Thursday, November 30, 2006

the Bible? sure, I've read that . . .

I finally got Bl. Theophylact's The Explanation of the New Testament (well, the volumes on Matthew, Mark, and Luke, anyway, which is all that's been published so far in English). I read The Arena a while back, in which Bishop Ignaty hammers his monastic readers on the need to spend time in the Gospels. Honestly, if you're not careful, you can easily come away from a lot of these exhortations with the impression that all Orthodox spiritual fathers want from their children is for them to be more Evangelical--read your Bible more, pray from the heart, don't get so caught up in ritual, etc.

In a sense, it probably is true--everything has its tendencies, and often strengths go hand-in-hand with corresponding weaknesses. So yes, there are areas where Evangelicals probably have a leg up on a lot of Orthodox. As my wife says, Orthodox worship may look more reverent, but isn't it also easier to mask when the people don't actually feel more reverent? Well, yes it is. Viewed positively, you can also play the behaviorist and say that doing it whether you feel it right now or not is a good way to help your feelings catch up. But the negative point is still valid. (On the other hand, the same thing can apply to Evangelicalism--how many times have I found myself singing out, singing well--by all appearances "in to" the worship--but not paying attention to a single word of the lyrics?) But the problem with Evangelicalism is never that it gets everything wrong; it gets quite a bit right. The problem with Evangelicalism is its minimalism--how it jettisoned so much that was good along with the bad that it found in Catholicism. And it can be seen that Evangelicals returning to Orthodoxy bring with them some strengths that the Church needs. But they're strengths that only become useful when they're "baptized" into the Church. Anyway, enough of this tangent.

The point is that reading Bishop Ignaty and St. Theophan the Recluse, both harping on the need to read Scripture, got me thinking that I should be spending more time with it myself. I've always had Scripture, so when I came to Orthodoxy, there was all this other stuff to read, and I got distracted from what's most important. Plus, I had learned not to trust my own understanding of Scripture, so I was hesitant to get back into it until I'd had a chance to learn from the Church. Anyway, it was an overreaction on my part, I'm sure, so after reading The Arena I decided to take a break from the library and spend time in the Gospels. I figured I'd focus my attention on Matthew, Mark, and Luke, since John is supposed to be for those who are already in communion. I started with good intentions, and for a while I stuck it out, but I still felt like something was missing. Bishop Ignaty had stressed reading Theophylact along with the Gospels, and I'd noted at the time that there was an English translation available, but I was too cheap to rush out and buy it.

Finally, I got my first installment of Christmas money (from the in-laws, since we saw them for Thanksgiving but won't for Christmas) and ordered the three volumes, which--lucky for me--cover exactly the material I wanted to read anyway. They arrived a couple of days ago, and I started on Matthew. I'm having a hard time putting it down. I especially like the format, which reproduces the whole text of the Gospel throughout the commentary. That way, I don't have to bounce back and forth between two volumes while I read.

Anyway, no profound insights to share just yet. It's enough for now to record my excitement at diving back into Scripture, this time in dialog with the Church as I go. More to follow, I'm sure.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

a few steps with the Theotokos

Well, I didn't exactly get to enter the holy of holies, but I did get a foot inside the door last night. Finally, after 2.5 years of "exploring" Orthodoxy, I am officially learning how to be Orthodox :-) It's kind of weird how it happens--there's no real ceremony to initiate you into the catechumenate. One DL you're just another person standing there in the congregation, the next you're going up to the front when they pray for the catechumens after the Liturgy of the Word. And until you actually convert, that's really all there is. I suppose it would feel differently if I literally had spent the last 2.5 years in the narthex and suddenly got to come into the nave for the first half of the service. But it still feels pretty good. I'm glad to have the Church praying for me, and I'm glad to be in actual fact what I've been in spirit for quite some time. I'm also glad Julie could be there with me. She said it didn't end up being as emotional an experience as she was expecting. I'm not even going to try to guess why that was, but I'll take it.

Perhaps the strangest part of the evening was when Fr. Gregory welcomed me at the end of the service during announcements. In my experience, he seems to mis-speak at some point during the announcements pretty consistently. (Sorry, Father--maybe it's just coincidence that I'm there whenever it happens.) In this case, he welcomed me to the diaconate instead of the catechumenate. Of course, there was quite a reaction from the group, and he corrected himself, but it does make one think. My dad was asked to be a deacon in the church I grew up in, before anyone realized that he wasn't a member yet, because he hadn't been baptized yet. Of course, being a deacon in that context is quite different from in the Orthodox Church, but it's still an interesting echo.

