Sunday morning exploded with the colors of late summer, the air crisp and cool whispered intentions of a day meant for parks, gazing at clouds, and just relaxing.
We rose early, had a quick spot of coffee, soaked in the morning sun and headed out, the day filled with promise. The countryside, and city streets flashed by our windows as we quietly made our way across town.
As we pulled into the parking lot, others who had made the same journey could be seen, smiles on their faces, greeting friends, all making their way to the heart of our morning.
The building reminded me of the schools of my youth, cool cement steps, brickwork laid by skilled hands, a large entrance with rows of warm wooden doors. Buildings like this are rare in the modern world of concrete and steel, but my heart sang at the shadows mixed with brick, mortar, cement and timelessness. At one point I was a six year old boy walking up the steps of my local school, the day rich with promise.
At the doors we were warmly greeted, we quietly made our way inside, once in the nave, sunlight beamed and danced on the water of the baptistry. We each dipped a finger, and crossed ourselves, as we were taught, a reminder of the water that brought us here.
The inner chapel greeted us with a warm glow, one that only wood can give, it called to us, come, deeper, deeper…
The room was filled with people, from the front to the rear, we found a little spot in the back, and turning to bow to the altar sat and waited. The silence of a room filled with people is deafening, a reverent hush was in the air.
As the priest ascended the Altar we stood as one body.
The mass had begun.
Each piece of the liturgy sang from our hearts, the words coming without effort. The liturgy of the word seemed to flow by like a fast moving river, sweeping us along, until finally we had reached our reason for being here, the liturgy of the Eucharist had begun. The words were familiar, they spoke of devotion, love, sacrifice, and mercy. The priest intoned the sacraments, the bells rang, and we knew the time had come, everything rested on our next decision and steps.
As I approached the Eucharist, I bowed and crossed myself in respect, and then I was there. “The Body Of Christ” was stated, and I replied “Amen”, taking the wafer and as I was taught, consuming, and then crossing myself. Two more steps, “The Blood Of Christ”, “Amen” and I drank. After almost a year, filled with pain, doubt, anger, and uncertainty, it all faded. I received a gift timeless, immemorial, my heart sang, and my soul was satisfied. I crossed myself and made my way back to the little pew.
And just like that, the Deacon made the call, the Mass had ended, it all seemed so quick, yet so reverent.
As we made our way our out, we realized that we had come home. That here we could heal, we could receive a precious gift, and give ourselves time to find ourselves again.
A warm summer morning greeted on the way out of the nave, and we knew that this day would be different.
This day we had come back home, and we could now move on with our lives, and the day full of possibilities embraced us…
I’m never satisfied, I’ve resisted any attempt to bring my life under authority. It’s been a constant churn for many years, more than I can even really remember…
But I never knew why, I could never find the source of my unrest, that is until I gave in and spent some time with a therapist. In the past I’ve been dismissive of the benefits of talking to a therapist, and maybe that was because everyone I talked to never seemed to be much more than someone with a college education making guesses about my life, but never understanding me.
But all that changed when I met Dr. Steven, he never analyzed me, he never tried to figure out what made me tick, instead he helped me figure that out for myself. When you finally tear apart the dark parts of your life, you learn that so many things that seemed to never matter, actually have a tremendous impact on how you see the world. In fact once we started laying out what was driving my unrest, my distrust of authority, and my constant searching for authenticity, I was finally able to start dealing with those issues head on.
I’ve been struggling to figure out what to do with my faith, all I could find was churches run by men who could not even be honest about the weakness of their positions, holding close to their morality as if it would save the masses from themselves. The higher their position, the more it became a burr under my skin, I abhor dishonesty in the priesthood, and I’ve found it to be a kind of universal fault of men.
What I have finally realized is that my bar was being raised to unrealistic levels, because of my past, where trust in those above me was abused. In many cases those I trusted most, hurt me the most. Some where intentional and others were never meant to cause emotional scars, but they did regardless. And it unknowingly pushed me to become hypercritical, skeptical, and untrusting…
Quite frankly it sucks, it’s not a good way to live your life…
Throw on top of that two years of losing our home, going through severe financial hardships, losing my best friend in the worst of possible ways, and you have the recipe for a free fall into utter despair…
I’ve dealt with it through alcohol, anger, frustration, depression and trying to isolate my life from emotion.
And none of it has worked, I walked away from my faith, but it never fully left me…
My heart is starting to come back to me, and through many long discussions with Michelle we have finally realized that we need to practice our faith or our lives feel hopelessly empty. But there’s a twist that I hesitate to share…
In our conversations the one constant we have found, is a desire to go back to the Catholic church. It’s not that we don’t love Orthodoxy, it’s that the Ascetic nature of the Orthodox life gets overwhelming. I’ve long wanted to see the two churches come back into communion, and I find incredible beauty in each, I’ve not been timid about my opinions in that area. But this week we had some time to kill and stopped by a little Catholic store, I picked up a little wooden cross and a picture of Pope Francis who I admire greatly. Michelle got a little card on her saint (Michael the Archangel), and a St Joseph cheaters guide to the mass.
