Time to move on…

Well, I have had this blog for a few years now.  I have used it to discuss why I started wearing a headcovering in my Orthodox Church and why I converted to Orthodoxy.  I have  used it to explore and share my feelings about secondary infertility and a few other things such as vaccinations, gmos, halloween, etc.  Honestly, the blog mostly started as a way to share my Orthodox faith with my immediate family who is Protestant.

However, I feel like this blog has mostly run its course.  I am thinking about starting a new blog about Orthodox homeschooling.  Not because I am an expert or anything, but because I have an only child (pretty atypical for most Orthodox Christian homeschooling families) I have some extra time.  I’m imagining for most moms when their first child is in kindergarten/1st grade, they also have one or two other younger kids and could find some of my research helpful.  For example, while many children can only check out a few books at the library at a time, my son can check out as many as I can carry since he is the only one  (like 20?) On the other hand, I’ve read some pretty amazing homeschooling blogs by moms who have many children so I could be wrong about this. In any case, its time to move on to a new chapter.

Thank you for anyone who has taken the time to read this blog.  When and if I have a new blog, I’ll post the link here.

Dangerous Types of Judgement and The Greatest Commandment

Nikola_Mihaylov_Kozi_Dol_Church_St_John_the_Baptist_IconI’m not sure officially how many types of being judgmental there are, perhaps there is an infinite brand of sin for each individual based on each person’s life experiences.  But I am convinced there are at least two dangerous types –

The first is when we judge someone for not seeming to follow the Gospel and/or the commandments of Christ, which is difficult for us to avoid doing completely on our own despite our efforts (the success in this could only come from the Divine Love of the Holy Spirit).  We judge people for what see on the outside, what they do, not knowing the virtues in their hearts, and perhaps there are not many in certain people, or perhaps there are many, but it is for God to judge, not us.  May God help us.

The second is when we judge people who we see trying to follow the Gospel and commandments of Christ.  We judge them in a different way and tell ourselves that they must be doing this out of fear and compulsion.  They must not really love Christ.  Its must be unhealthy, not genuine.   Sometimes we hold a subtle hostility to Christian piety because perhaps we cannot understand why anyone would choose to live this way outside of fear, compulsion and pride, and this can even happen inside the Church – because the world is everywhere, and everywhere we look, and everyone, and everything is fallen except for Christ.

“Do not marvel my brethren, if the world hates you” – 1 John 3:13

Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes!” – Matthew 18:7

 The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil.” – John 7:7

One person may wear long flowy skirts everyday out of fear, out of a coerced obligation of modesty, out of pride, who knows..whereas another person wears a long skirt everyday to feel like a princess of the Most High, to feel lighter in the spirit while draped in cloth like the Angels and Saints in icons, and because the conscience and soul feels healthier that way and closer to Christ.   There are people who prefer to assume the worse intention when someone is doing something that seems to follow the commandments of Christ, in this case modesty…but this type of judgement seems to happen with every facet of life.   The homeschooling family is paranoid, the family that does not watch much television is weak, afraid and scared and perhaps the family that does not let their children play violent, bloody video games is just afraid of masculinity or has “convertitis.”

The Greatest Commandment

The reality is when people who have tasted death in some form in their soul and body, taste the life of Christ, they will try to do whatever they can to preserve it (according to ability and possibily failing quite a bit). The lame who walks, does not want to be lame again.  The blind who sees, does not want to be blind again.  “As a dog returns to his own vomit, so a fool repeats his folly” Proverbs 26:11.  Christ is life, the world is death…may we all have the strength to do what we need to do cast out the death of judgement and pursue Christ with all our our heart, soul and mind and to the naysayers, we have a quote from Christ himself to his beloved Apostle Peter: “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”  (Matthew 16: 23)

Why I Converted to Orthodoxy – Reason Two

It has taken a long time for this to sink in for me, to unwind the mental structures developed in my mind since the earliest days of childhood, but – the Orthodox Church does not teach substitutionary atonement.  I guess I have known this somewhere in my mind for a few years, but it finally sunk in during a sermon a few months ago.  Despite this fact, the lack of substitutionary atonement theology in the Orthodox Church is one of my biggest reasons for converting.

Substitutionary atonement, in general, is the belief that because of our sin God needed to punish us, to carry out his murderous wrath…but because God is so full of love for humanity, he sent his own Son to earth to take the punishment of His wrath instead.   (Please note that I am not a theologian and I did just see that there are at least eight different versions of this Protestant belief on Wikipedia.)

