I just realized it’s been 7 years already since I started attending the local Orthodox church and began the process of conversion. Wasn’t it just last year? My story is here. Sadly, Richard is the guy who led me to Orthodoxy in the first place, as described in my story.
I sometimes wonder if I would’ve stayed Presbyterian if not for him; most likely. I had only just discovered that it was okay in the PCUSA to believe in universalism, and there was much freedom of thought in other matters as well. But I wanted to find out what the ancient Church believed about everything, because the different doctrines in Christendom were so confusing.
I’ve been going through a crisis of faith for some time, as described here, here and here. I’ve also heard on Orthodox forums (often populated with converts) of falling away after about five years, when the convertitis wears off and you start to lose your fervor.
It took me a whole summer of research to decide to try out the Orthodox church, and another two years in the process of converting, before finally joining. And I kept always reading, reading, reading, to find out if Orthodoxy was correct. I have an entire box full of Internet printouts.
So this was not taken at all lightly, or done quickly. I’ve also experienced so much richness: in the liturgy, the fasts, the Lenten and Holy Week services, the theology, the spirituality, even the Greek Fests which have nothing to do with Orthodoxy.
Maybe the doldrums are simply because of my conversion’s connection to Richard, and the doubt of God’s existence that came out of that.
Maybe it’s the same disillusionment that led me out of evangelicalism to Presbyterianism: the people who make it seem like you can’t truly be Christian unless you’re a Republican, believe gay marriage is an abomination, and put so many limitations on who can do what in the church.
I hated the legalism of so many fundamentalist Protestant churches: head coverings, no long hair on the men, no pants or short hair on the women, no rock music–But in Orthodoxy (not my own church, but many others) are people who insist on head coverings, beards on the men, women not reading the Epistle, getting rid of organs/pews/ecumenism because they’re “Western innovations.”
I did NOT become Orthodox to become more fundamentalist. I LIKED women preachers. But I did not like the milquetoast worship that evangelicalism had turned to, or the doctrine that all non-Christians are destined for Hell even if they have good reasons for not converting.
But after becoming Orthodox, I lost my taste for all the other churches. There is a richness of theology and practice here which has been lost elsewhere. Sure I sometimes miss listening to a long sermon by a skilled preacher. But the focus of the homilies, at least at my church, is not on the preacher’s diction, skits, or bullet points; the focus is on the teachings of the church and living out Christianity in the world.
Also, I must remember that when I first “met” Richard online, he was himself a new convert of only a year or two. When he and I were able to finally meet in person, we both were new converts, and in the midst of convertitis.
I tried not to go to the extreme of, “Nothing in this parish is Orthodox enough, get rid of the pews and organ and change everything back to ‘tradition,’ I’ll wear a headcovering to church and a peasant dress, and I’ll do a full fast even if nobody else does!”
But other signs were there, such as disdain for any theology that isn’t “Orthodox” enough, or any Christian book not written by an Orthodox. (Not that I feel like going back and changing anything in my theology pages or old Left Behind reviews at this point.)
And Richard kept complaining that my church was not Orthodox enough, and disdaining other theologies. Two recent converts feeding each other’s convertitis.
Part of my convertitis was moving away from the path I was already on: becoming more liberal.
I had always been a feminist, but with very conservative views on abortion, homosexuality, housewives. Over the years before converting, I began to move toward more liberal views on homosexuality, and away from the idea that the best way to raise a family was as a housewife.
I now believed that women should have the choice of working mom or housewife without getting grief for it, that it’s about what’s best for your family. I was in favor of birth control, and believed that some married couples should not be parents.
In the Presbyterian church, I examined studies on homosexuality and the Scripture, and more liberal views of abortion. But Internet Orthodoxy led me off that track, into a strict view against homosexuality, against legal abortion, against birth control, even against being a working mom.
I don’t remember what exactly shook me out of that and got me back on the liberal-track. But I do know that it was a combination of Richard’s charisma and Internet ‘doxy that got me off track, neither one claiming full responsibility; the part against working mothers did not come from him.
Internet ‘doxy is full of Pharisaic zeal against things that, when you go into an actual church, especially Greek, nobody seems to care about.
