Shall I abandon, O King of Mysteries, the soft comforts of home? Shall I turn my back on my native land, and turn my face towards the sea?Prayer of St Brendan the Navigator
After a lot of research, prayer, and soul searching, I became an Orthodox Christian in the summer of 1997. In the decades that have passed since then, I have often wished for a book that I could give persons expressing interest in the faith that would illuminate the Orthodox experience for them rather than the nuts and bolts of history and theology: the hard parts and the easy parts, the joys and the sorrows. This little book is my attempt to put down on paper my own experiences growing into Orthodoxy. I’ve covered the joys as well as the struggles and hard questions, and pray that the result will prove of benefit to you as you struggle with understanding what this strange and beautiful faith is about.
Becoming Orthodox when you’re Protestant, Roman Catholic, or nothing at all takes a real leap of faith. It’s not a soft and easy life if you do it right; much is demanded, but the treasures you’ll encounter are innumerable and deep. Although on the surface, there are aspects of Orthodoxy that will seem familiar to you, Orthodoxy ultimately requires a real paradigm shift. And being Orthodox means to some degree being an outsider in a culture that is predominantly Protestant or Roman Catholic, depending on the part of the country you come from.
Maybe you’ve been to an Orthodox liturgy, and were interested, puzzled, or even appalled by what you saw there. Believe me, we have all shared that experience. I’ve been told that at my first Divine Liturgy I stood there stunned, my eyes wide, like a deer in the headlights. It was strange, like being thrust suddenly into an alien culture or another century without an interpreter, and I didn’t know whether I really liked being there. But I also knew there was nowhere else to go, and that I had in truth reached the end of one journey and the beginning of another.
My own journey is too convoluted to deal with here in any great detail. In brief, I started out Roman Catholic in the years before Vatican II, spent over two decades as an agnostic or atheist, drank heavily to fill the abyss in my heart, reasoned myself into deism before I encountered the living God in the pages of the gospel of Mark, and finally spent a few years in a liberal mainline Protestant denomination where I attended an ultra-liberal seminary and first discovered Orthodoxy. I became sober about this time, shortly after my mother’s death. When a younger sister died after a long illness, I had to confront my own mortality, and get off the spiritual fence I’d been sitting on for years. A few weeks later, I walked through the doors of Holy Transfiguration, and became a catechumen soon after.
There were aspects of Orthodoxy I had to put on the shelf for a time, suspending my disbelief and my assent. I decided to trust the wisdom of the Church, and believed that my questions would eventually be answered. I have not been disappointed. Orthodoxy has challenged my understanding of the role of symbols in my life, the nature of personhood and relationship, and the nature of history and time. For years, I sought an antidote to the intellectual acids that have corroded belief over the centuries in Western culture; in Orthodoxy, I found that antidote. Orthodoxy is strong medicine, and good medicine for what ails the modern soul.
At Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church in Warrenville, Illinois, I first came to struggle with the strangeness of Orthodoxy and began to realize what it is all about and made my first Orthodox friends. I hope that I have written this more out of love than out of pride. With great fondness and appreciation I dedicate these essays to the Orthodox people who have formed me, to my nieces and nephews, and to my godchildren both liturgical and adopted (in alphabetical order): Anna, Casey, Dave, Joan, Joshua, both Stephens, and Xenia. I love you all. May God grant you all many, many years and may we all meet again one endless day on the undying verdure of Paradise. Forgive me all my many sins against you.
I’ve taken here a rather free-flowing approach to my arguments, sometimes presenting objective information for your consideration, sometimes presenting subjective stories from my own experience or those of my friends to illustrate a point. If you’d like some suggestions for further reading, I’ve tried to provide a few pointers to other information sources.
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