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Ai
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« on: May 11, 2014, 07:55:27 PM »

Sometimes, I dont know what I'm doing. Im being honest. It's as if I have one foot in and the other one out. I still have the baggage from Western Christianity because I refuse to even touch a Bible for being reminded of the pain that was caused from growing up around Evangelical Christian friends telling me Im going to hell if I dont accept Jesus. I have also read the parts of the Bible where it says to kill disobedient children, kill adulterous women, and other bloody acts that God commands, I dont get it. However, when I come back to the Bible after reading about it from an Orthodox point of view, it's as if Im reading an entirely different book. I read about a merciful God who actually wants us to reconnect to him.

My other issue is questioning. Because I left (western) Christianity for a long time, I developed the habit of constantly questioning everything. Stuff I read such as: submitting to the church, submitting to the bishops, etc. remind me of blind faith and not questioning. Does that mean we're not allowed to question authority?

I just had to say this because it's been bugging me for days.
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« Reply #1 on: May 11, 2014, 08:38:38 PM »

There is a subtle difference between submitting to the Church and submitting to the bishops/priests. There is absolutely no question that we must submit to the Church, which is the Body Of Christ and headed by the Lord Himself.  While the bishops and priests are set aside to teach, among other things, they do not possess the infallibility of Christ or of His Body--the Church. Thus, we find Saint Paul charging each one of use to do two things (a) defer to our appointed leaders and (b) always be on the lookout for wolves in sheep's clothing. Our authority comes from our baptism that makes us part of the Body and members of the Royal Priesthood of Christ. The latter does not give us authority to teach (to rightly divide the truth of His Word) but it gives us the opportunity to agree with their teachings and to close the loop for the prayers that they offer on our behalf. A good example would be the rejection by the Orthodox laos of the union between Rome and Constantinople that was agreed to by Orthodox bishops (except for St Mark of Ephesus) at Florence just before the Ottomans conquered Constantinople.

BTW, our fellow Orthodox, both clergy and laity, have in fact agreed to the teachings of the Body, our Holy Orthodox Church. It is not as if the bishops and priests have run roughshod over the laity these past 20 centuries. But, by all means, give deference to the teachings and practices of the Church but, at the same time, also see if you can give your assent. Just remember that not all beliefs and practices are dogmas.
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« Reply #2 on: May 11, 2014, 10:19:03 PM »

I've struggled with many of the same issues, Ai. I tend to be a very skeptical person by nature, and it sounds as if we have had similar religious pasts. The difference that I find in Orthodoxy is that unlike Evangelicalism where they all seem to have very firm ideas on who and who is not going to heaven or hell, Orthodoxy tends to take a wide pasture approach. There are boundaries that ought not be crossed, but there are many different ways to express your faith. I don't need to go to my priest for every small thing to get his opinion or blessing. I am free to make mistakes and learn from them.  When I have learned from them, it seems that there are always deeper truths than can be found. I have found it immensely freeing that the God of Orthodoxy does not play "gotcha" with us. He isn't waiting for us to fail so he can punish us. He desires us to grow because it is for our benefit. I think many converts take a long time to adjust their mindset. I am still adjusting mine. As my old religious habits fade away, I'm left with something deeply satisfying and fulfilling.
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« Reply #3 on: May 11, 2014, 11:13:03 PM »

I've struggled with many of the same issues, Ai. I tend to be a very skeptical person by nature, and it sounds as if we have had similar religious pasts. The difference that I find in Orthodoxy is that unlike Evangelicalism where they all seem to have very firm ideas on who and who is not going to heaven or hell, Orthodoxy tends to take a wide pasture approach. There are boundaries that ought not be crossed, but there are many different ways to express your faith. I don't need to go to my priest for every small thing to get his opinion or blessing. I am free to make mistakes and learn from them.  When I have learned from them, it seems that there are always deeper truths than can be found. I have found it immensely freeing that the God of Orthodoxy does not play "gotcha" with us. He isn't waiting for us to fail so he can punish us. He desires us to grow because it is for our benefit. I think many converts take a long time to adjust their mindset. I am still adjusting mine. As my old religious habits fade away, I'm left with something deeply satisfying and fulfilling.

Just want to chime in something similar. It seems Western Christianity and Orthodoxy say different things, and often (much more so than I'd like if I'm being honest) the Orthodox Church doesn't address some of these things, being so foreign to the Orthodox mindset. I'm also one of those (at times overly so) skeptical people and from a rather Western mindset (at least in my understanding of God), so my questioning of so many things can (and has) driven wedges between myself and them, but I'm I'm finding that the faith isn't always something to be read - indeed, it needs to be lived. Sort of like learning how to swim, maybe - taken bit by bit. A priest I'm quickly growing to greatly admire said to me that prayer is the important thing, and having time set aside to pray (which I had lapsed from doing for way too long) is essential. I've found that it's given something for me to look forward to, on the easier days, and on the hard days I feel as though it's sinking concrete into a foundation stronger than one I can manufacture on my own.

It's not been something that comes in a flash, though (sadly) - but something that slowly, very slowly sinks in. Going to the services, week after week, making sure to try keep that Grace at home by being more careful with your actions, establishing and keeping to a prayer rule, reading the Bible, keeping the fasts, they slowly but surely bring you to a point where you can start to see that everything is to the glory of God, and even if you don't feel that, you can start to realize that it's at least allowed by God and that God is indeed watching and looking for us to come to Him. I struggled with this when I was first told so by that priest (and even at this very minute I'm struggling with it) but it's slowly making more sense the more I pray, the more I attend the services, the more I keep the fasts. One thing that struck me at Pascha was that, after having fasted for so long (I'm not one used to fasting), I quite enjoyed the first, and subsequent bites of meat, and indeed the entire meal. Of course, the point is not the meat, but what I mean is it gave me an appreciation that I wouldn't otherwise have had, had I not observed the fast, and this is happening now, even on a weekly basis.

Know this: the questions you ask will mean you get to have a very deep understanding of the faith. Whatever direction they take you, you could very well come out understanding things on a very profound level, and you will be a lot stronger for it, and in a different position than one who just follows things from the sidelines. The priest said that "the very reason you ask these questions means you're struggling with them, and that's a good thing". Please don't think I'm brushing the questioning or the lack of answers aside: I don't mean to, and simply want to say that question, but in your questioning, practice.

If you can, continue to read through the Bible, take notes, and ask your priest about the bits that don't make sense. Pester a deacon maybe. Bother the reader who chants really nicely in that tone, and try to pay attention to the services. After a while, things may just start making a lot more sense - after all, as you have said, looking at the Bible from an Orthodox viewpoint is seeing the same words take a rather different viewpoint.

I hope some of this may be of use to you.
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« Reply #4 on: May 11, 2014, 11:45:29 PM »

You are allowed to question everything. In fact, you are encouraged because it's the only possible grounds for personal freedom and also for authentic virtue. The only thing to make sure of is that you are right in questioning, that you know what you are doing. Smiley
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« Reply #5 on: May 12, 2014, 12:55:42 AM »

As my old religious habits fade away, I'm left with something deeply satisfying and fulfilling.

So is that why one renounces their former beliefs at chrismation?

I forgot to add this in my entry post but...slavery. In the West, the Bible has been used to condone slavery. Does Orthodoxy condone slavery as well, even though with mentions of it in the Bible? If we're supposed to believe that the Bible is the infallible word of God, then we're supposed to believe in that as well? Including the part about stoning disobedient children, not working on the Sabbath, not wearing clothes of mixed fibers, etc.?

Im very confused.

Im not asking about this to be one of those people that like to nitpick the flaws that they see in Christianity, but it's been something that's been bothering me for a while, and I just have to ask.
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« Reply #6 on: May 12, 2014, 01:01:03 AM »

I've struggled with many of the same issues, Ai. I tend to be a very skeptical person by nature, and it sounds as if we have had similar religious pasts. The difference that I find in Orthodoxy is that unlike Evangelicalism where they all seem to have very firm ideas on who and who is not going to heaven or hell, Orthodoxy tends to take a wide pasture approach. There are boundaries that ought not be crossed, but there are many different ways to express your faith. I don't need to go to my priest for every small thing to get his opinion or blessing. I am free to make mistakes and learn from them.  When I have learned from them, it seems that there are always deeper truths than can be found. I have found it immensely freeing that the God of Orthodoxy does not play "gotcha" with us. He isn't waiting for us to fail so he can punish us. He desires us to grow because it is for our benefit. I think many converts take a long time to adjust their mindset. I am still adjusting mine. As my old religious habits fade away, I'm left with something deeply satisfying and fulfilling.

