D. Oliver Herbel
EXAMINING EACH OF THE CONVERTS studied here demonstrates that American restorationism, itself an anti-traditional tradition, is being utilized as a means to turn to the Eastern Orthodox tradition. At first glance, this might have seemed counterintuitive, especially in light of the number of Protestant converts to Orthodoxy. How could a church that includes many of the sorts of things objectionable to Protestants (the use of incense, extensive chanting, crossing and bowing, prostrating, praying before icons, kissing icons, receiving blessings, use of relics, etc.) be seen as the primitive church that must be re-established in our midst? As noted in the introduction, Amy Slagle has already suggested the importance of the American context as an answer to this question, highlighting novelty creation and the acceptance of the language of the spiritual marketplace. Within this spiritual marketplace, theological arguments for tradition were given by many of her interviewees. What I hope to have done here is to have noted both how important the theological component is for many converts and the manner by which they are embarking upon their theological journeys. Throughout the twentieth century, restorationism led converts to view Orthodox Christianity as the truest expression of Christianity.
In order to reach that conclusion, of course, the converts first had to connect the primitive church to the Eastern Orthodox Churches. For these exemplary converts, Orthodoxy became viewed as the primitive church principally through two means: (1) relying upon and emphasizing the Eastern character of many early sources themselves and (2) assuming that the Church established in the New Testament era was not simply to be restored, but could still be found. The first point is best understood, however, not so much as a geographical category, but as a theological one. For the Eastern aspect should be understood, actually, as a heightened primitivism, of primitivism pressed to an extreme in order to emphasize a Christianity that is pre-Western Christianity as we know it.
This emphasis on Easternism as a theological category may be seen in each of the converts discussed above.452 Certainly, it is easy to see in Toth’s works. He constantly played the «Eastern» card against the (Western) Roman Catholic Church. For him, this was an easy card to play because he could appeal to his fellow Carpatho-Rusyns Eastern Orthodox heritage as well as point out the heavy-handedness of Western Catholicism. Morgan, too, emphasized Eastern Christianity. Admittedly, we have fewer sources to rely upon in his case, but he saw Western Christianity as caught up in a system that simply did not allow for African Americans to establish themselves truly as a part of historical Christianity. For Berry, it was early African monasticism and Christianity that was important, not the early monasticism of Benedict of Nursia. For Gillquist and the leaders of the Evangelical Orthodox Church (EOC), it was the Christianity of Justin Martyr (aka «the philosopher»), Ignatius of Antioch, and the Ecumenical Councils that were important. As with Toth, the leaders of the EOC also came to view the filioque as important. The prerogatives of the papacy were also important to the EOC, but seems to have been so precisely because they accepted a conciliar view from their reading of the Ecumenical Councils. In other words, when these converts looked «East,» they did so as part of their act of looking to the past, as part of their search for the early church to which they believed we ought to return.
This is where the second point becomes important as well for understanding the kind of restorationism these converts displayed. For these converts did not simply seek to recreate the early Church but also believed it could be found. Of course, the converts studied here did cover quite a range on this point. Toth appealed to the historical church of the Carpatho-Rusyns» ancestors and theologically, he prioritized the Byzantine Church of the first nine centuries, seeing the filioque as a significant breaking point. Because of this approach, which was shaped primarily through Old World concerns (especially the status of the unia and a thriving Russophilism amongst Slavic people at the time), Toth's approach would not require the effort of overcoming intermediate centuries as one finds in the other converts. For with Morgan, Berry, and Gillquist, there is a need to account for the move from an ancient Christianity to a contemporary expression. In Toth's case, that was not as necessary since the union agreements with Rome were not that far into the past and the Orthodox Church that had existed in the early seventeenth century amongst the Carpatho-Rusyns was the same Orthodox Church (ecclesiologically and doctrinally) that continued to exist in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Russia.
