:: Monday, July 28, 2003 ::
Pastor Pressure = CONFUSION!
:: Friday, July 25, 2003 ::
I am confused. Really, really confused. What if I am doing it all wrong?
Last Friday, I met with the pastor of the church in which I grew up. Superficially, it wasn’t so bad. Luckily for me, he didn’t as much as I though he would about Eastern Orthodoxy. Mostly, he asked if I “believe in Jesus and that His death on the cross saves me from sins.” It was very ecumenically Protestant; as long as I held to the basics, he was happy letting me attend church wherever I wanted. The problem was our differing views on the “basics.” Not only did he call Orthodoxy “elitist,” since they think they alone have the right faith, but he listed the “solas”: “sola scriptura” - the bible alone is authority; “sola gratis” – only by grace we are saved: “sola fide” – only faith is necessary for salvation. I didn’t want to say that I didn’t believe them, so I attempted to change the subject; I didn’t want to start trouble I knew I couldn’t escape.
It went south from there. The biggest reason I fell in love with Orthodoxy is because of its acceptance of the sacramental nature of “things;” things are real. Sacraments are my favorite aspect of any theology, ever. Protestants don’t hold to sacramental nature; I knew this when I fell in love with them, but I was forgetting why Protestants shun this belief. On Friday, I was reminded. Unfortunately, it hit like a ton of bricks. Since they are my favorite subject, we discussed them for a while, but the basic argument against them came down to this: If grace can be conveyed through a physical sacrament, the grace of the cross was not sufficient for the salvation of mankind, since grace is the mechanism for salvation. I will abstain from going into the theology of this, but it is pretty deep.
Now I am kicking myself for allowing my experiential “love” for the sacraments beat my rational understanding of them. (Experience does not equal knowledge!) So, now I am in the uncomfortable place of trying to reconcile myself to myself. It was as though the missing piece of my Protestant apologetical studies fell into place; my rational Protestant argument against sacraments has become very strong, and I struggle to force my pathos to fight it and believe in the power the sacraments supposedly convey. In other words, my strongest (if not only) draw to Orthodoxy was shattered, and now all of my arguments are pointing against my once-cherished sacraments. And, as I have said before, I am only a sacramental Protestant; without my belief in the sacraments, I am purely Protestant, and have no part in the Orthodox Church.
This seems to have some practical ramifications. Since I can’t bring myself to eventhink that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was insufficient, I won’t participate in anything having to do with sacraments (physical actions to convey grace). I won’t cross myself, ask for a blessing, venerate an ikon, kiss the priest’s cross (or his hand), bow when censed, &c. I think I offended a few people the other day when I didn’t ask for their blessings…but they can get over it. I think I offended a more people, however, by not venerating ikons or crossing myself in church…for the first time since I have been going to St Seraphim’s, I felt really out of place. I felt like a Protestant watching their service, intruding on something, but something that wasn’t right. I was more than happy to leave after the Litany of the Catechumens…I don’t think I could have stayed any longer.
In slightly happier news, a friend of mine became an official catechumen yesterday! It is very exciting…She goes to another church, but I still see her quite a bit…Many years, Amelia!
Forgive me, and pray for me, a sinner.
Glory to God!
:: 8:40 PM on
Monday, July 28, 2003
Orthodox and Protestant: My Ecclesiastical Life
:: Thursday, July 24, 2003 ::
At the end of today, I will have had a very religiously mixed day. Which is not all bad, but just confusing. In the morning, I got to dabble in Orthodoxy. In the afternoon, I will get to struggle with Protestantism. By the evening, I will be my usual ecclesiastical mess!