I should say that I took to heart the advice I received about thinking and praying before last night, about whether or not this was the right thing to do and the right time to do it. I won't say I got any clear sign like a voice from heaven or anything, but I did have one interesting experience over the weekend. The Society of Biblical Literature and American Academy of Religion joint annual meeting was in Washington this year, so I naturally had to go. My first day there was Saturday, and of course I made my way down to the book vendors at the earliest opportunity. I spent a couple of hours wandering through, looking over the offerings, checking discounts, trying to make a mental list of what I wanted to buy. It had been three years since the last time I attended, which was before I even started to think about Orthodoxy. This time the experience was unlike any time before.

As I walked around this huge convention hall (and when I say it took a couple of hours, that was only because I simply cruised by many of the booths with little more than a glance), filled with resources on the study of Bible and religion, all I could think of was the general emptiness. Sure, there was some good material there, but overwhelmingly, it was all dead, meaningless, wasteful. The selection hadn't changed, but I had, and I felt lost amid the noise and flash. Then I came to the small booth for St. Vladimir's Seminary Press--as far as I could tell, the one truly Orthodox publisher represented there--and when I walked in, it was relief. It's hard to explain. I'm sure the experience could be dissected into its perfectly reasonable, perfectly natural components, none of which carries any particular significance. I'm interested in Orthodoxy right now, so that's naturally the material that would interest me. St. Vladimir's is not as popular as many of the other publishers, so it wasn't so crowded or noisy. The list could go on. But what I felt that day was something much more profound. From the cacophony of this Western, post-Christian marketplace, I entered a little sanctuary where my soul could find peace. It summed up in a few minutes what my life has been for the past few years--wandering the maze of Western religion, with its pop culture, its heady academics, its buffet of beliefs and idiosyncratic readings, and finally coming to rest in this unassuming little place called Orthodoxy. Yes, on one level it looks like more of the same--it has its books, its choices, its marketing, and a booth much like any other--but Christ is there in a presence beyond words, and he brings rest and certainty and meaning.

The sessions of the conference were kind of a mixed bag. I went to some that were very good--some surprisingly so--and some that were more of the same meaningless braying. One that I found particularly interesting was on defining the canon of Scripture--basically, a collection of presenters who either have no particular respect for the Bible or seem downright angry with it (like the one who literally spat the word "Bible" throughout her talk), making their case that the books that got in really aren't that different from the books that didn't. (Current scholarship seems to be mostly about stating the obvious. Scholars gave up decades ago on the veracity of Scripture and any notion that its books were written by their attributed authors. Now they need a generation of prophets to tell them that a word like "pseudepigraphic" (falsely named) is no longer useful to distinguish a book like 1 Enoch from, say, Deuteronomy, which everyone knows wasn't written by Moses either.) Again, the arguments weren't especially new or noteworthy, but my reaction was. At various points in my journey I might have followed the speakers in their thinking, or got angry with them for their assault against Scripture. This time, I thought their agendas silly, but I didn't feel threatened by them. Theories will come and go, but the Church will always have the Bible and trust it as God's Word.

Anyway, by the time I left the conference, I was glad to be cutting it short so I could get to Holy Cross for evening DL and my entrance to the catechumenate. In fact, I left a little earlier than I needed to. There are more important things in life.

I had a good time after the service--good conversation, good food (I think I agree that Lenten chocolate cake is better than regular, but for that very reason I'm going to make sure we don't have any around the house), and a blessing from Father to top it all off. I knew I had to get some sleep when I climbed into bed around 11:15--3:45 comes early, after all--but my heart wasn't in it. The excitement was still high, and I didn't really want the evening to end. No service inside this morning, but I'm sitting here on the doorstep thinking about the Theotokos, who got to live in the Temple.
My heart and my flesh have rejoiced in the living God. For the sparrow hath found herself a house, and the turtledove a nest for herself where she may lay her young, Even Thine altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God. Blessed are they that dwell in Thy house; unto ages of ages shall they praise Thee.

Friday, November 17, 2006

weighing the positives and negatives

A good suggestion I received yesterday was to spend some time thinking and praying about the positive and negative effects that entering the catechumenate at this point will have on my relationship with Julie, particularly in light of my responsibilities as husband and father. Here's a first crack at putting down some thoughts on the issue.


