Coming out

When I was 16, I was considering converting to Roman Catholicism. I was even on the RCIA course at my local RC parish church. This proved to be an exercise in futility, as I was being treated as a child. All it served to do was to demonstrate the ignorance of this particular deacon about Anglicanism. I can only imagine that he had read some four-page guide on What Anglicans believe, as he had so many misconceptions about us that the course became increasingly frustrating with each session, as he made known his assumptions that I wouldn't know about the Real Presence, or vestments, or the number of Sacraments, or what the role of a priest is at Mass. It was this that made me give up in the end. Do English RCs really think that all Anglicans are raving protestants?

However, my little rant aside. While all of this was going on, it was very difficult of me to tell people who knew me well that I was considering leaving Anglicanism. It isn't just about belief: there are both an entire network of people and a whole culture to leave behind, and people can see this as a rejection of that, even if they are understanding about the faith aspect of it.

Nearly six years later, I am concerned about the same. I do not know yet what will happen over the next few weeks, months or years, but there are certain of my friends to whom I could not even show this blog without eliciting a bad reaction. I am very much at the beginning of my questioning and searching, and so I have no intention of saying anything to anybody that may cause upset, but if I get to the point where a decision is made, this is something that I shall have to do. There are ordained friends of mine, both male and female, who could see this as a rejection of their entire ministries and the validity of their orders, which they hold so dearly.

In my reading of scripture, the Fathers and in my own reasoning, I can find no convincing theological objection to the ordination of women to the priesthood. However, I do not believe that I alone, in my reasoning, can discern the Truth. Orthodoxy has not accepted this, whether because it is felt to be impossible, or because it believes that the Church must decide this as a whole, through an oecumenical council. In any case, I must follow what the Church teaches. I do not reject Anglican Orders, regardless of who they are conferred upon, but if I do convert, I can see how many of my friends may think that I do reject them, and much else that comes along with Anglicanism.

There must be people reading who have converted at some point and faced the same issue. How did you go about coming out? Did it cause any permanent rifts? Did your removal of yourself from a culture in which you had spent most of your life cause you any degree of lasting pain?

I would be very glad to hear back.

14 responses:

Simon said...

Well this Anglican ordained person wouldn't view anyone being received into full communion with Rome as 'rejecting' me - the over-personalisation of issues surrounding ministry irks me greatly - I would celebrate it as part of their journey of faith. We are all called to unity, we discern different ways of bringing it about, corporately and individually. Prayers for you.

Merseymike said...

I used to be a Quaker, became an Anglican, and am now seriously questioning whether I made the right decision.

Neither Orthodoxy nor RC-ism hold any appeal to me at all, though - far too ossified and conservative, and both homohobic and anti-women.

Whereas Anglicanism is just homophobic!

Frankly, I seriously wonder if Christianity makes much sense in any case. Certainly in its non-revisionist forms. It appears to be largely a succession of outdated meaningless superstitions and means less and less to me as time goes on.

A couple of years ago I would have been distressed by feeling like this, but as for now, its getting to the stage where I don't care.

Anonymous said...

I came to Orthodoxy looking for just one thing: an unchanging faith.

We need to ask ourselves whether culture is a part of faith, or whether anyone can have faith, in whatever culture he finds himself?

The search is really every bit as important as the destination!

Leetle Masha

Ian said...

I'm still in my rowboat, crossing the Bosphorous at a steady rate, and I can sympathise with you.

The first question many (Anglican and RC) friends asked me was, "You are not going to turn into a Western-hating Orthodox are you?" [Their experiences of Orthodoxy were soured somewhat by various 'extreme' Orthodox people telling them they were on the way to Hell.] Well, of course not. I hope.

Several women clergy I know [and one woman at theological college] wondered if I'd turn on them. No. It was a relief for me to hear they didn't think I would, but they weren't sure.

My parents think I've lost the plot. Both very much "Sydney" Anglicans, it was weird enough I climbed the candle to Anglo-Catholicism, but this seems to have rattled them a bit. I'm very cautious about explaining services when they ask -- it was bad enough people genuflected in my A/C parish; heaven knows what they'd make of hymns to the Theotokos!

I do miss aspects of Anglicanism. If I hear a Western hymn my mind travels back to the delights of a big booming organ. But in Orthodoxy I have found an unchanging faith, and I have found a home I can reside in.

As the wise Leetle Masha said, "The search is really every bit as important as the destination!" God bless!

Ian said...

Oh, I forgot. My Anglican priest sent me off with his best wishes, as, "This was a journey [I need] to make, and a journey only [I] could make." That meant a great deal to me. I have been blessed with the priests I have had.

Ari said...

The issue on Women's Ord was answered for me by reading some of the theological works on what the priesthood is. Schmemann particularly.

Did becoming Orthodox cause rifts? Sure - expect that some religious friends might quietly (or loudly) slip out of your life .. and not of your own choice. One just counts the cost and goes on.

As for 'removal from the culture' - that is probably the sure way towards either failing a few years down the road, or becoming an obnoxious convert. For a Westerner there should be absolutely NO reason one should have to remove themselves from their culture: rather, engage it. The Easterners don't have the tools to do so (as they neither understand nor care to understand Western culture in most cases, and are more than likely going to misrepresent it.) Of course, in the UK it is difficult as there is little to no Western Rite Orthodox presence, and little English speaking Orthodox presence. One does what they can: pray and live.

Michael said...

Thank you all for your your replies, and for the honesty of them. I don't want to delude myself into thinking that any of this will be a smooth journey, and it's good to know about the experiences of others to make the reality hit home.

