt like to be hated, judged or discriminated against for my religion until I became Catholic. Everyone misunderstands us. Can you clarify for me the difference between papal primacy and papal supremacy?

  23. Certainly – it is one of the reasons, though I was headed to Rome, I did not land there, though I still have great love for the Roman Church.

    Papal primacy refers to the Bishop of Rome as ‘primus inter pares’, first among equals, and presiding in love along with fellow Bishops in Council. He has the first place, as he was the Bishop of the capital of the Empire at that time. (When the capital moved to Constantinople, secondary privileges were accorded to the Patriarch of Constantinople for the same reason). This is the Orthodox understand of Papal Primacy.

    Papal supremacy refers to the Bishop of Rome having immediate jurisdiction in any diocese, anywhere. A kind of super-bishop, taking the place of a new Apostle (remember, bishops have Apostolic jurisdiction in their own diocese only. Apostles have Apostolic jurisdiction everywhere). The best arguments against papal supremacy are, interestingly, the arguments put forward by Roman Catholic bishops at the first Vatican Council.

    For example, when Papal infallibility states that the According to the teaching of the First Vatican Council and Catholic tradition, the conditions required for ex cathedra papal teaching

    “must be held by the whole Church” as necessary for salvation, stating that anyone who deliberately dissents is outside the Church.That is ridiculous – early Christians were saved without it.

    This is not to say that the Bishop of Rome did not attempt to help and defend the faith in other areas, but at no time did he have immediate jurisdiction superceding the authority of the local bishop. That is a fanciful innovation allowing him to project his power around the globe – and therefore to be rejected as not part of the Apostolic deposit of faith.

  24. Leonardo H says:

    Very interesting article and I am still making my way through it.

    But being raised a protestant I did come against the question of Sola Scriptura and the unquestionable fact that we only have the Bible because of the councils and decisions of Constantine´s church.

    My greatest problem in fully embracing orthodoxy however, is related to tradition.

    It seems to me that tradition, though theoretically powerfull, is not practically reliable because it seems rather relative in time.

    I´ll try to better explain with two examples.

    The first is drawn from Roman catholicism. We all know that the romans hold several beliefs that are not orthodox but are drawn from their tradition such as the immaculate conception of St. Mary. The understanding, as defined by recent councils is wrong, but it undeniably evolved through history in roman understanding and it is defended (albeit sketchy) nowdays as being something handed down from tradition.

    The sensible orthodox would argue that since roman catholics are schismatics, they incur in error in regard to some doctrines and statements. But I think it serves as nice example of how long periods of time can lead to wrong conclusions in doctrinal matters because of “dialectical” mechanisms in understanding from generation to generation.

    The other example I would give is the Orthodox Liturgy. Though very acnient, no reasonable orthodox christian would say that its present form was the one that the apostles and early christians knew and attended.

    We know today, from archaelogical evidence and textual insights, how liturgy evolved throught time and we can say that, though simbolically similar to the first christian forms of worship, it is, formally, entirely different.

    My great problem with tradition is: how do we know something really is evolving in the right direction? How do we know that something we hold now as truth, sometime in the ancient and unrecorded past (pre-councilar) had a heretical seed and through a dialectical process through time, became understood and accepted as valid truth?

    One could point the infalible authority of the church , but it seems rather troublesome when we remember things such as the schism and how a member of the pentarchy became rogue.

    We know that the early fathers often contradicted one another, and though “crude” understanding about several topics was similar, the finer details were debated and decided later on councils, thus relegating other opinions as heresies. Didn´t they all draw from the same tradition? Aren´t they all regarded as champions of faith? How then did they come to have different and often contradictory understanding about some topics?

    From your article, I see you were an inquisitve mind and wanted answers for questions that some people often found offensive. My intention is the same. I do not wan´t to disprove orthodoxy or discredit it, but I put my questions as bluntely as possible so that my troubles are correctly understood and someone might reasonably answer it.

    I hope you will take your time to address this question that is but another mile in my humble quest towards truth and understanding.

    Ps: forgive my english mistakes, it is not my first language.

