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The Road To Antioch

Ruins In Turkey

Ruins in Turkey

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.


Why Orthodoxy?

Church of the Resurrection Jesus Christ at St Petersburg, Russia

Church of the Resurrection Jesus Christ at St Petersburg, Russia

That simple question has been the subject of dreams, discussions and  a good part of my life for the last year.

There is no singular, or simple answer.

It’s more difficult to explain to friends and family, there is an unmeasurable amount of depth in the Orthodox faith. But putting that into words is difficult, because the worldview is radically different that any other faith I have ever experienced. I will mention the standard things that cause people to convert, but I’m also going to attempt to articulate the things that people don’t mention. And trust me, there is a lot they never tell you. I would love to say it’s all good, but there are some downsides to all this, and I would be less than honest if I did not mention them. While Catholicism changed me in a number of positive ways, Orthodoxy has completely turned my world inside out, I’m still trying to understand some of the things I’ve learned over the last year, and especially the last month.

For my Catholic friends, I walked away from the Catholic Faith, because I could not find the evidence to support a number of Catholic Doctrines and Dogmas (you can find them in other posts here), and I felt conflicted because the more I dug into the church fathers, history and scripture the more I began to question what I was being taught. Finally I took a leap of faith and met with the Priest at the local Orthodox church, and that discussion started a long journey into the faith. If your not questioning what the Church teaches, then stay. I love Catholicism, I just disagree in certain areas, and it ultimately led me to the Orthodox church. I have also begun to realize that the schism in 1054, can no longer be healed. The issues run too deep, and there is too much at stake for either side to fully change. And it’s more than just the Papacy or the Filioque, it goes all the way to how each side see original sin, amongst other deep issues. That doesn’t mean we can’t get along, but the world views are just very, very different.

For my Protestant friends, there is a huge resource of rich Christian teaching that is not found in the Bible, in fact you should spend some time studying how you even got the bible you hold today. Because there is no heavenly printing press popping out RSV’s, ESV’s and KJV’s, there is a deep and rich history of early church involvement in what you hold so dear today. And until you understand the times, the men, the Saints, and the church that put it together, you really don’t know what you have in your hands. Sola Scriptura is not a concept that was even conceived of until the 15th century, and more importantly it’s not a concept that the Bible it’self teaches, the  early church used tradition, and the deposit of faith to determine what books made up the bible we use today. And the current protestant versions that excludes the Apocryphal books, is a new invention started in the mid 1800’s in protestant Scotland. Which means that for almost 1500 years the church used those books as Scripture, but protestants so desperate to avoid any view of tradition they considered man made removed books THEY deemed unfit. So much for 1500 years of scholars and theologians who never had an issue with them.

So why Orthodoxy?, why after a year did we decide to finally enter into communion with the Orthodox church?

1. Apostolic Foundation, the church can trace a direct lineage back to the original apostles. It has held on tightly to the original teachings handed to it by the men who spent three years with Christ (also called the deposit of faith), and has resisted change over two millennia. We may not have a Papacy or a Magisterium like the Catholics, but we do have Bishops, Priests, Deacons and we can claim that we are the church that Christ started. We were united with the Roman Catholic Church until 1054, and once we separated, we held onto our teachings as tightly as possible. To me, this is the same faith that the Apostles and the first church fathers practiced.

2. Biblically Centered, every aspect of the Orthodox life is centered around scripture, the liturgy is fully based on scripture, as are the other services such as vespers and Matens, you will hear more scripture in an Orthodox service than any other church alive today.

3. Grace, Love and Mercy are the rule, and not an exception. This is something we had to learn on our own, the Orthodox church while very Ascetic in its every day practice (we fast weekly as part of the Orthodox faith, and have a calendar full of fasting times), it has no expectations that everyone will be able to follow those rules. There is a saying in the church, of ‘Mind your own plate’, meaning we are all sinners who are learning to be better at being Christ like. We should encourage each other in love, and show the same grace and compassion that Christ showed to sinners.

4. Deep, reverential, and love filled liturgy focused on Christ, God, The Holy Spirit, and the Eucharist. Known sometimes as the smells and bells, the liturgy in the church is taken very seriously by those attending. But there is no sense that if you don’t cross yourself here, or bow at a certain time you are doing anything wrong. The whole thing is about worshipping God, there is structure to be sure, but you can’t ruin it because you do something wrong. In both the Catholic Mass, and the Divine Liturgy in the Orthodox faith, the direction of the worship is different, it’s centered on not what we get out of it, but of how we can use worship to honor God. In fact in the Antiochian Orthodox church we are part of, you will only hear singing, with no instruments, because the focus is on worshipping the Holy One and not how good the band performs today.

