It has almost been a year since I came to investigate the Orthodox Christian church. I began my journey in September 2016 LINK.
My first blog post was not very wordy. In fact, it was a repost of a photo I had found talking about keeping a monastery in one’s heart.
The Dormition of Mary ends the Liturgical year for the Orthodox Christians. I have been a part of something amazing and I will remember this first year as being filled with struggles, the making of new friends, sorrows when a dear family member was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer, answers to prayer, family coming to check out what I was up to and now one is to be baptized this Saturday. My nephew and husband both have visited my temple. My husband is still attending on Saturdays. I get to spend a lot of time with my sister talking about the Orthodox Way. She and I attend services together regularly. It is SUCH a huge blessing to be able to discuss what is going on with someone who is also experiencing Orthodoxy for the first time and loving it.
It has, and continues to be a struggle. It is a good struggle. Orthodoxy aligns with what is in the bible in regards to guarding ourselves against sin. It is what I have been looking for for the past 30 years. Yes… 30 years!
I became Orthodox so that I could be changed and I have been. I have removed from my blog two earlier posts written when I was still a Protestant. They no longer represent who I am or what I believe. Do you go to church hoping to change, ‘the establishment’? Or do you attend church, read your bible and pray hoping your heart will soften and you will be changed?
I still have a long way to go in my journey as a Christian. One thing I now realize is why people used to post on social media how thankful they were to have another day on earth. In the Orthodox Church, it is so that we can have another day to work on our sanctification.
I love when we sing, ‘Many Years’ in church!
I have learned about the Ethiopian Orthodox Christians!
I learned that cave churches were not just holes in the mountain. They were, and still are beautiful and full of icons and murals.
I have learned that there is such a thing as Holy Fire and it is a bona fide miracle that happens EVERY Pascha!
I learned that Easter baskets originated with the Orthodox Church but we call them Pascha baskets.
I have learned about fasting…
I have learned about icons… SO many beautiful icons!
I have learned about he prayer rope, the Jesus prayer, the blessing of the waters, confession & repentance, the lives of the ancient fathers and mothers, and so much more.
As much as I have learned, I still have so much more to understand.
I’ve been attending my local Orthodox parish since September and I’m looking forward to my upcoming baptism into the Orthodox Church. I’ve ventured out a bit more into the social aspects of the church by attending the Lady’s Group. It’s a study group in a book club type format. Presently we are reading The Great Divorce written by, C.S. Lewis. For me, it is a refreshing change from the fill-in-the-blank bible studies I’ve become accustomed to, but never really liked. Some, like me, enjoy this format while others struggle with the lack of traditional structure and conformity of read and answer ‘here’ type studies.
As I said, I am enjoying the study but it is sad to read about people unwilling to give up their passions for the Ultimate Passion… Christ. Also, because I am going to be baptized soon, as I read the book, it is helping me to remember items that need to be added to my life confession I will be doing with my priest soon. Believe it or not, little memes I run across on Pinterest, as well as reading books on the lives of the ancient fathers and their experience with confession, sin, and temptation are helping me not to be too panicked about baring my life’s dirt to a priest. This concept is unheard of in protestant churches and is very new to me. As a protestant, I would confess to God, or my husband and hope no one else ever caught wind of what I did because people, especially Christians, can be incredibly judgmental. I have also been judgmental, and it is something I work on everyday. It is something I work on with the help of; the writings of the ancient fathers, (a resource not available in protestant churches sadly), my priest, the weekly opportunities for prayer & worship in my temple, and my at home prayer life.
