A Meeting Place for Evangelicals, Reformed, and Orthodox Christians

Why People Convert to Orthodoxy


"Zits" by Jerry Scott & Jim Borgman

“Zits” by Jerry Scott & Jim Borgman

On 30 December 2013, W. Bradford Littlejohn published “The Search for Authority and the Fear of Difference” in The Sword and the Ploughshare.   He began by noting how he learned second hand (??) about a longtime Reformed Christian who decided to convert to Eastern Orthodoxy because “he needed someone to submit to” (quotation marks in the original text).

It struck me that among the many evangelicals and Reformed folks converting to Rome or Orthodoxy, this was a common story.  “We Protestants, we’re so divided, we’re so individualistic, we have no sense of authority, we have to make up our own minds about everything rather than submitting to the judgment of others.  It’s time to stop trying to do all the thinking for ourselves, and submit to authority and tradition.”  And then it struck me that, while this sounds superficially humble, pious, and mature, it starts to look considerably less laudable when you put it in other terms.  “It’s time to stop taking responsibility for my own commitments and value judgments and let someone else make those difficult determinations for me.”  “The commitment to faith and obedience is what’s important, not the content, so I should just leave the question of content to others and focus on relinquishing self-will.”  “It’s too much work being expected to think for myself amid all these different questions and options, so I think I should just check my brain at the door, and embrace a set of ready-made answers.”  Now I don’t mean to be too harsh, of course, on all those who make such moves, and there is certainly a balance; some of us are too arrogantly insistent on making up our own minds about everything, and need to learn to defer to the judgment of others on occasion.  But despite how often we tell ourselves in conservative Protestant circles that this is our big problem, I am not at all convinced that it is, at least for us Reformed in particular.
(Emphasis added)

On first reading this article I was struck by Littlejohn’s quotation marks.  The use of quotation marks implies that he actually heard the convert give the reason for changing churches.  One of the commenters, David, asked whether Littlejohn was quoting a real live convert or was making up these quotes as a foil to make a point.  The answer proved to be very enlightening.

Of course, I am not directly quoting any one convert, but I am offering what I think is a faithful composite sketch of cases I’ve encountered or read about. To be sure, I don’t pretend to be giving anything like a full phenomenology of conversion, or a one-size-fits-all account of what’s motivating everyone. That said, I am convinced that this is part of what is going on in many cases.

While I do agree with Brad Littlejohn that “checking my brain at the door” is a poor reason for converting to Orthodoxy, sadly there is no real person behind Brad’s quotes here – he just made them up.  [Do Reformed converts “check their brains at the door” of their conversions, and are they prone to “deceive themselves”?] 

The question I have is this: Do those who convert to Orthodoxy actually stop thinking and just submit to authority as Littlejohn claimed?  Many converts will protest that they don’t quite fit his description; Littlejohn’s response is that the converts are prone to deceive themselves.

If you mean that you’ve never encountered anyone who put things in terms of the quotes further on in the second paragraph—well of course not, that’s the point. No one actually thinking that way is going to admit to themselves that that’s how they’re thinking. And so it’s not surprising to me that most converts would deny fitting my description here. To be sure, we need to listen to the reasons converts are actually giving—and I am attempting to do that here, more than many I’ve heard who have tried to diagnose the cause of such conversions—but we needn’t take those reasons at face value. Quite often we are very poor judges of our own motives, often worse than others watching us, in fact. We are very prone to deceive ourselves and make ourselves sound much more patient and objective and rational and humble than we really are.  (Emphasis added)

Littlejohn’s assertion that he knows better than the converts is highly problematic.  At the Final Judgment the secrets of our hearts will be revealed and each one of us will have to give an account for our life, our thoughts and deeds (Romans 2:12-16).

So the best approach is not to second guess people’s motives (or put words into our mouths in the form of quotes) but to present biblical, theological, and historical evidences for a reasoned discussion about conversions to Orthodoxy.  The insinuation that people who converted to Orthodoxy “checked their brains at the door” comes close to an ad hominem attack and for that reason is to be avoided.  Questioning people’s motives in effect muddies the water and poisons the well of public discourse.  It is far better and more charitable if we take people at their words than to question their motives.


Why People Convert to Orthodoxy

While Littlejohn’s assertion may come across as controversial and even objectionable, the main issue here is: Does he have the evidence to back it up?  Apparently not.  Are there any scholarly studies out there that shed light on conversions to Orthodoxy?  The answer is: Yes, there’s Amy Slagle’s 2008 dissertation “’Nostalgia Without Memory’: A Case Study of American Converts to Eastern Orthodoxy in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania” (University of Pittsburgh, 2008).  The advantage of Slagle’s dissertation is we have here solid data for evaluating Littlejohn’s argument.  Note: Her dissertation is now available in book form: The Eastern Church in the Spiritual Marketplace: American Conversions to Orthodox Christianity (published by Northern Illinois University Press, 2011).


PittsburghSlagle interviewed forty people who lived in the Pittsburgh area (p. 43).  She used a guided questionnaire and ethnographic participant observation to gather data.  In addition, she used a computerized qualitative data analysis program to code her interview transcripts (p. 37).  This gives her research methodological rigor which is superior to Littlejohn’s intuitive method.


Informant emphasis, in the course of casual conversations and coffee-house interviews as discussed in chapter two, on personal choice-making and seeking is all the more striking given the high level of religious engagement and knowledge these informants possessed within decidedly Christian contexts. Many informants had served as Bible-school teachers and had acquired seminary degrees and most considered themselves “committed” Christians, yet in the end they spun narratives grounded in marketplace action and imagery (p. 277; emphasis added).

There have always been converts to Orthodoxy but what has changed is the type of convert.  Since the 1980s there has been an increase in theologically driven conversions (pp. 102-103).  Slagle approached conversion to Orthodoxy from the standpoint of a consumer shopping in a religious marketplace.  This research paradigm is well known in religious studies and sociology of religion.  The advantage of this approach is that it allows us to view conversion from a broader social context.  The popular “journey to Orthodoxy” trope tends to be more introspective, focusing more on the individual than the social context shaping his/her decision (pp. 60-61).  It is popular in part because it resonates so powerfully with the modern quest for self authentication, i.e., finding one’s self.

One thing that struck Slagle was not just the pervasiveness of shopping going on but also people’s confidence in their choice-making abilities (p. 95).

As vital components of choice-making, active knowledge acquisition and self-reflexivity lend shape to religious conversion. At each point in their conversions, from initial religious seeking to settling into life as Orthodox Christians, Orthodox converts in Pittsburgh consistently relate a kind of on-going negotiation between self and other, as they research religious differences and experiment with practices and dogmas. Such processes virtually ensure that converts arrive at the ecclesial doors of the Orthodox Church with these marketplace, choice-making skills and attitudes fully intact and ever more deeply engrained and habitualized in their lives (p. 25).

As consumers seeking to make an informed choice, Slagle’s respondents engaged in extensive information gathering.  This is far from the abject surrender to authority proposed by Littlejohn!


