Through Hope You Find Peace (I Know Not God Nor Myself)

St-Mark-the-Ascetic-774073I am a person who likes to think of himself as introspective and reflective. I desire to be transparent. I desire to be authentic. I desire to be real. I desire to know God and be known by God. I desire to know others and be known by others. I have been reading “Raising Lazarus” and it has had some profound insights into my existential struggle upon this planet and particular my post-graduation blues. I have gotten a little further up and in Orthodoxy as well. And perhaps what Paul Kymissis writes here is a profound insight into my own spiritual journey? I don’t know, but it hit me like a ton of bricks:

St. Mark the Ascetic said that there are two major reasons for a man’s unhappiness: love for himself and a love for pleasure. People who have been suffering from anxiety are able to find comfort when they understand the meaning of life. Anxiety is defined as the fear of something going wrong. Hope is the opposing emotion to fear. Therefore St. Paul writes that through hope you will find peace. An existential vacuum is another potential source of anxiety. This is where an individual who is created in the image of God fails to understand himself because he doesn’t know God. Orthodox Christian spirituality can be a major source of healing for many of these people” (page 48).

Perhaps I don’t know God? Perhaps I don’t even know myself too? Perhaps I have only scratched the surface of these boundless things? We can only be whole when we come to know the Holy Trinity in whom our personhood is grounded and defined. Perhaps my anxiety arises from a lack of being grounded?

I long to just abide, to be. To be grounded in That which is greater than myself, beyond my senses, and “nearer to me than my I,” as Martin Buber put it. The failure of men, my own failure, is that we forget God. We seek happiness in Egoism and Hedonism. We are so non-Eucharistic.

I’m rambling on in this blog; I’m well aware, but this quote has made me think of my own existential crisis of not only just getting done with undergrad, but also of life. This is our crisis is it not? The crisis is that we don’t know God and fail to understand ourselves.

I know neither God nor myself, but with some sort of strength I do utter this prayer from my sinful lips through hope to receive God’s mercy:

“O heavenly King, O Comforter, the Spirit of truth, who art in all places and fillest all things; Treasury of good things and Giver of life: Come and dwell in me and cleanse me from every stain, and save my soul, O gracious Lord.”

“I just want to be not what I am today. I just want to be better than my friends might say. I just want a small part in Your passion play.” 

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Therapeutic Leadership (An Introduction to Dr. Edwin Friedman)

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 “Leadership itself is a therapeutic modality.” -Dr. Edwin Friedman 

I have recently began, or attempted to nonetheless, reading Dr. Edwin Friedman’s “Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue” (a great little introductory review can be read here). The quote above can be found in the introduction to this book. I have pondered upon this quote a lot in the last couple of weeks. What is therapeutic leadership? How can therapy be done in leadership positions? I want to explore a little of Dr. Friedman’s thinking from the “Introduction” of the book to give a little insight to this notion of leadership being a therapeutic modality. Before I begin, if one is not familiar with family systems theory a basic definition would be that instead of focusing upon the individual in counseling or what have you one would focus upon the entire family dynamic. In FST, our conflicts and anxieties do not necessarily lie in our genetic make up or psychological leanings, but in how we function and react within the systems or networks of our relationships. I have written about FST here.

Introduction

Dr. Friedman begins the introduction by these two observations about church life and church relationships among clergy and laity alike:

1) The family is the truly the ecumenical experience of all humanity.

2) Practices and beliefs is not what unites spiritual leaders, but stress factors do.

Dr. Friedman writes,

It is the thesis of this book that all clergyman and clergywomen, irrespective of faith, are simultaneously involved in three distinct families whose emotional forces interlock: the families within the congregation, our congregations, and our own. Because the emotional process in all of these systems is identical, unresolved issues in any one of them can produce symptoms in the others, and increased understanding of any one creates more functioning in all three” (page 1).

