:: A Catechumen's Walk ::

Catechumen: One who is learning the principles of Christianity.
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The theological reflections of an Eastern Orthodox convert and seminarian
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:: Thursday, June 26, 2003 ::

Re: Re-baptism

OK, so this really kind of profound thing hit me about the whole “re-baptism” thing last night on my way home. Think about the creed for a minute: “I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins.” I have been getting so stuck on the “I acknowledge one baptism” that I forgot the “for the remission of sins” part. Let’s go on a little logical trip for a second.
For me to join the Orthodox Church, I will be re-baptized. They do not view this as re-baptism, or it would not be creedal and they would not do it. Because they view my first “baptism” as invalid, they see this as my first real baptism. This means that, until I join the Orthodox Church, I am not baptized. They see baptism as a real thing, imparting grace by the physical actions, such as “the remission of sins.” I have not been baptized. Therefore, I do not have “remission of sins.” That means I am still guilty of my sins, and damned in their eyes.
I don’t think this part bothers me as much as the lie I feel as though I have been told. Last week, in catechesis, Dr. Rossi was asked his opinion about the eternal destination of Protestants. The lady sitting next to me yelled out, “We’d better watch out, we have a Protestant in class!” It was alright, however, because most of the class seemed to know the answer, and Dr. Rossi was too polite to say it (I think he would have avoided it whether or not I was there). I guess it is the hecitancy to talk about it that bothers me the most. I mean, if they still believe that I am living in my sin, because I am still guilty of it, then I must be damned. Either that, or I don’t get the whole damned/saved thing of Orthodoxy (I am not being facetious; I don’t truly think I understand it). So, they would put me like the rest of the people who have never heard about God, and are still guilty of their sins. Is it any worse to be guilty of “some” sins, and not others? Not in Protestant theology. If I am a really bad sinner, versus a really “good” sinner, I am still a sinner. I guess then that because I have not been baptized, I am just as damned as anyone else.
But then this goes back to the rebaptism thing. What exactly is charismation? What does it do? If baptism “remits” sin, why is it only “recommended” for a Protestant like me to join the church? Wouldn’t it be essential? What exactly does chrismation do that I would need done; if I am guilty of my sins, I need baptism; if I am not, then I need nothing. I am really confused on why it would be “optional” to be re-baptised.
Well, God bless you all. It is the Apostles’ fast this week. No meat, eggs, dairy, &c. Fasting is really cool; if you have not ever tried it, I would recommend it. Prayer is cool, too. In fact, the whole life of the Church is cool. Oh, and yet again, my Protestant friends (who are, I think, the only ones to read this blog), try Confession once or twice. You will be surprised. Anyway, email me if you have prayer requests. Kyrie eleison.

Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 4:55 PM on Thursday, June 26, 2003 [+] ::