Protestantism’s Fractured State

As Brad Littlejohn noted, a major reason why people are converting to Orthodoxy is in reaction against the current pluralism of American Protestantism.  Amy Slagle noticed a similar reaction among her informants:

First, in direct, explicit reaction against America’s marketplace culture, informants were often profoundly interested in Eastern Orthodoxy as a staid, doctrinally and historically conservative form of Christianity offering its members a profound sense of stability and continuity with imagined pasts. Many informants affirmed a strong attraction to the external, institutional qualities of the Orthodox Church as a preserver of doctrinal formulae, hierarchical (and, I daresay, patriarchal) structures, and absolute, exclusivist notions of “truth” and “tradition.” In this regard, Orthodoxy was frequently valorized as a church offering the strong doses of moral and epistemological certainty and senses of community needed to assuage the social isolation and existential uncertainty of contemporary existence (p. 200).

Slagle noted that converts joined the Orthodox Church, not because it was subjectively “true” for them, but because it was “true” in the sense of an “objective, universalized reality” (p. 206).  What Orthodoxy offers these converts is “the church as a venue of moral and epistemological certainty” (p. 202).    Littlejohn may deride this as mindless conformity, but one should at least appreciate the desire for theological stability on the part of some.  Moreover, Orthodoxy’s conviction of absolute truth constitutes a rebuke to the relativism implicit in Protestantism’s theological fluidity.

Religious conversions take place in every age but under certain circumstances the institutional and epistemic contexts undergo considerable stress that creates windows of opportunity that lead people to reevaluate their religious options.  Charles Taylor in A Secular Age wrote:

The salient feature of Western societies is not so much a decline of religious faith and practice, though there has been lots of that, more in some societies than in others, but rather a mutual fragilization of different religious positions, as well as of the outlook both of belief and unbelief (2007:595; emphasis added).

This sheds light, not only on the fractured state of Protestant Christianity, but American society overall.  The pluralization of the American religious marketplace has been consequential for the epistemic standing of Protestant denominations.  Their truth standing becomes tenuous and uncertain, or in Taylor’s word “fragile.”  This has resulted not only in increased shopping within people’s religious traditions (from one Protestant denomination to another) but also in religious migrations, conversion to unfamiliar religious traditions (from Protestantism to Orthodoxy).


Checking One’s Brain at the Door?

Brad Littlejohn described his hypothetical convert to Orthodoxy thinking like this:

The commitment to faith and obedience is what’s important, not the content, so I should just leave the question of content to others and focus on relinquishing self-will. (Emphasis added.)

Littllejohn’s depiction of Orthodoxy as unthinking submission to the authority of the Church in reaction to Protestantism’s’ fractured state is not what Slagle found in her research.  She found that while people did convert to Orthodoxy partly as a reaction to the pluralization of the religious marketplace, the reality was much more complex than Littlejohn’s “checking in one’s brains at the door hypothesis.  Slagle writes:

A person, for example, converting out of a desire to escape pluralism or consumerism must somehow envision Orthodoxy as holding these traits in check. Yet, convert responses to motivational queries are manifold rather than singular, thus furnishing competing visions of what Orthodoxy might be and how it affects individual lives. Just as a plethora of choices stand side-by side for individual perusal and appropriation in contemporary American life, so converts form or choose their own definitional and experiential conceptions of Orthodoxy (p. 199).

What Slagle found in her research was not people ceasing to think theologically as Littlejohn proposed, but something more complex.

Priests, for example, often discussed the penchant for converts to try to effect change in aspects of parish life they felt deviated from Orthodoxy as it was “supposed to be,” usually as that found in other parishes of converts’ experience or through their reading and studying. Armed with their well-recognized “book knowledge” about the faith, some converts were in no way demure in offering priests unsolicited advice about the running of the parish or in complaining about ritual practices they considered incongruent with the traditions of the church, such as kneeling on Sunday or the use of icons painted in “Western” rather than “Eastern” iconographic styles (p. 175).

One of Slagle’s priest informants told her at what point an inquirer was ready to become Orthodox: “They have to be at a point where they don’t have a choice.” (p. 179)  In other words, they are like Peter who said: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68; OSB)  The Orthodox Church is not one among many denominations; it regards itself to be the one Church founded by Christ.  What you have here is not so much a “checking in of one’s brains” as the conviction that this is the capital “C” Church.  This is not so much mindless conformity, but intentional submission to the ancient wisdom of the Church.  This is much like an athlete training to compete in the Olympics who submits to the wisdom of the coach and conforms to the training regimen prescribed by the coach.

Probably the closest thing to “checking one’s brain at the door” in Slagle’s dissertation was the tendency on the part of some Orthodox converts to regard the local parish priest as a guru to which one submits major life decisions (p. 191).  The general tendency of the priests has been to discourage the attempts by some to put them on a pedestal or to regard this idealism as perilous and inappropriate.  [Note: This certainly happens in Protestantism, including some Reformed churches, where pastors assumed a dangerous status of “guru” . . . which is seldom challenged by anyone.]

What many converts found appealing about Orthodoxy was the fact that they did not have to resolve complex theological issues on their own, again and again.  They did not have to revisit the thorny issues of the Trinity, Christ’s divinity, the two natures of Christ that early theologians wrestled with.

In mentioning lingering doubts that occasionally arose about church practice and teaching, such as veneration of Mary and the saints, Karen hastened to add, “I accept the authority of the [Orthodox] church to make these decisions and I accept that they are the ones who are right and that I’m wrong. And I’ve just gotten to that point because I trust the Orthodox Church so much. I’m not gonna say that, perhaps, I’m the one that’s right. It’s just not true. The Orthodox Church is correct and I’m wrong” (p. 216).

Converts found unexpected benefits in converting to Orthodoxy.  They were able to direct their energies away from doctrinal questions to that of personal transformation via the Church’s spiritual and liturgical disciplines (p. 228).  They no longer needed to devote considerable effort to studying theological issues as they did prior to their conversion.

Converts found unexpected benefits in converting to Orthodoxy.  After engaging the writings and reasoning of the Church Fathers and the Ecumenical Councils, they were able to direct their energies away from doctrinal questions to that of personal transformation via the Church’s spiritual and liturgical disciplines (p. 228).  They no longer needed to devote considerable effort to reexamine theological issues which they constantly did as diligent Protestants prior to their conversion.

Not only could informants dedicate themselves to such activities, but they said they could do so with the security and certainty that the Orthodox Church would never lead them astray through the impartation of inaccurate teachings. They could move about and explore their new ecclesial world uninhibited by concerns that what they might be heading in the wrong direction in their “search” for God.  . . . . With the belief that the matter had been settled at the Council of Chalcedon, for instance, informants no longer had to devote their time to mulling over the nature of Christ (p. 228).

Probably, the most direct refutation of Littlejohn’s “checking one’s brain at the door” hypothesis was not by Slagle but two sociologists cited by her:

At the same time, sociologists H. B. Cavalcanti and H. Paul Chalfant maintained in their study of Orthodox converts in Boston that such individuals were “not simply robotic followers of a rigid faith” but persons who in bouncing “their individual, implicit feelings off the traditions of the Orthodox faith,” often held different interpretations regarding the nature and meaning of their newfound church (p. 199; emphasis added).

If Brad Littlejohn wants to hold on to his “checking the brain at the door” hypothesis, he will need to present solid data to up his position.  As it is Slagle’s findings do not support his position in the main.


