Reblog: The Adoration of the Konvertsky

From Second Terrace’s The Adoration of the Konvertsky:

I will deal more ethically with the reflexive irony. How go the konvertsky — that famous (or infamous) influx of unlikely American Anglicans and distraught establishment Protestants, and even more unlikely mishmash of “free church” Evangelicals and Charismatics — that immigrated into that patently odd jurisdictional ambiguity of the American Orthodox Church?

I hope that the majority of those who have left their own heterodox “Ur” and entered the Orthodox nave of Canaan have stayed. I hope that they and their families have continued along the eternal path of becoming, and have tasted the first fruits of theosis. I hope they have learned of the Church’s tradition and “theoria,” and have become wise in responding to the foolhardiness of this contemporaneity. I hope they have become adept at fighting the passions, and fending off the feints and wiles of the loathsome powers.

…There are, as you might expect, anecdotes, as far as data is concerned. I am aware of several narratives of ex-protestants who tell stories of disillusionment after five to ten years in Orthodoxy. The first apprehensions of beauty have worn off, and the frustration of relationships and disappointments have set in.

Other, more extreme, narratives include the exposure to egregious ecclesiastical misbehaviors. Some converts have seen Bad Things — and some of these converts have had Bad Things done to them. Some of them have seen persons in the Church not only ape the patterns of the world (“world” in its negative, not John 3.16, sense) — but have seen churchmen actually surpass the world in worldly behavior. Some converts have seen the Church replicate the marketplace DNA, having given religious preference to the term “entrepreneur” and have adopted the management-by-objective procedure and newspeak of corporate America.

…You take Communion differently now, and Chrismation is a one-way seal. You never experienced those things before — but the other part of deification is a providentially-ordered sequence of burden-bearing and grace-sharing. The disappointments from other people are such that God has elected you to bear that particular burden, and to bear His Grace to those particular people.

Yes, they hurt your feelings, but in our hurt feelings is His strength made manifest, and through our hurt feelings do we find the sufficiency of His Grace.

The entire blog post is here; it goes into the various kinds of converts–from the former Evangelicals and fundies, such as me, to former mainline Protestants–and various reasons why we can get disenchanted with Orthodoxy.  It includes the political right-wingers and left-wingers.  It goes into reasons why we should stay put and work on our own judgmentalism (wherever we fit on the spectrum of converts).

 

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7 Years of Orthodoxy; struggles in continuing; should I stay Orthodox?

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

 

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Trying to Explain the Wreck of My Faith to a Worried Husband

There is one very frustrating thing which made me glad, in the “old days,” to have Richard to talk to: Richard understood spiritual searching and questioning, while my husband seems to see every question or exploration I make into theological issues, as the sign of the End of My Faith.

For example, the questions I had about such things as Hell, who goes there, is it eternal, all led me to Orthodoxy–but along the way, he seemed to think my questions would lead me to atheism.

I held certain theological positions based on my Nazarene upbringing, which got him asking how any Christian could believe that way.

Those positions, by the way, also led me to Orthodoxy, because the search I started to show him I was not a heretic, led me to discover that many of the things my dad had taught me, were very similar to Orthodox beliefs.  (This is all related to the Harrowing of Hell and the meaning of Old Testament sacrifices, could Old Testament pagans be saved, that sort of thing.)

Ever since at least as far back as 2005, I’ve had occasional doubts that the supernatural and God even exist.  We have all sorts of evidence, yes, but where is the proof that cannot be explained away as hallucination, brain malfunction, lack of sleep/food, or other natural causes?

Then I found “The River of Fire” by Alexandre Kalomiros, and that doubt vanished for quite some time, as I finally found the pearl of great price, the evidence that God was not a stern judge, and that Hell was not filled to the brim with good people who happened to be Buddhists or Muslims instead of Christians.

No, I can’t call a sweet, pious, loving Muslim woman, truly evil and depraved just because she happens to believe in Mohammed instead of Christ.

In Orthodoxy, I found prayers being answered as I prayed during Divine Liturgies and asked for the prayers of the Theotokos and saints alongside my own.

The doubts did resurface at times; I remember asking Richard about these questions during this time.

But friends I’d made over the years had drifted away, as they tend to when you change churches, or change jobs.

In one situation, I kept inviting to parties a friend with whom my other friends had problems.  My main group of college friends and I were still close via e-mail, but we were scattered around the state, too far to see each other often.

My husband and I would try to make new friends, but it just wouldn’t work out.  He no longer did stuff in the SCA, because he kept having arguments with people, and our son was a toddler, making it more difficult to do much in the SCA.

As for another group of friends, he had a falling-out with one, the husband stopped coming to the gaming group as well, and the other couple had work schedules which did not work with ours.

So I was desperately lonely.  I was starting to get to know people at my new church, but I’m shy and introverted, so it is always a struggle, and I was alone because my husband did not want to be Orthodox.

During Divine Liturgy one day, I prayed for a friend.  It was in my head, not something that Satan could detect, because he can’t read minds the way God can.  So it seemed a safe prayer that only God could answer.

A few months later, God seemed to provide this friend, as Richard moved his whole family to my city.

Richard and I had been friends for a couple of years, meeting on an Internet forum and also talking on the phone, so that I trusted him, believed in him, thought we had connected on a spiritual level.

He was my spiritual mentor, the one who led me to Orthodoxy and helped me every step of the way with my questions, who explained various parts of the faith to me.  He was the one to whom I spilled all the private details when my dad left my mom for a short time.  I didn’t even tell my college friends what I told him.

And now he was moving to my city.  A friend again at last!  An answer to prayer!  And for quite some time, it seemed that God had predestined us to be friends, that we were meant to help each other, bless each other.

…Which is why my faith has been so sorely devastated since Richard turned his back on me and betrayed me just two and a half years later.

More and more evidence keeps coming out that Richard was not at all what he claimed to be.  That he hasn’t reformed from his young and wild “evil” days as much as he claimed.

