Christ is among us!
While I've been lurking on these boards for over six months, I've been waiting for the right occasion to make my first post. Well, this is it: yesterday, my wife and I mailed 'The Letter' to our family letting them know that we are joining the Orthodox Church.
Here's our story (preemptive apologies for the length).
I was born and raised in the United Methodist Church, baptized by my grandfather, a Methodist minister. My wife was raised in the pentecostal tradition, her great-grandfather having been an overseer in the Church of God. We met each other in a Christian fellowship that was affiliated with an Anglican Church (i.e., not TEC). For both of us, it was our first introduction to Anglicanism, the book of common prayer, and formal liturgy. It wasn't much of a leap for me (in fact, I felt more at home there than in any church I'd been it; I felt it was what I had always been looking for); but was definitely a bit of a jump for her. That said, we both found a home there and grew quite fond of Anglicanism. We were married by an Anglican priest using the 1662 Book of Common Prayer wedding service.
Our first church family as a newlywed couple was a true blessing. It was small, close-knit and full of the love of Christ. To this day, I've no doubt that Christ is present there and the Holy Spirit at work. Having this support was amazing, especially since, all in the first year after we got married: I finished law school; my wife gave birth to our first child; I studied for and took the bar (and somehow passed); we moved across the country; and I began a new job. I get tired just remembering 2011. And I still choke up thinking back to our last liturgy at that parish. I almost kept it together through the service, but by the time I was walking away from the communion rail I had tears streaming down my face. It took all my manly strength just to not openly sob through the finals hymns.
After moving, there are many things one has to do to get oriented to their new surroundings. For us, finding a church home was obvious at the top of the list. Unfortunately, there were big shoes to fill. And on top of that, as you might guess from our backgrounds as described above, my wife and I have widely divergent liturgical preferences. Our first parish somehow managed to perfectly walk the line between our respective tastes, I being thoroughly Anglo-Catholic and she more charismatic (though I never did warm to the djembe that punctuated our otherwise beautiful, organ-led English hymns). But despite the plethora of Anglican parishes in our area, we never did find one that we both enjoyed. Eventually, I made an executive decision to settle on a church where we knew some people and where, despite their insistence on setting the Sanctus to a drum set, the Holy Spirit was clearly present.
But obviously, I was not content. Any yet -and I cannot stress this enough - this discontent was not merely aesthetic. By this point, my wife was expecting our second child. Our family was growing. And long separated from my carefree, alcohol-soaked college and law school days, I was now a family man. I was not only providing the material needs of three other souls, but was also responsible for their spiritual formation and guidance. I became increasingly aware that I wasn't going to be up to the task unless I got my own spiritual house in order.
And so, in between prayers to be a better father and husband, I was praying for God to show me which parish He wanted us to be in. In the beginning, I was asking Him to tell me which Anglican parish we should join. But as I kept hearing only silence in reply, I grew more exasperated and desperate. Finally, I found myself praying simply, "God, tell me what to do. Show me where to go. I don't know what to do. I don't what I'm supposed to want. So just tell me. Just show me what you want me to do. I give up."
He listened - funny how He does that when you ask Him what He wants instead of for what you want. The answer came when I was doing yet another internet search for churches in our area and found myself looking at pictures on the website of an Orthodox church. I suddenly felt what I can only describe as an iron fist gripping me inside my chest and pulling me. I didn't need to hear any words because the message was clear and God was saying, "Go here." I immediately began to just cry. Partly because I was overwhelmed, but also because I knew how difficult this was going to be. But God's answer was too clear to ignore.
That evening at dinner, I told my wife that I felt God had given me an answer to my prayers about our church situation. But I told her I wanted her to pray about it for a week before I told her what it was. I knew it wasn't going to go over easy. Well, a week later she was anxious to know. I recounted to her the experience and that I believed God was leading us to Orthodoxy. Aaaand, she proceeded to cry for probably two hours. No, not in a good way. She was not at all keen on Orthodoxy.
It felt like a sock to the gut. But for some reason, I wasn't discouraged. Inexplicably, I knew we would get through it. I knew God had given me instructions and that He would be faithful to us in seeing them carried out.
