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April 22, 2012


Rivers Old and New


Last night, Michelle and I had the extreme pleasure of spending an evening sharing Vespers, faith, questions and much laughter with Fr. Mark Fenn and his Wife Michelle, of the Antiochian Orthodox Church here in Boise.

We learned a great deal about the Orthodox faith, a lot of questions were put to rest, I learned some things that floored me, and we felt loved and welcome. From the moment we tentatively walked through door (late as usual), we were made to feel at home. We had never attended vespers, it was other worldy, simple, austere, and moving.

When Vespers ended Fr. Mark sat with us and gave us a lesson on how the Orthodox faith is structured, showed us around the Sanctuary, and answered a lot of questions, his wife Michelle was headed over to the Russian Orthodox church to see parishioners who where celebrating a baptism. That was my first shock, that parish members from one Orthodox church would go visit the other one, when I inquired, I was told all three Orthodox parishes in town consider themselves all one faith. That’s certainly different than the divisions I had read about.

Fr. Mark, was beyond gracious and patient, showing love and compassion to our questions. Later in the evening his wife Michelle came back by, and the four of us discussed the faith. Both answering questions and concerns with grace, it was very moving for us. One thing that we have missed in the Catholic faith, is loving fellowship. It’s something that Protestants get right (when it’s not out of balance, it’s a wonderful thing), and something that we have missed for a long time. That’s not to say that Catholics are cold, they aren’t. We have met some warm and wonderful Catholics. But let’s be honest, in our experience Catholics by and large don’t really open up until you have been around them a while, we felt like interlopers for the first 4 months or so at our Parish.

What we found last night, was the one thing that we felt was missing from the Catholic faith we have been part of for a couple of years now, that is Grace. Not some conceptual, theological term, but real, down to the core, loving Grace. Let me give you an example, in the Catholic Church, if you miss a day of obligation (mass on Sunday, or certain calendar events) on purpose, you have committed a Mortal sin, and you must seek reconciliation or your very soul is in danger. Orthodox don’t think you should be missing Mass, but they aren’t about to declare you in mortal danger of losing your soul if you skip a service.

Another difference that we keyed in on, is that both Faiths do confession, but the Orthodox treat it less mechanically than the Catholic faith does, in fact your priest becomes your confessor. Getting to know you at a very personal level, and confession becomes a tool to not only forgive sins, but to help your faith grow. Reconciliation for us has been more mechanical, you go, confess, are forgiven, do your penance and off you go. It’s vastly more intimate in the Orthodox faith, part of that could be that the Catholic Church is in dire need of priests.

For the first time, I found someone saying, what I had found in the bible, and the early church fathers. There was a foundation that was built on love and grace, and it flowed into every word spoken. Michelle has been hesitant about this direction, but has allowed me to follow the truth and see where it lands us. She’s still wants to search things out more, and we both still have more questions that need to be answered.

But I’ve finally found the shore I was looking for, I’m sure of it, my heart settled in for the first time last night, there are more questions to be sure, but no more deep nagging ones. I love the Catholic Faith, I will always be in love with the faith of Rome,  I can’t express that enough. I wish with all my being that the Schism of 1032 could be repaired, because the Orthodox could benefit from Catholics, and the Catholics could learn so much from the Orthodox faith. But there are things about the Catholic Faith that are just so unnecessary, the dogmatizing of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption, the legalistic nature of the catechism,  infallibility. The reactionary nature of the Church to contraception, while endorsing Natural Family Planning (and yes, I mean in the sense of using it as contraception).

Those and many other inconsistencies have nagged at me for a long time, I don’t have all the answers I need just yet, but after last night I discovered what my study had told me was so, that the Orthodox have held TIGHTLY to the original teaching of the Apostles. They haven’t added onto it, or constructed a bunch of rules around it, they leave it as is. It’s what I hoped the Catholic Church had done, but I just don’t believe that anymore. I will always be Catholic, just not a practicing Roman Catholic any longer. I setup a meeting next week too sit with the Vicar and tell him my intentions to join the Orthodox faith. Michelle is holding out to see how it all plays out, but she told me to follow my convictions.

I started the process, there’s no turning back now.

And I get to be a Catechumen again (still not sure about that), and learn a whole new way of practicing my faith (I can’t even pronounce the Philokalia right, so I have A LOT to learn). It’s a little scary, and a whole lot exciting. I didn’t cry when we got Confirmed in the Catholic Faith, mostly because by that time I was so worn out from all the nonsense that was RCIA. But I teared up this morning in Mass, I’m going to miss the beauty of the Mass. However I’m looking forward to being accepted into the Orthodox faith.

Then I can finally say that my journey has taken me from one side of the Christian faith, to the other. From many shores to a select few, and finally to one…

Pray for me as I row to another shore…




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4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Apr 22 2012

    God bless you, Paul. You have to follow where your conscience leads you. Certainly I would respond to some of the things you mention, but it seems you’ve made up your mind. And so, I think you must go do what you think is right, continue to study and pray, and observe the EO from the inside.

