Monthly Archives: September 2008

More About the Other Night.

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So it occurs to me last night after I turn the computer off that I might have left you with the impression that I found the Great Vespers service dull and boring.  I can’t really say that I was bored, in all honesty.  I did have an incredibly hard time paying attention to the words being spoken, though.

I found that my attention span is less than a gnat.  I knew this already, of course, but I was in denial about it.  When we go to our protestant church here in town, I have a hard time paying attention there, too, but there’s only one point the guy is trying to make.  And ten or twelve scripture verses.  At Vespers, they might have read fifteen chapters of the Bible, and I tried desperately to listen to it, because when I managed it, I could tell where they were reading from [for instance, I could tell that part of the time they were reading from Psalms, and part of the time, I could tell that they were reading prayers from the prayer book, because I recognized some of the words].

I liked the service because everyone participated for quite a portion  of it.  They recited prayers, bowed and crossed themselves a lot.  They sang responses to prayers and parts of what the priest was saying.  And the priest!  He was doing something [although I’m not sure what he was actually doing part of the time] the whole time he was in there.

We did sit down for a few minutes while a lady named Lois read about the lives of the saints for that day [which I forgot to mention last night].  I liked that, but I wondered what Steve would think when she read that the relics of the saint had caused miracles.  Steve likes to think he believes in miracles, and maybe he does, but if they don’t fall into a certain mental category in his mind, then they’re dismissed as fake.  I get it, you know?  I’ve been there, and although I was there more because I was angry than because of wrong teaching, I’m beginning to feel just how extensively different protestant teaching is from Orthodox, and I’m realizing that only a bona-fide miracle would ever convince someone to convert to Orthodoxy from Protestantism.

People seem to come to Orthodoxy from Protestantism out of sheer desperation, and I’m no exception.  I just wanted to know God, to really know Him, and I didn’t really care what religion that meant I’d be a part of, I just wanted Him.  So it was easy for me to chuck everything from Protestantism and start over from scratch in Orthodoxy.

Protestants don’t venerate icons, they don’t pray with saints, they don’t believe in the real Presence during the Eucharist, don’t do confession, don’t believe in elaborately decorated sanctuaries…these things are borderline blasphemy [or outright blasphemy] to my protestant friends and family.

And you know what?  That’s as good an excuse as any not to convert to Orthodoxy.  Because Orthodoxy isn’t just different and foreign and strange and ancient on the outside.  There’s nothing ‘hidden’ or esoteric about it, but Orthodoxy quite literally means giving up your rights, giving up your very life, in every way imaginable, to God. There’s a contemporary Christian song [actually, most of them are like this, but this one is really popular right now] you can go here to hear it and read the whole song, but some of the words are:

Empty me of the selfishness inside
Every vain ambition and the poison of my pride
And any foolish thing my heart holds to
Lord empty me of me so I can be filled with you.

I love this song.  It’s catchy, the tune is pretty, the words are my prayer, and always have been since I first became a Christian.  And the one thing that has frustrated me beyond belief is that in Protestantism, they don’t really teach you how to empty yourself.

They try, don’t get me wrong.  There’s a system and a method for reaching that goal and it is:

Study the Bible

Pray

Get involved in a local church [evangelicals will say get involved in a Bible teaching church]

Get out into the community and do a ministry of some sort

If that doesn’t work, then you read books.  Lots of books.  Every year or so, there’s a new book that comes out that becomes a best-seller because it’s ‘life-changing.’ Some examples of books and studies I’ve been a part of are:

The Road to Reality [I might have blogged about this one…can’t remember now]

A New Kind of Christian [for emergent Christians..I wrote a whole series of blog posts about this one]

Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire

“Experiencing God” and “The Mind of Christ”

A Ragamuffin Gospel

“The Purpose Driven Church” and “The Purpose Driven Life” [Didn’t actually finish this one]

The list goes on.  Every one of these books made me think about God in a way that I hadn’t before.  They all made me cry, and made me want to do better in my walk.  The one thing they didn’t do for any length of time was help me succeed in doing better.