5. Family and Community, merged in love. This again took us a long time to see, but we didn’t join a community in the classic sense of the word, we where adopted into a family, warts and all. The love we have been shown has humbled us in so many ways, while I was Baptist we used to greet each other with the statement ‘Brother’, but I knew very few of those people personally. It’s so incredibly different in the Orthodox church, there is no pretentiousness, it really is a family, made up of smaller family’s. And loving each other, without any judgmental aspects is the rule. It’s been a truly humbling experience to see this part of the faith.

6. A faith lived out, not just on Sunday’s. The Orthodox faith is not about attending a parish, in point of the fact the church building is considered part of the church, and not just a structure we meet in. The Orthodox way seeps into our homes, our marriages, every aspect of our lives, you live this faith, you don’t just attend it. I know that can sound scary. But it’s meant in a good way, because when you begin to understand the depth of love, you can’t but help be changed. And there are no expectations, no one is there to monitor you, but as you grow you learn that living the Christian faith in all parts of our life, is the only way to grow in our faith. The same can be said of the Catholic Faith, but it means more in the Orthodox faith, it becomes more ingrained into who you are.

7. Correct Theology, this is a personal item, but as I came out of the protestant church, and especially Calvinism. I spent a good deal of time working out biblically things like Soteriology (the study of salvation), and dug through the early church, the formation of the Bible, and the church fathers. I have found few things in the Orthodox church that concern me, but there are no areas where I theologically disagree. And that’s huge, in fact in some of my studies on energies and essence, I’ve had to go back to reset some of my thinking, because what I found matched with what I had researched. I had just put a western spin on it, and once I began to understand what the original church believed, I found my thinking was off.

8. Synergism, meaning God and Man working together. This concept is one that drives reformed Christians crazy, they are monergists, meaning that in their world view God is always in full control and free will is an illusion. But scripture does not agree, God certainly has foreknowledge (knowledge of things that have not happened yet). But I could never buy that a truly loving God, would limit free will, or that he did not make his creation truly free, it just doesn’t fit the model that we see in scripture. It’s a far more loving act for a parent to say, you have free will, and I will honor your decision fully. Over the years I came to believe that the Reformers had it dead wrong, and that God truly grants us free will, because anything else changes the very loving nature of God into something terrible. The Orthodox church believes that our salvation is not a one time event, it’s a process of growing, and learning and changing. That we live it out in our prayer, and that together with God’s help, we become more like Christ. It’s not meant to be an easy path, it’s meant to help us grow into something more.

9. Economy, meaning the handling or housekeeping of a thing, or in this case a rule. In practice, this is the rule of love, rather than the strict application of a rule. It means that some things can be set aside in order to help someone grow in the faith. For instance I see this in effect, when in the Orthodox church a married couple can meet with their confessor and discuss options around birth control, it becomes an issue between the three. Not one that is strictly dictated by the Bishop (although he could do that) or rule, this handling of things that fall outside the normal realm, by using love and grace as the guiding principle is something that is hard to explain. In contrast, in the Catholic Church if you purposely miss a weekly mass, there is a dictated consequence (mortal sin), and a determined outcome (no salvation, unless you confess your sin). The Orthodox church doesn’t work that way, the rules are there to help mold you to be more Christ-like, not to punish you because you didn’t meet the criteria. This is one thing that I hear from Catholics, who disagree with the Orthodox position on Contraception, they want solid rules and ideas that have absolutes. But love and grace are never absolute, they have a mystery aspect to them, applying a set of dictated rules never works when it runs into the reality of human frailty.

10. Tradition, the foundation of the church is based on what has been handed to them by the Apostles, and their successors all down the line, unbroken to this very day. In the Orthodox faith you will find icons, lots and lots and lots of icons. There are the Saints, they are there to remind us of the men and women who have gone before us and shown the way. There are the Angels, and then there is Christ and the Theotokos or Mary, the one who said yes to the Angel, the God Bearer. We keep these traditions, icons, feast days, handed down since the beginning, as part of what makes us Orthodox. Traditions help us to grow in our faith, but it also grounds us in the very teachings of those who sat at the feet of Christ, there have certainly been changes over the years. Some parts of the liturgy have changed with the times, but the core of what we believe and practice has remained steadfast for over 2000 years.

