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Friday
Jun082012

For Evangelicals and Others Considering Eastern Orthodoxy

9/28/14 Update:  See my comments about Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy here.

___________________________________________________

A sizable number of Evangelicals who, having come to the same conclusions as did Fr. Doug (see entry below, How I Got There: An Evangelical Converts to Anglicanism), have opted to convert to Eastern Orthodoxy rather than to Roman Catholicism or Traditional Anglicanism.  One can read the literature produced by converts for the standard panegyric about how these Evangelicals "came home" to "the ancient Christian church".  Your blogger the Embryo Parson was one of them.  I spent approximately 13 years in the Orthodox Church, and I can assure you that most of these folks were smitten with romantic notions about the Orthodox Church church that bear little relation to reality.  I could go into great detail about why I left, but I will confine myself here to four principal reasons. 

1.  Creeping liberalism.  Here is an account from a Lutheran blog that refers to an article written by Orthodox academic and priest Gregory Jensen, who frankly admits the problem:

According to Fr Gregory Jensen, an academic and priest of the 'Orthodox Church in America' (the denomination with Russian immigrant origins that former Lutheran scholar Jaroslav Pelikan joined) Eastern Orthodoxy in North America on the ground - as opposed to how it appears from behind the rose-coloured spectacles of prospective Protestant converts - is rapidly becoming as liberal as the Protestant mainline churches many of those converts are fleeing. So much so that he says the Orthodox Church in all its ethnic branches in the US looks increasingly like 'the Eastern-Rite Mainline'.*

How so? Support for abortion and gay marriage runs disturbingly high among the laity, politicians of Orthodox background publicly support positions which stand in stark contradiction to the Church's moral teaching and priests are 'not effectively communicating the [Christian] moral tradition', thus surrendering the laity to the forces of secularisation and cultural barbarism. Not to mention, and Fr Gregory doesn't, but anyone who keeps a 'weather eye' on the Orthodox Church will know, that the various sexual and financial scandals among the Orthodox hierarchy in the US have clearly demoralised many of the devout clergy and laity.**

Part of the solution, Fr Gregory avers, is for the Orthodox in the West to draw upon the riches of the Western Christian tradition, specifically the Catholic tradition's 'partnership of faith and reason, natural law, and the objective and universal character of Christian morality'. I think he's an insightful and brave man for saying this, because most articulate Orthodox - especially Western converts - that I have come across have a strong animus against the Christian West, with Augustine being their favourite whipping boy. In their eyes the great North African Father is to blame not only for Roman Catholicism but also, by way of reaction, for Luther and hence 'Protestantism' (and in speaking about 'Protestantism' the Orthodox tend to make no distinction between a snake-handling Pentecostal and a confessional Lutheran, thereby only displaying their ignorance of the heritage of the Christian West after the Reformation). But, surely, without a sympathetic Orthodox engagement with Augustine - and indeed with Luther - there is unlikely to be any significant rapprochement between Orthodoxy and the Christian West beyond the usual glad-handing at ecumenical gatherings.

I would also respectfully suggest to Fr Gregory that he not overlook what can be learned from the experience of those confessional churches of the Reformation which have taken a different path from their liberal Protestant cousins. A big part of Orthodoxy's problems, in my view, stem from the reality that it is not actually a 'confessional' church, but a 'big tent' church. The question for Orthodoxy now is just how big is its tent, given that they now have their own vocal and prominent proponents for recognition of the right to abortion, women's ordination and even revision of the church's teaching on homosexuality?

Finally, I think we are witnessing yet another confirmation of Dr Sasse's prescient observation of 50 or so years ago that in the modern world all the great Christian communions will face the same theological problems, without exception. The obvious moral for small 'o' orthodox Western Christians in all of this - especially Lutherans - who might think that Constantinople offers a safe haven from the destructive winds of modernism that have wrought such havoc in our own churches, is to look before you leap into the Bosphorus.

Fr Jensen's reflection can be found here

4-14-2017 UPDATE:  See my post Another Orthodox Insider Writes of the Threat to the Orthodox Church from Within.

Ergo, the Orthodox Church is slowly but surely beginning to experiencing a process of liberalization, what I call "Episcopalianization", though it is happily well behind the Episcopalianization of the Church of Rome and especially the Anglican Communion in this regard. Slowly but surely it is aping the liberal Protestant "mainline."  Though it is still very conservative theologically, there is much turmoil beneath the surface that is associated with the activity of liberals, and the Evangelical convert can't miss it.  I certainly didn't.  (More from Fr. Jensen.  See also Gene Veith's article Changes In The Orthodox Church.)

2.  Virulent anti-Western mentality.  The Orthodox are openly hostile to just about everything Western.  Any Evangelical who hopes to retain something of the Western theological framework in which he learned about his faith will be quickly disappointed in that hope if he enters the Orthodox Church.  David B. Hart, an Orthodox theologian and brother of our own Anglican Catholic priest Fr. Robert Hart, says this about it:

The most damaging consequence . . .  of Orthodoxy’s twentieth-century pilgrimage ad fontes—and this is no small irony, given the ecumenical possibilities that opened up all along the way—has been an increase in the intensity of Eastern theology’s anti-Western polemic. Or, rather, an increase in the confidence with which such polemic is uttered. Nor is this only a problem for ecumenism: the anti-Western passion (or, frankly, paranoia) of Lossky and his followers has on occasion led to rather severe distortions of Eastern theology. More to the point here, though, it has made intelligent interpretations of Western Christian theology (which are so very necessary) apparently almost impossible for Orthodox thinkers. Neo-patristic Orthodox scholarship has usually gone hand in hand with some of the most excruciatingly inaccurate treatments of Western theologians that one could imagine—which, quite apart form the harm they do to the collective acuity of Orthodox Christians, can become a source of considerable embarrassment when they fall into the hands of Western scholars who actually know something of the figures that Orthodox scholars choose to caluminiate. When one repairs to modern Orthodox texts, one is almost certain to encounter some wild mischaracterization of one or another Western author; and four figures enjoy a special eminence in Orthodox polemics: Augustine, Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, and John of the Cross.

3.  Essentially Eastern European.  The Orthodox Churches tend to be Eastern European or Middle Eastern cultural outposts.  While they welcome converts from Western countries, the latter never really quite fit in.  One person commenting over at the Stumble Inn writes:

Eastern Orthodoxy is a gigantic Eastern culture club. They have a saying for a sort of mania new converts (of the generic Anglo/Celtic/German-American variety) get - Convertitis. Basically it's marked by a) aggressive appropriation of your parish's ethnic culture, b) rabid defense of your theology. The second one is just the excitement of finding something you believe to be true - it's an altruistic sort of joy with unintended negative consequences that go away over time.

The first one is a survival/assimilation technique that is pretty much necessary when one finds himself surrounded by Russians, or Greeks, or Arabs... Bulgarians, Romanians, Ukrainians, Serbians, Georgians, Albanians and 20 different varieties of each. There's nothing else. If you walk into an Orthodox church as an old stock American, you simply don't belong there. You're out of your league. You have to make yourself belong - and it's difficult.

If not impossible.

What's more, the potential convert to Eastern Orthodoxy who leans Western should not place much hope in the Orthodox Western Rite, which was created only fairly recently in the hopes of snagging Anglican Communion Anglicans and Roman Catholics who left their respective communions over the liberalism, modernism, etc. infecting those bodies.  There is intense hostility from "world Orthodoxy" toward the handful of Western Rite parishes that have been established in the West, rendering the future of their Western liturgies questionable.  Orthodox author Fr. John Morris admitted as much to me in a combox discussion at the Anglican news and discussion site Virtue Online:

Whether or not the Western Rite has a future within Orthodoxy is a matter of the will of God. If it is God’s will that the Western Rite of the Orthodox Church grow and prosper, it will grow and prosper. The Western Rite is an effort to restore something that was lost through the Romanization and subsequent Protestantism of the Church in England. . . .

Since the vast majority of Orthodox follow the Byzantine Rite, it is to be expected that many find the Western Rite difficult to accept. I believe that is a good thing, because it shows that Orthodox Christians take their beliefs seriously and do not want anything to compromise those beliefs. More than anything else Orthodox define and express their Faith through their worship. Even a person who has no theological education cannot accept worship that does not feel right. I consider that good because this more than anything else preserves the integrity of our Church. It is also a testimony that Orthodox believe that it is essential to reject anything that compromises our beliefs.

Underlying your argument seems to be the idea that the Byzantine Rite is too foreign for Americans. That is an idea that I must reject. The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is universal and rises above ethnic considerations. It is a perfect expression of the Orthodox Faith. I and thousands of Americans have found a home within the Byzantine Rite. When I stand before the Holy Table and pray the prayers of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, I feel the power of the Holy Spirit. For that reason, I reject the argument that the Byzantine Rite is too foreign for Americans.

Fr. John went on in that discussion to say why he supports the Western Rite, something he is expected to do as a priest of the Antiochian jurisdiction, which is the main Orthodox jurisdiction of two or three that have allowed the Western rite, but his qualifying remarks are all too clear:  1) whether or not the Western Rite survives in the Orthodox Church "is a matter of the will of God" (not to mention the will of a sea of hostile Orthodox bishops); and 2) any convert to Orthodoxy ought to be able to accept the Byzantine Rite: "It is a perfect expression of the Orthodox Faith."  Unlike the Western Rite, which as Fr. John says in the discussion only " preserves the best of Anglicanism" and is merely "an effort to restore something that was lost through the Romanization and subsequent Protestantism of the Church in England."  Talk about damning with faint praise.  So, Evangelicals thinking about converting to Orthodoxy because a Western Rite exists for them ought to understand the big picture.  I once had a long conversation with a priest who is one of the principals in American Western Rite Orthodoxy.  He was very worried about its future.  The Orthodox are cultural Easterners and consequently they tend to disparage almost everything Western, including Western liturgies.

4.  Soteriological weaknesses.  While we should certainly be grateful to the Greek Church Fathers for the triadology and christology that became the basis of the Creed, they were not so orthodox when it came to an issue that would come to bear upon the question of soteriology, or salvation:

Part of the fascination of the patristic era to the scholar lies in the efforts of its theologians to express an essentially Hebraic gospel in a Hellenistic milieu: the delights of patristic scholarship must not, however, be permitted to divert our attention from the suspicion voiced by the Liberal school in the last century - that Christ's teaching was seriously compromised by the Hellenism of its earlier adherents. The history of the development of the Christian doctrine of justification lends support to such a suspicion. In particular, it can be shown that two major distortions were introduced into the corpus of traditional belief within the eastern church at a very early stage, and were subsequently transferred to the emerging western theological tradition. These are:

1. The introduction of the non-biblical, secular Stoic concept of autoexousia or liberum arbitrium in the articulation of the human response to the divine initiative in justification.

2. The implicit equation of tsedaqa, dikaiosune and iustitia, linked with the particular association of the Latin meritum noted earlier (p.15), inevitably suggested a correlation between human moral effort and justification within the western church.

