Sunday, October 24, 2010
The Tricky Topic of Halloween
What About Halloween
Thursday, October 14, 2010
"To be a peacemaker, however tiny or great the issue and the stakes- I have in mind one of my sons being willing to let the other pour his orange juice first rather than fight over it- is always heroic, is always reminiscent of the cross and the sacrifice of Christ and his courage to appear weak. He could have called legions of angels to rescue him and fight at the moment, but instead he chose to ask the Father's forgiveness for his enemies. Being a peacemaker is hardly popular with people who are sparring to win, it really takes all the 'fun' out of it and can be denigrated as 'wimpy' or foolish. Also, being a peacemaker is different than being an 'appeaser,' not making waves, not standing up for truth. Just as the idea of 'keeping the peace' in a dysfunctional way be confused with being a peacemaker. On the other hand, choosing to deny oneself and avoid a conflict originating in willfulness and selfishness is also peacemaking, or rather, 'war prevention.' Its a hornet's nest."
Sometimes Christ's peace seems especially absent among his followers. We don't simply disagree with one another on many topics, but we often despise those who hold what we regard as false or heretical views. Disagreement may be necessary- the defense of truth is a virtue- but hatred is a grave sin. Most often it isn't truth we battle for but opinion, vindication of our irritation with someone else, or just the desire to have things our own way.
"Christ says we must love our enemies and pray for them. The two go together. You will never love anyone you don't pray for. Prayer opens a channel inside us to participate in God's love for the other person."
Far from loving our opponents, as Christ commands us to do, it often happens that we don't even respect them or try to understand them or consider that it may not be they who are wrong. Even if they happen to be dead wrong, there may be ways in which our attitude or response keeps them from changing their mind or way of life.
Our own failure to love is a major part of the problem.
Thursday, October 7, 2010
God help me! Here is where the rubber meets the road.
Sunday, October 3, 2010
Patriocentrism isn't your average evangelical complementarianism. Its far, far to the right of that with an agenda that is ultimately legalistic, ungodly and dangerous. Our blog was our attempt to engage in the discussion and expose this false teaching and to figure out where we stood theologically.
Eventually, we got it all out of our system and stopped writing. I don't think where was a regular post on the blog for over a year until I opened it back up in July.
I started a series of posts highlighting the role that women Saints have played in the life of the Orthodox Church from the beginning. These women are routinely dismissed as non-normative or even rebellious jezebels because they did not marry, bear children, and keep sweet. Women as deaconesses or "equal-to-the-apostles?" May it never be! I understand that these saints ARE non-normative and that's why they are Saints. But the Church gives them to us as role-models and people we are to strive to emulate and become like, however that may work out in our own lives.
In order to do this, I had to confess my conversion to Orthodox Christianity. Not a big deal. I'm not ashamed of it, obviously. I actually received emails from people telling me they were interested in knowing more about the Church. Yay! I'm trying to help those people as best I can. Some people were very gracious in telling me that while they disagreed with the direction I took, they still respect the Church and consider me a sister in Christ.
But one person, who has loooooong hated us for reasons unknown, has got her panties in a wad over this whole thing. She actually started a whole blog where she can argue with herself about us. She regularly posts flat out factual LIES about us (i.e. my confessing Christian co-blogger is actually a secret Buddhist) ,as well as her conspiracy theories about how I've been Orthodox all along but I was trying to hide it. This is a person who refuses to accept the distinction between icons and statues. She is willfully ignorant about Orthodox Christianity- in this, I mean that she THINKS she knows what the Church teaches about a whole hosts of subjects and will not accept correction when documented evidence is provided to her which proves that she is incorrect.
Now, this woman is notorious in the whole blogosphere "patriarchy/patriocentricity" debate as being unstable and unteachable. She claims she was vilified on the blog a few years ago, but my co-bloggers and I can't find evidence of what she is talking about. This is where her grudge comes from. I wish I could help her in that or understand why she hates us so much.
(As an aside, I realize that I am getting a small taste of my own medicine here. We weren't always that kind on the blog either. I understand that and now I empathize with those people that we judged wrongly. It can be quite annoying, if not painful, to see your words twisted to mean something completely different than what you intended. And it never feels good to be unfairly judged. May God forgive me for those times I was guilty of that.)
This experience with her has been a particular refining tool for me because I sooooooo want to argue with her. I can't stand being lied about. I can't stand the blatant and intentional misrepresentation of the Church. But as I said in one of my posts- the Church has been around for 2,000 years and I don't need to defend it to someone who isn't going to hear me anyway. The information is out there and if people are foolish enough to take her word for it and not seek out the information for themselves, well, there isn't much I can do about that.
I believe God has called me to silence where this person is concerned. I want to love her. I want to be concerned for her welfare. At this point, I don't and am not. May God help me in this. Right now, I just want her to go away. Instead of torturing myself with clandestine visits to her blog, I banned myself. I even made it so that I can't physically see her blog even if I wanted to. And I feel tremendous peace about that.
