Friday, February 01, 2008

Do the Orthodox "Know the Gospel"?

Over at The Path, there is an interesting post on an issue near and dear to my heart: the spiritual formation and discipleship of Orthodox Christians. Here are my comments on the post Do the Orthodox "Know the Gospel"?

First of all, thank you for this post!

I think that, even more pressing then bring new people into the Church is our retention of the people that we have.

Having listened to the interview (click here to listen: Is There A 'Revolving Door' In The Orthodox Church") with Dr Bradley Nassif (click on Dr Nassif's name to read the article he wrote on this subject of Word magazine) and reading over Matthew Gallatin's comments, I find myself leaning more toward the former.

I appreciate, and agree with, Gallatin that those who leave the Church "either didn’t understand, or were unwilling to shoulder, . . . the tremendous responsibility that comes with being Orthodox." But this it seems to me leaves a number of questions not only unanswered, but even asked. Specifically, how were those who leave catechized?

It is not unheard of for someone to be received after only a few months, or even weeks, after they approach the priest. How many times are people received without even any formal instruction in the faith?

Then there is the question of the community. It is one thing to welcome converts, it is another thing to actually integrate them into the community and nurture their growth in the faith.

In the early Church the catechumenate lasted years. It was proceeded by a period of inquiry and followed by a period of further instruction (mystagogy). Even assuming that all our clergy and faithful are personally committed to Christ, we can't neglect the fundamentals of a serious period of instruction for inquirers, catechumens and the newly illumined.

And this must happen within a community that is itself committed to integrating new members. This means that it is not simply converts who need to change, we need to change as well.

Many of those who were baptized as infants have for all practical purposes fallen away. Unreasonably we seem to think that parishes that have an uneven record of fostering a personal commitment to Christ in those born into Orthodox families are able to do so with adult converts.

Convincing someone of the truth of the Orthodox faith, in my experience at least, is relatively easy. it is much harder to take people through the often long and labor intensive process of being inquirers, catechumens and then provide them, as newly illumined members of the Church, with the spiritual formation that they need to grow into mature, committed Orthodox Christians who place Christ at the center of their lives.

Again, thank you for the post--it is a issue that, like you and many in the Church, I am very concerned with.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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