Posted by: Shawn Ragan | September 12, 2008

Contrasts

Over the last few weeks I have thought of several things I would like to write about.  Between work and school, though, I have not had any time to write.  Well, that is not entirely true – I am taking an English class that requires that I write ten-twenty pages a week.  I just handwrote (and my handwriting is awful) two pages for an essay in one of my history classes tonight.  So I am writing, just not here.

While I often think of things I would like to explore in this blog, by the time I get an opportunity to sit down and write, I have usually forgotten them.  Sometimes I remember, write it, then wonder if it is maybe too polemic or really something that maybe doesn’t need to be published.  There are things I would like to share – things I have learned about the Ancient Christian Faith – but these things often lead me to a specific point.  Eastern Christianity (Orthodoxy) is not Western Christianity (Roman Catholicism and Protestantism).  I have probably made this point before, but Hieromonk Mark has mentioned to me several times that the more you learn and live Eastern Christianity, the more you realize that it is not Western Christianity.

For the last three decades of my life, I have been absorbed and immersed in Western Christian thought.  I have been involved in the polemics and apologetics of that faith.  I pastored a Protestant church for almost eight years.  So, over these last couple of years, as I have come to experience and realize the beauty and depth and awe of historic Christian Church, this Orthodox Faith, as I have begun to experience the Christianity that I have spent my whole life in search of, that I have read about on the pages in the Bible, and that I have found the fullness of the Faith in, I have done so from the context of a Western Christian.

I am slowly, prayerfully, and with the support and guidance of my spiritual fathers and pastors, moving away from that way of thinking.  As I attend the holy services of the Church, I am impacted, and the way I understand God grows and transforms.

My worry and fear then is that in my zeal to share this wonderful Faith, I will do it from my Western context, and I will not only fail to share the Truth and beauty of Orthodoxy, but that my poor job and sinful soul will actually push people the other way.  I can get excited, and sometimes in my zeal, especially about Orthodoxy, I can overdue it.  I watch our priest, Fr. Mark, answer questions, and it is totally different.  He does it from a very humble place.  There is no question about the love he has for the person he is sharing with.  He does not get excited or try to convince them – he just answers their questions and shares this Faith that he lives.

I have found this same principle true on a much closer front.  My wife has been slowly healing from some spiritual wounds, and she has been slowly taking steps back to Christ and towards the Holy Orthodox Faith.  That in itself is a testament to the healing nature of the Orthodox Faith.  When she asks me a question, as she makes this journey, my zeal and my excitement often get the best of me.  I not only want to share, I want to convince her.  However, that zeal is not helpful for her, and as much as I have to fight it (and I do have to fight it), less is more.  But again the contrast.  Fr. Patrick visited a few weeks ago.  It was a wonderful visit, both for Tori and me.  But the way Fr. Patrick talks, even though we are similar in a lot of ways, is markedly different from the way I do.  Again, he is in the Faith, fully.  He is living it in the fullness of what it has to offer.  The spirituality, humility, and love that I see in not just these priests, but in so many I have met who are trying to live an Orthodox Christian life, has often revealed to me just how far I have yet to journey.  Tori and I talked about the Holy Trinity this last weekend, after listening to a wonderful podcast by Fr. Thomas Hopko (available on Ancient Faith Radio – very good, listen to it).  I answered some questions she had, and then finally told her: “Ask Fr. Patrick.”

I wish that everyone that has asked me questions could talk instead to some of these people who have been living and struggling in this Faith.  All of the words I could say don’t add up to the love and humility found in these people.  And that is what is such an important integral part of this Faith – it is a Faith expressed in love and humility.

Orthodox Christians are not perfect, and if you know anything about Orthodoxy you realize that is a fundamental truth of the Faith.  People do not convert to Orthodoxy because they are perfect, so they need to go to the perfect church.  They convert because they know they are sick and the Orthodox Church is the hospital.  In my wife’s limited contact, she has found healing.  I have found healing, along with a greater sense of my own sinfulness.  I have a friend who knew he was home in the Orthodox Church when he heard a line in the Divine Liturgy where all the people confessed aloud and in unison “I believe and confess, Lord, that You are truly the Christ, the Son of the living God, who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the chief.”  After hearing this, his response: “A church of sinners, I could come here.”

I will probaly continue to write about this journey, but again I beg your forgiveness.  As I said in the beginning, my viewpoints and context for most of my life have been Western.  As I journey into the Apostolic Faith, which we know by reading our Bible is Eastern in thought, many of my observations are going to be in contrasts.  It is not my goal to write polemically, nor is it my goal to diminish or impugn my previous Christian experiences.  If something comes across that way in anything I write, forgive me, a sinner.

And, I have said this before, but I will say it again, if you really want to know about Orthodoxy, I am not the person to read.  If you want to know about my journey, and what my family is experiencing and learning, then by all means, I am the person to read.  But if you want to know about Orthodoxy, if you want to see why so many are flocking to her doors and finding Truth, then get off the internet, and attend a service.  Understand, as you go in, that it is not Western Christianity ~ you can not use Western definitions and ideas and apply them to Orthodox words and thoughts.  Attend the service, listen to the words, ask questions about what you don’t understand (and there will be things, even long-time Orthodox ask questions).  Pray, and ask God to lead you to His Truth.

I have hesititated on writing several things because of some of these concerns.  Now that they are voiced, I will try to write more often.

Asking your prayers.

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Responses

  1. You are not alone! After 24 years steeped in Protestantism, my family and I were received into the Orthodox Church. What an amazing journey, the best year of our life. I am very encouraged to hear your account as well. Our 4 kids intuitively accepted the Orthodox faith as well. It was as if we were “set up” for it. We had such a discouraging experiences in our past, we thought we would never heal, never once desire church again. A certain despondency and dashed hope and bitterness had become our lot. Well we did heal, praise be to God, and it our lives are better than ever. Beyond what we would have desired or dreamed about!! We have grown closer as a family as we are experiencing God.

    I wish you and your family well, take it one step at a time, press in – don’t be afraid.

    Greetings and blessings from St. Anthony’s Orthodox Church San Diego.


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