The subsequent development of the western theological tradition, particularly since the time of Augustine, has shown a reaction against both these earlier distortions, and may be regarded as an attempt to recover a more biblically orientated approach to the question of justification. . . .

The emerging patristic understanding of such matters as predestination, grace and free will is somewhat confused, and would remain so until controversy forced full discussion of the issue upon the church. Indeed, by the end of the fourth century, the Greek fathers had formulated a teaching on human free will based upon philosophical rather than biblical foundations. Standing in the great Platonic tradition, heavily influenced by Philo, and reacting against the fatalisms of their day, they taught that man was utterly free in his choice of good or evil. . . . (Alister McGrath, Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification, Vol. I, pp.18-19. Emphases mine.)

This sub-biblical notion of free will would later inform the heresies of Pelagianism and Semipelagianism, and would also result in a soteriology in the East that would put a greater stress on theosis - sanctification - than on the atonement, that is on what we do subjectively to accomplish our salvation than on what God has done objectively to accomplish it.  Accordingly, Orthodox theology is deficient in its understanding of just how the atonement relates to sanctification.  One need only listen to the narrative of this video to see an example of the man-centered nature of theosis.  Note the repeated use of "I", "me" and "my".  I call this the "Little-Christian-Who-Could" model.   There is nothing in this video about what God did to effect man's salvation, aside from a brief and vague reference to the destruction of sin and death at the beginning of the narrative. 

Because the Orthodox reject the Augustinian view of original sin, and by implication the Pauline teaching on the inability of man to save himself, and because the Orthodox still labor under pagan notions about "free will", their soteriology suffers.  Frs. Hart and Wells discuss this deficiency at the Continuum, here and here.

Evangelicals are Westerners (and Pauline-Augustinians generally speaking), and **if** they come to a point where they believe they simply must be Catholics, then the Western Catholic tradition is where they'll more naturally fit in.  That essentially means Rome or Anglo-Catholicism.  I say "**if**".  Evangelicals who really can't quite give up the Evangelical ethos have no business considering Orthodoxy, because at the end of the day Orthodoxy has no room for Evangelicalsim.  If you're an Evangelical who continues to believe that Luther was essentially right about justification, the primacy of Scripture, etc., but are drawn to the historic church and its liturgical worship, then your true options are basically traditional Anglicanism or traditional Lutheranism. 

Now, I've said some rather strong things here about the Orthodox Church, so let me try to end on a more conciliatory note.  Despite my criticisms, I have nothing but fondness for the many people I left behind in the Orthodox Church.  Many of them are exemplary Christians, and what they lack in their willingness to accommodate fully to Western culture they make up for in their devotion to kith and kin, something that puts many of us individualist Americans to shame.  When I once mentioned this to the Greek-American husband of my wife's sponsor, he responded sadly, "Yes, that is your loss."  He simply couldn't imagine the atomism that marked my family and so many others here in North America.

Secondly, Orthodox spirituality takes sanctification seriously.  While my prayer is that the Orthodox Church will revisit its views about the atonement, free will and grace, I can only commend them for their highly developed theology of the Holy Spirit and theosis, which we here in the West do not fully appreciate.

And of course, who can find fault with Orthodoxy's thrice-gorgeous Eastern rite?  If you've never attended the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom in an Orthodox Church, I strongly encourage you to do so.  (Just please don't convert because of liturgical aestheticism. ;)  )  Furthermore, aside from the fact that the Creed's triadology reflects the theology of great Eastern Church Fathers such as St. Athanasius and the Cappadocians, Orthodox scholarship has contributed much that is of value in the areas of ecclesiology, sacramentology and ascetic theology.

It is my great hope that Orthodoxy will stave off the threat of liberalism in its midst and will experience a change of heart and mind about the West, taking seriously what Orthodox thinkers such as David Hart have written on the matter.  Most importantly, it is my hope that the Orthodox Church, as it re-examines its assessment of the West, will begin to think more carefully about the nature of the atonement and the biblical doctrines of grace, for these are key.

(See related discussion here and especially the linked Virtue Online article.  The combox discussion there between Orthodox apologist Fr. John Morris, myself, and others is worthy of note.)

Click here for the entire OJC archive on Eastern Orthodoxy.

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Reader Comments (20)

I think this is a good discussion. It highlights many of the salient points of disagreement and approach to interpretation of the Scriptures between the Orthodox and any stripe of Protestant. As for the reality of Orthodoxy or Anglicanism *on the ground,* there is room for nothing but humility for any of us. Any Christian in our culture who loves Christ and holds to the true Christian moral tradition on the sanctity of life, and the nature of our sexuality and marriage is under fire from the enemy, and I think that fire is only going to get hotter. That fire will blessedly draw all who love Christ nearer to Him and to each other.

As an Orthodox convert from a rather eclectic Evangelical background, I obviously relate to much of what Fr. Deacon was saying. I also find Fr. John to be simplistic in the extreme. For me becoming Orthodox came out of the consistency of Orthodox soteriology with the patristic consensus of our salvation as union with Christ and the Cross as our ransom from Sin and Death vs. Reformed "Penal Substitution" which I believe is heresy, but is still the central paradigm of salvation for most Evangelical and conservative Protestants, Anglican or otherwise (despite my appreciation for the much more nuanced understanding represented by N.T. Wright). That along with the consistency of the Orthodox approach to Liturgy, Eucharist and the sacramental life of the Church with the patristic era, are what will keep me (and, I presume, even folks who appreciate and understand the West like David Bentley Hart and Bp. Kallistos Ware) in the Orthodox fold, despite its many problems which have been well outlined here.

