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“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll

I think the word “orthodox” might be in trouble. Let’s try and save it from losing its meaning.

I am seeing a lot of people calling themselves “orthodox” Christians and using the term to put down others as “unorthodox”, “heterodox”. But actually I don’t think these particular people should be allowed to use the term “orthodox” – as they are changing its meaning (and hence emptying its meaning IMO). They are perfectly welcome and free to start a new movement, start a number of new movements, but these particular people are not orthodox – there is a perfectly good word for them: they are homodox.

Orthodox, first of all, means “right worship” (ortho – right; dox – like doxology – worship). If you call yourself orthodox, at the very least it should mean that most Christians for the first 1500 years or so of Christian history should be able to walk into your worship and pretty much feel at home. Augustine, Teresa, Ambrose, Luther, Francis, Hildegard, Basil, Julian, Justin, etc. should be able to walk into your worship and recognise you are following a lectionary inherited from the Synagogue, have the basic shape of worship inherited from the earliest church, a Eucharistic Prayer, and responses that go back to the Last Supper and beyond, to a thousand years or so earlier…

Orthodox, would also mean, right beliefs. At the very least that would surely be affirming the important doctrines and disciplines of the seven ecumenical councils of the united church of the first thousand years or so. Should that not include the church’s structure that along with its liturgy and scriptures evolved fairly quickly in the earliest period of the church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. (Some might call themselves “orthodox” but could probably not name the councils, let alone state anything they teach, or justify why they reduce them to, for example, four, or claim to hold to them but would balk at, for example, calling Mary “Theotokos”)

Homodox means “having the same opinion”. Many people who are misusing, abusing the term “orthodox” are in fact not orthodox at all, they are homodox (let me preempt the comment now: it does not mean worshipping gays 🙂 ) They want everyone to think exactly like them (yes, often particularly about gays). Orthodox can cope with diversity, do not need everyone to agree about everything, celebrate diversity, honour difference: In necessariis unitas, in non-necessariis libertas, in utrisque caritas. (In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.)

So next time you see someone putting down others, and calling themselves “orthodox”, pause, check whether they really are orthodox or whether that word is being abused and emptied of its meaning. And then, if they pause momentarily from their tirade, and you have even an inkling they might be prepared to listen to someone else, take a deep breath and very politely tell them they aren’t orthodox but homodox. Of course if they listen to you, and are prepared to change their mind,… maybe they aren’t.

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