Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Gate is Narrow

So on the belief front, I moved pretty rapidly to a point of complete acceptance. I can say now that I know of nothing in the dogmatic teaching of Orthodox Christianity that I would disagree with, and I am fully prepared to accept whatever the tradition might have left to teach me. In terms of practice, however, I am still just getting started. Initially, I followed something like the same strategy I’d used with Judaism. I picked up an Orthodox prayer book and began to use it as regularly as I could manage. For quite some time, that was about as far as it went, but I was getting good exposure to the core ideas of Orthodoxy and growing accustomed to things like crossing myself and prostrations. My wife had not thought much of my idea about becoming Messianic Jewish, and although she was glad to hear that I was giving up on that idea, she was even less enthusiastic about Orthodoxy. I understood her prejudices, because I’d had the same objections myself for years without ever giving them a second thought. I had been highly motivated to learn otherwise, but she was not. She was quite content with her faith and spiritual life, and to a certain extent, I was reluctant to upset that. While I had drifted far and wide in my thinking about Christianity, desperately seeking some peace and fulfillment, she had had these things all along. No matter how much I felt that I had found the truth, I could not shake the suspicion that it might not be what I thought, and I would have to go on to something else. I did not want to ruin what she already had for the sake of what I might or might not find.

I knew I had to attend an actual service, so I found a nearby parish and, with my wife’s consent, I visited one Sunday morning. It was unfamiliar and a bit awkward, but certainly more palatable than I had expected. I had no visions, no realization that this was exactly where I needed to be. It was just a so-so, vague experience that didn’t seem to mean much of anything one way or the other. I continued reading and praying occasionally, but not much happened for the next few months. I didn’t want to pressure my wife, but I also didn’t want us heading in two different directions. More and more, though, I felt like I had to do something, so eventually we had to revisit the issue.

On the advice of an Orthodox acquaintance at school, I had been focusing on the cross during prayer, and it seemed like it was time to see about getting some icons. I had read somewhere about people carrying diptychs when they travel, and I thought that might be the best option. Since I knew my wife would find it offensive to have a full icon corner, this way I could put the icons away when I wasn’t using them. I asked her about it, and she ended up going along with the idea (although reluctantly, and with the stipulation that she didn’t want to see them), but she admitted that she’d been hoping I would just lose interest in Orthodoxy. I explained that that wasn’t likely, but we left it at that.

It happened a little later that I’d lost track of time while thinking about whether I would fast for Lent or not, and when I realized that Orthodox Lent was about to begin, I figured God was giving me a second chance. (If you don’t know, some Orthodox still follow the old Julian calendar, which puts all of their feasts out of sync with the West, but pretty much all Orthodox observe a different schedule for Pascha and the holidays that are linked to it.) When my wife went away for a week to visit some family, I figured it was a good opportunity to attend an Orthodox service again. This time, I prepared by reading through the liturgy and listening several times to a recording. It ended up being a much more fulfilling experience, and I felt comfortable even with prostrations at the end and going up to venerate the cross. I also got to hang around afterward and talk to some people. Several of them had gone through periods when one spouse was Orthodox but the other was not. I found it encouraging that my experience was not unusual and that there was some hope that my wife would eventually come around. When I talked to her about it later and said it had given me some hope, she said there was no hope, and that led to further discussion. I tried to explain how serious I was about this, and how she’d at least have to accept that this was what I was doing. It was obvious, though, that we had to start finding a way to communicate better about the situation.

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