A friend of mine recently asked me to share my experience as an evangelical who wants to become Orthodox. I have been a bit hesitant to talk about my journey thus far because I don’t feel like it’s complete, but I also see that there are many people in my generation who are having the same experience I’m having and so I think it’s time to open up.
I was raised in a great Christian home. My mom and dad are both outstanding in their love of Christ. They have remained faithful in some of the toughest situations and I am grateful for how they raised me to know Christ as my Lord and Savior. That being said, I grew up in a non-denominational environment which at times would leave me spiritually exhausted. I felt spiritually OCD sometimes as I would jump from one program to the next trying to find a way to go deeper in my walk with Christ. I know I sucked at reading scripture and praying every day. I always felt a bit inadequate to some of my peers in youth group. I would hear stories of kids evangelizing to their whole classes and as a homeschooled teenager, that seemed like a redundant thing to do from my side.
There were also times we’d go to revivals or conferences at church and watch a traveling evangelist come into the church to talk about having a deeper relationship with Christ and how to be “filled with the Holy Spirit”. Almost every single time, the service would end with a 1 hr+ praying sessions were people would flock to the front reaching for another human to give them more of the Holy Spirit. To what end…I was never exactly sure.
Time passed and I floated from one Christian kick to another. I went through a Driscoll phase, a New Apostolic/prophetic ADHD phase, a Piper phase, a MacArthur phase, a Shane Claiborne phase and then an emergent phase. Then, I logged on to Reddit.com…
I started posting in the /r/Christianity forum in Reddit and met many great people who I still call friends to this day. But I also was exposed to different lines of Christian thought than I had ever encountered before. I met theistic evolutionists, fundamentalists, Catholics, Orthodox, LGBT-affirming Christians, and most importantly atheists. It’s important that I note that before this time, the number of my dialogues with atheists was next to zero. I knew some atheists casually, but we never talked about religion.
So, I’d post and read on Reddit and I’d see these atheist questions about how verifiable miracles really are or a list of things that disprove the authenticity of scriptures or exposing the visceral violence in the Old Testament, which my brain somehow had still thought of as PG-13 level violence. I started to examine these questions and I became very angry and sad about Christianity. I sympathized with these atheists arguments and this really became a catalyst for me to question everything I had known about Christianity.
Meanwhile, some of my Orthodox friends on Reddit continued to truck along. I liked a lot of what they had to say and listened to AncientFaithRadio.org every now and then, but I figured they were another denomination like the rest. I gave them about as much attention as anyone else during my skeptical fervor.
During this time, I didn’t think about two things that really mattered to me: 1) my wife and 2) my kids. I had talked to my wife about my doubts and she was upset and concerned (as she should have been). I began to realize that man doesn’t live in a moral vacuum. Our choices have repercussions. But if I was to become an atheist, I would in essence have to choose to make my subjective thoughts the nexus of my behavior. I saw this as basically lying about nihilism and I really had no taste for that. Seemed to me that I’m a sane person and subjective morality is probably fine for me, but it wasn’t for my kids or anyone else in the world.
I also began to think about how very little I actually knew. If I was to only take a materialistic stance in judging the veracity of the world around me, I would have to assume that I know a negative -that material came from nothing. I’d also have to assume that the order that created material was a product of chance, but I could not accept that. It still made no sense to me.
So, now I’ve accepted the priori that I want to believe in God. I started calling myself an “agnostic theist”. But I felt that was still nihilistic because I’m essentially saying I believe there might be a God, but I don’t want to try and find Him. I then decided I should focus on my Christianity and try to learn it’s truest meaning. It was worth a shot.
I thought about some of the things I’ve read in the past and I realized I didn’t want to become Reformed again, nor did I like the flakiness of being Emergent. But I remembered N.T. Wright and how his book “Surprised by Hope” resonated with me. So, I decided to read it again, I was floored at how much of it clicked now and I decided to try the traditional route. I began dialoguing with Facebook friends who had turned over to the “dark side” already and I learned so much about my faith through my Anglican and Orthodox friends. Many of the things that I had questioned and wept over had answers within the early church and the sacramental practices of the catholic branches of Christianity. I began to read writings from St. Augustine, St. Ireneus, St. Ignatius, St. John Chrysostom, Origen and soak in the wisdom from men I had never even heard of before, but who were giants of our faith from it’s earliest days. Men who sat at the feet of Jesus’ disciples and their pupils and I was humbled by how little I knew about my faith. I should also say, St. Athanasius’ work, “On the Incarnation” (4th Century) blew my mind! No old theologian or preacher I had ever read or heard before put forth the importance of Christ’s co-substantial divinity and humanity in such a way I saw it as imperative to my entire Christian paradigm before.
After awhile of closely studying Anglicanism and Catholicism, I decided I’d look into Orthodoxy (as in the Eastern Orthodox church) again. I basically absorbed every podcast I could on Orthodox history and practice from AFR and as I began to listen to people teach on Orthodoxy, the more I found a Christianity so unlike the one I grew up with. But it was also very familiar. Although, I’d like to think of myself as a pretty skeptical person, I found comfort in letting go of some of my scratching, itchy questioning and let the revelations sit as mysteries. The concept of theosis also resonates with me as I see it in almost everything I’ve read so far.
As a note to my Catholic and Anglican friends at this point; I don’t want you to think that I find nothing of value in either of the cousins of Orthodox church, but I did find the fullest expression of what I have yearned for until now in Orthodoxy.There are things I disagree with in Catholicism and Anglicanism and I won’t get into my qualms now, but the things I find troubling are big enough for me to decline becoming Anglican or Catholic now. I know Orthodoxy is my home.
Where I am now:
I would call myself an earnest on-looker. I’m continuing to kick the tires of the Orthodox church and the more I kick, the more she kicks back. I am continually reminded of my love for Jesus Christ and my need for his redemptive work in my life. I am finding that Christ doesn’t just want me to love Him, but He calls me each day to lay down my cross and die. I no longer have to jump through hoops to learn how to do that. I have the wisdom of the ages and fresh eyes towards the Holy Scriptures that bring me step by step in line with His will. It’s like trying to exercise at home, but realizing how hard it is to stay focused. Then, you just walk down the block, find out there’s a gym and when you go inside there’s a personal trainer and all the things you could need to work out your entire body there….and it’s been there before you were even born.
I have gone to liturgy several times with one of my Orthodox friends in his parish and I was awestruck by how at peace I felt surrounded by such foreign tapestry. Everything was beautiful and meaningful, from the chanting, to the reading and to the kneeling. I do try and go back from time to time.
I am currently not going to a parish because I passionately love my wife and we’ve mutually decided that we won’t attend a parish until she’s ready AND I feel that there is no parish at this time we could both feel comfortable in. I also want to show her that my love for the Orthodox way is not fleeting and that I have matured enough to remain level-headed and balanced in my faith. She needs to know I’m not going to flake out on her or Jesus again.
So, I continue to practice Orthodoxy in my private life and minister to my family. Doing this has also helped me feel comfortable in any setting where there are believers worshipping Jesus Christ. I do not judge them for not being Orthodox for it is not my place to do so. God has shown me what is good and I hope to one day find myself there. I may be old and graying by that time, but if this is real and it sticks, that’s not a bad state of affairs for me.