It was unexpected, and it felt like coming home.
Now we are facing a horrible decision. It was a little over a year ago that we became Orthodox, and now our desire is to go back into the arms of the Catholic church where we understand the lifestyle, and structure. There are still issues to deal with, but I’ve come to understand that to settle in, I have to come to grips with some tension over belief. I actually can find fault in either faith if I look hard enough, which isn’t going to help my soul heal from this long journey. My biggest regret is that I don’t want to hurt anyones feelings, I’m still just as much in love with both churches as I was when I joined.
But when we finally started being honest with each other, the Catholic church never fully left us, and it’s a faith lifestyle we understand and have an easier time living with.
I never renounced my Catholic faith, and I have no intention of doing the same with the Orthodox church, I will be always be a man who is part of two worlds…
Life would be so much easier if God had put in a book of questions, with all the answers to the pressing problems that plague us daily…
But alas, no such book exists, so we the finite, try to make sense of the infinite. And that’s when things start to go awry, the minute a finite being gets his sticky little fingers on anything relating to the infinite, it’s bound to get screwed up.
I’ve been wrestling with my faith since Weston’s passing, it was the proverbial straw on the camels back. It also showed me just how brutal life can be. I knew, but it had been a while since it hit so close to home. So maybe I was due for a reminder, but as I stepped back to re-evaluate, a common theme kept rising to the surface…
No one on this planet understands who, or what God is. And I mean no one, especially the churches (and yes this includes the ancient ones as well). I don’t know why, but it seems that God rather than being clear, left a book of stories and examples all written by the hand of his broken vessels, and then he stepped back and let chaos reign. If there’s a divine purpose in the way religion has been woven into the fabric of our history, I sure can’t see it. Even something as basic as God being all about love, can be argued when put into the hands of men, look at the Westboro Baptist, or any of the reformed who make God into a capricious monster, demanding complete obedience to their message, OR ELSE!
Even in the ancient faiths, a parishes tone is set by the priest (who is just as fallible as the rest of us), and not the faith being taught. This holds true for protestant, Catholic and Orthodox, no one is immune. Some are focused on the rules like a bureaucrat looking for fault, and others are more focused on reaching out, or just mentoring the flock. Even in the Catholic faith you find this disparity of application to the way a parish is run, and like it or not this goes all the way to even how the sacraments are managed in some parishes.
I’ve been involved in this Christian thing since I was 19 years old, I’ve had the opportunity to experience a great many of the protestant faiths, I’ve been Catholic and recently Orthodox. Each has had it’s share of pro’s and con’s, each has some point of emphasis, be it rules, scripture, tradition, asceticism, or morality. Normally one is not emphasized to the exclusion of the others (though some come close), but all have one they tend to focus on more than the others.
I will say that the ancient faiths on the whole are much more likely to allow an open discussion about difficult topics, while many of the protestant faiths take a much more inclusive view of anything foreign to their paradigm. Part of that in my opinion, is that when your faith has a long and solid history (and by that I mean more than the 500 year nonsense we get today from the protestant religions), you have a tendency to be more open to hard discussions, because your faith isn’t going to change with the weather. The one thing I very much appreciate about both the Orthodox and the Catholic churches, is that you cannot just join them, you have to study and move into the lifestyle, because in their eyes once you commit, there is no going back. Plus each puts incredible emphasis on the Eucharist, which if your going to follow scripture, and the teachings of Christ is as it should be.
So where is all this leading…
I’m not sure anymore, I’ve become a pretty solid Agnostic Believer, meaning I believe in God and Christ, but I don’t really believe in any of the organized religions. That might change, given time, and I might ultimately decide it’s the best thing for my sanity. I’m certainly not interested in Atheism, I’ve done too much study to make that leap of faith, but where I land in all this is a big unknown at the moment.
I have come to view religion as a kind of members only club, with each offering it’s view of how salvation works according to their interpretation. The honest ones, and there are a few, freely admit that salvation is something God is responsible for, and they are in no position to say who is and who isn’t saved. Philosophy and Apologetic’s in the end are just tools used to defend our ideas and concepts of how we see faith and religion, as I’ve mentioned before the biggest downfall that I’ve seen with apologists is an innate drive to always have the right answer. I remember while converting away from Catholicism reading a very famous Catholic Apologist, who summed up Papal infallibility in one little neatly trimmed quote from a church father. It was such a pathetic attempt to shore up his and the Catholic churches opinion on the matter, that it offended me. The quoted text was hardly conclusive, and there has been a great deal of discussion about what it does and doesn’t say, but none of that matters, and why burden seekers with such menial and unimportant details?