Orthodox Priests in the Conversion Process

In conversions to Orthodoxy the priest plays a significant role.  The priest looks beyond intellectual assent to a willingness to live according to the teachings and practices of Orthodox Tradition.  They oftentimes slowed down the conversion process to ensure people’s long term commitment to Orthodoxy.  They usually require that the inquirer become involved in the life of the parish as part of the conversion process.

Nearly all the clerics interviewed reported holding regularly scheduled one-to-one conversations with potential converts to discuss inquirers’ past religious lives and experiences, motivations for possible conversion to Orthodoxy, family obstacles or objections for such a course of action, even personal problems and past traumas, religiously incurred or not. Through these conversations and observations of the catechumen in parish life (e.g., how often and consistently catechumens attend divine services, how well they develop social ties with others in the community and so forth), clerics attempted to discern the seriousness and depth of the individual’s personal commitment to conversion as well as her overall spiritual development (Slagle p. 153).

Orthodoxy is a communal faith.  Becoming Orthodox entails a commitment to Apostolic Tradition.  Contrary to what some may think authority in Orthodoxy is not arbitrary but highly constrained.  Everyone, both clergy and laity, are bound by capital “T” Tradition.  Failure by the priest to ascertain the inquirer’s commitment to Tradition runs the risk of disrupting the common life of the Church and imperiling the spiritual health of the convert.  This accounts for the extreme caution exercised by many Orthodox priests with respect to reception of converts.


Shopping versus Migrating

Shopping Around


Refugees Fleeing

One criticism I have of Amy Slagle’s shopping metaphor is that it seems to downplay the high costs that often accompany conversion to Orthodoxy.  In addition to the shopping metaphor, I suggest that conversion to Orthodoxy also be understood in terms of migration.  Migration implies the loss of one homeland for another, which implies a fundamental recasting of religious identity.  [This is where religious studies can benefit from diaspora theory.] The social cost of switching from one Protestant denomination to another is usually minimal; the social cost of switching out of Protestantism to Orthodoxy is often rather high.  See my article: “Crossing the Bosphorus.”

Another weakness that jumped out to me while reading her dissertation was her tendency to view the American religious marketplace ahistorically.  This is not a criticism of her fine work but to point out the complexity of the topic of conversion to Orthodoxy.  I would venture that Slagle could not have done this kind of research thirty or forty years ago because conversion to Orthodoxy were infrequent back then.  There has been a significant increase in numbers of Protestants opting for Orthodoxy.  What has changed?  I would argue that there have been radical shifts within established denominations that Slagle seems to have overlooked.  For example, her informant Helen’s quixotic comment that she was “running towards” Anglicanism in her conversion to Orthodoxy (p. 66) can be understood as a coded reference to her objecting to the Episcopal Church’s adoption of liberal theology and ethics.  One common lament goes: “I didn’t leave the Episcopal Church; the Episcopal Church left me!”  Similar changes took place in the Roman Catholic Church.  One of her respondents complained about the changes following Vatican II (pp. 210-213).  One of the priest informants brought up the liberal drift prompting people to convert to Orthodoxy (pp. 167-168).  As mainline Protestant denominations became increasingly liberal, theological conservatives often felt compelled to go elsewhere.   What we see here is not just a pull towards Orthodoxy (attraction, shopping) but also people being pushed out (emigration, exile).


Other Findings by Slagle

One finding in Slagle’s dissertation I found significant but not all that surprising is the growing role of the Internet in introducing people to Orthodoxy (pp. 90-91).  This means that how Orthodox Christians conduct themselves on the Internet is important to Orthodox outreach which is all the more reason why we need to conduct ourselves with charity and civility to others.   Through the Internet people acquired information about Orthodoxy but also surprised by the beauty of liturgical music (p. 90).  But even more important to the conversion process was the person-to-person contact between the inquirer and a member of the Orthodox Church (pp. 91-92).

Another interesting finding is that for many inquirers the visit to an actual Orthodox service comes late in the process.  Quite often there is quite a bit of information gathering and one-on-one meeting that goes on before the first visit to the Divine Liturgy.  And when one does attend the Liturgy the reaction is sometimes that of disorientation rather than infatuation (pp. 92-93).

A notable strength of Slagle’s dissertation is her focus on the conversion of spouses, i.e., when the non-Orthodox spouse decides to become Orthodox, often years after the wedding.  This topic has been overlooked in the study of conversion to Orthodoxy (p. 104).  One could say that one is a relational conversion while the other is a rational conversion (p. 104).  Although not religious seekers, these types of converts do demonstrate sincere spiritual interests and their decision to convert deeply felt.

Slagle referenced Richard Cimino who made the intriguing observation that the strong interest among young people in conservative expressions of Christianity—Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Reformed—exemplify a willingness to “swim against the stream” (Slagle, p. 7).  This suggests that people who convert into the Reformed tradition as well as those who convert out are not are not weak minded people but strong minded individuals who are passionate about Truth and doing God’s will.

Also valuable is Slagle’s discussion of the neo-patristic revival in Orthodoxy which commenced in the 1930s and how the English translations of the church fathers influenced those searching for a church impervious to change (pp. 214-215).  This insight helps shed light on how the American religious terrain underwent a significant change in the twentieth century.  The neo-patristic revival helped revitalize the intellectual life of Orthodoxy and introduce a generation of Protestants to the early Church.


Concluding Thoughts

Why do people convert to Orthodoxy?  Brad Littlejohn asserted that daunted by Protestantism’s fractured state and tired of working through theological issues many converted to Orthodoxy in order “check one’s brain at the door.”  But Amy Slagle in her dissertation research found that many of the converts engaged in extensive research and comparison before deciding to convert to Orthodoxy.  The conversion process involved not just investigating the teachings of the Orthodox Church but also an exploration of Orthodox culture.  What we see here is active inquiry and an intentional embrace of Orthodoxy.  Orthodox priests sought to ensure that these converts understood what it meant to be Orthodox; they took pains to avoid mindless submission to authority.

Slagle’s dissertation shows that conversion to Orthodoxy is a rich field for scholarly research.  Further scholarly research is also needed with respect to the Reformed revival among Evangelicals.  See: “New York Times Article on Calvinist Revival.”  Is such a thing really happening?  Is it widespread or confined to certain groupings?  What are the social forces driving this revival?  We don’t need educated guesses and intuition; we need solid research like that done by Amy Slagle grounded in the social sciences.  We need more of this kind of rigorous thinking in order for the dialogue between the Reformed and Orthodox traditions to be a fruitful one.

Brad Littlejohn attributes Protestantism’s fractured state to people not taking sola fide seriously enough.  In another blog posting I offered a different explanation – that the root cause of Protestantism’s fractured state lies in sola scriptura.  See: “Protestantism’s Fatal Genetic Flaw.”  And in another blog posting I argued that Bible does not teach sola scriptura and that what it really teaches is the traditioning process.  See: “If Not Sola Scriptura, Then What?  The Biblical Basis for Holy Tradition.”  My conversion to Orthodoxy was not the result of my surrendering to Orthodoxy but rather my reaching the conclusion that Protestant theology is fundamentally flawed.  As a church history major at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary I found through my research that much of Evangelicalism and the Reformation diverged from the historic Christian faith, and I came to the conclusion that the Orthodox Church today is the one holy catholic and apostolic Church confessed in the Nicene Creed.  Thus, there was both a push and pull factors at work.  And so I became an ecclesial immigrant leaving the familiar culture of modern Evangelicalism for a new home in ancient Orthodoxy.

