Okay, I know the title is childish, or at the least of a different generation. I feel silly using it, but bear with me…I have tales to tell.
Odd things have happened to me. I dreamed I was holding a picture of an Orthodox dude in black cassock and the tall black hat thing some of them wear. I was in a crowd of people and we were weeping and laughing with joy, holding the picture as I and those around me all were proclaiming “He is released! They let him out of jail!” I knew that I had been praying for this person. The next day my brother posted a news story about an abbott who had been jailed by the Greek government. It was the man in my dream.
I have been struggling to understand some of the claims of the Orthodox church, wanting to disprove them. The most important ones I could not disprove or deny, no matter how much I wanted to do so. In spite of that, my heart was drawn to this despite myself. Orthodoxy is not comfortable for me. Not remotely. I don’t know the language. I don’t know the history. I’m confused by some of their beliefs and some of the arguments. I understand Protestantism. I can argue the doctrinal statements, even when I don’t agree with them. I get it. I know the arguments against Orthodoxy, from someone who doesn’t believe it. I can argue with myself. I can anticipate the objections of my friends, my family…
Speaking of family…I let my church know I was investigating Orthodoxy, then I let certain friends and family know. I have done my best to keep this from my parents. There are a few reasons…I did not want to upset my parents, I don’t want to argue with them (and won’t) and I don’t see the point in upsetting them when my dad is old. Old and sick. Old and sick and…dare I say it…nuts. This isn’t mean, it’s factual. It’s a long, sad story, but the truth is, that my dad doesn’t care so much about ME, as he does about his legacy. That legacy is only intact as long as his children and grandchildren believe exactly what he believes in the way he teaches it. If there are questions, his family is to ask HIM. There is not doubt at all that his interpretation of Holy Scripture is correct…at least not in his own mind.
My doubts began a very long time ago…mostly my doubts were about a faith that preaches things it does not practice. Why, I wondered, do so many preach mercy, but have none? Why do so many preach that God is love, then act as if God is waiting to pounce on us? In actions and attitude I saw what I think is the true belief…and that belief is not the God of love, mercy and grace who from the start provided ways for man to be reconciled to Him. They believe in a God of vengeance and wrath. They destroy each other in the name of this God of Love. When a man or woman can study Scripture their whole life but treat their children with cruelty, I have to wonder what is wrong with them? How is it that Scripture can fail to change a heart? I have to wonder, what is wrong with me?
The biggest reason that as an adult I have chosen to get my scriptural and doctrinal teaching from elsewhere is that I want to know What does Scripture look like when you live it? That is the crux. That is what I find important. If our faith does not change our heart, what good is it? If we have not love…
I have been sick for a few weeks…the kind of sick that means I can’t talk without coughing…that I sleep nearly as much as I’m awake and I have laryngitis. I was home for a while and going stir crazy. I thought I was getting a little better so I decided to meet some friends who were getting together at Starbucks. I had my husband drive me as I was still feeling rather shaky and weak. I was talking/coughing to a friend on the phone when my parent’s number came up. Because of some recent events, I thought it better not to call them, but I was worried as my dad had emergency surgery recently and I was afraid that they were calling because something had gone wrong. They haven’t called me in perhaps a year or more.
Despite the voice in my head saying don’t do it, I called back. Dad answered and sounded cheerful and in his right mind. He briefly asked about me, and despite my being unable to talk (the laryngitis and coughing were in full force) he got to “the real reason I called…” Somehow he had heard I was exploring the Orthodox Church. The call was not pleasant. After hanging up, I turned to my husband. “He doesn’t care about me at all, he just wanted to harass me about Orthodoxy.” I was understandably angry. I don’t want to go through the whole conversation. It doesn’t matter. I’m heartbroken, but not for the first time.
I have come to the conclusion that my understanding of my dad has been flawed. I have been treating him as if he were the man I wanted him to be, under the assumption that that guy was in there somewhere but unable to come out. I now believe that guy is NOT there. That daddy guy I have longed for isn’t there. The challenge now is to treat him with love and forgiveness without the comforting belief that he is/was that guy.
