Pedro asked me to post this here so... this is probably a bit too long, but I wrote it up a number of months ago for a pagan friend who is considering Christianity when she asked me why I converted. She wasn't so interested in Orthodoxy per se, but for me it is the same thing so I gave her the story of my movement from Judaism to atheism to Wicca to New Age-spirituality to neo-gnosticism to pseudo-Catholicism to Orthodoxy. I am not really Orthodox yet, but will most likely be baptized this Holy Week, if God wills it. I have wanted to be Orthodox for over a year now.
Please pray that I will be brought into the Church soon, because I want to be received into it before I leave for college... wherever I go I want to start my new life as an Orthodox Christian.
I was born Jewish, and was actually quite the Super-Jew for a long time... by 6th grade I was an atheist, and in 8th grade I was a Wiccan. I believed in spirituality. I saw something in nature, something I couldn't touch, but knew was there... I knew I believed in love and a Power beyond comprehension, and I needed it, I knew that I needed to feel it tangibly. By 9th grade I had become disillusioned with Wicca, after studying its history, but still considered myself a pagan.
Towards the end of 9th grade, I began to feel drawn to the story of Christ. There was something deeply poignant about it, something I couldn't explain-- but the idea of the suffering god crucified and resurrected... something in me just said "yes," to it.
But I hated Christianity. I always had. My mother is an ex-Catholic and I grew up hating Christianity for all the usual reasons-- i.e. sexism, homophobia, conservatism, self-righteousness, superiority complex, illogical, etc. etc. etc. Christianity, I thought, was a religion for the mentally deficient.
I had considered myself a communist for a while at that point, and I still firmly believed that Christianity was the opiate of the people, even if religion wasn't.
Yet I couldn't help it. The more I read the stories, the more I thought about the story of Christ, the more it touched me. Something about it just seemed... perfect. Not something I could ever guess, but something that spoke to me on some level. Later, when I read C.S. Lewis, I understood why: "The story is strangely like many myths which have haunted religion from the first, and yet is not like them. It is not transparent to the reason: we could not have invented it ourselves. It has not the suspicious a priori lucidity of Pantheism or Newtonian physics. It has the seemingly arbitrary and idiosyncratic character which modern science is slowly teaching us to put up with in this wilful universe, where energy is made up in little parcels of a quantity no one could predict, where speed is not unlimited, where irreversible entropy gives time a real direction and the cosmos, no longer static or cyclic, moves like a drama from a real beginning to a real end. If any message from the core of reality ever were to reach us, we should expect to find in it just that unexpectedness, that wilful, dramatic anfractuousity which we find in the Christian faith. It has the master touch-- the rough, male taste of reality, not made by us, or, indeed, for us, but hitting us in the face."
I couldn't have guessed that then. All I knew was that I couldn't ignore this. I had been waiting for some pantheon to draw me to them. I hated that I *was* being drawn to a "pantheon," but it was Christian-- Jesus and Mary, the Magdalene and the saints... Mary especially. I will never stop being thankful to our Holy Lady Theotokos for all she has done for me. I felt drawn to her long before I felt REALLY drawn to Christ... she brought me to her Son.
Anyway, I looked into Gnosticism. I read the gospel of Mary, the gospel of Thomas, the gospel of Philip... there was something about gnosis that I was attracted to. Later I would realize what exactly I was looking for there.
I *HATED* Christianity. I fought against Christians and called them literalists and hypocrites and told them that Jesus's real message had been about something completely different.
I hated Paul. I hadn't actually *read* much of Paul, but that didn't matter. You don't have to read Paul to hate him in today's world. I used to inform people (it says it on religioustolerance.org-- the name of that site is a misnomer if I ever saw one) about the three forms of early Christianity... Jewish, Gnostic, and Pauline. I would say things like "I like both but Pauline! Booooo Paul!"
I think my first step to orthodox Christianity was a visit to my best friend's church... the priest mentioned St. Paul, and was going to read something from one of his epistles-- which I'd only read excerpts from, of course-- and I was whispering to Kirsten how Paul was stupid, and terrible, and sexist/homophobic/etc. and how I hated him. Then of course, the priest reads some of Paul's words on love.
That shut me up pretty quickly.
One day, sitting in front of the TV, I realized that if I had to take the good aspects of Judaism and what I considered the good aspects of Gnosticism, and put them together... it could not have possibly have been as perfectly put together as Paul's vision... I mean to say his vision which is beyond the wisdom of the Greeks and the knowledge of the Jews. After realizing this, I wanted to throw up.
During all this I began to read some of the Catholic mystics-- St. Teresa of Avila, Thomas Merton, St. John of the Cross, etc. I began to believe in a sort of Gnostic-Catholic mixture of beliefs. I realized later that what I was searching for in Gnosticism was a fuller spirituality-- along with a goal for union with God as the center of Christian life-- separated from legalism, and what I was searching for in Catholicism was the sacramental life of the Church, the communion of saints, the Ark of Salvation that is the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ.
One day while I was in a Catholic chat, I was arguing with someone about something. I didn't actually *believe* a lot of the things that I debated at that point, but I knew the Catholic defenses and I would argue for them. In any case, I said something about how no one (except Jesus/Mary, from the Catholic viewpoint) was born without sin, and we won't stop sinning until the next life. Someone said something to the effect of "don't forget those that have attained a state of theosis..."