As I said, this is all very new to me because in protestant churches, especially evangelical and charismatic churches, sin seems to be encouraged as a way for the grace of God to move in our lives. I call it ‘The Chili Dog Gospel’. Why? Because I have heard many pastors say that since scripture tells us we can tread on poisonous things and not be harmed, we should also be able to eat ‘poisonous’ things, like chili dogs, and not be harmed. ‘Go ahead and eat that chili dog and watch God move mightily in your life!!’. Um, no thanks I’d rather not eat it, fast & pray and see what happens when I move in obedience. There is very little talk, at least that I ever heard in the churches I attended, about giving things up for our sanctification. Sanctification was not something openly spoken about or encouraged. What does all this have to do with, The Great Divorce’? This is a book that talks about the things that people do that they are unwilling to give up in ordered to be perfect as Christ is perfect. From homosexuality, to one’s intellect, to one’s ‘rights’ (the right to be offended, angry, greedy, respected, etc.) to people not wanting to give up what they perceive as security even though it keeps them in hell. Lewis lays it all out for examination by the reader. ‘Pick one or all that apply.’, he seems to be saying. Even now, over 70 years since its writing and publication, it is relevant in the life of, Believers.
People these days like to think they are, ‘modern’ and ‘progressive’. What do these words mean? If you are not willing to give up whatever sin you are justifying with these words, they are just as much a chain holding you back from heaven as they’ve ever been. We are not the first generation to use those words, or to try and talk ourselves out of giving something up we love… our ‘pet sin’. Is the need to always be seen as being right important to you? Is it so important that you are willing to give up the blessings that come from being a peacemaker? Trust me, there are more blessings from God for those who are peacemakers than those who are willing to assassinate relationships in order to be right. Interestingly enough, I don’t know of a single person who was argued into the kingdom of God…do you?
Our passions are creating a spirit of disunity within our churches and our communities. Not only do they separate us from God, but from one another as well.
People’s passions against icons keep them out of the Orthodox Church. Here is one that you might enjoy. You’re welcome.
This bit about icons is a bit off track but not too much as there are those who are passionately against icons and yet are ok with nativity sets, Easter eggs, crosses, etc. All of which, including our bibles, are icons. I just wanted to show those who are passionately against icons and point fingers at the Orthodox church that protestants also have icons. They just call them ‘Christian art’. This iconophobia is just an example of a passion that needs to be given to the Lord. The passion that only fill-in-the-blank bible studies are real bible studies is another passion that can be given up. We all have them. Some people refuse to try anything new unless it was their idea first and they were able to lead their friends and family to it. This passion causes them to lose out on so much!
I hope this partial review (more to come possibly) has given you food for thought about the passions you hold on to that are holding you back from a more mature, complete, and fulfilling relationship with God. Oh, how I wish this book was read in schools all across America! Would people, ‘get it’? Would it help us to be more unified and to let some things go that we needlessly hold on to that are killing us and our communities? Or would most people read it and think it is for someone else but not for them?
If you’re looking to change your community, you must first be changed. How? How do we transform our communities, our places of work, school and worship through ourselves?
May I recommend asking God to show you right now your passions that are interfering with your sanctification? Then, if you’re Orthodox, take them to your priest and confess before Sunday and enjoy a Liturgy and Eucharist free from hidden passions/sins. What a weight will be lifted from your shoulders! If we do not kill our passions, they become our idols. They interfere with our sanctification, drawing nearer to God and our quest for perfection. I’m actually looking forward to my life confession. With appropriate trepidations of course. It’s not going to be fun, but it will be freeing.
No, I’m not talking about the physical self examinations we are all encouraged to perform on ourselves. I am referring to spiritual, soul focused, self examination. This is so important for Christians. Rather than excuse, or pray away, bad behaviors how about being willing to give them up? How about trading in your life of sin as-a-Christian, and reclaiming the glory of God through repentance? Here is a soulful look at the Ten Commandments where the penitent self examiner is asking of themselves how well they have adhered to each commandment. This is taken from the: Antiochian Orthodox Christian Arch Diocese website. LINK
Self Examination Before Confession
Have I believed in God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit? Have I failed to trust in God and his mercy? Have I complained against God in adversity? Have I been thankful for God’s blessings? Have I doubted the Christian faith and the teachings of the Church? Have I tried to serve God and keep His Commandments? Have I given way to superstition? Have I frequented the religious meetings of heretics and schismatics? Have I neglected my duties to God through fear of ridicule or persecution? Have I failed to pray to God faithfully? Have I put myself before God?