For Morgan, Berry, and Gillquist, however, there was most definitely a need to make the move from an ancient form of Christianity to the contemporary Orthodox Church. What is interesting is that this jump received little attention in their theological argumentation. Certainly, the fact that they tended to emphasize sources important to the Orthodox Churches themselves played a key role. Additionally, however, one can determine that concerns important to each of these converts were seen as addressed by Eastern Orthodoxy. Morgan sought to address racism as a fundamentally religious problem and initially did so by joining a restorationist movement, only to find an Orthodox Church open and welcoming to him, with a claim to be the (then) contemporary existence of the early church. Berry connected a desire for otherworldly Christianity and racial catholicity to the spirituality of African slaves and early African monasticism, which he was able to do because of what he found expressed in the liturgies and iconography of the Orthodox Church. Gillquist and the EOC were at the opposite end of what one could find in Toth, for Gillquist and the EOC leaders initially believed they could and did reestablish the New Testament Church through a «Charismatic Apostolic Succession.» Bold as that claim certainly was, they also saw the Orthodox Churches as continuations of the New Testament Church. The EOC might have claimed to be the pure form of Orthodoxy, the «Green Berets» of Orthodoxy,453 but they also believed they needed to be seen as a member of the Orthodox Churches. The Orthodox Churches, though not seen as such special forces of spirituality, had (according to the EOC) maintained a structured liturgical form of worship, a fidelity to the Seven Ecumenical Councils, an Ignatian ecclesiology, and the uninterpolated Nicene Creed and therefore were a continued existence of New Testament Church.
By connecting the primitive Church to the Orthodox Church, these converts engaged in a restorationism that became the road to entering a church that emphasizes a lived tradition. This shift was not an easy one, and in the cases of three of the four, led to varying levels of deconversion from the anti-traditional tradition of restorationism. Toth’s case did not require such a deconversion, as his conversion to Orthodoxy was as an Eastern Christian under Rome to the Orthodoxy of his ancestors, but each of the other three did enter a restorationist movement prior to becoming Orthodox. The transitions from their restorationist movements into Orthodoxy varied from nearly seamless (in the case of Morgan) to challenging (in the case of Berry) to contentious and difficult (in the case of the leaders of the EOC who had entered with Gillquist).
In fact, one way of examining the trajectory of the EOC is to view it as a clash of traditions. Restorationism is an anti-traditional tradition in America and the New Covenant Apostolic Church (NCAO) turned EOC was initially simply one more example of that. As such, it exhibited a strong belief in its own authority (allegedly divinely established directly by the Holy Spirit), a brazen confidence in its own mission (to bring real Orthodoxy to America), syncretistic liturgical creations, and an emphasis on a moral purity that would separate itself from the surrounding degenerate culture.
When this group encountered actual Orthodox Christians, including clergy, they encountered Christians who did not share the EOC's restorationist assessment of Orthodoxy's relationship to the New Testament Church. Orthodox Christians did not hold to a «spiritual» view of apostolic succession, but rather believed the spiritual apostolic succession resided within a succession that was historically verifiable. Orthodox Christians did not believe liturgies could be merely created from an idea in one's mind, nor that liturgical practices were to be a matter of attempting to recreate what seemed to be the exact practices of a past epoch. Orthodox Christians also already had established diocesan structures and a hierarchy. Orthodox Christians could also fall prey to the same moral struggles the EOC saw besetting American culture. In sum, Orthodox Christianity already had a history and already existed in a manner Orthodox theologians considered a «lived tradition.»
Because of this lived tradition, the Antiochian Archdiocese expressed a clear anti-syncretistic approach to liturgies and church discipline. The EOC was forced to de-convert from American restorationism as much as it had to convert to Orthodox Christianity. Orthodox challenged the EOC's Orthodox Study Bible and forced the EOC to accept both the hierarchical leadership of the Antiochian Archdiocese and the Antiochian liturgical practices. Although in the case of the Joseph Allen affair one might note that non-EOC-converts likewise objected to Metropolitan Philip's decision, the way in which the former EOC leaders handled the issue was consistent with their restorationist background. In this way, that event was consistent with the deconversion the EOC leaders had to undertake in other ways, with the Ben Lomond crisis perhaps exhibiting the struggle most fully.
These conversions of Gillquist and the EOC, as well as those of Morgan and Berry, suggest that when one discusses religious conversion, one needs to account for a conversion that is neither a shift from one major religious system to another on the one hand (such as going from Islam to Christianity) nor merely «denominational switching» on the other.454 Rather, one ought to consider these conversions as conversions to tradition, which are more significant than interdenominational hopping but not as drastic as changing religious systems all together. Certainly, in each case assessed here, the convert (and those converting with them or inspired by them later) converted from a restorationist view to the «lived tradition» of Orthodox Christianity. Even in Toth's case, there was a clear understanding (and apology for) a separate tradition, indeed, the tradition, from which all others, including Roman Catholicism, were heretically derived.455 In fact, the Orthodox understanding of Tradition/traditions is what enabled the converts studied here to make their turn to tradition in a manner that is more than mere denomination switching. To the extent they could find their questions answered in earlier Eastern Christian sources, they could identify with the essential «Tradition» and see that as existing within the «traditions» of their contemporary Orthodox Churches.