Well, the next Sunday the priest at the Anglican parish we were attending was recounting the conversations he had had with various ministers and priests at other churches in the area regarding the use of their facilities (the church is losing their property to TEC). He recounted specifically a conversation with the priest of the church whose website I had been looking at when God spoke to me. The Orthodox priest told him that they were brothers and sisters in Christ and what was theirs was ours and they would be happy to help in anyway they could. That night, my wife casually remarked on that story, "the Orthodox must believe something different than what I thought, so maybe we should take a second look." I readily accepted and tried my hardest to not audibly shout for joy. God is great.
So began several months of meeting with an Orthodox priest in our town. My wife had prepared a list of questions about specific doctrines to go over: Mary, icons, original sin, Orthodox ecclesiology, etc. You know, the easy stuff. And so week by week, we chipped away. Sometimes, with more difficulty than others. But we were fortunate to be meeting with a priest whose graciousness and patience knew no bounds.
Eventually, however, my wife couldn't do it anymore. She felt like she was just fighting the priest every time, and with no help from me, and it was wearing her out. She told me she needed to take a break. I understood, and agreed to not bring up Orthodoxy until she was ready. I went and met with the priest one last time. I explained that, by then, I was entirely on board. I hadn't figured out every doctrine, but I had come to the realization that there can be only one Body of Christ (for Christ is indivisible) and so there can be only one Church - and the Holy Catholic Orthodox Church is that church. Everything else flows from that. I also explained that my wife, however, did not quite see it that way.
Being full of wisdom, the priest suggested I take a new approach. He told me to simply start being Orthodox. Pray every morning and evening before our icons, and before and after meals, cross myself, etc. He pointed out that rational arguments often won't convince someone the truth of a faith. They must witness it. I, he told me, was going to have to become the example of Orthodoxy my wife needed to see. Indeed, in a later conversation, my wife told me nearly those exact words. She'd known too many Orthodox Christians who didn't take their faith seriously or who were pharasaic about it; I was going to have to show her what it meant.
And so I began trying to do just that. I began praying morning and evening prayers before icons of Christ, St. George, and the Annunciation. I crossed myself openly.
No less than a week or two later, my wife and I began a series of conversations. I won't say there were all happy conversations. Some verged on heated, most ended in tears. But we were honest with each other. A source of difficulty, but also I think a blessing, was that we were both committed to attending the same church. That was nonnegotiable.
Finally, my wife saw two things. She told me that she realized I wasn't turning back and that this is where the rubber meets the road with respect to male spiritual headship. So she was going to try to go along. She even got a copy of the Apostolic Fathers to read (!). She also said that she had noticed how I had changed over the past 4 or 5 months. That I swore less, lost my temper less, and was becoming a better father and husband. Words cannot express how this moved me - not out of pride, but out of gratefulness to God for His great mercy, the compassion of His Son, and the comfort of the Holy Spirit. For I knew that it was not I who deserved any credit, but God alone. It was not my plan being carried out, but His will. The best that could be said of me is that I was finally trying, however feebly, to follow it.
We also agreed on a compromise: we would try attending a nearby Western Rite parish (AWRV). [Now, I know this is where some may roll their eyes, thinking that we are a perfect example of the problem with the Western Rite, that it's for people who want to compromise, who want to be "Orthodox, but not too Orthodox." I admit that I felt the same at first. But our priest there convinced me in about 30 seconds. Literally. I will post an apology for the Western Rite here later.]
Our first visit there was a breath of fresh air for my wife (and for me!). Finally! she said. You can be Western and Orthodox. We knew the hymns, the liturgy was familiar, and the people were our people (it is a parish of converts). After service, we arranged to meet with the priest after church the next Sunday. That meeting was a watershed moment. The priest, who came from a background nearly identical to that of my wife, was able to help her see that becoming Orthodox wouldn't mean rejecting her family or the faith they gave her. After that meeting, we agreed to begin regularly attending the Western Rite parish and to see where that led. About a week after that, she told me she was ready to begin catechism.
All glory be to God, for He is great and merciful and wondrous are His ways.
And so here we are. Yesterday we sent out a letter to our family telling them that we are joining the Orthodox Church. And later we will let some of our closer friends know (to be honest, I'm more worried about them, as many are very theologically opinionated).
It's been a wild ride - and it is far from over - but God has shown me, if nothing else, that He is faithful to the end. I can only try to do the same.
Yours in Christ,