I have spoken at some length of my meandering journey from my heritage churches of the Restoration Movement, to the Anglican churches, and finally to my long, lingering look at Orthodoxy. And there is an ever growing number of reasons as to why I should, need to, become Orthodox.
But last night on the way home from teaching, I was trying to identify the single motivating impulse that started me on this journey. Clearly one of the early desires was a search after the historic New Testament Church, with a more full and stable body of doctrine and discipline.
Still, if I can think with any clarity about this, it seems to me that long before I even knew the Orthodox Church existed, before I encountered Anglicanism, before all of this, the first step of the journey began with a simple wish.
I wanted to pray better.
I had pretty much grown up with the Protestant evangelical paradigm of Bible reading, prayer, going to worship and giving offerings. Ever since I was a junior in high school (and even intermittently prior to that), I woke up each day, read a chapter or two from the Scriptures, said a prayer, and went about my day. I went to church and tried to give. To this day, I still do these things. These are the fundamentals.
But aside from this structure, my prayers were formless, my thoughts simply bounced off my own skull. And anyway, for who knows whatever reason, I wanted more. By the mid-point of my Bible college education, I was struggling for help. Something different.
I’d already made the acquaintance of Richard Foster’s book, The Celebration of Discipline. But it ended up being more of the same: I was the standard by which such things were measured. If I fasted or not, it was up to me. Any rationale for such activity was whatever I needed or wanted it to be.
Somehow, and the particulars are no longer clear to my memory, I became acquainted with medieval Benedictine monasticism. I was here introduced to the daily office. Later I would encounter St. Benedict himself and his holy Rule. I also was introduced to the Carmelites, St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila. I read St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises. Here were entire lives devoted to nothing but the praise and worship of God. And to this I was irrevocably drawn.
From there the two primary catylsts for my journey–the seeking out of the historic New Testament Church, and the search for a liturgy-theology grounded in that Church–were set and guided me into and back out of Anglicanism, and finally to Orthodoxy.
Along the way, I discovered prayerbook worship, the quotidian practice of the office, and the way liturgy is meant to shape and form one’s spirit, soul, mind and body. I went from my own sense of lack and emptiness, through ever-greater fulfillment, until I arrived at what I know is my home and final destiny.
To this day, my continuing paradigm of Orthodox experience remains one of the first images I retain from one of the first worship services I attended. It was a “deacon’s mass” at All Saints, where I now attend with my family. The undending refrain of praise, glorification and worship of the All-Holy Trinity told me at long last that I had found that toward which my heart had set me some seventeen or eighteen years before.