Catechism class

Yup, I went to it. It was good. Really, after a long, boring work-day, catechism class is the high-light. Well, first there was a Readers Vespers, and that was cool, but then class was really cool. It is the middle of the Apostle’s Fast (I keep it in as much as my parents won’t know; this means every meal but dinner), so the dinner was…fast-like. But it was good.
Dr. Rossy spoke again about baptism. I have 2000 questions about it, but I was too shy to say anything; there are some people who I don’t need jumping down my throat, and I can’t formulate questions well when I am that tired. So I think I have cleared up the problem of re-baptism (not really, but let’s pretend). There are so many more, though.
First, lets deal with incantations and such. I believe Orthodox think that something actually “happens” in baptism. So, if I force someone to be baptized, does that do something? Someone in the class seemed to think yes; that whether a person knew it or wanted it, baptism imparts grace. This sounds like an extreme view of the sacraments, and almost justifies the Christian’s attempts to baptize people against their will in the Medieval times. On the other extreme (where Protestants tend to stand), there is the idea that one becomes a Christian when he asks Jesus “into his heart.” Then baptism just becomes an empty symbol. The grace (although they wouldn’t use the phrase) that is imparted to the new believer is done so when he accepts, irregardless of the water. This would then make baptism non-necessary. That is the next question: Is baptism necessary for salvation? The general consensus I got in the kitchen after dinner was no, it is not. But it is wrong if you have the opportunity to be baptized and choose not to do it. But then I don’t see how this is any different from any other sin we commit; it can be forgiven if we repent. This also removes the sacramental nature of baptism as a “real” thing. But if we must be baptized, what about the thief on the cross (he wasn’t, and he is the only person we know for sure to be in heaven)? It seems as though there must be a balance between sacramentalism and symbolism. Someone tried to explain it that the believer must consent to the baptism for the impartation of grace to occur. That is very anti-Calvin (total depravity of the believer requires God to take the steps to reconciliation), but it also seems to put too much of a burden on me to be able to “believe enough.” I mean, what if I don’t? What if I still have doubts as I am baptized? Does the sacramental nature of the thing not work? OK…second set of questions…
Do I need to be baptized? It sounds like a simple question, and it closely relates to the first, but it is fundamental. At this point, I cannot even view myself as becoming a catechumen because I can’t deal with the concept of re-baptism (which would imply renouncing my “parents” church (the church which raised me) as completely wrong and their baptism as invalid). So, I won’t become a catechumen over this issue. I can’t say that they are entirely wrong. I don’t see what is wrong with going to an Orthodox Church all my life, not being baptized, but still being there. I think it is only at St Seraphims where I am really expected to leave for the Litany of the Faithful; many people here though I was Orthodox (before I started leaving). So I don’t see why I can’t just keep going to Orthodox Churches, while remaining baptized in the faith in which I was raised. Sure, I think theology is fun to mess with, but I don’t think I can make any life changing decisions with it.
Wow. That last sentence is weird. Usually I write blogs as a stream of consciousness (as you can probably tell). I guess that is why I can’t make the jump to become a catechumen. I can’t view this theology that I so passionately love as really changing my view of life. I am still fundamentally a Protestant; I just go to an Orthodox Church and read about Orthodoxy. How can I change? This reminds me of a conversation I had last Friday with Fr. Phillip. I posted that I talked theology with him; that is true. I didn’t really add that he asked me one question at the end, and said we had to talk about it “next time.” He said, “ ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.’ You want to see God, Erica, so what does it mean to be ‘pure in heart.’” After thinking, I believe his point was that I am approaching all of this too intellectually. I don’t know. Anyway, sorry for this digression. God bless you, and pray for me, a sinner.

Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 4:40 PM on [+] ::

I Shouldn’t Go To Church [A post from 6.22.03]

I shouldn’t go to church. Ever. None of us should. We don’t deserve to be there. It is Tuesday evening, and I have just come from work to church. I left my house at 8AM, and it is almost 6:30; I have been on my feet for 10 hours working with frazzled people. I get to church, but they have already started. I am late, my head scarf won’t stay on, and it doesn’t match my skirt.
The thoughts buzzing in my head won’t be silenced. What would class be like tonight? Is there a paper with these words? I hate being this sweaty. I don’t think I can stand for another hour. Why did we start early? What if I don’t get home in time?
Enter Church. Church is holy. God is there. I cross myself, and kiss the door before opening it. As I step into the narthex, the smell of incense hits me. It is hotter in here than outside, but I can’t tell. I find a place to stand. The ache of my knees slowly subsides as I meet God. I find myself awed by Him, relaxing in the church with its familiar smells, constant chanting, and beautiful ikons.
I had brought the world in on my shoulders. As I stand, it slowly dissipates as the smoke to the cupola. By the end of the service, I am at home; I am comfortable, and relaxed. A sense of peace that I cannot describe is with me as I leave. I was in God’s house; I spoke with God; God is here.
I feel guilty now. Somehow, as I entered that all-holy House of God, by bringing the world in on my shoulders, I defiled it. I figure that all of the sin and general “worldliness” I carried on my shoulders had to go somewhere. I hope that I didn’t somehow “pollute” the holiness of that place. I can’t really describe the peace there; it is beyond words. But I hope that the holiness of God’s house will always remain greater than the “world” with which I pollute it. I wonder then, how does it get more holy? God is there. That is why it is holy. God is there because it is a sacred place. Protestant, you don’t know what a sacred space is. Go to an Orthodox Church. That is a sacred space. Yes, matter does matter. I was in a holy place.
I don’t deserve to go to church. I just pollute it with the “world.” Really, I feel as though there are people who deserve to go to church. They are really pious people, and don’t seem to bring in the same worldliness. I hope that my worldliness never corrupts their piety. It is so refreshing and encouraging to see people like Bridget and Michael and Petar at church. The three of them, along with all the clergy and diakonate, are so pious. But Petar, Michael, and Bridget especially. I should tell them, but I am too shy. Bridget just has the look about her of one who has spent years in prayer. Children love her, and she helps stressed parents control little ones. On Tuesday nights, when everyone else goes to Vespers, Michael cooks for the catechumens and helps around the church. He rings the bells, is an altar server, and generally does the invisible tasks. Petar is like Michael; he is everywhere when you need him. He sells the candles and stuff before service; like Michael, instead of celebrating, he is helping. Yup, there are some pretty pious people at church. I don’t deserve to be there. But by the grace of God, I go. I love it so much; just being there, amongst those who are holy in a holy place. It is my privilege, not my right, to go to church.

Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 4:40 PM on [+] ::

:: Wednesday, June 18, 2003 ::
Addendum to last post, and Catechism class

Arg. So, firstly, I am working 10-hour days now, so I will probably post less. But I am making money to go to school. That is good.
Anyway, all work aside, this is a blog about church, and church shall remain the subject. So, I have catechism class on Tuesday nights. Firstly, I must finish an even more embarrassing addition to my blog about God’s sense of irony. In brief, I made out a life-time confession of all my sins, then left it in church. I was very sure that if someone found it, they would throw it out without reading it, or knowing to whom it belonged. Nope. OK, so after an Akathist to the Theotokos (Akathist= “without sitting,” which is not descriptive, since we never sit in church; we don’t even have chairs if we wanted) (The name of the parish is Protection of the Virgin Mary, so we do pray to her quite a bit), I was walking off to class while a lot of the people from the parish were going to a meeting. At the Akathist, there were about 30 people, and only 6 for class, so there were a number going to the meeting. Anyway, Father Deacon Jeremiah, to whom I have never been formally introduced or really met, came up and said, “Oh, Erica, I have something I think is yours.” He handed me the still-folded four page life-time confession I had left on Saturday in church. Wow. I grabbed it, hopefully muttering some word of thanks before silently dying in my embarrassment. Of course, Deacon didn’t say anything, but rather walked off to the meeting. I think he knew what it was; what I don’t know was how it was traced back to me. I know at least that once he figured out what it was, he didn’t read any further, but the part about him knowing it was mine (when he doesn’t even really know me) was a little disturbing. Oh, well, I got over it…
So, class was its own thing. I got so frustrated last night. I come from such a different background than the East. I am just beginning to be introduced to Eastern ideas, so I am slow. We discussed baptism and re-baptism, a subject about which I have many questions. Mostly, I felt as though I was the only Protestant there (I was, but I am not even too Protestant anymore), and I was getting attacked for what I thought. I mean, I love all the people there, but when they say things that I have always fought, it took so much control not to just come up with the standard apologetic answer. I was so frustrated, and yet I was trying to be so good and not alienate the people whom I respect. I was really ready to just start defending Protestantism right then and there. The only problem with this is that because most of the Orthodox in the US (and all there last night) were converts to the faith, they are very well-versed in doctrine, and generally very zealous and knowledgable about their faith. But I still could have taken all but one of them J. Anyway, by the end, I wanted to scream, “I will never become a catechumen! I don’t like this!” The truth is, there is something very right about it, so I will keep going to the church…but I am caught in the throes of change, and it is hard.
God bless you, and have a joyous Pentecost. This is a fast-free week, so enjoy all the milk, meat, eggs, and cheese you can today and Friday! Yeah! Kyrie eleison.

Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 10:58 PM on Wednesday, June 18, 2003 [+] ::

:: Sunday, June 15, 2003 ::
The Irony of Confession

Firstly, to all the fathers out there, happy Father’s Day, and God grant you many years!
“S'praznidkom!” It is the feast of Pentecost! Last night was the vigil, which was the standard vigil of a major feast day, then this morning was the service itself, then Kneeling Vespers. Oh, as a word of wisdom, when an Orthodox priest describes prayers as “long,” be assured that they will be long . Service went from around 9AM to around 12:45. Yeah for standing (and prostrating) for long periods of time. I am still not an official catechumen, but I did leave when Deacon said “Catechumen’s depart” and all today. So, then standing in the Narthex made the service seem longer because there were a bunch of loud kids back there. Oh well…
Oh, the title of this post…right. So, I think my life has a certain type of irony to it. For the last two weeks, I have been asking Father about confession and related things. Since I am not Orthodox, I cannot receive sacramental absolution from a priest, but I can go to confession. Of course, being as he is, Father never flat out invited me to confession (he wouldn’t do that), but the idea was that it would be a good habit for me to start, and a good thing for me to do. So, in preparation, I typed up a four page list of a life-time confession, something like what I did when I went to confession once before. Anyway, this was slightly different. I was guarding it with my life. I was in no way planning to go to confession, but where I normally stand in the church is near the line for confession. Anyway, it occurred to me that I had this paper with me, and that I could get in line. So, I got into the end of the line. Father Michael, the associated archpriest, was hearing confession. He didn’t think I was going, so he left. But then I explained briefly that I wasn’t Orthodox, and wasn’t used to confession, but asked if I could go anyway. He said I could in a moment when he was done with more prayers. Anyway, I was going to take the paper up, but I left it sitting, neatly folded under my purse. I decided that instead of being nervous (it is hard to be nervous around Fr. Michael), I would just go up there. So, I did. And I said like four words total. But that was OK. It certainly wasn’t the life-confession I will eventually have to make. But it was a start. Father Michael knew I was nervous, but he was good. He talked for about 4 minutes, then after the prayers, smiled at me, blessed me, and gave me one of his giant bear hugs. “A step in the right direction, Erica,” he said in his thick Russian accent. I grinned. So, what is ironic about this? Well, when I left the church after vigil, I forgot the paper that had all my sins on it. I mean, this paper that I had been guarding diligently with my life was gone. I must have left it there. So, if you have ever listed all your sins on a paper, you know that you guard it with your life. I forgot it. It was kind of funny; now I wonder who found it and threw it out, since it wasn’t there this morning. I wonder who found four folded pieces of paper listing sins that are too shameful to repeat. I wonder what they did with it. Actually, I know what they did with it. In a church where everyone goes to confession regularly, we are all very aware of our sins. The person who found it probably didn’t read it once he figured out what it was. He threw it out. It makes me smile, knowing that although this paper was the worst things I have done, I don’t have it anymore, and whoever found it just threw it out, understanding that we all sin, but can all be forgiven.
So, yes, God has an ironic side. Or, maybe it is just me that has the ironic side. Anyway, “S'praznidkom!”

Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 6:42 PM on Sunday, June 15, 2003 [+] ::

:: Wednesday, June 11, 2003 ::
Long weekend

I have not written in a while because I have been so busy. This weekend, I had two of my very good friends from school, Bree and Kathy, up to visit. I went down to see them in Berkeley on Friday and Saturday, then we spent Sunday up here. It was nice. We got to go to the ROCOR cathedral, St. John’s, in San Francisco for Great Vespers on Saturday night. Very cool. It was Kathy’s first time to an Orthodox church, and it was all in Slavonic, but she is Lutheran, and got over it quickly. It was really cool. I got to venerate a bunch of famous ikons. Anyway, we spent all of Sunday at church; literally, from 8:45 to around 6. After the agape, we met up with Bree’s god sister, who is leaving for a monastery. I took them through the Sonoma/Napa hills to show them around. On some of the turn-arounds and curves, they got nervous. Having one Orthodox around is bad enough, but how many people do I need making the sign of the cross over me? No, I say this in jest. In all truth, both Bree and her god sister are very, very pious (but they were making the sign of the cross, and playing with their chocti while we were driving).
Last night, I went to catechesis for the first time. It was really good; first there was Vespers, then dinner and a class. There were a lot of new people there (newer than I am), but I don’t think many technical catechumens. There was one, but he will be baptized on Saturday, so he won’t be for much longer. There were a number of regulars who just wanted to come hear Vincent speak (an Oxford PhD, who is really smart, and spoke on St Ambrose), and a few random people who had been but once to an Orthodox church. In all, it was a good mix. I have lots of reading from the class now, and lots more for school, so I will make this brief.
Well, God bless. Pray for the unity of the church. All of the church. It is really a burden on my heart to see us split; the aggravation of this schism can be unconscious. So much of what people say, they say without thinking. Let God establish His Church, and let not the gates of Hades prevail against Her. Kyrie eleison.

Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 11:49 AM on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 [+] ::

:: Thursday, June 05, 2003 ::
An Invitation

After service today, I didn’t have a car, so I was sitting on a bench reading until the bus would come. Father came out, and asked if I wanted to go out to lunch with a group of them. I took him up on the offer, and we went to Omelet Express (local omelet place). Fr. Lawrence, Fr. Michael, Justin (Fr. Lawrence’s son and Fr. Michael’s grandson), and 6 others came. Before I go on, allow me to remind you of a few things. Firstly, I live in a small town, where everyone knows everyone. Secondly, it is hard to be “invisible” when walking anywhere with two Orthodox priests (they wear black cassocks and silver priest’s crosses EVERYWHERE). So, yeah, embarrassment rate already has the potential to be very high.
Anyway, I rode over with Father, and we got to talking about Orthodoxy. Since I am shy of priests, I was just happy to get a nice banter going, but then he said something that I can’t stop thinking about: “Well, I can make you a catechumen if you’d like.” I have really been thinking about, and had decided upon no, not yet. But it was weird to be asked. Really, really weird. I was born a Protestant; I always have been one, without really a choice. When someone shows an interest in Protestantism, we immediately start pushing them, “Ask Jesus into your heart! Pray the prayer now!” But this wasn’t like that at all. The whole concept of catechumency seems to respect the person’s ability to think…it was weird approaching a priest about faith, and not being instantly forced to conversion.
After talking with Father, and getting to know the seriousness with which he takes his faith (if there is any doubt over the seriousness of Orthodox priest toward their faith, I assure you, they are sincere), I could tell it was really a hope of his to bring people to the faith. So often, Orthodoxy gets the rap of being non-evangelical. But today, hearing Father ask if I wanted to officially enter study of the church, it was…stunning. I really do want to, but I am not yet ready to commit. I was honored to be asked, and at the same time nervous. To a Protestant, the idea of a Spiritual Father is weird. We have pastors, yes, but they are not the same at all. This was an invitation to come under his counsel, and to be mentored by him in the faith. This was not so much an invitation to start studying a religion as to become part of the family at church. I was offered to join a family, just as I am, with all of my sins and problems. I mean, I understand that in the Protestant church, there is a family, but so often it seems like a group of children trying to lead each other. The Protestant “church family” seems so theoretical, and not real. I can’t even really articulate the thoughts and feelings that have been running through my head. It was an invitation to join a real family, who would know me only as I am now; it was the chance for people to not know and judge me. This family has God, but they also have an earthly Father, to whom they confess and seek advise. I mean, I am sure this is available in the Protestant church, but here it is expected that we confide in Father, and that he counsel each of us; in fact, confession and counsel is a requirement for taking the Eucharist.
Father isn’t pushy (at all), so I doubt he will ask about catechumency again this summer. But if he does, I know what I will answer. “I’ll get back to you on that, Father.”

Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 9:04 PM on Thursday, June 05, 2003 [+] ::

End of Pascha
Today was busy, good, and rather scary. Actually, this whole week has been really awesome. I have gotten to go to church for every service they had, something I didn’t think would be possible. Four services in three days. Really good. And the services were good, too. Tuesday night was a rather normal Matins service. Wednesday morning, it was a Pascha service all over again, with Father saying “Christ is risen” so many times I lost count. It was a Divine Liturgy, but there were only about 15 people (or fewer) present, so it was quick. I got to stand behind the choir (3 people) and read music, so I could sing along. That was fun.
Wednesday evening was the most interesting. It was the beginning of the season of Ascension, so it was a festival service. Fr. Michael (and everyone else) kept saying “Spraznika!” which is like “happy feast day” in Russian. Anyway, they did some weird stuff I don’t all the way understand. First, there was a vespers service, then the Matins for the next day. When Matins started, one of the altar boys swung the huge chandelier really hard (once all the candles were lit), and it stayed swinging all evening. Fr. Michael blessed 5 loaves of bread, wine, oil, and wheat. I am not sure what the wheat was used for, but we ate the wine-soaked bread, and were blessed by the oil on our foreheads. Earlier in the service, we went outside singing, and prayed outside of the church. I am not really sure what was standard “changing season” stuff, and which was for Ascension. It was a long (2.5 hour) service, but very good and worth it.
Finally, there was a Liturgy of Ascension Day this morning. It also was a Divine Liturgy (this just means the Eucharist is consecrated and served), and there were about 30 people. It was good, with lots of “Spraznika” for all. Fr. Michael gave the homily, which reflected the gospel reading, about Jesus by the sea eating the fish after His resurrection, then His ascension. After that service, there was a blessing of water, so we all got sprinkled with hyssop and water (Psalm 50), then had some to drink. A lot of people brought water bottles to take some. I didn’t, but it sounds like a good idea.
Anyway, this post was split in half, so read the next half above this one. God bless.

Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 8:53 PM on [+] ::

:: Tuesday, June 03, 2003 ::
A deleted complaint
Christos Anesti! Alethos anesti!
OK, so I really don’t have a right to complain. I just deleted before posting a big complaint about my lack of transportation to services this week. I wasn’t planning to go anyway, and I at least get to go to Paschal Mattins for Leavetaking tonight, so I really can’t complain. It will be fun. And, I will pray that I can get transportation to the other services. If not, I will still survive. God bless!

Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 3:20 PM on Tuesday, June 03, 2003 [+] ::

:: Monday, June 02, 2003 ::
Confession Confusion

Christ is risen!
Church was as church is: good. The service time moved up, so I didn’t know when Hours started, and I was there really early. That was cool. Kinda. I was standing relatively close to where people stand when they want to make confession, but not too close to it. But Fr. Lawrence thought it was too close. He asked me if I wanted to make a confession. Um…NO! I have been once, to an Anglican priest, and it was a life-time confession on Maundy Thursday (Western). I mean, actually, I would very much like to regularly go to confession. But in the Orthodox church, it is a Mystery (Sacrament), and so it is reserved only for Orthodox. But then, catechumens (real ones, that is) do have to make confession before being accepted into the church. So, by offering to hear my confession, I think he was asking if I was a catechumen. No, I am not officially, and I don’t plan to become one any time in the foreseeable future. I like going to church, and I miss the Eucharist so much it burns, but I can deal. Anyway, I explained my situation to Fr. Lawrence, and it sounded as though I would have to make another lifetime confession…grrrr. If this is indeed true, I will probably not be going to confession to some time. But I wrote down a lifetime confession yesterday afternoon, just in case I do go. See, I am even indecisive with myself. So, I may go, and I may not. I want to because I think it is a good spiritual discipline; I don’t want to because it is confession, and I also don’t want to because I don’t want to become an official catechumen (although I do take catechesis classes and such…). Generally, I am confused. Oh well.
It is the end of Pascha this week. We will sing “Christos anesti” for the last time on Wednesday morning, at the Liturgy of Leave-taking, and then Ascension day is on Thursday. I won’t be able to get to either of the Liturgies, since I work full time (starting tomorrow), but I will be able to get to the Matins of both of them, which is the evening before. That is good. Well, God bless you, and for the last time, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.” Christ is risen! Truly, he is risen! Christos anesti! Alethos anesti!

Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 12:21 PM on Monday, June 02, 2003 [+] ::

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