Just want to chime in something similar. It seems Western Christianity and Orthodoxy say different things, and often (much more so than I'd like if I'm being honest) the Orthodox Church doesn't address some of these things, being so foreign to the Orthodox mindset. I'm also one of those (at times overly so) skeptical people and from a rather Western mindset (at least in my understanding of God), so my questioning of so many things can (and has) driven wedges between myself and them, but I'm I'm finding that the faith isn't always something to be read - indeed, it needs to be lived. Sort of like learning how to swim, maybe - taken bit by bit. A priest I'm quickly growing to greatly admire said to me that prayer is the important thing, and having time set aside to pray (which I had lapsed from doing for way too long) is essential. I've found that it's given something for me to look forward to, on the easier days, and on the hard days I feel as though it's sinking concrete into a foundation stronger than one I can manufacture on my own.

It's not been something that comes in a flash, though (sadly) - but something that slowly, very slowly sinks in. Going to the services, week after week, making sure to try keep that Grace at home by being more careful with your actions, establishing and keeping to a prayer rule, reading the Bible, keeping the fasts, they slowly but surely bring you to a point where you can start to see that everything is to the glory of God, and even if you don't feel that, you can start to realize that it's at least allowed by God and that God is indeed watching and looking for us to come to Him. I struggled with this when I was first told so by that priest (and even at this very minute I'm struggling with it) but it's slowly making more sense the more I pray, the more I attend the services, the more I keep the fasts. One thing that struck me at Pascha was that, after having fasted for so long (I'm not one used to fasting), I quite enjoyed the first, and subsequent bites of meat, and indeed the entire meal. Of course, the point is not the meat, but what I mean is it gave me an appreciation that I wouldn't otherwise have had, had I not observed the fast, and this is happening now, even on a weekly basis.

Know this: the questions you ask will mean you get to have a very deep understanding of the faith. Whatever direction they take you, you could very well come out understanding things on a very profound level, and you will be a lot stronger for it, and in a different position than one who just follows things from the sidelines. The priest said that "the very reason you ask these questions means you're struggling with them, and that's a good thing". Please don't think I'm brushing the questioning or the lack of answers aside: I don't mean to, and simply want to say that question, but in your questioning, practice.

If you can, continue to read through the Bible, take notes, and ask your priest about the bits that don't make sense. Pester a deacon maybe. Bother the reader who chants really nicely in that tone, and try to pay attention to the services. After a while, things may just start making a lot more sense - after all, as you have said, looking at the Bible from an Orthodox viewpoint is seeing the same words take a rather different viewpoint.

I hope some of this may be of use to you.

Thank you so much! Im so happy to know Im the not only one that struggles with this. It gets to the point where I feel as if I get into an argument with God, but I guess this is what patience is for.

Lord have mercy.
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« Reply #7 on: May 12, 2014, 02:05:36 AM »

Quote
My other issue is questioning. Because I left (western) Christianity for a long time, I developed the habit of constantly questioning everything. Stuff I read such as: submitting to the church, submitting to the bishops, etc. remind me of blind faith and not questioning. Does that mean we're not allowed to question authority?

Questioning authority is actually encouraged. The greatest heretics in history were the Bishops of the Church.

Quote
I forgot to add this in my entry post but...slavery. In the West, the Bible has been used to condone slavery. Does Orthodoxy condone slavery as well, even though with mentions of it in the Bible? If we're supposed to believe that the Bible is the infallible word of God, then we're supposed to believe in that as well? Including the part about stoning disobedient children, not working on the Sabbath, not wearing clothes of mixed fibers, etc.?

