Greetings all. I would like to introduce myself, and since I didn’t see any fora/threads specifically for introductions, I am doing it here. This will be a long post, but I feel it’s necessary to be thorough if I am going to participate in these fora at all. I will begin by giving a general overview of myself, focusing on things I am interested in. Then I will briefly describe my religious background and experiences with Christianity. Next I will explain why I am interested in the Orthodox Faith (and by extension, why I have joined this forum). In conclusion I hope you will see that I am a sincere when I tell you that I want to be a Christian and, more specifically, that am eager to learn about, and experience the traditional Orthodox way, as it was intended from the beginning.
I am a 32 year old undergraduate philosophy student at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, where I was born and raised. I wasted a lot of time (and brain cells) in my early twenties, but at 25 I started going to school. I work in retail and pay for school out of pocket, class by class, as time and money permit, so it’s taking me some time to get it done. I have already completed a minor in Religious Studies (at Texas State University), and my major Philosophy classes have largely been completed as well; I am finishing up some of the core curriculum and hope to graduate within a year. These two subjects, Philosophy and Religion, are the most abiding passions and interests in my life, and the majority of my free time is spent in the study/contemplation of one or the other in some capacity.
I am a voracious reader, primarily of non-fiction.
My favorite religious thinkers right now are Kierkegaard and Tillich.
My favorite book of the Bible is Ecclesiastes.
I was raised in Protestant churches, but religion never “stuck” with me and I abandoned it early on. However, I never abandoned a belief in God, and as I entered my twenties a spiritual need began to grow within me. I took to studying a wide array of comparative religious literature, and investigating various schools of mysticism and Gnosticism-anything but “mainstream” Christianity. I didn’t even know Orthodox Christianity existed. In the end, and for most of my adult life, I have had no religion, while retaining belief in Deity.
In 2004 a set of events began to take place which made me start facing up to the fact that Christ is real, and in 2008 this realization culminated in a situation which caused me to hit my knees in humble desperation and cry out to God for help, and when I did so I called out to Jesus Christ, whom I had refused for all those years. Alone and scared, I called His name, and I recited the Lord’s prayer, over and over. And in the hardest, darkest time of my entire life He came to me in such a way that I could never, would never doubt His reality, nor His saving grace. I cannot relate the entire story here but it changed my life.
I immediately found a religious student group on campus and started attending church. I knew I wanted to find a place where the focus was on a personal, meaningful, spiritual walk with God, and I ended up (with the help of my brother, an ever faithful Pentecostal preacher) with the Assembly of God. Within a month I was baptized in a river.
Despite my best intentions this did not last long. I am going to be honest here- I do not like Protestantism. I do not like proselytizing. I do not like evangelism as it exists in the American South. And I do not like people or groups who insist that conservative political beliefs are a necessary part of Christianity. I do not like preaching, and I cannot stand anyone who uses the pulpit for the propagation of political ideas. Hypocrisy runs deep in the Christendom I have experienced, and I have encountered more people who follow their own twisted versions of “Gospel” than who actually concern themselves with the teachings of Christ in Scripture. I do not like largely uneducated people galavanting around and preaching as if they have somehow unlocked the keys to thousands of years of theological debate, while they go on teaching things that have nothing to do with Christianity as it was practiced by its founders. Their churches are centers of mindless groupthink in which blind conformity is an unwritten (though strictly enforced) law, and questions are frowned upon. Oh, and my studies in Philosophy? I “think too much for my own good,” they say. They have literally scoffed at me, suggesting I change my studies to more “practical” concerns, while they continue in their deep rooted racism and close-minded bigotry. They tell me that what’s important is what’s in the Bible, while refusing to hear that their English translations have, at the very least limited (and possibly corrupted) the teachings, and caused them to grow ignorant of many layers of meaning. If you do not believe exactly what they believe, you are “not a Christian,” they say, while preaching against judgment in the same breath. They insist on sola scriptura, and then teach unscriptural doctrines, and ignore certain parts of scripture altogether. They told me that if you didn’t speak in tongues you weren’t really saved, and that praying for intercession to the Blessed Virgin was sinful (I had already encountered this practice in online researches and was saying such prayers as a part of my personal worship and practice). I wrote a respectful yet biting letter to the man who had baptized me, explaining what I’d encountered in his “church,” and my association with them was ended.
Again I found myself, although wanting for the first time in my life to “be Christian,” drifting away from Christendom. I continued my online researches into the Orthodox Faith. This was in 2009. I read everything on the OCA’s website. I read “The Orthodox Church” by Kallistos Ware. I read the OrthodoxWiki. I was very impressed with my findings. I find that the Eastern approach to religion in general, is far more enlightened that Western developments, and that the “Westernization” of Christianity has, at the very least, diluted this beautiful religion.
My first visit to an Orthodox Church, in 2009, was to St. Elias Orthodox Church in Austin Texas. It was beautiful. It brought tears to my eye and a feeling within I can’t explain. The chanting, the iconography, the service itself was magnificent. However it was my only visit to a Church; my job forced me soon thereafter to move, and I have not lived anywhere near an Orthodox Church since then; otherwise i would go to it.
Over the last few years, and for the same reasons as before, I haven’t had anything to do with organized religion. I do not agree with the teachings of the protestant churches that I’m aware of, and I do not fit in with the “religious right,” with which I am surrounded. As I have stayed away from churches, I have again found myself drifting away from God altogether. However, since the new year I find my spirit once again in unrest. I often sit and listen to Orthodox chants in English, and I have been praying daily, and something within me says “Christ is the answer.” I know I will not be at ease until I quit turning from religion and instead embrace it, and when I survey Christendom from my little corner of the world, it is the Orthodox Faith which calls to me. I don’t know any Orthodox Christians. I am at least 75 miles away from a Church. But I want to learn more, and so I have joined this forum in hopes of just taking it all in.
Thanks for having me. -Cody