This use of American restorationism to enter into the Orthodox tradition may also help explain how someone like Peter Berger could conflate arguing for a Christianity that is neither Catholic nor Protestant with mere defensiveness. Once one realizes that exemplary converts have utilized American restorationism to argue for the theological and historical priority of the Orthodox Church, one can better understand such an emphasis of otherness not as merely defensive tactics, but as a platform from which to engage American pluralism and evangelize.
This was certainly the result of the efforts of Fr. Peter Gillquist. After becoming Orthodox, Gillquist actively shared his story with evangelicals. One family that was influenced by him was the Mathewes-Green family. Gary and Frederica Mathewes-Green had been lapsed Christians who renewed their faith and joined the Protestant Episcopal Church.456 The couple subsequently became disenchanted with the Protestant Episcopal Church's increasingly liberal decisions and soon looked to both the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. Gary soon began reading Orthodox materials and reached out to Gillquist, who helped guide the Mathewes-Green family into the Antiochian Archdiocese.457 As part of this process, Frederica Mathewes-Green «re-encountered a history lesson . . . For the first thousand years, the thread of Christian Unity was preserved worldwide through battering waves of heresies ... This unity was so consistent that I could attribute it to nothing but the Holy Spirit.»458 Following Gary Mathewes-Green’s ordination, Gillquist spoke to the local paper in which he made similar arguments, claiming that the Orthodox Church had not «negotiated» concerning doctrine and was the only church to remain unchanged: «Looking for a good non-denominational church? How about one that started before there were denominations?»459 Far from being merely defensive, utilizing American restorationism as a means of arguing for Orthodox Christianity has become the basis of engaging American pluralism. It did not affect only the former EOC members in their own conversions, but has become part of how they have continued to engage America. Frederica Mathewes-Green herself has become a prolific author of American Orthodoxy and has further extended this kind of engagement – prioritizing the early Church, which is seen as continued in the Orthodox Church, as a tradition in which one may find refuge from the denominational and moral chaos of much of American society.
In this way, Frederica Matthewes-Green's case is not all that different from the case of Frank Schaeffer, who likewise serves as a post-Gillquist example of one who has utilized restorationism to engage American pluralism, though Schaeffer was not directly dependent upon Gillquist or the EOC in his conversion. On December 16, 1990, Frank Schaeffer entered the Orthodox Church, by way of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North America. He had spent much time as a writer and film director wrestling with problems and concerns within the American culture and Western culture more broadly. Schaeffer came from a family tradition of reflecting upon cultural issues and Christianity's engagement with Western society. His own father, Francis Schaeffer, was one of the most influential evangelical authors in the world during the 1970s and 1980s and an opponent of theological modernism and an advocate of a more traditional Protestantism.460 Frank Schaeffer became convinced the Orthodox Church provided a corrective to the problems in Western culture.461 He came to this conclusion only after coming to see Protestantism itself as part of the problem in Western culture.462 As with the converts studied here, it was a turn to history that inspired Schaeffer to look to the Orthodox, which he recounted in his book Dancing Alone.463 According to Schaeffer, Protestants «live, as I did, before my conversion to Orthodoxy, from one day to the next, spiritually rooted in nothing beyond their own emotions and feelings and their own subjective denominational, or personal, interpretations of the Scriptures.»464 When he turned to history to solve his dilemma, he cited three historical factors: the eleventh-century schism between Western and Eastern Christianity, the «failed attempt» to reform the Western church, and the Enlightenment and Romantic movements.465 The latter two were seen as a direct result of the first:
At its heart the Great Schism is not an historical event but a continuing battle between Augustinianism and scholasticism, on the one hand, and the tradition of the historical Church, on the other. At stake is the most important religious question of all: the nature of the character of God. The difference of opinion, between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Western Roman Church came, I believe, to glaring fruition approximately five hundred years after the Schism of A.D. 1054. The date was A.D. 1517, and the "new Augustine,» Martin Luther, was about to complete what Augustine began.466
According to Schaeffer, the East-West divide within Christianity was not just a theological divide, but a theological-cultural divide, a division that sent the two churches down irreconcilable paths, a division that led to the problems and flaws he saw within Western society as a whole. In this scheme, the Reformation and its aftermath forever changed the direction Western society has gone, and it was a journey that had long since passed the «wrong way» sign. Like the other converts studied here, Schaeffer utilized an American restorationism to enter the Orthodox Church. Although Schaeffer did not formally enter or found a restorationist movement like Berry or Gillquist, he did prioritize a particular epoch in church history saw an East-West divide as part of that process, enabling him to see the continued Eastern Christian existence as a continuation of that prioritized historical church.
