So, ever since the new year, I’ve been doing something radical: I’ve been attending an Orthodox church.
At the moment I am attending catechism classes. At the end of this month, on the event of Pascha (Easter on the Julian calendar) I am about 90% certain that I will be chrismated (anointed with oil as a sign of the Holy Spirit) and admitted into the Orthodox Church.
This is a strange thing for me, a Brethren and a Protestant, from the age of five years old no less. But I am fairly sure that this is the right path for me.
Ultimately I am seeking God. I want to be closer to Him, experience Him, and be filled with His Holy Spirit. Nothing else matters. It’s not an airy fairy goal, it’s a universal one. Most people, unless they are dickheads, want to be Good. We want to be moral. We want to be righteous. Those words mean a lot of different things to different people, but we all want that. We want to live up to that objective standard that is ingrained in our psyche.
I have been a Protestant for a long time and I have seen lives changed and God at work in those churches. I support Protestantism 100%. I am not abandoning that tradition or faith, or at least I don’t see it that way. Some people who “convert” to Orthodoxy like to rag on Protestants, and I won’t do that. My view of Orthodoxy is that it is similar to a Jew who accepts Jesus as the Messiah: I am not changing faith, but deepening it. I am not “converting”, but “completing”. Protestants accept the Word of God (the Bible) as their authority – I am simply adding to that by saying that guys who were disciples of the apostles, and disciples of their disciples, before the Bible was formalized in the 4th Century had (at least) some sort of handle on how to be closer to God. And that they had a better idea of what Jesus and his apostles set down than Rick Warren and Joel Olsteen do.
What has really captured me has been less a matter of theology than it has of practice. Every Protestant church has tried to devise its own method of living the Christian life. Most of them that I have experienced do “okay” with that, and for many people they are a conduit to faith. That is super freaking awesome, and I have no problem with that. But in many ways they are reinventing the wheel. There is a Church which already does all that stuff – the original Church. The Orthodox Church. They have the methods and the liturgies and the fasts by which you assume the Holy Spirit in your life, and they have had them for a long long time. The service I participated in this Sunday is exactly the same as the one that they conducted in Greek 1600 years ago in Constantinople at the Hagia Sophia. It ain’t broke, and there’s no point in fixing it.
I want “deeper” and I want “more”. That’s the best way I can describe it. In this, Protestantism has reached its limits. It does not offer me the Saints or the Church. I want communion with both. Megachurches and casual communion do not offer me that. With the result that I cannot seek to “work out my own salvation” with any fear and trembling. That is a lonely business with Protestantism.. With the Full Church, I stand a better chance.
There have been obstacles. I have had to get a handle on the Orthodox concept of Theosis, which contrasts with the Protestant value of event-based salvation, and what flows from that. I have had to ask serious questions about the Saints, their icons, what the @#$%&* I’m doing kissing 2d tempura renditions of those guys, and what prayer to them actually represents. And hardest of all, I’ve had to ask (and I am still asking) who is Mary? What does her life mean? Is it important to my faith? If I sing “O Holy Theotokos save us”, is that theological correct? That is my biggest barrier at this point in time. How I feel about Mary may swing the whole thing.
I am working through that. I hope t0 blog on the specifics of my inner theological dialogue in future posts. But I will say this: Nothing about my faith in the past has changed, only the method by which I live out that faith. And I am also wary of getting caught up about talking of angels on pinheads. Christianity is not in any method of any church, but in what that method produces – the freeing of peoples, the acceptance of strangers, the clothing of the naked, the feeding of the hungry, the care of the sick, the visits to captives. That is a creed practiced by Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox Christians. What I am concerned with is my own faith. Where can it grow best? The Orthodox Church seems to me to be the best and most truthful and faithful of places at this point.
This is the Hipster Church. The one where people were Christian before it was cool. With the strange calendar, the weird hymns, and the awkward facial hair. It’s a trend. You should get on it ;-)