But we can’t just blame the apologists, the reason so many are popular is not because they are right, but because they tell us they have the answer all buttoned up nice and neat, it’s what we want. It’s a fools errand to base your salvation or belief on the mumbling philosophy of another man. In fact this applies to the Church Fathers as well, because God knows the ancient churches love to quote them as proof positive that they are in the right (and trust me, there are many quotes that no one agrees on). What they say really depends on what you believe, this goes for all involved, sorry but it’s true. Much like quoting scripture out of context, humans on the whole are more than content to quote those who have come before them to shore up their system of belief.
Let’s take this example a step further and go the core…
The Eucharist, which Christ himself commanded, is a cause for celebration among all Christians, regardless of faith. But in the West they used Unleavened bread, and in the East they use Leavened, both use wine, and the protestants don’t know what to use. East and West core ceremonies are similar in many ways, but protestants are usually very different in form (and in some cases, disrespectful!). Men got involved, and now I cannot take communion with anyone, without going out of communion with the others. Certainly all sides have doctrinal differences, I’m not going to try and minimize that, but I will tell you that ALL claim to be the one true church, left behind by Christ. I will say that the Protestant faiths get the Eucharist wrong for the most part, and that the Eastern and Western churches give it the honor and reverance it deserves. But even there I cannot commune with East or West, without going out of communion with the other, Technically I’ve not been ex-communicated by either, so I could go to reconciliation, ask for forgiveness and commune with one side or the other. But since both believe in THE SAME GOD, THE SAME CHRIST, THE SAME FLIPPING BIBLE, and in many many cases THE SAME EUCHARISTIC PRACTICES.
IT SHOULD NOT MATTER !!!!
But apparently it does, at least Pope Francis seems willing to begin to try and heal the rift which is probably the most Christ like thing I’ve seen in my lifetime. I am sick to death of men who cling to their traditions, and practices with a death grip, not willing to budge even an inch out of their comfort zone. It’s almost as if God is not big enough to get around the kind of bread, the position you receive in, the liturgy you practice, or the vessel used to hold the wine. It’s all so infuriating, and it’s something that I’m not sure I can deal with anymore. So many I have met on this journey have an almost fanatical adherence to what I could call arbitrary traditions that have morphed into rules, which are then declared as part of the faith. I certainly can’t imagine Christ turning someone away because they didn’t follow some man made set of rules, he certainly didn’t follow those kind of precepts while he was here.
Maybe this is the protestant in me coming out, but I have a brain, I have free will (regardless of what the reformed think), and I’m capable of making my own determination of what’s right and wrong. I have a very deeply embedded rejection of anything that smells of extremism or thoughtless obedience, in point of fact it makes me hyper-sensitive to to some issues, and I have to be careful to keep it in check. But when we are arguing over the details, aren’t we missing the whole point what we are trying to do in the first place?
Christians are being murdered for their faith all over the world, and Bill Nye the science idiot, and Ken Ham the young earth, literal genesis moron, are going have a debate about science and the bible. Boy howdy, that will really help those people in Syria. The Crouch’s are having a war over their satellite empire, Joel Osteen is selling another feel good book, and Mark Driscoll is out using twitter to sell his latest interpretation of his belief system all while showing just what a classy guy he is by doing it at the Strange Fire conference. And all over this great land, we are worshiping at the altars of our celebrity pastors/rock stars.
The world is full of very intelligent people who want nothing more than to be led, to let someone else set their boundaries, and tell them how to live. It’s why even the worst of cults rarely have problems finding acolytes, all you need is someone to convincingly believe, and your all set. Again, this is why so many Apologists and Preachers become celebrities in their own right.
They can have it, I’m done with it all. Maybe there is some type of divine humor in Christ talking about believers as sheep. Bah!!
As for me.. I’m spent, I’m empty on the inside. The man that was is, is becoming no longer…
I’ve taken my seat on the sidelines, and until the ringmaster shows up, I think I may just stay right here.
During an interview with the Pope this August by Antonio Spadaro, S.J., editor in chief of La Civiltà Cattolica, Francis stated the following:“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.” “The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.”
Earlier he made this statement:“How are we treating the people of God? I dream of a church that is a mother and shepherdess. The church’s ministers must be merciful, take responsibility for the people and accompany them like the good Samaritan, who washes, cleans and raises up his neighbour. This is pure Gospel. God is greater than sin. The structural and organisational reforms are secondary – that is, they come afterward. The first reform must be the attitude. The ministers of the Gospel must be people who can warm the hearts of the people, who walk through the dark night with them, who know how to dialogue and to descend themselves into their people’s night, into the darkness, but without getting lost. The people of God want pastors, not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials. The bishops, particularly, must be able to support the movements of God among their people with patience, so that no one is left behind. But they must also be able to accompany the flock that has a flair for finding new paths.”