In finding a church, my three criteria for finding a ‘good one’ were:  Good Preaching, Good Music, Nice People.  If you have good music, it moves your spirit and gets you in the mindset of meeting God.  Its purpose is to get us into a worshipful attitude so that we can feel God’s presence.  It works, too.  When I listen to Christian music [like the song above] I feel moved.  Sometimes I cry.  I praise God and feel love for Him.  But if the song isn’t good to me aesthetically, it doesn’t achieve that.  The words may be great, but if the music isn’t something I like, I don’t feel much.  Sometimes the music is great but the words annoy me.  Same result, no feeling of being closer to God, or wanting to be closer to Him.

The same is true for preaching.  If a preacher is teaching the Bible, but he’s not a very good speaker, I can’t get into it.  If he’s not entertaining, engaging, interesting, and funny [funny is a big thing for me] then I probably won’t get much out of the sermon.

Worship for me has always been about what I like, about what moves me emotionally.  I left my last church [and so did a bunch of other people] because the music was horrible, and the preaching wasn’t any good, either.  Not only that, but the personality of the pastor is about as appealing as a porcupine.  He doesn’t exude love, he exudes an “I don’t really give a crap about you” vibe that’s really hard to get around.

I left because I felt like I was starving spiritually.  Like I wasn’t “being fed” at all.  My walk was getting more difficult.  It was getting easier to skip church altogether, and skip Bible reading, and studying, and praying and all the rest.  I felt like the pastor wasn’t holding up his end of the bargain.  He wasn’t making me feel like I wanted to continue in my Christian walk, and that scared me.  A lot.

But then I gotta wonder.  If I depend on the music or a good sermon to worship God, and I can’t feel His presence if I’m not moved emotionally, then am I really feeling His presence, or am I just moved emotionally and nothing else?  What if what I thought was the Holy Spirit is just an emotional reaction?  I don’t know if that’s true or not, and I’d like to believe that it isn’t, but what if?

At Vespers the other night, I got the distinct impression that the service wasn’t about me at all.  The priest didn’t even face us except when he was giving a blessing or flinging the incense all around.  He faced the icons [which are representations of the people who are already in heaven:  John the Baptist, Jesus, The Virgin Mary, and St. Basil the Great at this church because St. Basil is the Saint that the church is named after]  he bowed to the icons, and he went into this little room with more icons and a table with some stuff on it [I saw a candle and some holy water, but I have no idea what the other stuff was] and he prayed out loud while the reader was reading part of the time, and basically did what he was supposed to do and it had little to do with me.

They read tons of verses from the Bible, but there was no interpretation.  The priest didn’t tell me what the scriptures meant, he just let the reader read, and sometimes the people chanted along when they knew the verses and prayers that were being read.  The whole thing was about focusing on God, not on what made these individuals happy, or what made them “feel” closer to God.

It certainly wasn’t about my comfort.  We sat for about five minutes during the whole service and stood the rest of the time.

Now after the service, everyone was incredibly nice and went out of their way to make us feel welcome.  They were all converts from Protestantism, so they answered some of the typical concerns that Protestants usually have coming into an Orthodox service, and mostly, we just visited for a couple of hours.  Like I said before, I felt at home there, and understood for the first time in a long time.

Heh.  These people were just as crazy as I am.  They know that from the outside, converting to Orthodoxy doesn’t make a bit of sense.  They’ve had to deal with the scoffing and the “That’s great for you, but it’s not for me” and “Why are you going so overboard with this?” from Christians who you’ve talked to about the ache in your heart because nothing you do seems to effect a lasting change in your life.  How sin is just as rampant as ever, and why doesn’t God do more to help you out of this miserable state you’re in?  They’re in pain, too, just like you, but they’re still clinging to the hope that if they just keep plugging away and doing the things they’re supposed to do, eventually, something will change and they’ll have a breakthrough and be able to live a holy life.

