With three years’ hindsight, it may well be safe to say that the text in Ephesians 5 addressed to the husband was the catalyst that moved me toward the Orthodox Church. The infallible call to headship in the home converted my till-then intense interest in Orthodoxy to a resolved decision to become Orthodox and lead my family into the Church. Today, the Sunday of the Blind Man, marks three years of liturgical time (almost three years to the day: it was 9 June that Sunday in 2002) from the day I stepped foot inside All Saints Orthodox Church with the, to this day, still-unwavering resolve to bring myself and my family into the sacramental embrace of Holy Mother Church.
I’m not sure why this is the case. All my previous moves toward the historic Church had been oriented around theological and historical concerns. I wanted to be part of the Church that not only taught the faith of the Apostles but was the very Church the Apostles had founded. But standing there, three years ago, confessing my failures as a husband to my wife on a Saturday morning, with many theological and historical questions yet to be answered, I had an intuition that what I was looking for was not something to believe so much as a way to live–a way that was one whole cloth from sanctuary to home altar.
I say this not simply because my present concerns, as you no doubt can gather from the most recent entries, are oriented around Christianity as a way of life. Though I don’t discount the interpretive influence of my present concerns, it is still the case that this intuition has been with me for the past few years. In going through my journals, for example, I remember remarking the sort of good-natured envy I felt for the Orthodox Jews I served as an employee of Skokie Public Library. Theirs was a distinctive dress, a distinctive diet, a distinctive mode of living tied up with their faith.
The Christianity I grew up with did not offer this. I certainly had distinctive beliefs–many of which, I’m grateful to say, Orthodoxy has fulfilled rather than I have had to give them up–but the mode of life in which we engaged, aside from some moral strictures that put us at odds from time to time with conventional society, was still very conventional. I tried manufacturing distinctiveness in my life, at least for a time in high school, by diving deep into the “Christian ghetto”: CCM-label music only, reading books published only through Christian publishing houses, and adopting some “evango-speak” habits. But instead of producing a sense of substantive otherness, I only felt like an insipid copycat of conventional music, books, and jargonish slang (this was in the days of “valley girl” speak, God help us).
But three years ago–in fact it was the morning of 6 June when I read the Ephesians 5 passage–I was confronted with my sin, both willful and involuntary, in knowledge and in ignorance, and instinctively knew that the only place I could remedy it was in the Orthodox Church. So, after two days of painful introspection, I confessed my sins to my wife–who, as you may guess, was somewhat perplexed, though forgiving–and the next morning stepped foot in the temple at All Saints to hear these words proclaimed in the Liturgy:
Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway. And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.
When he had thus spoken, he spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay, And said unto him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam, (which is by interpretation, Sent.) He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing. . . .
Then again called they the man that was blind, and said unto him, Give God the praise: we know that this man is a sinner. He answered and said, Whether he be a sinner or no, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see. . . .
Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when he had found him, he said unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God? He answered and said, Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him? And Jesus said unto him, Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee. And he said, Lord, I believe. And he worshipped him.
I came to worship, that day, 9 June, three years ago, feeling very much blind–though in my case it was from my own willful sinfulness. I think I can safely say that the weight of how I had failed to be the sort of head of my home that gives his life for the holiness of his own wife pressed unutterably heavy on me. Most painful of all was not only the fact that nearly ten years before I had attempted to force my wife into a church that later proved to violate nearly every single belief she (and I) held dear as Christians, but that the way I had done so had violated her trust and her freedom before God as her own moral agent. Those wounds did not heal quickly, and I do not even know for sure that they are today healed fully (though by the grace of God they have been healed substantially since that confession three years ago).
I knew not merely that I had been a most miserable sinner–as the stark and uncompromising liturgical texts put it–but indeed had failed my wife at that point most intimate: as spiritual head of our home. Though please God not maliciously, still, quite willfully, I had trampled on her sensibilities. It is little wonder then that my confession was met with forgiveness but also reserve. And it was right that it be so met. After all, I had proven quite untrustworthy.
Much of the ensuing events have been chronicled here. Though my repentance is ongoing and will not be complete till my own death, through the tender compassions of our Lord I have been the recipient of the most humbling and joyous of graces. Our Blessed Lady prayed and our daughter Sofie was the answer. And in that answer my wife found cause to join me at All Saints. And in our worship together at All Saints, my wife has found genuine love and friendship through the women of the parish. And the life of Christ that permeates the family that is All Saints Orthodox Church has given my wife answers to some questions and hope for answers to others.
I have been exhorted by well-meaning souls that if my wife is reluctant, that I should press to have her blessing to become Orthodox first, and she may find in that cause to join me later in her own time. But I am convinced at this point, that what God wants is a united entry into the Church. My reasons are based in part on my own sins. I cannot see how “going it alone” would do anything but reawaken tender feelings that have had some healing–since “going it alone” was precisely what I had done as an Episcopalian. Further, my impetus to solidly resolve to become Orthodox was based on a text that spoke to me of my call to be the spiritual head of my home. Being the head of my home involves laying down my life for the sake of my wife’s own salvation and holiness. She must see my obedience to this, and somehow, “going it alone” would seem to me, at least, to nullify this daily sacrifice. This is not sacrifice for its own sake, of course. But there is woundedness that needs my own mortification if love is to be demonstrated rather than merely verbalized.
Finally, and more to the point, when I heard three years ago the texts I heard again today, I heard a promise:
Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway.
I believe that in God’s merciful timing and solely by his grace when I become sacramentally Orthodox, with me will be all my own household. These three years have seemed long, to be sure. And the more time goes by, the greater is my longing to become Orthodox, and the more painful it is to be without the Sacraments. But this is all according to the plan of God, I am utterly convinced. Yes, of course, I may be mistaken. And if so, God will show me that, as he did three years ago, through his Church and her Scriptures. But thus far, everything has confirmed that this is my calling and my task. And on this liturgical day, for three years, I have had this calling renewed, and also the promises of greater things to come.
Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.