If you’ve recently heard about Orthodox Christianity and you want to learn more, then you are exactly where I was just seven or eight months ago!

I was researching Christian (Protestant) denominations and I knew I had to investigate Orthodoxy after reading this on Religion Facts:

Culturally, the Greek East has always tended to be more philosophical, abstract and mystical in its thinking, whereas the Latin West tends toward a more pragmatic and legal-minded approach. (According to an old saying, “the Greeks built metaphysical systems; the Romans built roads.”) 

I was quickly blown away by just how very little I knew about Christianity. Despite growing up in a very Christian household. Despite all the apologetics training I had as a teenager. Despite the many books I had read.

The resources that were most influential for me were those that were written from the perspective of former Protestants. If this isn’t your background, then these might not be quite as interesting for you as they were for me.

Ancient Faith Radio – I can’t remember how we learned about it, but we quickly became huge fans of AFR. The first podcast that we listened to was an interview with the founder of AFR. The first part of this podcast is John Maddex’s background in radio and I recommend skipping to 8:40 unless this is something that particularly interests you. At that point he gets into his own conversion story which was extremely influential for both me and my husband. In particular John discusses his presuppositions and how the standard he used to judge a belief was based upon the beliefs of the people that he respected. He realized that this was the wrong approach and that he needed to start from the beginning (the early Church) and move forward. Another interesting comment is one that his wife made about the Church: “if this isn’t it – then nothing is.” My husband and I have both had the exact same sentiment. There is no returning to Protestantism. It’s Orthodoxy – or it is nothing.

After listening to that I quickly bought one of the books mentioned, Becoming Orthodox by Fr. Peter Gillquist. This is the story of an en masse conversion of evangelical Christians to the Orthodox Church. This book is a great place for the Protestant to begin. It’s a quick read and gives a general synopsis of the Church’s major positions. I really enjoyed it, but in retrospect I offer a few caveats. First, it is rather simplistic. But I think it is such as to not overwhelm those unfamiliar with Orthodoxy. Second, there is a rather drawn out account of how this group came to be accepted into the Church. This might be interesting to some people… but frankly I haven’t met those people. I’ve given this book to three or four people and they’ve all said they were bored with that part. I’m the only exception – I found it somewhat interesting, but it is rather much considering that the reader of this book knows next to nothing about the Church.

Thirsting for God in a Land of Shallow Wells – I started this book immediately after Becoming Orthodox, so in my mind the two are linked together as stepping stones. The first book was an easy step, interesting but not too much to think about. The second book was a more challenging step and offered many things to ponder. This was another conversion story but the author went into far greater detail. Among the major themes that I recall are the Protestant doctrine of sola scripture, and Protestant rationalism and relativism. He also discussed many of the major themes in the Church, again going into greater depth than the first book did. As I read many things began to really click for me. I really enjoyed this book and plan on reading it again. I highly recommend this book and so do others – check out the Amazon reviews!

After reading the above (and listening to a few more podcasts) we attended our first Liturgy. Find a church near you here. We visited a ROCOR (Russian) parish before settling on a parish affiliated with the Orthodox Church in America.

I continue to find the OCA site to be extremely helpful. In particular I enjoy the Q&A section as well as this section that I am using as a catechism of sorts.

Reason #2: Truth matters

March 26, 2010

This is part of a series of posts highlighting reasons why I am converting to the Orthodox Church. These reasons are posted in no particular order. Some are big, important reasons; others may be small, wonderful but non-essential reasons. I hope they offer food for thought.

As I learned about the early church and the ecumenical councils that helped shape Christian doctrine and drive out false teachings, I realized that the church had long ago addressed the issues that Christians today still grapple with. Arianism, gnosticism, and other heresies had already been addressed and a determination made. It was of imperative importance to determine which beliefs were true and which were heretical because Christ founded one Church, and it was important to keep true, right beliefs within that Church. Without the right belief – what really is the point? One must understand who Christ is and what He taught. If our goal is to know God and to be like Him, then we must know who He is.

Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick put it like this in his excellent podcast on Orthodoxy and HeterodoxyIf there really is a God, then who He is and what He wants from us is more important than anything else. If we adopt a consumer-style understanding of faith, where various options are offered as a sort of religious buffet where the choice is left up to the consumer, then the logical conclusion is that beliefs about God are not very important – we can pick and choose as we like.

As I began learning about Orthodoxy, I realized that within Protestantism there is a high degree of accepted relativism. One could be a Presbyterian, another a Baptist, another a Pentecostal. They all have very different beliefs. They all see God in a different light. We can even go so far as to say that they are all worshiping a different version of God, which causes one to wonder if these groups are even talking about the same God. Some of them have beliefs or influences that were condemned as heretical by the early church. And yet we are supposed to accept the idea that they are all still part of the same “church?” The Church that Jesus founded? If the Church is the body of Christ, how can you have one part of the body doing one thing, and another part doing a completely different thing?  We can’t all be part of one body when we are clearly disjointed in our beliefs.

I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name—the name you gave me—so that they may be one as we are one. John 17:11

Many evangelicals will say “all that matters is that you believe in Jesus and that He died for you.” This is extremely simplistic and one who makes this kind of statement will quickly run into problems. Who is Jesus? Was He God? Was He man? Who is God? What is His character? How can we know Him? How does Jesus relate to God the Father and the Holy Spirit? How does one understand the Trinity? What does it mean to be a Christian? And on. And on. And on. There is so much more than just “believe in Jesus.”

I am only interested in right belief, true belief – why would I accept anything less? Jesus said that the Truth would set us free, and I want the whole Truth. We left Protestantism because it represents only a piece of the puzzle, and not the fullness of faith that we were looking for.

The Church

March 23, 2010

Christ did not found a philosophical movement called Christianity, he founded His Church.

Then he said that the gates of Hell would not overcome it.

From the Orthodox Wiki:

The traditional belief in the Church is attested to in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed as the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. By this phrase is meant that the Church is undivided and not many (one), sanctified and set apart for the work of God (holy), whole and characterized by fullness and universality (catholic), and has at its essence the going out into all the world to preach the Gospel and baptize the nations (apostolic).

Because the Church, it is the Body of Christ, it is also the temple and dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. It is a continued Pentecost.

The Church is the Bride of Christ, the eschatological spouse of the Son of God, united to him in faith and love, for which he gave himself up on the cross. The intimacy of a husband and wife is an earthly image of the intimacy that Christ has with his Church, and the union of an earthly marriage is a shadow of the union of that marriage of the Lamb of God with the Church.

The Orthodox see the Church as a mystical organism, not an organization of like thinking people. In the Church is the community where man is what he is created to be and can grow for eternity in divine life in communion with God through Christ in the Holy Spirit. The unity of the Church is not broken by time or space and is not limited merely to those alive upon the earth. The unity of the Church is the unity of the Blessed Trinity and of all of those who live with God: the holy angels, the righteous dead, and those who live upon the earth according to the commandments of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.

The community of the Church is the locus of salvation for mankind; it is truly the Ark in which mankind may be saved from the flood of corruption and sin. In it, Christians sacramentallywork out their salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12), worshipping the Holy Trinity in spirit and in truth. The Church is the pillar and ground of truth (I Tim. 3:15) and thus may be relied upon in the Christian’s struggle to apprehend the one truth for himself. The Church is eternal, and the gates of Hell will never prevail against it (Matt. 16:18).

First icon

March 20, 2010

We’ve been meaning to purchase a few icons for a while. Today we unexpectedly bought our first icon. At a Presbyterian church yard sale. For $1. How cool is that?!

My husband immediately recognized the icon. It is an icon of the Holy Trinity (apparently it is also referred to as “The Hospitality of Abraham”). The depiction of the Trinity was perplexing to me at first because I know that there is a prohibition of depicting God the Father. In order to portray the Trinity, the icon painter turned to the story of Genesis 18 when three angels visited Abraham. “The Church specifically chose this particular icon because it most fully expresses the dogma of the Holy Trinity: the three angels are depicted in equal dignity, symbolizing the triunity and equality of all three Persons.” (source)

To my fellow Orthodox converts, what was your first icon?