All of the things I listed above are good things.  I’m still reading books, but I’m reading stuff that’s almost 2000 years old now instead of the ‘latest greatest’ thing.  I’m still studying my Bible.  I’m still praying, but I read prayers that were written by saints who already led the kind of life I aspire to.  Their prayers are a lot less selfish than mine.  Instead of praying for what I want, I pray that God will have mercy on me, a sinner.

And I can’t quite put my finger on it, I have no idea exactly what happened, or how, or why, but after one Vespers service, I’m suddenly able to write about Orthodoxy.  I made the decision to become a ‘card-carrying member of the Orthodox church’ 😉 months ago, but I’ve been terrified to write it down and post it publicly.  And I’ve been afraid to step out and actually take the steps necessary to really join the Church. Why all of a sudden am I able to write volumes about it, and why is my fear suddenly gone?  Why am I suddenly willing to join the Church even if Steve won’t?  Why is it that I suddenly know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I’ve found the Way when I questioned everything about Protestantism almost from the beginning?

Something happened to me Saturday night.  While I was looking around and trying desperately to listen to the words being spoken and failing miserably, this strange peace and, absence of fear, I guess you’d call it, snuck in and took hold of me and hasn’t let go.  None of the things I used to look for in a good church service happened Saturday night [except for the Nice People part], and yet my fear is gone. I’m changed, and although I’ve been changing since I first started this journey into Orthodoxy, the fear has been a constant companion, the ‘biggie’ that I couldn’t conquer no matter how hard I tried.  And suddenly, without even asking God to take it away, the fear is gone and I am free.  Wow.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m still a sinner, but I have hope.  I know that it’s possible to really, truly change and become the image of Christ, here on this earth, in this lifetime, because many, many people have done it.  The Orthodox church has a ‘system’ too, but it’s so different from what I’ve known that I’m still no good at explaining it.  It’s all still too new, but I’ve got bits and pieces, and the biggest thing has been letting go of my hangups about having a system.  I guess it’s not really a system, then, is it?  It’s a way of life.  It changes everything, and turns stuff upside-down, and it’s strange and wonderful and terrifying and difficult and downright hard a lot of the time.

heh.  it’s just like Jesus said it would be.  Man.  I gotta be nuts.

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nervous…

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So I’m nervous about my post from before.  I had hoped to know a little more about [and have a little more experience being] Orthodox Christian before I started writing about it, because quite frankly, I’m an idiot.  I screw things up daily.  I use a lot of profanity, smoke cigarettes, and am generally a prideful, obnoxious, pain in the ass.  If anything, I’m a poster child of what a bad Christian looks like.

I hate to think of writing about Orthodoxy because I’m really, really not qualified.  I’m going to get it wrong.  A lot. And I feel like the Orthodox Faith deserves a better representation than I can give.  In other words, I don’t want something I say lead anyone to believe that all Orthodox Christians are as messed up, disjointed, confused, sometimes rude, and generally incoherent as I am.

There are so many people who can give you whatever answers you need, but I’m probably not that person.  Doesn’t mean I won’t try, but my inadequacies will likely become painfully apparent to anyone who cares to look.  My guess is that I will write quite a bit about random stuff, including religion, and in particular, Orthodoxy, but I’m not a theologian, and I’m not very smart, so don’t expect much, okay? 😛

I’ve put off writing in here for a long time because I’ve begun a journey that I can’t even explain to the people who love me and understand me the most, what makes me think I’ll be able to write it down and do a better job?  Heh.  The answer is: I probably can’t, and I want to.  I want it to be perfectly clear, and perfectly written, and, well, perfect!

But then I think, this blog has never really been about being perfect, so why start trying the impossible now?  This thing is mostly a record of my journey through life.  A way for me to get stuff out of my head so it doesn’t drive me crazy.  Heh.  Consider this my disclaimer.  If you’re looking into the Orthodox Christian Faith, I’ll find some links to post on the side of my blog and you can go there.  If you’re curious about what a crazy housewife/wannabe writer is up to and what she’s rambling aimlessly about now, then read on.

