I do not know why, but whenever I begin thinking of returning to the catechumenate or actually converting, I get very anxious. I also sometimes have nightmares when I am praying and considering my return that seem almost demonic, or at least a type of spiritual opposition. From there it is very easy to fall into despondency, something that has happened in the past, and my initial reason for leaving the catechumenate. I have used Western (Anglican and Roman Catholic) prayer/office books for years as my "prayer rule", and whenever I pick up the Jordanville - which has many beautiful prayers that, even away from Orthodoxy, I now realize have become a part of my prayer vocabulary - the anxiety is increased. Orthodox prayers and prayer books are much more fast-paced than Western liturgical forms, and I wonder if that is why I feel an increase in anxiety when using them. Western forms, such as the old Roman Breviary and the Book of Common Prayer, flow more gently and feel more contemplative than Eastern forms. It seems that using such forms is making it more difficult for me to stay spiritually calm and stave off anxiety. I really cannot explain this anxiety, but it can be very, very intense at times, making me want to walk away from it and reconcile with the Roman Church. I have a melancholic disposition that makes it more difficult still. Even as I type, I am thinking I should go back to Rome through one of the traditional priestly societies.
Has anyone else experienced this heavy, excessive anxiety while trying to convert? How did you overcome it?
I wonder if it would help if we look at this from the perspective of exercising? There are different levels of requirements on our body if we stroll, walk, jog or run. Unless we are in real bad physical shape, for most of us, strolling or walking at a leisurely pace would not strain our lungs, hearts or muscles. On the other hand, unless we are in top condition, we would fail miserably at a marathon. I wonder therefore if your anxiety stems from you fearing that the "Orthodox approach" will accentuate your already melancholy disposition and make you even more miserable.
Well, may be your anxiety is indeed justified--may be you are to walk first before attempting to run. I see two questions that you must face. The first is, no matter how gently you start, are you willing to eventually to go as fast as you can? The second question may be, why do you think that Orthodox prayers are exclusively "fast paced"?
My contribution to the first question would be thus: It seems to me that one becomes a Christian to follow the Lord and that He would never ask us to do more than we can bear. However, we often think that we can bear only so much while in truth we can bear more, particularly as we grow in Him. So, are we to aim for being comfortable, happy and content or are we to aim for growing in Him (not that one excludes the other)? It seems to me that, just as an athlete training for a marathon, you would warm up and train, with discomfort and even pain along the way.
My contribution to the second question would be to pray at first those prayers that are not as intense or demanding, or as you said "fact paced." There are many positive prayers in Orthodoxy. How about the following, some short, some a bit longer; some simple, others more complex?
- The Lord's Prayer
- Lord have mercy.
- Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner
- The Trisagion prayers (O heavenly King...Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal: have mercy on us...
All-holy Trinity, have mercy on us...Our Father, who art in heaven...)
- The Creed
- Evening prayers: Now that the day has come to a close, I thank thee, O Lord, and I ask that the evening with the night may be sinless; grant this to me, O Saviour, and save me....
- Morning prayer of Metropolitan Philaret: Lord, give me the strength to greet the coming day in peace. Help me in all things to rely on Your holy will. Reveal Your will to me every hour of the day. Bless my dealings with all people. Teach me to treat all people who come to me throughout the day with peace of soul and with firm conviction that Your will governs all. In all my deeds and words guide my thoughts and feelings. In unexpected events, let me not forget that all are sent by you. Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering and embarrassing others. Give me the physical strength to bear the labors of this day. Direct my will, teach me to pray, pray in me. Amen.
- Evening prayer for forgiveness: O Lord our God, if during this day I have sinned, whether in word or deed or thought, forgive me all, for thou art good and lovest mankind. Grant me peaceful and undisturbed sleep, and deliver me from all influence and temptation of the evil one. Raise me up again in proper time that I may glorify thee; for thou art blessed: with thine Only-begotten Son and thine All-holy Spirit: now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.
- Prayer to the Holy Trinity: The Father is my hope; the Son is my refuge; the Holy Spirit is my protector. O All-holy Trinity, glory to thee.
- Prayer of the hours: Thou who at every season and every hour, in Heaven and on earth art worshipped and glorified, O Christ God; long-suffering, merciful and compassionate; Who lovest the just and showest mercy upon the sinner; Who callest all to salvation through the promise of blessings to come. O Lord, in this hour receive our supplications, and direct our lives according to Thy commandments. Sanctify our souls. Purify our bodies. Correct our minds; cleanse our thoughts; and deliver us from all tribulations, evil, and distress. Surround us with Thy holy angels; that, guided and guarded by them, we may attain to the unity of the faith, and unto the knowledge of Thine unapproachable glory. For Thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.
--First antiphon: Bless the LORD, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless the LORD, O my soul, And forget not all His benefits...
--Second Antiphon: Praise the Lord, O my soul. I will praise the Lord in my life, I will chant unto my God for as long as I have my being...
- Third Antiphon: In thy kingdom, remember us, O Lord: when Thou comest in thy kingdom. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven...(the Beatitudes)
- Psalm 33: I will bless the Lord at all times, His praise shall continually be in my mouth...
- Psalm 104: Bless the LORD, O my soul! O LORD my God, You are very great: You are clothed with honor and majesty...