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The theological reflections of an Eastern Orthodox convert and seminarian
:: St Seraphim, OCA::
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:: Wednesday, July 28, 2004 ::

Confession (Part 1 billion of…)

So, I am sitting looking at this paper that I have which outlines a basic confession. It’s simple enough: it is a list of sins. It is not particularly specific, but neither is it too broad. It has about 75 or so sins. I should get this, right?

Of the sins on the paper, I have committed quite nearly all of them. So, I’m a sinner. I already knew that. But I guess because I have committed nearly all of them, I do not feel particularly sinful. I have the wrong attitude of, “Oh, well. From the looks of this paper, nearly everyone has done that sin, so I guess I’m just like them.” I mistakenly don’t feel any sorry for the sins listed here. I would dare to say that I am inclined to be proud of the very sins I should despise. “Yeah, I remember the time I lied to that sucker. Boy, he sure deserved that, since he is such a slacker…and I got away with it so beautifully! That was great!” I just compound my sins.

So…as far as writing a life-time confession, I can list my sins easy enough. I did this, that, and the other thing. But feeling sorry? Compunction? Repentance? Trying to do better? Well, I usually don’t try to sin, but when I do, I rarely feel sorry for it. I do not fully understand the weight of my sins, or the consequences thereof. I live in enough comfort and ease that if I “mess-up,” I can usually fix it with only a little hassle. It must be possible to develop repentance, tears, contrition and the like, but I have a long road ahead of me! I read about saints (St. Mary of Egypt comes to mind) who spent their whole lives repenting of their sins. I can’t even spend 5 minutes feeling sorry for my sins without feeling sorry for myself (which is bad).

Of course, the irony of this is that I will probably be way shy when I actually have to say the confession that I have written. Stupid pride. The one time I should not be ashamed of my sins is probably the only time I will be. Ah, the irony of this sinner’s life.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!

Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 9:53 PM on Wednesday, July 28, 2004 [+] ::

:: Sunday, July 25, 2004 ::
God’s Timing: the pieces are coming together

So, my posts have been a little distracted and spotty recently. This shows both that I am busy with school (which ended Thursday), and now busy with a 60-hour/week job (starts TOMORROW). It also shows that God didn’t take either of these into consideration with his whole timing thing.

Let me digress into story-time for a brief paragraph. I have been going to the monastery for Liturgy for the last few weeks this summer. The last week of June, I’d had a conversation with a Sarah, a friend at the monastery; we’d discussed various sacraments and Church stuff. Then on July 5th, up at Fort Ross, there was a sort of “itch” in my soul. It was something that I couldn’t quite describe, and it wasn’t for lack of trying. I vaguely knew what it was, but I also knew that as I couldn’t describe it in words to myself, I certainly couldn’t describe it in words to anyone else, especially being as shy as I am. So, I wrote her a rather general letter to Sarah, asking a little about Confession.

The key here is that I wrote the letter to Sarah , not to Fr. Sergious. But, I know Sarah, and I knew she would show it to Father (actually, she read it to him). It was written in a vague and overly formal style. It didn’t ask many pointed questions, but alluded to things and beat around the bush. I vaguely asked how one goes about asking a priest to hear a confession, procedural stuff, and irritating technical details.

Anyway, as I was venerating the cross after Liturgy last week, he said, “Yes, yes, yes. Everything in the letter: yes.” While I assumed he would read the letter, sometimes I do not understand what he says, and I figured I would smile, nod, and ask Sarah about the letter. Well…I did find Sarah, but she told me to go find Father. He actually found me, and handed me a paper entitled “A Short Confession before one’s spiritual father.” I opened my mouth to protest, but I kind of got cut off. He explained what a spiritual father is, and what it means that he is now mine.

Wow. I had kind of assumed he would play along with the ‘game-like’ atmosphere of the letter; vague and shy. I felt a little like I’d been thrown into the river that runs through the monastery. Actually, it was really, really good, and the kick-start I probably needed. I think he knew I was far too shy to ask him, although I really wanted to; he answered from the letter far more than I had the courage to ask. It has been a week now, and I am still trying to let it sink in. Why would someone who is holy want to deal with me? Shouldn’t people like Fr. Sergious spend time on people with potential, rather than the rest of us? Aren’t I somehow a waste of time? I still can’t believe it…

It is like all of the elements are suddenly coming together now. Of course, I am incredibly busy right now, and do not have time to sit and pray and think about all this, but it seems like so many pieces are falling into place. I am loosing my battle against Orthodoxy. Unfortunately, the summer ends so soon, and I will have to go back to school. I finally got the nudge I needed, and now I already have to go back. I ask then now for your prayers. I am in the process of writing my lifetime confession. I don’t have the time for any of this, but it is all happening right now. Please, pray for me.

Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 10:20 PM on Sunday, July 25, 2004 [+] ::

:: Sunday, July 18, 2004 ::
The Substantiary Nature --- Of US!

I know this is not exactly a shock, but I am usually rather shy of priests and the like. I am usually fine watching them serve; I know they are not paying much attention to the people in the congregation (in a good way; they are praying). Usually I can kind of blend in and there is a certain feeling that I am just part of the whole ship, moving its way to salvation.

