Why do I do it? Why am I a practicing Orthodox Christian. It’s not because it’s the true faith, the oldest form of Christianity, faithful to the teaching and worship of the ancient Church. It is these things, but that’s not why I’m a practicing Orthodox Christian. It’s possible to be convinced of the verity of Orthodox Christianity and still not want to be Orthodox. An acquaintance of mine is also convinced that Orthodox Christianity is the true faith, that it’s authentic ancient Christianity. However, he does not want to become an Orthodox Christian.
My acquaintance doesn’t want to become an Orthodox Christian because, as he put it, Orthodox Christianity is like Shakespeare in the original, while he compared the version of Christianity to which he belongs to Shakespeare simplified for eighth-graders (which seems to me to be a big insult to English speaking thirteen-year olds everywhere). I don’t think the comparison of Orthodox Christianity to Shakespeare is as helpful as he does, but that was the image my acquaintance used.
For him, the church, what he calls the church, needs to be accessible, relevant, easily relatable. That’s why my acquaintance stays in his heterodox Christian world even though he is convinced that Orthodox Christianity is the original, the true Church.
So if I’m not an Orthodox Christian because it is the true, historic Christian Church, why am I an Orthodox Christian, particularly a practicing Orthodox Christian?
I am an Orthodox Christian because in the Orthodox Church I have found a way to be a Christian that actually changes me, that actually helps me to know and worship God, know and discipline (as in disciple) myself, and helps me to know and love my neighbour. But the secret is, you have to practice it. There is no magic in the holy chrism or the water of baptism. There is only an invitation, an open door, the beginning of a way.
It’s not an easy way. It’s Shakespeare in the original. It takes more effort than a graded reader. It takes some study, involves some frustration, and includes a lot of wondering about what it all means. It has to be practiced. The stomach has to growl during lent. The legs have to be tired. Your schedule has to be adjusted. You have to weep.
But the beauty is worth it. The terrible revelations of my own wickedness are worth it. The growing knowledge of my own soul, the insight into our common human weakness creating a deep pity (a species of love, Shakespeare tells us) for my neighbour, and the ongoing exercise of spiritual disciplines helping me increasingly to see my passions while they are yet thoughts and before they overwhelm me, all of these are worth it.
That’s why I’m a practicing Orthodox Christian.
Amen, amen amen!
I find your post beautifully juxtaposed to the era of self help, self improvement and mindfulness that abounds across the internet. I read many of those who write and speak on these topics, and frequently come away with energy to “do better.” But I remind myself to not be too accepting of these influences that are based more in trusting in one’s self with no deeper roots of truth. Your profession of why you practice your faith hits upon the very truth that all we are, can become and will be comes from our Lord: “I have found a way to be a Christian that actually changes me…” We indeed have the free will, and responsibility to channel and repent of our thoughts, words and deeds, but to do so outside of the knowledge and acceptance of God puts us in complete control. The rigor of the Church is intense. The holding of suffering as a blessing often exhausts me. But for me, the greatest work in being a practicing Orthodox Christian is in accepting God’s Holy Will and His ability to change me in His time. It ultimately renders me powerless and humbles me to seek salvation by accepting this truth in the depths of my heart and soul. And that is why I am a practicing Orthodox Christian.
“the greatest work in being a practicing Orthodox Christian is in accepting God’s Holy Will and His ability to change me in His time. It ultimately renders me powerless and humbles me to seek salvation by accepting this truth in the depths of my heart and soul.”
This is my experience also. I can only offer my two mites, my broken, fickle and inconsistent will. My failures save me, in a sense. Humility born of failure changes me.
