(Editor’s note: April 5th’s post, discusses my agreement with bloggist The Rebel God’s Derek Flood about the beauty of Eastern Orthodox religion but we stop short of actually becoming Eastern Orthodox for similiar and various reasons. One person in the comment section of the post in Derek’s blog made that first step in becoming Orthodox. Here’s his story in splendidly written detail.)
You bring up big issues on the difference between the Orthodox Churches and the Evangelical/Protestant churches. As a convert to Orthodox Christianity, I will try to give you some of my personal perspective.
I was raised in the bible belt, where the predominant culture was Evangelical, (Southern Baptist, Methodist, & Presbyterian). I was brought up in the relatively liberal Episcopal Church. I spent my adolescence fending off attempts from my friends to ‘save’ me, defending the theory of evolution against creationism in school, and in general rejecting the simplistic, self righteous fundamentalism that permeats southern culture, & thus Christianity as it was presented to me. I read the Gospels when I was in my 20s & trying to find a spiritual path, was quite moved by this Jesus person, but had no idea what to do with that. (I was a Sufi wannabe at the time, & later explored Buddhism & Yoga )
About 5 years ago I was drawn to the Orthodox church after attending a talk by an Orthodox priest. I found the services & the church itself strange & overwhelming, but I kept going back, not really understanding why. I think my original motivation for checking out the church was that I might be initiated into the Jesus Prayer or some other esoteric practice. As I read more about the history & theology of the church, & kept attending services I realized that if I wanted to be more deeply involved, I would have to accept the church on its own terms. This meant I would have to accept that Jesus Christ is who the church says he is, God become man that we might be reconciled to God. I took over 2 years to decide to join. My wife & I were accepted into the orthodox Church by Charismation (annointing with oil & laying on of hands by the priest) as we had both been baptized as children. Conversion was a process for me & remains so. I never had a defining moment where I felt I was ‘saved’ or ‘born again’.
Although theology was important in my conversion, the beauty & sacramental focus of Orthodox liturgy & hymns, as well as the warmth & hospitality of the people are what really won me over. Orthodoxy is equally about right worship & right theology. Protestant/Evangelical church services & hymns seem to me one dimensional & excessively sentimental in comparison. The Orthodox sing their theology. To be Orthodox is to participate in a worshipping community. (In my case that community includes Arabs, Greeks, & Eritrians). The reason you don’t hear Orthodox Christians talk about being saved or born again is that isn’t the focus. It isn’t about Jesus and Me. It’s about the mystery of our relationship to God & our salvation in the life, teaching, death & resurrection of Jesus Christ. This mystery is celebrated ritually in liturgical prayer & the eucharist.
Last night we attended a Lenten service, the Akathist of the Mother of God. It is a long hymn in praise of the Virgin Mary, & is essentially a celebration of the paradox of the Incarnation. A pretty good translation can be found here:
If you want to understand the Orthodox church, you have to experience the beauty of it’s services as well as it’s theology. Check out the Byzantine & Russian chant sections at liturgica.com . Check out the website of the chanter in my church here:
This doesn’t begin to address all the questions you raise, and I hope the dialogue continues. But I also hope this might give you some sense of how privileged I feel participating in this Christian community with ancient roots.