I had hoped my previous posts on why I'm drawn to Orthodoxy would have resulted in some good dialogue with those people I had engaged in some intense dialogue a couple of weeks back - no such luck, unfortunately. I always enjoy a good debate/discussion, particularly over matters passionately believed and dedicatedly defended. You may not ever change anyone else's mind, or have your own changed in turn, but you learn so darn much! So this will be my final post in this little series, which I hope you have enjoyed.
First, I have to say that the last 2 posts on "why Orthodoxy?" were not meant to be an airtight case against Protestantism. I know my arguments are not immune to critique and there are probably several points on which my understanding of Protestant theology/ecclesiology is insufficient. I do not regard my arguments and conclusions as the final, authoritative word on these matters, but I think my explorations have raised enough questions for me to have serious doubts about Protestantism's claims. This doesn't "prove" Orthodoxy to be correct but it makes looking outside the Protestant box a perfectly rational & reasonable thing to do. I guess, in essence, I've only really been arguing for this; that other Protestants would recognize the legitimacy of looking elsewhere due to internal faults within Protestantism. No amount of debate is going to totally prove one side or the other is correct - I can only hope that I am able to get other Christians to crack open their door to this wide, new realm of possibilities.
Thus far, I've explained my personal background and why I initially started searching for something else or something more than what I was used to. I also briefly explored that initial aesthetic draw to Orthodoxy and the subsequent challenges my search uncovered to my former way of thinking. Now I'll finish with why I feel the need to settle my "question of Orthodoxy", as I put it, that lingering draw that compels me to use Orthodoxy as the point of comparison for so many things.
The subtle pull I feel towards Orthodoxy is composed of many smaller, but interwoven, strands. Some I have already touched on - the reverence, non-emotional worship, intense focus on God - so I will talk about those that I haven't discussed yet. One of the primary things I appreciate in Orthodoxy is its completeness. Not that it has plumbed the depths of God or of faith. By no means! But it has spent almost 2000 years putting the daily nitty-gritty of the Christian life through the ringer. The faith it presents today has been tested in the fires of the temptations of the desert, the trials of the persecutions and the mundane struggle of plain, ordinary folks going about their lives. In many ways, it reminds me of a stone tumbler, which I became familiar with in grade school. You put an unassuming, jagged, rough piece of stone into a drum with a bunch of other stones and set it spinning. After a few days, that rough, unassuming stone has become a polished piece of marbled beauty, with color, depth and a smooth perfection. That is what Orthodoxy feels like to me - the rough edges have been knocked off over the centuries of trial & error in the lives of holy men and ordinary men, holy women and ordinary women, and what is presented to us today is that polished thing of beauty. It says "here it is, this is the faith you need and these are the things you need to do to strengthen it and grow closer to God. Trust me; I've guided tens of thousands of people through their lives, through their temptations, failures, victories and successes." But it doesn't do so in a dictatorial way! It offers the freedom that can only come through submission. A musician that can improvise pieces of incredible beauty or brilliance can only do so because they have first spent years mastering the basic techniques and applying them in ever more complex fashions. Only when they've accomplished that does the freedom to simply sit and play manifest itself. And we would never claim that those music teachers who force their students to go through those basics are being heavy-handed or restricting the freedom of their students. No, it is precisely for the sake of their musical freedom that students must be put through those exercises. In the same way, Orthodoxy provides those "music lessons" on the basics so that we may obtain that greater freedom. It gives us the basic techniques and exercises we need in order to die to self, take up our cross and move ever closer to God and the freedom of unity with Him. I don't feel that same completeness in any other Christian system and certainly no Protestant system has that same authority and experience.
Orthodoxy's completeness is really the result of 2 complementary aspects of the Christian life - the life of the head and the life of the heart. What I described above is really the life of the heart, and by that I mean the life of feeling, struggle, emotion and the daily search to find meaning and direction. It is also the life of the gut - the daily struggle for survival. These things don't always require a great deal of thought and, indeed, are often spoiled by too much reflection. When I look at my wife and feel the tugs of love and the appreciation of her beauty, putting those emotions through an intellectual analysis will rob them of their depth and meaning. There are some things that should simply be left to the experience of them, without feeling the need to route them through the intelligence for too much examination. But Orthodoxy does not just serve the life of the heart. It is a rich tradition, full of intellectual rigor and debates that lasted (literally) centuries. I can't imagine any modern person being satisfied with a discussion that will outlive them, and yet, that is what many of the saints had to do. Orthodoxy is deeply philosophical, tackling incredibly hard, and some would say obscure, problems and questions with gusto. It accepted no quarrel about the "practicality" of these debates; they were about the very person of God and the nature of his Church, and were thus by definition vastly important. Where so much of modern Christianity is focused on 'how-to' books and therapeutic approaches to theology, Orthodox maintains that tradition of hard, demanding theological reflection. It offers what we need to sustain us both in our hearts and in our heads, providing a life-time of material for thought, discussion, debate and exploration. As someone who values education and learning, such a cornucopia cannot be easily passed over. And yet there are those that would say I could appreciate and study those things without actually becoming Orthodox. To a certain extent I would agree with them, but ultimately, I think it is impossible to truly grasp and understand what these saints are saying if I am not apart of the same ecclesial stream that nourished them. How can I truly understand what they say about the bishop if I have none? How can I appreciate the totality of the Eucharist if I cannot celebrate it with them?
Which brings me to the final reason I will discuss; the comprehensiveness of the church. I still struggle with the idea of prayer to the saints and the Theotokos, as any Protestant likely does. It is an alien concept and one hard to accept on its own terms. For me, it is probably the greatest hurdle I will face to becoming Orthodox. Most of the other differences with Protestantism - liturgy, sacrament, hieararchy - I can understand and submit to without problem, but this is much harder. But even for that difficulty, the idea is so intrinsically appealing that I cannot quite get away from it. When I worship on Earth, I am joined by Heaven! And not just angels, but all the saints, all those who have walked this path before me. It brings the idea of the Church as the Body of Christ into critical focus and makes unity all the more important. If we're separated here, how can we joined There? The more I search, the more I explore, the more convinced I become that unity, true unity, should be one of the strongest critiques we offer to the world because unity is really about love. A love that cannot separate us from Christ, nor from the other members of His body.