Robert Arakaki



  1. David

    Nice article Robert. Surprised at this given the gentleman Brad
    usually is in characterizing others as carefully as possible. One
    wonders how Reformed folk would respond if their embrace of
    the Reformed faith was characterized as “checking their brain at
    the door”…in deference to the various Reformed “gurus” who
    enjoy far too much unquestioned ‘loyalty’?
    Thank you Robert…good job.

  2. Brad Littlejohn

    Might want to develop a thicker skin there, if a couple brief remarks at the beginning of a post intended to set up a discussion of the problems with authority in Protestantism are treated as an “argument” warranting a 4,200-word refutation.
    And if you’re going to get on a high horse about my perceived misrepresentation of converts, maybe you should think twice before indulging in such repeated and astounding misrepresentation of my claims.

  3. Raphael

    Brad, Can you be more specific? What part of Robert’s article was a misrepresentation of your claims.

    • Brad Littlejohn

      I think that a careful read of my post will show the very dramatic gulf between my overall intentions and the kind of intentions that Robert has imputed to me here. In implying that I was ever attempting to provide a detailed analysis of conversions to Orthodoxy, he pretty comically misrepresents the post.
      I never made any claim to over a comprehensive phenomenology of conversion: my remarks were neither about the motivations of all converts, nor about the whole motivation of any one convert, nor were they even anything like a whole analysis of even one part of the motivation of any one convert. I offered some very brief observations first about what some converts do in fact say about part of their experience of conversion, followed by some very brief thoughts about why these kinds of sentiments, though at first glance laudable, should worry us, inasmuch as they can reflect a tendency toward abdication of intellectual responsibility. And then I went on to offer a lengthy critique of the problem of intellectual abdication as it manifests itself in Protestantism generally.

      Moreover, inasmuch as Robert repeatedly suggests that I attribute a mindless “abject surrender” to converts, he fails to show much reading comprehension of the paragraph in question. And when he says things like “Littlejohn may deride this as mindless conformity, but one should at least appreciate the desire for theological stability on the part of some” he quite ignores my sentence: “Now I don’t mean to be too harsh, of course, on all those who make such moves, and there is certainly a balance; some of us are too arrogantly insistent on making up our own minds about everything, and need to learn to defer to the judgment of others on occasion.”

      All that to say, sure there’s an interesting conversation to be had on everything that goes into conversions—and such conversations should resist any attempt to generalize these into a single one-size-fits-all account (as I have always insisted). So have that conversation, sure. Talk about Slagle’s interesting dissertation analysis. Just don’t pretend that that’s at all the conversation that my post was seeking to engage in. As I see it, my post lays down a challenge to former Protestants and current Protestants alike: examine yourselves for the temptation to fear the hard work of disagreement and seek safety within authority structures that will mute differences. If anyone examines themselves and thinks that this really isn’t their particular problem, well, good for them. But it is for a lot of us.

      • Prometheus


        I think the problem is that you could have addressed the issue without bringing up conversion or conversion to Orthodoxy at all. Encouraging people to think. But the fact that you talked about conversion implied that you were critiquing it.

        Robert did not give a 4,200 word response on your website, but on his own. He felt the topic was worth mentioning . . . I’m guessing because so many deride conversion. I’m not sure why you feel so defensive.

        In addition, I think that your comment that one doesn’t have to take reasons for converting at face-value to be seriously problematic. It is offensive. It ruins the conversation.

        That said, you say that Robert misrepresented you. He did provide a link to your article (very courteously). Perhaps you could have written more clearly, as it seems to me that he assessed the issues fairly well: “Those who have converted are cowards (or lazy); don’t be a coward (or lazy), diversity is good, think it through.” To say it doesn’t focus on conversion seems to misrepresent yourself. Also, as I’ve said before, you encourage them to examine their presuppositions about ecclesiastical authority of the Orthodox, but not of the Reformed! 🙂

      • Clayton

        Brad – here is the problem with your use of conversions to Orthodoxy as a springboard into your post:

        “I offered some very brief observations first about what some converts do in fact say about part of their experience of conversion, followed by some very brief thoughts about why these kinds of sentiments, though at first glance laudable, should worry us, inasmuch as they can reflect a tendency toward abdication of intellectual responsibility.”

        I personally know many converts from protestantism to Eastern Orthodoxy, but I literally do not know of one single person who fits this description of having a tendency toward abdication of intellectual responsibility. In fact it’s just the opposite. Apparently you are using a hypothetical person based on second hand information which leads to a gross misrepresentation of the situation.

        So, yes you were just using this as a way to introduce your broader topic about protestants abdicating intellectual responsibility (which I agree is a problem). But the migration of people out of Protestantism into Orthodoxy (and Roman Catholicism) is not part of this trend, as I think Robert has more than adequately demonstrated.


    For thirty years, I was an active and involved member of the evangelical community out of which grew the Confederation of Reformed Evangelicals. I was intimately involved, first as a participant in the first school of Practical Christianity in 1975 and later as a co-elder with Doug Wilson for ten years. Those formative years of the Reformed Evangelical movement were exciting, tumultuous and soul searching times for all of us. I have always considered myself an ardent seeker of truth, even from my teenage years when I had determined that the Roman church was bankrupt into my young adulthood years when I determined that the Protestant movement was bankrupt and into my fiftieth year of life when I realized that the Reformed Evangelical movement was also bankrupt. My life long journey as an avid and determined seeker of truth finally brought me into the Eastern Orthodox Church where I now reside as a citizen, considering myself one of the most fortunate and unworthy souls on the face of the earth.

  5. Prometheus


    I agree with much of your assessment of Brad’s article (which I read, too). I think that he throws Orthodoxy out there, and then fails to address the real issues. Instead he addresses Protestant problems. That said, I also think that the primary problem is not the fractured nature of the Protestant church (though that is distressing), but that he does not address the fact that many people are leaving Protestantism, not because they are tired of thinking things through, but because the see sola scriptura itself as fundamentally flawed. What they see when they think things through (as I have posted on Brad’s site) is that a theology that has no authoritative role for tradition cannot use tradition to back up their view of the authority and nature of scripture. I.e. sola scriptura has no foundations. It is like a castle in the clouds. Some day, as in the cartoons, someone is going to look down and realize that their claims have no justification and the whole edifice will come crashing down.

    Now, you know that the reason I am not Orthodox (yet?) is that I am not yet convinced that the Orthodox Church has reliably transmitted Tradition authoritatively. But that said, it appeals to me for its strengths over and against conservative Protestantism, inasmuch as some sort of authoritative teaching (along with appointed teachers) tradition seems to have been begun by Jesus and his disciples. In Protestantism we see no such authoritative tradition. In that sense Orthodox ecclesiology seems much more Biblical than Protestantism.

    I’ve said too much.


    • Jeff

      I don’t think you’ve said too much. I really appreciated your thoughts here and am at a similar place, though I may be more convinced of Orthodoxy’s authority at this point. Regardless, I’m in full agreement that a central problem for myself and for many is the sola scriptura issue. The argument that Jesus left a Church, whether it be the Orthodox Church or not, and not a Bible is a strong argument – as is the lack of any confirmation of the Bible inside the text itself. Should it include Tobit? Why does or doesn’t it?