I just returned from visiting a hieromonk in Calistoga. His is Igumen Sergius, and he is really cool in a monkish sort of way. I had heard somethings about him, but never met him; I was warned that he was pretty monkish, since he had lived on Athos for a while. “Pretty monkish” is an understatement. After meandering his monastery gardens for an hour or two, I got to meet him for a few minutes. He was funny in a corny sort of way, and seemed really holy. There was a young man who had dropped by, also non-Orthodox, to see what the monastery was all about. The young man and I seemed to agree that Fr Sergius had a certain ambience of something holy about him. In retrospect, it seems a wasted trip: I drove for 2.5 hours, and only got to see Fr Sergius for maybe 15 minutes, but somehow it was worth it.
Now for the Protestant half of my day. My parents are not too into my liking Orthodox, and they don’t get what I do with religion (see previous post). So, they are “suggesting” that I meet with the pastor of the church where I grew up (“suggesting”…you know what I mean.). I am to meet him in less than an hour. Nervous? Yeah, that’s the word. Scared to death? That too. Not only am I scared because he is clergy, and I am generally scared of them, but also because he knows what he is talking about. Because of the esoteric/Gnostic nature of Orthodoxy, the only part of it which I “know,” I understand through purely sterile and bookish study. This means that while I may “understand” it scholastically, I do not “get” it in a real sense. This is going to be a problem in a few minutes, when I will be faced with someone who understands massive amounts about religion of all types. The pastor not only knows more about Protestantism, but probably also about Orthodoxy. Since I have nothing past my rote knowledge to rely upon, I have the feeling the meeting will be somewhat of a bulldozer session. I have nothing to say; no defense. I don’t know why I go to an Orthodox Church, but if I don’t find out in about the next hour, I think it will be very hard for me to go anymore. Pray for me!
Forgive me, a sinner.
Glory to God!
:: 5:40 PM on
Friday, July 25, 2003
My Parents and Religion
:: Wednesday, July 23, 2003 ::
My parents are so funny; they think I am just exploring religions. They have such a big NO CLUE as to what I am doing that it makes me laugh. My parents have gone to a Protestant Church my whole life. My mom regularly attended a Mid-Episcopal church, but her mother is a staunch atheist, so I do not think my mom’s religious upbringing was too rigid.
My dad is the interesting one when it comes to religion. His father died before he was born, and money was tight for my immigrant grandma. Trying to raise her three sons alone was difficult, and she relied on the Church quite a bit. My dad quite literally grew up in the Roman Catholic Church; not only did he go to school there, but was often an altar boy for three Masses each day (starting at 6AM). I am not sure of all the details (my dad won’t talk about it much), but at 17, he suddenly left the Church over the doctrine of Transubstantiation. He got into Eastern mysticism, and was generally exploring all religions. When he married my mom (about 15 years later), they got married at her Episcopal Church. I get my passion for religion from my dad; he doesn’t talk about it, but I have the feeling he was as into religions as I am. I have a few (quite a few) relatives who are monastics, and I know my dad was being groomed for the priesthood before he left the Church.
My parents decided that they needed to raise us kids in a solid church. They went to the local Episcopal church for a while, but even back in the 70’s, it was getting too liberal. So, they discovered a small (50 people) church on the opposite corner with a really good preacher. They have now attended for 17 years, and it was there that I was raised and baptized. The church now has about 400 people, and it a non-denominational Protestant church. Both my parents were baptized there when I was 5 or 6 (since it does not view their infant baptisms as valid.), and I was baptized there when I was 9.
My mom took us to church most Sundays when I was growing up. My dad would sometimes come, but I don’t think he ever fully bought into Protestantism; he just really likes the pastor’s preaching. When I was growing up, he went about once a month, but now he goes every Saturday to work the computer for the service. Religion was always a personal thing in my house; we prayed before meals, but that was it. My older brother went to church until he was baptized at 10, and has been only a few times since then (he is now 21). The easiest way to describe it was that, while we were moral people, we were Christians from 8AM-12AM on Sunday mornings.
