Upon request…

Christ is risen!

I’m writing this post in response to a comment/question posed on the comments thread of my tea bag post. “S”, an Orthodox inquirer, asked about the Orthodox view of “assurance of salvation” in light of questions posed by Evangelicals regarding this issue. (S–did I get that right?) He also asked how this played a role in my conversion.

I am often asked about this, particularly when, in discussions, I talk about having grown up in an “eternal security” tradition. It’s confusing how I could have spent so much energy doubting then, and now, in Orthodoxy, not spend the night pacing the floors.

There’s a phrase in Orthodoxy: “I was saved. I am being saved. And I will be saved.”

I was saved–about 2,000 years ago when the Son of God became man, walked among us, and conquered sin and death on the Cross and a glorious third-day Resurrection.

I am being saved–daily as I trust Him, follow Him, believe in Him and participate in the His life, His Body, the Church.

I will be saved–when I die, I trust His mercy and believe that He will have safely led me home.

One of the greatest differences, surprising to me at first, is this true dependence on the great and rich mercy of God. We truly throw ourselves at His feet. We don’t demand salvation in exchange for praying a prayer, for believing or understanding “four spiritual laws”. As a Protestant, I often felt that we believed “God has to take me, I’ve done X or Y.”

And I always heard that people like the Orthodox believed in “works” to get them to heaven. Well, here was a big news flash to me. Praying the “sinner’s prayer” is an action. It is a work. Along with that, throughout Scripture we are told that it is not just a mere head-nod to a belief system, for “even the demons believe.”

St. James tells us that faith without works is dead. Christ offers us the parable of the sheep and the goats, with the only manifest difference between the two groups is WHAT they did.

I had always struggled with passages like those mentioned above. In my view, Protestant Christianity did not give me all the tools necessary to travel that path safely. It seemed the Bible spelled out more than just a belief, but the churches I was in didn’t go a lot further (at least not in a way that was intelletually cohesive) to explain what it meant.

Orthodoxy made more sense to me. It offered context to passages previously left unexplained (at least not in a satisfying way), and it provided directions for the journey.

I think (and to my more knowledgeable and articulate readers, please help me here) the difference is that Orthodoxy is not merely a “world-view” or a belief. I don’t pray a prayer and then call it a day (salvation-wise). It is a lifestyle. It is “the Way.” I do these things that God has commanded, not because they “earn” me a pass to heaven, but because I am sinful. I am spiritually sick and dying. These things–the Sacraments of the Church, fasting, parting with my money–give me the opportunity to get better. They are prescriptions and therapy for spiritual health, wholeness and eternal life.

And I don’t take them blindly. I don’t accept the Body and Blood of Christ without thought, like a baby bird. I am called to partake in FAITH. I do BELIEVE. I know that I am sinful. I know that without Christ I am a snowball with no chance you know where. I TRUST Him. I put all my HOPE in Him.

If all that doesn’t get me anywhere in the great salvation discussion, I could always show them the pre-communion prayers. They blow away any altar call invitation I ever heard.

S-I hope this answered your question.

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Orthodoxy as a tea bag

Christ is Risen!

I know, I know…a weird title. But for some reason it’s been on my mind lately, with absolutely no disrespect intended.

As a Baptist, I was always well-warned of the dangers of ritual and tradition. They were BAD, and to be avoided like dancing, Catholics, and the movies. We didn’t cross ourselves, we had no creeds, we never knelt in church, and rarely, if ever, said the Lord’s Prayer. In all seriousness, I heard quite often about the command to abstain from “vain repetitions.”

The key there, though, is the whole “vain” thing. We’re not commanded to avoid repititions, any more than we are commanded to avoid speaking the name of God. What we are commanded to do is to not do such things in a vain, or useless manner. The sin is not in the saying or the doing, but in saying or doing in a way that means nothing, is useless, or trivializes that which is holy. (I would argue that much of what passes for contemporary Christian culture smacks of invoking the name of God in vain, but more on that later.)

Growing up, I believed that the more you said or do these things, the less they meant. Those who had been raised in those liturgical churches could not possibly mean what they said or did all the time. That’s part of the dangers of those churches, I was told, that trapped in all the vain repeating, the truth of the Gospel is lost. So it was a big adjustment for me to get used to all the trappings of Orthodoxy, even now as an Orthodox Christian. Venerating the cross, reciting the Creed and Lord’s Prayer, and daily written prayers from *gasp* a prayer book, all felt very foreign, scary, and a tad sinful. The error, of course, was not in my actions, but in my perceptions.