The Orthodox don't interpret the Bible 100% literally. For example, the Ark of the Covenant and the Temple of God are seen as types of the Mother of God. St. Paul in his Epistles says: "For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ." (1 Corinthians 10:2-4)

In other words, St. Paul interpreted verses from the Old Testament in this context as being metaphorical, and not literal. So, we should be aware of the literal meaning of the text, but also recognize there could be other 'hidden meanings' in the text.

In the Byzantine Empire, yes, the Bible was used to condone slavery. That doesn't mean that the Orthodox Church has ever taught slavery was a dogma of the Church though.
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« Reply #8 on: May 12, 2014, 02:09:30 AM »

Quote
My other issue is questioning. Because I left (western) Christianity for a long time, I developed the habit of constantly questioning everything. Stuff I read such as: submitting to the church, submitting to the bishops, etc. remind me of blind faith and not questioning. Does that mean we're not allowed to question authority?

Questioning authority is actually encouraged. The greatest heretics in history were the Bishops of the Church.

Because they never questioned authority?

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« Reply #9 on: May 12, 2014, 02:12:20 AM »

Quote
My other issue is questioning. Because I left (western) Christianity for a long time, I developed the habit of constantly questioning everything. Stuff I read such as: submitting to the church, submitting to the bishops, etc. remind me of blind faith and not questioning. Does that mean we're not allowed to question authority?

Questioning authority is actually encouraged. The greatest heretics in history were the Bishops of the Church.

Because they never questioned authority?



Sure. The reason the Ecumenical Councils were convened were because the heretical Bishops and their followers led to such controversy in the worldwide Church. If the laity were more educated, some of them might have been prevented. But, I'm not one to speculate on all that.

Anyway, you can find even in the New Testament, people asked to be wary of false teachers among the Bishops.

"I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert..." (Acts 20:29-31)
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« Reply #10 on: May 12, 2014, 07:15:54 AM »

Although I've developed more trust in Orthodoxy now, I relate to your roots, travel and position now, but being English few people buy into the fire and brimstone teaching enjoyed in America's false Evangelical circles. Just wanted to add a thank you because replies have been very helpful and I'm glad that, if I need to, I can test and challenge without being deemed an apostate (though my demeanor is not nearly aggressive enough to provoke such a reaction..) it is calming. The experience of the Orthodox life and liturgy is more satisfying than any theological discoveries I have found.
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« Reply #11 on: May 12, 2014, 08:49:38 AM »

As my old religious habits fade away, I'm left with something deeply satisfying and fulfilling.

So is that why one renounces their former beliefs at chrismation?

I forgot to add this in my entry post but...slavery. In the West, the Bible has been used to condone slavery. Does Orthodoxy condone slavery as well, even though with mentions of it in the Bible? If we're supposed to believe that the Bible is the infallible word of God, then we're supposed to believe in that as well? Including the part about stoning disobedient children, not working on the Sabbath, not wearing clothes of mixed fibers, etc.?

Im very confused.

Im not asking about this to be one of those people that like to nitpick the flaws that they see in Christianity, but it's been something that's been bothering me for a while, and I just have to ask.
Regardless of your belief system, people will always use it for self-serving reasons.  There have certainly been Orthodox individuals who have used their religion to subjugate and oppress others, but that is definitely not the teaching of the Church. 

In regards to the many rules in the OT, it ought to be remembered that they were issued to the nation of Israel, not to anyone else.  The Apostles were very clear in the book of Acts that those laws were not to be applied to the Church. God put those laws in place for a specific people at a specific time.  They were not immutable or eternal.  Their purpose was to separate His people from the surrounding pagans to protect the oracles that God gave to them through the prophets. This is why Christ said that He came to fulfill the law. It wasn't that it was bad law that needed to be gotten rid of, it was that everything that the law was pointing towards had been fulfilled by Christ's coming.
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« Reply #12 on: May 12, 2014, 09:39:34 AM »

Testing and questioning IS encouraged, as far as I have have found.

Rather than proseletyzing, I have found Orthodox priests to be much mire careful. No one is in a hurry to drag you into Orthodoxy. They prefer that you ask questions, learn, wait, experience, live the faith, understand. Only after all of that will you be allowed to join the church.