I can relate to her in this: there was a time when I believed that I needed to proclaim "truth" at any cost. Even after being shown that I was wrong, I refused to accept it and I persisted in my error. Because TRUTH was more important than people or relationships or anything and it didn't matter who I steamrolled as long as the truth was out there.
Truth is important. I"m not saying we shouldn't proclaim truth at the risk of offending people. But deliberately offending people with what you think is the truth isn't the way to go about it. Hope that makes sense.
So, Lord, today in liturgy, let me pray along with my brothers and sisters for the who love me and those who hate me. And let me really mean it.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me!
Monday, September 20, 2010
How did he find out? My friend Heather gave me a small icon of Christ and I would have it out during my daily prayers. I put it away every day so my husband wouldn't see it- not because I thought he'd make me get rid of it or confront me about it. He was in the throws of a deep depression and I knew that he believed that icons were a violation of the Second Commandment. I didn't want to burden him with it. This is the honest truth. I was trying to protect him.
One day, I left it out on accident. Obviously, he saw it, but he didn't say anything. I bought a few more icons at the Greek Festival and up at St. Sophia's. But I wasn't forthcoming about it. I tried to be Orthodox under the radar. Eventually, we talked about it. It shouldn't surprise anyone that this hurt him deeply. It has caused a real strain in our marriage. I totally see now that I was wrong to be discreet. In trying to do the right thing, I ended up hurting the person I love most in the world.
Over the past year, we've had our struggles. I started going to the inquirer's class at my church. We left our former church because of personal reasons not pertaining to Orthodoxy. Eventually, my husband and I met with my priest to talk about whether or not I would join the catechumenate. My husband gave me his blessing- and not just for me to join the Church, but for the children as well.
In spite of how I hurt him, he has never stood in my way, even if he wanted to and often, at his own personal expense. I now try to be especially sensitive to his needs and feelings when it comes to Church activities. I have never pressured him to become Orthodox, although he does attend Divine services with us. I don't want to write too much about where he is spiritually. Its not my place to write about him in public.
But rejoice with me! He has agreed to come to the inquirer's class at church! Honestly, I was certain that I blew any chance of him coming to the class because of the way I have handled things in the past. But he's coming. I can't believe it. God is so good. Please pray for him and for us. To have this rift in our lives together... to not be one united family is very difficult. To be chrismated apart from my husband was bittersweet. To see him, Lord willing, anointed with holy chrism will be a miracle and possibly my wildest dream come true.
We're not there yet. I don't want to jump the gun but I am hopeful.
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Monday, September 13, 2010
1. My family is my greatest gift. I can hear my children playing as I write this. I can feel my husband's love as he works downtown. I am enveloped by the love of God as I am loved by my family.
2. A year ago, after being a Christian nearly all my life, I realized that God loves me. After spending ten years of my life believing I was just one of the lucky "frozen chozen", I realized that God loves everyone and that He desires a relationship with everyone... but a love relationship doesn't just go one way. We have to accept His love and we are able to do that because we are made in His image.
3. I am grateful I am able to homeschool freely.
4. My mattress topper is so wonderful. We got this thing seven years ago and I still love it. Never want to let it go. I'm actually able to sleep.
5. Coffee. Need I say more?
6. My church. St. Paul's Greek Orthodox Church has adopted my family and has loved us completely. They truly do "make love [their] aim."
7. Magic wrap skirts. Feminine. Hippy. Comfy. Airy. I'd throw out the rest of my wardrobe if I could as long as these skirts still remained. Love em.
8. Air conditioning. Its not that hot outside, but I'm hot. Being able to cool off the house so I'm not distracted by the discomfort I feel when I'm hot is a true blessing.
9. Advil. I have a headache again today. Again. And Advil will make it go away. Again.
10. The soft piano music playing on Ann Voskamp's blog. Brings me right back to center and reminds me how nice it is to have peace and quiet amongst the chaos.
Saturday, September 11, 2010
And the truth is... I'm nuts. Honestly, most people already know this.
Nuts is probably too strong a word. I've suffered from depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder for years. About two years ago, I finally started taking medication for it. Honestly, this was the best thing I've ever done for myself. I could think. I could order my day. The anxiety stopped taking over and I was able, not just to function, but to thrive! It seemed a true miracle.
A year ago, another miracle happened. I converted to Orthodox Christianity. This conversion forever changed my life and for the better. I found a more holistic faith- one concerned with mind, soul, and body... a faith whose emphasis rests on the healing and restoration of the soul (aka- salvation) rather than on how many different ways you've offended God and how lucky you are that he arbitrarily loved you (and not the guy next to you) and decided to save you.
The Church has been called a hospital and its practices, the prescription. We all take the same "pills"- prayer, fasting, caring for the poor. Some take extra medicine which is specific for their own unique affliction.
What does this have to do with my crazy? A lot, actually. I don't want to take my meds anymore. I forget to take them regularly. I'm not a good pill person. I know I need to set my alarm and take them at the same time every day blah blah blah... but getting into that routine has proven ridiculously difficult for me.