  25. The Orthodox Church says, according to the Holy Fathers of the Church, that the popes[ Patriarchs] are all equal but they gave the pope of Rome the title of “the first among equals”. The early Church Fathers also agreed [80% of them} that the rock referred to in the Scriptures[ “on this rock I will build my church” ] means the faith in Christ as Lord, not the person of Peter. Interestingly, in the original Greek translation, the word rock was PETRA , is in the feminine form. The church is called SHE. This was a HUGE problem for us when we heard against infallibility. I’d been homeschooling with all Catholic books for 10 years, until my then high school junior started researching some history, which led him, then us , 2 years later to Orthodoxy. I found a great book called “Two Paths” written by an ex-Catholic that was very informative and not at all offensive. You have to be careful what books you read! I just pray to the Mother of God for guidance when having to pick a book. The priest at the monastery we go to told us in the beginning[ I was very suspicious] to look up the Early Church Fathers on the internet. I found some info there and was basically converted after a very hard struggle with what I found.My favorite author is Fr. Seraphim Rose. I buy all his books on Amazon. [ Even the Catholic members like him!]

  26. You have alot of questions, and normally I would reject the post for it’s length (too large), but let’s get straight to the answer of all your questions.

    Tradition is considered anathema to most Protestants, even though there is such a thing as a Protestant tradition (which included the Perpetual Virginity of Mary which Calvin, Luther and others taught and held).

    It is considered by Roman Catholics to be a ‘second source’ of Truth, alongside of Holy Scripture.

    It is considered by the Orthodox to be the Apostolic Faith. That is, Holy Scripture is a MAJOR subset of Holy Tradition, not separate from it.

    Perhaps another analogy will help.

    You can talk about a building made of bricks, and what is in the bricks all you want, and indeed have endless conversations about where the bricks came from, who formed them, how they were fired, and who stacked them, but what actually holds the bricks together is the mortar – only then can you build a complete and sturdy building. Anything else can be easily toppled, and is actually dangerous to anyone near it.

    Not a perfect analogy, mind you, but you get the point.

    And as the old Protestant saying goes ‘The river is purest at its source’ – that’s us.

    The best coverage of this is in a book, written by a Protestant (!) – Light from the Christian East, by James Payton. You can thank me later!

  27. Robert Arakaki says:

    Leonardo H,

    You asked some very good questions. I am going to be brief here. One, Orthodoxy rejects the Immaculate Conception of Mary because it is not supported by Scripture, nor was it taught by the early church fathers (pre 1054). It is not part of Tradition, it is a post-1054 innovation.

    Two, you are right that the Orthodox Liturgy is not identical with the very early liturgies. You asked, “How do we know something really is evolving in the right direction?” There are two kinds of “evolution” here; one is like a tiny seed growing into a huge fruit tree; the other is a radical mutation, where one changes from one specie into another. My advice is read the Bible, Old and New Testament, and become familiar with the early Church prior to the 1054 Schism. I think you will find in Orthodoxy organic continuity with the ancient liturgies, whereas with Protestantism you will find radical mutations in belief and worship. I suggest you read my blog posting: “Defending Incense.” Another article I recommend is: “Orthodox Worship versus Contemporary Worship.” Ask yourself this: Who did a better job of protecting the ancient Christian faith from innovation, the Orthodox or the Protestants?


  28. How were early Christians saved without the Church?

    Can you answer me why you cannot have an ecumenical council without the Bishop of Rome.

    I disagree that its an innovation. Totally disagree. But please answer my questions. Thanks

  29. hno3burns, this conversation might be best held through private messages or email. I’m not even sure what you are referring to, but email me using the contact form and we’ll continue our conversation!

  30. Leonardo H says:

    Thank you very much for the answers and the attention.

    I still have many doubts and I would like to continue this conversation without flooding the comment section.

    I am in no way making a defense for Protestantism. I think that the things I have studied so far convinced me that many beliefs held by Protestantism are far from the beliefs held by the apostles.

    However, I am still not entirely convinced Orthodoxy is the best way to go. Don´t take this as an attack, is just a statement of my inner doubts and questions.

    Sometimes I feel that all I need is a little push to become orthodox, other times I find some aspects of it completely contrary to what I have studied both from ancient texts (both scripture and the early writers such as Clement and Iraneaus), archaeological finds and textual criticism.

    As you can see, I still have many questions I want to clear out. If someone would find in them the time and interest to answer I would be very, very thankful.

    God bless!