That he was keeping things from me,  deceiving me.

That he would convince me his liberties were all platonic, but I would be treated otherwise for believing and trusting him.

That he was a violent person, not just past violence which he claimed to be defeating with the tools of Orthodoxy, but was still violent and dangerous.

That he complained that his wife abused him and the children, when he himself turned out to be an abuser, beating one child mercilessly when she was little, then choking her to unconsciousness when she was 9.

That he was using me for my generosity.

He threatened my husband.  He turned on me.  He threatened me and has been stalking me online for months, when he knew very well I wanted him to go away and leave me in peace.

His cruelty has been unbelievable.  I never would have expected this from him.

How could God answer my prayer with a curse?  If, indeed, there is a God?  I suppose a deep question which I barely dare to admit even to myself is, not just how could Richard betray me, but How could God betray me?

This wasn’t the only thing that brought it back up, however.  On June 9, 2009, I watched the movie The Seventh Seal; it explored the same feelings I had about death, that we can’t really be sure what will happen, that we are afraid of the void, of going into emptiness.

I e-mailed Richard about this, since I could safely talk to him about these fears.  I know from this e-mail that those feelings had been stirring again in me already in 2009.

But the true test of faith did not come until Richard’s betrayal more than a year later.  Then everything just fell apart.  Then I no longer knew what to believe.  The first time I wrote about this was Fighting the Darkness.

My husband and I have discussed this before.  I try to put his mind at ease, try to explain that in Orthodoxy and Catholicism, this is called the Long Dark Night of the Soul.  I try to explain that saints have gone through this, that Mother Theresa suffered from it for 50 years, that it’s actually considered a mark of mature faith to go through this and yet keep at the faith rather than just chucking it all and becoming an atheist.

But he keeps bringing it up again and again.  He just doesn’t understand the constant questioning of an intellectual, that not only can I not help the constant questioning and analyzing my brain does of everything, but that I don’t want to.

If I were to lose all these constant questions and thoughts and the drive to research, I would lose what makes me creative, what makes me comfortable with my own company, what leads me to write and draw and lose myself listening to music.  I would feel lonely without my thoughts.

But he thinks I over-think.  He thinks I should be like him and just ask a question for a few minutes, resolve it and not think about it anymore.

But I don’t want to be like that.  It seems that if I became that way, I would lose my drive for life.  What would keep me going if not those endless questions and searches which keep me looking for answers?  Just day-to-day drudgery of housework, exercise and getting my son to school?

Yesterday, my husband became very concerned yet again, wondering how I could be so comfortable with questions and doubts in my head that never go away completely.  But this is what I live with.

Without those questions, I still would be a fundamentalist Nazarene who believes that dancing, alcohol, and going to movies is sinful, who believes that Catholics are not Christians and doomed to Hell, and various other beliefs which I have long since examined, found wanting, and replaced with Orthodoxy.

It’s kind of funny that he talks as if I have any sort of control over this.  I don’t.  God made me with a brain that always questions and thinks and reads and contemplates.  Even in elementary school, teachers noted it.

And these thoughts have been with me since at least 2005, have been with mankind forever.  I also see them in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, a work which my fellow Orthodox converts online love to talk about.

He wonders how I can just accept this if it leads to losing my faith?  But I can’t be scolded or argued into reassurance or an ending of questions.  That would just be denial.

It’s not my choice–It just is!  I can no more stop the questions than you can stop the tide from coming in.

And no, it has not led to loss of faith or atheism.  It has, rather, led to a period of spiritual blackness, where I hold onto the Church, hoping to one day be led back into the light of certainty, hoping that there really is an afterlife and I won’t just blip out of existence after death.

I don’t want to end.  I want to see what comes next.  I want to go to Heaven and find that Richard wants to make peace with me there.  I want to see if mankind ever goes past the moon.

I want to know the truth about religion, rather than just dying and knowing nothing, not even that religion is false–because if religion is false and there is nothing beyond the grave, none of us will ever know the truth, because when we find it, we’ll be dead.

And the simple fact of the matter is: If in any way Hubby can explain to me how God can answer my desperate prayer for friendship with a curse, giving me a couple of narcissistic sociopaths who destroyed my faith in humanity and God, and still exist, still be a loving God–then sure, I can stop doubting….

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The long, dark night of my soul as I doubt God exists–because my spiritual mentor betrayed me

I have no interest whatsoever in reconciling with Tracy and don’t really care anymore what she thinks of me, because I consider her an abuser and a bully and the most horrid person I’ve ever known, and I believe she’s a false Christian.

As for Richard, this person I had dearly loved like a brother, respected, trusted and looked up to, this person I saw as a man of God, this person whom I saw as my spiritual mentor and guide, this person I supported emotionally through all his troubles while he lived with us, the person I told all my secrets to, has betrayed me and let me be verbally/emotionally torn apart like a wild animal.

Because of his connection to my spiritual journey, it’s been a struggle not to abandon all the things in Orthodoxy (or Christianity) that I associated in any way with Richard.

Because our friendship and his living here had seemed to be a direct and obvious answer to prayer, my faith in God has been damaged so much that I often doubt God even exists.

Because why would God answer my prayer with a curse, with an angel of light that turned out to be the devil?  The devil couldn’t have heard my prayer, because it was said to God by my mind, not by my mouth.

Two options rise up, both too frightening and repugnant to accept: that either

1) God did answer my prayer with a curse, or

2) God does not exist and it was all chance.

I keep hoping that one day a third option will make itself clear, but for now, I understand how even Mother Theresa could have gone through the dark night of the soul.

I knew the devil would try to get me out of Orthodoxy if I converted, as fellow converts speak of such things online, and he’d already been throwing various things at me, especially during Lenten periods.

But I had no idea he would do something like this that could sear me to my soul with a flaming sword, rip me away from the one whom I honored as the person who led me to the truth, damage me so much.

I had no idea that the person I honored as a man of God, had such crumbling feet of clay, would lead me to the truth and then be the means for shattering my faith.

