If I may comment on one or two points you mentioned.
1. A problem with alcoholism. This should not be an impediment. The Holy Eucharist is the Holy Eucharist. It is the Body and Blood of Christ. I know Orthodox who are active in AA and yet commune regularly. It doesn't seem to cause them to fall off the wagon. I don't know if they had a season of struggle or not…but still they received communion regularly. I also know boy, a priest's son who is very allergic to wheat…yet he regularly receives communion and has never been harmed by it or had a bad reaction to my knowledge. Discuss it with your priest. I am sure there is a way forward that when the season comes will not deprive you of the Holy Mysteries.
2. You wrote: "Exclusivity, for starters. My status as an unbaptized, un-chrismated heretic keeps me on the outside looking in. I can't participate in the Divine Liturgy, so once Orthros is finished I feel like a goat among sheep. This can't go on much longer."
This is actually an excellent place to be. I remember the gap between the time I wanted to convert and the time I was allowed to convert 3 years later. It allowed me to own the fact that I had indeed been a heretic outside…at the very least the formal bounds of the Church. I was outside the church looking in with no other place to go and the door firmly closed against me…primarily because there were no Orthodox churches near me in order to receive catechism and allow me to participate in parish life. It was saddening at first, but it turned out to be an excellent lesson in humility…to put my hope in God and let Him work out the times and seasons. I could not demand my way in, or beg my way in…I had to wait until the door opened and invited me in. But God was merciful. That day did come…and I'm grateful it came later, than sooner.
3. You said your priest strikes you as little interested in your conversion or is perhaps a bit dismissive. Be careful about jumping to conclusions. I have heard of priests deliberately being stand offish with new potential converts. They make them wait…fight (metaphorically)…struggle to enter. This is to be sure this desire is not a passing religious whimsy, and they want to see if you are the sort who is easily discouraged…who will give up if they don't get their way quickly. They are looking for soldiers for Christ, not weekend enthusiasts. It may be a little hard on the ego…but gentle persistence…keeping on knocking in hope will in its time will draw down God's grace and the door will open there or elsewhere…even if the priest really is disinterested and not testing you…God is watching and it is He Who through that priest or some other will say "come in and welcome home. The Master calleth. Come and dine."
Keep your hand outstretched to the Master's threshold. The door will open…even if that day comes when you lay shattered in your own human weakness. The Master is the Lord of Life. He will revive and vindicate your patience. He will honor that hand which refused to draw back in despair. Only be patient and humble in your thoughts and faithful in your pursuit of Him. He sees and He will not tarry forever.
In the meantime follow your prayer rule, keep in touch with your priest, ask questions, read good books, develop salvic friendships with others at your parish. If possible communicate with some monastics…and if your priest blesses maybe even go and visit. What you will gain while you wait you will later not trade for gold.
Hi Seraphim. Thank you for taking the time and thought to respond. Of course I know you are telling me the truth about all three of these points, as your advice matches other responses I have received and I can feel in my own heart that I just need to get over myself. Orthodoxy is simply not like anything else; while I could go down the street this Sunday and be welcomed immediately into the local megachurch with open arms, Orthodoxy obviously doesn’t work like this. I think it would be easier to join a fraternity or the Freemasons!
I fully comprehend the explanations for this, and part of me is even attracted to the reasoning. For the most part I don’t worry about it, but sometimes the nagging reminder (you’re not Orthodox, idiot!) just ruins the whole experience for me. It’s like I’m having a fantastic time riding bikes with you, then someone throws a stick in my spokes. If that’s my ego at work, then I need serious prayer because it’s not something I can just turn off like a switch.
One question that persists: if the Orthodox Church is truly Christ’s one and only Church, and if salvation is not to be had outside of this Church (don’t know if that’s correct or not, but I’m assuming), well… what the heck?? My clock is ticking! Every heartbeat brings me closer to eternal damnation, but I have to play this initiation game of humility until someone on the inside becomes satisfied enough to start the process of chrismating me?
My experience has been so far that when Orthodox members learn that I am seeking they enthusiastically, even fervently tell me how the OC can be traced all the way back to the Apostles themselves in an effort to prove to me that this is THE Church. It’s like they really want to sell me something but don’t have the resources or desire to close the deal even though I want what they have and am willing to pay the price.
Some of it is culture shock. I am a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, a club that nobody wants to be part of unless their life literally depends on it. In AA, I get to see miracles – real miracles, not the “my mortgage holder just mailed me an equity check just when we needed groceries” sort of miracle, but true resurrection-style miracles. AA has a shocking mortality rate, but I do get to see the dead brought back to life on a regular basis (as happened with myself). I see atheists come to the overwhelming conclusion that there IS a God Who works in His creation and fall to their knees in tears of relief. I see people who should be dead or imprisoned living out lives of real gratitude that bubbles out of them, compelling them to pay forward what they have so graciously received and save still more lives. These are regular occurrences, but AA lacks one thing: worship of the Triune God.
So I come to the Orthodox Church to worship and am told that although I am not really a member, my presence will be tolerated as long as I am respectful until such time as I am fit to be brought into the fold. If we did this to newcomers in AA, told them they need to get sober and get their lives in order before we accept them, people would literally go home and die. They would drink themselves to death if they didn’t paint their ceiling red first. Yet here we are talking about something much bigger than alcoholism: eternal life versus eternal damnation, and I just don’t get how there can be such a lack of a sense of urgency.
As I read my own words I can see my ego at play here. But is it? To me, humility is a sincere desire to seek and do God’s will, nothing more than that. It has nothing to do with demeanor or a fake attempt at meekness and pretending not to mind when I am being condescended to. I am neither less or greater than any other human, Orthodox or otherwise. I just want to be where Jesus is, and it seems like I can’t just because I didn’t have the good fortune to be born into it.
Okay, that’s my rant and I should be good for another month or so. LOL! Like I said, it’s not as if I’m laying awake at night thinking about this, but still… it’s there. My attraction to Orthodoxy has not diminished in the least, and I have no intention of leaving off my prayer rule or attendance at Vespers. I don’t know if I can keep going to Divine Liturgy, but I’ll try. Would it be disrespectful of me to leave right at the end of Orthros?
I probably need to take my Orthodox friend’s advice and stop looking at the OC like an organization. This is obviously a hangup I need to get over lest I keep excluding myself into the grave and into hell. I need prayer.