I think the essay linked in brackets following reflects the bottom line of any Orthodox apologetic, and I'm pulling three of the most key paragraphs to quote below (http://glory2godforallthings.com/2009/05/26/the-church-and-the-cross/):

"I do not think we give up conversation, but we have to be aware of the nature of our conversation. We utter “Pillar and Ground of Truth,” etc. “in a sacred mystery.” Pulled out of its context (that is the living Church) and placed in argument, the phrase becomes words weakened by every other word we have ever spoken, and particularly the actions we have performed or failed to perform. Such phrases are no less true, but they were never meant as offensive weapons (except perhaps in spiritual warfare).

"I would start, as an Orthodox boy, with the fact that everyone who is Orthodox has agreed to “deny himself, take up his cross and follow Christ.” The ecclesiology of the Orthodox Church, the Pillar and Ground of Truth, is found precisely in its weaknessand is found there because God wants it that way. If salvation means loving my enemies like God loves His enemies, then I am far better served by my weakness than my excellence. If humility draws the Holy Spirit, then my weakness is far more useful than any excellence I may possess.

The Orthodox Church has perhaps the weakest ecclesiology of all, because it depends, moment by moment, on the love and forgiveness of each by all and of all by each. Either the Bishops of the Church love and forgive each other or the whole thing falls apart. “Brethren, let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” These are the words that introduce the Creed each Sunday, and they are the words that are the bedrock of our ecclesiology."

Thanks for the discussion.

September 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

I think marry three times had to do with one of the Leo emperors. He actually I think married for times so he could get an heir with a mistress and one or two of the women died. In medieval society sometimes a divorce and then a death would make Clergy be more lenient.

September 23, 2012 | Unregistered Commentergood point

The Orthodox Bishops make a statement on abortion
http://www.assemblyofbishops.org/news/2013/jan-22-roe-vs-wade-anniversary

January 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterScott

Constantinople's Moral Oversight:

http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=12-02-014-v

January 28, 2013 | Registered CommenterEmbryo Parson

The greatest issue facing the EOC is structural and systemic corruption. At the center of this corruption is the exclusive EO claim that this is Gods only alone right and one true church and salvation. This church believes it is Gods objective spiritually correct standard of measure of what is a true and right church in comparison to it. All churches not of it are found by it to be apostate and heretic in comparison to it. I remind the EO that Jesus Christ in the Gospels confronted and by paradigm shift bypassed the orthodox of His day who also believed they were Gods only alone right and one true worship, belief, traditions, salvation, structure and system, theology, fathers and history.

The Sanhedrin that Christ confronted was self righteous and corrupt. It was based in top down authoritarian religious dictatorship power and control, in its own power and control and not the power of the Holy Spirit in control. It too believed it was Gods objective standard of spiritual correctness before God and that it had no comparison to it. In reality it was not based in Gods grace, mercy, love and forgiveness. It was based in self righteousness, shame and toxic faith. They had reached the point of no return. In comparison to Christ they were corrupt, failed, incompetent, irrelevant, abusive and cultic. Christ confronted a cult of authoritarian religious dictatorship power and control.

In John 8:31-59 anyone can see the apologetic defense of those Christ confronted. Those are system verses comparing the system of Christ as transformation to the system of tradition in religious works, religious performance and religious legalism that molded people into its lie of who and what God is and that its system is a lie of salivation. He called it a system of lies that the father of lies ruled over. The Gospels are a warning to all of us to not turn Christ into a system of corruption, to not go back to what He confronted.

Top down religious dictatorship authoritarian power and control that believes it is exclusively Gods only alone right and one true church, worship and belief and that is not held transparent and accountable with consequences is the set up to become a Christian cult. In its authoritarian corruption it does not come under you and raise you by salvation in Christ transformation. It power push by control molds you into its image. It molds and does not transform. Freedom in Christ transforms and religious dictatorship power and control molds. Idolatry molds Christ transforms. Evil molds Christ transforms. Cults mold Christ transforms. Corruption molds Christ transforms.

Jesus Christ in the Gospels did not come to us as top down religious dictatorship authoritarian power and control. We were held powerless, in bondage and under the suppression of religious dictatorship oppression, that is where He met us at. He came to us as humility in sacrificial relationship that came under us, that meet us eye ball to eye ball as personal relationship with the living Christ. He met us at our top down rule spiritually abused bottom to raise us up and out of that by Him as our Resurrection in transformation by salvation. He came to set us free of the spiritual slavery of religious dictatorship authoritarian power and control as our salvation. He came for each of us individually and as those created in the image of God. Created in the image of God, transformed by Christ and submission to Christ first as our authority is how He came to us. He came as division from the sin of religious dictatorship oppression based in its own authoritarian power and control. Christ alone is exclusive and not the claim of a dead and corrupt Sanhedrin. He alone is the comparison and not a corrupt and failed church. He came to us as revolt to revolution to reform in transformation away from the corruption of God by authoritarian religious dictatorship that claimed to be our salvation.

