Posted by: Shawn Ragan | June 16, 2008

Pentecost, part 2

Yesterday was Pentecost, and Father’s Day. We woke up in the morning, much earlier than I usually do on Sunday morning. It does not take me long to jump in the shower and get ready for the day, but yesterday my wife was going with us to services – while she has been to Orthodox services before, this was her first Sunday morning. So, we were up an hour earlier than usual.

I got up and had some Father’s Day time with my kids and we got ready and went to Church. We arrived during Matins and attended the Liturgy. It is amazing to me how much is really packed into a Divine Liturgy, or any of the liturgical services. They are rich both in theology and in Scripture. With the liturgy substantively remaining the same for the last couple thousand years, it is easy to see how the faith and belief of the Church has remained unchanged.

That leads me into something I really noted during Liturgy yesterday. You know, I can read a passage of Scripture and think: “I wonder what this means?” or even “I think this means such-n-such.” I do that based on whatever my opinion happens to be and based on whatever level of knowledge I have or think I have. The wonderful thing that I have begun to realize though, is that Christianity did not begin with me. It did not begin a 150 years ago. This is, in the “since Pentecost” age, a 2000 year old Faith. In truth, though, it is thousands of years older than that. According to the New Testament Scriptures, the faith Abraham was the “Christian” faith and Abraham himself looked forward to the coming of Christ.

When I reduce Christianity down to my understanding or my thoughts and opinions, especially when I reduce it down to my current knowledge, I make it much smaller than it is. I not only limit it based on my imperfect human understanding, I actually change it from what it is to something else. I have learned that it is not centered around what I think, but rather I need to center my thinking around it.

This was evident, in several different ways, to me today. There have been several questions I have been asking myself…what does this or that mean…how should I understand this or that. There I sat in services, and these questions were simply answered. Then it dawns on me, interestingly during the very feast celebrating the Holy Spirit coming on the Apostles and the beginning of the New Testament era Church, that Christianity has had to ask and answer questions for two thousand years. Most of my questions really are, in many ways, small questions in the grand scheme of things. Many of the things I see people wrestling with today are questions that have been answered…and these questions were answered by Christianity at large, one would also say under the leading of the Holy Spirit, and these questions were answered by people who spoke the same language, lived in the same culture, and went to churches that were established by the Apostles and mentioned in our New Testament – people who felt their responsibility was to PRESERVE the Faith they received and to REJECT innovation. Even more, it is these people, living in this Faith, that would give us our New Testament (contrary to what some think, the New Testament did not come down from Heaven on a cloud).

I guess what I am saying here, rather clumsily, is that this Faith is so much bigger than I am, and that it is arrogant presumption and naivete that leads me to believe that she has not asked and answered questions. She (the Church) has thought about things, and she has tested ideas and thoughts against the Holy Tradition and teaching of Christ, His Apostles, and the Fathers of the Church. Even in the 3rd-4th centuries, you can read people writing about the Faith received from the Apostles and Fathers. And when I look to her for the answers, I find that they are not only there, but the depth of spirituality and understanding in these answers are far beyond anything I could have come up with on my own. This is one of the fruits I have seen in my life in the last couple years as I have looked towards this ancient Christian Faith – I have been able to let go of my thoughts and opinions and in turning to the Church I have been stretched and the God and Faith I now see I can truly say is awesome and beyond me. With that, comes security. I now have a greater trust and security in what I believe, because it is not based on what I may or may not know, but on what millions of Christians over 2000 years have believed. As someone once said, “what has been believed by everyone, everywhere, always” (my paraphrase – if I find the actual quote I’ll correct it 🙂 ).

The Feast of Pentecost, celebrated in the Church, pointed out to me, and reminded me what my historical studies had already revealed to me – this IS the Church of Pentecost – this is the Church of Acts, the Church of the Apostles and Prophets, the Church of the Martyrs and Saints, the Church of the Ecumenical Councils and the Church that, based on the Holy Tradition she lived and practiced, said, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, what books constituted our New Testament.

Of course, while these things speak volumes to me, they are less important to my wife. She has asked “Is this really the Church in the New Testament?” (The answer, historically, is yes). But her road to Orthodoxy has been much different from mine. For me it has been much more of the “rational intellectual” (Hieromonk Mark told me today), where hers has been much more cautious and practical. She is not all that interested in the history or theological comparisons and understandings…hers is much more, well, spiritual. Her approach has been more in the realm of real life and relationships.

While this actually being the Church of Pentecost probably impresses her very little (it does impress her, though), the tested and real spirituality of the Orthodox Church – the life in Christ that is lived and shared among the Orthodox faithful – this has made much more of an impact. And she is on her journey, her discovery of this ancient and beautiful Faith…and while she is going slowly, the impact of her journey has been very real.

Praise God for that!

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Responses

  1. I rejoice in your confession of faith and your longing for “the good things of Jerusalem.” I rejoice more over the cautious piety of your wife, and of her love for God which teaches her patience and circumspection–and fear. Not all fear is bad; “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom… with wisdom, get understanding.” I do not know Tori as well as I have gotten to know you, Shawn, but from what you have lovingly said of her, I gather my comments are a propos.
    May the all-good and gracious Holy Spirit fill you both, along with your children, with every blessing!
    Blessed Pentecost!

  2. Having found your blog in a round-about way, I have really appreciated reading your posts. My husband and I were in a similar position to yours 10 years ago… He took a job as a hospice chaplain, and, in our case, the director of the Hospice program was Greek Orthodox! She had no trouble in seeing why a protestant minister would want to become Orthodox (and, necessarily, find a new job!) I will be praying for you and thanking God for your faith in making this change with your family!


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