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.

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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.

When my husband and I first learned about Orthodoxy we initially brushed it aside as “too Catholic.” We saw pictures of Divine Liturgy at a nearby parish and I told him in an email “Don’t think I could get into this. Maybe I could if I lived in Europe and had an old-world kind of lifestyle.” The pomp and circumstance of the Liturgy just seemed so far from what I was accustomed to in my modern suburban life. As a Protestant I couldn’t relate to a style of worship that contained anything visually ornate.

We had read a lot about Orthodoxy and I think we could have continued down the path of mere scholarship for quite a long time, but several different people gave us the advice to jump right in by attending Liturgy. Divine Liturgy is meant to be experienced, and we were going to miss the main event if we only focused on scholarly pursuits.

I became determined to visit. David also wanted to visit but he was nervous – mostly afraid of the unknown of a new situation or of making a faux pas. We decided to attend a nearby parish that a friend had visited before. As we pulled into the parking lot, we were a bit nervous. As we made the decision to get out of the car, we were still nervous. As we stood inside the building but just outside the temple, we were really nervous! We had read Frederica’s 12 Things I Wish I’d Known and it was extremely helpful but we still weren’t entirely sure what to expect. We stood in the narthex for a minute or two, undoubtedly looking completely bewildered. A nice lady saw us and before we knew it we were inside the temple and observing our first Liturgy.

The next week we decided to try a different parish (OCA). We’ve been going back ever since.

If you are looking into Orthodoxy, you really must attend Liturgy. The Orthodox Church is so amazingly rich and you are doing yourself a disservice by not attending Divine Liturgy. If you are nervous like we were – don’t be! You can duck into the back of the temple and stand to the side and be completely anonymous if you would like. Just soak it all in. The next time you visit, you might want to look around and see if there is a copy of the printed version of the Liturgy. It is immensely helpful to be able to read along – so much is happening during Liturgy, it is easy to miss some of the words.

After our first Liturgy, David commented that it was almost hard to believe that this was the same religion that we had grown up in. Divine Liturgy was so different from anything that we had experienced. As the weeks and months pass by, we continue to be drawn to Orthodoxy both in scholarship and in practice. If you have not yet attended Liturgy, please consider doing so soon!

A fellow convert recently asked us this question. It took me by surprise. No, we did not come anywhere near the consideration of Roman Catholicism. There’s a multitude of reasons why it was never even on our radar:

  • Both of us have fathers who were raised RC and subsequently left the church to become Protestant
  • My interactions with my staunchly RC grandparents were always less than stellar
  • The Papacy always seemed like a fraud (though admittedly – I grew up in a biased environment)
  • We both knew enough about the Protestant Reformation to know that there were many problems within the RC church – too many problems for us to take it too seriously
  • Personally I have never known any serious Catholics other than my grandparents – and note comment above
  • I was told that Catholics worship Mary and that always seemed strange

Looking back on what I thought about Catholicism even just six months ago, I see a major shift in my views. I can now share much more meaningful reasons for why I would not consider Roman Catholicism:

  • Again, the Papacy – but I now know more about the history of this issue. I see a grossly misplaced concentration on the Bishop of Rome.
  • The filioque.
  • The doctrine of transubstantiation, and other similar rationalistic approaches to what is mystical.
  • The doctrine of the immaculate conception of Mary.
  • Clergy who are not allowed to marry… and too many cases of abuse that seem somehow related to this rule.
  • Much too much change within the church
  • Too many varying interpretations within the church (on the last two points, my husband recently pointed out that you wouldn’t expect this given that the RC church is under centralized leadership. The Orthodox on the other hand have a leadership that is comparably more decentralized and do not experience this same problem within the church).

At the same time, there are some things that RC and Orthodox Christians have in common. Unfortunately this is very confusing to your average Protestant who doesn’t know much about Orthodoxy. Commonalities include:

  • Belief in the presence of Christ in the Eucharist (though Orthodox Christians don’t try to explain how this happens – it is simply accept it as mystery)
  • Crossing oneself (though in a slightly different way than RCs)
  • Venerating Saints
  • Praying to Saints (no different really than asking a fellow Christian to pray for you)
  • Asceticism, incense, monasticism, observance of the liturgical calendar

Some of these things may be of great concern to my Protestant friends. Before investigating Orthodoxy I also thought that these things were “too Catholic” so I understand any concerns. Please stick around, I will explore these in greater depth at some point.