I can only hope the following is true, taken from an earlier, more extensive version of the above Wikipedia link for “dark night of the soul“:

Rather than resulting in permanent devastation, the dark night is regarded by mystics and others as a blessing in disguise, whereby the individual is stripped (in the dark night of the senses) of the spiritual ecstasy associated with acts of virtue.

Although the individual may for a time seem to outwardly decline in his or her practices of virtue, in reality he becomes more virtuous, as she is being virtuous less for the spiritual rewards (ecstasies in the cases of the first night) obtained and more out of a true love for God.

It is this purgatory, a purgation of the soul, that brings purity and union with God.

From A Saint’s Dark Night by James Martin:

Even the most sophisticated believers sometimes believe that the saints enjoyed a stress-free spiritual life–suffering little personal doubt. For many saints this is accurate:

St. Francis de Sales, the 17th-century author of “An Introduction to the Devout Life,” said that he never went more than 15 minutes without being aware of God’s presence. Yet the opposite experience is so common it even has a name.

St. John of the Cross, the Spanish mystic, labeled it the “dark night,” the time when a person feels completely abandoned by God, and which can lead even ardent believers to doubt God’s existence.

During her final illness, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the 19th-century French Carmelite nun who is now widely revered as “The Little Flower,” faced a similar trial, which seemed to center on doubts about whether anything awaited her after death.

“If you only knew what darkness I am plunged into,” she said to the sisters in her convent.

But Mother Teresa’s “dark night” was of a different magnitude, lasting for decades. It is almost unparalleled in the lives of the saints.

Table of Contents 

1. Introduction

2. We share a house 

3. Tracy’s abuse turns on me 

4. More details about Tracy’s abuse of her husband and children 

5. My frustrations mount 

6. Sexual Harassment from some of Richard’s friends

7. Without warning or explanation, tensions build

 
8. The Incident

9. The fallout; a second chance?

10. Grief 

11. Struggle to regain normalcy

12. Musings on how Christians should treat each other

13. Conclusion 

13b. Thinking of celebrating the first anniversary

14. Updates on Richard’s Criminal Charges 

Sequel to this Story: Fighting the Darkness: Journey from Despair to Healing

 

 

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I start doubting Tracy was ever truly a Christian–so it’s okay to separate myself from her fellowship

Some will say, “If your abuser is or is not a Christian, what difference is that to you?  Don’t judge another person’s eternal destiny!  What’s in his heart is between him and God!”

But whether or not our abuser is really a Christian, affects us, because the answer determines how we act.  There are all sorts of Bible verses instructing us how to act during disagreements with fellow Christians, because the unity of the Body is vital.

But when abusers refuse to admit they have abused, and continue to torment the victim, it is impossible to follow St. Paul’s instructions.  This causes guilt in the victim, who feels far more anger than forgiveness.

It also affects whether or not the abuser should be treated by the Church as a believer, or put out of fellowship because of unrepentance and danger to others (especially the victim).  Do you want the victim’s salvation and healing to be threatened by being forced to face their abuser every Sunday at church?

Victims also commonly ask how a Christian, saved and regenerated, can abuse others–then not only refuse to repent, but take Communion along with the abused!  Communion is not to be taken lightly, as the Bible warns, lest harm come to the person taking it “in an unworthy manner”:

27 So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.

28 Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. 29 For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.

30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. 31 But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment.

32 Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world.–1 Cor 11:27-32, NIV*

From What does it mean to take communion in an unworthy manner? by Matt Slick:

It seems most probable that Paul is telling people to examine their motives, make sure there is no dissension with other believers, to take the supper solemnly, and that they were to rightly understand that it represents the sacrifice of Christ.

This is why I wrote the e-mail to Richard back in July 2010, which Tracy did not let him see by forcing him to block my e-mails.

From Jeff Crippen’s post on the Cry Out for Justice blog,  Repentance and Abuse: Real Repentance Bears Fruit:

And this, once again, is why we insist that a person who is dominated and characterized by a mentality of power and control, of entitlement to what is essentially worship, who without conscience can enforce his power and control over others through the use of wicked means, is not and cannot be a Christian.

You can be sure that where there is no fruit of repentance, there is no repentance.  And where there is no repentance, there is no salvation.

The fruit borne by real repentance and faith always evidences itself in increasing holiness of life and in obedience to Jesus Christ as evidence of having been cleansed by His blood.

We have heard of pastors who tell abuse victims that they must regard their abuser as being a Christian, even though the abuser shows no repentance and his life is characterized by habitual evil.

Being baptized or having said a prayer to accept Christ or being a church member does not make anyone a Christian.

…Oh yes, many unregenerate people appear quite moral. Think of the Pharisees for instance in Jesus’ day. But they never practice their morality out of a motive to glorify God.

They do it only for self and for the gain that it will get them from the world, which they love. Some even choose the facade of religion — of Christianity — and yet it remains only that, a facade.

In reality, the unregenerate heart is hostile toward God and cannot obey His Law, no matter how pious he may seem outwardly. The Christian, in contrast, is grieved over his sin because it is disobedience to the Lord whom he loves and is in opposition to the law of God which has been written upon his heart.

Thus, the Christian will always repent when he sin. The unregenerate never will. Like Esau, he may weep and wail and seem to show intense remorse, yet is it all motivated by a love for self. Esau only grieved because he gave away something he did not value at all, but was sorry that it cost him being first.

[Written between February and probably May 2011:]

It’s a struggle sometimes just getting up and going to church because of its connection with Richard, especially when twice he’s shown that he’ll still take his family there despite our estrangement, and that he won’t tell his wife to make peace with me for the sake of unity and peace in the body of Christ.  

When I see Tracy take the Eucharist but make no move to come to me to make peace, I feel so sick, like her hypocrisy makes me want to run to the bathroom and throw up.

I know at least some of her abuses, not just of me but of her husband and family, because I lived behind closed doors with her for a time, yet she goes to the Eucharist while making no attempt to change things. 

There is also 1 Corinthians chapters 5 and 6, which speak of judging not outside but inside the church, putting away from our fellowship those who claim to be Christians but behave in reprehensible manners, such as swindlers, thieves, and various other things–including revilers:

Reviler – Verbal abuse (also called reviling) is a form of abusive behavior involving the use of language. It is a form of profanity that can occur with or without the use of expletives.

While oral communication is the most common form of verbal abuse, it includes abusive words in written form. –an earlier version of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reviler

From Rev. Renee:

To many of us, the words “Christian” and “abuser” don’t seem to belong together. They are, or should be, a contradiction in terms.

And yet how many of us have heard of a minister’s children who were raised with cruelty and abuse? How many of us know of an upstanding, church-going man- or woman- of- God, who turns out to be a criminal or a child molester?

Who can forget the huge scandal in the Roman Catholic church, when so many of their so-called “men of God” priests were exposed as pedophiles, child molesters who were using their position in the church as a source of obtaining new victims?

Calling oneself “Christian” does not make one exempt from abusive behavior. And calling oneself “Christian” does not make one a REAL Christian, either!

One Scripture which addresses this point is 1 John 3: NO ONE WHO LIVES IN HIM KEEPS ON SINNING. NO ONE WHO CONTINUES TO SIN HAS EITHER SEEN HIM OR KNOWN HIM.

DEAR CHILDREN, DO NOT LET ANYONE LEAD YOU ASTRAY. HE WHO DOES WHAT IS RIGHT IS RIGHTEOUS.

HE WHO DOES WHAT IS SINFUL IS OF THE DEVIL, BECAUSE THE DEVIL HAS BEEN SINNING FROM THE BEGINNING. THE REASON THE SON OF GOD APPEARED WAS TO DESTROY THE DEVIL’S WORK.

NO ONE WHO IS BORN OF GOD WILL CONTINUE TO SIN, BECAUSE GOD’S SEED REMAINS IN HIM; HE CANNOT GO ON SINNING, BECAUSE HE HAS BEEN BORN OF GOD.

THIS IS HOW WE KNOW WHO THE CHILDREN OF GOD ARE AND WHO THE CHILDREN OF THE DEVIL ARE: ANYONE WHO DOES NOT DO WHAT IS RIGHT IS NOT A CHILD OF GOD; NOR IS ANYONE WHO DOES NOT LOVE HIS BROTHER”.1 John 3: 6-10 NIV. —The Christian Abuser- Twisting God’s Word To Justify Abuse

If you were abused by a person who called him/herself a Christian and said that they knew Jesus — I assure you that this was the Greatest Deception and lie that they ever told.

At best they might have heard about Jesus, I doubt that they ever personally met Jesus in the SuperNatural, because when you truly meet Jesus you are Transformed by His Holy Love and when you follow Jesus you turn away from evil, and the closer you walk with Jesus, then evil is no where to be found, so when Jesus is in you and you are in Jesus you can do no evil.

And Abuse is the Manifestation of Evil. So the Counterfeit Christian lied about being an Authentic or True Christian. Just because a Person calls him/herself something doesn’t automatically make it so, look at the fruit of the Behavior they are producing to reveal their True Nature. –Soaring Dove, The Journey Out of Nothingness

On false Christian narcissists, and whether or not we should judge them as false Christians and separate from them, also see:

From Narcissists Suck: No Contact: Because Their Evil is Contagious
From Narcissists Suck: “From Such Turn Away”
Can a narcissist or sociopath be a Christian?

“Let it be understood that those who are not found living as He taught are not Christian- even though they profess with the lips the teaching of Christ.”  – St. Justin Martyr ( c.160 )

I get greatly annoyed by Christian groups who accuse each other of being false Christians because of doctrine or practices.  But the Bible does indeed warn us to discern false Christians by how they act, evil behaviors which any Christian group can agree on, whether conservative or liberal.

We are not told to let the poison of narcissists, abusers, users, deceptive ministers, thieves, con men, and the like infect us just because they’re “Christians” and we’re supposed to “love and accept and not judge fellow Christians.”  Quite the contrary: We’re told to toss them out of our fellowship!

Christ was able to hang out with sinners because he’s God and could influence them without them influencing him.  But God knows very well how fallible we are, how easily influenced by the bad behaviors of our friends.

From the Orthodox Study Bible note for 1 Kings 19:10: “The children of Israel forsook the Lord because an angry and wrathful temper took hold of them, for God cannot be known in that kind of disposition.  He can only be known in and through the virtues, such as gentleness.”

 

[Added 4/26/14:] From a Cry for Justice:

In summary, the pastor’s duty to the abuser is secondary to his duty to the victim.  Regarding the abuser, the pastor must 1) Be able to avoid being deceived by the abuser’s ploys, and 2) exclude the abuser from the congregation in order to protect the victim and the flock.  All of these actions will be costly. —Part 3

 

Prevention is better than cure.  This applies to abuse within the church as well as to our physical health.  It is better for us to create an environment in our churches that is alien and hostile to evil.

A place where righteousness and truth reign to a degree that evil just has to leave because it is exposed.  The question is, why aren’t our churches such places?

And apparently it is not exaggerating to say that they are not because victims of abuse come with the same stories over and over about how their abuser was able to hide, was able to gain allies, was able to be enabled within a local church.  What has gone wrong? —Part 5

 

In the church, unrepentant sin is to be pronounced from the rooftops, in the hearing of the entire church.  It is to be exposed and dealt with openly, so that those who profess Christ’s name yet cause that Name to be blasphemed by unbelievers are expelled from the body of Christ, and Christ’s Name thereby is once more honored.

If a pastor is going to deal biblically and righteously with an abuser who is a member of his church, that pastor must resolve to do so in openness and in truth.

There can be no cover up, no minimization of the evil, no political maneuvering designed to save face or cover anyone’s tail end.