  31. Leonardo H, I’ll be writing you shortly – and thanks for chiming in!

    The truth is – you can’t become Orthodox because it is the best choice. You can only become Orthodox because it is the ONLY choice.

    Until you get to that point, it really is academic – however, we honestly do not consider it our job to ‘convince’ you (or anyone), but rather to remove what obstacles we can between you and the Holy Spirit – Who never contradicts Himself!

    Please send me your email and we can continue our conversation!

  32. JamesD.
    I’m sorry your experience has been so bumpy. My road was a bit bumpy and still is occasionally but primarily from the parental side. One parent worries that I might lose my salvation but the other (they are divorced) is considering becoming Orthodox. So, where I experience a struggle from one side mercy is poured out from another. I’ve never directly had someone ask me why I was at their church but I can understand how one can be turned off by Russian or Greek in the parish name. Orthodox would do well to communicate better that you don’t have to be of a particular ethnicity but Orthodox would also do well to pray wherever they are regardless of the language used in the service. There is a nun at my parish who taught me that very lesson for she, too, experienced those same emotions when joining a monastery that used a language other than English for its daily cycle but she grew to love it. A few years ago after being chrismated I expressed frustration with the local GOA parish to this nun. I adore the priest emeritus at the parish; he greatly influenced my journey home to the church. But, at that GOA parish the liturgy may somedays be 20% Greek and others 80% Greek. Thus, the primary reason I joined an Antiochian parish. But, now, a few years later, when I go to the GOA parish there’s something about hearing Greek that I love, although I’m sure I could never love hearing it at much as the yia yias who’ve been members there for fifty years. Hearing our mother tongue can be so comforting. When I visit my mom’s OCA parish and here the very occasional Slavonic (they are 98% English) they chant I am in heaven. Why? I can’t explain it. But, that which I detested in the beginning I now love and am grateful for access to it.

    I’ve met many Baptists who detest Catholicism primarily because it is so Roman. It’s no longer a matter of language since Vatican II but for some of them the white robes, the funny hats, the lace adornments, just all so precious and all so Roman, so I’ve heard several times. There are some things that visitors to Rome or Greece or Russia or Antioch can never look past or be enriched by unless they’re truly seeking.

    American Orthodoxy exists. I see it every Sunday. And, I’m hopeful that one day it will be given the name it needs. God help those folks who assume Orthodoxy cannot be for them yet they most likely own PCs, smartphones, have caring friends like you who’d counsel them, nothing short of a well of knowledge and information available at their finger tips. Despite the languages and names of the parishes, seekers who want to come home to the Church will do so and maybe because the journey was a little harder because of the initial ethnic barriers God will reward them more for their hard searching. Pray for those who “Orthodox” who hurt you. Ask God to have mercy on them. Forgive my motherliness but seeing my mom who up until a year ago at the age of 58 had no clue about church history then dive into reading, prayer and study and start her journey home to the Church in a rural area where there is no Orthodox parish that meets regularly for at least a two-hour drive is well nothing short of a miracle. God moved in her through so many things that should’ve set her back and through the peace and love she’s now experiencing, both of which transcend language. I pray that you will accept these words with all the love and humility with which I pray they have been written.

  33. What is the Eastern Orthodox church stance on gay marriage? Are you affirming of LGBT attending your churches? I am not LGBT myself, but I am interested in your position.

  34. Fr. John says:

    Dan, thanks for asking. We love every single ‘LGBT’ soul (to us they are just souls, like everyone else), without exception. All people have the right to marry, but marriage is not a union of men and men, or women and women. Any person (regardless of their self-identification) is welcome in love to worship the Lord and be one of His disciples. To be one of us, though, means to live life our way, and that is not something the LGBT community wants anyway. We call sin ‘sin’ and we don’t sanctify it and pretend it is okay for anyone. Sin kills, distorts and disfigures the soul and we cannot and will not sanctify that. The trouble begins when someone comes to church and demands the church to approve and and accept their sin. What we do approve of it their repentance, and all sinners wanting to repent of their sins and be united to Christ will be welcome at the Church. It all begins with love. We love every single ‘LGBT’ soul (to us they are just souls, like everyone else), without exception, but our rule is to love the sinner, and hate the sin, not the other way around. The world at large, including the LGBT community, does not appear to be interested in that.

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