Today, during the Liturgy (up at the monastery), I got scared of Fr. Sergious. It has caught my attention each time I have seen it, but this time I not only thought about what he was saying, but also saw the look on his face as he was saying it. It has to be the ump-teenth Liturgy he has served, and the ump-teenth time he has said those words. But I heard them today.

We have a substantiary nature. During one of the prayers of consecration, Fr. Sergious turns toward the congregation, comes through the Royal Doors, lifts up his hands, and says, “Again we offer unto thee this reasonable and unbloody service, and beseech thee and pray thee and supplicate thee: send down thy Holy Spirit upon us …and upon these Gifts here spread forth:” He always stops and turns back before continuing with the “…and upon these Gifts here spread forth.” He is offering us up to God to be transformed by the Holy Spirit. We are the Eucharist (the crumbs from the bread representing the individuals in the community), and now we are also sanctified like the Eucharist. Spooky! But, it does answer some questions about substantiary nature: of course, as soon as I know how to ask the questions that it answers…

Albeit the ump-teenth time he had said those words, I could somehow see again the look of the “Church” on his face, and it scared me. It was not my usual, semi-bashful shyness that keeps me quiet when there are people around; this was more of a cowering type of fear. The Church, dare I say Christ, held out the mysteries, sanctifying the people, along with the bread and the wine. There was more than one priest-monk praying for his small community. It was as if he were praying to a God that he knew so well; he knew Him so well that there was no doubt that He would come and sanctify the people, bread, wine, and eventually the whole world. Don’t take this the wrong way, but he looked a little like a medieval sorcerer at the end of a fantasy movie, conjuring the ultimate, glorious display of power; there was perfect confidence, but at the same time there was the need to actually do it.

It was startling; it was another one of those moments when I was suddenly was in a different time-period, or maybe not really in time altogether…maybe I’m just crazy.

Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 6:27 PM on Sunday, July 18, 2004 [+] ::

:: Monday, July 12, 2004 ::
They Lied! And I Believed Them!

Note: The last line of the previous post is so true…For a week now, I cannot shake the feeling that my soul is somehow changed…

Ever since I can remember, I have gone to church. Sunday school. Summer camp. Vacation Bible School. Youth group. And at all of these places, people have been telling me, “God! God is awesome, powerful, He’ll never leave you, and He can do anything. There’s also this eternal place called heaven, and it’s wonderful; it’s forever!” Through their words, they fostered a passionate love of God and a deep dedication to Him in my impressionable young mind.

So, I guess they expected me to rebel. Or something. See, now those same people are coming to me and saying, “Well, yes, God is good and heaven is nice and all, but you need to focus on the real world. Stop thinking about all that God-stuff; it’s only for little kids and old women. You need to make up your own mind about things; trusting in God, yes, but not too much.” I guess when most ‘churchy’ kids become teens, they rebel and wake up and see the ‘real world.’ They realize that they will have to make it for themselves; this vague idea called ‘prayer’ their parents taught them is just an imaginary thing built on clouds, not facts. I guess no one expects people to take it seriously, or if they do, they temper it with a good dose of reality.

It was as though the words of the adults were just that: words. The way they said it, the passion with which they spoke these words into my life: “Love God, Erica; He is worthy of your life!” They must have been deceptive. And I believed them! Now I look at what they are telling me. They say that to study theology or ecclesiology is a waste of time; sure, go to church on Sunday, but don’t get too involved in it. They say I am “smart” and should do something that is ‘worthy of the gifts God has given you,’ rather than theology. They tell me I will waste my life if I follow this path of childsplay and impractical things like God. They will condescend sometimes, “Sure, there’s a God. But you should do ____ rather than serve Him.”

Sometimes I want to yell to them, “Then you lied to me! You told me God was real, that He is not a fantasy; you told me that He was worthy of all I could give Him. You told me that He will watch out for me. You told me…” But I quickly fall silent…there is nothing I can say. Perhaps they are right. Perhaps I need to return to the ‘real world,’ their world, where “religion” is a duty which one must fulfill from 8:30-10:30 on Sunday morning. They say my world is one that is for a time passed; this is the modern world. Young women need to get degrees in practical things so they can work full time and earn a living; they don’t need to study ridiculous things that won’t provide a steady income.

Perhaps they are right and I should put ‘childish’ things away and become an ‘adult;’ I should party with ‘other’ friends. Sometimes, in growing up, it is as if they were giving me permission to rebel, get in trouble, or break their rules. I am not old enough to drink, but somehow I think they would be happier if I went out and got drunk at an orgy than went to church!

Why am I not like most people? Why can’t I be happy with their ‘religion?’ Oh, and for those of you who think I am ‘just’ a convert who has recently “discovered” religion, let me assure you, my past credentials speak otherwise. This is not something new; this is not something that I have developed since I found Orthodoxy; no, this is the reason I found Orthodoxy. This is the reason I turned down very prestigious schools to go to a Christian school. I can’t just have a once-a-week religion.