The evil must be exposed for all to see, and the unrepentant evil one delivered over to the realm of darkness, outside the church, in the power of the Lord Jesus Christ. —Part 7

 

The large majority of the readers of this blog do not need to be told that a false gospel, gutted of a call to genuine faith and repentance, is the abuser’s great ally.

This “gospel,” which the Apostle Paul says is no gospel at all (Galatians 1), only produces nominal Christians, meaning that they are Christian in name only.

Survivor after survivor will tell their stories of how their abuser hides in the pews, playing the role of “Christian” and enjoying the affirmation of his fellow church members.

Where a false gospel is preached, false Christians are produced, and an environment that is ripe for the practice of evil is cultivated.  Sadly, we must admit that such a false gospel is widely preached in our churches today, as it has been for decades now. —Part 9

 

Table of Contents 

1. Introduction

2. We share a house 

3. Tracy’s abuse turns on me 

4. More details about Tracy’s abuse of her husband and children 

5. My frustrations mount 

6. Sexual Harassment from some of Richard’s friends

7. Without warning or explanation, tensions build

 
8. The Incident

9. The fallout; a second chance?

10. Grief 

11. Struggle to regain normalcy

12. Musings on how Christians should treat each other

13. Conclusion 

13b. Thinking of celebrating the first anniversary

14. Updates on Richard’s Criminal Charges 

Sequel to this Story: Fighting the Darkness: Journey from Despair to Healing

*Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version.  Copyright @1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society.  Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

 

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Nyssa’s Conversion Story–Or, how I discovered Holy Orthodoxy: Part 4

 

Parts 1, 2 and 3

I bought the Orthodox Study Bible (New Testament version) and began using the prayers in the back of the book.  I began practicing the sign of the Cross.

I left Evangelical forums which opposed everything even remotely Catholic, and joined an Orthodox forum to learn more.

I became more and more dissatisfied with contemporary worship services, megachurch practices and Protestant doctrines of all types–Charismatic, Evangelical, Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran.

I also learned that “River of Fire” is very controversial, though I e-mailed the guy who answers questions on the OCA site, and he said that the fires of Hell are metaphorical.  I also found this in catechisms here and the Orthodox Europe site.

On this and other things, I have to agree with a Lutheran blogger who wrote that it’s hard to pin down what exactly the Orthodox believe on many things, because you’ll read one thing and somebody will say, “No, that’s not true Orthodoxy.  Try this website instead.”

The more I study the Early Church Fathers and histories, the more convinced I become that the Orthodox faith has the pure faith of the Early Church–and that it’s the most loving of all denominations I’ve investigated.

With our local PCUSA church going into the megachurch “relevance” mindset, I just can’t stay there anymore.  There’s a huge crack in the denomination, formed over some 25 years of arguing, and a recent denominational decision has started a split.

Our local church could get silly at times in the services, with skits or people dressed as clowns or silly little movies done by people in the church, and often used Hollywood movie clips on PowerPoint to demonstrate points.  Usually the movie clips were not Christian, and had very little to do with the Bible.

Purpose-Driven Life and The Message Bible were praised and encouraged, but at the time I didn’t know where you could go to get away from such things.  To my dismay, the church had done “Forty Days of Purpose” (based on Purpose-Driven Life) in 2003 or 2004, shortly before we began attending in June 2004.

Adult Sunday School classes were based on such things as “praying the movies” (something about using Hollywood movies to inspire prayer–I don’t understand it) and other theologically iffy subjects.

Once, a newcomer led a class on End-Times prophecy.  The PCUSA is amillennialist, and the General Assembly once brought up a resolution for churches to make clear to their congregations that Left Behind books have poor theology.

However, I later heard from other church members that the class leader, who came from a fundamentalist background, taught the premillennial dispensationalism which is in the Left Behind books, rather than Presbyterian views on End-Times prophecy.

In September or October of 2006, when we were still going to the PCUSA church, the pastor announced that the 10:30 service would be “blended,” with contemporary and traditional worship.  I thought it already was blended, since we sang contemporary fluff along with the hymns.  But apparently, “blended” meant even more contemporary fluff and even fewer hymns.

I sang the songs along with everybody else, but I felt so–empty, strained.  I feared the songs did not please God because they did not fit a “proper” worship service–maybe a youth group meeting, but not a worship service.

I had only just read in the Old Testament God’s prescription for worship: complete with beautifully crafted artwork, rich clothing, and ceremony, far more like a Catholic Mass or Orthodox Divine Liturgy.

And sometimes the theology of the songs seemed wrong.  If you don’t know what these modern praise and worship songs are like, combine Evangelical theology, pop psychology, the motions of kids’ songs, trite lyrics, and formulaic, mass-produced pop music.

I looked over the books and class descriptions for adult Sunday School for the fall.  The books were from Willow Creek and other Evangelical sources; the topics included something about laughing your way to a good marriage.  Was this a Presbyterian church, or an Evangelical or non-denominational church in the tradition of Willow Creek and Saddleback?

Because of man-centered worship services, weight rooms, food courts, coffee shops, iffy theology and the fact that Purpose-Driven Life and Purpose-Driven Church were written by a megachurch pastor, I had a dim view of any church trying to imitate a megachurch.

One week, after the changes of fall 2006 in our PCUSA church, I had to stay home from church, indisposed as I often was in those days.  Cugan came home with notes about a sermon based on some passage in the Old Testament.  A new temple was being built and celebrated, but the old folks, who remembered the old temple, cried.

I saw it as the old folks being sad over the past and happy to see a new temple to replace what was lost.  The pastor interpreted it as showing that people get upset when changes are made, but changes still need to be made.

When I was able to go to church, the pastor praised the concept of making worship more “relevant.”

Another Sunday, when I was indisposed again, I recalled the sermon was something interesting, though I forgot what exactly, and asked Cugan to take notes.  It was, “What does it mean to be Reformed and Always Reforming?”  (This is a catchphrase of the PCUSA.)

