I'm not yet Orthodox, and not yet certain I ever will be. But I have grown tired of the confusion of the protestant world, and find myself, the more I read the New Testament and the writings of the early church, suspecting more and more that in some ways, by and large, protestantism is perhaps further from authentic Christianity than Catholicism. I am finding myself strongly drawn to the Orthodox church. I like 90% of the things I believe I understand about Orthodoxy, but there are certain concerns that have remained present in my mind. I feel my opinions are quite irreverent, and I pray that God will lead me. I'm going to visit a near by Orthodox church Sunday, a parish of the Antiochan Archdioceses of America, to investigate further. I was hoping also to be able to have a friendly chat here with some real Orthodox Christians and get that additional perspective to help me come to a conclusion about Orthodoxy, and if any of you will pray for me, I would appreciate it very much as well.
To start off with the positive, I'm attracted to the claim that the Orthodox Church is the authentic church through apostolic succession. I find the claim seems to have some real historicity behind it, and I'm intrigued. It seems to me a real possibility that the Spirit of God didn't stop reveling things to man with the Revelation of St. John, and didn't stop performing signs and miracles after the deaths of the apostles. It's starting to look like the unfolding revelation of the New Testament has been going on ever since in the Church, under the care to the apostles' successors, culmination in the traditions of the orthodox church of which the Bible is essentially the foundational part, but not the whole. The the more I read from the Lives of Saints, the more intriguing the idea becomes to me.
I think for my part I agree with the way the Orthodox Church views Baptism and the Eucharist, not as outward signs only, but as holy mysteries whereby the grace of God is imparted and our relationship to Christ is brought to fulness. I like that the sacraments are regarded with reverence, seriousness and gravity, as is prayer. And I very much appreciate the Orthodox approach to the subject of prayer, both private and corporate. Honestly, I think I would like an 'icon corner' in my home, even though I'm uncertain about the role icons should play in my religious life (something I will discuss later). It would be like having an alter in my home at which to pray, and pray seriously, every day. How cool is that?
Of the things I'm still uncertain about, they are the basic things that most Protestants are usually troubled by, namely the veneration of icons, praying to saints, to the Theotokos, and so forth. Let me first say that I have researched these things, and I've read the Orthodox answers, and from what I've learned I don't see them as particularly frightening in themselves. After all, the Bible tells us that in coming to the Church of God, we come not only to the general assembly of God's people on earth, but to the multitudes of the Angles in joyful assembly, and to the "spirits of just men made perfect" as well. It is logical to assume that God can work through these, as he does through the angles, for the benefit of those of us still sojourning on earth, and if so, then it would make sense that they intercede for us, as we also pray for one another. Prayer is a bond that holds the church together in Christ. It is a common communion we all share with the Lord, and thinking that the angles and saints in heaven are a part of that seems very reasonable and even scriptural to me.
My concerns are simply that I cannot find and very-early Christian evidence that the apostles taught people to actually invoke saints in prayer, and I'm not yet comfortable with the idea. But more than that, I am also concerned that such a practice could conceivably be misunderstood and potentially take away from the Christ-Centeredness of the religion. Though one might outwardly pay lip-service to putting Christ at the center and understanding him as the only savior and intermediary, inwardly I have observed that some people, especially in the catholic fold, seem to love the saints and the Theotokos a great deal more, as though in their inner heart of hearts they feel as though their religion is one involving many wondrous divine beings, the saints and the angles and the wonderful Mother of God, "who all love us and help us, and there's one for ever purpose and for every need! how wonderful, so many saints and angles! And as a nifty little bonus, we got God and Jesus thrown in there too!"
I'm not trying to offend, but I'm trying to articulate my worries. I just don't want to get involved with any group of Christians who have in any way ceased to be Christ-centered in there thoughts or in there prayers, so I want to make sure that Orthodoxy does indeed put the Son of God in the middle. It worries me to see an icon of Christ and an icon of the Theotokos given equal preeminence in any display of icons, and I've seen a lot of that in my image searches. Perhaps I merely misunderstand the gesture. I'm open to the idea that the Virgin Mary has a special place in the heart of God, and should thus have a more special place in my own heart, but Jesus is forever my only savior.
Another small thing, on the topic of the Theotokos. I know the official Orthodox teaching is very much in accordance with statements in the Epistle to the Hebrews which describe Christ and having taken on human form, experiencing humanity with all of its sorrows, suffering and temptations, so as to be a merciful preist to us, being able to empathize with us in every way and in all of our weaknesses. That said, I have also read a number of Orthodox prayers which actively seek to petition the Theotokos to implore Christ God His mercy and compassion on us, as though Christ would not be able to empathize and have mercy on us if not for the intersessions of the Theotokos. The question I must ask when I see this sort of thing is: Was not Christ's incarnation enough, together with his life, passion, and death? Does he still need extra help in relating to the human condition? Another question, (last one for now), do the saints intercede to the Father, the Son, the Spirit, or all three, or how does that work?
Thank you for reading and for helping me in advance!