“Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.”
Introduction – A Journey of Faith
If you told anyone who knew me 15 years ago that I would be a Christian, you would get a blank look of unbelief. If you told anyone 5 years ago that I would be an Orthodox Christian, you would again get a blank look of unbelief. In fact, if you told me 5 years ago that I would be an Orthodox Christian, it would have been extremely difficult for me to believe. Orthodoxy is the last thing I wanted to be and most certainly was the belt I was “girded” with that carried me to a place I did not wish to go; death to myself. That is why I feel the need to tell my own journey of faith. I would like to present a short story of my faith journey with an explanation as to why I became an Orthodox Christian.
My faith journey begins when I was a child. I was raised in a Methodist home, though our family did not practice faith regularly. However, I was baptized in the Methodist church around the age of 8. As I grew older, I grew further from the faith and wanted nothing to do with “organized religion” because they “just wanted your money.” In my teen years, I was a typical teenager rebelling against the status quo and desired to stay away from religion if I could help it, even though I dabbled in the occult and superstition in my desperation to find something more in life.
It was in my late teens that a close friend and bassist in our band decided to “find Jesus,” leaving music and getting baptized in the Church of Christ. After a couple of years of not speaking to this friend because of his new-found faith, he eventually came around to my place to record music. When we would finish a session, he would open the Bible and discuss religion and plead with me every time to come to his church. I refused many times until, I think out of the same desperation I had always had for something more, I gave in and went to church with him one Sunday at the church of Christ in Buda, TX.
This small church met in an elementary school cafeteria, and I remember the sermons being convicting and enlightening. I remember thinking that I should go visit again in the attempt to see if my friend had been telling the preacher what I struggled with in my life. The sermons seemed as if they were directed to me, when really what I was hearing was the Gospel for the first time piercing my heart.
After a few months of visiting, I decided to get baptized on Sept 12, 1999. This was a radical conversion that changed my life. It was one where I believe the Spirit of God“renewed my mind.” After two years of attending this church, I was the youth minister, had gotten married to my high school sweet heart, and had begun seminary.
Being part of the Church of Christ, I was obsessed with finding the original church, or at least the restored church. The Church of Christ was the closest to this reality as far as I knew.
In my seminary studies, I learned that the pilgrims of the Restoration Movement (which would eventually become the Churches of Christ, Christian churches – Disciples of Christ) were frustrated with the many denominations and had decided to strip Christianity down to its bare essentials. This meant no creed, no hierarchy, etc. The only creed confessed was “the Bible only” or “where the Bible is silent, we are silent; where the bible speaks, we speak.”
This movement (also known as the Stone-Campbell Movement, or Restoration Movement) was a movement I became fascinated with, and I noticed that within my own tradition, they were not following their own creeds. Instead, in the churches we were a part of, the emphasis seemed to be on “how to grow a congregation and still be authentic churches of Christ.” This included the same programs and business proceedings as the Baptist church down the street. And, even though the idea of restoring Christianity to its simplest form had the goal of unifying all of Christianity, it actually caused more divisions in an already fractured Christian milieu.
Backing up a bit…Early in my seminary years, I had two good friends who had been in conversation with our librarian, who happened to be Eastern Orthodox. My friends became interested in Orthodoxy and always discussed it. This was my first encounter with Eastern Orthodoxy, though I remember thinking it was just another sect that broke from the Catholic Church. I remember saying, “I agree with so many points in the Orthodox Church, but I could never pray to saints, etc.” While I agreed with many principles in the Orthodox Church, I found much of it to be “strange.” I had not taken the time to immerse myself in really understanding it. It was just too“weird.” So I never pursued it because of my fear of and hesitation about anything that appeared too “Roman Catholic” to me.
While I was serving as youth minister in Birmingham, AL, I became restless. I delved deeper into my own tradition, the Restoration Movement. I found a Disciples of Christ in town one day and decided that since this church was from the same tradition, I would speak to the minister there to learn more. I just popped in the church unannounced one day during the week to talk to the pastor of the church. He was gracious and a little taken aback since I had just popped in unannounced–not to mention I was a Church of Christ youth minister interested in learning about the Disciples of Christ.
What I learned was astounding! This church was completely different from the church I had gone to for so many years, and yet they came from the same tradition! Disciples of Christ were liturgical, ordained women, and had musical instruments! This fascinated me, but this was also very disconcerting to me. How could a movement that had begun to unite Christians become so disunited?! Even within the Churches of Christ, you had churches ranging from the “one cuppers” to the “Max Lucado” devotees. This movement was no more united than all the other denominations out there.