This will be taken out of context by both liberal Catholics and conservative Catholics alike, but he’s saying something that I have said before. The Catholic church as a whole has been so focused on what happens in the privacy of a marriage, and other issues relating to sexuality, that it has become a parody of the very values that it is trying to defend. Even in the context of abortion, which is a truly terrible thing, there are situations where the moral right, is less than clear and sometimes can be counterintuitive.
He’s right, there needs to be balance, and not all the dogmatic teachings are equal, and some like the immaculate conception, and infallibility should really not even be dogmatic in the first place.
To be clear, the Pope is not softening the position of the church on contraception or abortion, but he is saying that the focus has been out of balance, and that I agree with. Especially contraception, which at times has taken on an almost medieval tone in how it’s discussed, with some catholics breathlessly grabbing onto any position that has the appearance of supporting their views on contraception.
I still don’t agree with some Catholic doctrines, but I like Francis enough that for a time I was wondering if being Catholic again was something I should consider!
And that my friends says volumes about how much I respect this man.
You can read the whole interview HERE, it’s worth a read.
As someone who is newly illumined into the Orthodox faith, it’s really quite odd (for a westerner) that for forty days you wear your Chrismation clothes (or baptism gowns), carry your baptismal candle, and go first for communion.
Coming from the Catholic faith, and further back the Protestant faith, all this fuss makes us very uncomfortable. Our biggest excitement as Catholics was the first Mass that we took communion quietly on our own, one of our RCIA teachers was there and gave us a HUGE smile, but she didn’t intervene. It was at that moment, and not during the Chrismation that we felt truly Catholic, it was a seminal moment for us. It meant that we had truly been accepted as members of the faithful, and that we could now get on with the business of being Catholic.
But as new Orthodox we are chafing a bit at having so much fuss worked up over us, we just want to be Orthodox. We don’t want to make a big procession with Candles and other things every time we commune, it’s an awkward position. The tradition is that by going first the church is praying for us, that is all fine and well. But throw in Candles, the same white clothes each week, and this big fuss of us going RIGHT after the subdeacons (which is not widely known apparently, since each time we have to cut to the front of the communion line). And it begins to wear thin, in fact three weeks ago we forgot our candles, and the subdeacon commented on it, AS I WAS WALKING UP TO TAKE COMMUNION… I eyeballed him, and then rolled my eyes, because what was I going to do? seriously, stop the whole parish and run into the narthex and starting rooting around for candles and matches?
We asked to please not be singled out any longer, it was becoming a deterrent to the Liturgy for us, Fr. called and was very kind in explaining it to us, but it’s a tradition (that is not always practiced), and he wants to keep doing it until we hit forty days. It’s a frustrating position to be in, and it puts us in a very uncomfortable place. So we each made a choice, he decided to continue to require the tradition, and we decided to step back for a bit and let things settle. Once things calm down, then we call sit and talk and work through the issue.
Michael Patton always talks about the essentials and non-essentials, and he’s exactly right. There are things that really matter, that we need to observant of, but there are other things that just don’t mean much outside our little sphere of influence.
Here’s the thing…
Protestants, in their own way, have a valid point about the traditions of men. The Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist are what I would call essentials things, we find writings for them all way back to the time of the Apostles in the Didache. The liturgy of the Eucharist is especially important, given that Christ commands us to do so in memory of him. I would put a number of things that I can reference with clear ecclesiological material and a solid scriptural foundation as essential traditions.
But there are things that are simply not essential, and we as humans have a tendency to focus on them and lose sight of the bigger picture. Fr. Len at the Catholic church tells about when he was first a young priest, he wore his collar all the time, made sure he followed all the rules. It took him only a couple of years to realize that in the big picture it wasn’t that important, and he loosened up and stopped being a rule follower. He was much happier once he figured out that while wearing the proper attire while doing reconciliation, or serving at Mass are important. It’s not so much if he’s going to work out, or dig in the garden, or just go have a beer and talk theology. When we met with him to discuss theology, he was wearing a simple black T-Shirt and we had a great conversation, it was nice to not have to deal with the presence of the priestly garments, and just talk theology. He will always be a Priest, but it was good to see the man behind the collar.
I think he got it right, and I think our protestant friends have a good point, some traditions, are just that. And they are not always going to help us grow, they may make us and others feel better, but in the big picture they just don’t matter. Some people like to follow every rule, observe every fast, and can be technically pious. We have friends like that, who make huge and great efforts to follow all the rules. For us, there is so much going on, all the time, that sometimes we just forget, or at other times we just don’t. Asceticism is a tool to help us grow, and like all tools the more you use it, the better you become at it. We decided at the beginning of this journey to not get caught up in the rules and trappings, and not to burn ourselves out.
But there is a danger in replacing the important things, with the things that don’t really matter. I’ve said it before, there is no perfect church, and we never expected to find one. And we knew that becoming Orthodox would not make things magically better, but it’s interesting to see some of the differences in focus between Catholic and Orthodox traditions. I think a great of the difference stems from the fact that most Catholic churches are large, and it’s easy to find a way to fit in. In Orthodox churches you have a more community based dynamic, and while it’s not supposed to be about the rules, it’s unavoidable when your small and all very connected.