Our path to Orthodoxy

March 8, 2010

I’ve been working on an introductory post, but it’s getting too long to be of any benefit to anyone. For now I will attempt a brief overview.

Both my husband and I are from devout Protestant backgrounds and we both have found these experiences lacking. David has felt this way for as long as he can remember, and he went through a very intense period of cognitive dissonance shortly before we began attending Liturgy. In fact it was the Church that pulled him from the dark state that he was in. I’ve experienced a cognitive dissonance of sorts for the past ten years or so. This is where we were when our son was born and when we began to feel that maybe we should start attending church.

My husband initially learned about Orthodoxy through a comment made by N.T. Wright. (The particular comment is here – begins at about 35 second into the clip.) He also had noticed mention of it on one of his favorite websites, reddit. His interest was piqued. I began reading about Orthodoxy and although initially I was skeptical, in the end I was hooked.

As we read more about the early church and also the Protestant Reformation, it became clear to us that no matter what happened, we could no longer consider ourselves Protestant.

As I mentioned earlier, we never considered Roman Catholicism.

We are knowledgeable about other religions but we have never considered any of them.

We were left at a point where it was clearly either the Orthodox Church or nothing. We’ve both been down the “nothing” path before and have found it lacking. We were searching for Truth and meaning, and the “nothing” path has literally nothing to offer in this regard.

We were drawn to the mysticism of Orthodoxy. We were relieved to find that we didn’t have to try to explain God. We were accustomed to Christian traditions that try to find an answer to everything, and we personally found many of these answers wanting.

We were drawn to a church service where worshiping and communing with God is first and foremost. This was also different from the tradition we were accustomed to; a tradition of “four bare walls and a sermon.” A tradition with too much empahsis on one earthly man (whoever was preaching that day). A tradition without any visual aesthetics. A tradition which has all but forsaken the Eucharist.

We weren’t religious when we discovered Orthodoxy. But it clicked for us almost instantly. For many others I know that the conversion process takes much, much longer. That’s perfectly ok and I think it’s even a good thing. Nothing worth having comes easily, and that which is easily acquired is easily forsaken. I feel like David and I have been on the path to Orthodoxy for a long, long time – we just didn’t know it yet. Now we are starting on a new portion of this path as catechumens. It feels good and it feels overwhelming. We are so happy to be here and we wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

Glory to Thee, O Lord, Glory to Thee.

I’m giving up that attitude.

I think that we all suffer from it to some extent – some more than others. Unfortunately I am one of those others. Sometimes I greatly desire letting others know that I am right about everything. I want to be the person with all of the answers.

The truth is that I am not. The truth is that this attitude only makes other people less inclined to hear me. The truth is that it is a matter of my own pride. The most pressing truth of all though is that this attitude totally and completely distracts me from my relationship with God. I can easily become too busy defending my positions and in the meantime I neglect the things that I should be doing on this path to salvation.

So I am giving up this attitude. And I’ll be honest – it hurts a little. But I need to have a different motivation for learning about my faith. It can’t be just to prove someone else wrong and to prop myself up in the process. It must be a quest to know God and to worship Him in spirit and in truth. Anything else falls flat.

People in Protestant circles like to say “when we get to Heaven, such and such will happen.” In that vein of thought I have to recognize that when I get to Heaven no one is going to say “wow Liz, you were right about ____!” So I am letting go and concentrating instead on what is truly eternal.

Recently someone accused my husband of not having everything figure out. It’s true, he doesn’t. I don’t either. Who among us does? May I never pretend that I do. This blog is intended to be the chronicle of my journey and the things that I learn along the way. I will certainly discuss differences between Orthodoxy and heterodoxy, but I hope to handle these subjects with grace and clarity and never with a holier-than-thou attitude.