It would be a mistake, however, to think that this kind of engagement with American pluralism has occurred only recently, starting in the 1980s and 1990s. In addition to the cases of Toth and Morgan, one might call to mind Ingram Nathaniel Washington (Fr. Nathaniel) Irvine, who was much less successful in bringing in other converts but who nonetheless made an argument on behalf of the early church of the Seven Ecumenical Councils.467 Although we do not have enough source material to discuss their own conversions, it would also seem possible that George Royce McCollouch (Fr. Boris) Burden and Fr. Michael Gelsinger likewise utilized the American restorationist model to engage American pluralism in their efforts to acquire official governmental recognition for Orthodox Christianity (especially recognition from the Selective Service).468 In light of what has been shown in the exemplary converts investigated here, an inquiry into the extent by which Orthodox Christianity has utilized American restorationism to engage American pluralism is certainly appropriate.
What can be said for sure, is that American restorationism has been the path for many intra-Christian conversions into American Orthodoxy. Many converts, at least many intra-Christian converts, to Orthodox Christianity have joined the Orthodox Churches because they have prioritized an earlier expression of Christianity and have identified the Orthodox Churches as continuations of that earlier church. The precise, historical parameters of that earlier church could vary (from the first few centuries so important to the EOC converts to the later periods emphasized by Toth), but in their efforts to bypass Western Christian encrustations, Easternness functioned as a theological category rather than strictly geographical. This assisted the converts in finding their concerns addressed not only in the primitive past, but also in the continued Eastern Christian tradition, which they found faithfully expressed in Orthodox Christianity.
Through such a process, Christians in America have utilized the anti-traditional tradition of restorationism to turn to a more traditional form of Christianity. This use of restorationism has inspired Protestants to embrace things such as icons, incense, structured liturgical worship, and asking saints for their intercessions. Furthermore, the converts examined here are the exemplars. Thousands of others have followed them, making their stories an ecclesial, Eastern-focused subcategory of American restorationism. Far from establishing unAmerican fortresses, Orthodox jurisdictions and parishes have enabled and encouraged an American expression of religion. True, most American restorationists will continue to seek to reinvent, or reestablish, the New Testament Church, but some will use that primitive impulse to examine Patristic sources and conclude that the «restoration» of the New Testament church is best fulfilled in a church that already exists and lays claim to those very same sources – the Orthodox Church.
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In this way, they fit within the a larger trend amongst Ortho dox to polemicize against the West. On this, see (again) Brandon Gallaher, « «Waiting for the Barbarians»» as well as the forthcoming: George Demacopoulos and Aristotle Papanikoloau, Orthodox Constructions of the West (New York: Fordham University Press, 2013).
This term was apparently frequent in Ron Zell's experience. Zell had been the EOC’s deacon of music. See Chapter 4.
These are the only two possibilities from which to choose according to Lewis R. Rambo’s otherwise helpful assessment (see Understanding Religious Conversion, 13–14). Incidentally, allowing for a third category, one between changing whole religious systems and denominational switching, might also allow for a better way of categorizing many Protestant conversions to Roman Catholicism as well. Although clearly beyond the scope of this study, an emphasis on the early historical church and tradition have played roles in Protestant conversions to Roman Catholicism within America. For example, Scott Hahn highlights the importance of tradition in his journey, citing it as the difference between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. See «The Scott Hahn Conversion Story,» available at http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/apologetics/ap0088.html (accessed March 1, 2013). While acknowledging that one ought not to reduce conversions from Evangelicalism to Roman Catholicism down to one factor, Scot McKnight highlighted the importance of tradition, noting that in the1980s many evangelicals began looking to history and suggesting that the authority of tradition was important to many. See Scot McKnight, «From Wheaton to Rome: Why Evangelicals Become Roman Catholic,» Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 45:3 (2002), 459, 468.
