:: 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
:: St Seraphim, OCA::
:: St Andrew, AA::
:: Orthodox Church of America::
[::..Blogs I Read..::]
:: Huw's Doxos::
:: James' Paradosis::
::Fr. Joseph's Orthodixie::
[::..Other Links..::]
:: St. Vladimir's
(current school)
:: Torrey::
:: Biola::
:: The Onion Dome::
:: Yahoo::
:: Dictionary::
:: Boundless Webzine::

:: Tuesday, December 30, 2003 ::


Last Friday, I wrote a letter to Fr. Sergious. It included more words and reasons, but basically it said, “I would like to become a catechumen.” I scheduled a time to go up there today and ask him about it in person. I had assumed I would become a catechumen, and that would be that.

To summarize a three-hour discussion in a word: “No.” Why not? “You are not ready.” And that was that. It was weird; I guess I saw becoming a catechumen more as a decision that I would make when I thought myself ready. In some ways, it was really discouraging. I was just finally ready to say “yes;” I had mustered the courage to ask, and even planned ahead and written a letter. But no. He asked me exactly what I thought a catechumen was, “One who learns by hearing,” I quipped back. “And how aren’t you a catechumen now?” He asked, seriously. “You know, that ‘official’ thing…” I lamely answered. Anyway, the idea was that I am where I need to be right now, and a catechumen is not where I need to be. He and I both knew that regardless of his answer, I will continue to pursue Orthodoxy, but am not ready to make a firm decision on it. He said to keep thinking, praying, writing, and going to church.

I guess it wasn’t all discouraging (all though it felt like it…). He said that I will eventually get to some concrete answers to my questions, but it may not be for a while. He answered some of the basic questions that I have (“Should I cross myself when I pray, even if everyone stares?”), and some other ones that I hadn’t thought about yet. It was good to hear that I am where I need to be, rather than being pressured into something I am so unsure about. He also implied that if a priest at one of the churches I attend (St. Seraphim or St. Andrew) would make me a catechumen, as long as I have real catechesis, it could work. Of course, that involves courage to actually ask one of them, but…God can do anything, right?…

Finally, as always, it was nice to get up to Calistoga and see Father. He hasn’t been feeling well, and his foot has been swollen enough that he has been canceling services recently. (If you know Father, this means he is really hurting). He will be having surgery to remove an infected tooth (which somehow is causing his foot to swell) on the day before Theophany. Of course, he plans to keep Vigil that evening (by which he means the monkish, all-night deal), so it will be interesting to see if he actually does. It is so nice to see him, living his very monkish existence in the modern world. He has such a different view of Orthodoxy from most of those with whom I speak; he is as cradle- Orthodox as could possibly be. His perspective, and his extensive intuitive knowledge, are quite a change from the usually views I see in the world of convert-Orthodoxy. I am blessed to know him.

Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 7:52 PM on Tuesday, December 30, 2003 [+] ::

:: Sunday, December 28, 2003 ::
Ironic Observation

How come the people who don’t seem to need to go to Confession are the ones who always go, and those of us who really need Confession don’t go?

How come people like Michael go, but I don’t? He is an older man (who the kids say looks like St. Seraphim), and is pretty holy; his sins cannot possibly be of the same magnitude as my own. But, he goes, and I don’t. It just seems funny. Those who don’t need it get it, and those who need it most don’t. Kinda like the Eucharist, in an odd way…

Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 5:35 PM on Sunday, December 28, 2003 [+] ::

:: Thursday, December 25, 2003 ::
Wonderful Christmas

I had the most wonderful Christmas!

In the morning, after my family of four opened our Christmas stockings (Santa still comes to all four of us!), I was given permission to go to Church! Now, I have actually gone to every service but one this week, but it was without my parent’s knowledge. I wasn’t expecting to be able to go this morning (I was told last night that I couldn’t), but then my parent’s changed their minds. It was good; my 21 year-old brother came with me. It was his first time to an Orthodox anything, and while I think he enjoyed it, I am not sure if he will come again.

When we got home, we ate Christmas dinner with my grandmother and uncle, who drove up from San Francisco. We had ham, yams, rice, peas, carrots, pickled figs and vegetables, honey relish, and cranberry sauce. My mom loves to cook, so we had a delicious dinner, and lots and lots of cookies/candy for dessert.