    Maybe you can be voice within the EO of reconciliation and peace–they need those in there to help quell the deep resentment many feel toward the Catholic Church. I know you won’t have that bitterness, and that is valuable.

    God willing reunion will happen between the Catholic Church and the EO Churches, which would make this kind of decision moot.

    In Christ,

  2. Apr 22 2012

    Thank you Devin,

    This is partly your fault you know!! :)

    If you hadn’t been so dang irenic and compassionate, I would have not continued to follow up on this path!

    I wish with all my heart, I didn’t have to leave one for the other. I may have things that I don’t agree with in Catholicism, but I would not have left at all if I didn’t have too.

    The one thing I was little surprised with, was how little the good Fr. knew of Catholics, he was raised Lutheran (his wife Bapists), they married and went Methodist (that caused some laughter), and then converted about 15 years ago. But the more he talked, the more I found just how common the two faiths are.

    He did say that they consider their first Bishop to be Peter in the Antiochian church, which I found amusing. Especially since Peter is called the Primate of the Bishops, so that part is the same!!

    But please don’t hesitate to bang me on the head on my posting, I spoke as I see the issues, that doesn’t mean they are that way for everyone. We have found love and grace in the Catholic Faith, and I continually find that the Priests share a different faith, than what the apologists proclaim. That has bothered me for a long time, and last night I heard what I read, a little more, but no less in any way.

    But again, thank you. I’m not much of a voice, but I will defend Catholicism if it gets maligned, that much I can tell you for sure. I was going to make some snarky comment about this being akin to being married to two different women, but my wife reads the blog, and I HATE that dog house!!



  3. Apr 22 2012


    Thanks man. It is good to hear that you realize the schism is not really about theological issues. Some EO apologists try to exaggerate the relatively small theological differences…leavened vs. unleavened bread, the filioque, etc. These are really non-issues.

    I plan to make a post soon about the causes of the schism. Suffice it to say that it had lots to do with a growing cultural divide, politics, attitudes, some unfortunate events, and pride (on both sides).

    I’m also sad that the lack of warmth, lackluster implementations of the liturgy in many parishes, and so on have occurred in your experience. The EO here in the U.S. have the advantage of being relative newcomers and being quite tiny in number, which allows them to more easily become a markedly different group.

    But if you became Catholic while believing that the Catholic Church was in error in one or more of her doctrines, that perhaps reveals that you never fully accepted that God has guided and is guiding her into all truth. Do you believe that God is guiding the EO Churches, protecting them from error in their doctrines? Not accusing, not trying to trap you, just curious.

    The EO are less dogmatic, in large part because they would never be able to come to agreement on something like contraception. I would argue they lack the mechanism to declare something dogmatically, whether the Assumption or the immorality of contraception, etc.

    God bless,

  4. Apr 22 2012

    Your question is a good one, I still have sitting in my email box a message to my RCIA director that I was resigning over theological issues. But I held off, and worked through those issues. Francis Beckwith talks about struggling through his conversion, and once he had the big issues solved, he felt the small ones the Church would get right.

    But even though I was sure I had those issues worked out, as I continued to study and dig. I started to find things that didn’t fit together as I had first thought, this journey was not just I, my wife played a huge role in this as well.

    But here’s the thing, I would join again, because I still think the Catholic Church gets it about 98% right. I think you get that I’m not here to bash Catholics in any way shape or form, I have only love for the Church. Michelle and I talked about your comments, and think it was the right decision, we both do (someday I’ll post about that). I think it was all part of some plan, I have learned so much, met some wonderful people, and maybe as you have stated can become a voice to start healing the bitterness (which I really don’t understand why someone would be bitter, get over it and get on with living!!).

    I think your comment about the EO making decisions, plays into what Michelle and I have talked about, that the Catholic church has taken almost a view of making common sense into rules or legality. While the EO have taken a more of a position of grace or finesse. For instance, you would say no contraceptives in a marriage, the EO say, Why do you need to use them, what is your reason?

    In practice I’ve seen Catholic Priests take that same route, in defiance of what the Church clearly teaches. Then I see Catholics disparage those Priests as being ‘Radicals’, and telling people to not trust them.

    This disparity is one reason that I struggled so much, when I would sit one on one and talk with the Priest (more than one), what they would say was not the black and white rules that the Church teaches.

    Do I think that’s wrong, not really. Because life when lived here in the flesh, with emotions, and consequences is vastly different than what Apologists or theologians write as a rule to be followed. There are many examples like this, and what bothers me is that good God fearing Priests, get maligned when they are ones who are doing the hard work, not sitting and reciting the rules.

    I would love to do an experiment, and pose a number of straw men questions, and get reactions from different faiths and then publish the results. I’m positive that it would show that there are differences in how each faith approaches critical issues that humans are caught in.

    Maybe by taking that route, and showing what I see from my position, it would help show how each faith is different, but the same.



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