I see the mindset, attitude and behavior of the EO jurisdiction hierarchies. So goes the leadership of the Sanhedrin and so went the Sanhedrin when confronted by Christ. So goes the church leadership of any church and so goes the real world observed outcome of that church no matter who or what it claims to be before God. I see the state of the EOC in America. I see the state of the exclusive claim and the state of the church does not match the exclusive claim. Christ made the exclusive claim that He alone is 'I AM'. His outcome matched His exclusive claim in the real world. He alone is the comparison and not the corrupt and failed EOC. If any church follows its role model and example, if anyone converts into it, they will will be molded into what it is by its top down authoritarian religious dictatorship power and control. They will be made corrupt in ways they do not see and develop a delusional perspective of themselves. What is top down authoritarian in its own power and control and that claims to be the exclusive only truth of God and Gods salvation is closed, isolated and subjective in its irrational viewpoint of itself. It is self righteously walled off and it will not listen because of its self righteous wall.

The EOC is experiencing a molded outcome and not a transformed outcome. Comparison to Christ reveals this. Christ confronted a cult of self righteous corruption that believed it alone was the only right and true of God and Gods salvation. It was closed, isolated and subjective by its authoritarian structure and system of religious dictatorship exclusiveness. It would not listen to God for believing it was the only true and right God to be listened to. In affect, it believed it was God and Gods salvation. It was an idolatry cult following the father of all lies that by deception had a delusional perspective of itself. It had lost all God objectivity about itself by its exclusive authoritarian power and control. It had a molded outcome and its molded outcome was failure in the corruption of God and Gods salvation by its top down authoritarian power and control that believed it was God and salvation.

I believe the EOC has reached the point of no return and it can only return to authoritarian religious dictatorship that created its point of no return. The EOC is experiencing being left behind by paradigm shift of God. It is left behind to die a slow, ugly and painful death at its own hands of authoritarian religious dictatorship power and control. What is molded cannot be transformed when it by deception believes molding is transformation. What cannot be transformed cannot paradigm shift with God to relevancy in our generation. What is molded is really only relevant to itself. A religious dictatorship based in its own power and control is self centered and self protective of its power and control and that means it is really just relevant to itself. It is self centered and not other centered. Christ is other centered. He was not self protection that only serves itself. He was sacrificial service that served others.

The EO exclusive claim means that it the most alive, dynamic, relevant and growing church on the planet. That it is the most moral and ethical church in the world. That it is the most transparent and accountable church that there ever was or will be. That it lives up to its claim as Christ lived up to His claim. How a church thinks determines its outcome and what it thinks by is what it thinks to come to its outcome. The EOC thinks by its exclusive claim that has determined its real world outcome. It is superior to all churches and Christians outside of it and judged by it. The claim is stating that this is the most functional, competent, safe and healthy church that is in existence. That this is the most trustworthy church in the world by its exclusive truth no other church has.

The Orthodox have told me that I do not know what I am missing by not being an Orthodox. That I do not have the fullness of the Gospel that can be known and experienced. That I am a lost, aimless and fractionated mess in rebellion to the unity of Gods only true and right church. I have been told that my salvation is either not at all salvation and at the very least is highly suspect. I know what I am missing and I know what it is to experience the Orthodox. I know what it is to experience the trauma of Orthodox abuse, shame, horror, corruption, denial and self righteousness. I have experienced Orthodox destruction and death as salvation. I have experienced the cult of Orthodoxy authoritarian power and control that is a self centered and self protective liar, thief and murderer. I know what it is to experience the corporate pathology of a delusional, narcissistic and sociopathic church that is cold, callous, cruel, apathetic and indifferent. My family and I have experienced the Greek Orthodox Church of America.

The Nevins family experience with the Orthodox is quite public. I would warn anyone away from this corrupt church. In a top down authoritarian power and control self centered church you are expendable to the power and control of the religious dictatorship so that it can keep its power and control. You are only a means to its corrupt power and control end. You are a pawn being used and abused to maintain its religious dictatorship totalism power and control.

July 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAshley Nevins

Is there a way you can unsubscribe me to this post? When I try to do it from the link in email notifications, it takes me to an "unknown URL" message, so there may be some sort of error in your notification system. Even if I had something more to add than I have already said (which I don't), tThis thread is too old for me to have an interest in it any more. Thanks.

July 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

Karen, unfortunately I don't know how to do this. I cannot tell who my subscribers are, and consequently I don't know how to "unsubscribe" people.

Mr. Nevins, I am indeed familiar with Scott Nevins' story, and I can't begin to tell you how sorry I am for your loss.

July 3, 2013 | Registered CommenterEmbryo Parson

I stumbled across this while doing a google search for something else. Being an Anglo-Catholic convert to Orthodoxy (and having straddled the fence for about a decade for largely geographical and logistical reasons), I would like to comment on some of your points.

1. The OCA has lots of internal problems at present and is suffering from declining membership as a result. However, allegations of 'liberalism' are a bit absurd. I would say the social liberalism of the laity can be attributed to the geographic distribution of members, just like Catholics (i.e., disproportionately Northeast, California, Northern Midwest). However, this does not mean the Catholic or Orthodox Church preaches anything but conservative values. The occurrence of openly dissenting priests and bishops is *very* uncommon and I note your provided link gives no examples. Basically, the allegation is exaggerated. In any case, liberalism is more common in GOARCH, totally non-existent in ROCOR and some other Slavic jurisdictions, and the Antiochians are innovative liturgically but not really liberal on family issues at all (being mainly Arab).