While in Birmingham, I had a dream, a dream I knew had some sort of significance, but I did not know what the significance of the dream was at the time. I dreamt I was in a church very different than any I had ever been in. In the dark, yet illumined, church was a man in gold robes and a black cassock swinging a censor with incense filling the church. I felt as if I were in the Kingdom of God with chanting and unrecognizable pictures full of color. And I remember the man in the robe going in and out through doors in a wall and in front of an altar. At the time, I had no idea what this was, but I remembered it because I knew it was significant.
It was during our time in Birmingham that we decided to move back to Austin, TX so I could go back to school for a master’s degree at the seminary where I received my undergraduate degree. My plan was to get a degree and plant churches, in an arrogant attempt to start “Biblical churches” out of my frustration with divisive churches.
This was not God’s plan. I finished my first year, and then my wife lost her job and I went back to work and put school on hold. During this time, we attended a house church. Made up of primarily old Church of Christ members, it was a church to reach out to the lost in Austin and had, as its church-planting philosophy, an emergent church ethos. We were there for 3 years when we realized that this was not the church we were looking for.
We entered another house church that was not necessarily tied to any church denomination, but we knew the people well. It was this year that I began searching for the ancient church out of desperation for a solidly grounded, rooted church. We were tired of being tossed back and forth by the waves of uncertainty. These churches were not bad and served as “gracious stepping stones” (as I refer to them) to our destination. As great as these churches were and through no fault of their own, they were not the ancient church we had longed for and did not pretend to be.
During these years, I listened to a lot of Catholic radio and became very acquainted with Catholic theology, and though I was uncomfortable with many things (Pope, immaculate conception of Mary, etc.), I knew the Catholic Church had apostolic succession and was an ancient church with no doubt. I remember thinking that maybe we should just become Catholic. This is what led me to delve deeper into the Orthodox Church that I had learned about from my friends and librarian in seminary.
A Discovery of the Unknown
While studying Orthodoxy, I learned that the Orthodox Church does not answer to the Pope, they don’t hold to the Augustinian doctrine of original sin, they have apostolic succession, ascribe to baptism as regeneration, had kept the original creed, and have kept the original Tradition untouched since the Apostles laid hands on their successors. This church was the true ancient church that Christ established and which has protected the faith and doctrines of the church that many Protestants hold so strongly to (the Trinity, Christ’s nature and essence,etc.). Among so many other discoveries in my studies of the Orthodox Church, I found that this was The Ancient Church with no doubts.
My wife and I decided to attend an Orthodox church and talk to the local priest. We talked to the priest about our interest/concerns and went to a vespers service. In that first service, I realized I was seeing exactly what I saw in my dream in Birmingham, and I knew we were where we were supposed to be. We became catechumens in the summer of 2011, and our kids were baptized and we all were chrismated in April of 2012 on Lazarus Saturday during divine liturgy. The more we learn and the deeper we go in the Orthodox faith, the more we discover that Christ is still with His Church and that His Church is still united.
So, why am I Orthodox?
The real question is: Why would I not be Orthodox? Why would anyone who is a Christian not be Orthodox (at least that is what I ask myself everyday)?
It is the original church, it was founded by Christ and the Apostles, it has preserved the faith and traditions from the beginning, it is the true worship that Jesus speaks of in John 4, it is the pattern set forth of the heavenly worship described in Hebrews and Revelation, and the list goes on…
In my early years as a Christian, I was able to go whichever way I desired, but there comes a time in every Christian’s life when he must die to himself, be girded by another, and taken to where he does not desire to go. For when you find your life, you lose it; but when you lose your life for Christ’s sake, you find it (Matthew 10:39). Though I am still learning this lesson, I have nonetheless decided to put aside my desires, my prejudices, my comfort, and my insistence on being right, and let the church through the Spirit guide me.
When Orthodoxy is seen for the first time, it is not always desirable, and it forces you to think outside of a Western Protestant, modern way of thinking. The service is long, you stand the whole time, the prayers are repetitive, the vestments are strange, the incense is odd, and the whole thing looks completely foreign. But just like going to another culture, it is hard to truly appreciate it if you don’t attempt to understand it and immerse yourself in it.
The Orthodox Church believes that the Kingdom of God is here, but not yet. At the Divine Liturgy each Sunday, it is a meeting place where Heaven meets Earth. And it is foreign and seems strange. I urge anyone reading this who may be seeking the “true” church to simply discover it in the Orthodox Church. The church was not lost, or Christ would be a liar. Seek to understand the Orthodox faith before denying it because it does not fit the church familiarity you have always experienced. Orthodoxy goes beyond borders, cultures, and time. It is a united church and has stood the test of time and heresy.
Why am I an Orthodox Christian? Why would I not be an Orthodox Christian.
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