This has made my family’s acceptance of my attending an Orthodox Church easier. No, my parents don’t really like it, but they also don’t flat-out stop me (usually). They think I am “searching” for religion. In a very real way, I am, but not anywhere near the level they imagine. Yesterday in the car, my mom asked if I believed in God. It was really funny; she seriously doubted that I believed in the Christian God. I told her I believe in the Nicean-Constantonopolitan creed, con filloque. She didn’t seem satisfied; she thinks that because all I do is Church and Theology that I should have some highly defined belief system. Truth be told, beyond the basics, I have no clue what I believe! All through high school, as I was getting ever more interested in religion, I made a great effort to keep them out of what I was doing religiously. Now I almost wish I hadn’t; of all the people who know my testimony, my parents still don’t.
My dad is the one for whom I have the most hope. He is as religiously open as I am; as I said, I don’t think he has ever fully believed Protestantism, and he certainly doesn’t like Roman Catholicism. He and I both know that if he ever came to Divine Liturgy with me, he would fall hopelessly in love with Church again. But he fights it; we both know his excuses get lamer by the week. It took me going away for 9 months to see him this way; he has been searching for religion his whole life as fervently as I am now. One of my greatest fears is that I will end up where he is; everyone says I am exactly like him. He is older now, but sometimes I can see his youthful religious zeal when I talk about it. He is still searching as desperately as I am, but has given up; he goes to church to hear a man speak, and to drink grape-juice and eat bread. He knows he is not home, but I don’t know if he can still change. I fear I may become like that; settle down into something I know to be heterodoxical because I am too worn and sore from the search. I may come there sooner than I hoped…it is getting hard to go to Church each week. Pray for me. And for my dad.
Glory to God!
:: 10:11 PM on
Thursday, July 24, 2003
:: Sunday, July 20, 2003 ::
How are these two religions even related? It feels like Protestantism and Orthodoxy are two completely different religions sharing only a few happenstantial similarities.
I have also come to the disheartening conclusion that I probably won’t ever become “really” Orthodox. Last night in catechesis, we were discussing who touched Christ after His resurrection; everyone was saying that Mary was the first one to touch Him; I asked who the other person was, since Protestants teach that she was the only one. Everyone kind of murmured that St Thomas has also touched her, and Dr Rossi said it out loud. I looked quizzical: “No, Thomas never touched Christ after His resurrection; John says that Christ offered thus, but that Thomas just fell down and worshipped.” Everyone seemed to disagree, but none of them were looking in the Bible to substantiate their point; they were only quoting hymnography. I had my little New Testament out, and looked it up; sure enough, Thomas never touched Jesus. It is not a major point; Father afterword told me that it didn’t matter, since it was only a minor detail which the Fathers themselves disagreed upon. But it scared me because of what it showed me. Not only was no one willing to look in the Bible for their answer (rather, they were quoting hymnography from Thomas Sunday), but it showed me my deep Protestant undercurrents. I have spent so long being so Protestant that even if I could manage to adopt a veneer of Orthodoxy over all of it, I will still remain deeply Protestant on all of the minor points of faith. And the minor ones build to the major ones. I will always be very Protestant, even if I become Orthodox. I have spent so long so passionately studying Protestantism, that even if I thought Orthodoxy was truly right, I don’t think I could change my whole fundamental line of thinking to line up with it. It is also frustrating that I have spent my whole summer (literally) in my pursuit of Orthodoxy, and yet don’t “get” it. I still am not even a catechumen; and I cannot bring myself to become one. Yes, I have had some interesting experiences, and some I will always remember, but I do not have any faith . I am still on my own as far as that goes; Orthodox to a Protestant, and Protestant to any Orthodox. And I am starving for the sacraments. So, I am just a sacramental Protestant. Frustrating.
Glory to God!
:: 10:23 AM on
Wednesday, July 23, 2003
I have had one of the most blessed weekends ever. Friday was really…weird. I told my dad, and he (not Orthodox) even said I must be somehow blessed.