Questioning authority, NOT for the very sake of rebellion, but anytime you need to know or understand, is always met with patience and a desire to help you understand. And if you don't agree, well, I have generally seen that met with acceptance. Most Orthodox I have met who are mature in their faith have no need to convince anyone that they are right.

As far as accepting the Church's authority, if you had suggested to me a year ago that I would do that, I would have been shocked. I come from a very skeptical, questioning mindset myself, that has to test and agree to and understand all things. I still would not blindly accept whatever the church says if it sounds wrong to me, but I would still question.

It was that testing and questioning of all my theology that led me to the Orthodox Church, as they seemed to be "right" about so many of the "big things". At first the way if thinking was quite foreign and even frustrating, but I have come to accept that too. And a few doctrines I really, REALLY struggled with, but I was willing to examine them with the idea to truly understand rather than to dismiss because of my previous teaching. And I have been open-minded on our points of initial disagreement, willing to think the Church might be right, and continuing to question and pray until I reached a peaceful understanding.

My advice to you would be to keep a list of all those things you question, and don't mark them off until you are satisfied. Address the easy ones first. I found so much beautiful wisdom in the Church this way, which greatly increased my confidence in her. But if you pursue joining the Church, you want these all answered first.

Don't worry. As far as I have been able to dig and study, the Church has good and wise answers for everything. Well - let me rephrase. There are a few things she doesn't speculate on and leaves as mysteries, but in those we simply don't know, and really it's more honest to say that than to make up stories just to suit ourselves.

There may yet be a big issue or two. I have not tackled some controversial topics, but they are not things that really "matter". Just work through your list, begin a prayer rule if you can, attend the liturgy, spend time within the church family, speak to a priest.

That would be my suggestion.

Just wanted to let your know you're not alone in that kind of examining, and it's ok to do so. Smiley
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« Reply #13 on: May 12, 2014, 09:40:18 AM »

Ai, thank you for this thread, it's tremendously helpful, coming, as I do, from a evangelical bible reformed baptist viewpoint. It's going to take some time, I think, to adjust my mindset.
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« Reply #14 on: May 12, 2014, 09:44:07 AM »

Ai, thank you for this thread, it's tremendously helpful, coming, as I do, from a evangelical bible reformed baptist viewpoint. It's going to take some time, I think, to adjust my mindset.

That was where I first started too. I think it's a common thing for those of us like that. My priest used to be Baptist as well. Wink
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« Reply #15 on: May 12, 2014, 10:04:21 AM »

As my old religious habits fade away, I'm left with something deeply satisfying and fulfilling.

So is that why one renounces their former beliefs at chrismation?

I forgot to add this in my entry post but...slavery. In the West, the Bible has been used to condone slavery. Does Orthodoxy condone slavery as well, even though with mentions of it in the Bible? If we're supposed to believe that the Bible is the infallible word of God, then we're supposed to believe in that as well? Including the part about stoning disobedient children, not working on the Sabbath, not wearing clothes of mixed fibers, etc.?

Im very confused.

Im not asking about this to be one of those people that like to nitpick the flaws that they see in Christianity, but it's been something that's been bothering me for a while, and I just have to ask.
Regardless of your belief system, people will always use it for self-serving reasons.  There have certainly been Orthodox individuals who have used their religion to subjugate and oppress others, but that is definitely not the teaching of the Church. 

A common problem is that we confuse the Bible with someone's interpretation/opinion of what the Bible says. This is especially problematic in Protestantism, because of the personal interpretation of Scripture. The truth is that none of us interpret or understand Scripture in a vacuum - we all bring our own experiences, knowledge, culture, blind spots and prejudices to the interpretation and understanding of the Bible. We can see this in the many different sects, often based on differing interpretations of the same Scripture. Devout and well-meaning Christians can and do believe totally different things about the same Scripture. The problem then becomes:how do you know? How do you know which personal interpretation is the right one?

That is where the Church comes in, so that we can interpret Scripture according to what the Church has believed and taught "at all times and in all places."
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« Reply #16 on: May 12, 2014, 10:18:14 AM »

I think the most difficult part for people coming from a totally western viewpoint is that experience matters to a whole another degree in eastern orthodoxy. As many have pointed out, reading is necessary and all you brothers/sister should question everything you find on your path towards the Church. That´s a crucial starting point, to read and understand things from the viewpoint of the Church, which has never changed.