Within family systems theory, we can integrate the professional life with the personal life and which “turns crisis into opportunity and moves in the direction of lessening our stress.” Bad functioning within the system is a result of the reaction we have to the anxiety and stress. Stress here is not defined by some notion of being overworked, but more by the effect of what position we play within the triangles of our families, our places therein. Dr. Friedman expresses that we can handle more stress when we are doing it for ourselves verses taking it on because of or for a relationship.

It goes without saying that to become effective leaders we must become aware of how we function within every one of these families and how we define ourselves. Dr. Friedman, as well as myself, believe that we can employ the family system model, which can aid in bringing about “understanding of family life that can aid us in our pastoral role…[and has] ramifications for the way we function in our congregations, for our position in our own personal families, nuclear and extended, and for the entire range of our emotional being” (page 1-2).

This approach goes beyond basics of pastoral counseling Dr. Friedman expresses. He writes that some may take from it and add to their toolbox, but that his book is meant to go beyond that. He writes,

The concepts of family process bring together in one perspective counseling, administration, officiating, preaching, personal growth, and leadership. Such a perspective has the effect of reintegration rather than disintegration, and, just as important, the family model offers something beyond an approach to problem solving. It presents an organic way of thinking that unifies our families and ourselves with the forces of Creation” (page 2).

Knowledge Versus Definition of Self

I think it becomes a little more clear what Dr. Friedman says about therapeutic leadership once we begin to see the integrated approach and systemic understanding of the family systems theory. We begin to see that our functioning within the system, the way we conduct and lead from within the system as a living part of it, influences and reaches others. It is the belief of those adhering to this theory that if one clearly defines one’s self (their values, beliefs, practices, and boundaries) and remains calm in response to the system’s anxiety that those within the system eventually begin to do the same thing. It follows that good leadership is therapeutic in the sense that as leaders we do just that and see the effects it has, but it also means we observe and have a keen awareness of the system and all its members.

The Power of Leadership within the Family System

Dr. Friedman notes,

Leadership has inherent power because effecting a change in relationship systems is facilitated more fundamentally by how leaders function within their families than by the quantity of their expertise. What is vital to changing any kind of ‘family’ is not knowledge of technique or even of pathology but, rather, the capacity of the family leader to define his or her own goals and values, while trying to maintain a non-anxious presence within the system…

The notion that self-definition is a more important agent of change than expertise unifies our healing power with that which promotes our own healthy (literally, our wholeness). There is an intrinsic relationship between our capacity to put families together and our ability to put ourselves together. This is why in some respects this book is aimed less at healing than at the healer. It is not easy, however to preserve this perspective on leadership because both congregational and personal families tend to reverse the priorities of expertise and self-definition, particularly when they become anxious. This is equally true of their demands in our general ministries and in our counseling efforts” (page 2-3).

We see Dr. Friedman really hammering home the point that one does not necessarily need expertise to become good leaders, but to have a strongly, clearly defined self (which for an Orthodox Christian I believe means working more and more towards theosis, but that is for another day). Dr. Friedman believes that “society’s emphasis on expertise rather than on self-definition has forced us to think about our existence in terms of specialities and subspecialities of teaching, preaching, counseling, administrating, fund-raising, organizing, socializing, and politicizing, and trying to do each equally well.” He goes onto to say how this dissipates our power into scattered, discontinous directions and what he calls quilt patterns that get so interwoven that if we get stretched the least bit in one direction the entire fabric of our lives can be and is tugged in another.

Dr. Friedman notes that the real sickness in all this is how society expects us to cope with our specialities by becoming experts in them despite the fact that one speciality can barely cover one small corner of their field. He says, “If we must conceive of leadership in terms of expertise rather than self-definition, none of us will ever feel adequately prepared.” He goes on,

The disintegration of self that threatens all clergy today is due less to the structure of our lives than to the way we are expected to organize our thinking. And yet, because family theory locates the power of change in those who assume the position of family leaders, it offers a way of thinking about all our various roles that is at once less enervating and more integrative. Because this view of leadership focuses more on self-definition of the leader as the unifying matrix of his or her existence, it veers away from thinking in terms of roles” (page 3-4).

Expert Counselors? 

