Friday, May 04, 2012

Reflections on a decade in Eastern Orthodoxy

Me being received into the "One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic" Orthodox Church
through the sacrament of Chrismation

I've spent 2/5 of my Christian self-awareness in Eastern Orthodoxy. And I have every intention of sticking around for a good while longer.

I was chrismated into the Church on May 4, 2002. It was the morning of Holy Saturday, the day before Easter. While I had sincerely and, I think, accurately identified myself as a Christian for the preceding 15 years, this was a departure, a change, a turning point for me. I took my Christianity down off the wall, reframed it, and hung it back up again.

It began with a hunger. I wanted relevance and attachment, meaning and encouragement, but mostly I wanted assurance that I was gambling my eternity on something other than arbitrary individualism, hunches, and spiritual experiments. And I wanted Communion.

I was married in the Church a few years earlier. Theophilus, the Priest had called me. Friend of God. It was actually a perfect Greek translation for my given name. Hearing it during the ritual made me feel like I belonged, like I was connected, not so much on alien turf, kind of like I was pretending to be Orthodox, as long as I was there, doing as the Romans do (to stretch a metaphor nearly to its breaking point).

But this chrismation day was different. This was not a dress rehearsal or a perpetuation of my pretend sacramentalism. Now I was being grafted into the ancient, timeless, eternal, mysterious Eastern Church, becoming part of it, being identified with it. The difference between a scholastic and a sacramental faith should not be trivialized. It is no small difference. I was leaving the practices that I could apprehend, that I could wrap my brain around and understand and explain to others, for those that are beyond my comprehension, that were forcing me to stake my belief on something greater than myself. I was submitting myself to begin a process of transformation. I was comforted and scared. I was honored and humbled. The God who up until this point I had understood as the one who forgives sins--who "resets the clock" as it were--was now becoming to me the one who empowers sinlessness. I was ready to grow.

Transformation is a slow process. I am more mature than I was ten years ago. But I might be more mature anyway even if I wasn't Orthodox. On the one hand, I'm not sure if "maturity" (whatever that means) is the best sign that this is working. On the other hand, my behavior hasn't been perfect, nor become perfect. I've made mistakes I wouldn't have dreamed of ten years ago.

Did Orthodoxy fix me? Not yet. But it sure is doing a good job of revealing where I need to be fixed. I'd have a much easier time ignoring my character flaws and pretending they didn't exist if you put me back in another faith context. That makes Orthodoxy worth its weight in gold. Given the association of Orthodoxy both with being heavy and with gold, I figure I'm probably in the right place. Somewhat to my embarrassment, I actually figured I'd be perfect by now. They told me it would take longer than ten years. I thought I could prove them wrong. But at this point I guess I'll give it at least another ten years or so.

When the oil of chrism, the sacrament and symbol of my attachment to the Church, was placed on my forehead, I had hoped to see a vision of angels ascending and descending above the altar. I saw no such thing, but I'm still pretty sure they were there.

It is not my desire to present Orthodoxy as a prized possession of mine as if I were its curator. I don't understand it any more or less than those outside it or inside it.

However, it is my goal to be available to offer a little bit of information about my experience in it. I don't claim any monopoly on the truth. I'm where I am because of an ongoing set of internal and external conversations. Like any de facto evangelist, I'd love it if you'd agree with me and become Orthodox. But it'd be absurd to want you to do it just to vindicate or validate me. This is bigger than me. I won't be offended if you don't agree with me or see things the way I do. But you're more than welcome to be part of the ongoing dialogue.

Here are a few of my thoughts so far: