Friday, June 11, 2010

Once A Convict Always A Convict?

Just a word on some people's propensity to attribute the reason for another's views to the fact that they were once a Protestant. I liken this to someone once having spent time in jail. He was convicted, has paid his dues, and has been many years living as a law abiding citizen, but he is still referred to as a convict. Once a convict always a convict?

If  a person presents views or doctrines that are not in keeping with the mindset or doctrines of the Church, then speak to the issue at hand. To refer to their former Protestantism is to call them a convict. Once a Protestant, always a Protestant? This is almost always received as a slam or a denigration of the person and does nothing to promote right thinking. Such an approach is subjective. How long must one have been out of prison before he is deemed no longer tainted?

I have been out of Protestantism for over ten years. I am quick to embrace the doctrines and traditions of the church. If there are things I don't yet know, it is because I have not yet learned them, not because I once was a Protestant. There are some Orthodox clergy who have come from Catholicism and have been away from that world for less time than I have been away from Protestantism. Is it fair for me to hold them currently suspect because of their past? Once a Catholic always a Catholic?

Last time I looked, God is a God of redemption and restoration. "He casts our sins as far as the East is from the West and remembers them no more." It is totally appropriate and sometimes necessary to point out that a proposed belief is particularly a Protestant one or a Catholic one, but God forbid the kind accusatory language in our interpersonal communication which makes a person's past the issue.

UPDATE Addendum: Please see Tserkovnye Vekhi's thorough and blessed perspective on this matter in the COMMENT section.


  1. Anonymous4:42 PM

    Do not fear your past. Your past is what made you YOU. Your blog is about your journey, and your past is part of that journey - it led you to where you are now. It brought you to who you are today. I have discovered that my past sometimes intrudes/affects my life today, and when it does that I just take the time to reflect and consider, examine and learn, then move on. Remember, the past is part of your journey, and led you to who you are now, so don't view it as a negative.

  2. Anon, Thank you for your kind words of exhortation, however I think you have missed the point. It is others who have a problem with my past, not me.

  3. Pax. 1

    This is precisely the crisis of North American Orthodoxy (and most local churches) today.

    Before there was "Protestant baggage," there was "Schmemannism," "Obscurantism," "Caesaropapism," "Western Captivity," etc.

    Let's step back a moment and think about why there is a "war of labels" in the very broken and undeniably uncharted "American Orthodox" identity or "local church."

    Can it be because there are very real, unresolved "ideological tendencies" amongst our diasporas and their subsets that we depress our fellowship with factions and strife?

    Or is it a matter of no fixed idea of what "authentic Orthodoxy," an "suthenticity" which represents a consensus?

    Perhaps the malady lies in the fact Orthodoxy is just understood as a conviction, a rationalist avocation, supporting religious theatre, a new Christian mythology, rather than something holistic, a transfigurational ontology?

    Well, answering "Yes" and saying "of course, converts are crazy and Renovationist ethnics are crazy and Eastern rite Episcopalians need to learn Orthodoxy before they start teaching it!" is a smite which begs the question, "What do the 'Authentic Orthodox' do in order to validate a REAL ontology as opposed to some snyed 'triumphalism', which presents nothing really more than the opposite side of the coin of this religious theatre, myth-making of 'bells and smells in America' paradigm?"

    Is there really an Orthodox Traditionalism in America which supports Orthodox formations of converts while how often are people rushed into Orthodoxy, into assuming an identity, yet not asked to examine their lives, their commitments and what they intend to commit to following the Master.

    Christ Jesus bid the rich man to follow all the Commandments and observe all righteousness so that he "could inherit the Kingdom." The rich man truthfully said that he indeed made that his life's purpose and inquired of Jesus what he still lacked. Then Christ went further and told him to "sell all that he had and follow Him." Follow Him. Follow Him unconditionally as a pauper, living on Divine Love and Compassion for all of humanity and creation. Follow Him through storms, tempests, persecutions, epidemics, wars, hunger. Follow Him along jagged and dangerous spiritual roads, amid demonic assaults and committed to TOTAL RENUNCIATION OF THE WORLD AND ITS PRINCE AND ITS WAYS.

    The rich man could not do this. He was not ready for the challenge, could not totally change his life, divest himself of everything, empty his soul of all its attachments to the world and find strength and immortality in wretchedness and crucifixion. He fell in spirit and quietly walked away.

  4. 3

    There are certain ways we love with purifying intellects (noetic faculties) and circumcised hearts in an Orthodox way, in a way where we experience the real encounter of following Christ, speaking with Him, learning to love, to live compassion and martyrdom, where we realize that Christ never left us and since Pentecost has been guiding His flock in His Church as if He were still preaching in Capernaum. He is. Accept the profoundness of that reality.

    He is.

    Christ is not only risen and ascended, HE IS AMONG US!

    But we have to live a totalitarian and hard life (at first) rejecting the world and its ways and emptying ourselves of the old life of the world TOTALLY to get that done.

