A YEARNING OF THE HEART or (OUR STORY)

ImageI was very fortunate to be asked by Father John Peck to share our story over at Journey to Orthodoxy. Here is a link to his posting:

http://journeytoorthodoxy.com/2013/02/14/a-yearning-of-the-heart/

I also wanted to share it on my own blog for those who wish to read it here:

A YEARNING OF THE HEART or (OUR STORY)

I was chrismated and welcomed into the Orthodox Catholic Church on February 2nd 2013, The Presentation of the Lord in the Temple. I am very glad to be welcomed home into the arms of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church known as the Orthodox Catholic Church, the Church of the New Testament, the Church of the Apostles, and the Church of the Saints throughout 2,000 years. This is our story of coming home.

A couple of years ago, I came into the Anglican Communion via the Episcopal Church. When I first met my wife she has attending TEC and took me along with her for Holy Eucharist service, which was more high church. I was at first weirded out by all the odd things I did not understand, but slowly over time God brought me to love the liturgy and the ways of the ancient Christians. I had been so ignorant prior to this encounter with part of Christianity that I asked my wife if she worshipped Mary. That is laughable as I look back on it, but it showed how I did not know anything about the ancient Faith. I grew up in an area with deep anti-Catholic sentiments and an ignorance of ancient Christianity. I grew up in a Protestant home and went to a Protestant school, which tended to be ahistorical if it was not Protestant history.

When I encountered the ancient Faith I had just come out of an immense struggle and existential crisis of wrestling to make my faith my own. It was the ancient Christianity that spoke to me and gave my faith new life, which made it my own and not just the faith of my teachers and family.

When I joined the Anglican Communion I was introduced to the Church Fathers, Church History, and the Eastern Orthodox Church. I fell in love with the beauty of the Orthodox doctrine and thinking. I became Orthodox in my mind as I allowed it to question, challenge, and transform my own thinking and presumptions. I quickly aligned myself with Anglo-Orthodox tenets of Anglicanism. It was through the Anglican Communion that I came to love Patristical Christianity and Eastern Orthodox theology. This theology spoke to me softly for many months. It whispered to me in the stillness. The Holy Spirit was beckoning me slowly with the beauty of Eastern Orthodox theology and worship. My wife too appreciated this beautiful theology. I think it is safe to say that my wife and I both were Anglo-Orthodox, but only in our minds, thinking, and theology.

Overtime, however, I wanted to align not only my mind, but also my heart with the Orthodox Catholic Faith. The Orthodox Faith, the true Faith, has become my spiritual reality, my spiritual path. My heart yearned to be a part of the Orthodox Church with her rich, vibrant, history and lively, communal, introspective approach to the spiritual life. I had a deep yearning of my heart that I discovered only Orthodoxy could feed.

Orthodoxy is not a concept, nor an idea! Orthodoxy is a path, a spiritual endeavor. It is a journey of discovery and self-denial. It is an endeavor of the soul, mind, body, and spirit. It is an awakening of all the senses to the reality of God and His energies. Orthodoxy is a journey embarked on by the heart, the place of our true selves.

Orthodoxy is beautiful. It is transcendental. It is an awakening, a yearning of a reality that is not seen fully by our limited vision, but is nonetheless fully present.

Frederica Mathews-Green writes,

“Orthodoxy is a spiritual path. Orthodoxy is a set of prescriptions that when we follow, we advance on the journey to theosis. That’s what Orthodoxy is. Orthodoxy is a way. It is a path. It is the wisdom of the Church that is gathered into one place and taught and made accessible and given to us so that we can advance in our own journey to theosis. It’s the Sacraments. It’s the Fathers. It’s the whole concept of spiritual direction. It’s the prayers. There are so many things that are Orthodoxy.”

I wanted to belong to this beauty I had discovered. I wanted to walk along this path of Orthodoxy. I was ready to want this in my heart, this existential experience of Orthodoxy, but I had to be patient with my wife who felt at home in Anglicanism and loved it. In time she say that it was crumbling to the ground and she grieved it literally. I picked up a copy of “The Orthodox Way” by Met. Kallistos Ware and jokingly said that we should just go ahead and become Orthodox (even though I was being quite serious at the same time), and my wife just started crying her eyes out. She was very upset with the divisiveness of the Anglican Communion and the rampant, unchecked, liberalism that had taken it over, but she was also very scared and unsure of our ecclesiology and where to go.

After trying to belong to some of the Anglican offshoots of the Episcopal Church, we knew then that we were ready to come home to the Faith, the true Faith, the full Faith found in the Orthodox Church as it was given to the Saints. Once she too let go of Anglicanism she had no problems at all embracing Orthodoxy. We have kindred spirits when it comes to spirituality, she and I do. And we both knew we had found what we had been looking for. We both knew we had found the place to feed that hunger of our hearts that yearned for something larger than ourselves.