Being the arrogant jerk that I am, I was like "oh yeah... except for them." Then I opened google and searched for the word "theosis." To my great interest, a number of sites came up, almost all of them by Orthodox writers. Theosis, I found, was what I had been looking for in gnosis. Theosis is the goal of Christian life. We are saved from our sins, but whatever God empties He also fills. We are purified, and then we are filled with God's grace, His Uncreated Energies, and are made one with Him.
Catholics believe this too, and it can be found in the Catechism (CCC 460, 1129, 1265, 1812 and 1988.) However, it is mostly thought of by monks and nuns, and the occasional mystics. In Orthodoxy, I found, it was the center of Christian life.
I was intrigued, but annoyed. It had taken me a long time to decide on Catholicism (I was thinking of contacting someone from RCIA at the time), and I didn't want that to change now. I searched out Catholic apologetics, something to prove the Orthodox wrong. I read all their arguments, and they would satisfy me, until I would lay on my bed at night and questions would come up, about the nature of the Church, about its unity-- was not the nature of the Church conciliar? Is that not how the Bible and the Church Fathers described it? How could one see have supremacy over another when the center of the Church is the *Eucharist*? How could the scholastic idea of "temporal sin," i.e. sin that needs to be expiated after it is forgiven in Purgatory, fit in with the early Christians' understanding of God as the all-merciful? How could I accept the Filioque, when it was an addition to the Creed and drastically changed the Western Church's view of the Trinity? Why was the modern view of the need for Christ's sacrifice so different from the explanation of the early Fathers?-- and I couldn't answer them. And I couldn't find sufficient apologetics either.
One day I ordered two books from Amazon-- Fr. Aidan Nichols's A Theological Introduction to Catholicism
and Fr. Michael Pomazansky's Orthodox Dogmatic Theology
. I asked God to show me which one was true... I needed to know. I got a letter back from Amazon that the first one was no longer available. I later read Nichols's book online, but that was long after I had read Pomazansky's book. I read Pomazansky and I knew that it was Truth.
I kept reading. The more I read the more I understood... I understood what it meant to be Christian. Fr. Alexander Schmemann taught me what the Eucharist meant. The writer of The Way of a Pilgrim
taught me what prayer was. The Desert Fathers taught me what it meant to live as a Christian.
And the Liturgy, oh my! One thing about Orthodoxy that everyone comments on, Orthodox and non-Orthodox, is the beauty of the Orthodox liturgical life. The hymns are unparalleled, the art breathtaking, somehow silent and haloed with sanctity... but what really got me is that the more I read about Orthodoxy, the more I heard the music, saw the art, saw the people, talked to them... the more I realized that this is a Church which has a sort of childlike joy in the Resurrection of Christ. I swear, Orthodox people never get tired of repetition of that. "Christ is risen!" "Indeed he is risen!"... ALL THE TIME. And every time, it's like new... it's like Chesterton (a Catholic) wrote, the closer we get to God the more childlike we get... and a child LOVES repetition. For all we know, he argues, God could say "do it again!!!!" to the sun every day, and to the moon at night... some of this joy in the freshness of Creation I found in Orthodoxy.
So I finally gave up and decided I wanted to become Orthodox.
Then came the doubts. I found that in Orthodoxy there were downsides-- there are people who argue about jurisdictions/canonicity/rituals/etc. 24/7, as if man were made for the Sabbath. There are people who treat the fasting seasons as if they were the heart of our faith and if you don't follow them 100% you will see the wrath of God. There are people who lack love, just like in every other religion.
For a while this bothered me, because I couldn't understand how people who had "seen the True Light, received the heavenly Spirit, found the true faith," in the words of the Liturgy, could still be *******s sometimes.
But as I went on, this became less of a problem for me. We are all sinners-- that is what the Church is for. If everyone were perfect, we wouldn't need repentance. And the Church is all about repentance. Even in the earliest Church, there were hypocrites and sinners-- reading the epistles of Paul shows that clearly.
As I've continued in my decision to join the Orthodox Church, I've gradually cooled down.The greatest darkness and sinfulness I will ever see is inside myself, so I don't rant as much about other peoples' errors. I love the Orthodox Church as much as ever. I believe that it is true-- I believe that it is the Church of Christ. I believe that the Church is primarily a group of people coming together to receive the Eucharist and love one another in the self-emptying reciprocity of the love of the Trinity. I believe that the Incarnation of Christ has sanctified Creation, and that God works through water, wine, bread, oil, and other fruits of the earth to touch us. I believe that Christ is present today, present for each one of us. I believe that we are called to be a holy people, filled with the Spirit, growing in truth from "glory to glory," forever, always, unto ages of ages.
As I've become more and more Orthodox, everything has confirmed my decision. I see the entire world in the light of Orthodoxy. Everything connects, every doctrine connects to every other doctrine in the simple love and joy of following the Risen Christ. What looks like intellectualism and complicated mysticism in the creeds and praxis of the Church to outsiders are only natural extensions from the experience of God at the Holy Table.
I didn't find Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy found me. Thanks be to God!