    Orthodoxy and Orthodox formation is "podvig", spiritual consecration and labour in Christ Jesus. When the Holy Spirit abides in us, then the mystagogical reality of the Orthodox Tradition becomes clear.

    Does everyone have to be an Athonite or Russian skhimnik to get there? Are great deeds and long robes the way?

    In and of themselves, they are nothing and many times in our contemporary world impediments, not because the Holy Spirit has not accomplished great things with small vessels who have come to exude great holiness, but because too many have come to reject a Traditional ontology because their formations and spiritual maturities do not properly understand these great athletes of love. They tend to have created for themselves false religious idols out of their reach, a new Olympian mythology, lofty and revered, but totally out of their reach (or so they defeat themselves by thinking).

    So they "strike a bargain" and then wonder why they are constantly haunted by spectres of spiritual coldness and why their children and friends, convert and cradle alike, reject the Truth because it is just "too banal and fruitless, so hard as opposed to just living in the world and doing ones best like everybody else."

    But the bargain is all their own, and in reality, we have to realize that the rich man chose the world and its prince and his ways over Christ our Lord and Saviour. When we "strike that bargain" we put Christ on a shelf and offer Him the kingdoms of the world if He only bless our sinful lives in it and acknowledge us and our compromise, if Christ find part with win and established a living blasphemy of a "holy way of sin", while He worships us and our way of fleeing commitment to Him in our faithless and reprobate witnesses.

    Deeds do not save us, grace saves us, but God can have no part with sin. God and sin are mutually exclusive. So we must prepare our hearts and our lives and totally consecrate them to the Holy Spirit so that He may come and abide within and transfigure us with grace, uniting us in transfigured life to the eschaton and, in so doing, have that grace spill over to those broken and alienated ones around us and the exploited and wounded creation which has become the world.

    Acquire the Holy Spirit and you are a living Orthodoxy, an embodiment of Tradition.

    Remember, however, Orthodox Tradition is a sacramental ontology with a totalitarian regula fidei.

    That being said, the Holy Spirit is He Who saves and gives us true worship in grace, true spiritual love and consecration in compassion and martyrdom.

    He comes to not just aged hearts, but to weary hearts and those young in Christ and He saves them. He guides and directs them in worship and establishes a rule of piety (Orthopraxis) for them and He does so incrementally so that a former Protestant convert can get into heaven along with a Romanian hesychast.

  5. 2

    Then our Lord and Saviour instructs us, "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of needle than it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven."

    Is being rich necessarily a bad thing then? No, not when a man (or woman) realizes that not one possession is theirs but leased to them in stewardship so that they will use it to glorify God and abide in the Holy Spirit in execution of wealth, preparing for an audit where the heavenly IRS will weigh even mustard seeds. But that was not this man's calling, nor was that what he was doing. He had fallen into "fancy" (a spiritual condition of self deception) of the world and its things and as such had enslaved his heart to its ways and its lusts for power, riches, successes, pride and all that brings along with it. The rich man lived in a self-delusion where he had "struck a bargain" to be a "true believer of the religion" but at the same time a "success in the esteem of the world."

    And therein lies the disease and why we have such a broken Orthodox model in North America today, why we exchange labels in the hopes of making one another submit when we ourselves haven't submitted our lives on to God.

    We hear the slogans "Orthodox Formation in the Tradition!" vs. "Quasi-schismatic Fundamentalism!" fuelling two armies at war, both sharing the same creed, but somehow, this "faith" is a spiritual counterfeit. Somehow, the Grand Inquisitor "slipped one past us" and we find ourselves at war and stoking the fires of inquisitions and WE AREN'T REALLY BEING FAITHFUL TO THE AUTHORITY OF THE CHURCH, NOR LIVING THE LIFE IN THE ORTHODOX TRADITION when doing so.

    What's going on? Surely, our enbunkered think tanks and clerical generals know what they are doing?


    The Cross is a great gift and its truest use is in living compassion, love, martyrdom. But the ontology of the Cross is totalitarian if we truly wish to inherit the Kingdom. It is a kenotic dictatorship, requiring divestiture of all our lives in the world, all our TV shows, our political parties, our favorite ice creams, our keeping up with the Joneses. It doesn't admit a denominational or nominal ontology.

    Orthodox Tradition in its truest definition is not just a system of liturgical piety and observance, of beards, cassocks, kollyva, agiasmou and pilgrimages to see an illumined elder (or eldress). What it is is total loss of self and inner (and outer) purification so that the Master may come in the Holy Spirit and visit our hearts and lead them to the Kingdom in His deifying, uncreated energies.

  6. While, maybe, St. Sergius of Radonezh didn't always have the magnificent Kremlin services in his hut in the Russian desert, but he had the temple of his heart, which he constantly adorned with the Holy Spirit as the King and Glory of humanity and creation.

    In starting, the full splendour of grace spilled over and eventually erected magnificent cathedrals with all their liturgical glory not just for St. Sergius but for all of Russia, for all of humanity.

    But these were first temples of the Spirit and only have true function, as long as the their typikon of services may be, in that Spirit.