While I certainly receive great insight and wisdom from orthodox teachings such as the Arena and the desert fathers and have been to orthodox services …I have also found much Biblical depth and wisdom among Protestant sources …what I take exception to is the reference to the Orthodox Church as the “ true” church which implies other streams that fall within the Church that stand together under the truth of the Apostles creed are then deemed less true or false believers ? I notice in some teachings ,the orthodox writer implies or expressly says, protestants are “converted” referring I guess to those who while confessing Christians ,have now chosen to attend the Orthodox Church….frankly this is insulting to many Christians in a world where we need to unify against secularism and the rise of the many other beliefs out there …I am not a gambling woman but I have friends in both the Protestant as well as orthodox streams other thing considered ,I would lay money on my Protestant friend being more likely to share their faith in Jesus with a non believer than any of my orthodox friends … each area of the Lords Church has redemptive gifts but we are all parts of His Body
While true and false may be opposites, not true does not necessarily mean false. Take Shakespeare for example. One might speak of true Shakespeare, as compared to simplified Shakespeare. Simplified Shakespeare is not false Shakespeare (unless, perhaps, if it is claiming to be the original). But then again, simplified Shakespeare is not true Shakespeare either.
As to Protestants who have become Orthodox referring to themselves as converts, I agree that it is an unfortunate self-applied label. My Bishop has asked us not to use such that word because, as you point out, it is misleading. It has, nonetheless, become the common but unfortunate and misleading nomenclature. Please forgive us.
Finally, about sharing faith, I agree with you again. I agree if what you mean by sharing their faith in Jesus you mean saying words like “I believe in Jesus” in front of someone who seems not to. However, has been said (and I have heard this saying attributed to many famous, saintly people in both the eastern and western traditions): “Share your faith at all times. Use words only when necessary.” If sharing one’s faith is not primarily about saying certain words, but is about “witnessing the good confession” as Christ did before Pontius Pilate (c.f. 1 Tim 6:13) by saying nothing but rather letting His actions speak for themselves, then I’d wager that with only a few exceptions all Christians do that equally poorly.
Father bless! Your Shakespeare analogy is brilliant. I hope I’ll have a chance to use it some day. 🙂
Thanks for your thoughtful reply Michael. You are so right we are to let our actions speak our love …however ,again it’s my experience ,often this can be used as an excuse to never bring up Jesus Christ by name especially in Canada when there is a spiritually hungry person in front of you….we are not to be ever ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes …and preaching the Word , being ready in season and out of season …..as ambassadors for Christ as though God we’re entreating through us …..that people be reconciled to God …I could add the half quoted scripture references but you know where they are!,,, may you have a blessed Easter…..He has arisen !,,,,
I am intrigued by eastern perspectives, especially as it pertains to what took place in the death and resurrection of Christ. I was raised in a conservative Baptist (Calvinists) church, and in my early 40s began to find it difficult to accept much of what I had been taught, when comparing it to what I was reading in scrioture. After many good, but unfruitful talks with my pastor, I eventually told him that I could no longer attend. and began seeking something that resonates more deeply with my soul. I don’t believe there is really any one formal faith structure that will resonate perfectly, but one major thing I struggle to understand in any formal church environment, is where all of the ritual and ceremony came from, and how it can possibly “justify” it, When comparing it to the life and gatherings of the early church, I see none of this ritual and formality, so why did “we” reintroduce it? I get that we humans are deeply “religious” in nature, but it seems to me that a great deal of what Jesus was seeking to free us of, as he lived out his life, was this very thing. I’m not being critical, necessarily; like I said, I just struggle to understand where it all came from, and how we justify it.
This is an excellent question. Certainly the Church became more elaborate in it’s ritual after the end of the persecutions. That may be attributable to pagan influence, but it may also be attributable to the fact that the Church could now fully express itself the way it had always expressed itself but in subdued form because of the persecutions. One clue that this later is the case is the last big persecution under Diocletian. Diocletian tried to destroy the Church not so much by forcing people to verbally deny Christ, but by forcing them to hand over the chalices, Gospel books and other liturgical items.
