The eyes of my faith

I’ve been having some struggles of late, wrestling with the demons and ghosts from my past and trying to figure out how I’m supposed to apply my Orthodox faith to all this. It’s made me want to, frankly, curl up in a little ball and pull the blankets way up over my head.

The disciplines of faith are extremely difficult right now. Prayer is hard, study is nearly impossible, and I have not been able to be in my church for a Sunday morning in almost three weeks. That is never good. And, out of that old Protestant sense of guilt, I have found myself running and hiding like Adam in the Garden.

Then the other morning, as I was loading the breakfast dishes into the dishwasher, pouring coffee in the travel mug and getting ready to head out the door, He caught my eye.

(Yes, I said He caught my eye.)

I have an icon of Jesus right smack above my kitchen sink: Christ the Pantocrater. This particular icon is a favorite of my godmother. It is known for its eyes, which are strikingly different. One holds a soft gaze, the other eye is more stern. It seems to balance itself out, and is incredibly moving.

Anyway, I could not turn away from that icon, both eyes speaking to me of His great love and strength. I found myself praying out loud for strength and confessing my weakness. It was as if God Himself met me in my kitchen.

Saturday night at Vespers, my godmother gave me an icon of the Ladder of Heaven, depicting us on our journey to heaven, with demons trying to pull some off the ladder, and other travellers just falling on their own.

It offered me an instant snapshot of how serious this journey is–how vulnerable we are to our own failings and to the attacks of our enemy. But we are to press on, regardless of the perils that surround us.

I needed those two reminders this past week. And I know that I would not have heard them from words spoken to me. I know that I would have ignored them if they had come in any other form.

I need my icons. I really do. I need to be able to look up while doing dishes and see the face of the One who loved me so much that He would be found in fashion as a man, and humble Himself, even unto death on the cross. I need to look at the pictures of my patron saint, Eunice, a teenage martyr who gave up more and suffered more than I would ever be able to do. I need to gaze upon the mournful face of St. John in the icon of the Taking Down of Christ’s Body from the Cross–to remind me of how it is ok to love, to be sad, and to mourn.

One of the services that “got me” was on the Sunday of Orthodoxy, a feast devoted to remembering the triumph of those who argued for Holy Icons. As I stood in the foyer of my little church, I watched smiling children gingerly remove icons from the walls of the sanctuary, carrying them as if they were glass. As the adults, the children carried them outside in a procession led by Fr. Isaac, waving the censor, marching around the building. I felt, as a non-Orthodox, I should not participate, though I think that was mental wimpiness on my part (I probably didn’t know exactly what I thought about it). So I stood in that foyer and watched through the glass doors as they approached from the sidewalk. And as they came in, singing hymns and clutching those icons, I broke down completely, crying as I watched that “great cloud of witnesses” parade before me back into the sanctuary.

Often those who criticize Orthodox worship level charges of idolatry, unable to discern the difference between venerating (showing respect) to the person or truth represented in the icon, and worshipping the Triune God. (Maybe that is because, as Fr. Peter Gilquist says, they merely venerate God, instead of truly worshipping Him.) But I believe that other Christians have eliminated this practice at their own peril, again cutting off another way in which God has provided to communicate His truth.

We were made to understand Truth visually, and concretely. Throughout the Old Testament there are countless examples–the promise in the rainbow after the flood; the serpent on the pole in the wilderness; the rich physical detail included in the temple, the priests robes, and the manner in which His people were to worship Him.

Why much of Christianity has turned its collective back on this I will never know. For me it is a way to connect with God in a way I had often experienced, but never recognized. It is yet another part of my soul that Orthodoxy feeds.

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Guest appearances

Since my conversion to Orthodox Christianity, I am constantly shocked by how “Orthodox” I must have always been. Nowhere is that more evident then when I get to visit the Protestant churches of my friends and family.

Note to readers, especially the aforementioned friends and family, this is NOT meant as a criticism of your specific churches, but rather part of this continued discussion on WHY I’m no longer happy in many of those specific churches.

