We have received a very charming, interesting and important email. It is quite long, so we will post it as a separate post and then reply in the next post. Jennifer Wilders is not the author’s real name. We have edited for style and format; otherwise the content is Jennifer’s.
Subject: Some ranting and some questions
From: Jennifer Wilders
Hi! I have a question for you if you think you can answer it. Please feel free to post any of this and please feel free to correct my English if it is out of whack. But first a little on my background to serve as an introduction:
Being born into a family of mixed Protestant/Orthodox background, none of the sides of the family in heavy practice and with a strong emphasis on science in the professions of its members, I have for a long time considered myself to be non-religious as well as non-anti-religious, yet with nostalgic memories of Christian celebrations from childhood. When I started to pursue a more hands-on religious practice as an adult, I felt drawn to Orthodoxy again mainly because of its sincerity and the way it tends to take life (and death) seriously (as I understand it, that is; I am a novice in this), in contrast to the very secular Protestantism practised in my country. Now I am considering asking to be baptized (again) if I can find an Orthodox parish to join; they don’t exactly grow on trees here.
For the last few years I have read what I can find on my own, and one of the first things that caught my attention about the Orthodox Church was its lack of aggressive missionary work. This struck me as rather sympathetic since I like the idea of a belief system that feels it has a strong enough message in itself and whose representatives (unlike the door-knocking Jehovah’s Witnesses and the like) apparently don’t feel a need to shove the message down my throat until I actually ask for it. I interpreted this (correct me if I’m wrong) as the Orthodox Church being satisfied with co-existing with other religious movements, acknowledging that other people have other beliefs, and that—even though they may not agree that their beliefs lead to salvation the way the Orthodox Church sees it, they certainly have the capacity to guide people spiritually into living more fulfilled and righteous lives. That is what I thought but now I’m no longer sure that this is the case.
It has come to my attention that quite a severe schism has been going on for quite some time between the more conservative parts of the Orthodox Church and the Ecumenical Movement (as well as that about the calendars), and one of the largest ‘counter-ecumenical’ movements is the largest Orthodox parish in my country. I am confused. Is it not the teaching of the Orthodox Church that love for another should be extended, whether or not we are of the same opinion, and that forgiveness should be given whether asked for or not? I understand why you might not want to admit their teachings to be the way of salvation, but is there a need to proclaim half the world to be heretics and blasphemers? Is there not a fundamental difference here between learning about the ways of the other and adopting them yourself? Enough strength in one’s own belief should make it possible to meet others without fear of losing oneself. I was taken aback when seeing some very harsh comments on the subject and, not having found my place in the Church yet, I fear I will discover the whole Church to be like this. Should I make inquiries here on the political opinions of the priests and of the Bishop of the parish I hope to enter, to make sure we see ‘eye-to-eye’? I had rather hoped I could avoid such a political mix into my stumbling attempts at spiritual advancement. (Wow, that sounded bitter!)
Having read some of your posts, I have a feeling you do not belong to either extremist party, but still, the schism is there in your church and thus it would be interesting to hear your thoughts on such matters, as I feel I have to reconcile myself with such issues (or at least understand them), before I can truly say I believe in one and unified [sic; is this to be taken as referring to ‘One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic’?] Church myself.
And how does the Orthodox Church really view a practising Hindu, a Catholic priest, or an atheist for that matter? Are they decent but misguided people, the Devil incarnate or something else? Will someone demand I stop talking to my fellow non-Orthodox believers?
I guess I don’t have to add that I feel rather open-minded spiritually. From my own past experiences I could mention some remarkably insightful guidance and lessons in maturity from an atheist listening to heavy-metal music, and the creature who finally made me realize that God may be there for me too was a dog (no—the four-legged kind), so... You get my drift: I believe God can choose to teach us in many a strange way.
I believe good advice is good advice wherever it comes from (now we are obviously not talking Gospel, but simple humility, aid and comfort of a purely humanitarian nature). This basic view is, I fear, rather well established in me by now (I am 33) so how can I see and believe in the wisdom of priests who seem so full of anger and are so hell-bent on their way as being the right one that they will not even talk to some fellow priest who has chosen another path? I mean, these guys are fellow Christians, granted maybe not of the same kind. But at least they’re not of some weird cult from New Guinea that wants to shrink your head. One could think they could find SOMETHING to talk about over dinner...
Problem is: am I too open-minded? Have I lived too long in a world of multiple ways of the mind to be welcome and able to stay on the road I want to follow? Does Orthodoxy imply not only that I choose to believe in the path of Orthodoxy but also that I must reject those others who for their own reasons may have chosen another path? Am I on the wrong path in searching Orthodoxy with this mind-set?
Here you might say something like ‘this fear is a test’ and that I should pursue this issue till I find the right parish priest, or that I should maybe realize that priests are mere humans and listen to their message about God not politics—or something like that. The crux is that I fear I will enter the Orthodox Church retaining the feeling that my view of the world is ‘better’ and that I need to convince these people to change, or at least to give them a new perspective. But I came to get a new perspective myself! In the secular world I have the ‘I-know-what-the-problem-here-is-and-I-am-going-to-fix-it’ mentality, and I am currently struggling to get out of that business. Changing that was (is?) one of the steps down the road to change.
This letter has become a bit longer than I expected it to be. I was going to end it with the question a few paragraphs ago (if you listen you can hear the thought-pauses between the paragraphs), and then ended up analyzing the matter further as I continued to describe the problem. So now we have arrived at the interesting conclusion that the problem is not that of Orthodox priests arguing but of me believing I know better. Ergo, solution will be to grab the first priest I come across and start listening, without concern for his political background. Great! See—you can even get good advice from a silent computer screen. Now I don’t even have to bother sending the letter. But I will anyway (tomorrow) for three, no four, reasons:
1. I already wrote it.
2. Maybe I’m wrong and you’ll draw a completely different conclusion, because:
3. In diagnosing myself I may be back to my well-known original sin again. (The reasoning is circular—will this ever end? Does this mean I have to doubt every time I think I understand something; otherwise I’m just full of pride?)
4. Most importantly—I am very curious to hear why you refer to yourself in plural.
Sorry about the ranting. I will stop now. Do whatever you want with this (as long as you answer question number 4).