So, I haven't taken them for over a week now. And guess what? I'm fine! I feel neither crushing depression or paralyzing anxiety. What I do feel is a greater awareness of my own sinful thoughts and attitudes. I know that I have a shorter temper with my loved ones. I know that I get offended a bit more easily. I know that its more difficult to turn off the snark.
But do I really need medication to take care of that stuff? I mean, medication in the form of a physical pill? Or can I accept the Church's medication and let that try to heal my soul. What I mentioned in the last paragraph- those are issues that a lot of non-depressed people struggle with. And, if they are seeking to grow in their love for God and/or for others, they find ways to deal with it.
So, I'm experimenting with myself. I have nothing against psychotropic meds. In fact, I'm a big fan of them for people who really need them. I could very well be one of those people and I have no problem going back on meds if I think I need to. But I am encouraged in this- my husband has been one of the biggest proponents of my meds. I'm very sensitive to them in that, if I miss a day, it is very noticeable. Mark can always tell if I haven't taken them because I go immediately from regular me to crazy me overnight.
Not this time though. He says I've been doing really well. I can feel his support. I draw comfort from him when I struggle and I think this brings us closer together.
I had a minor meltdown yesterday. I do get overwhelmed a bit more easily. We were trying to get out of the house and I was being pulled in five different directions. Multitasking is a bit of a challenge for me, but I'm learning. Anyway, I got overwhelmed and started to cry. I hid in my bedroom for 5 minutes and let it out. Somehow, I was able to calm down and get some perspective on what was happening. With Mark's help and encouragement (and unending patience!), I got up off my bed and finished what needed to be done.
I'm proud of that.
So, we shall see. Can a med-less life be done? Should it be done? I don't know. But I'm going to try and I think I'm on the right track.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!
Friday, September 10, 2010
Basically, my doctor told me to go all Weston A. Price and eat bacon and butter and fermented grains. Butter? Yes. Bacon, No. I don't have anything against bacon or fish or any other kind of meat... I just can't imagine eating it. Its been so long. The idea of putting animal flesh in my mouth is abhorrent.
Don't get me wrong- if you eat meat, AWESOME! I just can't do it.
So, I'm trying to figure out how to nourish myself the vegetarian way... but with a lot of butter and yogurt thrown into the mix. I started a blog to keep track of my journey: The Nourishing Vegetarian
I'm still working at this whole health and wellness thing. I have a good feeling about this new direction. I've hired a Holistic Nutritionist to help me out... AND, she's Orthodox. Woohoo! Her blog is called Organic and Thrifty. I'll be documenting that process over on The Nourishing Vegetarian as well.
Lord, have mercy!
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
I'm trying to finish today strong. Laundry calls. School starts next week so I need to spend some time planning our ridiculously ambitious lessons. At least dinner is already made. All I want to do is lie down and watch MI-5, my new obsession.... oh, AND write a post about my appreciation for the pastey-white Englishman.
But I'm a wife and a mom. I can get away with slowing down a little, but I can't stop entirely if, for no other reason than I don't want a bigger mess to clean up when I'm better. The most I can do is beg for God's mercy and put one foot in front of the other.
What is that Elizabeth Elliot quote? "Do the next thing." This shall be my mantra for the rest of the day.
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
“Now it came to pass, afterward, that He went through every city and village, preaching and bringing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with Him, and certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities- Mary called Magdelene, out of whom had come seven demons, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others who provided for Him from their substance.”
A few weeks ago, we commemorated the Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene, the Myrrh-bearer and Equal-to-the-Apostles. The Church’s lectionary for today includes the reading above. Luke speaks of Mary, Joanna, and Susanna by name, as well as “many others” who provided for Christ from their own substance. The typical explanation that I’ve heard is that these women supported Jesus financially. Obviously, they left their homes and followed Him, just as his male disciples did. Some of them, like Joanna, had husbands and the Holy Scriptures make no mention of these men being disciples of Jesus. Why didn’t Jesus tell these women to go home and have a quiverfull of children?
Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin state that we have no examples of female missionaries in the Bible:
“We should give godly people honor for the worthy things they did and learn from their examples. But we should recognize that these godly women do not in fact feature in the Bible.” So Much More, pg. 262
Here, they are talking about contemporary female missionaries and how they went about doing a good thing in the wrong way. In other words, God can work good through sin. They go on to state that we do not see female missionaries in the Bible. Am I misunderstanding the quote? They seem to ignore Church history with this statement as we know of many “biblical” women who went on to proclaim the Good News or to serve Christ’s Church in a position of leadership:
And they certainly ignore the hundreds of women canonized by the Church within its first 1,000 years of existence. Part of what I am trying to do here is to show that women played a major role in the founding of the Church, its spread, and its continued existence.
Such emphasis is placed on varying points in history where women behaved as patriocentrists think they should- the Reformation, the Victorian and Edwardian eras, the Antebellum South… but like it or not, there WAS a church before Martin Luther came on the scene. I would like to see any patriocentrist stand before any one of the women I’ve mentioned here and tell them that their lives flew in the face of the “gospel-centered doctrine of biblical patriarchy.” Tell that to those women whom Christ allowed to travel with Him and fund His ministry. Tell that to those women whom the Apostles’ sent out as missionaries or ordained as deaconesses. Tell that to the women who were in the Upper Room on the Day of Pentecost and received the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues in the same manner as the men.
Now, I am NOT trying to argue that any of these women were egalitarian feminists or that they would even agree with either side of the whole comp/egal debate. Not at all! What I am trying to say is that they don’t fit the patriarchal paradigm. They would likely be rejected by these patriarchal groups or cast aside as “non-normative.”
I like what Anne has to say about this- “I refuse to make women something less than my God does.” He made some of them “equal-to-the-apostles.” The Twelve made some of them missionaries and deaconesses. The Holy Spirit made some of them martyrs.
We are all members of One Body and we are not all meant to be the same body part. I think its a shame that patriarchalists think women should all be the same body part while men fill in all the other body parts. I guess I missed that section in Paul’s epistles.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Thursday, July 8, 2010
Kursk-Root Icon (c. 13th Century)
I used to be a pretty hardcore iconoclast. I believed that any image, whether carved, painted, sculpted, or “written” was a violation of the Second Commandment. The commandment does not simply forbid the worship of images, but their very making as well. I’d go over to Heather’s house and feel all uncomfortable because she had so many “idols” hanging around. I was mortified that she had her children color line drawings of icons. I was content with the barren, white walls of my Reformed church, but at the same time, acutely aware of the double standard when it came to flannel graphs and illustrated Bibles used in Sunday School.
Of course, my iconoclasm formed completely out of ignorance and a prideful unwillingness to consider the actual Orthodox teachings regarding icons.
If you invited me to venerate an icon of the Theotokos back in July, I would have laughed in your face and been offended by the invitation. But God has worked a wonder in my heart and in my mind. He has changed my mind, about everything, but most especially, the beautiful spiritual reality of icons.
Heather visited me one night soon after I started really considering Orthodoxy. She showed me images of weeping icons and I watched in awe. There is no scientific explanation for the phenomenon. An icon is simply wood and paint (or a print with glue). The wood is not so thick so as to hide some kind of mechanical doo-dad used to make the icon spew myrrh. They just do it. God performs a miracle. Its as simple as that. I found myself very impressed by weeping icons. They actually testified to me of the truth of Orthodoxy, in a small but significant way.
The other day, I found out about the Kursk Root icon which was being venerated at the Serbian Orthodox Church in Irvine. Not a weeping icon, but a wonder-working icon! And this icon is old- 750 years and maybe more. As I read about its history, I became more and more intrigued. I knew I had to see it (cuz its old!) and to venerate it (cuz its holy!).
I arrived at this little mission church last night and quickly found myself surrounded by Orthodox Christians of all stripes- Serbians, Russians, Greeks, Antiochians, some head covering, most not, priests in cassocks with big bushy beards, male laity with big bushy beards, children, babies, families, people with bags of icons for blessing, folks from St. Paul’s, non-English speakers, the elderly… we all had one thing in common: devotion to the Theotokos. God has healed many people, spiritually and physically, by using this icon, including St. Seraphim of Serov. I was overwhelmed to be there.
The clergy and choir performed (I know that’s not the right word, but I’m not sure what else to use) the Akathist Hymn to the Theotokos. I’ve never heard this service before, but I understood from Heather that its just beautiful. And it is. I can’t really describe the affect that hearing this service had on my heart… but for the first time, I felt real genuine love for the Theotokos. I felt that I knew her. I felt real devotion.
And to be surrounded by people who had such an incredible understanding of what it meant to be in the presence of this incredible piece of church history- something that God has used for 700 years to heal people and to forge a deeper spiritual connection. Some people cried during the Akathist. Many people bowed before this icon and lay their heads upon it when they stood to kiss it.
The whole evening was incredibly moving for me. I am so glad I went. I was able to go alone which meant that I didn’t have to run after kids and that I could actually concentrate and pray during the service. I only wish I had known to bring my icons or my prayer rope to be laid upon the icon and blessed.
Even as I write this, I am stunned by my own words. The Lord has brought me so far these past three months. I am completely shocked. I can honestly say that, for the first time in my life, I actually have a real relationship with God. I know that He loves me. I am certain of it. I now know the plan he has for my life- to be united with Him and commune with Him. When I pray, I believe he is listening. There is a purpose and a fervency to my prayers that has never before been present. When I was a Calvinist, I saw no point to prayer. Why pray? It doesn’t change anything. We pray because God commanded us to, but it really has no effect on anything.
I am ashamed to have once believed that. I do not know how I lived without regular prayer.
My deepest desire is to join the Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church this upcoming Pascha. My most fervent prayer is for my husband to come alongside me and that we can raise our children in the Church. I long to be a full member of Christ’s Church- to consume His Body and Blood… Heather said to me a few weeks ago: “You know, we have never ever had the Eucharist. We have never truly taken communion.” Those words pierced my soul because she was right.
