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Why I Converted To Orthodoxy – Part 7

In case you missed it, here is Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5 and Part 6.

After a lifetime as a Bible-believing Baptist and a decade of trying to be a Pentecostal Christian, and after talking with a priest and researching online, I attended my first Orthodox liturgy in February of 2014.

I could tell you about the little shelves just inside the front door of the church, stocked with brochures explaining various points of Orthodox theology. I could tell you about the warm greeting from the gentleman that met us at the door, joking to put us at ease.

What I remember was the fragrance.

When we moved from the small antechamber through the double doors into the temple, my senses were immediately overwhelmed. The sweet odor of incense floated on the air. Smoke from a censer cast a faint haze in the room and made everything seem to be in soft focus. The warm flicker of candles danced upon the gold leaf of the innumerable icons covering the walls.

There were no benches and the gathered people stood for most of the liturgy. I could describe the magnificent prayers, sung with a heavenly beauty that made every praise band I’d ever heard seem like rank amateurs. I could detail the robes of the priest and his deacon that shimmered as they recited exhortations perfected a thousand years ago.

What I remember was the icon of Christ.

I spent much of the liturgy gazing at the large painting, mounted on the right side of the wooden partition separating the people from the holy area. This was not the frail, emaciated Jesus of Renaissance art. His furrowed brow and intense gaze bored into me with a masculinity and power I had never seen in depictions of Christ. In one hand was a book, the other hand was raised to bless the viewer. This was no fainting messiah. It was an invitation to know the God of the Universe.

I could tell you about the humility of the women, their heads covered with veils as they crossed themselves and bowed deeply before kissing icons placed on stands around the room. I could talk about the children moving and playing and giving a life and vibrance to the room, not tucked out of sight in a nursery somewhere else.

What I remember was the icon of Mary.

She too gazed at the viewer, her head gently resting against the face of the infant Jesus and cradling Him in her arms. Though her eyes seemed to seek mine, every line of her image and fold of her clothing pointed me toward the child in her arms. This was not the Mary I had been taught to think of as a mere delivery vessel. This was the Theotokos – the God bearer.

I could tell you about how friendly everyone was and how welcome we felt. I could tell you how genuine the fellowship seemed in the coffee hour that followed the liturgy. I could tell you that a woman chased us down in the parking lot to introduce herself and tell us that she had converted to Orthodoxy after a lifetime as a Protestant.

What I remember was the emptiness I felt at not being able to receive the Eucharist.

Taking a small cracker and a cup of grape juice was a symbolic act in the churches I had attended all my life. It was an occasional remembrance of a meal long ago. This was something different.

The reverence and awe with which this bread and wine was treated made me feel more of an outsider than anything that had come before. There was an immediacy to this ceremony, as if God Himself were offering us His energies in that very moment.

When someone offered me a small piece of bread as a sign of fellowship, I was grateful for the gesture while feeling even more separation from what was taking place at the chalice.

I could go on for a long time telling you about the sights and sounds I experienced at that first Orthodox liturgy. I’m sure as time goes on I will tell you much more about it.

What I remember was knowing that after a lifetime of searching I had found the true Church.

This post is where this particular series ends. I’ll be going into my journey from inquirer to catechumen to Orthodox in other posts.

Comments 6

  1. I appreciate sharing so much of your personal journey. As one who struggled and still does, I can relate to much of your experience.

    I’ve noticed that the Protestant, evangelical movement often struggles with its lack of central authority and one of the downfalls isn’t the watered down seeker sensitize, easy believism….or the outright cult she of word/faith/prosperity preaching.

    That shallow form of worship I believe eventually lads people to seek MORE…more theolog, more tradition, more intellectualism, more art…so it mak s sense that many would be drawn to orthodoxy. It’s appeals to our vanity.

    I don’t know enough about it to say it’s a break from the simplicity of the gospel. If they admire and cherish Mary, fine…if they pray to her and call her sinless , nope. If they believe in transubstantiation, I’d be concerned. If they pray to saints…concerned. If they repeat prayers with no Moreno though to the personal approach to God….

    To the contrary, if the Orthodox Church maintains these traditions to uphold a degree of respect and honor to the worship of our God…but they maintain that salvation isn’t through repentance and faith ALONE…I wouldn’t have a problem.

    All that said, much of your account sounds like a false conversion of one who WANTED to believe and maybe did, intellectually, but didn’t fully repent and believe ALONE. Perhaps the intellectual debates were challenging and the teaching was fulfilling. Maybe that was pride driving your commitment but over timet lost its appeal. Is your new zeal the fascination with the authority, the uniqueness, the selectivity, artistry and piety of orthodoxy….another appeal to pride?