After dinner, we opened gifts. While my family may not understand my Church, they know I love it, and they love me greatly. My brother got me a book about Fr. Seraphim Rose; it is a tome, and is over 1000 pages, but it looks very good, and will distract me greatly from my other reading. My dad got me (amongst other things) an ikon calendar and an ikon. I am not exactly sure if my dad looked at the ikon before buying it; he seemed to think it was an ikon of St. Seraphim, while it is in fact an ikon of the Theotokos. I am not exactly sure how he could confuse them, except that the only English on the package said “St. Seraphi, Mother of God: Joy of Joys.” It is the thought that counts; I know where he got it, and will probably exchange it for an ikon of St. Seraphim, but it made me smile that he thought to get it. Otherwise, I got a new dress, headphones, letter paper (I write lots of letters), and new shoes.

I got to see my family, both my immediate family, and my grandmother and uncle. My grandmother is getting old, and is pretty sick. I know she will not be around much longer, and I really cherish the time we get to spend together. My bachelor uncle is a lot of fun; he is very “open-minded,” and likes “religion.” Of course, talking “religion” with him is great fun for both of us; he doesn’t get why we need Church at all. “We are all a part of nature; just embrace the part of that nature that is good in you.” (Yes, he’s from San Francisco!). I love my family.

It was a wonderful Christmas. The fast is over; this is the feast! S'praznidkom! Christ is born!

Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 10:50 PM on Thursday, December 25, 2003 [+] ::

:: Wednesday, December 24, 2003 ::
Christmas Thoughts

The songs from church today were both beautiful and instructive. This Christmas, I have made some new observations into the old, familiar customs of Christmas. Although I know that these are facile when you understand Orthodox hymnography, they really were revelatory for me.

1) When we emphasize that Christ was born among “ox and ass,” we are saying that he was born among us, not just the animals in the cave. We are as dull as an ox, and as stubborn as an ass when compared with God.

2) Each who came to worship him was a part of Him whom he worshipped. The kings came to worship Him as King. The shepherds came to worship the Great Shepherd. The “men” (Mary and Joseph) worshipped He Who became Man.

3) The cave was the best place he could be born. Compared to heaven, even the best and most royal castle would have been a cave. It made no difference to him, so he was born in a cave; the cave of this earth.

4) He came because of love. I ask Protestant friends why Christ became man, and I almost always get an Anselemic answer having to do with the redemption of man through sacrifice on the cross; this is true, but not complete. Almost all of them forget that it was because of love. It was not to do a work (of redemption) per se, but rather he condescended because he loved us.

These are my simple observations. They are all over the hymnography and the readings, and I am sure they are old information, but I have found them for the first time this year; they are new to me. Tomorrow…Christ will be born!

Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 6:13 PM on Wednesday, December 24, 2003 [+] ::

:: Friday, December 19, 2003 ::
Getting up North

I am back at home in Northern California for Christmas now. It is nice to be back home, but I am more comfortable with religion at school. My dad still remarks on it each time I cross myself before I eat, and thinks that I am becoming Roman Catholic. He just doesn’t get it.
More than just getting up north to see home, I got up to Calistoga to see (Igumen) Fr. Sergious at Holy Dormition Monastery. I have not been up there since last summer, but have been writing letters rather regularly. It was very good to be up there, to see Father, and to remember that for all of my theology and studying, it comes down to God and the Church. I forget sometimes, and today I remembered. It was great to see Father, walking in with his unkempt hair, graying beard, grin, and accented-greeting, “Hello, Erica, how are you?� It was cold and wet, and he was sick, so we should have moved into the chapel (the only heated building), but he didn’t say anything, and I didn’t think of it until later. We talked for about an hour. Mostly, he just messed with me, showing me my own illogic. Nothing really theological or profound, but mostly just mocking my American, individualistic ways of thinking (he is from Venezuela, lived on Athos, and moved to the US rather recently; he is not American). It was fun; hopefully I can get back up there this break, but I do not know if that is possible. Thank God for men like Fr Sergious; he encourages me more than I can say.

Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 6:18 PM on Friday, December 19, 2003 [+] ::

:: Saturday, December 13, 2003 ::
The Necessity of the Holy Spirit

Jonathan posted some comments on my last entry , discussing the illumination of the Holy Spirit to assist the potential-believer to coming to God. Here are my responses. He defined illumination as

…insight into the spiritual mysteries of God's will and dealing with the world, that can only come through the grace of the Holy Spirit operating on (enlightening) your inward being.

Firstly, I do not have insight into anything. I am struggling to get plain sight; insight is still a long way off! As far as being able to see things from the view of God (which is teleological), I am too absorbed in myself to look into God’s will any further than the next 5 minutes.

As far as illumination, the Holy Spirit must enlighten us to any sort of “religious” experience we have. (No, not in the PoMo way!).We are trapped behind our wall of reason. We can either go Protestant, or “Church.” Protestants use the wall of reason, seeking to interpret Scripture by themselves, behind and through the wall. The other option is to abdicate the interpretation of Scripture to the Church. Even if you choose this option, however, you are still behind the wall of reason; that is, it is your reason deciding which is the right “church.”

Enter: Illumination of the Holy Spirit. Without this illumination, we cannot escape the wall and decide on any religion except by our own personal use of reason (which is corrupt as a result of the fall). This “wall” phenomenon is one of the reasons so many people rationally choose Protestantism; you don’t really need the “non-scientific” variable of the Holy Spirit, and Scripture and religion become formulaic, guaranteeing “salvation.” This lack of the Holy Spirit is felt deeply, however, as evidenced by the movement of the Evangelical Church to a sort of Pentecostal/Charismaticism. The illumination of the Holy Spirit, directing the believer to the correct Church to which he should entrust interpretation of Scripture (and therefore, submit himself to it as the Church), is the only way which someone can come to true religion. Without it, he only lives with his own fallen interpretations of religion.

Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 2:44 PM on Saturday, December 13, 2003 [+] ::

:: Tuesday, December 09, 2003 ::
Decisions to be Made

I miserably failed my Torrey final, Don Rags. It was supposed to be an oral defense of my paper, and a synopsis of what I had learned this semester. It turned into a demonstration of my adrift, indecisive theology. My mentor allowed my paper to pass (I won't have to re-write it) only because I have already re-written it three times, and because "rewriting it at this point wouldn't help you in your theological struggle." I got an 'A,' and passed and all that good stuff. That's not the problem. The problem is that I don't know what I believe.
I wrote the paper from an Orthodox point of view; I can't tell if it is internally consistent from that standpoint, but I think it is. At Rags, I tried to dialogue with the tutors from the same point of view. The discussion eventually came to, "What is salvation?" I went into an explanation of how salvation is the process by which we become like God, and is achieved through discipline, prayer, and the help of the sacraments/Church. That explanation fell about as flat as it possibly could; it went really, really bad. I was trying to stay away from words like 'sanctification,' 'imputed righteousness,' 'justification,' 'atonement,' and other Calvinist catch-phrases. Of course, the first thing Dr. Thoennes said after hearing my explanation was, "Where do justification and sanctification play into salvation?" Then, Miss Weirich asked, "You didn't mention the sacrifice on the cross in your explanation of salvation." So, it was really, really bad. At that point, I just kind of gave up. I can't defend any one point of view, so I just passively agreed with what they were saying, "You still believe in sola scriptura, right?" Was I supposed to say "no"? That wouldn't have worked; I can't defend that point of view. I did poorly; I can't defend my beliefs because I don't know what they are! My mentor thinks I am a heretic, or at least a Roman Catholic (the two are equivalent in her eyes); she is genuinely worried that I am not "saved." She suggested that I meet with Dr. Sanders, the resident Torrey theologian, to discuss salvation and what I believe.
The point is not that I cannot write to save my life, choke up when I have indefensible views, or that I lie about my beliefs when I get into a tight spot. It is that I do not know what I think. It is stupid for me to join the Orthodox Church at this time. When I came here from a public school as a Protestant, I had a hard enough time defending Arminian-Protestant views to Calvinist- Protestants, since they were so well educated in apologetics and doctrine. I know I will regularly get eaten alive if I try to 're-learn' Christianity in the view of Orthodoxy. I could not possibly do it and keep up intellectually with my peers; if I cannot keep up intellectually, there is no point in trying to switch views while in Torrey.
I am passionate about the idea of a unified body of Christ, existing unchanged through the ages, willing to accept Her prodigal orphan children home, and solid in a world where change is continuous. I desperately desire to belong to such a thing. But I cannot bring myself to accept the theology espoused by any body claiming to be such. I have spent hundreds of hours in the last year trying to figure out exactly where I stand on theology, but I cannot seem to convince myself to change my views. I seem to be unable to 'convert.' If I weren't so passionate about it, it wouldn't matter as much. I really wish I could let go of the idea of 'Church' and go be a good Protestant. I love it too much, though. I wish I didn't.

Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 3:08 PM on Tuesday, December 09, 2003 [+] ::

:: Friday, December 05, 2003 ::

Half-way there...20 more days until Christmas!

Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 7:11 PM on Friday, December 05, 2003 [+] ::

:: Wednesday, December 03, 2003 ::
Extreme Sacramentalism

Firstly, this blog will show my wonderful inability to make up my mind. To my Protestant friends, I am very, very sacramental. This is true; I personally hold a high view of the sacraments, and they are one of the major reasons I pursue High Church. That aside, let me voice what I believe to be the major objections against a sacramental world-view.
God became man. Logos took on sarkos. The argument is that in doing so, he sanctified matter; in fact, it is Gnostic to say otherwise. Jesus did sanctify matter with his descent, but his words showed him to be against sacramental theology. In his first miracle in the Gospel of St. John, where he makes the water into wine at the Wedding of Cana (John 2), he uses the water contained in 6 pots of purification, which were set out by pious Jews for ceremonial purposes. In doing this, he is openly mocking their right of purification and the corrupt Law espoused by the Pharisees. He is mocking their exterior cleanliness, comparing it with their interior filth (Luke 11:39, Matt23:25). Physically, they were good, but spiritually, they were dead. Directly after this, he seeks to purify the temple from the filth which it contained; like the jars, it should have been clean, but it was full of blood (cp. wine). Although the physical outside of the temple may have been good, Jesus was more concerned with its spiritual aspect, and was even willing to destroy the physical to make a point spiritually. Jesus is significantly more concerned with spiritual than physical.
The Law is what binds man; the physical world is the Law, which does not contain grace. If I drop a ball in the physical world, it will fall; if I sin in the spiritual world, I am in trouble, but other things, such as forgiveness, exist. The spiritual world is much greater than the physical world, for in it are “grace and truth,” rather than “the Law” (John 1:17).
By doing things like sprinkling holy water about a room, we are saying that there is something inherent in the water that the “non-water” could not give. Is there any more “virtue/grace/goodness/blessing” exercised when Father throws holy water on us with hyssop than when he simply blesses us? Why can’t we just pray, and have the same thing happen? I heard a (non-Orthodox) very ecumenical, well-educated priest speak last week about the Eucharist. He was saying that it is what we make it; “spiritual communion” is more important than physical communion, and if physical communion is unavailable, then spiritual communion will suffice. It seems like the physical is secondary, and if we make it primary, we will end up like the 15th century RCC, with Masses the people cannot understand, elevating the Eucharist; the physical is so much more important than the spiritual. If I don’t have the word, is the sign any good to me? (Martin Luther) Why have the sign, if it is only the word that is good for me? (John Calvin) The sign is actually evil; it stops me from focusing on the word. (Zigwilli, Ulrich)
These are my non-sacramental views. Of course, shortly I will be posting my sacramental ones, so to start an argument with myself ;-P

Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 9:02 PM on Wednesday, December 03, 2003 [+] ::

:: Monday, December 01, 2003 ::
What is Church?

You all believe Orthodoxy is the correct Church, and we talk about it like we know what it is. But trying to define it is more difficult. We can use the spiritual ideas of the New Testament; the Body of Christ, the Bride, &c, but these are not solid definitions. I am trying to define it in a paper I am writing; I have an implicit definition throughout the paper, but I cannot say it in so many words, and I need to. I have been thinking about it for a while, and I will post ideas as they come, but what are any of your ideas? What is Church?

Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 11:12 PM on Monday, December 01, 2003 [+] ::

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