    He began as a simple, little boy, loving God. He committed himself to that love (and tossed everything else out forever). That's all he wanted ever, was God, to love God, talk with God, worship as his very breath, every aspect of his life.

    Kenotic love is answered with Kenotic Love and worship is made holy and complete in spiritual maturity and full formation in the Orthodox Tradition.

    That being true, saving worship can even begin with a simple, little boy praying to God in some forgotten corner of a mossy Russian forest. Those moments are the theophanic agripnias of the young in Christ.

    Be faithful to the Way, and it will get you there. Keep that faithfulness and commitment progressive (as in incrementally increasing your piety and observances) in worship and living theology and in the writing of a micro Gospel in your heart guiding you in constant Orthodox formation and in a transfigurational advent of the real Orthodox Tradition, where the war of labels is just an unfortunate byproduct of people who have lost or are losing their ways.

    Maybe in getting to that heart centered and Spirit led life of conversion of ones entire ontology, you may just pick up the little things like NOT kneeling on sundays, not passing out the antidoron in the place of the Priest so he has none for those who don't commune (The practice is an adulteration of an old Russian practice where communicants BOUGHT THEIR OWN PROSPHORAS and passed them out after they communed, beseeching prayers for themselves, their Orthodox family and the Orthodox departed), like not kneeling, not wearing a hat in church (if you're a man), not having conversations even when the church is empty, not venerating the Cross and Icons or taken a Priest's (or even Bishop's) Blessing after you have partaken of the Holy Gifts, etc.

    It is in obedience to these small things that you little by little "collect your pebbles" to dam out the tidewaters of the world and its prince.

    In a new heart-led life of the Cross, the pathes of the angels are found in these little acts of obedience, spiritual formation completed, and labels such as "former Protestant" mean very little except as calls to love and pray, learn Orthodoxy as living Orthodoxy more.

    Learn Orthodoxy as living Orthodoxy. In absolute terms.

    May Christ through the intercessions of the Panagia save us all and guide us in true humility and repentance!

    R M Malleev-Pokrovsky

  7. 4

    Consecration of ones life in a living oath to God the Father alone is the beginning of the eschaton, no nominalisms, bells and smells as distractions, fables of golden realms of yore, or heretical Renovationist compromises or 'rediscovering Christianity' in ecumenist evil' "are going to make Orthodoxy 'authentic' or 'relevent.'" The Holy Spirit in the Orthodox Tradition makes it life transfigured for all.

    But He does this in a holistic synergy working to get Cliff (Hyacinth) Smith into fitting into the robes of that Russian shkimnik, laboring in the desert heat with that Athonite struggler, for the advent of an American Athos emanating from a ontologically based American Orthodox church.

    That doesn't mean the glory of fourth century Byzantine Orthodoxy overnight. No, some well spent time can be dedicated to a gym class with pews and saluting Bishops who look like they spend their lives in some Renovationist corporate boardroom of religion, trading souls as commodities and getting the finance departments of American denominationalism to "sign off on their business plan".

    One of the old prerequisites to enter certain monasteries in Paissian Moldavia was to have the Psalter memorized and the Gospel clearly written on ones heart. The Psalter, not just rationally memorized, but lived as a way of life in piety for a good long time, 15, 20, 30 years.

    Silence, obedience, humility in love and total drive to maturity was key.

    Yes, obedience to little things saves as much as obedience to the biggest things or at least girds you up the spiritual Everest you are trying to climb.

    Things all have a start.

  8. Anonymous7:19 AM

    That is in interesting analogy Nathan.

    It is a good thing that you had the experience of being a "convict". You bring forward, in your journey, the knowledge and understanding of that experience.

    Such as: how to better communicate with Protestants having been previously immersed in the mindset and lingo.

    I cannot say the same for myself.
    It is a detriment to my ability to reach out and connect by understanding. (there is plenty that still makes no sense to me)


  9. Tserkovnye Vekhi,
    Through your words I see more clearly the true state of my heart. Through the maze of religious pursuits, I have left my first love. I am truly convicted. Pray for me a sinner...

  10. Phillip,
    You also are a "convict". You were just imprisoned on another facility. You can relate to those who are where you were. And that is as it should be. There are benefits to having come from a non-religious background. Religious baggage is often the most difficult to set down.
    In any case, we must all come as little children.

  11. May the Panaghia keep us and guide us both.

  12. Anonymous10:36 PM

    Wow. Mr. Lewis, thank you so much for directing attention to Tserkovnye Vekhi's eye opening comments.Should you ever dismantle your blog (please don't!) , please keep this post up for eternity.

    Also, I've had blog owners tell me that the anonymous options invites spams and cranks,so with that in mind, I appreciate your decision to keep the option open.

    In Christ,
    non google loving Mary

  13. Mary, You're welcome. I took off the Anon feature for a short time when the Muslims were making their organized propaganda rounds. I opted to restore it later for the sake of those who sincerely wanted to participate but were not ready to have others know they were looking into the Orthodox faith. I do have to deal with less than kind and less than courageous anonymous critics, but the trade off is worth it. Thanks for signing your name!


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