I’m not saying that Tradition is not important, it certainly is. But it’s also not the end all and be all, and sometimes it can cause others to stumble. It’s those times that we need to show wisdom and separate the essential from the non-essential.
It’s finally happening, after a long and dry period floating between the two ancient churches, the hour is upon us. We are preparing for our first Orthodox confession, and then Sunday August 11th, we will be chrismated into full communion with the Antiochian Orthodox Church.
To say we are excited is an understatement, when we became Catholic, it was like my wedding day waiting for the ceremony to start. In my little waiting room I had to ask myself: am I really doing this? Am I ready? Did I have cold feet, yep… Both when I got married, and when we joined the Catholic Church. Do I regret either decision, not in any way. I still love both, always will.
But becoming Orthodox is different, I’m more prepared, I know what I’m getting into. I’ve been living it out in my daily life. And this is the final piece that makes it all fully authentic, it’s emotionally overwhelming, and I’m pretty sure I’ll cry at some point.
I can’t wait, I want it to be Sunday, I want to savior the first taste of full communion, I want to be fully whole again. I’ve been on pause for two years, stalemated with no other option than to patiently wait. That’s hard for someone with no patience, I wanted to open this present two years ago…
And there’s a bonus, and it’s a big one…
We get to bless the faithful by making the Prosphora for Sunday, so not only do we get blessed beyond belief by being chrismated, but we get to bless those we love, by preparing the lamb used in communion. It was important to us that as we receive such a blessing, that are able to bless others at the same time.
Michelle is taking the name of Michael the Archangel, it fits her character perfectly. Just disagree with her, and you’ll see
My wish has been, and will always be that one day before I die, I can commune with my Catholic family, and commune with my Orthodox family, and not worry about the Schism, excommunication, or any of that other non-essential nonsense.
So based on that desire of my heart, I chose Pope Clement The First, who was the second or third Pope (depending on who you listen too), and is considered a Saint in both the Orthodox and the Catholic faiths. I’m sure if he where here today, he would share my desire for unity…
Please forgive me a sinner…
Here is another old post that I found, for some reason I never published, and it’s very good, it’s still relevant. The one exception is that we will enter into full communion with the Antiochian Orthodox Church in August. I can’t find the original date for the article, but I think is was around december of 2012…
We’ve been on this journey for a long time, the road has led us to people and places, we would have never considered when we took our first steps. The path has taught us a great deal, we have found love in some very unexpected places, we have learned theology, some good, some bad, some terrible. We have run into creepy more than once, and left more churches mid-service than we care to admit.
Our goal (mine to start with, Michelle’s later on), was to find the truth at all costs. What that ultimately meant was going back to the very beginning, to the original deposit of faith and learning early church history. When you finally get there, and this is important, if you are willing to be honest with what you find and not try to read into early church history and writing. You are left with only a couple of options, there was only one church for a little over a thousand years. In the 10th century the one Church split into two halves we call East (Orthodox Church) and West (Catholic Church), which you choose is based on your calling.
I believe you can find fulfillment in either church, I believe both have full Apostolic succession (a line of bishops tracing all the way back to the original Apostles), I still find great beauty in the Catholic Church, just as I find a deep reverence in the Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Church.
The difference between the protestant world and the ancient faiths is one of depth, when I was protestant all I needed was my bible, churches where chosen on what I could get out of them, and how I fit into the worship of the church. We attended countless bible studies, raked over revelation more times than I can count (how many ways can you ms-interpret the number of the beast for crying out loud), and was lied to in so many ways by people who themselves, simply didn’t know any better. Scripture changed in meaning depending on who was teaching, and which translation was being used. Churches always centered around an individual Pastor and his interpretation of the bible, trained or not trained, made no difference. If it matched what we thought, then we where good.
There was, and is today, no depth in the protestant faiths. There’s lots of philosophy, scripture reading, and sophistry. But it’s all dependent on interpretation, normally of one individual. I spent 20 years in the Baptist faith, and while we sure studied the bible a whole lot, we never once talked about where it came from, how it was created, and who put it together. That was not just one Baptist church either, that was a string of them as we moved. I even ran into the King James Only nonsense that one finds in some fundamental Baptist faiths, and heard numerous renderings of why it matters from different pastors. But beyond the doors of the Baptist church I found the same problem, no one wanted to discuss theology, no one wanted to study the early church and it’s foundations. It was all bible study, all the time.
