(Warning: The following is quite long and, most likely, will be somewhat incoherent at times. Forgive me.)
Tonight, an unexpected Vespers service--unexpected for me, that is, as my wife and child both felt like staying in on what would have been "her night" to attend services--and what would amount to the longest (and best) theological discussion I'd had in months following said service.
Being the "Church geek" that I am--insert comment about being "Geek Orthodox" here--it is difficult to describe the sheer joy it brings me when I am with those of like mind and temperment (in this case, a seminarian; a well-read and newly-converted--as in, still literally oily behind the ears--young man; and our thoughtful, gracious parish priest) and can spend two hours going over everything from biblical text comparison to the identity of "the Jews" in light of the Church to intertestamental liturgical continuity to incarnational anthropology/ecclesiology to convert baggage (both conservative and liberal, both Protestant and Catholic). We could have easily gone 'till two in the morning; the enthusiasm was wonderful.
Regarding the last two topics--the effects of the Incarnation on our beliefs of man and the Church, and the nature of different types of converts...
The "still-oily brother" asked me, the only other former-Protestant in the group, whether or not I thought we converts from Evangelicalism had "so much more" to get over to come into Orthodoxy. I mentioned that we more than likely had no more and no less to get over upon coming to the Church; our baggage, though a matching set, is not so much greater is it is simply different from that of a convert from Roman Catholicism or paganism or secularism or whatever. I mentioned that many books written by converts are geared towards the Evangelical and, thus, have little if anything to say to the inquiring Roman Catholic. A dear friend whose sponsor I was honored to be came in from Catholicism and, mentioning this book in particular, first voiced this sentiment to me and said that books written by former Catholics for Catholic inquirers could "get in the kitchen" of those inquirers in a way that Carlton, Schaeffer, and Gallatin perhaps never could.
That being said, what did seem particular to us Evangelicals was the complete upheaval of our approach to all things Christian when the Incarnation was allowed to fully blossom, all of its implications pervading every aspect of how we saw ourselves as human beings, and how the Church connected us to Christ. Events in the life of Christ which, as far as we could tell, had no practical application to us here and now--as opposed to the "sweet by and by"--were brought dizzyingly to vibrant, tangible, tasty life, the Eternal Now of the Banquet Feast of the Lamb made present for us in the Assembly of the New Jerusalem, the entire Advent of Christ made for the believer "everywhere present and filling all things," with His flesh--which is the flesh of His mother, which is ultimately our shared flesh--being taken from the Theotokos and brought into the world through Nativity; washed and joined with the world and cosmos in the murky waters of the Jordan; emblazoned with piercing, uncreated glory on Mount Tabor; split, torn, impaled and suffocated on a Roman cross; raised in immortal glory in the Resurrection on the third day and seated--this is my favorite part!--seated at the right Hand of God the Father Himself at the Ascension...and our real, physical participation in baptism, chrismation, Eucharist, confession, prayer, fasting, et al, allows the Flesh that is, forever and now, seated at the right hand of Power to join with our feeble bodies, the Blood that is laid before the Almighty to flow--actually and physically flow!--through our fragile veins...such a flesh-to-flesh, blood-to-blood encounter is well beyond the scope of the camps from whence we came, yet familiar territory to those who walked with the Twelve...
Also discussed were the fears that some--namely, theological conservatives who, at least in part, were fleeing from confessions more liberal than they instead of entirely to a Church that transcends and rejects all these labels categorically--bring to their conversion processes and, in the midst of said process, latch on to a seemingly conservative stance on an issue and posit it as the Orthodox stance, usually doing so through a knee-jerk reaction in order to avoid at all costs even the appearance of the chaos and controversies in their former confessions. Father stated that, really, said converts can and must learn to relax, for it's a reality that the chaos arose from the simple fact that those places from whence they came were not the Church and, having now come to the Church, where Truth reigns as a Person, dialogue and inquiry need not be feared, and walls need not be built up prematurely (or, ideally, at all).
Piggybacking on this premise, the "hot topic" of women's ordination to the priesthood--coupled as it always is with the issue of the condoning and/or ordination of practicing homosexuals--was brought forth. Father pointed out that, in many mainline denominations, straight women and gays are often dealt with as one issue largely because they are both classified (tragically) by these confessions as historically oppressed political minorities. Recognized though women and gays may have been by our contemporary secular societies, the confessions which nonetheless allow themselves to use said recognition as their touchstone of "relevance" and interaction with the world inevitably must include the latter in their candidates for the priesthood if they are to be consistent after having included the former. On the other end of the spectrum, conservative Evangelicals are bound (and happily and, to a degree, admirably so) by the New-Testament era prohibition against both women ministers and practicing gay...well...anythings...so their consistency is easy to maintain, if a bit blind to cultural norms throughout the ages...
...and it is this phrase--cultural norms--which terrifies those converts coming from groups such as the Methodists, the ELCA, PCUSA, ECUSA et al, which gratefully has no effect whatsoever on the Orthodox Church...or, at least, it shouldn't, so long as we keep to our incarnational moorings... For, after all, reason these reactionary, conservative converts, if we allow for "changing cultural norms" to be our benchmark for allowing women to be priests, what is to stop us from citing those same norms for changing the Church's stance towards practicing, unrepentant homosexuals? Two things surface as an answer.
Firstly: "Changing cultural norms" is not a "benchmark" for any decision we would make. The Church's understanding of christology and what it means to the human race has undergone an astounding process of development that spans several hundred years and, while preserving the core intact, has expanded and articulated it in a way that has shown all the facets of its glory that its primitive, seed version did not reveal. While I am not going to advocate for women's ordination--and I think it incredibly unlikely that this debate will happen among the bishops of this Church within my lifetime--if said ordination were to be allowed, it would only be because the Church was now ready to apply St. Paul's "neither male nor female" clause to the priesthood, and not only to the believer's admission to and participation in the Body of Christ. It would not be because the surrounding culture demanded that we be "fair," "equal," or "same."
Secondly: Were the above to happen, the door to acceptance of the practicing homosexual lifestyle--much less ordination--would still be closed, for the touchstone of the Church regarding the identity of humankind--male and female included--is not the world's culture of minority oppression and victimhood, but Christ, the theanthropos, or God-Man. God's incarnation in Christ results in a human nature shared by men and women, so there is nothing sinful or fallen merely in being female. This revealed nature of humanity, however--male and female, created to be fruitful and multiply--precludes the pseudo-union of those in homosexual relationships: the issue of gender has been assumed and healed by Christ; the issue of sexual orientation remains a cross in this fallen world. As a conclusion, we all reasoned that the christic anthropology of gender inclusion in the Kingdom of God did not necessarily, in and of itself, pave the way for equal access to ordination. We took comfort, however, in the fact that, as with our Eternal Rest seated at the right hand of Glory, the secure foundation of our lives was the Mystery of the divine made visible--the Church made real in flesh and spirit through Her Bridegroom made manifest in Creation--holding, protecting, nourishing and raising us to perfection in all things through He who Was and Is incarnate for our sakes.