I'm new to this board and this is what's been going on in my life.
If you had told me 9 or 10 months ago that I would be going to meet with an Orthodox priest to discuss becoming a Catechumen I would have suggested you'd suffered some esoteric form of brain damage (or else your crack habit is finally paying out dividends).
But here I am.
Let me give some brief background info before I continue.
I was raised and confirmed in the Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) and after abandoning the faith for a few years I became "born again" and started attending Evangelical churches (mainly because I was sick to death of the liturgy and hymns). I attended an Evangelical college majoring in bible with the initial goal of becoming a pastor. I realized after a while I didn't have the disposition or the people skills to be an effective pastor so switched my major to Philosophy. The church I'm currently attending now is a solid bible believing protestant church that is mercifully free of the fads, nationalism, and politics that seem to plague other evangelical/fundamentalist churches (and ultimately obscure the gospel message). As far as protestant churches go, they are as close to being "right", IMOHO, as it is possible to be and I'd have no qualms about recommending it if someone were looking for a good Evangelical church.
With that said the seeds of my journey were sown over the past several years. I suppose it goes further back than that. Even though I have been a card carrying Protestant for most of my life I've always had this stubborn ecumenical streak that would not be silenced. For example, I could never really buy into the idea (which is held by many, but not all, protestants) that the ancient church imploded the moment the last apostle died and was completely apostate until the reformation came to the rescue. It just seem to run counter to the fact that the church now had the Holy Sprint which would "lead us into all truth". It sort of makes Him look pretty incompetent; that He was somehow incapable of preserving the "faith once delivered to the saints".
In more recent years we've been home schooling our kids and that has given us the opportunity to get to know some Roman Catholic home schooling families. We've fellowshipped with these people and that has in turn heightened my skepticism over a common protestant belief that all RCs are going to burn. On a side note, I put one of those families (via facebook) in touch with a good college friend who is staunch reformed Calvinist and as a sharp a thinker as I know. After several weeks of e-mail discussions with them over doctrine and "Who is Jesus" he confided to me in a phone call "I can't understand why these people aren't protestants".
About three years ago I had chance to attend a RC funeral for one of my co-worker's mother. I've attended RC services before and my attitude has been "Oh crap! The liturgy again. When is this going to be over? Blah blah blah blah blah...". But this time I made the conscious decision to be alert and observe everything with care. I noticed that every time a priest or a laymen passed or approached the altar they would take the knee and bow briefly. Every time that happened the verse "Every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is lord" popped into my head. Prior to communion, when the priest lifted the elements up a chime sounded and these verses came to mind: "Take and eat; this is my body....This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.". I realized that the chime signaled the moment the elements were changed. It also explained the priest's lengthy ritual in disposing of the remaining elements when communion was done; mixing the bread and wine together and consuming them so the elements would not be disposed of inappropriately, carefully rinsing out the cup with water several times and drying the cup before putting it away, etc. It all pointed to the fact that something holy had just occurred. There's many things I know I missed but I came away from the service realizing that everything there "meant something". I could now see why people "get into" RC church since I saw so much of what I believed in scripture "illuminated" by the symbolism and ritual.
If it had not been for other events in my life that occurred more recently I would have filed this under "Interesting experiences I've had as a protestant" and put this all on the shelf. But life doesn't' always turn out like you think (or hope it will).
About 8 months ago a howitzer was pointed at my spiritual chest and fired at point blank range; my oldest daughter announced that she was an atheist. She's had struggles in the past and we read and discussed a lot of apologetics with her and that seemed to help...but it ultimately didn't and her announcement caught me totally off guard. I got really upset with her a couple of times (bad enough where I had to apologize later) but for a couple of weeks I simply could not get my mind around that fact that she did not believe. I finally put myself into "time out" on this issue and spent a lot of time soul searching. Sure you can do everything right and kids will still defect but I wasn't going to make that assumption. I couldn't. Everything was placed on the table for examination even the protestant presuppositions I had embraced most of my life. It was like I had been living on a tapestry called "Christianity" in a small fold called "Protestantism" and then someone gave the tapestry a good shake; all the cards were now in the air. Since then my younger daughter announced she didn't believe any more (but she was more in the deist camp rather than atheist).
It's not a very comfortable place to be.
So what has my soul searching revealed so far? My kids (and to a lesser degree my wife) have been complaining about the worship at my church for the past three years or so. They've always liked singing hymns (the older the better) and they found the evangelical praise and worship songs to be trite and shallow. Since I played bass on the worship team I didn't feel exactly the same since I was into the musical aspect of worship and not the lyrical per se (contemporary praise songs are more fun to play). I realize a lot of people are blessed by modern evangelical worship but for some people it just doesn't work. I heard their complaints and at the time I figured that it was a good teaching point: "The perfect church is a myth and there's always going to be some kind of tension". It really is a good lesson to learn however, in hindsight, it was the wrong time to teach it. I simply never really considered the potential consequences of having one of the experiential pillars of the faith absent during their formative years. I don't know. They still may have bailed anyway. As scripture says "The purposes of a man's heart are deep waters...".