One thing that I can’t stress enough, is that the Liturgy is not about ceremony, I used to think that way. Until I realized that ALL churches, even the most open and free-will ones have some type of liturgy. Without it, you don’t have worship, but chaos, and no one benefits. It’s not about what we get out of it, it’s not about the music, or the preaching. It really is about worshipping God, plain and simple.  In the Orthodox faith, vespers which is a prayer service done on saturday nights, is done no matter how many people are there, because it’s not for us, it’s to honor the creator. Think about that for a minute, even if no parishioners show up, the service will still continue. It’s a huge difference in focus from what we did when we where protestant where the bigger the crowd the better the show. Gone are the video clips, sound systems, and 10 piece band. We worship with what God gave us, our voices, our bodies, our minds, it’s not a performance, it’s gratitude for a merciful and awesome creator.

You will also find a great deal of piety in the Orthodox faith, people ending messages with things like ‘Pray for me a sinner’. Coming from a fundamental world, it can seem like a race to be the most humble, but in reality we are all sinners and we need all the help we can get. The piety that at first glance is so external, is really part of the Orthodox experience, I am a sinner. I do terrible things, and it’s only through prayer, and the difficult task of dealing with it (with God’s help) that I can overcome it, it’s a struggle and so I need to be remind myself and others that I am no better than they are. This kind of humility is found in the monastic life of Monks, and we would do well to learn from their examples.

The Orthodox faith for us, has been the destination of the last five years of looking, we would have no appreciation unless we had spend so much time in other faiths learning. Looking back we can see how we where slowly led to this point, and now that we are here, we are finding that things are not how we expected them to be. They are better and more difficult, which I suppose seems odd, but that’s being brutally honest. We knew this would not be easy, we talked about it for weeks before we even finally making what was already a forgone conclusion, that we belonged in the Orthodox church. And the great thing is she didn’t change to meet us halfway, she just opened her arms and took us as we where. She will change us, but it’s not through rules, or catechisms, it’s through love, grace and mercy. The piety that we are now beginning to experience isn’t because anyone is telling us we have too, it’s because we realize that without it, our growth would be stunted. The Orthodox church is the church that Christ left behind, it’s full of sinners, and full of grace, and it’s a mystery that we will live for the rest of our lives.

Please Forgive Me A Sinner.


A longer road less traveled

This is an old post that I found while doing some cleanup, it’s a reflection of my mindset a little over a year ago. Today I’m no longer straddling the fence, I’m not sure why I never published it, so instead of letting it waste away, I’ll share it instead.


When I started my journey from being apostate and living in the evangelical wilderness, back into the world of faith, I never expected it to take me all the way to the doors of the Catholic church. But a little over two years ago, Michelle and I attended our first mass, at what is now our home parish. We actually hid it from the children, because we didn’t want them freaking out until we had a chance to finish freaking out ourselves. The good Father who greeted us that morning, would later take my first shaky confession, and would witness tears of pain and joy, as I confessed my sins.

Now we are facing our first anniversary as new Catholics this Easter, we have been faithful to our parish and faith, and we have found peace in simply being Catholic. We are sponsoring an older couple who come from a pentecostal background, it’s been good to sit and listen to their concerns and know that we had to face the same questions. The road that brought us here has been painful at times, and for a while we were sure that we had finally found home.


I never stopped looking for the truth, I knew that there was more, and the only way to find it was to keep digging until I had satiated my desire for authenticity and truth.

That has led me to a new place in my personal theology, somewhere I never expected to be. My wife is not there yet, and I’m not sure she ever will be, she doesn’t want to go back to the road. Too many painful events, memories, lost friends, and emotions. I agree with her, but I need, or more directly, Have to know where the truth is. As I have mentioned before I also have begun to look at the differences between the Catholic and Orthodox churches, and that has opened up a new world for me, one that quite honestly I didn’t even know existed for most of my life.