I'll be honest and admit that although I find the idea of the eastern liturgies that are in use in Britain rather attractive, this is more out of cusriosity, and I would miss western liturgy greatly. I must admit that I do find it rather odd that, in setting up parishes in the west, the Orthodox jusrisdictions have avoided anything western, at least in the UK. This is logical to the point that the eastern liturgies are what they know and what they do well, but could it perhaps also have traces of the mentality 'East good, west bad'?

I would have thought that a logical thing to do in restoring the Faith to Christians in the west would be to restore the western liturgy that has nourished the faith and spirituality of these people for all of their lives. At least making some provision for it as an option would seem sensible.

As it stands, anybody in Britain wanting to convert to Orthodoxy, is expected to reject all of the western rites that they have been steeped in for all of their lives, and become part of something very different, when the fact that western rites are in use elsewhere in orthodoxy shows that this is not deemed necessary. It seems to show a grave lack of awareness of the English psyche.

Is there something that I am missing?

Anonymous said...

Is there something that you're missing?

Well, I really can't give the Orthodox Church many brownie points for "awareness of the _______ (fill in nation of choice) psyche"! After all, we have our churches still designated by their languages: Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox....

But the rite is constant and the faith is the same in every Orthodox Church, including the "Western Rite" ones that we have in the US.

Perhaps we all need to examine ourselves, and our churches, to see whether we are looking for genuine conversions or "people like us".... ethnocentricity can't possibly be good for us, and phyletism, the ancient heresy that goes with that, is always a danger.

As a convert from Anglicanism many years ago, I was advised to "bite the bullet" and go directly into the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, or St. Basil during Great Lent, or St. James on one or two occasions during the church year. I agreed because, as I said to my spiritual father, "All I need is a place to pray."

I have not been disappointed. Occasionally, I have felt pressure to learn or to adapt to various foreign languages. The only church that has not made me feel that pressure is the Russian church and one lone Antiochian church where the pastor stressed pan-Orthodoxy.

My biggest problem is to find a church I can get to on time in my car. Most of the Orthodox churches in my area are more than 12 miles from my house!

Ari said...

Just as a side note: Orthodoxy isn't 'anti-Woman', in fact it is one of the most positive Faiths for Women that has ever existed. Not only historically (where in the Byzantine Empire women were freed from what had basically been chattel/sex slavery in the pagan Roman Empire, to a position where they could actually be Empress, virgins by choice, own property, etc.

Orthodoxy is still like this today: amongst us Antiochians it is quite normal for women to have important places in parish life, to be educated (often medical doctors), something the Muslim women have far less opportunity for in the same societies. My wife definitely wouldn't have converted if Orthodoxy was 'anti-woman' (after all, she is a painter, and a professional in the field of Educational Psychology, and though morally conservative, much more liberal on fiscal matters than I am... hardly someone that someone that Feminists would call oppressed - actually, she considers herself a form of Feminist, with the Most Holy Theotokos as her model.)

The idea that Orthodoxy is 'homophobe' is a mischaracterization as well. (Nevermind that the term is useless ... 'homophobe' would be 'fear of the same', a term which would much better fit Americans in general as those who are restless and addicted to change and excitement.) Quite a number of my friends from ORU turned back from investigating Orthodoxy precisely because it *isn't* as moralistic as Protestantism, especially when it comes to homosexuality. Protestants give and expect more than an outright condemnation of destructive behaviors - being told 'homosexuality is a pastoral issue' was seen as a cop-out by many that I know. But, for that matter, it is an over-sensitivity as well as rank exaggeration to describe as 'homophobic' anyone who understands homosexual behavior (not temptation) as sinful and unideal.

Anonymous said...

Here's the 2005 Alexander Schmemann Memorial Lecture for us to read and ponder. It will tell you a lot about the situation Orthodoxy finds herself in at present and how we're coping.

Leetle M.

Michael said...

On the subject of homosexuality, I should imagin that although the teaching regarding the subject is the same, is there any difference between the jurisdictions toward the approach to homosexual Orthodox Christians? I'm just talking about trends that may be culturally-related rather than based on doctrine. Is there some degree of negativity in some circles?

Just curious.

Ari said...

Sure - it probably is something that waxes and wanes with political climate (such as the Evangelical converts in the States), or due to some cultural beliefs (such as the Arab 'machismo'.) But at the same time, I know a number of homosexuals in the Greek, OCA, and even the Antiochian churches who struggle much the same as people with other sins, but still remain Orthodox - just like those who have divorces, children out of wedlock, habitual fornication or affairs, pornography addictions, birth control, etc. - the only help they are going to find is the Church. And Excommunication isn't removing one from the Church itself, simply protecting people from the dangers of partaking of very powerful sacraments while in a state of unreadiness. I've only known two persons who felt compelled to leave the Church altogether when they 'came out of the closet' (for both, their discomfort was with the Antiochians, one leaving Orthodoxy over a comment an Arab Bishop made to him when refusing him ordination - so, how some can find the same church to be the place to work out one's salvation, and another find it impossible to bear and their 'sexuality' more precious - I have no clue as to why some could see it so differently.)

Michael said...


A bishop saying something that could cause a 180 degree turn from someone seeking ordination to leaving the Church altogether?!

It's good to know that this isn;t a blanket response.

Thanks, Aristibule.

Anonymous said...

In general, if someone's sexuality gives him or her any sort of "issue", the person should discuss that with his/her spiritual father, not with friends or with others who are not his spiritual father and therefore are not bound to preserve confidentiality (and who may not be qualified to be of help anyhow).

That's just my opinion, formed over more than two decades in the Church. The reason I offer this opinion is that to think of the sexual issues of others is not edifying in most cases, but the spiritual father should be able to deal with it constructively. For example, if a married couple choose to use birth control, unless it creates a spiritual issue for them, it's nobody's business but their own (and their spiritual father's if it becomes an issue).

Leetle M.

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