Why eclectic Orthodoxy? Simply because I find it is impossible for me to be anything but an eclectic Christian believer. This may be a tragic flaw in my character. All I know is that I have been on a spiritual journey–from Anglicanism to Catholicism and finally to Eastern Orthodoxy. Yet not just any form of Eastern Orthodoxy but Western Rite Orthodoxy. Four years ago I thought I was on a purely Eastern trajectory, a trajectory that would probably require me to abandon my priesthood of thirty years, given the absence of either an OCA or Antiochian congregation here in Roanoke, Virginia; but at the last moment a door surprisingly opened. At the time I thought God had opened that door. Now I am not so sure. Life too often does not work out like we hope. Who says God does not have a sense of humor. I wonder how often Moses in the wilderness asked himself, “Is God actually leading me or am I just lost?”
Perhaps one day I will share my journey at a deeper, more personal level. It is a journey filled with blunders, sins, wounds, regrets, tragedy, profound suffering, and spiritual darkness. I cannot say that I have gained any special wisdom. I certainly have not acquired greater knowledge. I used to read theology ravenously. I had even reached a point where I thought I was fairly fluent in the language of faith. For a few years I wrote a now defunct blog, Pontifications. Through the culpable negligence of those who hosted it, the original Pontifications has been lost; but some of the constructive pieces that I wrote for it have been archived at a resurrected Pontifications. But God has broken me. The Pontificator is dead. Much of what I thought I once knew has been, quite literally, stripped from me. Five years ago I became incapable of reading theology of any sort. When I tried to read a theological article or book, the words did not make sense. I almost lost my faith. Six months ago this began to change. Suddenly I had a desire to read theology again. It was as if a cloud slowly lifted from my mind and I could finally make sense, at least a bit, of the theological reflections and arguments of others. My brain has not returned to its previous level of functioning, but I am finally enjoying theology again.
Why have I begun this blog? To share with others my theological ruminations on the Eastern Orthodox faith. I have learned one thing since becoming Orthodox: Orthodoxy is theologically more diverse than most Orthodox want to admit. The boundaries established by the Ecumenical Councils are clear and well-defined, but when it comes to other theological issues and questions, Orthodox theologians often disagree, sometimes quite contentiously. I quickly learned that when an Orthodox Christian prefaces his remarks with “The Fathers teach …” what you will probably end up hearing is not what the Fathers really did teach or what the Holy Orthodox Church authoritatively and irreformably teaches but rather one person’s very fallible, and occasionally ignorant, opinion, cloaked in the rhetoric of infallible dogma. “The Fathers teach” is the Orthodox equivalent to the evangelical pronouncement “The Bible teaches” and the Catholic pronouncement “The Church teaches.” These appeals to authority in order to preemptively close debate can be quite frustrating. The Catholic Church has the Pope to resolve doctrinal controversies, though anyone acquainted with Catholic theology knows that Catholic theologians have no compunction about disagreeing with the Pope on just about anything and everything. But who authoritatively speaks for the Orthodox Church? Like any other Orthodox priest, I have my favorite Eastern theologians—Alexander Schmemann, John Zizioulas, John Meyendorff, Hilarion Alfeyev, Kallistos Ware, John Breck, John Behr, Paul Evdokimov—but I have been bluntly told by more than one Orthodox priest that they are unreliable, progressive, heterodox, modernist, ecumenical. Oh my.
One thing for sure. I do not speak for the Orthodox Church. Hence the title of my blog, “Eclectic Orthodoxy.” Not only has my comprehension of the Orthodox faith been strongly influenced by Eastern theologians regarded as suspect by traditional Orthodox, but it continues to be influenced by the Western theologians who decisively formed my theological understanding of the catholic faith over the past thirty-five years—Thomas F. Torrance, Robert W. Jenson, E. L. Mascall, Robert Wilberforce, Martin Luther, Karl Barth, Joseph Ratzinger, Stanley Hauerwas, George Lindbeck, Herbert McCabe, and perhaps most importantly of all, C. S. Lewis.
So I have decided to begin reading the Church Fathers, beginning with St Gregory the Theologian. Why St Gregory? Because if he ain’t Orthodox, nobody is. In the Orthodox Church he is regarded as one of the Three Holy Hierarchs, along with St Basil the Great and St John Chrysostom. He has also been given the privileged title “Theologian,” a title that he shares only with the Apostle John and St Symeon. In the Latin Church St Gregory is acknowledged as one of the four Great Doctors of the Eastern Church. His writings decisively and formatively shaped the Church’s teachings on the doctrine of the Trinity, the divinity of the Holy Spirit, the hypostatic unity of the person of Christ, and theosis. Who better to learn the Orthodox faith from than St Gregory the Theologian?
There is one other reason I have decided to begin blogging again—for the sake of my sanity. On June 15th my second son Aaron died by suicide. His death has shattered my life and the lives of my wife and children. On June 22nd I preached his funeral homily and prayed the committal over his casket. Aaron’s death has changed and traumatized me at the core of my being, in ways that I have not yet begun to fathom. On most days I am overwhelmed by sorrow and grief. Curiously, only two things seem to provide some measure of respite—walking my dog, Tiriel, and theological reading. And so I continue to read St Gregory, for my sake and for the sake of my beloved son, Aaron Edward Kimel. Memory eternal.
And so for what it is worth, I will begin sharing with you my ruminations on the Church Fathers and other theologians. I can only offer my fallible, provisional opinions. I am neither a patristic scholar nor systematic theologian. I welcome discussion, analysis, criticism, scholarly documentation. I only ask one thing from you—civility. I have no interest in violently rehashing the polemical debates of past and present. If apologetics is your burning interest, then there are many internet forums and blogs you can visit. And I certainly have no desire to defend my orthodoxy against self-appointed guardians of doctrinal purity who deem me a heretic. My primary purpose here is to understand and learn from the men and women whose writings I will be discussing on this blog. Perhaps you would like to join in this conversation.