I feel that Orthodoxy is wrong about homosexuality, but even if it’s right, it is NOT Orthodox to condemn homosexuals, condemn women/girls (single, or young, or dirt-poor) who feel their only option is abortion, or prevent others from living their own consciences and religions (NOT ours).
How about working to make abortions unnecessary, because if you make them illegal, desperate girls/women will still take some dangerous herb, use a coat-hanger, or get butchered in some back-room abortion.
I don’t see how this makes me “unOrthodox,” or how it’s “unOrthodox” to vote Democrat to try to make a better life for the poor, weak and downtrodden.
Richard told me he hates Democrats, and had some extremely harsh things to say about Democrats and their policies. But I became a Democrat partially BECAUSE of the things I saw him going through as a dirt-poor person. The same feeling which led me to take him in and help him in his poverty, is what led me to become Democrat.
But as written in On Becoming and Remaining an Orthodox Christian:
We come to the Church and we remain in the Church in order to save our souls, and nothing else. Church is not a hobby, a game, a private interest, a pretence, or even a community. It is our soul’s salvation.
We achieve this by first being ourselves and then being the best of ourselves. If there is anything else, it is all secondary. We must never lose this perspective. If we do, then we are out of perspective and on our way out of the Church.
But this part certainly got lost on the way, both with me and with Richard/Tracy:
In order to save our souls, we first have to know ourselves, searching out and discovering our own faults, sins and failings. Then we have to take issue with them and fight, however slowly and weakly, and begin to tame them and never give up this battle. We will know when we are not doing this, it is when we start dwelling on the faults of others.
If our personal pride is hurt in the course of Church life, thank God. That is what we are there for, to become humble.
This does become tricky when people are abused or molested, of course. It doesn’t help an abuse or rape victim to be told, Stop dwelling on what they did and look at your own sins!
But once you have processed what happened, told about it, and hopefully had some sort of justice, you can begin to focus on your own sins, without justifying what the other person did to you.
To avoid becoming personality disordered, or being constantly angry with others, we need to deal with our anger against the person who actually caused it, not push it down and then take it out on others.
We also are told, right there in the Bible, to watch out for and keep away from wolves in the church. There are whole passages describing how to tell who is not truly Christian, so you can separate from them.
So some judgment of others is not only allowed, but expected, so you can protect yourself from being poisoned by toxic “Christians.” It’s not about how you dress, but if you abuse, use and manipulate others. This does need to be remembered when we are told not to focus on how a fellow church member abused us.
I keep my stories up to vent them out of my heart, and to help others who are still in the healing process after narcissistic abuse. But if Richard/Tracy ever did repent, I would do some serious cutting.
Most people, however, aren’t dealing with abusers, but with normal faults and flaws among church members. Getting upset because that lady keeps running off whenever work is to be done, is not the same thing as being molested by a youth leader.
Threatening lawsuits for anything less than getting physically attacked or molested–this should be out of line. And it is, really; the Bible says this as well.
This website offers a different perspective on converts in the church:
On one level, many Orthodox converts are fleeing megachurch Christianity. They are coming because they want something on Sunday morning besides a rock band and a giant plasma TV screen.
Converts are also fleeing from mainline Protestantism, which is in the midst of a three-decade statistical nosedive and demographic suicide.
At the same time, I believe that most of these converts are coming out of that core 20 percent of their former churches. They are active, highly motivated people. They read, they think, they sing, and they serve. That hunger for more, that hunger for sound doctrine, is sending them to Orthodoxy.
These Orthodox converts are seeking mystery. They want a non-fundamentalist approach to the faith, but they are not fleeing the faith of the ages. They are trying to get back to the trunk of the tree. All around them are churches that are either modern, postmodern, post-postmodern or post-post-postmodern.
It makes the case that churches do need to become more traditional if they want more converts, and to keep their young people. These two websites demonstrate the two different strains working against each other: one says change back, the other one says accept the church as it is.
But this is why I became Orthodox:
There is only one criterion for entering the Orthodox Church and that is because you are convinced that it is for your personal salvation, for your spiritual survival, because it is God’s Will for you, because you know that this is your spiritual home and that, whatever the cost, you can never be anything else. —On Becoming and Remaining an Orthodox Christian