      For a long while, I never questioned sola scriptura. I trusted the Bible (still do), but I just took it for granted and never dug back much beyond the 15th century. It was actually Tolkien through a story, followed by Boethius, followed by Chesterton (talk about bouncing back and forth through history) that caused a much deeper examination.

      The Traditioning process makes sense and fits with the ancient world. The lack of a canon for hundreds of years (and of any writing for roughly 20+ years) means that the Church functioned without a Bible, at least NT works, for quite some time. Yet there was a good amount of unity coupled with some dissent and heresy. I had never thought of this before – and I think many do as I did and take the Bible for granted. We see so many around us and fail to realize that is a modern circumstance. Books were rare, even after Gutenberg. His printing press could exactly create enough copies for everyone to have a Bible. The rotary press is when that changed.

      The intellectual rigor of many converts from the Pitt dissertation is not surprising. Those who ask questions and dig deep are more likely to look at Orthodoxy or even Catholicism.

      All that said, I think the sola scriptura problem is what feeds the Protestant fragmentation issue. There is no Magisterium or guiding Holy Tradition, so theological differences in WHAT scripture says cause fractures.

    • robertar


      I very much appreciate your taking part in the dialogue on this blog site. Even if we don’t see eye to eye, I continue to learn from you. Please keep sharing your views!


  6. Paula

    Mr. Littlejohn – in reference to your quote here: “It struck me once a few years ago that while we very often warn against the dangers of individual pride, considering the guy who always thinks he’s right as the paradigmatic, and most dangerous, form of arrogance, that the Bible is often much more worried about the sin of corporate pride. This, as New Perspective scholars have noted, is Jesus and Paul’s greatest beef with the Pharisees—yes, some of them are individually self-righteous, and that’s a problem, but much bigger and more insidious is their national pride, their sense that they are part of the chosen people, the community that’s got it all right, and outside of which are the fools, the ignorant, the sinners whom God will judge. This kind of pride can do far more harm than any individual’s silly puffed-up pomposity, and what makes it so dangerous is that it is so easy to hide under a cloak of humility”

    I would say that this is exactly the attitude that I have personally experienced from the Reformed, and have not personally found among the Orthodox. I know many Reformed, and almost universally there is a pomposity and lack of humility that, were I not already a Christian, would completely turn me off to becoming so if these were the only representatives of Christianity I had encountered.

    I would say that, rather than “checking my brain at the door”, Orthodoxy allows me to concentrate my efforts where they actually belong – on improving myself as God would wish me to improve myself, rather than wasting my time and energy on argumentation, which is the chief activity of the Reformed. Doing so illuminates for me, on a daily basis, the fact that I am the greatest of sinners and have no reason for pride. I am thankful every day that I have the ability to speak to my priests and find direction for this journey through the traditions handed down from the Apostles and that I can worship God in communion with this church.

    I would propose that the Reformed attitude toward Orthodoxy has more to do with the inherent insecurity in a tradition that is based upon personal intellectual reason and argumentation than anything else. How can you really know you are right? You can’t. So much time is spent arguing about whether you are in the right “room” that you can’t really devote time and energy to what God specifically asked us to do – love Him and love each other.

    Please forgive me if I have offended anyone.

    • Prometheus


      I have experienced much of the same from the Reformed tradition. This is not, however, universally true, as is instantiated by Tim Keller. But your point is well taken. In addition, Brad could take a dose of his own medicine – self-criticism.

    • Matthew N. Petersen

      Paula: I think the point of the post was to exhort the Reformed to fix the problem you point out in your post. The stuff on converts was just intended to get the Reformed agreeing with him before he started laying into them.

  7. David

    Brad & All,

    As I’ve said, I was surprised at your use of “quotes” by Orthodox
    converts that proved to be fiction, but seemed to generalize a cate-
    gory. I’ve found you mostly gracious and a gentleman here and on
    your own blog. Yet I can’t help but think Toby & Doug both amused
    that you are now doing their dance of clarification “that’s not what
    I meant, let me clarify”…with their defensive and unapologetic posture.

    Why not just say:
    “I’m sorry, I was too general, should not have used fictitious
    quotes to generalize others in such a negative light. I’d certainly
    not want others to do that unto me. And, of course, there are
    actually very many ‘well-studied and thoughtful converts’ than
    my overly brief negative characterizing remarks implied. Please
    forgive me.” Sadly…you are following a different script.

  8. Olaf's Axe

    While perhaps Mr Littlejohn spoke too quickly on checking brains at the door, one has to consider a lot of the convertskii rhetoric: the West relies on reason while we….

    I hear a lot of downplaying of logic and reason. Does that warrant a blanket statement? Of course not, but one needs to consider the unintended effects of such statements.


    A man can be in Christ in his mind but until he is baptised into Christ, through the True Holy Orthodox Church, he is not in Christ. “As many have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ.” Galatians” 3:27. Blessed Clement of Alexandria says; “Philosophers are children until they become men through Christ. For truth is never thinking only.” Christ came to correct man and, therefore, men’s logic. He is our Logos and our Logic. That is why we must direct our reason toward Him and not Him toward our reason. He is the corrector of our reason. The sun is not regulated according to our clock, but our clock is regulated according to the sun.

    • Olaf's Axe

      Can someone be saved outside of Christ?


    Regarding God’s mysterious work outside the Orthodox Church, we have nothing to say. We make no judgments about what God is doing there, or about what happens to the souls of those who are not Orthodox or not Christian on earth. It is all we can do to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).

    • Olaf's Axe

      Well, I’m glad you didn’t say I am going to hell, but this raises a problem that is endemic to the point of the OP: I was simply asking one to draw the logical conclusion from a statement. Following Orthodox scholar Fr John McGuckin, we’ll call the above position the Cyprianic one (outside the church no salvation). If we allow that there is really salvation outside the church, then Cyprian’s statement becomes absolutely meaningless.

      If we allow that people are saved outside of being *Christ* (identified with baptism), then the insistence on being baptized in Orthodox church seems rather misplaced.

      • John

        I would not say his quote is meaningless. Let me do some looking, but I have heard the Orthodox speak to that subject without the dichotomy you say necessitates from the quote.


        • Olaf's Axe

          McGuckin openly denies (and almost ridicules) Cyprian’s quote, calling those who hold to it “inhumane.” I’ll restate it in formal “Western” logic:

          Major Premise: Outside of the Orthodox church there is no salvation.
          Minor Premise: Reformed Randall is outside the Orthodox Church.
          Conclusion: Reformed Randall is not saved.

          The argument above is impeccable in terms of soundness and validity.


    Orthodox Christians are not in a position to ‘allow for’ the contemplation of any man’s salvation other than our own. Deceptions, delusions, distractions and distortions abound in this life and to trust in my own reasoning or the reasoning of modern men is a most dangerous proposition. I need all the help possible in working out my salvation and I am so grateful for the daily intercessions, protections and oversight of the Church Fathers, the Saints, the Angels, the Most Blessed Mother of God, the Holy Spirit of God, the Son of God and God the Father and even still, every moment of every day, I stand in danger of becoming shipwrecked, derailed or drowned in my own sinful and carnal inclinations. Long suffering and rejoicing are my daily companions and friends.