It is so frustrating sometimes. They say to have faith, but then turn right around and say that I shouldn’t. We’re not even talking a words-deeds disconnect: we are talking a words-words disconnect. I do not understand them. I don’t understand the world; I know many pious people who do this, and I do not understand it. Either Christ is raised, and my faith is not in vain, or I am of all men most miserable. Lord, have mercy!

Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 7:43 PM on Monday, July 12, 2004 [+] ::

:: Wednesday, July 07, 2004 ::
5th of July

So…the holiday is the 4th, I know, but I had more fun on the 5th.

I live about an hour south of Fort Ross, California, an old Russian fort built shortly after the Russians discovered Alaska.

Anyway, for the 4th of July (actually the 5th), Bp. Benjamin, the new Bishop of Berkeley, was celebrating liturgy there. It was (literally) really cool (and windy, foggy, &c). There were three priests and a deacon celebrating with him, and about 60 people in the audience. I do not know how many spoke English, but I would guess it was roughly half American and half Russian. After the liturgy, we went to walk up about half a mile to the old graveyard to have a Moleiben.

The hike up to the grave yard was the best part of it all. One of the monks from Pt. Reyes, Fr. Elijah, was in a bright red altar boy vestment and was carrying a large iconographic cross in the front. Behind him were the rest of the monks, various types of clergy, and a small handful of laymen. But the monks were the coolest looking. We were walking toward the ocean, and were only a few hundred feet from it, so the wind was blowing directly at us. They were in a straight line, with their veils majestically flowing from their high kamilavkas. As they moved, you could catch glimpses of unkempt hair or beard also blowing in the wind. They were all in riassas, which gave a floating, rather than walking, effect to their movements. As we started up the hill, they began chanting the troparion to the cross. Their movements, like the solemn Russian melody, was slow and purposeful; there was nothing frivolous or hurried about either their actions or haunting song.

I caught my breath. I had to stop and check the century. Yes, there were cars parked in the far-off parking lot. Yes, this is still the 21st century. But, looking back in front of me, no, there was no time. It could have been 1000 years ago, and the scene would have been unchanged. As I walked up the hill, I couldn’t help but feel I had been given some secret glimpse into a time-less world. There is nothing new here, nothing to hurry about, nothing that hasn’t been done before. Time does not affect this world; it is as changeless as the black riassas flowing in the salty wind. In my world of hectic change and constant motion, I received immeasurable encouragement from seeing these black-robed monks walk along their way, chanting solemnly and slowly. It was like a holy pilgrimage to an unknown place. I was somehow out of place; it was like I had snuck into the group, and did not really belong there. My whole soul leap for joy, but at the same time I couldn’t shake the nagging fear that if they somehow knew who I was and the sins I had committed, they wouldn’t have let me be there. It was too beautiful, too holy, too humbly majestic for the likes of me. But I saw it. If they knew me, they would have kicked me back out, into my world of chaos and change and cluttered noise. I shouldn’t have been permitted to see the timeless, mysterious, glorious beauty of the scene. But I was there. I saw beauty, and it did something to my soul.

Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 6:46 PM on Wednesday, July 07, 2004 [+] ::

Convert’s Zeal

Now, I know most of you who are reading this are converts; in fact, I can only think of 4 of you who I know are not converts to Orthodoxy. For you cradles, you will understand the proposed bumper sticker, “O Lord, save us from the converts!” For you converts, I am sure you have heard this sentiment expressed.

It is undeniable; there is such a thing as convert’s zeal. We have all seen it, and most of us have probably experienced it. It is that first few months/year or so of being in the Orthodox church (or any church, although Evangelicals strongly deny it!) where the proselyte can speak and think of nothing else than the wonder of the church he has recently joined. But this is necessary, and not to be mocked.

I resent the mockery of ‘convert’s zeal.’ While it would seem more ‘fair’ if this mockery came from cradle Orthodox, most often (in my experience), it comes from other converts! While I have the feeling this may be either jealousy or pot-kettle calling, it is not fair to the new convert. Convert’s zeal is one of God’s great gifts to converts. Switching religions is hard , really hard, and the grace that a convert has that makes him desirous to attend more services, study and read more, and generally become more active in the life of the church is something he desperately needs. To use myself as my example: My parents are not Orthodox, or even very friendly to the idea; My school is openly hostile to what I believe, and many people are not afraid to make their damnation of my belief evident. If it were not for ‘convert’s zeal,’ conversion would be impossible. Often for converts living in a difficult situation, the church is the only place where we can go and NOT be mocked or belittled for our religion. Therefore, for you cradles out there, and especially you converts who are more level-headed, do not mock those who are new and who need your help. The very church that they are trying to join should not be a participant in the mockery they deal with enough in the rest of life.

Of course, I cannot really complain. My priest here at home is cradle Orthodox; the priest emeritus is even more cradle Orthodox (comically so, oftentimes). Although I am not sure why, it seems to be much easier to be a convert around cradle priests; I am oddly enough more comfortable around the older of the two of them. Perhaps because he has the grace to ignore my stupid ‘convert’s zeal’ and rather knows enough to allow me to be my oddly theological self. I don’t know.

Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 6:06 PM on [+] ::

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