But later there will be topics, questions and issues which for the western evangelical christian becomes totally insane. Because experiencing the christian way of life is nothing rooted in the evangelical culture. But in Orthodoxy there is a way to experience things, and the Church guides us towards them. But in the end our own will and love towards Christ will have to chose to encounter the experience or rejecting it. And when experiencing a beauty and holiness through icons, veneration of the Saints and other typical Orthodox practices, then there is no book or answer that can even be close to explain that experience.

Pray for me and forgive me, the sinner
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« Reply #17 on: June 14, 2014, 08:18:35 PM »

Thanks for all who shared your experiences on this thread. It has helped me to understand more.

I'm coming out of Reformed churches that were ultra conservative and into theonomy (RJ Rushdoony, Greg Bahnsen, etc. groups) and, most times, had abusive male authority (pastor/elders). So, it was hammered into me that I am "totally depraved" and the only thing I deserve is "death and hell"  (the whole Spurgeon -"Turn or Burn", Jonathan Edwards - "Sinners in the Hands Of an Angry God" thing). I was left with an unhealthy fear of God and never really knowing if I was "elect". Being under this type of dangerous theology has messed me up.

So, now I'm just in the beginning stages of trying to understand things like (from the truth of Orthodoxy) - what REALLY was the result of the fall as far as man's condition and standing before God, man having free will, etc. and how God sees me. 
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« Reply #18 on: June 14, 2014, 09:02:39 PM »

Thanks for all who shared your experiences on this thread. It has helped me to understand more.

I'm coming out of Reformed churches that were ultra conservative and into theonomy (RJ Rushdoony, Greg Bahnsen, etc. groups) and, most times, had abusive male authority (pastor/elders). So, it was hammered into me that I am "totally depraved" and the only thing I deserve is "death and hell"  (the whole Spurgeon -"Turn or Burn", Jonathan Edwards - "Sinners in the Hands Of an Angry God" thing). I was left with an unhealthy fear of God and never really knowing if I was "elect". Being under this type of dangerous theology has messed me up.

So, now I'm just in the beginning stages of trying to understand things like (from the truth of Orthodoxy) - what REALLY was the result of the fall as far as man's condition and standing before God, man having free will, etc. and how God sees me. 

They are not really ultra-conservative. If we mean conservative as 'traditional', they abandoned any conservatism they had after the Reformation.
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"[The Lord] shall judge between many peoples, and shall decide for strong nations far away; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore." (Isaiah 2:4, Micah 4:3)
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« Reply #19 on: June 14, 2014, 11:06:12 PM »

Sometimes I wonder why Jesus needs thousands of followers.
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« Reply #20 on: June 14, 2014, 11:14:41 PM »

Sometimes I wonder why Jesus needs thousands of followers.

He doesn't.
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« Reply #21 on: June 14, 2014, 11:16:22 PM »

Yeah, but you also can't be a world or 'major' religion with just a few dozen people; it's just not seemly.
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« Reply #22 on: June 15, 2014, 12:27:41 AM »

Sometimes, I dont know what I'm doing. Im being honest. It's as if I have one foot in and the other one out. I still have the baggage from Western Christianity because I refuse to even touch a Bible for being reminded of the pain that was caused from growing up around Evangelical Christian friends telling me Im going to hell if I dont accept Jesus. I have also read the parts of the Bible where it says to kill disobedient children, kill adulterous women, and other bloody acts that God commands, I dont get it. However, when I come back to the Bible after reading about it from an Orthodox point of view, it's as if Im reading an entirely different book. I read about a merciful God who actually wants us to reconnect to him.

My other issue is questioning. Because I left (western) Christianity for a long time, I developed the habit of constantly questioning everything. Stuff I read such as: submitting to the church, submitting to the bishops, etc. remind me of blind faith and not questioning. Does that mean we're not allowed to question authority?

I just had to say this because it's been bugging me for days.

The actual instruction [Sunday morning catechism class] from a qualified priest is much much more cosine than asking about it on the Internet.
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