...are the ones that make the biggest difference

9.11.2005

Why Orthodoxy? Part II

Getting married further separated me from my friends. Most were a couple of years younger than I, and only a couple had done anything college-wise - so I was in the "real world", with a corporate job and a wife, and they still had no direction, working just to get by and hanging out till all hours of the night. I'm not knocking them, since there are times when I miss that sense of freedom and limitless possibilities. I realize, too, that I would not be happy living like that. I need my work and my everyday life to mean something; I need to have direction. So my friends and I drifted apart, which only made fitting back into my old church even harder, what with the emotion-driven worship and shallow teaching. We still went some, though, mostly out of habit and some because those people were still my friends, even if we weren't close. We tried out a few other churches over the course of the winter of 02/03, but never really felt at home. Nothing clicked for us and we got rather apathetic about church.

I had read some on the emerging church movement and it was stirring up some excitement in me. One of the things that had stirred me in Bishop Ware's book was the connection to the past that was present in Orthodoxy. Even a cursory look at the emerging church will show that they are very interested in reacquiring the forms & practices of the ancient church, and I liked it. To me, the emerging church seemed like a good via media between my Protestant ideals and the history of my faith. Via an emerging blog or two, I wound up landing on Karl Thienes' blog and from there, branching out to more Orthodox bloggers. This piqued my curiosity, so one day at work (on my lunch break, I tell you!) I decided to see if there were any Orthodox churches in Phoenix. I found several, one of which was right along the route I took home from work, so I swung by one afternoon that week. I checked out the church's website and emailed the priest, who invited me to come to a service some time. I ended up going on a Saturday the week before Easter. My wife had to work, so I went alone and stood in the back the entire time, not knowing if I was allowed to go into the church proper.

I was blown away by it. This was an entirely God-centered worship! There were no praise choruses about how great and wonder I feel, or how great and wonderful I'm supposed to feel. It was unemotional, focused. The only time self-referential words came up were in conjunction with asking God's mercy, but they rarely focused on "me." The prayers were offered corporately for the Body - it was "have mercy on us". And after the forced, me-focused, emotion-driven worship I had grown to abhor, this was a most welcome and keenly felt change. The smell of the incense lingered in my nose, the sounds of the chants echoed in my mind. The reverence present was also a huge change. Everybody was dressed nicely and there was no coffee in the sanctuary. It was a place where people came to meet the creator of the universe and they did so with serious intent, not frivolity, not looking for comfort. There were no gimmicks. The sermon was short, but good. The priest spoke to the reality of sin and our constant need for God's mercy. I met him briefly after the Liturgy and went home to talk to my wife about it.

We started going fairly regularly at that point and continued to do so for a few months. I think we were both moved by it and found the changes refreshing. Looking back at it, I can't really pin down any specific reason why we stopped going. I think we just weren't ready at that point. We definitely stopped going completely after I started talking to the church in Illinois about their youth pastor position. But I carried that experience with me - the God-focused worship, the almost total disregard for emotion, the depth & richness of the theology & praxis and the rootedness in history. Its probably the biggest reason things didn't work out at that church; I wanted to make disciples in the manner of the earliest Christians. I wanted to teach the kids something real, to help them make their faith their own and something that would survive the challenges of college, which are immense. The church, on the other hand, wanted little more than a program that would get big, fast. They also wanted a program that was more about pleasing the adults of the church than it was reaching the kids. Anyone familiar with my blog knows how it ended.

So now that we are here, I think we are ready. Not ready to convert just yet, just ready to really explore it, to give Orthodoxy a chance to pull us in. I, for one, need this time. That brief experience of Orthodoxy has stayed with me, haunting my ministry. It became the measuring stick by which I judged my ministry and the ministry of my church - are we that reverential? Are we pointing people to God like that? Are we producing disciples and not just converts? Are we equipping people to live their faith and not just understand it? My experience at that church in Illinois only served to heighten the tension I feel, amply demonstrating the failures of Protestant thinking & doctrine. For me, I need to settled the Orthodoxy question once and for all, whether that is yes or no. I know I will never be able to be happy at a church until I do.

Next post, the theological, philosophical and historical reasons behind the lure of Orthodoxy.

5 comments:

Ephrem Christopher Walborn said...

My first experience with Orthodoxy was just an ordinary Great Liturgy in a little out of the way church.

I think the word to describe my state was awe. True awe. I went home and wrote in my journal that there was no going back to the places I'd been before. This was one of those moments where there's an open doorway that could change everything, and to pass it would be like saying, "No, God. Thanks, but no. I... I think I like the comfortable old stuff. It's not fulfilling, but it's mine."

And today I really struggle to remember what it is like to be a Baptist. I remember thoughts and feelings, but when I talk to Baptists it is just so utterly foreign.

But go slowly. Be deliberate and not flaky, but go slowly. You may not experience the crisis later, but many converts do eventually reach a stage at which they begin to think maybe they'll just chuck it all. I don't even know if it's avoidable for those of us who have gone through it, but my gut tells me that had I taken more time rather than leaping naively that it would have helped. Only God knows. I'm here now, and working out my baggage.

Many blessings on the path.

Anonymous said...

I'm enjoying these posts too. I can relate to a lot of your experience, Nathan. People (both from my past, and from my Orthodox parish) encouraged me to take it slowly too, but you're a solid, level headed fellow and I'm sure you'll take all the time you need to settle on your direction. Even though I took my time with my conversion to Orthodoxy, I still definitely hit a couple crisis points -like ECW mentioned- where I was almost ready to chuck it all and look for something more familiar, but I'm so glad that my wife and I did not take any of those last minute detours.

As someone mentioned to me along the way, when considering Orthodoxy, keep your eyes on Christ at all times. If you find yourself coming nearer to Him, if you see Him more clearly and hear Him more deeply, then keep going forward. If not, stop and pray and consider your steps and ask for His guidance. If you do what you do solely and totally for the sake of the love of Christ, you can't end up too far off no matter where you land.

You mileage may vary (as they say all too often online), but those words helped me on my way.

-Doug

Chase Vaughn said...

You said,
"I was blown away by it. This was an entirely God-centered worship! There were no praise choruses about how great and wonder I feel, or how great and wonderful I'm supposed to feel. It was unemotional, focused. The only time self-referential words came up were in conjunction with asking God's mercy, but they rarely focused on "me." The prayers were offered corporately for the Body - it was "have mercy on us". And after the forced, me-focused, emotion-driven worship I had grown to abhor, this was a most welcome and keenly felt change. The smell of the incense lingered in my nose, the sounds of the chants echoed in my mind. The reverence present was also a huge change. Everybody was dressed nicely and there was no coffee in the sanctuary. It was a place where people came to meet the creator of the universe and they did so with serious intent, not frivolity, not looking for comfort."

Boy does that sum up many of my frustrations! But, I will say that not all protestant churches are so un-protestant. The reformed tradition connects very deeply into the past and repudiates the self-centered irreverent worship of modern American evangelical protestantism.

Great blog.

Chase Vaughn said...

If you've never been to a Reformed Baptist, Orthodox Presbyterian or an United Reformed Church, I really recommend that you go just once in order to see that historically (good example is the Genevan liturgy used by Calvin) protestantism is very different from its modern manifestation.

Nathan said...

Chase -

I appreciate the invite and no, I've never visited one of those churches. And while I would happily do so at some point in the future, they could never offer me a true church home because I am not Reformed in my thinking or theology. While a God-honoring worship is important, it must be lniked with a proper theological understanding in order to present the fullness of the faith. While I may appreciate their worship, I cannot accept their theology and must look elsewhere.