I was baptized into Orthodox Christianity on the Lazarus Saturday before Pascha 2011. The year or so before that, I was chrismated into the Anglican Church, and before that, I was essentially a non-denominational Protestant (although I had been sprinkled into the Presbyterian church early in high school.) I didn’t actually want to be a Presbyterian at the time, or commit to the specific church I was going to, but I could clearly read in The Bible that to follow Christ properly baptism was necessary and so I joined my church.
I remember my last time in the Anglican church vividly. It was the Ash Wednesday of 2010 and I was taking a break from grad school to attend the midday service. I’m not sure what happened to me exactly, but during the service the church felt cold and lifeless. On my way out, I greeted a friend and an acquaintance and received no real acknowledgement in return (one of those embarrassing situations). My husband had wanted to join the Orthodox Church for some time, but after having visited twice, I still resisted. Then, that day after leaving the Anglican church, I told him I wanted to try the Orthodox church. I had the song “You will know they are Christians by Their Love” in my head, which I learned at my Presbyterian youth group, and I wanted to go where that love was. Perhaps it was at the Orthodox Church I hoped. It turns out that the Orthodox Church does not celebrate Ash Wednesday and now I wonder if that is why I sensed a lifeless, empty service? The Heavenly Saints were likely not celebrating with us at the Anglican church and perhaps, were even let down that we intended to tell all around us that “we were now fasting” by the ash on our foreheads.
But I digress…..This is background. This is not the first thing that led me to the Church. When I met my husband, I was already quite confused about Christianity…well, not exactly. I told him that I believed in the intended meaning of The Bible, but that I wasn’t sure what that was at the time. I couldn’t really find much in The Bible about “once saved, always saved” or being saved by “faith alone” so I easily accepted the Orthodox doctrine of Salvation but had a harder time grasping the reverence given to the Theotokos and the Saints, not to mention prayers for the departed.
However, it was the treatment of being single in the protestant church that really made me ready for Orthodoxy. I had an incredibly difficult time being single until I met my husband at age 25 (or 26 if you count the first in-person meeting as we met online). Based on various situations in my childhood, in error, I felt that God owed me the blessing of meeting my prince charming as soon as I was of age. My early 20s felt like decades. (It was so incredibly lonely. There was really nothing fun about it. I have no idea why our society puts off marriage and children. I had always felt that marriage would be wonderful, completing, and fulfilling …and it is.)
The responses I generally received towards my difficulties with being single could be summarized in that I should not worry and enjoy God. In essence, on a Saturday evening, when I’d rather be on a date with my future husband, I could sit in my apartment and conjure up specific feelings and emotions that would signify “enjoying God” and would distract me from the desire to be married. As the churches I attended had some charismatic influences, I now recognize this to be some form of gnosticism and I feel okay about the fact that this seemed strange to me and not helpful. In my Protestant circles, earthly suffering was not part of our daily vocabulary despite that fact that The Bible is full of references to future trials and sufferings.
I also didn’t hear much confirmation that I was after a good thing. Marriage is a Sacrament in the Orthodox Church and it is a very blessed thing. In fact, in college and at prime childbearing age, I was probably biologically and theologically more correct in being more interested in marriage than my studies. (But that’s another blog post altogether.) Now I understand that the time until I met my husband was a trial and suffering. My heart hurt immensely during that time and that was okay. (Not that I presume to understand God’s reason or timing, because I do not know). But I should have rejoiced in my suffering more, A LOT more, and I should have devoted more time to serving others (and finding a career that involved “serving others”) instead of ruminating on my internal angst.
Which leads me to another point, in the Orthodox Church, there is the concept of a prayer rule. A new catechumen might start with just the Trisaigon Prayer morning and night, before increasing the amount of prayers. (A prayer rule is the minimum you commit to praying, not the maximum!). Anyone that really knew me in my early 20s would know that I was not in the place spiritually to spend hours and hours enjoying God. This kind of advice was not tailored to me or my spiritual walk. I had absolutely no idea how to “enjoy God.” Which is why when I learned about the Orthodox Church – the Liturgy, the prayers, the Saints, the candles, the icons, the lectionary, the chants, fasting, feasting, the Twelve Great Feasts, Pascha, Lent, and the list goes on – I was grateful for the guidance on how to go down the path of learning to “enjoy God” and not only enjoy God, but enjoy Him in His objective reality passed down through the centuries, not dependent on my imagination or emotion. And in writing this blog, I realize, I have a very long way to go.