As time goes on, as I learn and experience more, and as I see how my life and spirit have changed as a result of embracing Orthodoxy, I become more and more certain of its truth. This is the Church. I must be there.
O Most Holy Mother of God, intercede with your son on my behalf! You know my heart, O Mother of all Christians. I desire with all that is in me to be united with your Son. Pray for me!
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us.
No parent should have to bury their child.
Just over a year later, my very oldest and best friend went through the same thing with her latest pregnancy. The diagnosis for her baby was terminal as well. She had to bury her most beloved and wanted baby Sarah. I’d just passed the year anniversary of my own daughter’s death and to go through this with my best friend was absolutely devastating. If I wouldn’t wish this pain on my worst enemy, imagine how it feels to have your best friend go through this hell.
No parent should have to bury their child.
A little over a month after Sarah’s death, my dad died. My very dear, beloved grandma (my dad’s mom) told us both (my friend and me) that now she understood the pain we felt when we lost our children. She had to bury her son. She was like us now… a loss mom.
There is an emptiness in the heart of a loss mom that no words can describe…
Fast forward nearly six years… The walls of my hardened heart have collapsed and I am an open vessel, willing and ready to embrace Orthodoxy with my heart and soul. But there was Mary, venerated and adored by the Orthodox, something my Calvinistic sensibilities still fought against, even though I no longer held to those beliefs.
It hit me one day as I meditated on her. She had lost her own Son. She, who had nursed him, comforted him, taught him, fed him, sang him to sleep every night… he died. She knew it was going to happen. She didn’t try to stop Him. She simply treasured her knowledge in her heart. She loved Him more than anything or anyone in the world. Even though she knew He would rise again on the third day, she stood at the foot of His cross and wept. She saw His pain and prayed for him.
Mary, the blessed Theotokos, buried her child… as my grandma buried hers… as my best friend buried hers… as I buried mine.
Mary knows what it is like to lose a child and yet hope in the resurrection. She is a loss mom, like me. And she is now so very dear. She is teaching me so much of grief, hope, and perseverance. Even though Jesus is alive, he had ascended into heaven and she was left to live out the rest of her days without her precious son. In a way, she still lost him. But she continued on. She ministered to people. She told people of her hope and her joy. She is much beloved and has so much to teach all of us who have suffered this kind of pain.
Thank you, O Theotokos, for the life of faith you lived and for the strength you showed all of those who came to know you. Pray for us loss moms, you who understand our hearts. Hold our dear, departed children in your arms, O Mother of God, for they have found a home in you.
Sunday, June 20, 2010
In general, I am a skeptic of modern day miracles, even within the context of the Orthodox faith I have embraced. I think my Reformed heritage has caused me to approach such claims with pause and a desire to either prove the miracle was a fake or that there was some explanation other than God behind it. The term "miracle" is so overused in modern America and, indeed, all over the world. I think we are right to be skeptical.
Last September, I was introduced to the miracle of the myrrh-streaming icon. Heather showed me pictures on google of these icons that "weeped" myrrh, or some substance like it. These icons are heavily examined before they are revealed to the people. There is no explanation for why myrrh seems to exude from these icons. I can't imagine how it could be faked, although I'm sure it has been. But the ones I saw looked real enough and that actually made a pretty big impression on me.
But still... "I'll believe it when I see it," I thought.
Today, I saw it. There is a rather famous copy of the icon "Mother of God of Iveron" that started to stream myrrh in Hawaii several years ago. This icon is truly rare because it is not even painted- it is a print that is decoupaged onto wood. The icon has been streaming myrrh for over ten years. It is kept in a case so that those who venerate it don't end up kissing oily myrrh. At the end of the services, the icon is taken out of its case and swabbed with cotton or Qtips, depending on who is doing the swabbing. The oily myrrh is then used to bless those who have come to see this miracle.
Although the scent is not so strong now, I still smell of roses.
Here is something I love about the Orthodox Church: miracles like this are not hidden away so that only the privileged few can see them. In a sense, these miracles belong to the people and not just one person. We are the Church, the Body of Christ. We are the keepers of this great heritage, the Faith once for all delivered to the saints. This icon is brought to churches all over the world. The church I visited today is so small that its basically a room in a corporate business park. But the faithful gather week after week to participate in the Divine Liturgy and to receive the Eucharist. And we were all blessed by the Mother of God through this icon.
I have provided a link that tells the story of this icon if anyone is interested:
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
I need to eat.
I need to not be depressed. I need to up my meds I think because I am truly over feeling this way. A call to the doctor is in order.
I don't want my babies to see me this way. I'm doing my best, with God's mercy. Trying to stifle the urge to go shopping which is what I tend to do when I'm depressed.
Sunday, May 16, 2010
But sometimes, even the meds don't help like they should.
I sure hope I feel better tomorrow, otherwise its going to be a very long day.
I once heard one of the Patriarchs of our church say that Christians must be optimists. That makes total sense to me. Of course, being a pessimist and a cynic by nature, I find this incredibly difficult, in spite of what I believe.