I sat down yesterday to talk with my Orthodox sponsor, and this very topic came up. She lived her life as a committed protestant, did countless bible studies, and ultimately found the experience left her questioning everything. As she started to look at the early church, and make her way into the Orthodox church, she discovered that what she “thought” bible verses said as a protestant, actually had a different meaning when viewed through the lens of the Orthodox church. The more scripture was discussed the more obvious it became that without the guidance of not only the church, but the early church fathers, history and the deposit of faith, it was easy to misinterpret what scripture really meant. The problem is worse when you understand how bibles and their interpretation have changed in the last 400 years. Once Martin Luther began the protestant movement (and not without good reason mind you), history, tradition and the deposit of faith (the teaching of the Apostles) became secondary. Each man could be his own pope, all he needed was a bible to read, and he was all set.
Now 500 years in, we can see the effect that Sola Scripura has had on the church. There have always been and always will be heresies, heretical teachings, religious sects and cults. But today even in mainline protestant churches, we have division after division. All it takes is someone not agreeing over any reason and a new church is born, with new members. I’ve witnessed it first hand, and I’ve commiserated with those who want nothing more than to live a holy life, and are torn asunder by this going our own way nonsense. The Anglican Church which was created when the King could not marry again because the Pope held to Catholic teachings, is now in a state of free fall. Ordaining women, practicing homosexuals and unable to take a stand on any moral issue. Parishioners are leaving in droves, and whole parishes are converting to the Catholic Church to find some stability.
Too many of the men set to preside as pastors over a congregation, have neither the education, nor the training to effectively manage the position. The lack of standard is appalling at times, and the faithful seem nothing more than lemmings willing to follow any teacher off the cliff of new and inventive theology, all while holding their bibles in a death grip claiming they have everything they need.
That’s the issue, without the depth of history, the deposit of faith, and teachings of those who have gone before us, it’s easy to be led astray. There’s nothing quite a creepy as sitting in a service where the women all wear head coverings, rarely speak out, and all because someone misinterpreted what St Paul said to Timothy.
The protestant church is a ship without the rudder of history, the deposit of faith, and the guidance of the church fathers.
When we finally started this journey to a new faith, we looked for stability, something with roots. We never found it, and that’s because nothing in the protestant world goes any farther than 1511. Anything before that period is largely ignored, with the exception of a few chosen Saints like Augustine, who’s idea have been twisted first by Luther, and then later and more egregiously by Calvin. It wasn’t until the Anglican Church that we started to see some roots, but even there it only goes to the 1300’s at best.
When we finally ended up at the doors of the Catholic Church, we both where confused and concerned. But we worked through the issues, and ultimately became Catholic, if only for a short time. While I still believe that the Catholic Church is truly apostolic, the more I studied the early history of the newly founded Christianity,the differences I found in what Catholics taught versus what the church fathers said. Those discoveries are clearly listed here on the site, so I won’t go over them here.
But it finally led us to the door of the Antiochian Orthodox Church, that part of our journey took a year just to come to grips with how different the liturgy and practices are from what we have experienced, even as Catholics. Unlike our protestant background where everything revolves around how we interpret the bible, the Orthodox faith uses tradition, history, writings of the Church Fathers, and men incredibly well educated in sharing what scripture actually means. We don’t yearn to discover something new and inventive in texts that are now well over two thousand years old, and we don’t invent doctrine so that we can describe our theology. We use all the tools are our disposal: History, Tradition, The Deposit of Faith, Teachings of the Church Fathers, and Scripture to define how to live our lives.
In this we find stability, we don’t need a praise band telling us how to be happy in Jesus, nor does our Sunday worship rely on an impassioned sermon from the preacher. Those things don’t matter anymore, instead we are there to honor the Trinity, to give our worship TO God, to partake of the same mysteries that the Christians in Antioch celebrated over 2000 years ago as they did in the book of Acts. There are no lights, no stage, certainly no smoke machines. We don’t need to be hip and have a clever message to bring people in, in fact if you stop by, we will open our doors and our hearts to you, but we won’t pressure you at all. If you have questions we would LOVE to answer them as best we can, but we believe in free will, and that God gave us all the ability to choose for ourselves. You cannot be forced, or tricked into being Orthodox, you have to want to become Orthodox. We will do anything we can to help, but only if that’s what you decide.
When I was Evangelical, going door to door to sell the Gospel was the thing to do, just like the Mormons and JW’s. But as an Orthodox Christian, I’m not here to sell you on the merits of Orthodoxy. I’ll answer any questions, but you and you alone need to make the decision to go down this path to the Ancient faith. It’s a hard road to travel, once you realize how different the early church was, and how the Orthodox Church has maintained that same teaching, you begin to understand the magnitude of change that’s required. What is ingrained in us at an early age in the western world, will slowly and painfully peel away.
When I finally understood how much free will plays a part of Orthodox Theology, my heart soared, it was like being set free after a long imprisonment. Here, finally, was what I had been reading in the scriptures for so many years, and yet forced to submit to the theology of the western church. It makes the journey to Orthodoxy so much easier understanding that God gave each of us the true capability of free will, and despite how we have used it, still loves us unconditionally.