I attended one of those churches on Sunday. It was all the things I would have thought I was looking for in a church 10 years ago: friendly, warm, upbeat/talented worship, and a good (but brief) sermon.

As I walked into the cream-colored sanctuary, the absolute only thought in my little brain was “where are the icons.” I was dying for something to kiss, to venerate, to respect. There was no Great Entrance, no time to literally and physically bow in awe of the gift of salvation. There was no corporate prayer. It just doesn’t feel like church without a few “Lord, have mercy”s. And I cannot describe the size of the hole left by the absence of the Eucharist.

The word liturgy comes from the Greek word for, and I’m sure someone can correct me if I’m wrong, an act of the people.

It is this thing we do together. We don’t sit and watch a great concert, or a drama, or a film clip. We don’t clap and sway to the music as if at a dance hall. We come before the throne of the great Triune God and together we seek His face, together we seek His mercy, together we worship Him.

In my church on Sunday, the priest comes out and stands before us, not as one who is between me and God, but as one who helps to lead me, and as one who stands among us.

We are all in this together.

Apologies

To those who read the blog…please allow me to offer an apology for a lack of posts in the past week. It’s been a bit crazy, and I haven’t been home to write much. But please hang in there, and do come back. I promise something by the end of the week, if not by the end of the evening.

God bless!

Sleepless nights, part I

BLOGGER NOTE:I promised my brother-in-law a new post…so here ya’ go. … There are so many things I want to write about, that it actually freezes me up every time I sit down to write. So for those two loyal readers who wish I would write more, I really will try. … Shout out to Pee-wee 😉

I never needed to watch scary movies when I was little. I had the Rapture to keep me up at night. While my friends were watching Freddy slash his way up and down Elm Street, I was creeped out by the still-buzzing electric razor rattling around the porcelain sink during “A Thief in the Night.” No offense to Lahaye and Jenkins (at least not right now) but “Left Behind” has nothing on the “Thief” film. I cannot tell you how many of my church friends cited that movie as the thing that got them “saved.”

I remember listening to youth speakers at AWANA camp talking about the evils of Satanism in rock and roll, and what you would hear if you played a record backward. I heard more than my fair share on the 70 weeks in Daniel and the Beast of Revelation.

All that led to my constant sprinting up the stairs into my parents’ bedroom to make sure my mom had not been snatched away. When my sisters were really young, I would stand in their bedroom and watch them sleep. For a long time the youngest was under that mysterious “age of accountability” (sola scriptura, my eye), so I was pretty sure that they would be taken away.

Yes, my readers, I doubted my “salvation”. I prayed the “sinner’s prayer” so much, it was like a Rosary. I would lie in bed at night, mumbling it over and over and over. Finally, at about the age of 12, I just had to stop. I was driving myself completely nuts, and there was enough going on around me to do that, without me having to do it for myself. I used to feel guilty for all that worried praying—if only I could trust Him, if only I could know for sure if I really meant it, and if only I could know for sure if He really accepted my prayer.

Silly, isn’t it. It’s what happens when “salvation” becomes fire insurance, instead of the restoration of Communion between the Creator and His created, if that makes sense. I was never too excited about Heaven, but I really didn’t want to go to Hell, and even worse, be left behind like that electric razor, rattling around without anyone to steady it.

But here’s the thing, I don’t think it’s about going to heaven or not going to hell. Heaven is heaven only because we exist there with the One whom we were created to know. The better we know Him here, the more we will want to be with Him there, and the more we understand His great mercy and love for mankind. That means we also learn to trust Him more.

Orthodoxy is tailor-made for people like me. My morning prayers, my evening prayers, the Divine Liturgy, the Jesus Prayer…these things are a constant hurling of oneself on the mercy of God. We say things like “Lord, have mercy” and “have mercy upon us and save us.”

Do I say these things because I fear His wrath? Nope, I say these things because I trust His love. I know that He saved me through His death and resurrection, I know that I am being saved as I follow Him, trust Him and worship Him, and I believe I will be saved when I stand before Him. They are no longer prayers from a heart of fear, but from a heart (I hope) of trust, one that is a part of His bride, His inheritance, His beloved.

That’s not so scary, is it?