12 October 2013

A personal announcement

For a long time now – since the very beginning of this blog, actually – I have given serious consideration to joining the Orthodox faith. Searching my conscience, I cannot pretend that my own motives have been entirely pure or that they were always motivated by right. It was idle curiosity more than anything else that led me to pick up Nikolai Berdyaev’s The Russian Revolution and ‘Unifying Christians East and West’. It was the eager, naïve xenophilia of one about to embark on the mission of Peace Corps which led me first to the Antiochan Orthodox Church of St Mary’s in Pawtucket, and then to the Russian Orthodox Church of Aleksandr Nevskiy in Saimasai. I can only bow my head in gratitude to Fr Isaac and Fr Valery for the patience and kindness they showed to me, in gently leading me toward the truth in spite of my cultural (and in the case of my conversation with Fr Valery, linguistic) biases and barriers.

But the more I continued to read, and the more I continued to search, the more I was led back to that crossroads which stood before me in Kazakhstan. And just as I was taking note of the life that the Russians of Saimasai led – even in the midst of the spiritual darkness and bondage I was in at the time – I have no doubt that God was taking note of all as well. And as S. Cyril did not throw such students with internal turmoil and doubt and ulterior motives out of his congregation, but welcomed them to return, so I always found Orthodoxy beckoning me to return, back to that lonely crossroads. From the news and press releases from the Patriarchate of Moscow, or from the pleas for peace and stability in the Middle East joined by the Catholic Church, or from the pages of Berdyaev or Bulgakov or Plato even.

At the same time, I was finding Anglicanism to be incomplete and floundering on the whole, particularly the ECUSA whose ‘lightweight modernism’ has long been a source of discomfort and frustration to me. Notwithstanding the exception of the wonderfully smart and kind clergy and laypeople of S. Stephen’s (to whom I owe a tremendous debt in my spiritual recovery and growth), the liturgy of the Anglican Church was a comfort, but I found there was very little reflection in the broader church upon what the liturgy meant. (I’ll be blunt: Bp KJ Schori’s homily in Caracas was a tipping-point for me.)

And even as I was beginning to accept more and more of the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church as true, I found within her the same regimenting Aristotelian tendencies, her need to classify everything down to its last detail, her need not only to reach for God, but to take him apart to see what made him tick. As much as I admire Pope Francis, the unseemly wrangling within Catholic circles over what he and his message mean to the Church – and the need for every side to grasp at some sort of certitude over it – managed always to hold me back from conversion. The warnings of John Milbank and George Grant loomed always in the background. Always the rebuke of Christ to S. Peter stood baldly before his throne, and the question left standing: ‘who do you say that I am?’

And always, somehow, Orthodoxy seemed to be there, speaking in her quiet and contemplative voice. And more and more, she began to make sense.

I am beginning my catechesis into the Orthodox faith, under the guidance of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos Church in Beijing. Your prayers and your well-wishes would be greatly appreciated as I undertake this journey.


  1. I'm glad that God continues to unfold his designs for you, I'm sure that you will find a welcome rest in the Orthodox.

  2. As one who has followed a similar path, welcome home.

    It took me 19 years from my first real encounter with Orthodox Christianity to be actually received into the Orthodox Church (1968-1987) but God was teaching me things even in those wanderings.

  3. Chris, many thanks for your well-wishes! I earnestly hope and believe you are right; I know I still have much to learn and a long way to go...

    Steve, thank you for the welcome! (I'm a big fan of your Khanya blog, by the by.) I would be more than happy to talk with you about your path to Orthodoxy.

  4. Hello Matthew,

    Although I am not Orthodox, I have thought about conversion on a few occasions. I sympathize with your statements on Roman Catholicism, although I remain a Catholic. I have consciously avoided referring to my blog as “Catholic” because of the debates I have seen crop up on Catholic blogs. These debates usually degenerate into each side anathematizing the other while citing papal documents like lawyers cite case law. I don’t really read much of the Catholic blogosphere now.

  5. Out of curiosity, which of John Milbank's words do you have in mind exactly?

  6. Hi John!

    Many thanks; but to be fair to the Catholic blogosphere, there are absolutely a number of Catholic bloggers worth following intently - Mark Shea, Daniel Nichols and of course David Lindsay chief among them - and I didn't mean to suggest otherwise! But yes, some of the acrimony amongst Catholics over Pope Francis and his relation to the non-Catholic world gave me definite pause...

    Hi Alleline!

    I meant primarily the final chapter of Theology and Social Theory, though I'm interpreting it in a way Milbank merely hints at. Philosophy is and ought to be the handmaiden of religion and not the other way around, and I am not entirely comfortable with the prominence of philosophical Aristotelianism in official Catholic doctrine. I found that even though I agreed entirely with Aquinas's arguments and conclusions, the style in which he made them rendered his system too formalistic when compared to someone like Berdyaev.