I thought this meant, the PCUSA struck out the horrid section in the Westminster Confession about unelect babies who die being eternally condemned.  I thought it meant women being preachers.  I thought it meant constantly examining the Scriptures to make sure nothing has been misunderstood.  But apparently, now it means how you worship.

Cugan came home and reported some astonishing things.  The pastor passed out copies of the article “Surviving the Rapids of Change?” by Herb Miller and Lyle E. Schaller.  This article came from the January 2006 issue of The Parish Paper.

I don’t know much about this publication, but it’s a newsletter for pastors, published by the Conservative Mennonite Conference (source); the website is here.

Following are the pertinent points of “Surviving the Rapids of Change?”:

1) Mainline congregations with traditional services are shrinking; various congregations with modern services are thriving.

2) The American culture has moved from Producer-Driven to Consumer-Driven; people go wherever the church meets their needs.

3) There has been a shift from inherited allegiance to personal choice.  Children no longer stick with one job, one career, or their parents’ church.

4) The Baby Boomer culture is driving the modern worship/church trends.  (Eh, so they’re the ones to blame?)

5) Thriving congregations replace the organ with a band, replace the hymnal with PowerPoint praise music, replace missionary spending with building a relationship with a sister church in Poland or Peru, replace adult Sunday School with peer-led relational groups, and double their worship attendance within five years.  (By the way, all these fit my church.)

6) A church which doesn’t change despite a push for change from the younger generations, “continues its cherished traditions, with a gradual membership decline, a rising median-age of attendees, and a slide toward extinction in two or three decades.”

7) (The Conclusion.)  “Four sentences summarize the whole scenario: First, millions of Americans born and reared in a producer-driven culture view the current wave of consumerism as somewhere between a) betrayal and b) proof that the Devil is alive and at work in this world.

“Second, the most effective way to reach the generations born after 1960 is to be sensitive and responsive to their concerns.  Third, changes in procedures produce conflict.  Fourth, church leaders choose between a) allowing their congregations to sink and disappear and b) thoughtfully negotiating the rapids of change.”

On the front of the article was a Friar-Tuck-like figure praying, “Not my father, nor my mother, but it’s me, O Lord…looking for a place where my needs will be met!”

The church was already thriving and growing rapidly before this new relevance kick, yet starting in September or October of 2006, it seemed that the main point of every sermon–no matter the topic–was, “We must become relevant or we will die.  Relevance is a good thing!”

We also had a new worship leader.  (By the way, his enunciation was so poor that I had to stifle a smile whenever he spoke or sang.  Without the PowerPoint, I wouldn’t have a clue what he was singing.)  On November 5, 2006, right before leading a song, he went on about how relevance is important and, “If it weren’t for [relevant services/music], I wouldn’t be here [a Christian] now.”

After a series of “Dream Sessions,” in which congregational groups gave their “dreams” for the church (we missed going for some reason I forget), a PowerPoint presentation showed the results of the brainstorming.

Some ideas were fine: parent groups, SERRV (fair trade) store.  But there were also pictures of a pool, a weight room, a colisseum….I had to wonder if my church was trying to be a Willow Creek or Saddleback megachurch, with all sorts of fancy, expensive trappings that have nothing to do with the Gospel.  (I talk about this here.)

Then there was a series of sermons on following the dreams God gives you–hardly theological meat.

Because of some trouble with a fired secretary and questions about how the church was run, we now had deacons to help keep the congregation informed about what was going on, and to take care of the big congregation (about 600 people).  Our assigned deacon called and asked if we had any issues with the church, which they were doing with everybody.

Cugan wrote his own concerns in an e-mail: This church was starting to look a lot like the Evangelical Free Church, including the music, and Cugan was feeling wary, because he had felt spiritually abused by the Evangelical Free Church.  There was a push to do things for the church without much emphasis on healing a person’s own wounds first.  He feared that legalistic preaching on tithing would soon follow.

I thought the church was trying to be like the megachurches–not a good thing.  I also mentioned the End-Times class, and wondered what our church would do if the PCUSA finally split.  Some congregations had been going to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, but that was too Calvinist.

The liberal side was doing all sorts of outlandish things; we even had people who prayed to “Sophia” instead of “God the Father.”  When Cugan saw our pastor wearing a strange symbol which looked like an ankh, we couldn’t tell if she was joining the Sophia people (who also incorporate practices from other religions), or if this was a form of cross we’d never seen before.

Around this time, we were asked to be deacons.  That surprised me, considering what we had just written–and that neither of us had any sort of theological training.  Cugan had too much going on, and I was just about ready to escape to the Orthodox Church, so we turned them down.

By now, I came to the conclusion that the Lutheran church was the closest to correct of all the Protestant denominations.  Despite Luther’s shortcomings and coming up with new doctrines and basing doctrines on Augustine’s errors, I knew that the Catholic Church had allowed in all sorts of errors and corruptions which made the Reformation inevitable.

The other Protestant denominations seemed ever more schismatic; Lutherans kept many good things from Catholicism, while the other denominations kept coming up with all sorts of outlandish things, from the Puritans to the Charismatics.  If you disagreed, you split and formed your own denomination or synod.

But from what I now knew about Orthodoxy’s claims, even Lutheranism had its doctrinal problems, many of which were based on the errors of Catholicism.

I wavered between becoming Orthodox, staying where I was or becoming Lutheran with Cugan.  At first, Cugan promised to go with me wherever I decided to go.  But I could tell he didn’t want to become Orthodox, so I released him from his promise.

For a long time, I figured I could be Presbyterian with Orthodox theology, because the PCUSA allows such a huge diversity of beliefs among its members.  But what I heard in church kept grating more and more on my soul as I learned more and more about Orthodoxy.

And what about the liberal members?  Though for a while I was about ready to be liberal myself, I had discovered the errors in their doctrines.  (Some of them even wanted to ditch the creeds, the Virgin Birth, a literal interpretation of the Gospels, and other essentials of the faith.  The Bible was more a tool to prove points by twisting it however you liked.)