:: Thursday, July 17, 2003 ::
So, I had spent the morning shopping and at the library (the first I despise, the second I love). I had written a letter to Mother Sussana, the abbess at the local skete, the previous week. I was trying to get up the courage to deliver it, but I was having a hard time. Anyway, at around 2ish, I decided to stop the letter by the skete before going home. I knocked on the door (shaking as hard as I was, this was difficult). It opened, and I didn’t look up from my shoes, “Um…can you give this to Mother Sussana?” I asked, still focused on my laces. “Erica! Hello. What a blessing! Please, come in.” I still didn’t look up. “Er…will you give this to Mother Sussana?” I stammered a second time. “I am she. I am Mother Sussana.” When she said this, I looked up for the first time. Her face looks like that of a child; innocent, full of love, with no judgment. I was really embarrassed, but I went in.
As I paroused the chapel, she sat in the corner and read the letter, saying, “Um-hmm” every few minutes. I was really, really nervous. But then, she said, “Well, would you like me to answer some of these questions?” She is so disarming…I was shy and nervous, but I did manage to say, “Yeah, sure…” So, we sat and talked for about an hour.
The skete is Our Lady of Kazan Skete, and is OCA. They are Old Calandar, and their feast day is then Monday. I go to an OCA Church dedicated to St Seraphim, so our feast day was yesterday. The sisters had been cleaning the skete all day for a few Russian sisters coming out for their feast tomorrow. They were tired, and most of them were resting, working on choctis, &c.
As I was speaking with Mother Sussana, just as I was getting ready to leave (around 3:15), the phone rang. One of the sisters got it, and politely interrupted us to say it was for Mother Sussana. I think it was Fr Lawrence or Fr Michael, but I am not sure. So, she was talking in the other room, when she walks back into the chapel (with phone still in hand), and kneels (prostrates?) in front of the ikon there of the Theotokos. She didn’t say anything for a while, and I was getting nervous (I am sitting about 2 feet behind her, trying to be invisible). Finally, she says, “OK…OK…God bye, Father.” She hangs up the phone, makes a few mentia, and says, “Vladika is coming in an hour.” I smile a little, and remain seated; I didn’t know who Vladika was. Mo Sussana goes to put the phone away, and I ask Sister Justina, who is standing nearby, who Vladika is. “The Bishop.” She says, with a twinkle in her eye. “The Bishop!?” I say too loudly. “He’s coming here?” She smiles, “In an hour. He’s never been here. It is a great blessing.” So, here I am at this skete with 12 sisters who have been working hard all day, and they just got the news their Vladika is coming in an hour. Safe to say that they had NO IDEA he would come. So, I suggest like 6 times that I should probably be on my way, but Mother Sussana keeps saying, “No, you should stay and get his blessing. It’s really allright.” Anyway, I found a broom, and made myself useful for the next hour. Now, mind you, this is the first time I have ever been to the skete, I am nervous enough around the nuns, and I am not Orthodox. So, as I was sweeping cobwebs off of the roof in 95 degree weather, the bishop drives up.
The sisters crowd around him like little children, holding out their hands for his blessing. Both Fr Michael and Fr Lawrence, who were driving him around, do likewise. Fr Justin, from Texas, who was staying at the skete, does the same. I was just holding on to my broom, trying to hide in the middle of the open field. Finally, Mother Sussana comes over and introduces me by name to the bishop. So, I get his blessing. It was weird…all told, there were 12 nuns, 3 priests, and a bishop, all in their black, and looking like they fit in. And there was me. So, yeah. But it was really cool. I didn’t die, and I got a really cool blessing. He only stayed for about 45 minutes, but the nuns were so pleased to have him there.
So, that was my Friday. Good. I will write about yesterday, with a Hierarchical Divine Liturgy, some other time. Oh, and I have a coupla theological points to write about too…so much to say…J God bless. Pray for me, a sinner.
Glory to God!
:: 3:44 PM on
Sunday, July 20, 2003
A Catechumen’s Doubt
:: Monday, July 14, 2003 ::
It is getting harder. I posted on a chat-group a question about head vs. heart. I got a coupla good responses from the posters, most of whom said pray and talk to a priest. I have done the first one, but the second…well, it won’t happen. But depending if I have the time, courage, and car tomorrow I hope to go talk to Mo. Sussana at the Skete and ask her advise. It is unlikely, but I will prepare a letter for her anyway.
