Be(com)ing Orthodox

As a Protestant—is that really now a past-tense state of affairs?—I only made one change of affiliation across denominational lines. I moved from the non-denominational (or as they self-labeled, “independent”) Christian Churches (Stone-Campbell/Restoration Movement) to the Episcopal Church.

When I did so, I concerned myself with what I suspect most non-mainline Protestants and evangelicals concern themselves with: can I maintain my current beliefs; or on what beliefs am I willing to negotiate? As an Anglican, I was assured that I could keep my belief on baptismal regeneration by immersion which I had always had, that with regard to the Eucharist I could be either one who believed in the “Real Presence” or keep the Zwinglian beliefs in which I had been raised. (At that point I had moved well beyond Zwinglianism to a more sacramental understanding of the Lord’s Supper.) I could continue to believe that the Bible was the infallible word of God, continue to believe in substitutionary atonement, the bodily Resurrection of Christ from the dead, the union of the human and divine natures in the Person of Christ, and so on. All I really had to worry over was whether I could tolerate some of the theological liberalism that I ran into. I ultimately decided that I could—and felt so very mature and wise as a twenty-something in so doing: see how tolerant I am without losing my fundamental convictions!—and was subsequently confirmed as an Episcopalian by the laying on of hands by Bishop Peter of Springfield. Aside from a new embrace of a sacramental understanding of Christianity, my life didn’t change all that much from the way it had been.

When I first encountered Orthodoxy, it was the summer after my first quarter in seminary. Whew. After that experience I was ready to look elsewhere. And, just as I’d done before, I began to examine it from the standpoint of doctrine. The difficulty, however, is that my wife and I had each made huge sacrifices in coming to seminary, and with my pride reigning things in, it just didn’t seem feasible to change churches (again!) over doctrine. So, for about two years, I attended All Saints roughly every half-year, read a lot on Orthodoxy, and looked wistfully.

What changed things for me, however, was my daily Bible reading during the first week of June 2002. Early in the week, God hit me over the head, and in the heart, with Ephesians 5:21ff. I needed to make a change. Not doctrinal, but volitional. Even, to some extent, ontological. I needed to be(come) a better husband, a Christian husband. I had not lived up to my responsibility as a spiritual man in our home. At that time it was just Anna and me, and we hadn’t gone to any worship service for six months, and I had not lifted a finger to make sure we did. Now initially I didn’t really understand or even discern that only Orthodoxy could really fulfill that necessary change. Other Christian groups, marriage counseling, personal spiritual direction, and so on, all would be helpful and provide assistance toward that goal. But only the Orthodox Church—or, rather, only the grace of God at work in and through the Orthodox Church—could bring about the transformation.

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