Why Orthodoxy? XV

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.

8 thoughts on “Why Orthodoxy? XV

  1. The other day, I ran into an old friend from the charismatic church I went to some years ago. When I told him I was now attending a Greek Orthodox Church, he said: “I bet you’ll light ’em all on fire.” If I had thought of it at the time, I might have replied: “I am not joining the Church because it can use me; I am joining the Church because I need its life.” This got me thinking about the one reason why I have decided to become Orthodox. There are a million reasons why Orthodoxy is superior to Protestantism and Roman Catholicism, but only one reason why I am joining the Church: it is the same exact Church Jesus Christ founded, and the same exact Church that was filled with the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. It has not changed. When I came to this realization, it was all over with Protestantism. The beauty, the mystery, and the deep spirituality found in Orthodoxy are head and shoulders above everything else because it IS the Church. For me, then, it was not a matter of going “I like X, Y, and Z — this is the church for me!” You could say, in a sense, I decided to become less individualistic, and let Orthodoxy speak to me on its own terms.

  2. Amen, David. I know precisely what you mean.

    My wife is somewhat–and understandably–suspicious that this one is finally the end. After all, I went from fad to fad, from the Restoration Movement to Anglicanism, now Orthodoxy. How is Orthodoxy any different?

    Well, I’ve tried to express how it is different, and though she’s not there yet, she knows that it is precisely what you say: the Church that Jesus founded. It’s the original. There’s no need to look further.

  3. The same church that Jesus founded! True enough. But such a truth was not known to me until I was about 55 years old. Where was I before that? I was in a “church,” and I cannot deny that Christ was there, in some form, for how else would I have longed to know him better.

    As for Foster’s book with its do-it-yourself method, as is all Protestantism at root, I was looking for something that compelled me, that came from outside of me, and compelled me. If my faith is completely in my hands, and all worship is finally up to my personal decision, there’s nothing to compell me to do anything. But in Orthodoxy the church is there, the Liturgy is there, the objective reality of Christ is there, and it compells me.

    It doesn’t compell my wife or that great crowd of Protestant friends and acquaintences, and I can’t fathom why it doesn’t.

  4. Clifton, I found your blog today and have been reading through it some. Your thoughts give me much to chew on.

    I’m currently half-way through an MDiv at a prominent graduate school in the Churches of Christ (Abilene Christian University), but, largely due to my study of Church History, have been attending an Episcopal Church and am looking at possible confirmation in May followed by discernment and training to be an Episcopal priest.

    However, I’ve also felt a pull towards Orthodoxy. I feel very anxious, it’s difficult to give up the church of my youth, and the reaction from my Restoration movement family will be hard. Anyway, thanks for your thoughts.

  5. Jared:

    Glad you found my li’l corner o’ the blogosphere. And glad that my posts have provoked some thought.

    If you are attending an Episcopal Church you are likely aware of the great confusion and chaos surrounding the Anglican Communion. On that basis alone, I would strongly caution you against moving forward too quickly. You may find yourself ordained in a denomination with an ever-smaller, ever-shrinking and ever-less-recognizably Christian message.

    I myself was an Anglican for a bit more than five years, and spent five years on my way to confirmation. I have been to an Episcopal seminary and was myself on the ordination track.

    I left all that because of the devolution away from the Gospel that is going on in ECUSA.

    Still, these are decisions you yourself will have to come to.

    Before you commit yourself one way or another, I would strongly encourage you to seek out as many Orthodox parishes as you can to worship in.

    For help locating one near you, go here:

    Orthodoxy in America

    If you want to talk to me further via email:

    chealy5 at yahoo dot com

  6. Clifton–another great post, as usual. This one, however, particularly struck a chord with me. I am a former deacon and elder in the Church of Christ–a so-called “leader” in the church, if you will. And yet, I never had a real, transformative prayer life until I discovered Orthodoxy.

    Now, in the “its-a-small-world” category: Jared, are you the same Jared who was the summer intern at Glenwood Church of Christ??? If so, we have met. I am technically still a member at Glenwood, but am to be chrismated into the Orthodox Church this coming Saturday. There are others at Glenwood on the road to Orthodoxy, as well. We really need to talk. My email is tcowan@jcowaninc.com

  7. Jared –

    As one who grew up in the RM, having grandfathers on both sides serving many years as elders (in different, sister congregations to ours), and having been a confirmed Episcopalian for about 16 years, I echo Clifton’s sentiments.

    My opinion is that the fulfillment of both the RM and Anglican Protestantism is (or ought to be) in Orthodoxy. I wonder, had Stone and Campbell had meaningful access to the Church history now available, and meaningful interaction with the Orthodox, whether the RM would have ever occurred. We will never know.

    I am forever grateful for my RM upbringing, for it taught me a love of scripture. Fortunately, the Orthodox Church does not ask that you leave your brain at the door, or the scriptures.

    There are many of us, I’m sure, who would be willing to share our witness about coming to the doorstep of Orthodox from the Church of Chirst/Christian Church independents; however it is in prayer (esp. learning to pray as the Church prays) and in worship and in interaction with those who are already Orthodox that you will gain great benefit of understanding. And here I echo Terry’s comment about the wealth of riches in the prayer life of the Church, albeit gained with struggle.

    Terry –

    Let God be magnified! I’m sure we will all be trying to remember to offer prayers of praise and thanksgiving Saturday upon your reception and first partaking of the mysteries. May we all, God-willing, be found fit to be received.

  8. Jared,
    I was an Anglican for about 13 years (confirmed for 10). While I haven’t been to an Episcopal seminary, I was at the beginning of the process for orders in that church for about 1 yr, got booted out of my discernment process for not agreeing that Gene Robinson was a good idea, and after switching to a much more (small-o) orthodox ECUSA parish for a year to decide what to do, I then left for Orthodoxy. I thank God every day for leading me to the Church, and I am so humbled by the immensity of blessings that are apparent in the Church.

    It is strange to read your journey in short, Clifton. Similar, so similar to mine, from Foster’s Celebration of the Disiplines, to the Office, (I even went so far as to use the Anglican Breviary), to Benedictine stuff, the Spiritual Excercises, St. John of the Cross and St Theresa of Avila. And the deeper I went into the rabbit hole, the more I found Orthodoxy staring back at me. I too wanted (and still want) to pray better, but I am learning more and more.

    God bless,
    John

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