Have I made an idol of any person or thing? Have I given to anyone or anything the worship that is due to God alone? Have I set before myself the holy life of Jesus and tried to imitate Him? Have I read the Holy Scriptures regularly? Have I been irreverent during Church Services, let my attention wander, or been insincere? Have I neglected to receive Holy Communion regularly or without due preparation?
Have I profaned the holy name of God in any way? Have I cursed anyone or anything, or sworn a false oath? Have I failed to give proper reverence to holy persons and things? Have I had due respect for the clergy of the Church, or hindered them in performing God’s work? Have I broken any solemn vow or promise? Have I entered into any unlawful contract or made an unlawful promise?
Have I stayed away from Church on Sundays or prevented others from going? Have I done unnecessary work on Sundays? Have I spent the day in unwholesome fashion or profaned it by improper conduct? If I could not go to Church because of illness or other grave cause, have I prayed at home? Have I caused anyone else to profane the Lord’s Day? Have I kept the Fasts and Festivals prescribed by the Church?
Have I respected my parents and been obedient to them? Have I been guilty of deception, or caused them pain by my words or actions? Have I neglected them or failed to help them? Have I done my duty towards my family? Have I been wanting in love or kindness towards my husband (or wife), or harmed him (or her) in any way? Have I set my children a good example and tried to bring them up properly? Have I corrected their faults with patience and not with anger? Have I over-indulged or spoiled them? Have I neglected my god-children and failed in my obligations towards them? Have I worked for my employers honestly and diligently? Have I treated fairly all those who have worked for me? Have I honored God as my Heavenly Father by treating others as my brothers, and have I honored the Church as my spiritual Mother by honoring and practicing my religion in accordance with her teachings?
Have I caused the injury or death of any one, or wished that I were dead? Have I done anything to shorten my own life or that of someone else by injuring health, or through evil and intemperate living? Have I given way to anger, or harmed others with words or actions? Have I defamed others who needed help, or failed to stand up for those unjustly treated? Have I been cruel to anyone? Have I mistreated animals or destroyed any life unnecessarily? Have I failed to forgive anyone or harbored evil thoughts against them?
Have I given way to impure thoughts, words, or deeds? Have I committed any unworthy actions alone or with others? Have I degraded myself in any way, or forgotten human dignity? Have I read immoral books or magazines, or delighted in obscenity of any kind? Have I associated with bad companions or frequented unsavory places? Have I eaten or drunk or smoked too much? Have I been lazy, idle, or wasted my time? Have I led others to commit sinful acts? Have I been unfaithful to any trust confided in me?
Have I stolen anything or wished to do so? Have I kept anything that did not belong to me? Have I tried honestly to find owners of lost articles I have found? Have I paid my debts? Have I lived within my income, and not wastefully and extravagantly? Have I given to charitable causes in proportion to my means? Have I been honest and upright?
Have I told lies, or added to or subtracted from the truth? Have I made careless statements or spoken evil of anyone? Have I told any secrets entrusted to me, or betrayed anyone? Have I gossiped about anyone or harmed their reputation? Have I concealed the truth, assisted in carrying out a lie, or pretended to commit a sin of which I was not guilty? Have I tried to see the good in others rather than their shortcomings?
Have I envied anything good that has come to others? Have I been jealous of another’s good fortune? Have I wished for anything that was another’s? Have I damaged or destroyed the property of others? Have I wished for things God has not given me, or been discontented with my lot? Have I been stingy? Have I held back anything due another? Have I hoped for the downfall of anyone so that I might gain by it? Have I failed to be gracious and generous to anyone? Have I expected God to give me that which I would refuse one of my fellow men?