Does a pastor have to be an expert counselor to be a great leader and healer? Dr. Friedman would have us believe that he would not. He even states that the demand for expertise thus the demand for more information is quite silly because if it were a reality that counselors had to have all the information in the world then no true healing could ever take place. He writes, “…complexity should not be confused with profundity. The fact that a whole can be broken down into its component parts does not necessarily guarantee better understanding.”

We begin to see two thoughts emerging here:

1) Being whole means being integrated as a person, being complete, being defined.

2) Being an effective leader means achieving number one as much as possible in all facets of life and within the system.

Dr. Friedman believes that this insistence on pathology and expertise over self-definition inhibits the power of pastoral counseling/leadership in two ways: the nature of healing and in the nature of our profession. He writes,

First, with regard to the nature of healing, it is not clear at all that knowledge of pathology is even necessary to promote healing. In the real world of family life there may be no such thing as ‘abuse,’ ‘single parenting,’ ‘hyperactivity,’ or maybe even ‘cancer.’ In reality, one is always dealing with the diagnosed condition plus the family’s own response to that condition. Thinking about families in terms of diagnostic categories leads both the family and its counselor to view the  pathological conditions as so many slices of life, even as the laboratory pathologist observes different slices of tissues. Cells that function one way in the laboratory, however, can function differently within the living organism…

Ultimately, healing and survival depend upon existential categories: on vision, for example, on hope, on the imaginative capacity, on the ability to transcend the anxiety of those about us, and on a response to challenge that treats crisis as opportunity for growth (all attributes of, or best promoted by, leadership).

Second, with regard to the nature of pastoral counseling, the family model strongly suggests that no other member of society is in a better position to foster these existential encouragements to healing than the clergy because of the unique entree into family systems our community position has given us. Ministers, rabbis, priests, and nuns have an entree into the multigenerational processes of families that is just not available to any other members of the helping professions no matter what their training or skill. This entree gives us unusual therapeutic potential” (page 5).

We can see Dr. Friedman painting an incredibly strong picture of what therapeutic power can come from leadership within the understanding of the family model. One does not have to be trained as a counselor so much as one has to be a well-defined person with a well-defined self within these family systems. Understanding this place within the system and how we can encourage growth and healing is vastly important to becoming good shepherds.

Clergy’s Therapeutic Potential

Dr. Friedman says there many reasons for the clergy’s therapeutic position, all of which are rooted in the family process and its nature:

1) Multigenerational forces behind our respective traditions meaning the generational anxiety, under/over functioning within the family system, and wholeness or lack thereof.

2) Clergy involvement in families during rites of passage, which are opportunities to enter the family system and changing it. He writes, “Life-cycle events are ‘hinges of time’ on which doors can open or close for generations.”

3) The prolonged intimate time we spend with these families, which can span for generations, and the noncounseling experiences we share with them. Dr. Friedman writes,

On the one hand, this type of entree enables us to observe families endure major crises and change without resorting to professional expertise. On the other, the same unusual entree enables us to become acquainted with families that are not overly disturbed by the very factors usually blamed for the troubles other families are experiencing–differences in background, possessive mothers, or alcoholic fathers. We are therefore in a unique position to appreciate, and therefore promote, the healing power of natural family resources and to realize that like bacteria, viruses, and carcinogens, emotional pathogens cannot undo a family alone” (page 6).

4) We position as leaders grants us this unique entree and opportunity to bring about growth and change.

We can see that there is indeed such a thing as therapeutic leadership that is based within the family systems approach. It is integrative and systemic; it is externally and internally focused. It takes into account the big picture. Within this model, one must observe the congregation, the congregation’s families, and his own family. All of these are tied together and how one functions in their positions within these networks influences all the others and can promote unhealthy traits or healthy traits; it can promote wholeness or disintegration. I firmly believe being a good pastor requires understanding one’s position in all of these and understanding one’s self.