Now I know I must apply myself all the more diligently to my ascetic practices for they are God's means of refining our souls and uniting us with Him. If that is my hope, then how can I be pessimistic?
Honestly, I just want peace- in my mind, in my soul, in my relationships... I want to love others. By loving others, I hope to look past myself and apply my efforts and my thoughts to showing others that they are loved. How can loving others not bring peace?
"The Church was strengthened into one faith through the preaching of the Apostles and the doctrines of the Fathers. The Church is robed in truth woven of the word of God from above. It teaches truth, and glorifies the great mystery of faith."
Friday, May 14, 2010
So, we celebrated the Holy Ascension yesterday, but I'm posting the icon anyway, along with the Troparion of the Feast:
O Christ God, You have ascended in Glory,
Granting joy to your disciples by the promise of the Holy Spirit.
Through the blessing they were assured
That You are the Son of God,
The Redeemer of the World!
~ Troparion, Tone 4
The Ascension of Our Lord
Should be interesting, hopefully, for the two people who follow my blog. Of course, they are probably the two people who already know this story.
Anyway, here goes:
On April 3, 2010, my children and I were received into the Holy Orthodox Church by chrismation.
The story of this journey begins in August of last year. I wrote this story for a private blog I kept with a friend of mind, and this was originally posted in September 2009.
Up until a month or two ago, I would have said that I’d die for Calvinism and for the “five solas” of the Reformation. I could waver on just about any other doctrine in Scripture, but if you take away man’s radical depravity, God’s election of his people based on nothing but his mercy and love, Christ’s atonement as sufficient for all but effective only for the elect, the Holy Spirit’s regeneration prior to faith in Christ, and the perseverance of Christ’s people, you would leave me with nothing on which to stand or live. Calvisnism was biblical and that was all the criteria I needed for my belief. I could see it clearly, point by point, and I was willing to give my life for those truths.
You can imagine, then, how I felt when that foundation was knocked out from under me. No one person is responsible. I look at my journey as a series of events, providentially ordered to bring me to where I am now- a Christian desirous to “come home” to the true, authentic church.
The Journey Begins
Calvinism saved my life. My belief in God’s absolute and utter sovereignty kept me from taking my own life when the Lord called home my firstborn before she ever drew breath. “And we know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28 is inscribed on Grace’s marker. God’s purpose, albeit unknown to me, was to work for my good. I hated that fact, but it kept me alive… well, breathing, at least.
The Canons of Dordt give believing parents assurance that those children who are lost in infancy will be with the Lord:
Article 17: The Salvation of the Infants of Believers
Since we must make judgments about God’s will from his Word, which testifies that the children of believers are holy, not by nature but by virtue of the gracious covenant in which they together with their parents are included, godly parents ought not to doubt the election and salvation of their children whom God calls out of this life in infancy.
I clung to that belief with all that was in me. I would see my precious, innocent child again- whole and living and vibrant. I could continue to breathe because she was held safely in the arms of my Savior- her Savior.
Just over a year later, three months after my next child was born- my father died an agonizing death from pancreatic cancer. He died the very death he feared for years- helpless, delerious, and out of control of his own body. I would be lying if I said that didn’t make me angry at God. Not only did He allow my dad to get a very painful and debilitating, incurable cancer, but He allowed Dad to die in what he thought was the worst way possible. Dad had peace when he died. He said he knew he would see us again in the twinkling of an eye, but he was still leaving us.
We were all with him when he died. As he drew his last breath, I realized that he was not only face to face with our resurrected and living Savior, but that he was seeing his own grandchild as well, living, vibrant, and whole. How blessed he was at that moment!
Several times between that day of his death and when we laid him to rest in the cemetery, I prayed that God would raise him. I was the last person to touch his flag-draped coffin and as I placed my hands on it and knelt down, I prayed again that he would be raised and that this nightmare would end. I begged and I cried. And the Lord said no. I remembered God’s promise to raise him on the last day. I made my peace, and I left.
The deaths of these two people affected me profoundly, as I’m sure is obvious. I tell these stories, not to be a downer, but because they are such an integral part of my journey.
I confess- I had an emotional connection to Reformed theology. It gave me peace during a time when my mind and my soul were in absolute upheaval. But it was so much more than that. I really believed this theology to be true and completely biblical. I despised Romanism and American Evangelicalism all in the same breath. I could put up a fair defense for Calvin’s “five points.” I picked battles with evangelicals just to stir the pot. Just your typical amateur Calvinist…
The presupposition for all these beliefs is that the Bible is the sole, sufficient, infallible Word of God in matters of faith and practice. Sola Scriptura is often called the article on which the Reformation stands or falls. To be honest- I took sola scriptura for granted. I never did a great study of the subject. I knew that Popes and councils had erred. I believed that if Scripture and Tradition held equal weight ideologically, than practically, Scripture had to be subservient to Tradition- and it is, in the Roman system. There is nothing to prevent a current pope or the Roman Magisterium from changing their minds about anything. To me, believing in Scripture and Tradition meant you had to check your mind at the door. Why bother studying the Bible when there are numbers of books/canons/councils et al to tell you what it means? It never occurred to me to look at Scripture and Tradition from an Orthodox perspective. I stubbornly held on this critical and crucial doctrine, probably even more strongly than I held to Calvinism.