You can, by contrast, attend an evangelical church, or even a Continuing Anglican church, where most all the members have the same opinions on hot-button social issues, but where the theology and liturgy of the church is quite polluted by liberal tendencies. One must remember that 'conservative' evangelical churches usually split from a liberal mother church, whereas Orthodox churches only splinter by jurisdiction, not creed. In the US today, there is a tendency towards political uniformity - conservative churches are politically conservative and liberal churches are politically liberal. However, it might shock people to remember that the true political traditions of Anglo-Catholicism are socialist, those of traditional Catholicism are corporatist and anti-free market, and those of Orthodoxy have not properly evolved beyond feudalism. These theologies tend to move a modern American towards hard-core paleoconservativism or perhaps socially-conservative Old Leftism - so people outside the Red-Blue paradigm. Some people from within the Red Box visit such churches and get suspicious that they cannot place the Church easily as an political ally.

2. Again, this is overstated. What is said is true of a minority wing of priests and monastics, mainly ROCORites and Old Calendarist Greeks. It is true that many great Western saints are not remembered in the Orthodox calendar, but tell me really is that a problem vis-à-vis attending Catholic and Anglican churches where there are generally fewer services and far fewer saints venerated generally? It is not as if Thomas Aquinas plays a large rôle is extremely important in the lay activities of the Catholic Church in the US, so I do not know why one who is inclined towards him would avoid Orthodoxy out of a fear some crank will attack you once a Western saint is mentioned.

3. Evangelical churches are neo-American outposts (that sit poorly with older generations from a different culture). Anglican and Episcopal churches both are culturally English. Presbyterian churches are grounded in Scottish austerity. Catholic churches tend to have their own ethnic factions depending on where you are (Hispanics, Italians, Poles, Filipinos). And most Orthodox churches are culturally Slavic, Greek, or Arab. So, sure, if you have a strong preference for a WASPy parish or you like Vietnamese more than Arabs or Poles more than Russians or Italians more than Greeks, I guess this may influence your decision about which church to join.

However, one must remember, for example, what cultural Englishness entails. I am from largely English ancestry, descended from colonists, yet I go to a Russian Orthodox Church. I will never be Russian, I don't want to be Russian, but let's not pretend that the Englishness of Anglican parishes is inconsequential. In my experience, Anglican parish laity were very passive-aggressive and put a lot of stock in being formally welcoming/coffee hour without caring at all about meeting and involving new parishioners. I don't deal with those problems anymore and have no regrets!

Convertitis is very real, though the fact that emotionally unstable people are prone to adopt new belief systems, become zealots, and then dump them has nothing to do with YOU becoming a zealot and being emotionally unstable if YOU choose to convert. The same phenomenon is found among conservative Protestants who become Catholic and then have to tell you how they are in the ONE TRUE CHURCH (and you aren't). There is just an added ethnic element for some American Orthodox converts which is mainly tragicomic. You should remember, however, that a huge % of American Orthodox priests are converts themselves. Some of these are still zealots - others are quite down-to-earth.

4. This appears to be Calvinist nonsense though it is the first time I have heard some of the specific accusations. I ask you at least to reconsider your statement (even if it only leads you to refine the language so it makes more sense): "While we should certainly be grateful to the Greek Church Fathers for the triadology and christology that became the basis of the Creed, they were not so orthodox when it came to an issue that would come to bear upon the question of soteriology".

So we are grateful to the Father of the Church, acknowledged to be in the Orthodox tradition, for parts of the very essential foundations of Christian theology but not for others where they were clearly in error? By whose judgment, may I ask? You claim they supported un-Biblical ideas ... but they compiled the canons! Augustine didn't. Calvin didn't. And they were not written in Latin and translated into Greek! How do you use the Bible to prove that Eastern soteriology had mistaken tendencies when the Scriptures came out of the East and were debated by mostly Eastern bishops?

One must admit that the Orthodox might have better knowledge on how to interpret Paul and his Greek epistles than Augustine.

5. My own points - I do not know that much about this blog, if it is intended specifically for people from a Reformed tradition, then I may agree that if you intend to maintain much Reformed theology you may prefer to gravitate towards Reformed Anglicanism or Catholicism. If it is intended, however, for general Protestants with an inclination towards church history and liturgical formality, then I strongly suggest Orthodoxy. Let me say first that I have NO hard feelings about Anglo-Catholicism, to the contrary, if I lived in London or Oxford I may have considered remaining Anglican. But let a very important point be known:

If you want a parish that values traditionalism and a high liturgical form, even in America with its 1% Orthodox population, you may find it is much easier to attend an Orthodox church in your area than a Catholic or Anglican church that actually is, in practice, catholic and traditional. Most Catholic churches are less liturgical in many ways than mainline Protestants and most people have no realistic access to Latin mass. If you live in most states, Traditional Anglican churches are few and far between (ACNA is spreading, but is essentially low-church and proud of it). Orthodoxy is probably your best bet just from a practical point of view. Again, it depends where you live and whether you will stay there. I appreciate being a church that has the same liturgy wherever I go.

It is also hard to recommend Traditional Anglicanism because it is frankly dying. They are also often hybrids with catholic clergy and a largely Protestant laity that left the ECUSA for political reasons. They believe in the Seven Sacraments on paper, but don't actually offer them all. Often, the clergy grow disillusioned and use it as a stepping stone to Catholicism or Orthodoxy anyway, so you might as well start out at the latter unless you have a unique local situation.

