Recently, and every once in a while, I come across fervent claims and arguments that Orthodox Christians are not allowed to attend religious services of or even pray with non-Orthodox Christians.
This is impossible. Not only is it unnecessarily exclusionary to fellow believers in Christ, but it cannot be true:
Witness the fellowship between the Pope and Patriarch. They are attending each other’s services and praying with each other. If they can do it without being excommunicated, so can I.
Not only that, but many of us Orthodox Christians–some through the blessing of our priest, some because we converted after marriage–are married to non-Orthodox Christians.
Am I no longer allowed to even say grace with my husband, son, mother, father, in-laws?
I am the only Orthodox one in my family, and have prayed with them all my life. Am I to suddenly stop, even though their Protestant faith is how I came into the Christian faith to begin with?
On Christmas Eve, I went to my husband’s church. Sometimes, he comes to mine, such as for Easter (Pascha). Is this not allowed?
I did not participate in the liturgical confession/absolution, of course, because I can understand that being forbidden.
But why not the Apostle’s Creed, which has absolutely no heresy in it? Why not our shared Lord’s Prayer? Why not the prayers and the carols?
Every time I see such arguments or discussions on the Web–which I don’t see at my own parish or from my own priest, by the way–I remember the behavior of our ex-friends, Richard and Tracy:
Whenever we shared a meal together (which was every day when they lived in our house), my husband and I would have grace as normal. I forget who said it back then, if it was me, my husband, or my son, or if we took turns.
But rather than join in, Richard would have his family wait and not bow their heads or close their eyes. Then he would lead them in his own prayer.
I found this extremely insulting. As if our prayer was not good enough. Heck, I was an Orthodox catechumen when they lived with us, and officially converted a year later, yet they still did not pray with my family when I led it!
So I am very much against the idea that we should not pray with our non-Orthodox brethren, because I know what this exclusion feels like.
We all believe in the same God and the same Christ, even though we do not agree on matters of doctrine, sacraments or practice. And in a pluralistic Church, with so many denominations throughout the world, it is unrealistic to expect everyone to agree with us Orthodox.
I will not share the Eucharist with others. I can understand that prohibition.
But prayer and worship? Or attending weddings and baptisms for friends/family members?
Or, if I were still in college, joining a pan-Christian fellowship organization? Or joining a pan-Christian fellowship organization for adults?
Why ever not? We are stronger together than divided.