So how does Orthodoxy fit into the picture? Every once in a while I wax nostalgic and think about speakers, writers, and musicians I was familiar with in the early 80s when I first became a Christian. I ask the question "Where are they now?" so I hit Wikipedia and go searching. One writer I used to read back then was Franky Schaeffer. I pulled up the article on him and found that he had bailed on the political right and joined the Greek Orthodox church. "Wow", I thought, "That's kind of different". I then pulled up some Wiki articles on Orthodoxy, read them and thought "Wow. That's kind of really really really really really different". Again this is something I would have put on the back burner except that one weekend when I wasn't playing on the worship team my youngest daughter asked if we could go check out another church for a change. "Hmmm. Now what would be the most radically opposite of what we normally attend?" The answer was obvious given the research I had just done: The Orthodox church. Fortunately we weren't going there cold turkey. The church we were thinking about visiting ran a coffee shop and book store so my wife and I decided to check it out before we visited the church. The parish priest happened to be working there that night and it turned out that my wife had met him before. The priest is a folk musician (violin and banjo) and he started the band that plays for the local contra dance that is held in our town once a month. They both recognized each other. My wife also knew someone else who attended that church through my youngest daughter's dance school. So at least we had some connections there already.
I was expecting that since I got sick of the liturgy way back when I would hate this church (and I assumed the same for my family as well). We would visit there once and that would be that.
We were completely blown away (at least I was). What we experienced was 100 shades of weird/other worldly and a trillion shades of beautiful/worshipful. For me it was a balm in Gilead that began to fill some of the tears in my soul. But that wasn't all. What my youngest daughter told me later put me in another dimension: "I felt like I was actually worshiping something holy". She had never expressed herself that way. Ever. I knew we were on to something.
It would be a few more weeks before we went again since I was pretty much the only bass player for our worship team. It also gave me some time and breathing room to "come down" from my experience and do more research. I started listening to Michael Hyatt's podcasts on AncientFaith.com - http://ancientfaith.com/podcasts/eastwest
. I also started investing in some books:
- The Orthodox Way by Bishop Kallistos Ware
- The Orthodox Church by Bishop Kallistos Ware
- Ecclesiastical History by Eusebius
- Evangelical is not Enough by Thomas Howard
- The Apostolic Fathers in English (a translation of the earliest writings)
- Light from the Christian East: An Introduction to the Orthodox Tradition by James R. Payton
- Becoming Orthodox by Peter Gillquist
- By What Authority by Mark P Shea
- Sola Scriptura by Fr. John Whiteford
- For the Life of the World by Alexander Schmemann
- The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church by Vladimir Lossky
And in addition to the books...
- The Christian Ethereal Classics Library - http://www.ccel.org/
- Numerous blogs and forum posts detailing Evangelical conversion to Holy Orthodoxy
The resources that have been the most helpful for me are....
Becoming Orthodox by Peter Gillquist - This is his story about how he and several Campus Crusade for Christ ministers went in search of the "New Testament" and discovered it was Orthodox. It's more of a story of their transition to Orthodoxy than an in depth discussion of Orthodox beliefs. It's fairly light reading but eye opening none the less.
Light from the Christian East: An Introduction to the Orthodox Tradition by James R. Payton - This book is really really good. It has more meat in it and I think it is written more for Protestant Seminary students (however someone who is Orthodox would get a lot of insight into protestant theology). It's not a comprehensive Study of Orthodox theology but it's a fairly in-depth (and sympathetic) compare/contrast of key Protestant and Orthodox doctrines. The author is a reformed theologian so he's not some Orthodox hack attempting to foist bogus doctrine on unsuspecting minds.
The Orthodox Way and The Orthodox Church by Bishop Kallistos Ware. The Orthodox Church has a lot of information in it and is a bit a dry to read but otherwise is an excellent resource. The Orthodox Way is an easier read.
Michael Hyatt's podcasts on AncientFaith.com. He is an excellent speaker he gets more traction with me since he is also chairmen and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers which to me is an admission by Thomas Nelson that he is just as "Christian" as all of the rest of the protestants that work there.
On thing I've gleaned from everything I've read so far is that there is only so much you can learn about Orthodoxy just by reading; to really understand Orthodoxy you need to live it. I didn't want to live the next several months feeling like I was living in two worlds. My wife was in agreement with me so we decided leave our current church and begin the process of entering the Orthodox church. I'm not sure I could ever really explain this shift we've made. There's multiple pieces and parts to this picture and all of the sudden things just seemed to fit together. I don't know. I think sometimes God allows holes to be torn in our spirits simply because it's the only way he can get more light in us.