New Things…

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So, last night, Steve and I took the kids and went to our first ever Orthodox Great Vespers.  The kids were amazingly well-behaved.  Matt was bored [“I didn’t like it because it was sooooooo loooooong!!!”]  Michaela had a hard time being quiet, but she asked if we could go back to the “Er do doc Chuwch”  which might be the cutest thing ever.  She liked it because there was a baby there, and she wants to go back to see the baby.

Although tonight, we were driving back from Shannon and Lindsay’s house and she said, “Can we not pray tonight?”  and I said, “No, we love God so we want to talk to him.”  and she said, “OH!!!  When you go to the Or tho doc Church, you have to pray.”  Michaela has gone to church since she was born, and somehow she’s never made the connection between church and prayer before in quite that way.  Wow.

Shaya was scared because when Father Elias was using the incense thingie [it’s called a Sensor, but I’m not sure if it’s Sensor or Censor, and I’m too lazy to google it right now] he was swinging it, and she thought he had his eyes closed [he may have] and she thought he was going to smack her in the side of the head with it.  Which made me giggle, even though it’s tacky to laugh when your kids are scared for the safety of their head.

After the service, which was held in Father Elias’s basement, his wife [I can’t remember her name and I feel horrible because it’s an unusual name and I kind of liked it and now I can’t remember it!  Grrrrr.] gave the kids sparkling grape juice, which made their night.  Matthew was dying of thirst.  I know this because he asked me if he could get a drink about fifteen times during Vespers.  I was a mean mom and said no.

So the service itself.  Well, I knew what to expect, so the chanting, incense and icons weren’t as shocking as they would have been if I hadn’t prepared myself.  Steve wasn’t shocked, either, because I had told him what to expect, too.  But all in all…  Well, if I’m being completely honest, it lasted a long time.  You really notice the time when you’re standing up the whole time.

I recognized several of the prayers from my prayer book that I printed out from the Internet, but I don’t have them memorized, so I couldn’t participate much.  During the Lord’s Prayer, though, man!  I was excited!  Because I know that one!!!  So I said it.  And I crossed myself, and I was happy because I’ve been teaching the kids to cross themselves when we say, “In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit” and that’s when they crossed themselves, too.  So I did it right!  Woo hoo!!

Side note:  When Michaela [the four year old with the speech impediment] crosses herself, she usually forgets to go from right to left, because she’s facing me as I cross myself, so she does mirror image instead of the same way, but anyway, she says, “In the Name of the Fathew, Son, and Holy ‘Piwit”.  I don’t know why but that makes me ridiculously happy.  I think God must smile, too, because it’s freaking cute, I tell you.

So anyway, Steve enjoyed the singing and the melodies of the chants, but other than that, he said he was kind of thinking, “What’s the point?”  He said at one point that he didn’t get much out of it.  Truth be told, I didn’t get much out of it either, but I went into it not expecting to get.

I did hope for a miracle, though I’m a little embarrassed to admit it.  I wanted Steve to come out of the service and suddenly understand my fascination with the Orthodox Faith, but that didn’t happen.  He still doesn’t get it, but I told him that if this is how God wants me to worship Him, then I’ll do it that way until I die, because worship isn’t about me, it’s about God…and if He likes that, then I’ll do it.

Steve understands that.  He gets it.  And he’ll do whatever God wants him to do.  He’s just not convinced that that’s really how God wants to be worshiped.  So I thought I might study the Old Testament a little [or a lot] and figure out exactly how God prescribed the worship service of the Hebrews, and see if it resembles what the Orthodox Christians do.

Because seriously, if God wanted to be worshipped with liturgy and vestments and chants and insence and icons in the OT, why in the world would anybody think that would change with the NT church?  And I have to admit, I’m curious.  I’ve read some of Exodus where God starts telling how He wants the temple built and all the stuff everyone has to wear and do to worship Him, but I haven’t really studied it.

For me, the path to Orthodoxy has been so similar and yet so different from other converts from Protestantism.  God kind of turned my world upside-down when Artem came into my life.  It’s probably the only way I was ever going to turn around and come back to Jesus, but still.  I doubt many people have had a crazy Russian hi-jack their blog and tell them the unvarnished truth about their ‘spirituality’.  😉

After I came back to Christianity, I really didn’t expect to ever talk to Artem again, but then an atheist hi-jacked my blog and Artem was the first person I thought of to go to for help.  And the conversation continued, and the next thing I knew, I was reading everything I could get my hands [or mouse] on about this Ancient Faith that was so foreign yet so familiar to me.