Doubts have come. Strong ones. You know, in my experience, there are two kinds of doubts. There are the doubts that are “fun;” they are the ones you have when you are secure in what you know, and you feel like you are growing as you fight them. They are like the pain that comes from working-out; you know it is good for you.
Then there are the doubts that I am having. They are the not fun ones. They are the ones that make people walk away from what they believe. They come when you have no firm beliefs, and they make you doubt that solid foundation that you once held. They make you stand in prayer for an hour and a half, with your heart weeping, and your eyes dry. The priest asks, “How are you?” and you smile, nod, and say, “Fine, Father.” The doubts you can’t verbalize, because you are too doubtful. This is like the pain of an appendicitis; it comes from within, and is hard to explain; it has no visible cause, but causes agony all the same. The worst part is you cannot say what you doubt. Not for fear of rejection, embarrassment, pride, or any of those reasons. You cannot say it because it is too real. You doubt too deeply to trust anyone. So, you smile, politely avoid the priests, and act like its all right.
After my post on this board, I got a letter that much such doubt into my mind. The writer was not malicious (he was not Orthodox, but certainly not malicious). But the doubt is there. Now that I think about it, I am surprised that I have not doubted much before…
What if it’s all not true? I mean, what if my head says I should remain Protestant (or at least not Orthodox) because it is true? I have never been very good at listening to my heart over my head; maybe it is right. What if the ikons are all idoltry, and that each time I venerate one, I damn myself further to hell? What if the church did really apostise in the Constantinian Apostasy, and Protestantism is the Reformed church? What if the Bible is to be taken literally, and the Orthodox are wrong? Then I am damned to Hell. But if the Protestants are wrong, and I go with them, I am also damned to Hell. I think Hell is a pretty bad thing, and I don’t really want to go there. So it really matter who is right. What if all of it is a lie? What if I am trying to force my heart to believe, but it is right in rejecting Orthodoxy? What if I am doing myself a dis-service?
I stood there, in the chapel, forever yesterday. As I said, tears wouldn’t come to my eyes, but my heart cried enough of them. It is not as though I can talk to a priest; I don’t trust them. I can’t talk to a pastor; they think I am an apostate. I can’t really ask anyone’s opinion, because each is on a side of it. I could pray, but I don’t know how.
What I will do is wait. This should be a joyous weekend; the bishop is coming to church, and I will see him. Fr. Michael is celebrating his 50th year as a priest, and there will be a celebration for that also. It should be joyous…if only I did not doubt.
Glory to God!
:: 11:13 PM on
Thursday, July 17, 2003
:: Saturday, July 12, 2003 ::
I don’t get it. I am not Orthodox, I am not a catechumen, I just go to the church. But I have this unshakable feeling that Satan is fighting me right now. It is really spooky. As I have written before, I have had bad experiences with demons and majik. Satan really, really scares me. And I have this feeling I am fighting him now.
There is nothing really specific that I can put my finger on. I mean, things just seemed to be against me today and recently. There isn’t much detail I can put into words. Normally, I like my job; I get to see lots of people, and get to smile, and be nice and talk. Today, my job was miserable. For no apparent reason. It just seems like everything is trying to stop me.
I don’t deal well with Satan. I don’t like demons; they scare me more than I can say. I have had really bad experiences with them. But as a Protestant, I never felt this real of demonic persecution…it is really weird. Maybe it means I am starting to believe Orthodox teachings, and believe in such things as attacks like this. Maybe its real. Maybe its because I am about to discover something so very true I will never forget it. Maybe its because…
I don’t know. But I am doing something I rarely do: If you are reading this, will you pray for me? Thank you. I will pray for you, too.
Glory to God!
:: 10:42 PM on
Monday, July 14, 2003
ROCOR and Russian
:: Monday, July 07, 2003 ::
Ah…so much to do, so little time.