October 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterThomas Sm

See my response to Mr. Sm here:

http://www.oldjamestownchurch.com/blog/2013/10/28/more-feedback-on-for-evangelicals-and-others-considering-eas.html

October 28, 2013 | Registered CommenterEmbryo Parson

I really found this to be an engaging read; and I do understand the author's desire for personal integrity in his relation to the Orthodox Church. I am on my fourteenth year as a convert from Anglicanism, and it has been very hard indeed and on so many levels. I own every book of Lancelot Andrewes press I think just about. And I find no problem in yet another Anglican missal--but in, rather, dealing with the issue of orthoproxy. I am finding that I cannot detach my internalization of the Orthodox faith from my growing participation in the liturgy; and it has been jarring indeed! I thought that praying the Western rite Common Prayer might give me a familiar way of connection--and it only ressurects the Anglicanism that wished it were orthodoxy and thus...seems of no real spiritual benefit for growth in the Ecclessia. While I miss the granduer of the limitted western anglican style rite, I realize that I must, as someone has pointed out, take on the character of the church as a whole....and I think that I am finally experiencing evidence that Theosis might just exist in my life and experiencing the intuition of eastern orthodoproxy may just be intrinsically linked. (Hypostatically if you will!) At any rate, in a family worship experience in an Episcopal church, when I made the sign of the cross in the proper byzantine style by training, I think I startled several parishioners around me. :) At every rate, it is a growth that goes on to the ages of ages, and I am a latecomer, and glad to be in Orthodoxy.

April 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMaria Janine Bryant

Interesting and well thought out article. However, I think it should be said there is no perfect church this side of Heaven. I've been Orthodox now for three years and yes, there are times when it is definitely a frustrating ride. This church, bar none, tends to attract a lot of bona fide 'psychos.' However, you'll also find those same types in any social setting, be it work, the grocery store, the corner bar. As long as humans are sinners, there will be problems in any church. The important thing is to keep our eyes on Christ and focus on Him and not on "office politics" so much...and that goes for any branch of Christianity the Lord leads you to.

April 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMaria

Thank you kindly for referencing my blog article on the topic of the liberalization of Orthodoxy in the West. I'm grateful that you and others have found it helpful.

December 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPr Mark Henderson

Wow,
These are your reasons for leaving Orthodoxy? You do realise that the Orthodox Churches in the USA are not actually the Orthodox Church but just the manifestation of the church in that country. Your comments are very American focused.
1. Creeping liberalism. The challenges of modern ideologies are putting pressure on all. Your answer is to become an Anglican? As an Anglican you are in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury ( even with the 'realignment in the USA). Due to the Provoo Agreement, the Archbishop of Canterbury is in communion with the lesbian Lutheran 'bishop' of Stockholm. It seems your answer to creeping liberalism is to give up the fight.
2. Anti-western? Have Orthodox nations banned Shakespeare or something? Do you mean that Orthodoxy opposes western heresy? Yes please.
3. Too ethnic? Seriously? No, really, seriously? With thinking like that, Greeks in the first century shouldn't have become Christians because Christianity was 'too Jewish'. Every convert in the USA makes Orthodoxy less ethnic. I, myself, find the Anglican Church very ethnic - it's full of people of English descent.
4. The atonement- this is your only theological reason. You list stoicism as the source of Orthodox problems but then your quote from McGrath goes on about Philo and Plato. I'd like to be convinced on this. What you need to show me are quotes from the Church fathers like Athanasius, Basil and John Chrysostom that reference, quote or have verbal parallels to stoic authors. When I look at their works they quote the New Testament to me not stoic authors.
According to you, after the NT the church lapsed into heresy on this issue and Augustine fixed it? Everyone who looks at Augustine admits that many aspects of his theology are highly personal. I know that John Cassian and Vincent of Lerins reacted to Augustine for that reason. I'd like some historical evidence on this before I admit your view even has any historicity.

March 29, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterStefano

I stumbled upon your blog. I am sorry you felt the need to leave the Orthodox Church. I hope you change your mind at some point. I am a convert of 5 or so years. I am lucky that every church I've been in has been at least 50% convert, with an American feel, and I have never really encountered the "culture club" you reference and that I have heard others refer to...there were a few churches like that around, but luckily we have had other options.

I know it is disheartening to see the scandals in the Church, but the Bible told us these things would happen and how much more so to the True Church as the end of times get closer. It also helps me to look around (briefly) at the insanity in the media to remind me that if it is outside the church in droves, it will also creep into the church, especially in "these times." That thought encourages me anyway...I found your mention of the atonement interesting and how with theosis it seems that the sense of the importance of the atonement can get lost. I've never gotten the sense this is the overarching theme of orthodoxy, this is just the emphasis of some people who get a little off balance in their focus...the overarching theme of Orthodoxy is that Christ's sacrifice on the cross is the only antidote to our sin and that our efforts, however great in relation to our our personal struggle, are feeble. There is also the faith alone dogma of the protestant church that many people may be reacting against. The faith alone doctrine caused me a lot of grief and harmed my soul in multiple ways....there is something very nihilistic about being told your whole life that everything about you and everything you do is essentially pointless because all that matters is having a simple mental belief and saying a simple mental prayer. I'm no theologian but the Protestant doctrine of the atonement and faith alone caused me extreme angst, unhappiness and confusion so even when I see things that are too works based, I know I would never go back to that doctrine. I now understand that I was created by the Uncreated God in His image and that I cooperate with Him in my salvation by following Him through my free will and that my salvation and healing comes through Him and His Sacraments offered to us. But I will admit, I have read a few Orthodox writings that were too "I" focused as you referenced. I believe this is just a few writings amidst 2000 years of a salvation writings that are not "I" centered.

August 29, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterIrene

"There is also the faith alone dogma of the protestant church that many people may be reacting against. The faith alone doctrine caused me a lot of grief and harmed my soul in multiple ways....there is something very nihilistic about being told your whole life that everything about you and everything you do is essentially pointless because all that matters is having a simple mental belief and saying a simple mental prayer."