This is an important point in light of John Erickson’s recent article highlighting the liberal aspects of Slavophilism. See John H. Erickson, «Slavophile Thought and Conceptions of Mission in the Russian North American Archdiocese, Late 19th-Early20th Century,» St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly 56:3 (2012),245–268. Erickson’s point is generally correct, and one may see how that approach could affect non-Orthodox in my article on Nicholas Bjerring. This makes Toth’s more exclusivist view of Russophilism all the more notable.
Specifically, Gary became an atheist and Frederica declared herself a Hindu. She had a conversion experience on their honeymoon, before a statue of Mary, while visiting a church in Dublin and he began rethinking atheism. For a summary of their journey and more concerning Frederica Matthewes-Green, see my dissertation, «Turning to Tradition: Intra-Christian Converts and the Making of an American Orthodox Church,» (doctoral dissertation, Saint Louis University, 2009), 213–223.
On January30,1993, the Mathewes-Green family and Mothers became Orthodox and core members of a newly founded mission parish. Mathewes-Green Christmas Letter, February1993. According to a letter from Frederica Mathewes-Green to Nancy Waggener, the Mathewes-Green family had made the decision by July 1992.
Mathewes-Green, «In the Passenger’s Seat,» in Our Hearts» True Home, 11–24, edited by Virginia Nieuwsma (Ben Lomond, CA: Conciliar Press, 1996), 18.
Frank P. Somerville, «Episcopal Priest takes a new path,» The Sun, February 1, 1993.
Francis Schaeffer's most monumental work may have been his A Christian Manifesto. See Francis Schaeffer, A Christian Manifesto, revised edition (Westchester, IL: Crossway, 1982). Francis Schaeffer’s main purpose in this work was to offer a conservative, Protestant critique of Western culture, claiming that Western culture had become increasingly pluralistic and further removed from its Christian roots. The publisher sold over 350,000 copies. See Gary North, «The Escalating Confrontation with Bureaucracy» in Tactics of Christian Resistance,141–190, edited by Gary North (Tyler, TX: Geneva Divinity School Press, 1983), 162.
By reaching this conclusion, the younger Schaeffer did something the older Schaeffer had been criticized for omitting – offering a solution to the problems critiqued. Gary North claimed that Francis Schaeffer «offers Christians little or no hope in their ability to do anything substantial to reverse the drift of humanism over the falls…. The fact remains that Dr Schaeffer's manifesto offers no prescriptions for a Christian society. We mention that merely in the interests of clarity, for we are not sure that anybody has noticed it up to now.» See North, 164,173.
See Frank Schaeffer, Addicted to Mediocrity: Contemporary Christians and the Arts (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books,1981) and its follow-up (written as he was preparing to enter the Orthodox Church) Sham Pearls for Real Swine: Beyond the Cultural Dark Age – A Quest for Renaissance (Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth and Hyatt, 1990).
Frank Schaeffer, Dancing Alone: The Quest for Orthodox Faith in the Age of False Religion (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1994). In addition to writing this book, he established a paper entitled Christian Activist, in which he wrote and published articles committed to sharing his view of Orthodox Christianity as an answer to Western problems.
Ibid., 9. This individual subjectivism might be what was referenced in the title of the book. The title was ambiguous and led one Orthodox reviewer to find it highly odd that a convert to a church that emphasizes community would choose such a title. See Vigen Guroian, «Dancing Alone – Out of Step with Orthodoxy,» Christian Century 112:19 (1995), 608–610.
For a summary of Irvine, one may see my chapter in my dissertation, «Turning to Tradition: Intra-Christian Converts and the Making of an American Orthodox Church,» 162–196. Irvine had a propensity for sticking to his dogmatic guns in a legalistic manner, which led to confrontations with two different Protestant Episcopal bishops before becoming Orthodox. Unfortunately, he was also financially untrustworthy and unstable and caused headaches for the Russian Mission, the full extent of which I have learned only since writing the dissertation. It was largely for this reason that his efforts to establish an English-language parish were slowed. He was able to help found Holy Transfiguration, an English language parish shortly before his death, and several converts did later join the Orthodox Church through this chapel.
Very little has been written on any of this. Again, the reader is forwarded to my article, «A Lesson to be Learned: Fr. Boris Burdens Failed Attempts to Foster Orthodox Jurisdictional Unity in America,» St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly 56:3 (2012), 317–334.