This has been a very in-depth introduction, but I encourage everyone to pick up this book and read it if you are in ministry. Read it even if you are not. I encourage you to do so. Our leadership can indeed be therapeutic if we first work on our own salvation and wholeness. I believe Christ wants to heal us, and I believe part of salvation is integrating the human person back together as well as the relationships we have with one another. I believe Christ shows us what it means to be human again, and I believe that there is much existential truth to Dr. Friedman’s thoughts here that can aid us in our returning to being human. Give them a read sometime.

Members of the other helping professions may be able to teach us the tools of their trade, but with rare exceptions they cannot comprehend our position–either its healing potential or the problems of the emotional interlock of our various families (not to mention its insight crossovers); and they rarely have the kind of personal experience that would enable them to appreciate how leadership itself can be a therapeutic modality.” -Dr. Edwin Friedman

The Zeal of the Convert

ImageI once read in a book about how St. Athanasius was known to go up to the Emperor, grab his horse by the reins, and proceed to tell him how his theology is wrong! I have always been able to relate to that tenacious zeal that St. Athanasius held. I would tell President Obama at the drop of a dime that his theology is wrong too (I say this with a lot of humor).

In all seriousness, I believe as a convert to the Orthodox Church that one does go through, and hopefully comes out of, a period of radical zeal for the Faith. In fact, this tends to be true of any person who leaves the Faith Tradition of their childhood and converts to a new Tradition.

For the person coming to Orthodox, it is as if one has discovered an incredible treasure.

A treasure beyond all value.

Priceless.

Invaluable.

Inestimable.

For the Orthodox convert, the depths of Orthodoxy are not only a vast ocean that one can spend a lifetime exploring, learning, and growing in, but also it is a welcoming journey of relief from the crazy theological worlds from which many of us come. For the Orthodox convert, discovering Orthodoxy makes one feel as if they had been lied to all their life! That this beautiful, mystical Church has been here for 2,000 years and for some, at least in my case, I had never been told about it. I felt as if I had been robbed. I felt like I had found the most beautiful thing in the world, so the need and desire to share it with everyone is strong.

However, I came across something to today that promoted much thought about how often we share our theology and faith and in what manner we do so. Our enthusiasm can, but not always, drive us to always be talking and sharing Orthodoxy, primarily with our other Christian friends, so much that it could push them away or cause them to be turned off by our zeal. They end up having nothing they want to learn about Orthodoxy.

In our haste, perhaps we assume that others want to learn when perhaps they do not.

In his book, “Gifts of the Desert”, Kyriakos Markides interviews Metropolitan Kallistos Ware about converts and how we can go about sharing our Faith, theology, worldview, etc. Father Kallistos says:

“We must surely engage in a dialogue with Western culture. Otherwise we are the betraying our roles as Orthodox placed here in the West as mediators and witnesses. God did not put me in 9th century Byzantium. He placed me in 21st century Oxford. There must be a reason for that. Moreover, what is asked of us Orthodox is to listen as well as speak. All too often we carry on an Orthodox monologue. But we need to hear the voice of the other. Somebody said to a friend of mine (my friend is a Christian the person speaking to her was not) ‘The trouble with you Christians is you want to give us the answer before you bother to find out what are questions are!’

Now I think we could apply that to Orthodoxy in the modern Western world. Before we give them all the Orthodox answers, which in any case we ourselves know so incompletely, we need to listen to what the questions are. We need to consider where these questions are coming from. What is the meaning of the whole experience of the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation, the Enlightenment? As a Westerner I should start from where they are.”

“A lot of people today who have strong convictions are not very civil and a lot of people who are civil don’t have very strong convictions. What we really need is convicted civility,” writes Richard Mouw. I believe that having a convicted civility involves our beginning to listen before we speak so much and so often. That is not to say we do not speak, but that we do so with discernment and wisdom.