I do love my parents. I don’t want to be on the outs with them, but I cannot let that hinder my pursuit of truth.
I get how people will believe that I am abandoning scripture and denying the truth of scripture. Actually what I am doing, is learning how the scripture was written, how it was perceived by the early church and being willing to ask the questions, how did we get here? How did the Protestant church develop in such a way as to have thousands of denominations, all willing to fight over the smallest of things. How is it that we, most with great intention and honesty, approach scripture in prayer and with a serious and reverent manner, read and evaluate scripture but come to further and further disputes, schism after schism until church after church using the same scripture, has doctrinal statements that don’t reconcile. How does this happen, assuming that most of these people are translating and interpreting in good faith, with good intent?
The Orthodox Church teaches that we have these disagreements not because scripture is not true, but because we are all interpreting separately, individually, we have lost respect for the Church, our place in it, and have lost the humility which would allow us to realize that we could be wrong.
The story of the gathering of the books of the Bible was my first clue that Orthodoxy could be right and true. I had been taught how the canon of Scripture had been determined and accepted it without a lot of thought. Now faced with the problem of Sola Scriptura vs. Sola Ecclesia or Prima Scriptura, I was pretty shaken up. I had to face the multiple “original texts”, the words of Paul “whether by word or our epistle” (2 Thess. 2:15) It bothered me. I nearly had a crisis of faith. Instead of falling away or into endless struggles, I laid claim to that which I KNOW to be true. I believe there is a God and that He is a good God. I believe this because He has spoken to me. He has spoken to me on many occasions. Yes I was taught to believe, but it is more than that and older than that. Can I prove this? No. Do I know it to be true nevertheless? Yes. This is woven into the fiber of my being. No matter what else, should I choose to disbelieve, I would be denying what I know to be true and would simply be a liar.
So with the struggle, the problem remains: I was taught Sola Scriptura, that is, that Scripture stands on it’s own, that every word in my King James (or NIV, or Phillips) is true, and that each word is inspired by God, not just directed by Him, but as if the writers were puppets at the time of their writing. Why are these books part of Scripture? because the church agreed that they were so in the Councils. So then if the Church determined what is scripture, and the church had been using these books and letters for hundreds of years, and indeed, had been meetingprior to the writing of these Scriptures.How then did the church determine what is scripture and do so in a way that we can rely upon some 1700 years later?
This point is not a small one. And on this point, the crux of the problem for me lies. If the church determined scripture, and this same church says that the scripture does not contain the whole of the teaching, how can I depend on the veracity of the church council determining what made the canon of Scripture, unless I can also depend on the teaching of the same church about that Scripture.
As I follow along this path, I find things that I struggle with. Is this a doctrinal point or is it a habit and practice of the church? Those are different. Why do the Orthodox light candles? It’s a habit. It serves as reminders of the light of Christ, and illuminates the church. It’s also pretty. They are beeswax candles so as not to damage the icons. Icons. I was taught that these were items of worship. They are not. They are reminders of those who have gone before us and of the works of Christ and his people. Mary. I was taught that the veneration of and “prayers” to Mary were worship. They are not. The church clearly teaches that Mary is not to be worshipped, but that she is to be blessed above all women. Crossing themselves, or genuflecting, is a practice that horrified me. Why? Does Scripture teach against it? No. What are the reasons we approach this practice in such horror? Because the Catholics did it, and if you are a Protestant, about the worst thing in the world is a Catholic, and anything that makes you think of Catholicism is inherently bad. That some people do this as a habit without thought, does not make this a bad practice. It is a way to thoughtfully and reverently remind oneself of the three persons of the Godhead, and in the way one holds one’s hands, to remember those yet again and also a reminder that Christ is both fully God and fully man.
What’s with the incense? You’d have a hard time reading the Old Testament without grasping that God ordained the use of incense in the Temple as part of worship.
Well…this is only a partial post, but it will be going up anyway, as to finish it in one sitting would be too much. And there is much I still do not understand. Orthodoxy is not a set of understandings, it is a way of life.