My theology has come to the point that I don’t think any church in existence today can claim full irrefutable authority or divine providence in matters of faith, certainly no evangelical church can make that claim. Much less the Orthodox or Catholic churches, even with doctrine that explicitly states otherwise, the history of each branch of Christianity tells a different story than the doctrine they present. I’m not trying to state that every church has faults, few would argue that point, rather my point is that no one body of believers has fully held the original deposit of faith handed down from the Apostles. Each has modified or changed it in some way, I’m not sure how you could expect any less. The world has not remained static, and each generation, and age faces new and more difficult challenges. This paired with constant attacks on Christianity from all sides (and often within), and modify doctrine becomes the only way to survive.

I no longer believe the dogma that the papacy is infallible when declaring dogmatic teaching. I know this will bother my Catholic friends, but the theology of infallibility was not even fully decreed as dogma until 1870 at the Vatican I council. And that after a long and bothersome history of the papal office expanding the role of the bishop of Rome, from a primate position among bishops (which is how the early church viewed the bishop of Rome), to the most powerful chair in the world. This expansion of power led to abuse and scandal, and was one of the key linchpins in the schism between east and west in 1054. Let me be clear that I’m not referring to papal cyclicals, doctrinal positions, or the personal human nature of the bishop of Rome. I’m specifically stating that the dogma declared by the Vatican I council is a position that cannot be supported from either Tradition, or Scripture. And despite apologetic claims to the contrary, it is clear from history and the writings of the church fathers that the original deposit of faith, was not seen as giving petrine supremacy to the bishop of Rome.

The Orthodox churches who share the same deposit of faith from the Apostles, certainly have never seen the papacy as universal in the same sense that the Catholic church defined it in 1870. That’s not say that the petrine doctrine found in Matthew has no significance, in fact it’s evident from the early church writings that the early churches looked to Rome and specifically the papacy as the guardian of doctrine. But it was never viewed in the same way that the Catholic church has defined it, and certainly not as Vatican I dogmatically decreed it.

This is not to say that I don’t believe in the primacy of papacy, or the magisterium. I think both are critical to protecting the orthodoxy of the Catholic Church, Michelle and I have found stability in knowing that the structure of the Catholic church is not open to the whims of the changing times. At the same time, this very attribute of protecting orthodoxy creates a situation where the church can seem lethargic when reacting to a quickly changing world. So there’s good and bad, but we see it clearly as a positive. And I do dearly love the Catholic church, I love the liturgy, the aesthetic practices, the clergy, the structure and the grandeur of the whole thing. It’s safe, consistent and reliable, even if the people are not.

But I would be lying, if I was to tell you that I think it’s perfect. I cringe when I read apologist or others who feel the need to claim full inerrancy of the dogmatic or doctrinal teachings of the church, because when you take dogmatic teaching like the assumption of Mary, you can’t defend the position without playing the ‘on faith’ or ‘it’s a mystery’ get out jail card. There is nothing substantive in the writings of the church fathers, nothing in scripture on the topic, and the Orthodox have never seen a need to dogmatize the assumption. It’s really christian legend, and I’m not saying that it couldn’t have happened, just that if you are going to make something part of your dogma, you should be able to clearly and concisely argue your position.

So what about the Orthodox church?, my exposure so far has been scholastic in nature. But even with that type of limited exposure I have found that there are divisions among the various Orthodox churches, and you can find Orthodox churches that are exceedingly strict to the western palette, and ones that conform more to the needs of a modern society. The one thing that I find attractive is that in all my reading, the Orthodox do their best to protect what was handed to them by the Apostles, and aren’t afraid to admit when they are standing on less than solid ground. I do admit that I find that kind of frank honesty missing in Catholic apologetics, where the answer is always absolute, it’s only rarely will you find someone willing to admit that some doctrine is simply not very defensible.

So from my position, no one can claim full authority. Even with Apostolic succession, you end up with two institutions that haven’t gotten along since 1054,   both showing a clear succession from the Apostolic traditions to today. That doesn’t mean they are bad, or wrong, my point is more subtle than that. It means that until the two can join together and speak with a united voice, neither can really be considered the one true church.

I am, for lack of a better term, stuck in the middle. I love the Catholic Church, I don’t think it’s perfect and I don’t buy into all of it’s dogma, but I’m reticent to leave because I find so much beauty in what it is and what it does. I find that the Orthodox faith makes so much more sense, and on matters not relating to Rome, they seem to be so much more reasonable. I’ve learned more about being Catholic from reading Orthodox authors than I have Catholic ones, there are exceptions, but they are pretty scarce.