    • Olaf's Axe

      Your graciousness is appreciated in this context. I sincerely thank you. I remember one convert’s blog post who talked about the Huguenots (my blood ancestors and spiritual ancestors) being in hell.

      Still, if what you say is true then what is the point of St Cyprian’s claim?

      • Jeff

        There may ultimately be no point to it. Or there may be an eternal point to it. I’ve heard Orthodox make that argument, that all of the saved or elect will ultimately be Orthodox since it is their belief that Orthodoxy is representative of how worship and life is led in the world to come. So while someone may not identify as Orthodox at this point, that person who is saved through Christ, will conform to Orthodoxy in both the intermediate and permanent states. Of course, an argument could be made that any flaw in Orthodoxy as it exists on Earth will be corrected and conformed as well.

        I think any of us who make claims as to who is in hell or going to hell (as long as we’re speaking of the place of permanent torment and not Hades) should seriously rethink that and look at ourselves first. It is Jesus who is the Judge, not any of us.

        Florovsky’s paper on the limits of the Church does a much better job than I ever could. Florovsky states that “the practical conclusions drawn by Cyprian have not been accepted and supported by the consciousness of the Church.” He greatly elaborates on that throughout the paper. His quote of Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow is, I think, illuminating:

        “Mark you, I do not presume to call false any Church which believes that Jesus is the Christ. The Christian Church can only be either purely true, confessing the true and saving divine teaching without the false admixtures and pernicious opinions of men, or not purely true, mixing with the true and saving teaching of faith in Christ the false and pernicious opinions of men….

        ‘You expect now that I should give judgment concerning the other half of present Christianity, but I just simply look upon them; in part I see how the Head and Lord of the Church heals the many deep wounds of the old serpent in all the parts and limbs of his Body, applying now gentle, now strong, remedies, even fire and iron, in order to soften hardness, to draw out poison, to clean wounds, to separate out malignant growths, to restore spirit and life in the numbed and half-dead members. In this way I attest my faith that, in the end, the power of God will triumph openly over human weakness, good over evil, unity over division, life over death.”

        There certainly are those that accept Cyprian’s claim. Florovsky delineates between the charismatic and canonical boundaries of the Church. Essentially, he states that the Orthodox Church is clearly the canonical Church, but that the charismatic extent of the Church is a mystery. He would maintain that the Orthodox Church IS the Church come for Christ through the Apostles, but that does not include all the Elect.

        Khomiakov’s statement, also cited by Florovsky, sums up better than I ever could: “Inasmuch as the earthly and visible Church is not the fullness and completeness of the whole Church which the Lord has appointed to appear at the final judgement of all creation, she acts and knows only within her own limits; and (according to the words of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians, 1 Cor. 5.12) does not judge the rest of mankind, and only looks upon those as excluded, that is to say, not belonging to her, who have excluded themselves. The rest of mankind, whether alien from the Church, or united to her by ties which God has not willed to reveal to her, she leaves to the judgment of the Great Day’ “

      • Karen

        No accident I think that this was a “converts” blog post. How long a convert I wonder? This is an example of how Orthodox teaching is easily distorted by being transposed into a polemical and largely forensic Western theological framework. I’ve been Orthodox for nearly 7 years, and I still struggle to dump western conceptual categories that have no place in Orthodoxy.

        If you can tolerate the fact that he won’t be particularly impressed or intimidated by your apparent enthrallment what appears logical from a merely human perspective, and won’t cooperate to the extent you might desire with your efforts to bring all theological discussion into that framework, Fr. Stephen Freeman would be a more reliable source for a genuinely Orthodox perspective on such things. He has plenty of scholarly understanding (and will be frank about the limits of this), but there is plenty of good food for thought for the thinking person at his site. I will warn that he is intentionally provocative in some of how he writes (and does this as a pedagogical device from his own pastoral experience in order to provoke deeper reflection, not engage in polemics).

        This advice comes from my own experience.

        • Olaf's Axe

          I don’t think Mr Littlejohn was a convert. I think it said he got his information from a “convert.”

          • Karen

            Sorry for the confusion, Jacob. My reference to the “convert” was in regard to your statement above to Gary where you said:

            ” I remember one convert’s blog post who talked about the Huguenots (my blood ancestors and spiritual ancestors) being in hell.”

            Hope that makes more sense.

  12. David

    Olaf’s & All,

    To my understanding Gary is rightly articulating what the
    Church has always taught about salvation. Calvin said
    much the same thing…adding the word “ordinarily” there is
    no salvation outside the Church. Yet in all this we must
    remember that God is merciful and loves Mankind…(recited
    throughout the Divine Liturgy). So I too have great hope
    and confidence that many of my own devout Huguenot
    ancestors who loved Christ with the light given them (but all
    but completely ignorant of the Orthodox Faith) will find
    salvation. We must not allow ourselves to fall into the notion
    of God as a vindictive and vengeful God anxious to zap all the
    humans He can…but rather merciful and long-suffering…with
    all of us. Lord have mercy. 🙂

    • Olaf's Axe

      I agree that is what the Orthodox Church teaches, and I am grateful for it. My point was that their position runs psychologically (if not logically) counter to Cyprian’s claim. And while Calvin employed Cyprian’s dictum, there was a marked difference: Calvin’s use of the so-called invisible church (which is why he would likely have viewed Lutherans, for example, as “in the church”).

      • Clayton

        Much has been said and written about this topic. Probably the most helpful is the article “The Limits of the Church” by Fr. Georges Florovsky:


      • Karen

        Met. Kallistos (Ware), also summarizes the Orthodox stance in The Orthodox Church, that although Orthodox are bound by the norms of the Church, the Holy Spirit isn’t. Thus we can say where the Church is, but we can’t say where it isn’t.

        I’m not sure how Calvin understood it, but notions of the “invisible Church,” as it is commonly understood within Protestantism today effectively means one confession or Christian tradition or local church can’t be considered to be a full (catholic) dogmatic and sacramental expression of the One Church Christ founded. All are, rather, fragmented parts needing all the others in order to be a true expression of the Universal Church (while it is assumed some teachings/practices within at least some if not all of those dogmatically and sacramentally disconnected bodies are not properly true, thus not expressive of the “Universal Church”).

        This is contrary to the Orthodox understanding that each of her local Churches (and local parishes) is the full catholic expression of the whole Church in its own locale. That is, Christ is fully present also in each local Eucharistic gathering, not only in the Church as a whole worldwide Communion of believers.

        I think I could not have become Orthodox if this agnosticism about the salvation of those still formally outside the Church (and indeed hope for their salvation because of the mercy of Christ) had not been the fully Orthodox faith. Orthodox ecclesiology allows me to clearly identify her bounds as my true spiritual home, without having to make any sort of judgment about the salvation of others (as Gary has so beautifully expressed above). I also don’t have to worry that an imperfection of form or on some detail of teaching or some sin of her hierarchs in my local Church is necessarily going to rupture my Communion with Christ (until and unless canonical processes take their course such that my own local Church is cut off from canonical Orthodoxy). Indeed, this leaves me freer than I ever was as a Protestant, to focus on genuinely working out my own salvation with fear and trembling and on loving Christ and others as Christ commands.


    This article addresses quite thoroughly in an intellectual manner, your question regarding St. Cyprian’s statement.

    The last great heresy of the end times is ecumenism and this teaching will literally raise hell on earth to such a degree as has never been known since the beginning of time. As in the days Noah, so shall it be in the end times, lone voices in the wilderness, calling out while the masses eat, drink and make merry trusting in false churches, false salvations and false hopes.

    • Olaf's Axe

      I am familiar with the article. It should be noted, though, that while I am willing to see those who confess Jesus as Lord as Christians, and really really in Christ, and dare I say, the Church, I am not an ecumenist in the sense the author is using it. Ecumenism is a Satanic movement funded by the New World Order and the Rothschilds whose aim is the destruction of traditional societies.

      • Karen

        And, yet, I suspect you are using the term “ecumenism” in a way most (conservative) Christians are not when the term is invoked in a favorable light.

        Not saying you don’t do this, but I will throw out it’s a good idea to check out what folks mean by “ecumenism” in a conversation before launching into a wholesale condemnation of anything that goes by that name. I have noticed the enemy tends to use the kind of statement you made (that invokes a conspiracy theory–no comments on the validity, or not, of that theory) to tempt many professing Christians to operate more according to the principles of fear in their relationships with God and others than those of love.

        The enemy has no power, except in the limited ways in which the Lord allows him to have it and only for a season. Everything is ultimately in the hands of a good and loving God, even when, because of our own or another’s sin, we must pass through a season of suffering. “Love is stronger than death.” So my encouragement to those who profess Christ would be to give ourselves to love (and not fear), through which “all men will know that we are His disciples.” Surely Christ’s love doesn’t need death’s motivational tools to succeed–quite the contrary, it is only when fear has truly begun to be overcome that our personal sanctification can be said to be truly on its way.

        • Olaf's Axe

          My ambiguous use of it reflects the same as the author of the orthodoxinfo article.

          Who speaks for ecumenism? Liberal and mainline churches are more widespread than biblical churches. 9 times out of 10, when “ecumenism” is mentioned, it is taken in the WCC/NCC fashion. It is a documented fact that the Rockefellers created the WCC/NCC in order to infiltrate and subvert churches (The Rockefellers did the same thing with Notre Dame in Roman Catholicism).

          The problem with the Orthodoxinfo article is that he equivocates on ecumenicism. On one hand, ecumenicism simply means the religious wing of Team Obama. Obviously, this excludes me.

          Extending the right hand of fellowship to people who confess Jesus as Lord and live by the Bible excludes definitionally most of the WCC/NCC, so it’s not accurate to say that is “ecumenicism.”

          • Karen

            I was referring to your last sentence, which didn’t seem to be ambiguous at all, but I do acknowledge that you expressed the more favorable aspect–what could be considered a positive form of “ecumenism”–while not using the term. The context this most often comes up for me is where traditional Orthodox Christians in the West (often converts from other Christian traditions) are needing to defend building bridges of relationship and understanding with other Bible-believing Christians, yet without comprising orthodox or Orthodox faith and practice in so doing, from accusations of the compromising form.

            I suspect what you see in the article as “equivocating,” is more accurately simply expressing the spiritual reality of the very different contexts one can be dealing with in considering the spiritual state of non-Orthodox. As one example, the Orthodox consider the spiritual state of a presbyter who leaves the Church to start a new heresy, obstinately refusing the correction of fellow priests/bishops, as quite different than that of the person who is raised in said heresy and taught it as “orthodoxy,” who may very well be attempting to work out his or her salvation in good faith with what portion of the truth is retained in the heretical system. Generally speaking, most of those sincerely attempting to work out their salvation in non-Orthodox Christian traditions today fall into the latter category. I wish the priest who wrote the article had also clarified that the concept of “validity/invalidity” itself, as concerns sacraments/mysteries of the faith, is not genuinely an Orthodox category.

            What you say about the Rockerfellers and the New World Order may very well be true. So what? Do you believe that Christ can ultimately be subverted? You could see the fact that liberal denominations generally are hemorrhaging members as a mark of New World Order success. I would then point to Muslims converting to Christ in traditionally Muslim lands (becoming crypto Christians) in record numbers, Christian groups more faithful to the full biblical tradition growing and thriving, etc. You could say that sin and death (as a force) are “self-limiting” conditions. There will always be people choosing mammon over God and trying to kill Christ, but He is risen and He raises the dead! Thanks be to God.

          • Prometheus

            Interesting, I have rarely had conversations on “ecumenism” that use the WCC/NCC definition. The only conversations I’ve ever had were in line with accepting those who profess Christ as brothers and sisters. Personally I can see how even this would be problematic for a historical church such as Orthodoxy, but I think how the word is used is very much conditioned upon the people with whom one is talking. I also wonder if it is a generational thing.


    Ecumenism is a modern heresy spawned by Satan to lead Orthodox Christians away from truth and to keep seekers from entering into the True Orthodox Church. Protestants have taken the bait and the hook is set, yet even the thief on the cross was saved as he gasped his last breaths revealing the immense magnitude of God’s love.

  15. Raphael

    On those last two notes I think I’m done with this site. So much for reasonable discourse. Lord have mercy!

    • robertar


      Please feel free to continue visiting the OrthodoxBridge. And feel free to skip the comment threads, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. It may be that you have something valuable to say on a future topic.


  16. Kiki Ka'akau-Delizo

    LOL! I get a kick at how fast a thread goes from one main topic and gets side tracked to a completely different topic that goes on and on…..too funny! Another great job Robert!
    Obviously, Littlejohn wrote with little data to support his thesis and that seems to be common these days because it’s easy and requires less time, as opposed to Slagle’s work. I’ve never found ANY converts to Orthodoxy who needed to let someone else make their decisions for them so left their Protestant denomination for Orthodoxy.
    I left because something very wrong was seeping into the (seemingly) conservative Southern Baptist church as well as missing from it. Liberalism was seeping in and solid Tradition was missing. I found Orthodoxy to be the most conservative for the very reason that Holy Tradition is its base; the tenets and practices Jesus Himself passed down to us via the Apostles and their disciples and so on. The Councils, through the power of the Holy Spirit, ultimately decided what was to be accepted as Holy Tradition vs tradition, as it is currently found in Orthodox Church practice today. It didn’t take much research to find that Orthodoxy was true and right and became a convert. It wasn’t mindless, it had nothing to do with individualism in Protestantism. It wasn’t about the people but about Christ. God bless you all as you continue to search. Ask Him and He WILL reveal what you need to know. The answer may not be what you want or expect but if it’s from Him then LISTEN!

    • Olaf's Axe

      I didn’t mean to sidetrack the thread, only to illustrate the main point with a pertinent scenario that many convertskii ask about their outside-the-church-but-loving-Jesus-family-members. Tying it in with logic, I then drew the logical conclusion from the premise “The Orthodox Church is the true, saving Church.” No one challenged the validity of my premises, but merely chafed at my drawing the inevitable conclusion (hence its relevance to the post).

      • Clayton

        You are correct that no Orthodox Christian would challenge your premise that “The Orthodox Church is the true, saving Church”. And you are also correct that the Orthodox Church on the whole does not conclude from that premise that therefore no one who is outside the her canonical boundaries during this earthly life will be saved. As I said, much has been written about this topic that is easily accessible if you are interested in learning more.