All I can say is that it’s all worth it, even the aesthetic lifestyle one slowly works into as an Orthodox Christian, becomes something more when you realize that the decision rests with you, as to how far you want this to go.
The road has indeed been long and painful, but finally we are at the end, Lent starts this week for us (the Orthodox use a different calendar for Easter), and hopefully with the blessing of the Bishop we will enter into full communion with the Orthodox church.
Choosing a saints names for your confirmation is a tradition held in both the Eastern and Western ancient churches. When Michelle and I were in the RCIA program and converting to the Catholic faith, I struggled with purpose of the tradition of choosing a saints name. My reasoning was that my mother had already named me after the guy who wrote most of the new testament, and I never saw the point in tinkering with that. I resisted, and at first I was told you have to choose a saint, but when I pushed back I was finally told that it’s only a tradition, and it’s not necessary for confirmation. So using my protestant stubbornness, I did not fill out any name and kept the one I was given, never even choosing a saint to help me on my journey.
In the ancient church it was common practice that once you where baptized you where given a new name, so for instance Saul become Paul, names in the ancient world where more than just a monicker, they where expressive of who you were as a person. And it was common in the Jewish tradition to name children after patriarchs and other holy figures. The idea was that baptism was creating a new person, and that should be reflected in everything you do, including your name.
But when you come from a protestant background, you learn to be suspicious of tradition, the line of thinking goes like this:
“Is this just a tradition of men, or is it something that I can find in the bible?”
That thinking is based on ‘Sola Scriptura’ which almost all of the protestant world holds today, it can be even held with those who practice ‘Prima Scriptura’ (or those who hold tradition and scripture as equal). So even with the clear biblical reference to this tradition, I was never comfortable enough in the Catholic Faith to allow myself a little grace to some of the rules. Looking back it was partly the lightweight nature of the RCIA class, and the speed at which we converted. Nine months sounds like a long time, but in reality it’s a short time to absorb so much information. And the fact that our RCIA classes where more about how we felt, learning the true foundations of the Church, didn’t help the situation.
But now things have changed, I’ve had a lot more time to dig, study and ponder. I left the Catholic Church and am moving East to a church older than the one in Rome, Antioch. And this move has taken a lot longer to even commit to being a Catechumen, in fact Michelle figured out that it’s been a year since we started talking to the Antiochian Orthodox Church. That time has been very helpful to building my faith and confidence in the Orthodox and Catholic traditions, I’ve been able to absorb more information, and have spent that time talking to people who have gone before us, learning their experiences as well.
When Fr. Mark asked me about a Saints name, my off the cuff answer was St Paul, since we both shared the same name. In fact Fr. Mark did the same thing, saying it was an easy choice. But I’ve began to rethink my position, and while St Paul is a wonderful Saint, and someone I would be proud to have for my confirmation name. It almost feels like I’m cheating the process, Michelle is taking St Michael the Arch Angel for her patron saint (figures since he was a warrior and she is the toughest person I know). Her decision has caused a good bit of fun ribbing on my part, but I was surprised to know that people choose Saint from the opposite gender all the time, who knew?!!!
I started thinking about all the different Saints out there, I dug, researched, poked, prodded. And nothing… I couldn’t find any that seems to be worthwhile or should I say fitting, I wanted someone who crossed over between East and West. I know I wanted someone early, and someone influential, and that’s when it hit me like a thunderbolt!!
He was the 2nd or 3rd Pope in the Church (depending on who you read, there is a theory that Linus and Clement both where the bishop of rome for a time, until Linus was martyred, leaving Clement), regardless he is a Saint in both the Catholic and Orthodox faiths, and was a Pope regardless of what Anti Papacy writers think. His writings where long held as part of the canon of the new testament, not making by the fact that he was not a direct apostle. I’ve read his works, there’s not much of them, but boy are they powerful. And he was a man who helped guide the church right at the very beginning, there is even speculation that Paul refers to him in the new testament.
More importantly to my way of thinking, he crosses the bridge between East and West, which for me is important. Because while I am becoming Orthodox, I don’t want to abandon all that the Catholic Church has given to me. There are some great Saint that are exclusively Eastern and Western and I didn’t want to go down that path, I’m not trying to make a statement with my conversion, I was looking, and found the church of the book of Acts.
So hopefully, if the Bishop approves, this easter (which is May 5th year for the Antiochian church), I’ll be confirmed as Clement. There is a chance that the Bishop may want me to spend more time as a catechumen, but he’s the Bishop and I’m not, and I’ll accept what ever he says. This is certainly a transformation for someone who just two years ago was digging in ready to make the RCIA class PROVE that a saints name was needed
Thank God for his mercy, to let a stubborm sinner like me, see the truth of his word, and the church’s traditions.
-Clement (who was formally Paul)-
I guess I need to work on a signature line.