Mouw also said, ”Too often in life we proceed with a hermeneutic of self-assuredness and criticism of those for whom we disagree rather than a hermeneutic of self-criticism and grace for others.” There’s a fine line between an Orthodox Christian, which says “right belief” in our very name, and knowing that we don’t know it all. That’s the beauty of Orthodoxy. There’s a tension between a Foundationalism and Post-Foundationalism so to speak with Orthodoxy. Tension between having right belief, but having mystery and paradox and not knowing it all. Orthodoxy has taught me that I do not know it all. It has taught me to first examine myself and my sins and to repent of them. It has taught me to focus on growing in Christ.

Speaking.

Tension.

Listening.

The tension between those two is quite strong. The tension between believing you are right, but living as if you could be wrong is high.

The best way to correct this zeal is to focus it inwards. In her blog, “I Hope That Some Of This Makes Sense,” fellow Orthodox blogger Molly Saborin discusses how, in her zeal, she spent much time defending Orthodox or over-sharing it with many, but at one point of her journey a transformation took place. She began to move away from the things the mind does and come into her heart; it was there she began to cease to defend and focus on her own salvation. She writes:

“Over time, however, as Orthodoxy began to take root in my heart and soul, I lost myself in the all-consuming journey of salvation as a mysterious process. Defending my decision ceased to matter to me much anymore, quite frankly. I had way bigger fish to fry, like chipping away at my pride, selfishness and impulsivity every minute of every day – like falling down and getting up again, every minute of every day. Somewhere along the line, Eastern Orthodox Christianity ceased being something I had done and evolved into everything I was/am…

As an Orthodox Christian, I’m concerned primarily with dying to my self-centered desires and urges, and serving, loving, never judging my neighbor. Orthodoxy is so, so…so humbling. Orthodoxy contains every tool I need to run this race with perseverance until I die.”

We converts tend to have a lot of zeal for the Truth, for the Faith, for the Orthodox Catholic Church. This zeal is not in and of itself bad at all. However, I am learning it is in how we use it that matters. We must learn to be gracious, self-critical, patient, and understanding of others. We must learn to let them speak, to let them ask questions as they want. This does not mean we do not talk about, discuss, or share Orthodoxy. It just means we learn to seek first to understand then to be understood.

I want to offer a few thoughts on how we can evangelize the lost and share the faith with other Christians in more meaningful ways (I do not believe in evangelizing other Christians. I will talk and discuss with them my journey and the Orthodox Church, but I do not seek to evangelize them. Those who are not Christians I do think we should evangelize and practice these means of evangelizing). This may appear to be a digression, but I promise it is not:

  1. Dying to one’s self- As we discussed earlier with Molly’s journey, we need to focus more on bearing our own Cross and working out our own salvation with fear and trembling. We are not in charge of working out the salvation of others. It’s hard enough to work out our own salvation. We need to be self-reflective, introspective, and focused in regards to these matters. Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” We witness and evangelize by our complete surrender, which changes us from the inside out. I Peter 2:12 says we do this so that those around us who are not Christians see how good works and living that they may praise our Father in heaven. We can evangelize and witness by coming into deep, abundant joy that only Theosis and Christ can bring about in us. That is what transforms us into beautiful people of God. Dostoyevsky said, “Beauty will save the world.” I do think that we can evangelize by showing the light of Christ to others in our lives. We radiate with His beauty.
  2. Being in God’s presence- We find this transfiguration of our hearts by coming to faith in Christ and being in His presence. In Luke 10:38-42, we see what it looks like to choose Christ. Mary wanted to be with Jesus not just around Him. She wanted to communion with Christ. We can evangelize and witness by sitting at His feet and learning, having communion with Him. We can evangelize and witness by, like Mary, desiring one thing, Jesus Christ. St. Paul said, “I desire to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified.” We come to know Christ by dying to ourselves and having communion with Him. This brings about transformation and joy in our lives that, as Jesus said, lets our lights shine before men.
  3. By being with others- James 2:14-18 speaks of how faith without works is indeed dead. As Orthodox Christians, we believe that our good works are indeed pleasing to the Lord. We believe that we are capable of doing good works that are righteous before the Lord. We do this by feeding the hungry, the poor, the destitute. We do this by caring for the widow, the loner, the grieving. We must become Christ to the world. We must be in their presence and get to know them. We share with them the light of Christ and the joy we have found by our good deeds and love for them. We evangelize by being His hands and feet. We relate with those in our lives and build relationships.