        • Daniel

          I would simply add to Clayton’s fine comment that part of this debate is a recognition that the Reformed and the Orthodox do not agree on what it means to be “saved.”

          • Karen

            Amen to that, Daniel.

  17. Olaf's Axe

    ***Interesting, I have rarely had conversations on “ecumenism” that use the WCC/NCC definition. The only conversations I’ve ever had were in line with accepting those who profess Christ as brothers and sisters. Personally I can see how even this would be problematic for a historical church such as Orthodoxy, but I think how the word is used is very much conditioned upon the people with whom one is talking. I also wonder if it is a generational thing.***

    Some of the more conservative EO guys (and I am not sure about the admin at Orthodoxinfo) use ecumenicim too identify WCC with “Sweet Aunt Bessy” who loves Jesus and is a Baptist.

    • Karen

      There’s a lot of good information at Orthodoxinfo.com, but the Priest who received me into the Church cautioned me that it requires a discerning reader, and that he believed the tenor and tone of many of its articles comes across as too “strident.” I’m sure he’s not the only faithful and traditional Orthodox priest who would prefer to steer inquirers (even well-read ones) away from such a site.

      It’s unfortunate that there is no easily accessible canonical Orthodox community in your area. There is absolutely no substitute for engaging in a real canonical Orthodox community (monastery or parish) under the oversight of an actual flesh and blood Priest who can get to know you personally and your whole personal context. How we understand and apply what we read is greatly conditioned by our background experiences and teaching. There is a lot in Orthodoxy that can be misunderstood (mostly by being extracted from its own concrete spiritual context and placed into the sphere of concepts and philosophical frameworks alien to Orthodox faith and practice–Orthodox faith and practice which are especially vulnerable to distortion by being placed within the polemical frameworks that have tended to characterize the Western churches for the last 500 years or so).

      There’s a lot of those “more conservative EO guys,” who in my observation seem to have a lot more zeal and intellectual data than a true experiential knowledge conditioned by a deep experience of the love of Christ and deep understanding of their own heart and real spiritual needs as we see among the Saints. I’m sure that description also frequently characterizes me as well. It is the latter kind of knowledge, though, according to the Scriptures and the Orthodox Tradition, that has the capacity to save us.

      • Jeff

        Thank you for that bit, Karen! I think you’ve captured the central relational aspects that have been the heart of Orthodoxy since the Apostles – teaching and nurturing with it stretching in line back to one or more Apostles so long ago.

    • Karen

      As a follow up to my comment about the limits of inquiry into Orthodoxy outside of a living Orthodox context, here’s a good post:


  18. Kiki Ka'akau-Delizo

    Very well, and rather succinctly, said Karen! AMEN 🙂

  19. Olaf's Axe

    No problem, Karen. I see now.

  20. Edith Humphrey

    Thank you for this thoughtful response to an overly dismissive and “psychologistic” explanation of the movement towards Orthodoxy today. Because of your conversation partners, most of this article concentrates upon the cognitive, doctrinal and moral elements of what draws converts, and also what expels them from their original habitat.

    My experience is that, even when these elements are strong (and they usually are) there is also an equally strong pull (and expulsion) in terms of the elements that we more usually associate with F and N, rather than T and S, on the Meyer’s Brigg. These elements also, of course, have a cognitive component, but at first it is not the reason but the heart that is being drawn, I think–I speak of worship, communal life, and the iconic nature of mentors who impress the “seeker.” Often there is a difference between the entry point for males and females, but it is not a rigid distinction. For my husband the question “Where is the Church” was primary and prominent, whereas it was an original stumblingblock for me (that I, in the end, had to come to terms with), while at the beginning of my pilgrimmage, what impressed was the conviction: “Look! I see Christlike people; we sing with the angels in the liturgy,”

    Some begin with questions of authority, ethics and doctrine; others with luminous worship and evident saints-in-the-making and a sense of integrity where things “come together”: the thoughtful and perceptive seeker will, at some point, want to be satisfied, at least provisionally, with both “sides”, not wanting either an intellectualist faith that is focussed on rigid correctness, nor a “touch-feely” experience that may, in the end, disappoint. Then, there are, of course, the personal ways that God reaches us, answering questions that we have shelved years ago through Orthodoxy, or giving us more than we ever dreamed or imagined.

    For me, it was perceiving behind the excesses of Wesleyan sanctification teaching (via the Salvation Army) something that was a true hope, witnessed to and explained by St. Gregory Palamas. I was able to drop my fear of emotionalism, and move back from the extreme “simul justus et peccator” view that I had taken, in reaction to holiness teaching, because there was a reasonable yet supr-reasonable alternative–“seeing” God, ongoing repentance, ascesis and the hope of theosis. How wonderful, to have something given back to me–but with a more robust understanding and with practices to help– that I had thought it necessary to abandon in my early twenties! Again, my twenty-five year sojourn in the Anglican Communion, after the Salvation Army, enabled me to see worship as primary, no longer viewing the state of my soul as the major focus of corporate services. (I had grown allergic to prayer meetings!) However, I now can reclaim the therapeutic purpose of the Divine Liturgy, for it comes to me in the context of the larger action of the People of God and the Cosmos, gathering around the Pantocrator: the hot-house atmosphere is gone, and I can understand, as did the seer John, that we can be told in worship “Do not weep! One is able to open the seals!” Worship is no longer all about me and my relationship, but since it isn’t, I needn’t fear when the Spirit actually does speak personally to me through troparia, readings, or homily. The movement away from individualism has brought freedom in this regard, and removed fear.

    Anyway, thanks again for this very helpful analysis–I think as those of us who have come into the faith are able (when we are not otherwise more gainfully occupied) to analyze what has happened, we will see that those things that have both pushed and pulled us are myriad–for the Spirit is everywhere present, and fills all things!

    Edith M. Humphrey

    • robertar

      Dear Prof. Humphrey,

      Thank you for your insightful comment! Each one of us has a unique story to tell. I like what you had to say about the therapeutic purpose of the Divine Liturgy. I too have experienced the healing and strengthening influence of worshiping the Trinity. And I’m honored to have a seminary professor as one of my readers!


    • Karen

      Thank you, Dr. Humphrey!

      As one whose childhood roots are in the Methodist Church, I so resonate with what you say about the way the fullness of Orthodoxy satisfies both heart and head. It is a balanced approach that genuinely brings healing to the whole human person. (This is from the perspective of an “INFP”–although my “F” and “T” scores were equal on the Meyers-Briggs profile, I related a bit more strongly to the profile for the INFP. There aren’t many people who could appreciate that little snippet of info., so I seized the opportunity! LOL!)

  21. fr john

    Just to be clear, is Mr. Littlejohn saying that when it comes to conversion we are rarely completely cognizant of our own motives prone to self-deception, and likely to be less rational than we think. But those weaknesses aren’t likely to manifest themselves in significant ways when we’re doing theology; “taking responsibility” for our commitments?

    • robertar

      Thank you Fr. John!


  22. Adam DeVille

    In addition to Amy Slagle’s fine work, which I have reviewed elsewhere, you will want to read D. Oliver Herbel’s new book on the history of American converts to Orthodoxy. I discuss the book and interview the author here: http://easternchristianbooks.blogspot.com/2014/01/turning-to-tradition.html

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