On Sailing to Byzantium


And therefore I have sailed the seas and come

To the holy city of Byzantium. – WB Yeats, Sailing to Byzantium


I have been interacting a good deal over the last eighteen months or so with Eastern Orthodoxy in general and with the Church Fathers in particular. As a Protestant why would I do this? Well, aside from insatiable curiosity, I have been driven to this by need. I feel no need to convert to Orthodoxy (in spite of some nudges from some of my Orthodox interlocutors), because in general after seeing how conversions from one Christian tradition to the other plays out in family and relationships I am not convinced it is always advisable or necessary, and I am quite happy as a member at the Presbyterian church I attend with my family. However, I can no longer concede to Protestantism as the be-all and end-all in Christianity, and among its many strengths there are also deep weaknesses. While many point to the fractious nature of Protestantism as its primary problem (which I agree it is), the more personal issue is that Protestant traditions, in general lack a practical spiritual theology that helps the average Christian connect deeply into the Divine life that all Christians are meant to experience in Christ.

This is where I have found my interactions with Orthodoxy to be of inestimable value, as it has spurred me on to a more contemplative, mystical, and existentially rewarding spiritual life in the midst of the chaotic unfolding of everyday life. So, for my Protestant who might be curious as to why they see so much Orthodoxy here, it is simply because I am seeking a more constructive Protestantism that isn’t isolated from the great traditions of the faith. It’s also important to note that recent decades have seen an incredible amount of cross-pollenization between Orthodoxy and Protestantism, as exemplified in the Reformed theologian TF Torrance’s ecumenical activities with the East. And as the esteemed Anglican theologian John Milbank notes – the broad trend in Western Christianity (Catholic and Protestant) is a move East. I’m of the opinion that if there is to be a reconciliation between the major branches of the Church, it will be shaped largely by the East, where there are lines of tremendous continuity for both Catholics and Protestants. For those interested, here’s Milbank’s lecture on the Eastward movement of Western theology:

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