It’s Pascha week in the Orthodox church, we celebrate our Easter much later because of the calendar we use (the OLD one if you really need to know). There is a service every night this week, and multiple ones over the weekend, with a huge Celebration at 2am Sunday morning, where we run around ringing bells and declaring that Christ has risen. A BBQ and Picnic on Sunday and Monday…

It all sounds wonderful…

But it’s freaking me out…

Why you ask would something so worthy of celebration be a cause for concern?

What in the world is wrong with you?

I am asking myself that same question, and at the moment I have no good solid answers. I have some ideas, and can recognize some of what is eating at me, but I don’t have a full grasp yet on the situation. I think it goes something like this:

I get up early, hop in the shower, feed the animals, eat breakfast, run to work. Work on a very large and complicated project, run home, try to finish:


The Shop’s Electrical.

The Freezer outside that needs moving.

Unpacking the pod of tools and equipment.

Putting up a gate so we can get some sheep for the pasture.

Cleaning out the Chicken Coops.

Unpacking my office.

And those are the ones I can remember, we are still on hold with the other house, so that is always on our minds. My Daughter is graduating high school this year, and starting college, she has a new boyfriend I have to meet and check out now (man do they grow up fast).


Unbearably Me…

I have character flaws, it’s part of my humanity, part of the whole that shapes who I am.

I’m sitting in a Starbucks writing this, while at home my wife is hosting a party for a baby baptism of a friend. It’s been a busy day, I was up early to kick off a project for the office, I worked out, then I was in the office doing testing and managing the project. The work that my team did today was successful, it’s a big relief, but when I called home to see what was going on, I found that a group of people who I have no emotional connection to are at my home celebrating.

The party was my wife’s idea, and I’ve supported her efforts, but now that the day has arrived, I find old habits rearing their ugly head. I have no desire to entertain people I don’t know, and one that my wife and I share a friendship with. I also don’t want to spoil their celebration, it’s a worthy thing to be celebrating. But I’m 50 years old, and I’ve been down this road many many times before, and the minute I show up, I will be forced into what they are doing. And because my wife’s friend knows us both will be hurt if I don’t make a showing of being happy she’s there.

Truth be told, there is so much drama in my life, that I really don’t want to get involved in yet another families drama. I wish them well, I just don’t have the emotional strength to be part of a mess, that in my view they created for themselves.

Hard, unfair maybe, but very true.

I sometimes wish I was different, that I could be like others and be more open, but I am at my very core a private man, who has certain places that I consider to be sacred. My rocking chair next to the window and the TV is one of those, like the altar we keep on the upstairs landing, it’s my go to spot when I need to decompress. And the only people I share it with are those who I have let into inner reaches of my heart.

In the parish that we attend the Priests wife has battled cancer and is now cancer free, but when we joined the parish, I had to ask myself if I really had the emotional depth to deal with that situation if God forbid it took a dark turn. It tool me a long time to come to grips with the whole picture, and today she is like a long lost sister. But I feel ashamed that I was so cold and calculating in deciding if I was ready to deal with the situation before we joined the parish.

I’m never sure if I should apologize for who I am, or just be content being me. It’s a question I’ve never been able to answer, I’m socially awkward at times, and sometimes I shame myself. But it’s part of my makeup, and I’m not sure I can ever change it, or if it even makes sense to change it.

One of the most beautiful things I found in Orthodoxy was that we each are on our own journey, and there is no judgement if I’m not ready to accept some parts of the faith. Last night talking to Fr. Mark we talked about the final leg of the fast, I joked that the Orthodox take fasting and lent and at the very end crank the knobs to 12. He said some of the faithful will even not eat for the final two days, to which I quizzed him on how many parish members became crashers during the final service. I meant it partly in humor and partly because I get fasting, but at this point of my walk, I don’t ‘get’ making myself suffer that much to celebrate lent (well is it a celebration then).

So there’s part of it, the flaws in the man. The parts of me that I don’t share very often.

God Forgive Me, A Sinner.



Sometimes the hardest part is simply believing…

It’s been an interesting year, we have finally moved and are settling into a new place. Our old house is getting foreclosed on, and there is simply nothing we can do about it, despite that we never missed a payment and held up our end of the bargain, we are now stuck with a foreclosure.

After a long year of questioning we decided to journey into the Orthodox Church, that decision has brought both pain and joy.

I had an accident on January 28th, and it took me out for three weeks, and I’m still not fully recovered. I’m not sure if I ever will be the same again.