But the liberal side continuously fights the conservative Presbyterians, always chipping away at the rules in the Book of Order until one day they make the PCUSA completely liberal–whether by changing the doctrines, or by chasing out the conservatives.  (I’m not talking about political liberals; politics are another matter entirely.)

Then in November 2006, I read Bishop Kallistos Ware’s story of his conversion to Orthodoxy.  His concerns with the Anglican church were the same as mine with the PCUSA–answering questions I had, such as, is it okay to stay where I am, and should I become Catholic rather than Orthodox?

By the time I stepped into an Orthodox church in November 2006, I was finally ready to submit myself to the teachings of the Holy Apostolic and Orthodox Church.  I was exhausted.

The mere thought of going back to the PCUSA church the following Sunday, made my stomach twinge.  I was looking for the oldest, purest doctrine and practice, something I could trust; I found it here.  Here I also found holy worship, and a means to union with God.

Every day that passes, I feel more sure that Orthodoxy is the original faith of the Apostles–that I’ve finally found what I was looking for.  And that’s why I entered the catechumenate of the Greek Orthodox Church on December 2, 2006, and joined the Church on January 10, 2009.

By the way–Cugan has gone back to the Lutheran church and is happy again, as well.

Why I feel that St. Gregory of Nyssa, my patron saint, also led me to the Orthodox Church: 

First, “Nyssa” was one of my favorite characters on Dr. Who.  In high school, I began using the name as one of my many handles on a local Dr. Who-based BBS, the Panoptic Net.

I also happened across an article on St. Gregory of Nyssa while looking through an old Collier’s encyclopedia at my house, as I often did, and was surprised to discover “Nyssa” was a real place name, and that a saint was attached to the name.

I used “Nyssa” after high school/college as my main handle on BBS’s and Internet forums.  I also used it as my SCA name, though not officially because it was hard to document it to satisfy the heralds, even though I have found “Nyssa” is a real-life name that has been used in some cultures in a few variations–Scandinavian, Jewish, Greek.

I began looking into claims of universalists back in 2005 because some commentator in Presbyterians Today wrote that some people in the church are universalists.

I was intrigued, since for years I had been wondering if God truly would condemn, say, a religious Jew killed in the Holocaust, or a Muslim woman who was sweet and followed her religion and did her day-to-day stuff and took care of children just like I did, trusting that she would be saved.

Some people are truly evil and may not even want to change that, even if they have all eternity to do so.

But most people–Christians or not–are just trying to do the best they can with the knowledge they have.

In poking around universalist sites, I found St. Gregory of Nyssa and Origen most often referenced as universalists; I also checked out St. Gregory’s “On the Soul and Resurrection,” which was often cited.

One day, I began thinking it was time to join the church officially, after being an inquirer/catechumen for a couple of years.  That same time, a guy at church asked me when I was going to join, which almost seemed like a sign from God that it was indeed time.

I was not paying attention to what day it was when, soon after, I picked a date, and told my priest that I would be chrismated as Gregoriana, with St. Gregory of Nyssa as my patron saint.

After everything had been decided, I discovered that I was to be chrismated on St. Gregory of Nyssa’s name day, which happened to fall on a Divine Liturgy day that year, which makes me think St. Gregory was guiding me to choose that particular date.  It also gave yet another reason to think that St. Gregory had been guiding me all along to come to this church.

Update 3/25/14: I am still Orthodox, though my opinions on PCUSA theology have altered a bit: I have gone back to being more liberal on the homosexuality debate.

Entire story

 

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Nyssa’s Conversion Story–Or, how I discovered Holy Orthodoxy: Part 3

 

Part 1

Part 2

I no longer wanted to be Evangelical, so becoming Presbyterian (moderate/liberal) was fine with me.  I no longer agreed with Evangelical doctrines, such as the necessity of a “born again” experience for Christians who were born into the faith, the purely symbolic idea of the Eucharist and baptism, baptism being “wrong” for babies, or the literalist view of the End-Times.

I wanted nothing more to do with all the furor over Dungeons and Dragons, Harry Potter, Halloween, public schools vs. homeschools, evolution, school prayer, etc. etc.

The strange thing was, I found out that Presbyterians could be Evangelical if they wanted to, and that my church was Evangelical without the fundamentalism.  It was very confusing.

Still, the PCUSA was a very safe and comforting place to be.  I had no reason to leave it, no reason to look elsewhere.  My research into other theologies was mostly out of intellectual curiosity, as I also learned about Presbyterian theology.

I was on my way to becoming a liberal Presbyterian.  I principally studied both Lutheran and Presbyterian theologies, since they both came from the Reformation and had similar ideas.  I also had some questions about theology, things which I did not understand, trying to figure out which teachings from my upbringing were correct, according to the PCUSA.

The PCUSA does not teach the Nazarene, Fundamentalist or Evangelical version of Hell, a version which I had begun doubting.  But what it does teach is unclear.  I discovered that some people in the denomination are universalists, that it is allowed, so out of curiosity I began checking it out.

Universalist webpages described teachings of Origen and St. Gregory of Nyssa, claiming that the Early Church was originally universalist, but when Constantine made Christianity legal, paganism infused the church–leading to the demise of universalism.  They also debated the use of the translation “eternal” for “aonion” or “ages of ages.”  I didn’t know what to make of this.

Then, one day, some time in mid or late 2005, this guy Richard posted on a Goth Christian Web forum, listing the problems with Evangelicalism.  We were on the same three Goth Christian forums.  He was Greek Orthodox, a new convert.  He wasn’t received very well by the other posters, but I had (thought I) left Evangelicalism by going to the PCUSA, so I was more receptive.

I knew very little about Greek Orthodoxy, so I asked Richard what GO believes on various doctrines I’d been pondering.  He couldn’t answer everything, but his answers amazed me, especially one that said his priest told him that the meaning of “eternal” has never been dogmatically fixed.  I was impressed by the ancientness of the Orthodox church, and that it still uses and understands the original Greek, not Latin translations.

