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Tuesday, May 5, A.D. 2009
Just Genesis and Converts

Alice Linsley manages a blog dedicated to the book of Genesis—Just Genesis. It is “just Genesis” in the sense that most of the posts concern passages, people, or places in Genesis. However, she does comment on other matters that have a tangential relationship to the first book in the book of books.

Linsley is a convert to the Orthodox Church from the Episcopal Church, where she was a priestess. I am not aware of any other case in which a woman in the Protestant clergy converted to Orthodoxy, though they might be out there. You can read her story in an interview, “From Canterbury to Constantinople,” posted on Orthodoxy Today.

Unfortunately, the original interview on Bible Belt Blogger no longer exists. Orthodoxy Today only contains the first part. You can read more of it in a commentary post by another convert from Canterbury to Constantinople, Clifton Healy—“From Canterbury to Constantinople: Interview with Former Episcopal Priest Alice Linsley on Her Departure from ECUSA to Orthodoxy.” Like Linsley, Healy’s conversion is an interesting story. He was being trained to be an Episcopal priest when he realized that Anglicanism was not the Church that he sought. We all seek God; some of us just happen to hit dead ends sooner than others, it seems.

Healy addresses a point about Rome, and he does it so well and succinctly that I wish to quote it here (from The Pilgrim Essays: Conclusion):

It is probably important to say something about being a Protestant convert to Orthodoxy. It is sometimes alleged, not infrequently by Protestant converts to Roman Catholicism, that we former Protestants who’ve converted to Orthodoxy would otherwise have converted to Rome were it not for our ingrained anti-pope, anti-Roman Catholic views. That is to say, it is often asserted that we converted to Orthodoxy because it was not Rome. I think my account shows something of how that view is inaccurate. For while I freely admit that I retained enough of my Protestant views to find Roman claims about the pope to be non-persuasive, it is not the case that I converted to Orthodoxy because it wasn’t Rome. After all, my first stop after considering Rome was Anglicanism, not Orthodoxy. It also assumes that Rome’s claims are self-evident if only one loses the Protestant polemic. I do not think that is true. It is certainly not true for me. I never much had an anti-Catholic polemic. If there was any sort of “failure” in my not becoming Roman Catholic it may well be a failure of the arguments to persuade rather than that I was not persuadable.

But more importantly, in converting to Orthodoxy I was not running from anything–whether my former Protestantism or Roman Catholicism (whether real or caricatured)–rather I was running to something: what I believed, and still believe, to be the New Testament Church in all its fullness. I was given a paradigm in my youth which I have followed out of the Restoration Movement churches, into and back out of Anglicanism, to at last find myself within the New Testament Church which Orthodoxy is.

All that said, then, I believe that for the thoughtful and reflective Protestant who senses the substantive lack his own churches leave him when it comes to the life of Christ in his Body, the Church, there are only two possible choices: Rome or Orthodoxy. While it is important to have solid rational reflection for one’s choice of one or the other, ultimately it is not reason that will–or even should–win the day. Such a choice is a choice of faith, from the heart. One must be drawn to one’s choice, with all the best historical, rational evidence and reflection one can muster, to be sure, but ultimately one must be drawn in by the life and worship of that church one is choosing. It will do no good, when reason fails, to fall back on reason. One will only have left one’s heart, and if there is nothing there, what is one to do?

For me, there was only one possible choice. In the midst of all my rational, historical, and evidenciary seeking, I worshiped regularly in an Orthodox parish, and prayed, in my own personal prayers, the prayers of the Orthodox Church. The reasons for becoming Orthodox were rational, coherent, and justified. But the motivation was the draw of the worship and the life I could see lived before me. I prayed my way into Orthodoxy. My becoming Orthodox has, since my chrismation, been further experiential testimony upholding and further justifying my choice. But my choice was ultimately made from the heart, not the mind. For God lives in and works from the heart, first and foremost. Our minds must descend to the heart and there partake of the truth. For the God who is truth dwells there first. It was Orthodoxy that so led me first from the mind, but ultimately from the heart. And it is from the heart that I know my decision was right and true.

Concerning the bit about Protestants who convert to Orthodoxy, I have also heard such criticism. The obnoxious Orthodox equivalent might be that Protestants who swim the Tiber only do so because Rome makes the journey so accessible due to its presence in the West and because the cultural affinities that Protestants have for their ancestral religion make the transition easier. Why go the whole road to ancient Christianity when you can latch on to an intellectually defensible ship that is not entirely foreign, that is all around you, and that does not require much of you anymore, anyway? Of course, this would be unfair—though undoubtedly true for some converts. Likewise, the papist claim about Protestant converts to Orthodoxy probably has some truth to it, as well. I wonder, though, if some of those anti-Roman prejudicial tendencies are justified . . .

Nevertheless, my own experience, like Mr. Healy’s, does not fit such an accusation. Having a Protestant mother and a Roman father, I was exposed early on to both sides of the Reformation divorce. I developed a list of things that I liked and disliked about both camps. However, when I encountered Orthodoxy as a teenager, my way of assessing the Protestant-Latin dispute radically changed. Orthodoxy did not solidify my anti-Roman tendencies but melted them. My hostility to Roman Catholicism abated as I immersed myself more in the Orthodox Church—figuratively and literally. I still have significant criticisms of Rome, but the ingrained Protestant hatred of that old whore on the seven hills has worn off. As a half-breed, such animosity was never that deep, anyway.

I agree with Mr. Healy that the serious, intellectually honest Protestant only has two choices: East or West. As Cardinal Newman stated, “To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.” My intelligent and pious Reformed friends scoff at this, but I think that such a person can remain a Protestant only to the extent that he refuses truly to consider ecclesiology. I have heard so many folks tell me that they have abandoned the poisonous framework of the Reformation, that they have embraced the apostolic and patristic heritage of the Church, and that they can keep what is good about Protestantism without accepting its deficiencies. Why abandon the religion of one’s birth, culture, and social milieu . . . why give up Protestant congregational and charitable vitality, the Reformation’s proud tradition of homiletics, and practical relevancy in today’s world, when one can be “catholic” and “orthodox” while simultaneously being a member of the local thriving megachurch or of the healthy community mainliner?

They justify their decision with appeals to the indivisible Church. Such a defense reminds me of the Cathars’ belief in their “real selves” as spirits, which allowed them to justify doing what they wished with their unimportant bodies. Indeed, the dualism of the old heresies always resurfaces in ever new and interesting ways.

Posted by Joseph on Tuesday, May 5, Anno Domini 2009
Religion | OrthodoxyScriptureProtestantismRoman Catholicism • (1) Comment
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