    I don’t mean any disrespect, but it’s an issue I’ve struggled with too…just tossing it out for you to chew on and possibly write about. God bless and may your salvation be secured.

    1. Post
      Author

      Thanks for commenting. I agree there’s plenty of shallowness, and plenty of vanity, to go around everywhere. I also agree that many American Christians raised on the “relevant” model of church are seeking a connection with the Church of the first Christians.

      Orthodoxy, however, does not make an appeal to one’s vanity. If anything, I am constantly humbled by what Christ has done, and how little my own works mean to my salvation. My pride is continually laid low by the work Christ has done, and is doing, in me. Whether that sounds to you like a false conversion is your own concern.

      What I find is that many who criticize Orthodoxy “don’t know enough about it.” I know that I certainly didn’t, until I began investigating it. I’m still in the very first steps of my journey, and am a poor example of an Orthodox Christian. If you are truly interested in investigating the Orthodox understanding of Christianity, this page contains links to lots of reading material.

      Pray for me, that I can keep fighting my own pride. Pray that I will know that Christ is saving me, and not myself. And don’t let this be your last visit.

  2. I didnt mean to challenge the authenticity of you faith directly…I was just making the point that one symptom see in todays evangelical churches is the easy believes where people are taught that they believe, therefore they are saved. That’s an incomplete idea of BELIEF. Satan surely believes in Jesus. A REPENTENT faith is true belief and I think believers should be looking in the mirror constantly…we will always struggle with sin, but if we don’t see increasing holiness over time, we should wonder if we truly put our faith in Him and gave up the world.

    I’d agree people don’t know enough about Orthodoxy and church history…in fact I laid awake until after 3am reading and learning. I found my concerns about Mary, transubstantiation, purgatory, icons/idolatry were easily addressed.

    I will say I had a hard time finding clear explanation of the place of baptism. I’ve thought salvation was an act of grace through faith alone….and the baptism was the public announcement of this new life. I sometimes found the line blurred when baptism was discussed in Orthodox Christianity.

    I also better understand why Protestants were so driven…given that the Catholic Roman church veered off in some of these heretical areas and given the politics and pride seemingly apparent at many of the Councils, I can see that the well intentioned leadership obligation given to Bishops, etc could also lead to an authoritarian drift from the true, simple faith.

    I do, however, appreciate that even at the risk of vanity, the beauty of the traditional liturgy and sacraments can do much to preserve a reverence for the profound sacrifice our Lord made for us. Having relocated to a new city in the last two weeks, I attended a new, large church for Easter Service and it was the modern evangelical type. While I found nothing heretical, I did find myself wincing a couple times when the pastors sermon was so trendy, casual and seeker sensitive, that it seemed to be lacking the solemn reverence, humility and gratitude for the greatest moment in the history of mankind.

    I’ll certainly be reading more as a fire has been lit…thanks for the exchange and the resource you’ve provided. Grace to you!

    1. Post
      Author

      When I began investigating Orthodoxy, I had a lot of the same reservations I’m sure all Protestants do. As I went through them one by one, I found the Orthodox position more intellectually consistent and more consistent with the Christianity of the early Church.

      The other thing I had to do was get over the Western tendency to over-intellectualize. The need to explain the methods of the infinite God is an exercise in futility.

      Reading is great, and I did plenty of it. But eventually I had to attend a Divine Liturgy. I’d invite you to come and see, as well. Do keep me updated on your journey. God. bless.

  3. Very interesting. I was moved by your story. At times I have become so burned out that I lost all reference points for my faith, yet never lost the core. Having been raised Pentecostal Holiness, I’ve had to forgive fellow believers for many things. Christ always abides and still abides with me. As a missionary working in media for a large Evangelical fellowship, there are times when I realize I am an underground believer from another era doing my best to practice my faith in the wide open cultural battlefield of the Evangelcal World. We are transitioning from incense to fog machines. One thing among others that gives me hope and peace about my endeavors, is that the Serbian Orthodox Church has asked to use some of our short media productions to teach young students the Parables in Serbian schools. They will be translated of course. I have always been stirred by the artistry of the iconography of Orthodxy and even yesterday strived to capture thr quality Ina short piece we are working on. I’m starting to ramble. Thank you brother!

    1. Post
      Author

      Thank you for commenting. In my honest opinion, Evangelicalism is all but a spent force. It’s straying farther and farther in an attempt to seem hip and relevant. It’s becoming more of a nationalistic force for unifying Red State conservatives that it is a force for sharing the message of Christ.

      I do hope that more Evangelicals will look at things like the conversion of Hank Hanegraaff as an opportunity to investigate the Church of the first Christians, and see what the ancient faith is all about. God bless you in your own journey.

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