Last Sunday during the celebration of Theophany, we were accepted as catechumens into the Orthodox church, going from Catholic to Orthodox has been a long and complicated process. It’s been a year since we started talking to Fr Mark about converting. Digging into Theology, Doctrine, and the Orthopraxy of the church. There have numerous conversations about converting, and even going back to our local Parish. I have been ready for some time to convert, but Michelle had reservations she had to work through. But I was not going to go through the process without her, she needed my support, and so I waited patiently (sometimes!).
During the year, circumstances beyond our control forced us to re-evaluate our lives. I think what finally pushed us to make the decision was the grace and love we felt from Fr. Fenn and his wife Michelle (or “Matushka” meaning teacher, as she is known). Not once did we feel rushed or pressured, they offered nothing but support, and more importantly, room for us to work through conversion.
One thing that we began to notice was how supportive the whole Church has been, it’s hard to see when your being overwhelmed by the “Easterness” of everything. When it all finally started to become familiar, we noticed that indeed we were being welcomed.
On a very cold Sunday morning, we stood in the narthex while Father Fenn, and the whole congregation prayed us into the Orthodox church. It was a moving experience, and each Sunday now the whole Church prays for us as we move onto final confirmation.
As new catechumens we got to experience our first house blessings this weekend. I have to say right up front that this is what we have been longing for. It was a time of fellowship, warmth and a deep sense of family. Each home offered a light meal, and invited the church family to come and be part of the tradition.
There where candles, blessed water (getting tossed everywhere), and lots of singing.
We had some good discussions about history, theology, we made some great friends, drank wine, and something I’m still not sure was legal in some states. It was everything that I missed from the Protestant Churches, with Alcohol!!!
We walked away blessed, it removed any hesitation at being outsiders coming into a new world. Outside the structure of the Liturgy the parish family exudes incredible warmth and vitality.
I’ve been trying hard to not compare it to our experience in our local Catholic Parish, partly because I know there is in fact just as much warmth there. We just never got to experience it, we had fellowship to be sure, but it was always in the confines of the Parish. There is nothing wrong with that, however not since being part of a small SBC church, have we felt so much part of something more intimate.
We have also noticed some Catholic family’s starting to show up, we can spot them a mile away now, just like I could spot a first time protestant at Mass while Catholic. There is a glazed look that comes over their face, with a dawning realization of being overwhelmed by the smells and bells.I’m not sure why we are suddenly seeing more new Catholics showing up, maybe it’s that time of year. I have my own suspicions that I will write about later, I think it’s part of a movement towards the ancient, a hunt for authenticity and stability. And there are only so many choices when you head that direction…
More on that shortly…
We asked today to be allowed as Catechumens into the Antiochian Orthodox church, next sunday at the end of the Great Liturgy we will be accepted into the arms of the OCA and begin our journey to becoming fully Orthodox.
This has been a long and trying year for us, we left the Catholic Church, we stumbled at the strong middle eastern influence of the Orthodox liturgy, and our lives unraveled around us. At a time when we where between the shores of the Catholic faith and the Orthodox faith, I believe, God used circumstances to finally push us in the right direction. There is a huge sense of relief with our asking this morning, and the reception, along with the fellowship warmed our hearts.
I knew 5 minutes into the Liturgy this morning it was time, I signed to Michelle I was ready, and she told me later she felt the same calling. I don’t think that was coincidence, I think it more divine providence. We have been off and on with the OCA, struggling with the liturgy and the aesthetic nature of it all, I tend to shy from piety because of my background in the Baptist faith.
But a month ago I met over lunch with Fr. Mark, and we discussed our hesitation and concerns, he shared the difficulty in his conversion which helped us to relax and just let it happen. We stopped worrying about getting the details right, and let the liturgy come to us naturally, it made all the difference and we are beginning to finally settle in. I have also realized that the piety I was so concerned about, is nothing of what I experienced while I was a Baptist. It was an internal change, but one that allowed me to start taking my guards down, which is a big step. Even while Catholic I never fully let my true self out, I was always on guard at some level, I never felt the familial comfort that we have found with Orthodoxy. That’s not a knock at all against the Catholic Church, I’m just pointing out the difference in how we have been received. I did a full year in the ministry of Lector, and it was an honor to be able to serve and pronounce the Gospel, and if we could heal the Schism, I would sign up again because serving to me, is the highest form of praise.
This journey will change us, I can already see that we are going to need a basic understanding of Greek to get through this, that’s a challenge, I could say it’s all Greek to me right now!, and very little in the liturgy or practice uses western names. They are in many ways very close to the liturgy of the Catholic Church, just with wildly different names. There are new Diet restrictions, weekly fasts, a more stringent rules leading up to the Eucharist. It’s all doable, but it’s new, and it will take time to adjust.
So we will start out the new year on a new set of journeys, from a new house, kids moving out, and into a new and wonderful faith.
2013’s going to be a ringer of a year!!!
Bring it on!