My oldest son moved out on his own, and immediately lost his job, so he is constantly on our minds.

My Daughter made some bad decisions and did a good deal of damage to my car, it was in the repair shop for two full weeks while they fixed it.

We have been struggling to just keep up with life, so much is happening that most days we collapse from exhaustion.

Then today I walked out of a Vespers service because I finally hit a portion of Orthodox Asceticism that I could not reconcile. I’m sure I’ll go back, but I had to stop and take a deep breath so I can think, everything has begun to squeeze the air out of my life.

You see in the Orthodox faith they use a different calendar, and they take lent VERY seriously. Catholics give up something for lent, but the Orthodox turn that up to 11, first you give up meat, then you give up anything dairy, meaning you go vegan. It’s not a requirement, you can do less and be fine. But the bar is set. Then today they celebrated a forgiveness service, it’s a vespers service where you prostrate on your knees (think muslim prayers), and ask for forgiveness from EVERYONE in attendance. Not as a group but person by person, the idea is to be humble, and in turn each person does the same for you.

But the whole thing seemed to me to be overly pious, how can I ask forgiveness if I don’t even know everyone very well. I’m not a monastic, I’m a man with faults and failures, and there are SOME people who I need to ask forgiveness of, but I’m not about to do it in a public service. There was a push to ask forgiveness of EVERYONE I know, that sounds like a good sentiment, but in reality it would cause more issue than it would help with some people I know.

So it’s not enough to have a late Lent, to use almost a whole Sunday for church every week, long services where you stand (you can sit, but standing is more Ascetic), to go far beyond anything the Catholic faith required (and many times I think they didn’t require enough). But then I’m supposed to humiliate myself, prostate before strangers and ask for forgiveness when I’m not even sure of the persons name.

Called to the priesthood I am not…

So today after the Agape meal, I began to feel confined and trapped, getting up and down on my knees 50 to 60 times seems pointless. It’s a show that I’m pious enough to be Orthodox, it has nothing to do with my heart, how I feel, or how I see things.

So instead of prostrating 60 times, throwing my back out, and tearing up what little is left of my knees. I walked out…

I left..

I need time to think things over, I need some air.

I don’t want to be Orthodox and go through the motions, just because that’s what we do. If I’m going to do anything it’s because not only do I understand what we are doing, but because I believe in my heart it’s the right thing to do. I cannot believe in something I don’t understand, so right now I need time to think, to breathe a little and come to terms with what it means to be Orthodox.

Which is strange because right now I’m stuck between two worlds, I can’t go to reconciliation because I’m not Orthodox yet. I would go back to being Catholic, but I don’t believe in Papal Infallibility, Universal Jurisdiction of the Papacy, the Marian Dogmas, or Indulgences.

So I’m a man without a home, back into the wilderness once more for a time…

What I need more than anything right now is prayer, and time to reflect…



Of Saints, Men, and Tradition

St Clement Of Rome

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!!

Pope Clement

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.




The Pope, My Head, And Some Good Friends

I read the news today about the Pope stepping down at the end of the month, it was a little surprising but for me it shows the character of the Joseph Ratzinger. Even before becoming Catholic I admired Pope Benedict, I think he did a great job during a very difficult time for the Church, and I have been encouraged as he began to stamp out the odd liberalism that has plagued the Catholic Church since Vatican II. In the next month we are going to be inundated with opinions about what the Catholic Church should address next, I’m sure there will be no end to the homosexual and women as clergy nonsense. I also expect contraception to be high on the list, while I don’t agree %100 with the church on this issue when it comes to marriage, I do support the church on the rest of the issues surrounding contraception, and I’m %100 with them on Abortion.

But here’s the thing, I think what Pope Benedict is doing shows just how good of a Pope he is, we live in very fast times, the information age has changed the way we  do theology, live our lives, and learn about who we are. It has allowed an uprising of opposition voices to overwhelm the Church’s message at times, and the Vatican has been a little slow in coming around. It’s part of the history of the Church, when your two thousand years old, let’s see how fast you can react. But I think in this time of rising apostasy the church needs someone at the helm who can take charge and deal with the worlds changes head on. Ratzinger knows this, and it’s been obvious for a while that he has not been well physically, so the move to retire is the best move he could make. It shows his love of the Church, and his desire for her to confront the onslaught she faces in today’s world. I know Catholics are sad he’s leaving, but you could not have asked for a better man to fill that position, and it’s clear that rather than hold onto the position, he desires more than anything, that the Church go forward. The man is a Saint in my book, and I have nothing but respect for what he’s doing.