I think when a modern person with a low-church (baptist-like) background looks at the New Testament, he or she sees the Last Supper as only a meal, not as a highly scripted Seder. Modern readers seem to forget that all of the people who wrote the New Testament and most of the people they wrote to were Jews who already participated in synagogue worship—a liturgical form of worship with ritual actions and words. Then there is the temple worship with it’s highly elaborate vestments for the priests and ritual actions related to the sacrifice and the very elaborate temple. Think about it, one in twelve adult men were priests or levites. What were these men doing in the temple? There prayer and actions were prescribed by tradition, and there was enough ritual action and prayers to keep all these men busy. When Paul is going to the synagogue, he assumes his readers know what that means. And when he gets kicked out of the synagogue and sets up a “christian synagogue” in someone’s home, he does not describe it’s liturgy because his readers already know what synagogue worship looks like.
Another clue are the early descriptions of eucharistic worship found in Justin Martyr, the Didache and Metetios of Sardis. These describe liturgical services. Certainly they are not as elaborate as they later become after the persecution, but liturgical nonetheless.
I was not aware that the words “Orthodox convert” were insulting to some people. What does other Christian faiths call those who are what we call converts? And what word did your Bishop suggest be used in the place of convert?
The term “covert” is thought by many people to imply the change from one religion to another, not the movement within a religion from one way of thinking to another. Metropolitan Joseph did not like the term, I think for this reason. He does not think of Protestants and Catholics who come to holy Orthodoxy as converts, but rather as Christians who are coming home.
Thank you Father. Yes, I was called, and referred to myself, both as a convert and have had “come home”. Forgot about the latter.
Met. Joseph ! I forgot (must be my age here!) that you are in the Antiochian diocese. Me too. I had the pleasure of meeting him the end of last year when he came to visit our parish. Lovely man. A special presence he has. Wish he was able to visit more often!
Many Protestant Christian are very aware of the last supper being deeply embedded in the Seder and thousands of us actually celebrate a Christian Seder with all the foods described and eaten by Jews the world over the world over! The Seder is rich in Christian prophetic significance and a Christian Seder is a meaning filled experience as each element is explained from a Christian viewpoint including the significance of each of the four cups each presented with a promise embedded in Exodus ..as well of course the point of it all the Passover Lamb!
That was my point to Kevin: that the Seder, and ancient Synagogue worship and the temple worship were all highly ritualized, “liturgic”, symbolic acts of worship and remembrance. That’s the reason why it is anachronistic to imagine early Christian worship somewhat like a home bible study. Sure, there may have also been informal gatherings to sing songs and talk about their experience of Jesus. But worship, that’s another thing all together. Worship for the early Christians, at least from what can be scraped together from the bits found in the New Testament and the writings of the first two or three centuries, worship had many liturgical elements and followed to a large extent the pattern of worship from the Jewish Synagogue.
Thank you Father for this post. Christ is Risen!
I find myself in perplexity: after 25 years of practicing Orthodox Christianity that was definitely NOT “lite,” I found myself repeating destructive patterns and without any knowledge of myself at all. After being very influenced (actually, “blown away,” like, why hasn’t anyone ever told me this before?) by a certain Buddhist writer, I began practicing meditation and all of a sudden saw the root causes of my past failings. I now feel much more open to life in general, have much less tendency to worldly grief, beat myself up less, and am much more patient with other people. I still have many failings, of course – I could list a good many – but I find myself much more able to allow myself to be changed.
I still consider myself a practicing Orthodox Christian. What do you think about the struggle to reconcile a meditation practice which has clearly, to me, borne great fruit, with life as an Orthodox Christian? A lot of church language has now become extremely uncomfortable for me, e.g. works like “slave, King, wrath, sin, struggle, fight, enemies,” and so forth. Just looking for your perspective.
As a fellow reader, I hoped you might reply to Father’s blog post addressing your question exclusively. Perhaps you have corresponded with Father privately or it just wouldn’t be helpful to respond? If so I understand. But if you can share your response I would be interested. Father Michael is so gentle and generous in his handling of your question, I am trying to learn from his way. 🙂
Love in Christ;