Coming to the point where a Protestant realizes the spiritual bankruptcy of the Western Worldview may bring them to the doors of the Church, but simply rejecting Protestantism is not enough. For that matter, being convinced that Orthodoxy is the true Faith is good enough to have you made a Catechumen, but much more is needed. One must enter into the Spirit of Orthodoxy. Even when one reaches the point at which they are ready to receive Holy Baptism, this process must continue -- Baptism is the beginning of your life in the Church, it is a spiritual birth, but only a stillborn baby will not continue to grow spiritual. For a convert, must not only struggle against demons and against the flesh to accomplish this, but one must still contend with the modes of thought that he operated in prior to conversion.
Before we deal with how one goes about acquiring an Orthodox mind, however, let me briefly describe what an Orthodox mind is, especially as distinct from the Protestant mindset we have been discussing.
A. Corporate / Theocentric
Rather than the Humanism and Individualism of Protestantism -- Orthodoxy is Theocentric, and corporate in its focus.
The focus of Orthodox worship is not on the personality of the priest, nor is it focused on meeting the needs of individuals, or on contrived emotional experiences -- the focus is on God. Unlike Protestant churches, in which the church rises or falls on the personality of the minister -- one need not even like the priest personally, and he can still worship in that parish, because we are there to worship God, not to hear a good and stirring sermon. It certainly a nice touch to have a priest with a good personality and who can give a good sermon -- but that is icing on the cake, not the cake itself.
The Church is not the sum total of individuals who are Christians, it is a community. Christ came to build His Church, not to establish a school of thought, or to save individuals apart from a community. This does not negate individual responsibility -- the Orthodox Church firmly believes that you can go to hell all by yourself, if you want to, without any help from anyone else -- but if you want to be saved, the Scripture is clear... you need the Church.
An Orthodox Christian is also held accountable by the Church. Christ spoke of Church discipline, and said that if someone would not "hear the Church, let him be unto thee as a heathen and a publican" (Matt 18:17).
Christ also gave the Apostle the power to forgive sins in John 20:23 when He said: Whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven unto them, and whose sins you retain, they are retained. It is amazing how Protestants, who say that they take the Bible literally, blow this verse off -- and when pressed, will flatly deny the plain meaning of this verse.
But far from being the horrible thing that Protestants think confession is -- it is both Biblical, and a great gift. Because we must humble ourselves, we gain victory over pride, and because we are held accountable we are given a powerful tool to help us advance in the Christian life.
One of the biggest criticisms Protestant make of confession is they claim that we can go out and sin all we want, and then have it all forgiven at confession -- that therefore confession is a license to sin. Obviously no one who has ever gone to confession would think this -- because although we should be shamed just by the fact that God knows we have sinned, in fact in our flesh we are more shamed when other men know our sins. When you go to confession to the same priest week after week -- we have added to our fear of God (which is something that we must develop) a witness who will call us to task for it. When temptation comes, the fact that we know we will be shamed to confess this sin next weekend is adds further strength to our resistance.
B. Antiquity / Unchanging
Rather than the Modernists continual desire to be relevant, and their valuing of innovation. In the Orthodox Church, we view innovation as the mark of heresy. St. Jude says that the Faith was once delivered unto the saints -- we can expect no new revelation until the second coming.
We are taught that it is our duty to live and pass on the Orthodox Faith in its purity -- just as we have received it without changing it either by adding to it, or taking from it. We Orthodox have no need to be relevant to the Modernist spirit -- because we have seen heresies come and go. Long after Modernism has been completely discredited and is a faint memory -- the Orthodox Faith will still be standing. Rather than trying to hitch our wagon to the latest fad (such as environmentalism) we hold fast to the Traditions we have received from the Apostles, just as we have received them.
C. Humility, Repentance.
Because Orthodoxy is not individualistic, rather than the arrogance that goes with that individualism, in Orthodoxy we are taught to humbly listen to the teachings of the Fathers of the Church. We are taught not to think ourselves more holy or clever than the Fathers of the Church who have clearly shown themselves to be doers of the Word, and men of holiness -- and so when we read the Bible, we read it in accordance with the testimony of the Church rather than in the vanity of our individualistic minds.
As I said earlier, this is not a false humility, but is simply a realistic assessment of things. When there are 23,000 denominations that all claim to believe the Bible, but which cannot agree on what it is that the Bible says -- it is humility that is realistic, and arrogance that is fanciful. Obviously they cannot all be right, and so humility with regard to one's own interpretations of the Scriptures is the only reasonable approach to the subject.
This is not to say that all Orthodox Christians are truly humble, or that all Protestants are arrogant themselves and lack humility. I have known many Protestants who were themselves very humble, and I know that I myself am often very prideful. But having operated in both ways of thought, I can say experientially that the Orthodox approach to theology and spirituality is the path of humility and repentance.
D. Maximalism / Full Worldview.
Rather than the minimalism of Protestantism, which asks questions like "What are the essentials? What is the minimum requirements to be a Christian?" The Orthodox ask what is the most I can do as a Christian?
The Orthodox Faith is a lifestyle, rather than a weekend hobby. We affirm the Inspiration of the Scriptures as firmly as any Protestant, but we also affirm the Apostolic Tradition that St. Paul told us included both written Scripture and oral Tradition -- both of which we are to hold fast to. Christianity is not reduced to a book, we have received our worship, as well as our theology from the Apostles.
Rather than the Empiricism of Western Rationalism, that makes Christ and the Apostles out to be primitive thinking men who were foolish enough to believe in such phenomena as Demonization and miracles, the Orthodox Church affirms Christ as maker of all things visible and invisible -- both of the empirical and of the supernatural. We pray for healing and call on physicians -- because God is not limited to either to natural or to supernatural means to accomplish his purposes. God can heal through the wisdom and skill of a doctor, and through the anointing of oil from St. John Maximovitch's tomb.
In the Orthodox Church, we affirm that there are demons that influence people and that people are responsible for their own actions. Our worldview can allow that a man could be driven insane by demons, and that a man could be insane because of a physical disease. We see no contradiction between the Empirical and the Supernatural -- and so we are not blind to either reality. Miracles are in fact such an accepted fact of life in the Church, that we do not go ga ga just because a miracle takes place -- because we realize that it is not just God that works miracles, but demons as well. Our society in general has been so closed to the supernatural, that when they are confronted with an undeniable supernatural happening -- they automatically assume it to be divine, and so many have fallen into demonic deception in our times.
Written by fr. John Whiteford