Now to my noggin:

Two weeks ago I was walking into work, carrying a box of cookies in one hand, and my iPad Mini in the other. It was a very cold January morning, it had been snowing and was warm the day before, as I approached our office I noticed a co-working walking about 30 feet in front of me. What happened next I can’t tell you, because the next thing I knew, my co-worker was sitting over me patting me on the fact trying to wake me up. It gets a little fuzzy after that, I remember my fingers tingling like crazy and two co-workers helping me walk into the building. I sat at my desk and started to feel bad, it was about that time that my boss called an ambulance. Next thing I know I’m surrounded by men who are talking to me, checking my vitals and finally strapping me to a board and carting me out the front door. This was not how I wanted to leave work that day!

I always wondered what it would be like to ride in the Ambulance, and now I know, and friends, it’s not good. First they roll you in, your strapped down 20 ways from sunday, and your stretcher locks into the frame of the vehicle, which means any bump it hits, you feel. As we got rolling the paramedic pulls out and I.V. kit, I asked him if he was seriously going to do that while we where moving?, and he said “It’s not a problem, I do this all the time”. Well maybe not a problem for him, but for me it hurt like hell, so not only was I dizzy, he poked with an 18 gauge needle!

Once we arrived at the emergency room, my shirt was removed and I was sent to get a CT scan to see if I had scrambled my noggin. The E.R. however was packed with other people who had suffered my same fate, so I sat, or rather laid, with a neck brace in a room waiting to be seen. Uncomfortable does not cover it, Michelle showed up and I not afraid to admit that I shed some tears, it was all so overwhelming for me. Finally after about 30 minutes they pull me in to scan my noggin. Now I’m a big guy, and it took four nurses to move me onto the CT machine, they do it just like you see on T.V. shows, hup, heave, and over. I laid there unable to move while the machine spun away, then I was hup, heaved, and back over to my stretcher, and back into my room.

It was then they gave me some pain killers and nausea meds through the I.V. and for a time, Life was good. Then the Doc showed up, no visible damage, but most likely a concussion, and a good one at that. He wanted to me to try and sit up, little did I know that my brain had other insidious plans… The moment I moved from laying on the stretcher to sitting upright, the room transformed into Mr. Toads Wild Adventure, and spun like crazy. I almost lost my breakfast, so the nurse, being the angel that she was, gave me more drugs. And that did the trick I was able to slowly sit up, and eventually walk. After about three hours, they let me leave, but I had to see a specialist later in the week. It turns out that I have a level 4 concussion, and walking for the first week was an adventure, just going to the bathroom was like a funhouse of evil. And laying down to go to sleep, well, have you ever watched a cat watching a ping pong ball bounce up and down. That was pretty much what my eyes did, it was loads of fun.

I finally got in to see the Doc, and he basically told me to go home, rest, no computer, no laptop, no tablet, short amounts of reading and T.V. And that it would take a couple of weeks to heal, my balance would be wonky, and I was not to drive. So I have spent the last two weeks driving the recliner, watching terrible old T.V. shows, lots of documentaries, read theology and Lee Child books. I’ve been bored out of my mind. Finally today I saw the doc, did my third test, and was finally cleared for work starting next week, which is the best news I could get. It’s been quite an adventure, I’m considering a hockey helmet at all times, and we actually bought strap on spikes for my shoes.

This episode while painful and frustrating, has taught me a valuable lesson. We have people who love and support us no matter what, it’s been humbling how much support we have gotten through this. We are not yet fully Orthodox, but the family has stepped up in such a big way to support us that I’m at odds on how to say thank you correctly. We have friends who are from a different faith completely, and have shown more grace and the love of Christ than anyone else we know. I think the lesson here was to learn to let go, it’s a hard lesson for both of us, especially me the control freak. God has blessed us through both the church family at the Antiochian parish, and through friends who just want to make sure we are taken care of.

I’m not sure how many more CSI reruns I can watch on Hulu, computer time is still limited (I’m just about out of Gas on this now), but I can’t help but to feel truly blessed by God, and the people around us.



Entering the Church and House Blessings

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…





Finally, the river has been crossed, a new harbor awaits…

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!