My former church is pretty intellectual. I’ve brought many a friend to worship there who has never returned because it is so heady. Oftentimes, the heart is neglected, in spite of the emphasis placed on the Eucharist as a means of grace. But most of us know what we believe and why we believe it. To the naked eye, we appear to be solidly Reformed and completely Protestant.
Imagine my shock, then, when my friend Lara let me in on her “dirty little secret”: She was studying Orthodoxy and not just for fun. Initially, this little foray into “the dark side” didn’t really concern me all that much. “Each one must be convinced in his own mind,” I thought. If she didn’t believe Reformed theology anymore, who was I to argue?
That sentiment didn’t last long. I tried to argue. I tried to convince her, but it’s very difficult to present a defense against something you know nothing about. I got frustrated and emotional (as I tend to do when my friends decide to convert to “false religions”) and, in the end, Lara and I agreed to stop talking theology for a while. But I couldn’t let it go, at least in my own mind, so I started researching. I listened to podcasts. I read. I studied the history of the Seven Ecumenical Councils. I found Ancient Faith Radio. I didn’t think any of the stuff I was learning was making much of a dent, but I now see that the Holy Spirit was chipping away ever so slightly as the days and months went by. Chip, chip, chip…
My usual MO when I find I can’t make a defense for something I say I believe is to study that belief even harder. I can’t defend Sola Scriptura? Is the Scripture and Tradition argument sounding much more plausible? Well, then, my understanding of sola scriptura must be wrong and I need to study up in order to strengthen my own beliefs. It didn’t really occur to me that no one before the 1500’s believed in this doctrine. And I am quite embarrassed to say that I never really connected the fact that the earliest New Testament writings were not composed until at least 30 years after the ascension of Christ… and yet the church was still worshipping. Chip, chip, chip…
And then I found Molly Sabourin- young mother of four, convert from evangelical Protestantism, scattered and continually trying to improve herself. She is transparent with her own trials and tribulations and she is such an encouragement. I tried to ignore all the religious stuff and just focus on the mommy wisdom. Not possible. I longed for liturgical life- to celebrate the feasts and seasons, to fast and pray in the way that Molly describes. I tried to integrate some kind of Protestant version of this life, but to no avail. I basically had to adopt someone else’s made up, wannabe Orthodox version of a Protestant liturgical year based on the Book of Common Prayer and Anglican saints. This model wasn’t through the Anglican church though, so it carried no real authority. And yet Orthodoxy had been around and practicing the Faith in basically the same way for 1700 years. So, I fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays. I committed to a Rule of Prayer. I researched teaching my children about the saints (with a focus on those found within the pages of Scripture). Chip, chip, chip…
I listened to numerous podcast and a number of them stood out for me. One such podcast was an interview of Father James Bernstein- one of the founding members of Jews for Jesus. Now, I’d been involved with Jews for Jesus when I was a student at Biola. In fact, that organization was instrumental in maintaining my faith during a “dark night of the soul.” I love Judaism and Jewish culture. I really love Messianic Jewish culture in particular because they see fulfillment by Christ in everything while holding on to a lot of their beautiful, cultural distinctives. I thought I might even make a career of Jewish evangelism in Israel. God had other plans for me, but I still hold a deep affection for the Jewish people and Jewish believers in Y’shua.
Imagine my shock when Fr. Bernstein talked about his own journey to Orthodox Christianity. He was born an Orthodox Jew in Israel and then emigrated to America. Maintaining an Orthodox Jewish life is a lot more difficult here and as he grew older, he grew more and more nominal. Somehow, he converted to Christianity and helped Moshe Roisen found Jews for Jesus. When he made contact with Orthodox Christianity, he found an even greater expression of the fulfillment of OT prophecy and worship in their liturgical worship. I’d long believed that we had lost a lot of continuity with our Jewish roots. After all, the first Christians were Jewish- do we really expect that they abandoned the only form of worship they had ever known in order to create something brand new? That would be impossible! They knew the Messiah because of their worship- because they held fast to the traditions of their own faith. And so, as time went on in the early church and worship developed, the people found filled in all the shadows of temple worship with their fulfillments in Christ. When Fr. Bernstein found this, he knew he had found his home. His testimony was incredibly powerful to me. He really did connect the Orthodox Church to the first Christians and that idea stays with me even to this day as I learn more and more. Chip, chip, chip…Now, Lara had no idea any of this was going on. She continued on her own path, which seemed to be leading her closer and closer to actual chrismation in the church. We’d have conversations here and there- civil and challenging. I went my way. She went hers. Little did I know we would end up in the same darn place!
At some point, Lara and I began having conversations about Orthodoxy here and there. I could feel my resolve weakening. So much of what she said made sense and I agreed with a lot of it. Never before had I been dissatisfied with Reformed theology or our church specifically, but once I really understood the holistic nature of Orthodoxy, I found a big, gaping hole in the foundation of my faith.