Universalist writers described it, particularly its five ancient patriarchates and various Greek writers, such as Origen and St. Gregory of Nyssa.  I’d been searching for information to confirm or deny the universalist version of church and doctrinal history, such as the idea that universalism was the original view of the Church, only changed when Constantine made Christianity legal and pagans supposedly poured into the Church.

If the Orthodox history matched with the universalist history, then I would know whether or not the universalist doctrine had a leg to stand on.

So I began checking into the Orthodox view of Hell, using websites Richard linked for me, and came across River of Fire by Alexandre Kalomiros in late 2005. It blew my mind.  If you read it, you’ll understand why, after that, everything changed.  As I sometimes describe it, on my way to becoming a universalist, I tripped over Orthodoxy and fell into the Apostolic Church.

I kept searching the Orthodox websites Richard gave me, such as for GOARCH, OCA, and Orthodox Info.  Originally I just wanted to find out whether or not the universalists were right about Church history.

Instead, I found that the Orthodox version of history was a bit different, though it did indeed have the five patriarchates.  Also, the Orthodox had better theology about Hell than the universalists, acknowledging that the wicked must be punished, but more loving than the fundamentalist doctrines I was used to.

They say that Hell is locked from the inside: Whether Hell is a literal fire or the metaphorical fire of the wicked soul’s response to God’s searching love, it is of our own making.

They don’t presume to say how God will judge non-Christians or Christians of other denominations.  The Spirit works where he wills; He could even be the reason why some people who haven’t heard of Christ become Christlike, according to my priest.

The Orthodox point to the way Christ divided the sheep from the goats at the Final Judgment: The goats didn’t care about people, while the sheep did.  They point to the words of Christ that some who called him Lord, will still be shut out of Heaven, because they did not do what He said.

(This may very well refer to those who follow outward forms of Christianity, such as not drinking or smoking, and talk “Christian,” but have no love in their hearts.  For examples, see Rev. Trask on Dark Shadows or the “benefactor” of Lowood Hall in Jane Eyre.)

My dad had told me about the Harrowing of Hades, though he didn’t tell me the name for it; it always comforted me when thinking about the pagan generations who died before Christ.

Then Cugan told me that Lutherans don’t believe in it, and figured those generations would have been saved in exactly the same way as later ones, because the Cross was effective for the past as well as the future.

I didn’t know what to believe.  Then I discovered that the Orthodox do believe in the Harrowing of Hades, and that was a great relief.

I also learned that the Orthodox do not believe in the single predestination of the Lutherans and moderate Calvinists, or the double predestination of the traditional Calvinists.

Rather, they believe in synergy, or God and man working together: It is not Pelagian, the heresy that man does everything on his own power, or Reformation doctrine, that man can do absolutely nothing while God does everything.

God predestines, but this is based on the choices He foresees us making, not on His own decision.  Because He loves us, He lets us decide, and does not force us–just like ideal human love.  This was another great relief.

The Orthodox and Catholics seemed to have similar interpretations of End-Times prophecies; it was not at all like the premillennial dispensationalism of the Evangelical/Fundamentalist churches.  (For more information, see page 1.)

The more I searched, the more intrigued I became.  I used to think the Orthodox were just Eastern Catholics who let their priests get married and had a Great Schism with the Pope in the Middle Ages.

Instead, studying the Orthodox Church became, for me, like an archaeologist coming across an island full of Stone Age people: the Early Church preserved throughout the ages, untouched by the various changes in Western Christianity.

I had issues with various doctrines–what Protestant doesn’t?  Unfortunately, in the beginning I used Orthodoxy and Catholicism as tools to prove to those “fundies” on the message boards that even the ancient churches did not agree with their biblical literalism.  It was a way to prove that the Evangelicals and Calvinists were wrong about literal creationism, the Rapture, God caring about reputation more than us, tithing, etc.

Orthodoxy and Catholicism did not agree with me on women’s ordination, birth control, homosexuality and other issues, so I was not looking at conversion in the beginning.  (I still disagree with them on those issues.)

However, as time went on, and I read various articles on the Web and posts by Orthodox and Catholic Christians on message boards, Orthodoxy became more and more intriguing.

I began to wonder if the Orthodox claims were correct–Did it really have Apostolic Succession, or the Spirit passed from one bishop to another, a succession which was broken by the Protestant churches?  Would I really “plug into” the current of the Holy Spirit by becoming Orthodox?

Was the Holy Spirit not absent from, but diminished in, the other churches?  Was the Eucharist really the body and blood of Christ?  Was women’s ordination truly not an issue of gender, but of the priest representing Christ, who in His earthly form was male?

Did the Early Church look more like Orthodoxy or Catholicism than like the Evangelical churches which claimed to imitate the Early Church?  Was it truly desecration to cremate?  Was it truly wrong to use birth control to prevent having children when you weren’t poor and had no medical reason to avoid childbirth?

Was homosexuality truly a sinful passion, not just “the way God made you,” but something to fight rather than embrace?  Was singing contemporary music in church really a symptom of wanting what I want rather than what God wants in worship?

What I knew for sure was that dozens or even thousands of Protestant denominations and countless, competing doctrines had worn me out.  I didn’t know who to believe.  I wanted to find the doctrine and worship of the Ancient Church, the standard against which everything else must be compared.

[UPDATE: This was written in 2006.  I had to admit, the theology for the pro-homosexual stances seemed poor, and article writers seemed to have no qualms about twisting and beating God and the Bible to fit their views.  But by 2012, I had moved back to my 2005 beliefs that homosexuality, birth control, etc. are not sinful.  I’m also not happy with the rule on cremation, because all these billions of people will fill up a lot of needed space if they’re not cremated.  My views these days, both in religion and in politics, have become liberal–though not to the extremes I’ve seen at times, such as throwing out the Virgin birth and that sort of thing.]

To be continued….

 

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