OC.net – A Brief “Tale” About the Largest English Orthodox Christian Forum

Dominika Kovačević – Global Moderator (OC.net) – 11/01/2021

Global: OrthodoxChristianity.net, known also as OC.net, is the biggest and best known English Orthodox forum. Its history started in May 2002, under the name Byzantines.org, thanks to three persons: Anastasios, Robert and Philip. The first two were not Orthodox that time, but interested in Orthodoxy. The necessity of establishing an English Orthodox forum was obvious that time, as, despite growing popularity and importance of the Internet, there was no such forum.

In the same year, in October, the forum was moved to another server, and it changed its name for the current one in order to express better Orthodox orientation. The earlier one may have suggested also Greek Catholics and was not including Oriental Orthodox. And it has to be underlined that from the beginning of the forum the idea of the Pan-Orthodox unity was an essential one. That is why the forum is such place in which Eastern and Oriental Orthodox mutually recognises each other as fully Orthodox and polemics against each other are not allowed beside special private sections.

The forum staff consists of the administrator, two global moderators and a few sections moderators. The moderators are Orthodox, both Eastern and Oriental and come from various jurisdictions, rites, languages and countries (despite the American roots of the forum).

Among both the moderation staff and the forum members, there are some priests, theologians and laity.

With time the number of forum members has increased – over the years almost 10 000 have been registered. Not all of them are Orthodox, but some of them got knowledge about Orthodox from the forum discussions and embraced Orthodoxy. The forum members are literally from over the world. The English language is the main language of the forum, however, there are a few special sections for discussions in other languages, e.g. Spanish, Greek, Romanian, etc.

Foreign Language Forums is one of the four main parts of the OC.net. The rest are General Forums, Moderated Forums, Private Forums. Each of them has its subsections and its own specific rules that should be respected by the participants of the discussions and their behaviour is over-watched by the moderation staff.

General Forums is dedicated to non-polemical postings, such as Christian news from the world, prayers, general reviews of music, videos, etc.

Moderated Forums – especially Free-For-All section – allows some polemics, but always with respect toward others, as it is not a usual forum, but Christian one. Moderated Forums, among others, has two very unique sections: Oriental Orthodox Discussion and Convert Issues. The first one is likely the unique one that all Oriental Orthodox have one common place for discussions, not divided into specific e.g. Coptic or Armenian topics. In addition, Eastern Orthodox participate in discussions in this place without any polemics. Convert Issue is a place that inquires, catechumens and people recently received into the Church may share their questions, doubts, experience, etc. Despite the fact that currently there are at least a few English Orthodox websites and pages in social media dedicated for such issues, still, the one from oc.net is extremely special, as it has been the first one or one of the first ones, plus still, it is a space that newcomers can “meet” Orthodox clergy and laity from various traditions and experience Orthodoxy in a broad perspective.

Private Forums allow more polemics, but, still, some borders cannot be passed, and the moderators take an eye even there too. Private Forums are not visible for unregistered members and even not all registered members have access there for safety and comfort reasons. Often people discuss their more private issues. Moreover, only in this part the political discussions and pictures are allowed. This part is probably specific for English fora, as in the Slavic Orthodox ones, like Polish or Serbian, politics are usual topics. But due to such an approach, the forumers may concentrate more on the main character of the forum, i.e. Orthodox Christian one.

The advantages of the forum are at least a few. The most fundamental one is a modern way of Orthodox mission to the world. Due to the forum, people from non-Orthodox countries may know more about Orthodoxy and meet Orthodox Christians. It is a large database of the information from such areas as theology, history of the Church and not only, linguistics, liturgics, Orthodox chanting, local traditions, etc. Also, Orthodox from one country may see and know more his/her brothers and sisters from thousands of kilometres of distance. For example, I, being Polish/Serbian Orthodox, met – and some even in reality – Orthodox Indians, Swedes, Brazilians, Indonesians, Fins and many, many others. So, without a doubt, the OC.net breaks the stereotypes about Orthodoxy as remain a religion of just a few nations. Plus, as it has been mentioned above, OC.net is a witness of the common faith and heritage shared by Eastern and Oriental Orthodox – we are two branches of the same tree.

However, some challenges and negative aspects have been encountered too. Foremost, it is a temptation of pride. Some “forumers” may think they know more than each other about the Church, spiritual life, etc. from others or even from their own priests. The second thing is some members may spend more time on writing about Orthodoxy and their Orthodox life in the forum instead of spending time on prayers and actual leading an Orthodox life. The third issue is some delicate topics and situations, e.g. some “forumers” come from countries that Christianity is persecuted, some of them are chased by stalkers, etc. The fourth thing is that public fora, especially religious ones, attract people with some mental problems, as at least in such place they may be heard and listened to. We do not ban such people, but always try to give them some space and prayer and at the same time moderate them in such ways to not disturb by their posting other “forumers” and the forum lurkers. The fifth thing is proper descriptions of the forum rules, warning system and practising those. Over the years the system has been changing slightly, but e.g. from the beginning, some rules of posting have been adopted, e.g. prohibition of calling Eastern Catholics “Uniates”, Oriental Orthodox as not-Orthodox, lack of respect in the titles for the hierarchs.

The biggest current challenge is the one shared by also other fora: more and more people are active on Facebook and other social media pages and applications, plus now we have come back to an era of pictograms (emoticons) and images instead of longer parts of the text. Anyway, the forum is still active and still has opened new threads and developing old ones and even we have new registered members. The OC.net is, however, necessary, as not everybody, even from young generations, like the idea of short, picky discussions and only-picture-way-of-communication.

So, in 2020, after a long time of preparations, the OC.net was transferred to the new server and also got a new layout and new functions, among them the mobile version that nowadays is something crucial.

The forum over the years has got its own flavour and even sense of humour. It has got on top its own traditions, e.g. like the forum shut-downs for Clean Monday and time from Great Friday until Pascha. It has been fulfilling the idea of the modern Orthodox mission. I think the plan is just to keep this course, just always in a better and better way, as in Orthodoxy we are conservative about the main construction, but on the same time, we are very into progress. Because, if there is no progress in the spiritual life, there is in fact a regress. So, the new server and layout have been first steps in this area. We think about making some space for more professional theological articles, as it could be something beneficial.