Thursday, January 12, 2006


One of my coworkers asked me today if I've been Orthodox all my life. I told her that I converted a few years ago. She promplty asked, "Were you Christian before?"
I said, "Yes, I was a Baptist."
She replied, "Oh you were a Baptist. That's not a Christian." At that point I smiled quizzically and started to turn my attention to other things but then another coworker jumped into the budding conversation.
He said, "Of course that's Christian." So she quickly explained to him that it wasn't and that saying you're Baptist and a Christian is like saying you're pentecostal and saying you're a Christian (the bizarre part of that is that her own church webpage says it's a pentecostal church). He said, "Oh, it doesn't matter. As long as you believe in God you're good in my book. Yup, just worship God."
She said, "No! Worship Jesus!" He looked at her as though she were crazy and said, "Well, Jesus is God."
"No he isn't!" she insisted. "God is God because he's the Father and then there's Jesus. He's not God. I'm _______ and we believe in Jesus! Jehovah's Witness's worship God because "Jehovah" means God but we worship Jesus not God!"
I sat in my seat completely at a loss for words. I mean, where do you begin? Finally, she turned to me and demanded, "Well!" I tried to act innocent as though I hadn't heard the conversation but she persisted and so all I could muster was, "Well, Emmanuel does mean 'God with us.'" Then I asked her, "Does your church believe that Jesus is God incarnate?" (I know full well that it does.) I'm fairly certain she didn't know what the word 'incarnate' meant but she said, "Well, I don't know. But how can Jesus be God and Jesus as the same time?"
I thought to myself, "Well now that's a very mysterious question that the Church has pondered for 2000 years."
Amazingly enough the title of her church bears the phrase "God in Christ" within it. Apparently that escaped her reasoning. I was completely befuddled by her line of thinking and I reminded myself how important it is to try and understand how other people are processing things and how that influences they way they take in what they hear (of course the same is true for me, too).
The good news is that apparently in her world, as evidenced in surrounding conversation, Orthodox Christians are indeed Christians.
Of course the entire conversation began when she and some other coworkers got into an argument over the fact that I've chosen to leave sex for marriage (they think that is ridiculous and talk about it almost daily -- they used to try and argue with me but I would merely smile and remain silent so now they just discuss my oddness amongst themselves theorizing loudly about why I'm an idiot, hoping that I'll 'wise up' by osmosis or something). "It's a part of her faith" one coworker explained, "so we should just respect her for that." I happen to know that well over 95% of my coworkers belong to a Protestant Christian denomination. How strange that such a choice is merely a part of my faith.


Matthew Francis said...

Very interesting story, Stacy. These conversations could always (and usually do) veer off in several different directions, eh?

I find this particularly curious as it speaks to an issue that often comes up... lack of theological formation within one's tradition.

On a 'technical' note, first reading your description I thought your lady co-worker must have belonged to a "oneness" or "Jesus-only" Pentecostal group like the United Pentecostal Church, as they are non-Trinitarian. But then you mentioned "God in Christ," I immediately thought of the Church of God in Christ,the large, predominantly African-American Holiness-Pentecostal denomination that is certainly (at least on a formal level) Trinitarian. Her particularly congregation or pastor could simply be straing from "Church of God in Christ" teaching. So - presuming the lady is a member of the COGIC, then she is just plain bewildered (unaware of what her own church really teaches)! Not only on the 'orthodoxy' of faith in the Trinity, but the 'orthopraxy' of Christian sexual ethics, too, and that is sad.

Of course, this is the case with many of us Orthodox as well, and I guess we could see it as a cautionary tale about the value of theological and experiential formation in the faith.

I'll give you an example. Many of the older folks in our parish, St. Herman's in Edmonton, some of whom grew up in country parishes where few of the clergy had proper theological education - 'know' extrememly little about their faith. What they do 'know' came by osmosis through the services and mysteries, because, in those settings, the Church was not a very question-friendly environment. (This was in the 1940s-1960s). The poor priest, afraid of being 'shown up' for not knowing the answers, would often fall into making the people feel ashamed or stupid for asking the questions! (Of course their were many excellent and Godly priests as well). Thank God many of the parishioners learned faith and the Scriptures from their Babas! I have talked with many of these people and listened to their experiences.... desiring to know the Orthodox way, but were deprived of the "oxygen of learning" as kids and then just sort of gave up trying - but still remaining totally faithful to the Church.

Now, of course, most of our priests are highly educated and are gifted teachers that really care about the formation of their parishioners. So, now, in some of our parishes, I could get a fairly serious theological lecture from an 8-year old - as I did when I first came to St. Peter the Aleut.

So, I guess my long comment could be entitled, "thank God for Church School/Sunday School/Catechetical formation," and for our gifted clergy and faithful that take the time and energy to teach!

Thanks for sharing your story.

James said...

Who was the little theologian, Matt? I'm curious.

Matthew Francis said...

I'm trying to remember his name. It was a long while back. I think it may have been one of Pavle's sons?

elizabeth said...

wow stacy; you sure have intresting coversations/interactions! thanks for sharing...

Stacy said...

Yes, Elizabeth, I sure do. I work and live in a culture that is pretty different from that of my own upbringing. We has some very funny moments, some very sad moments, and thankfully some very educational moments. I've learned a lot about myself and others for which I'll always be grateful.

But as you say, in the end, I have some VERY interesting conversations.

Simply Victoria said...

Wow, that gives new flavour to 'anti-intellectualism'.
Personally, I never experienced it as a pentecostal youth (surprising, eh?); our youth pastor was quite an intellectual, and put us through our paces, as far as our faith was concerned. He wanted us to be prepared 'in season and out' to give a reason for what we believed.
It's funny, I've always been a little bit conflicted about proselytising other Christians, (as far as converting them to Orthodoxy, I mean). But then I heard a show on This American Life called "HERETICS" and it was about this pastor who gradually came to abandon his belief in hell, and his church finally had to oust him.
Now, listening to him, I could completely understand his frustration at the highly simplified and literalist views typical in charismatic circles. At that moment, I really really wished there was some reasonable and devout Orthodox christian I could hook him up with. It struck me how 'lost' even some protestants can be, and how dearly they need the fullness of the faith!

thomasw said...

hehe, well stacy0, it would have been a different conversation had i been there:)

Usually when i disagree with someone i either argue my points or just keep silent and distance myself.
accordingly i would've done one of two things: kept completely silent and moved away; or have told the jw that she was an follower of arius and to look it up for herself with fear and trembling on google.

the heterodox guy is more complicated but usually we canuckleheaded-orthodox find that a good ecclesiastical crack upside the head works wonders:) You see the blow of the physical hand teaches the hetrodox that, in fact, there is a physical hand; and then you draw the similarity between this hand -- do it for the aforementioned hetrodox; don't leave anything for him to infer at this point as he will still be rather stunned at the harsh physicality of the hand --- and the physical and very visible church. let such a one know that church is physical, very physical like the handy hand:) you could even say 'manly' hand, especially if your whallup was a dandy!

****now perhaps you can see why i am not sent in to mingle with curious visitors to our parish?

good cheer stacy0!