I wanted to attend a service with Lara, but my husband wasn’t too keen on the idea. He didn’t want me giving “tacit approval” to Lara and her husband's probable conversion. Well, since I couldn’t go to a service, I thought maybe I could just get in and see the inside of the church. So, I cleverly orchestrated a meeting down at St. Paul’s on September 1st, with the secret hope that I would get a peek inside. We were all going to the beach anyway, and I saw no reason for the my friends to drive all the way up to Brea just so we could drive all the way down to the coast once again. This provided the excuse, er, reason to drive all the way down to Irvine.
We drove in just as the they were walking out to the parking lot. The kids each had icons in their hands (St. Paul and St. Katherine). I was… unsettled… but tried to keep my cool. Lara handed me a few bits of Blessed Bread, which I promptly handed to my children. I could feel my Reformed blood racing through my veins. As curious as I was, I still thought of myself as a good Calvinist who would never EVER let go.
Lara asked me if I wanted to see inside the church. Jackpot! I agreed and Lara's husband took me inside.
My five senses were immediately hit. I could smell the incense… a very distinctive smell, by the way, and one that I remembered from my brief tour of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. I could see all the beautifully lit candles in the knave and the icons of St. Paul and Mary on either side of the doors. Mr. Husband crossed himself a few times between the narthex and the knave. At this time, I didn’t know that he was planning to convert, but I knew that this church was “for real” for him. I kept thinking about the appropriateness of my pastor worshiping in this place… but I tried to set it all aside and really learn.
Mr. Husband showed me all the elements inside- the altar, iconostasis, the incredible dome. For some reason, the dome really struck me. Seeing Christ as King looking down on the church- it became apparent that He was the person the Orthodox worship and not Mary. She may be the first icon you see, but she is placed there as an example of how our lives need to be, with Christ at the very center.
I felt out of place and yet strangely at home.
That night, somehow, Mr. Husband and I started chatting on Facebook. We talked about a wide range of things- sola scriptura, justification, salvation… and the Saints. Now, I really didn’t have a problem with the idea that the Saints pray for us. I didn’t understand the idea from an Orthodox perspective at all, but the idea of asking for their intercession in the same way that I would ask for the intercession of my family and friends for whatever need seemed reasonable.
My grandma, a cradle Roman Catholic, has prayed out of the same prayer book every single day for at least my entire life. Mr. Husband asked me why she would stop praying for us once she reached heaven. Surely she could pray more fully when in the presence of Christ.
And then I asked probably one of the most important questions of my life- the answer to which really sent me into a tailspin. Here is where the walls of my Reformed heart tumbled down and turned to dust.
“Do you think my dad and my daughter are praying for me?”
Mr. Husband's answer: “I would be certain of it.”
Remember how the deaths of my daughter and my dad profoundly affected my theology and made me hold on even more tightly to God’s absolute and unwavering sovereignty? Remember how the only way I could accept their deaths was by trusting that God somehow had a plan for my good? Suddenly, that didn’t seem to be enough anymore, but in a good way! Their Christian lives were carrying on even now! To know that my beloved family is praying for us night and day- that brought me such comfort. I can’t explain it. I really wish I could understand how this particular issue pulled down the stubborn strongholds of my faith and allow me to see Orthodoxy for what it is and not for how it is different from “the true faith.” I’d wanted to believe or just to begin to learn without being critical. I finally had a reason that I could live with. Somehow, in this faith, my loved ones didn’t seem to be so far away. To know that we are worshiping with them in the Divine Liturgy, to know that we are participating with them in the Marriage Supper of the Lamb as we commune and they are separated from us only because we cannot see them or hear them… I had to know more! I’m getting ahead of myself here though…
The next day, I was panicked. I have real and true obsessive-compulsive disorder and when I don’t take my meds, things get a bit worse. “What if I’m wrong? Will I lose my salvation? What about my children? Am I turning my back on the truth? Does that mean I never truly believed? Am I going to hell? What if I convert and my children and husband convert and this is the wrong choice? Have I just made a decision that will send THEM to hell?”
Now, these are legitimate questions when posed by a rational mind. However, when a person is having an “OCD attack” for lack of a better word, well, let’s just say that it makes for one ugly day.
I needed to talk with Mr. Husband again, but this time, face to face. I needed a certain kind of counseling here, the pastoral kind, even in the midst of our conversation about Orthodoxy. I needed to hear that I did not need to worry about “losing my salvation.” I needed to hear again how sola scriptura is a 16th century invention and how the church viewed itself for its first 1500 years. Somehow, I knew there was no turning back. I had to know more. Lara and Mr. Husband loaned me a bunch of books. I started reading… and reading… and reading…
The walls had come down. The floodgates were open. I was now a sponge, soaking up anything and everything I could find. I didn’t know what I believed anymore. I had to set aside everything I’d ever learned in order to allow Orthodoxy to paint on a clean canvas.
And it is a beautiful painting…