Indeed, that does seem somewhat nihilistic. But it is not the doctrine of justification of historical Protestantism, whether in its Lutheran, Anglican or Calvinist forms. For these traditions saving faith is not a simple mental belief but trust in the work of Christ as sufficient for our salvation. Works are not pointless but are our service to God and our neighbour offered according to the circumstances of our vocation(s). They will even receive their reward in heaven - not the reward of salvation, but reward nonetheless. Soli Deo Gloria!

August 30, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterAcroamaticus

Thank you for this great article.

So many people do the same thing: they cling to one extreme out of fear or rejection of another, and while by doing so they avert one disaster, they have a whole other set of problems.

It especially is saddening to hear the lack of atonement and personal salvation in Orthodox thought, perhaps one of if not the most important theological aspect there is. My prayers will go to them for this. At the same time, though, I can definitely be confident many are true followers of Christ and true children of God.

Now, you say that you hope the Orthodox stay clear of liberal apostasy and embrace Western values. But isn't the rejection of liberalization precisely the reason that the Orthodox are so anti-western? Unless you are referring to pre-liberal Europe, and are talking about their anti-Catholicism.

It was wrong of the Catholics to attack the Byzantines during the Crusades, as the Byzantines were also godly followers, and unlike the west they were not corrupted by those who became known as Rosicrucians, Freemasons, Illuminati, or the Priory of Sion. But at the same time, the Orthodox need to forgive them and recognize that they still have a good amount to contribute to understanding and living the Christian faith.

All churches have their ups and downs.

November 29, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNeil D

For me -- as someone who has visited many Orthodox churches, knows several Orthodox clergy, and was quite on the verge of becoming Orthodox not so long ago -- there was a bit of a shock encountering the ecclesiastical problems facing Orthodoxy after reading and hearing so long of merits of of the 'One True Church.' There are some very serious, almost vicious disagreements between Autocephalous Churches and their dependent dioceses over matters related to the diaspora. These problems have led to numerous regional schisms in the past 25 years, and, more seriously, two of the Autocephalous Churches (Antioch and Jerusalem) are in schism at this very moment. The issues of power, politics, and money (the diaspora) really culminated in the stunning failure of the Pan-Orthodox Council after more than 50 years in the making.

There is creeping liberalism (admittedly at a very slow pace) in Orthodoxy, especially in GOARCH; a priest friend has told me he sees similar trends in the OCA. And then there's the inter-jurisdictional fighting, where I've seen ROCOR traditionalists throw harsher language toward their 'evangelicals-with-icons' Antiochian friends than I've ever seen among Continuing Anglicans. And speaking of ROCOR, they definitely seem to be taking measured steps toward dissolving the Western Rite all together.

So while I have the utmost respect for my Orthodox siblings in Christ, seeings this turmoil made me realize the post-St Louis failings of the Continuum (which are very severe) are not really unique. I've come to completely reject the notion of a one true church manifested in a single structure, which I guess has only strengthened my Anglo-Catholic tendencies.

December 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterM. C. L.

Your Free Will objections are very inaccurate (much like most of this article and its focus on "you don't fit in therefore it's wrong" fallacy):

1. Augustine misinterpreted St. Paul in Romans 5:12 because he knew no Greek. Nowhere in the Bible does Paul or any other author intend that man cannot choose one way or the other - this defeats the basic premise of any kind of ethics or morality: intent. Without choice, we are robots. You already know this, but the typical anti-Free Will responses (+myriad of misinterpreted, misunderstood biblical quotes), I have already seen and will address below.

2. The early Greek church followed the Stoics, Neoplatonism, Philo, etc. This is irrelevant, if the point that these philosophies make is true. Paul quotes a pagan poet whom he colloquially calls "prophet" for the benefit of his audience (keep that in mind when you cite "God hardened X's heart") in many places such as Acts 17:28 and Titus 1:12.

3. The supposed disconnect you feel from sanctification to atonement is irrelevant. You misunderstand the purpose of religion: it's what man should do, rather than what God has technically created. What I mean by this is, what's more important: how to live life without sin, or what type of wood Jesus was crucified upon? Because essentially, your criticism maintains that technical facts are more important than spiritual quests. Understanding how God technically effects salvation is not an issue for any Christian pursuing God with a clear conscience, because the only "how" that matters is "how that Christian lives." From that point of view, your criticism of "subjective" vs "objective" is meaningless wordage. Of course it's from the point of view of the sinner - Jesus himself came down from Heaven to prove this point! This doesn't mean one is placing himself above God, that is quite a backward interpretation based on superficial words "subjective" "objective" that you randomly pull and (mis)apply left and right.

Also, thank you for your offering of praises so as to sugar coat what you believe is so correct about your defunct theological stances (no free will and faith without the necessary existence of works and who knows what else). The things you could've had us on, "theosis" and "theoria," you barely criticize and later praise the one, and completely ignore the other. Probably because, as this whole post shows, you just don't do research or analyze things very correctly.

April 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterCornelius

The concept of the Logos was also developed out of Philo and many other Greek concepts were Christianized and applied to Christian theology, dropping their pagan connotations, only the logic. It means nothing that philosophy (which means love of wisdom, and is not a religious or cultural biased ideology by definition) was used in and of itself. You'd have to prove where and that in fact the paganism Was indeed used in your "Pelagian/Semi-Pelagian" prototype for free-will.

April 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterCornelius

Heh. Thanks for chiming in, Cornelius. I will attend to your comments after Easter. Kalo Pascha!

April 14, 2017 | Registered CommenterEmbryo Parson

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