The Creed

The Nicene Creed gave me chills Sunday morning.

When was the last time reading a statement of faith did that to you?

Growing up in a “NO CREED BUT CHRIST” household (that’s a creed, by the way), I had not ever given creeds much thought. Hey, they didn’t appear in the Bible (that I could find) so we didn’t have to worry about them. We didn’t need them anyway. Creeds smack of a hierarchy, of tradition, of all those things that make Protestants shake in their pews. We were able to establish for ourselves what we believed, how our Christianity should look in this time, and this place.

But shouldn’t it be something more than that? Our God does not change. There is no shadow or turning with Him, so why should our beliefs about Him be whimsical, tossed about by desires to be relevant, to be accepting, to be (cringe) tolerant?

The Creed demands something of me as I recite it, and I am finding that each time I say it it seems to burrow its way further into my soul:

“I believe in One God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth…and in one Lord Jesus Christ…begotten of the Father before all worlds …and the Holy Spirit, which proceeds from the Father…one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church…one baptism for the remission of sins…the resurrection of the dead…and the life of the world to come.”

If I believe them, then I must act on them. I must worship this One God rightly. I must unite myself to that Holy Church. There is no wiggle room in these words, no qualifications, no exceptions.

These words have worked for more than 1,600 years. They have stood against countless heresies and attacks. I like the fact that my church won’t change this. It’s been all these years and we’re still standing there, reciting it. It occurred to me during my Chrismation how many people have said these words before me, and how many more will say these words after me. It was and remains incredibly humbling.

Amen.

Denominational Existentialism

I always wanted to know how we (Christians) got here. I read the four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles. But there always seemed such a disconnect between the Day of Pentecost and a lazy Sunday evening service, at least to me. Compounding that question was the other churches that occupied my small town–lots of Catholic churches, a few United Methodists, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, a Mormon, and a Pentecostal or two.

Where did they come from? And why weren’t we all going to church together? Are they going to be in Heaven?

{Evangelicals are often, by their very nature, obsessed with who is going (to Heaven) and who is not. And we prefer it, thank you very much, if you can narrow down a specific time when you yourself became sure that you were, in fact, going. If you can’t, then let’s take care of this right now.}

My neighbors went to Catholic school Monday through Friday, confession on Saturday and Mass on Sunday. They had confirmation classes and a First Communion. It was as if their lives centered around their church. But were they Christian?

It wasn’t that I didn’t have fun at my church–with Sunday school, AWANA, and going to my church’s grade school. But I was always a little bit curious about the other churches, and concerned about who went to them. And to really make me worried about my neighbors, their dad smoked cigarettes and drank beer.

But I digress–back to the questions of origins.

Nowhere in any of my perusing and studying of the Bible did I find any real mention of church denominations, such as “And on the 14th day, God created the United Church of Christ”… “Blessed are the Protestants, for they shall inherit much confusion”… They (the denominations) had to come from somewhere. But no one really could explain it.

All this to say, I think I packed up for this spiritual and theological journey rather early. I don’t even think I knew I was taking this trip, and as I look back I really, honestly can see how every doubt, every question led me to this place. Even this question of from whence we came …

I’m a "why" kid…

I always drove my mom nuts with “WHY”.

*It’s time for bed.

“WHY”

*Eat your broccoli.

“WHY”

Bless her, for she always answered, and sooner or later we’d find one that I could live with. “Because sleep/broccoli will make you grow taller.” (I was tiny). It wasn’t so much the quality of the answer, as the thoughtfulness and concern of actually taking the time to try to come up with one. I appreciate effort, even if it leads nowhere.

Growing up in the church, I had a lot of “WHY”s along the way. But too many of the churches could never seem to answer that question for me:

*There are thousands of Protestant denominations.

“WHY”

*There are only 66 books in the Bible.

“WHY”

*We don’t speak in tongues.

“WHY”

*We do speak in tongues.

“WHY”

*We believe ‘once saved, always saved’.

“WHY”

*We believe you can lose your salvation.

“WHY”

…and on and on it has gone for me, for so many years now. Different churches brought different attempts to answer those questions, but nothing ever to my satisfaction, and I had a lot more questions than these.

For some reason, Orthodoxy has thus far been able to answer so many of my questions. Sometimes the answer is a simple one…because that is how the Church has always done something. As I look back over a 2,000-year history, I’m ok with that. Sometimes the answer is a shrug, and then “It is a Mystery.” And I’m ok with that too.

There’s a courage in admitting you don’t really know how God does what He does, or why He does it.

I respect that.

Thanks!

My mom and grandma made their first visit to an Orthodox church on Sunday…all things considered it went pretty well. They didn’t sneeze when Fr. Isaac got going with the incense. They didn’t sigh at the sight of a wall of icons. My grandma did suggest to my godmother that we needed less liturgy and more preachin’ (spoken like a true Baptist), but all in all I was so proud of them and honored to have them as my guests.

I know that my conversion to Orthodoxy has been a difficult one for them, as I came out of the liturgical closet, as it were. We have had our fair share of arguments, we have cried and we have learned together. But I want to thank them, above all else.

They took great care to raise me with a fear and love for our God. They made sure I knew not to run in church, knew that you treated a pastor with respect, and that church was the most important place one could choose to be.

To my mom and grandma, thank you so much. I love you.

Square peg and other metaphors

I can safely say I tried almost every single type of church that’s out there. Small fundamentalist churches, big fundamentalist churches, mega-churches, college town churches, charismatic churches, and house churches. It would be easy, and probably reasonable, to fear that Orthodoxy is just the next stop-off. I would be less than honest if I said that fear hadn’t crossed my mind in the days after I joined the Church.

But here’s the difference. All my life I had been the spiritual square peg, trying to stuff myself in the round holes of Western Christianity. From absolutely the moment I walked into an Orthodox church and found myself stumbling through the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, I fit.

I’ve been trying to figure out why that is. Intellectually, the evidence of the unbroken chain of history from Sts. Peter and Paul is impressive. Theologically, my church’s statement of faith, which we recite during each Divine Liturgy, is the pre-filioquian Nicene Creed (it’s worked for centuries). And spiritually, its practices provide for complete healing and accountability in an active faith community.

But I think it’s something more than that. It was home to me. It was as if all my spiritual life I had been outside in the snow, my nose pressed to the frosty glass of a window. Inside the window was all the safety and warmth I could ever need. Now that I’m inside, I couldn’t ever leave. Why would I? There wasn’t any “wrapping my head around” that decision. The decision wrapped itself around me. I am captive.

And I don’t mind.

Something to shoot for…

About six months ago, I joined the Holy Orthodox Christian Church. My whole life was preparing me for that step, though of course I had no idea. If you had told me 10 years ago, as a first-team Protestant, that that was what God would call me to, I would have told you you were crazy.

But here I am, an Orthodox Christian, in a world of die-hard Evangelical Protestants.

I am not big on journaling…it feels too much like work, so I didn’t write a lot of this down. But over the months and years, at times I felt kinda like Mary, the blessed Mother of our Lord, as I “treasured all these things” in my heart.

Now my heart is full, and I must get it out. And for some reason, this seemed like a good way to do it. So over the next few days, weeks, months, or however long it lasts, this little blog of mine will detail some of my thoughts, feelings and fears as I was led closer and closer to Orthodoxy. I’ll also probably throw in some of these things that I am learning now, or need to learn, or don’t want to learn.

That’s my goal. Let’s see if I can stick to it.