Now, I know that I may appear to have gone off topic, but I think that once we learn to focus our zeal inward that we become truly concerned with our own salvation and less judgmental and zealous about defending Orthodoxy. That allows for us to really evangelize the lost in this world, but these three ways I have presented are also means for us to share our faith with other Christians. As we are deified and transformed, we become more gracious, more attentive, more open to listening rather than speaking.

In closing, if you are Orthodox and reading, I pray that you and I both are challenged by this. I pray that we can take to heart the wisdom I have learned and shared with you.

If you are another Christian and I have in any way hurt you, annoyed you, pushed you away from Orthodoxy then I ask you for your forgiveness for I am a sinner, and I leave you with this closing from Molly’s blog:

My dear friends, forgive me my lack of clarity and far from perfect example of Orthodox Christianity lived out in the everyday. I am weak and forgetful, for sure, but nonetheless Christ and His Church is where I’m at, who I am, what I live for, love for, die for, create for, strive for and depend on.  Orthodox Christianity cannot be mastered or dissected,  only experienced. Far be it from me to try and convince anyone of anything; I am not the Holy Spirit. All that to say, I have not much else to say but, ‘Lord have mercy on us all!'”

The Rock of Orthodoxy or (What Orthodoxy Is Teaching Me and Changing in Me [MiniBlog #1])

Russian-Orthodox-N_2010306c (1)When asked, “What has changed in your life since you became an Orthodox Christian?” I responded with:

I’m beginning to make sense of all the senselessness that has occurred in my life and why I am the way I am. Orthodoxy addressees a lot of my depravity and illness, but it isn’t only a mirror of reflection or a means of probing one’s heart, it is the path of healing, the way to Life.

Orthodoxy is beginning to help me translate the hell of my own life as I begin to wrestle even more with my Sarx (flesh), the Old Man. Orthodoxy is helping me come to terms with the abuse I have suffered, but shows me the way to forgiveness. It does not do away with those things, but in Orthodoxy they are fulfilled. By that I mean that they were for my sanctification and livelihood not just some random event of the cosmos. It encompasses all these things and for me is beginning to help me make sense of them and come to terms better. Christ takes all of it into Himself on the Cross in a very real way.

It has showed me how dead I still am, or can be, but that Christ reaches down into Hades, my own personal Hades even, and grants me the blessed hand that defeats death, pain, sin, abuse, and all that is wrong with the world and pulls me up out of the Pit thus defeating it entirely. He sits me upon the rock, which for me is His Church, Orthodoxy, and shows me the way to truly live again. It has shown me that being right is not as important as being righteous. It has shown me that being humble is more important than being heard.

It is in this coming alive that there is tension and there is struggle, but in the end it is worth more than anything you can own to be truly human again and to live and relate. This is what Orthodoxy is showing me. This is the journey She’s began with me as She brings me to participation in the Holy Mysteries of our Lord, which are tangible means of grace that bring about this transformation and participation in the Kingdom of God. The Mysteries are indeed for the healing of my soul and body.

Orthodox is what is real. It communions with Reality, the Numinous, the Mystery, the One. He is what is Real. To be in communion with Him, to have relationship with Him, is to move closer to that which is real, to exist. In Orthodoxy, I have found my existence. 

Above all, it has taught me, or is at least beginning to teach me, how to be Eucharistic in all of life and to offer unto God what He has gifted us. These are the ruminations that Orthodoxy has taught me so far.

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…

A Return

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Today Courtney and I were welcomed into the Orthodox Church.

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

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 today 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.

 

 

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, 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 am eternally grateful for having grown up around the Christian faith in such a way. I am excited to begin this journey as a communicant in the Orthodox Church as His grace renews me and brings about theosis in me. I have found everything I have been looking for in the Orthodox Church as Father’s brother said to him.

 

I have found hope. I have found healing. 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.

 

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