The best way to describe my conversion to the Orthodox Church is by a common judicial phrase that I heard my friend and Orthodox brother, David Withun, use,

“The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”

The Orthodox Church embodies this phrase incarnationally! I mean no condescension towards any Protestants nor any Catholics by the following reasoning: I have come to discover the fullness of the Faith and it resides in the Orthodox Church. The Catholics can’t say they have nothing, but the Truth for they have added to the Truth via claims to Papal Authority/Infallibility and doing things without the consent of the entire Church and Her bishops like changing the Nicene Creed by adding the filioque.

Protestants do not have the whole truth for they have departed in extreme ways from Apostolic faith due mainly to overreactions to Catholicism. Now, this does not mean that any of these brothers or sisters are without salvation. I firmly believe they have salvation, but they do not possess fullness of the faith. They cannot say,

“The Truth, the whole Truth, and nothing but the Truth.”

I have discovered that The Orthodox Church is the only church which can claim the phrase. I wanted this Truth. I wanted this Faith. That is why I converted to Orthodox Christianity.

Courtney and I were welcomed into the Orthodox Church on the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple.

I did not remain an Anglican, as much as I loved Anglicanism, because I could not submit to a bishop of the church who would not stand by Christian teachings. I could not be part of a Tradition that allows bishops to deny the Resurrection and other core teachings.

As someone who feels called to minister as a priest, I did not want to take a vow to uphold the Episcopal Church’s teachings.

I know some who do not know me that well may think that it appears wishy-washy, but one must understand that I am a very convicted and zealous person. I do not make decisions very lightly, so I do not see it as being wishy-washy or experimenting or church hopping. For me I found what I have been looking for my whole life spiritually. Father Stephen talked about in his homily at our chrismation how his brother whispered to him during his chrismation how this was everything they had looked and searched for as kids. I agree with that.

Further, this does not negate my experiences or upbringing as a Protestant. I do not resent or hate those times despite my outspoken disdain for some of the doctrines (not all but certain aspects. There is much in common for Orthodox and Evangelical Protestants to dialogue about).

Becoming Orthodox fulfills those things for me. I have come home. I am grateful for the faith of Jesus Christ I learned at Lebanon Community Fellowship growing up there as a kid. I am grateful for the faith in Jesus my parents taught me as Baptists. I am grateful for the faith of Mountain Mission School and her teachers who loved me and cared for my broken soul as a wounded boy. I am grateful for the ways my faith grew there and was instilled in me. I am very grateful for the faith of my wise professors here at Johnson University like Doc Reece, Dr. Bridges, Dr. Gupton, Dr. Overdorf, and Dr. Owens, plus many others who have shared with me and instilled in me faith, wisdom, and virtue. I am grateful for Anglicanism itself despite its many flaws at the moment. It was the stepping stone into Orthodoxy for me. I would not have become Orthodox without first becoming Anglican. It would have been too much for me. It was there I discovered the Church Fathers and the ancient Church of the East.

I am grateful for the kind priests like Father Brett and Father Howard at Ascension who helped us in our journey while we were there. I am especially grateful for the love and care Father Rob Travis poured into me as a passionate young man and for the care he gave me and Courtney through our separation. I am grateful for those Christians who still today contribute and invest in my life whether through prayer, friendship, love, or gifting me books like my friend Andy. I am grateful for all of you. And I am glad you have a part in my life.

Becoming Orthodox does not negate any of these things, but again, fulfills it for me.

Thank you to everyone who has played a part in my faith and spiritual journey and for all that you did in it. If it were not for you I would not be here today. I would not be a Christian. So it is with much appreciation that I thank you. And thank you to all who have expressed to me and shared with me the Ancient Faith. If it weren’t for your witness and prayers I would not have become Anglican little long Orthodox. I ask that you all continue to pray for us in our journey.

I have found hope. I have found healing for my deep wounds. I have found mystery. I have found consistency. I have found right teaching. I have found reverence. I have found a set of practices not just concepts and ideas. I have found peace. I have found Jesus in the Eucharist.

When I enter into the nave of our parish and I see the icons making present a reality of worship I feel at home.  It is an overwhelming feeling to be connected to the Church in heaven and on earth as we participate in the Divine Liturgy that has been prayed for 1,500 years in its current form by billions, if not trillions, of Christians.  It is an overwhelming sense of belonging to know that that many people have said those same prayers and that millions more are saying them with us in the presence of the saints as we worship the Holy Trinity together.  It is a sense of belonging to participate in the Church of St. Paul and St. Peter.  I have found where I belong.

I have returned home. I am glad to be home…

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About Joel

Joel is a 32 year old currently residing in the southeastern United States. His interests lay in philosophy and theology. He is a writer for The Christian Watershed.

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