The thing is…substitutionary atonement does not make any sense to me!   Why would God, a good loving God, a God who is always the same, and unchanging be so filled with his uncontrollable and inconsolable wrath for His beloved creation that He wants to punish them all with death? But instead, God decides to send His Son to earth to take the punishment for us?   Aside from the fact that we have learned that the sovereign power of the universe has found a way to control His anger and wrath? Honestly, I find it utterly confusing.  I find it inconsistent with a loving God and the loving God our hearts desire, The Loving God who put that desire there for us.  The God of substitutionary atonement seemed mean and erratic to me, and consequentially, everything else about my faith seemed more trivial.

Well, see there is God and he created the earth and Adam and Eve sinned, so we are all sinners…and we all sin now, so God wants to punish us, but instead of punishing us, he decided to punish His Son, and I don’t know why he did it this way, but this seems to be the ticket out of hell…so okay, I’ll go along with that, because I sure don’t want to go to hell. And while I’m at it, I’ll try to stop sinning, even though I’m already saved, because I love God, even though, to be honest, I don’t really like Him.”

Honestly, I think that was my understanding of the Protestant gospel for a long time.  I know there are Protestants with a more robust understanding of this sort of atonement (or some that hold the Orthodox view), but this was my basic understanding prior to my conversion to Eastern Orthodox Christianity – and… I had been raised going to church.

Like most things in Orthodoxy, I can’t say, well we don’t believe in this, but we believe in that and have that be the explanation.  Everything in Orthodox theology ties together, creating a beautiful story of a “Hero saving the day. “

My new understanding of the Good News, as briefly as possible:

God created the heavens and the earth.  God created man.  Adam and Eve were the first two humans.  They sinned out of their complete free will and were cast out of the Garden.  Because of their sinful actions, they could no longer be in Divine Communion with God.  Prior to them sinning, they were going to live forever with God in Paradise.  After sinning, they faced their mortality.  (In the Orthodox understanding, the wages of sin is death, literally.)  From then on, all humans die (and after death, go to Heaven or Hell).   Humans are not born guilty of Adam and Eve’s sin, deserving of immediate death at birth, but are born with a fallen sin nature inclined to sin, doomed to be alienated from God forever, while on earth and in the afterlife.   (Not because of God’s wrath, but because we are fallen humanity and incapable of being in Divine Communion with God.  Think even of two puzzle pieces that used to fit together, but no longer do, unless the faulty puzzle piece is remedied.)   Humanity has become fallen and distorted.  Christ died for all of humanity and desires that all be saved. Christ died to redeem our sinful nature.  We can either accept or reject the gift of salvation through following Christ or not following Him.  When we are baptized, we are cleansed of the consequences of ancestral sin (from the youngest newborn to the oldest adult) and as we take Holy Communion we partake of the Divine Nature of Christ literally – healing our souls and bodies from the sickness of sin, so that Lord willing, we sin less and less as we age and learn to live more fully.  Thus, why we sing, “God Grant you Many Years” at Birthdays and Names Days. 

Now, this make sense!! This sounds like a loving God.  Humanity is under a spell of sin.  In the Orthodoxy understanding, sin is a sickness…a spell…a curse.   It hurts.  Its painful.  Its hurt us.  It hurts others.  We are lonely, cold, and alone.  Christ came to earth to save all of us!  Not just so we “don’t go to hell”, but so that we can be healed from our sin, starting today, and start to become healthy, more fully human, and truly live.

When we partake of Communion, we are partaking of The Antidote to the illness of sin of the soul and body.   Sometimes I think of Baptism like being saved from a deadly car accident and the Sacraments following that,  like the physical therapy needed afterwards.

I also think of the scene I saw in a Wonderworks version of Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when Aslan (who represents God in the story) breathes on the people who had been turned to statue and then turned to life again.  This picture story has always helped me wrap my mind around the Orthodox Christian take on atonement.

When I think of the Orthodox Christian Gospel, the ancient Gospel of The Bible, the term Good News finally makes sense.  I understand better why God is love, why Song of Solomon is in the Bible, why Christ is called the Bridegroom and the Church is the Bride.

Lastly, I would like to apologize for anything I have written that is not theologically sound on the Orthodox or the Protestant side.  I am still learning to grasp Orthodox beliefs and I can only speak from my limited experience in the Protestant world.

May the Lord be with you!

On Converting to Orthodoxy – Reason One – Facing Suffering

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.