I have to write back to Dr. Rossi and Father; I wrote them each a letter, and they responded. Funny thing…my letters were barely a paragraph, and I got 4 and 2 page responses, respectively. Well, I should respond to them, but it is hard. It was hard enough writing the letters in the first place (many drafts for both of them), but now responding should be just as hard. It will be easier to write back to Dr Rossi, since he is willing to pander to my approach to Orthodoxy: rationalism. Although I think we both know it doesn’t work, and that I will have to stop eventually, for right now, he is willing to help me rationally. On the other hand, when I wrote to Father, I did so with more ethos in the tone, and he picked up on it. So, I know I will have to meet with him sometime soon…urg…nervous…
Anyway, today I was at various churches for most of the day. At 9, I got to St Seraphims for a Memorial Liturgy for Constantin’s wife. I don’t think I’ve formally met Constantin, but he is a regular there, and his wife died a year ago. So, that was cool. But then I was handed a cup of cold wet wheat, raisins, nuts, and various other goodies all topped with powered sugar. It was weird, but I got it down.
Afterwords, I went to the local ROCOR church, Sts Peter and Paul, for their feast day. It was fun…in a way. Sadly, I don’t know any Russian or Slavonic, so I was kind of lost. Then, in the procession around the church, I somehow got in with the choir. That was embarrassing, since I couldn’t figure out how to get out. The only people I knew there were Fr. Lawrence and Fr. Michael, who came to celebrate. But it is not as though I could exactly hang out with or follow them during the service. But I survived. The church was beautiful beautiful beautiful beyond belief. Listening to the choir, smelling the incense, the ikons, everything was like I wasn’t on this earth anymore. I could pick up on all this despite my nervousness and lack of lingual comprehension. It was truly glorious.
Oh, and a last word of wisdom. If you are ever at a ROCOR Church , and someone tells you to say “Sproznidkom” to them, please don’t! While it means “Happy Feast” (roughly), it also implies that you speak Russian. This is bad, especially if you do not indeed speak Russian. Anyway…God bless, and pray for me, a sinner.
Glory to God!
:: 10:27 PM on
Saturday, July 12, 2003
This is all I can say today: Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.
:: Friday, July 04, 2003 ::
Glory to God!
:: 10:54 PM on
Monday, July 07, 2003
I have not written in a while. Well, firstly, Happy 4th of July. We here in America celebrate our independence today.
So, I had really wanted to go to this Divine Liturgy up at Fort Ross (a big Russian settlement about 2 hours north of here) with the rest of my church. But my parents had said no, since I was going to go with them to this party. I was not happy, but that was fine. Then, this morning, my parents said I could go. So, I was really happy, and got a ride over to church. At 8:27AM. As we drove up, I saw Alexandar and Father driving away. I thought there would be at least one more car going. Nope. I missed the last ride by less than 60 seconds. Oh, well.
So, instead I went to this party at the Bulgarian Church near here. They are funny. They live in a community, about 30 or 40 of them, and are really weird. Their kids all go to school there, they are really isolated. But they had this big parade. Everyone who goes there dressed up funny, there were musical instruments, about 70 people, and a big fire truck. I was embarrassed for them. But then we sang, had lemonade, and hung out. It turned out to be fun. All the local priests were there, but I didn’t have time to talk to any of them. I couldn’t remember if I had to be home at 2:30 or 3:30, so I guessed early and got here an hour early. Oh well. Still had fun.
Now I am leaving for a party at my dad’s old bosses house. It is a long drive, and it is even hotter where we are going then where we are now. That should be nice and warm.
Right…the point of this post…I am thinking of putting up a real website. It wouldn’t be too hard, and since I have a few articles I have written (on religious subjects, of course), I would post them there. It would require work. But it would be an easy way to tell others where the articles are. So, whadda you think? God bless.
Glory to God!
:: 5:28 PM on
Friday, July 04, 2003