Orthodoxy had the answers I hadn’t found in Protestantism.  Everything about it was different but it was like it was one ‘aha’ moment after another.  Things made sense to me that had stumped and frustrated and downright pissed me off for years about the Christian faith.  I read in Acts about how the early Christians were completely transformed into the image of Christ, and how they were so freaking different, and I looked at my own life, and things had changed, but then the ‘first blush’ had worn off, and I was just struggling again and miserable.

Orthodoxy is different.  And understand that I’m really crappy at explaining things, so I can’t put it into proper words [which may be why my Protestant friends and husband look at me like I’m nuts when I try to talk about this stuff] but there’s no end, no cap to this Faith. There’s no limit to how far you can travel, or how close you can get to Jesus in Orthodoxy.

I’ve craved that ever since I first met Him.  To be able to keep going and growing and changing as long and as fast as I’m able [which unfortunately isn’t very] but the only limits now are because of me, not because my faith simply doesn’t have the answers.

So back to last night.  After the service, I talked to the people who were there, and every one of them, with the exception of the priest, were converts from Protestantism.  I listened to their stories, and it was my story. The paths were as different and individual as we are, and yet finally, finally I was with people who understand exactly what I’ve been going through, and who have reached the same conclusion I have.

I cried most of the way home because I felt like I’ve finally found my Home.  I hadn’t realized just how lonely I’ve been, how beaten down by the negative attitude of the people around me.  And I don’t hate these people, but it hurts my feelings.  Part of me aches, but a bigger part is just pissed off because they’re so offput by the externals that they won’t let themselves even entertain the idea that there might be something deeper here than they’ve found anywhere else.

Tonight I heard the same thing I heard years ago when I first became a Christian, “That’s great for you.  It’s just not for me.”  Strange that I heard the same thing from a Christian about Orthodoxy as I heard from my non-Christian friends years ago about Christianity.

It sucks, too, because my first instinct is to get all defensive and prideful about it and place myself above them.  You know the drill, “They’re just not as far along as I am” or “They’re just blinded by their own pride.”  BAH!!!!  It’s meI’m the asshole.  I hate it when I feel this way, and I hate it that it’s so freaking easy.  Pride is like breathing for me.  It will likely be the death of me.  I just hope that it’s not the death of others, too.

I dunno.  There are so many emotions I’m feeling.  This morning when I woke up, I was pissed off at Steve.  On the way home, he started asking me questions, and telling me how some of the stuff they did wasn’t stuff that Jesus did, and it wasn’t in the Bible, so it has to be bad, and then I tried to let it go so I could sleep, but apparently it just festered there like a boil on my ass and when I woke up it was about to pop.

Grrrr.

I woke up pissed off, partly because of the conversation with Steve last night, but also because I really wanted to go to Divine Liturgy this morning, and I knew I couldn’t.  I didn’t want to go to our regular church, and I haven’t wanted to go there in a while now, but this morning it was especially bad.

But then, I found a website I had seen last night but not paid much attention to, and found that they broadcast the Divine Liturgy live from Florida.  So I watched about fifteen minutes of it [we had to get ready to go to church] and I had peace all of a sudden.

So I wasn’t a jerk to Steve, and we went to the late service at church and I survived it, so I guess that’s good, eh?

I’m shockingly human here, and not a good example of humility or love at all.  I don’t know what I’m thinking, going into this Faith, and yet I’m drawn to it like a moth to a flame.  I guess that’s kind of what I am.  I’m going toward the light, knowing full well I’ll likely be burnt to a crisp, and all I can think is, “It’s so pretty… I don’t care if I die!”

And I don’t.  I don’t care if the Vespers and Liturgy are the driest, most boring thing in the world, I just want to be there. Every time.  Forever if He’ll let me.