Orthodoxy

Just read something about being “truly Orthodox”….

A former Orthodox-convert-blogger, who was quite popular (and controversial) in Net Orthodoxy in his day, then became Catholic, is now becoming Orthodox again–and I discovered he lives near me.  And will be coming to my church.  😀

I’ve been checking out what traces are left on the Web of his old blog, to see what the controversy was in the old days.  I missed it somehow.  Either I encountered his blog many years ago and forgot about it, or he wasn’t mentioned on the Orthodox forum I spent time on, or it was during the time I dropped out from Internet Orthodoxy (after the Richard/Tracy crap soured me on Orthodoxy for a time).

I only found his newly-revived blog recently by accident, through another Orthodox blog’s post which included a link to one of his posts.  And discovered he lives very close.

Anyway, I found this comment by 123 on one of his old blog incarnations:

More practically, one hasn’t started becoming truly Orthodox until you’ve had your heart broken by the Church or someone in it, until you’ve found yourself at a a level pervasively well below what you strived for, and then you’ve stayed put for a few years.

That’s not something converts are prepared for, they aren’t prepared for the real heartbreak of conversion, of failure in the spiritual life (in oneself and others), they aren’t prepared for that ‘abandonment’ on the other side of the awe one experiences the first few years of Orthodoxy.

Yes, Orthodoxy is Pascha, joy, joy; but it’s also the Cross, it’s also pain, suffering, and all those things in the hymns and the lives of the saints we assume are far off, past, poetic hyperbole, or metaphorical.

No, Orthodoxy really the dumps, too. And then there’s also Pascha once a year. All that talk of struggle, the fact that clergy and monks are shown truly falling to their deaths from the top of the Divine Ladder, that’s really what the spiritual life is about.

It’s when you experience and know that that the converts starts shutting up, it’s then that people start assuming you’re foreign and were raised Orthodox (they assume you have an accent because you never speak, and you start looking world-weary like an Eastern European, or like someone going through the motions because it’s all you can muster, and you can’t stop doing even that because it’s simply what you are, even when you’re bad at it.)

And this gave me pause, because that’s where I’ve been for the past 4 and a half years.  Staying put in Orthodoxy even after discovering that my spiritual mentor and idol (Richard) had feet of clay, that he was an abusive narcissist and enabler of abuse.

He’s the one who broke my heart, and he (at least in name) was Orthodox.

And here I am, often going through the motions, wondering how much of it is true, yet still here.  Too stubborn to leave, even though it is common for converts to do so.  According to 123, that makes me “truly Orthodox.”

And I get to see someone who also has had my doubts and frustrations, leave and then return.

On Orthodox praying with non-Orthodox

Recently, and every once in a while, I come across fervent claims and arguments that Orthodox Christians are not allowed to attend religious services of or even pray with non-Orthodox Christians.

This is impossible.  Not only is it unnecessarily exclusionary to fellow believers in Christ, but it cannot be true:

Witness the fellowship between the Pope and Patriarch.  They are attending each other’s services and praying with each other.  If they can do it without being excommunicated, so can I.

Not only that, but many of us Orthodox Christians–some through the blessing of our priest, some because we converted after marriage–are married to non-Orthodox Christians.

Am I no longer allowed to even say grace with my husband, son, mother, father, in-laws?

I am the only Orthodox one in my family, and have prayed with them all my life.  Am I to suddenly stop, even though their Protestant faith is how I came into the Christian faith to begin with?

On Christmas Eve, I went to my husband’s church.  Sometimes, he comes to mine, such as for Easter (Pascha).  Is this not allowed?

I did not participate in the liturgical confession/absolution, of course, because I can understand that being forbidden.

But why not the Apostle’s Creed, which has absolutely no heresy in it?  Why not our shared Lord’s Prayer?  Why not the prayers and the carols?

Every time I see such arguments or discussions on the Web–which I don’t see at my own parish or from my own priest, by the way–I remember the behavior of our ex-friends, Richard and Tracy:

Whenever we shared a meal together (which was every day when they lived in our house), my husband and I would have grace as normal.  I forget who said it back then, if it was me, my husband, or my son, or if we took turns.

But rather than join in, Richard would have his family wait and not bow their heads or close their eyes.  Then he would lead them in his own prayer.

I found this extremely insulting.  As if our prayer was not good enough.  Heck, I was an Orthodox catechumen when they lived with us, and officially converted a year later, yet they still did not pray with my family when I led it!

So I am very much against the idea that we should not pray with our non-Orthodox brethren, because I know what this exclusion feels like.

We all believe in the same God and the same Christ, even though we do not agree on matters of doctrine, sacraments or practice.  And in a pluralistic Church, with so many denominations throughout the world, it is unrealistic to expect everyone to agree with us Orthodox.

I will not share the Eucharist with others.  I can understand that prohibition.

But prayer and worship?  Or attending weddings and baptisms for friends/family members?

Or, if I were still in college, joining a pan-Christian fellowship organization?  Or joining a pan-Christian fellowship organization for adults?

Why ever not?  We are stronger together than divided.

 

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

 

I finally got myself a three-bar cross: My Orthodox conversion is complete! ;) (convertitis)

I got one of these a few months ago:
http://www.skete.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=product.display&Product_ID=2752&Category_ID=110 [link no longer works; was a three-bar cross]

…Because, until I got that three-barred cross, my other crosses just didn’t seem “Orthodox” enough.  And goodness knows, if you want to convert to Orthodoxy, it’s gotta be all the way, right?

As a friend of mine at church, a college guy converting to Orthodoxy, said, “Like cell phones, the more bars, the better!”

Must have the icon corner with 50 icons…Must have the headscarf….Must have every Orthodox book the other converts have and claim to have read….Must dress like a 19th-century Russian peasant and wear a long, scraggly beard (assuming you’re a man, that is)….Must get upset that the people at church (Orthodox since birth) don’t do it “right,” the priest dresses too Catholic, there’s an organ and pews, nobody fasts beyond cutting out meat during the 10,000 Lenten days of the year–is outrage!

And must subscribe to Hyperdox Herman on Facebook!  Oh, wait, that page makes fun of people with Orthodox convertitis.  Heresy!  Is outrage!

And yes, since it can be hard to get this across on the Net, this is tongue-in-cheek.  🙂

E-mail to Mike: processing my pain

I wrote to my pastor friend Mike on July 27,

My dear true friend and brother, I don’t want this to be a long e-mail, since I don’t want to poke my emotions too much.  But we’ll see how it goes….

I can’t believe nearly a month has already passed since everything went down.

I still get sad, but I’ve spoken to my priest and with some people on an Orthodox forum, and it’s been helping me get through.

One person on the forum said I’m experiencing what’s called “joyful sorrow.”

Instead of giving in to resentment, anger or despair, I’m trying to pray “Lord have mercy” whenever the negative thoughts start breaking in again, and it’s helping me to reach what seems to be serenity and a start towards forgiveness.  I’m told this is how to let things go and give my problems to God.

Of course, the negative thoughts do occasionally remind me WHY I don’t just run over there and try to patch things up.

They remind me how my friend was increasingly frustrating me, getting snarky and condescending on Facebook, refusing to see things from my point of view when he used to be more accommodating, refusing to apologize for anything without it being ripped out of him, when he used to say “sorry” for every little freaking thing when he lived with us.

They remind me how he seems to have been entertaining violent thoughts when he should’ve been praying them away.  I remember things he told me in the past year or so which made my hair stand on end.  I also found an e-mail he sent Jeff just a few days before the “Day”:

He had been sending me these e-mails with unsolicited advice, about something I didn’t want to talk about with him [NVLD] because he had this attitude that I was just being silly.

I felt like he was judging me and trying to change me, got upset, and sent him a blunt e-mail because he told me he wanted me to be blunt.

He got furious with me over it.  He told me he wasn’t judging me or trying to change me and that he misinterpreted my “sharing” as asking him for help.

He e-mailed Jeff, saying something about not wanting to dump us as friends but I “bit hard” and he was distancing himself for a bit.  Jeff and I were on two different computers and didn’t tell each other what was going on; I sent an apology,

while Jeff sent a terse e-mail about knowing what’s been going on, that my friend had been viciously snarling at me lately, and if my friend wanted to know, he’d give him his reasons.

My friend e-mailed back that he didn’t want to hear these opinions, that he doesn’t want to hit him with a brick next time he sees him, that he hasn’t felt so violently angry in many years, that he’s easily provoked to physical violence and will go jogging to get rid of it.

This made no sense to me because he has told me about several different things just in the past few years which must have inspired him to more violence than anything Jeff could possibly have said.

When I saw this e-mail, I stuck it an archive so I could remember why I shouldn’t just run over there and patch things up.

With his wife being a boiling rage-pot who WON’T LET THINGS GO and his own rage (which, when he lived with us, he gave me every reason to believe he had conquered)–Something is gravely wrong over there. 

I pray for him to realize before it’s too late that he has to take seriously the teachings of the Philokalia, the Ladder of Divine Ascent, and Jesus.

How can he become a priest or a psychologist with such things going on?  He used to be my spiritual counselor.  But now, I’d far rather go to my own priest for spiritual counsel.

I’m sending out e-mails trying to get together with people I know here in town, but haven’t seen much of lately.  I haven’t gotten a lot of response yet, but I know they like me, so I guess I just have to keep trying. These are NICE people. 

Like my friend was way back when he lived with us, by himself, before everybody else moved in and my serene house turned into chaos, before he started judging my personality as an “excuse” rather than just the way I am.

Last week, we spent Wednesday evening at SCA dance practice and then another hour or so with the [SCA] people at a nearby bar and grill.  I felt *happy*.  Then on Saturday, two old friends came over for a movie.  These are people I used to know, part of a larger group I used to hang out with.

For some reason–probably a dispute over one person–they stopped coming to my parties, so I stopped asking.  But I kept in touch with them by e-mail over the years, then found them on Facebook, where they’re friendly with me.

So I figure, what the hey?  Maybe I can get back into that group that I’ve missed so much for the past 9 years.  The group where one person is called Yoda and another one had his name legally changed to Merlin’s Welsh name.

Lose one friend, but regain several old ones whose loss I have always mourned…..

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