The more I reflected on WHAT I was doing, HOW I was doing, and WHAT it meant, the more I understood the theology behind my faith in general, and the more I felt God’s hand drawing me to Himself.

(Here comes the teabag connection.) It was as if I became steeped in theology, my life infused with the richness of the knowledge of God’s love and His great gift of salvation.

This week, this kind of hit me–my life as a teapot, filled with the Holy Spirit, and infused with the Body of Christ, His Holy Church. (I know this analogy breaks down on some levels, but work with me here.) I have to be open to it. I have to believe it, I have to receive it, and I have to do it. No one will do it for me. And if I’m not willing, or not serious, or don’t believe, well, that’s on me.

I am finding, the longer this goes on, I know more about Christian history, Christian theology, and the beauty of the Mystery. I’m able to relax in those things I can’t know. I trust Him more. And church MEANS more because everything I do there means something. I am not just gathering together, and listening.

I am doing. I am receiving. I am steeping.

False advertising

On a recent road trip, I encountered a bulletin board advertising a Pentecostal church, pitching for visitors to join them for services on the upcoming date of Pentecost. At the bottom of the billboard was the claim this church was founded in 33 A.D.

Ummm. No.

Just saying you are something doesn’t make it so. I can declare until I am blue in the face that I am, in fact, a fire engine, but NEVER will I be a fire engine. And just declaring ones’ self to be along the line of Apostolic Succession, linked to the original followers of Christ, does not make it so, either. One does not “recover” the early church by paying attention in a different way to theology or worship, nor does one claim to be a true “apostle” or “bishop” unless you really are one.

I am not trying to be a church snob, I’m really not. But I really think for the sake of accuracy, one should take a look at this. It was this little diagram, and others like it that I could NOT argue around when I was wandering through church-land.

I grew up thinking, as a Baptist, that we weren’t Protestants, that we didn’t protest. I had even heard that we were descendants from John the Baptist. I was misled. And just by saying “we’re not Catholic” didn’t make us any closer to that orginal church. It was a hard pill to swallow–one I choked on for years.

The reality of it is this. Christ founded His church, His Body, on Peter and the Apostles. It was revealed dramatically at Pentecost, with the presence of the Holy Spirit. That Body, that work, continued un-interrupted in a major way until the Great Schism of 1054. (However, there were a few minor schisms, groups splitting off over major heresies involving Christology). In some ways the Reformation is secondary to the tragedy of the first major split, and the further I go into Orthodoxy, the more depressed that 1054 thing makes me.

In the comments section on an earlier post, I mentioned a comment by The Relic blogger in defense of Orthodoxy to an argument from the “emergent church”. History, I said, is hard to work around. I do not want to disparage or attack any other church or group, especially those that seek to restore the life and vibrancy of the early Church in their faith communities. To them I again say “Come and see.” As demonstrated on that little map up there, we’re still around.

I have a bumper sticker that says “Orthodox Christianity: Preaching the Truth since 33 A.D.”

That’s exactly as advertised.

All in the family

One of the things Orthodoxy is teaching me about this Christian life (and it is a life, not an ideology) is that it cannot be lived out without a community.

Last night/this morning, as I belted out, probably off-key, our Paschal hymns, I looked around me at the faces of my family—and I thought about how all of us had had long journeys before we got to St. John Chrysostom Church, but now we were on this journey together.

Some are here fleeing political upheaval in their countries, some fleeing war, some for better opportunities, some for job transfers, some never left our region. We came to our church from atheism, agnosticism, cults, heretical churches, no churches, churches in schism.

But we’re all here now.

We have troubled kids, good kids, no kids. We have good parents, bad parents, or deceased parents.

And regardless of the language we speak, we are everybody.

We are each other’s problems, each other’s joys, each other’s sorrows, and each other’s love.

Our church basement holds maybe 60 people comfortably, which makes it difficult for a church of 150, especially on the high feast days. But we work it out. We move almost in shifts around the room, taking each other’s seats, sliding chairs around, passing food, getting drinks for each other. It’s a kind of dance with us.

Last year, this (Orthodoxy) was all so new to me. In some ways it still is, but with my church family, and they with me, it is developing a sort of Velveteen Rabbit quality—ears stretched out, whiskers bent, and noses kissed off. We are a mess. But we are His.

To my family at St. John’s—
I love you all, and I am honored to be a part of this House, this family.

God bless!