I make no claim to perfect certainty about what it means in our context for a husband to love his wife. I have spent a great deal of time considering this issue over the past couple of years, specifically asking myself if it could mean that I should lay aside my desire to become Orthodox for Julie's sake. I remain unconvinced that this is the best understanding, although I am not sure I have a convincing alternative either.

Obviously, the most involved NT passage with regard to the husband's responsibility is Eph 5:22-33. In my view, however, it is important to look at the charge to the wife side-by-side with that to the husband, so that a balanced perspective is obtained. Further, there are some significant differences to be found in other passages that address the husband's obligation, which might affect the final picture.

I think it's safe to say that there is a fundamental assumption in the NT about the husband's role as spiritual leader in the home, particularly when both partners are believers. 1 Cor 14:35, for instance, instructs wives to ask their questions about the content of the church service after they get home. Now, I'm not going to get into the issue here, of how the rule about silence in the church should be applied today. I bring up this passage only to exemplify the assumed relationship.

It goes even further, when passages like the one in Ephesians and 1 Pet 3:1-7 treat submission on the part of the wife as a social norm, like children submitting to parents or slaves to masters. On the other hand, this submission does have to be qualified to some degree. Despite Paul's apparently unqualified language in Ephesians 5 ("in everything"), it does not seem like she is being asked to violate her own convictions. For instance, if her husband is an unbeliever or idolater, and wants her to be the same, Luke 14:26 sets a comprehensive standard of resistance. Also, Paul's instructions in 1 Cor 7:12-16 and Peter's instructions to wives assume that the believing partner's faith is non-negotiable. Let the unbelieving spouse stay if they will, but live your faith in the relationship to sanctify the home. Now, where does one draw the line of conscience? What if her husband wants to switch to a heretical sect? What about another denomination in our setting today? What about political convictions? Drawing the line may not be easy, but admitting that there must be a line somewhere is important.

There are two basic standards in Ephesians for how a husband should love his wife--that of Christ's love for the Church, and that of the husband's love for his own body. The standard of Christ's love relates to his sacrifice for the Church, but it continues into the purpose of that sacrifice--to sanctify and cleanse her, so she may be holy and blameless. He gives everything that is necessary, even to his own death, so that she can be made holy. The standard of the husband's love for his own body has to do with his natural care for the body--feeding it, clothing it, etc. So the husband is to provide his wife with what she needs for life and salvation, even if it means dying to make that happen.

Other passages explicate the husband's love somewhat differently. Col 3:18-19 sets up an opposition between love and bitterness. It seems strange as a general principle, but perhaps the focus is specifically on situations where the wife does not follow or submit. Rather than reacting bitterly, the husband should just continue to love. In 1 Peter, love is described in terms of honor, respect, and consideration--recognizing that the wife is an equal in Christ but dealing gently with her as though she's weak. I'm not sure the intent here is to say that she actually is weaker than the husband in any particular way, but simply to guide how he should deal with her.

So, to sum up, the husband should lead and the wife should submit. But in leading, he should love by sacrificing for her life and salvation, providing for her needs, treating her with honor, respect, and gentleness, and without bitterness. And there does not seem to be any expectation that she should follow him in direct opposition to her convictions about Christ. It is mostly about conduct within the marriage. In that light, it seems likely that the husband is also expected to reserve his core convictions--that sacrificing himself for his wife's sake will not normally mean violating his walk with Christ. In fact, if the goal of self-sacrifice is her sanctification, and if he is supposed to be the spiritual leader, it could be argued that laying aside his convictions is the last thing he should do.


How will proceeding with the catechumenate alone and at this point affect our relationship and my biblical role as husband?

On the positive side, it will certainly help to prevent bitterness on my part. I respect Julie's right to make her own choice about Orthodoxy, and I can be patient with whatever personal issues she needs to work through so that analysis can happen. I trust God to work in the long term, to bring unity and oneness of mind in our relationship. What is more challenging, however, is to resist blaming her for my own exclusion. If she showed any sign of moving toward Orthodoxy, I would be more encouraged about waiting for her to catch up and doing what I could to help along the process. As it is, we're both pretty firm in our convictions at this point, and if anything we've moved further apart in our thinking over the couple of years that this has been going on. With no reasonable prospect in sight of coming to agreement, waiting for that to happen looks like an increasingly bleak option.

Julie feels the tension on this point as well and has already expressed her sense of relief at discovering that it was possible for me to move on without her. However much I have tried not to blame or pressure her, it was still an easy connection to make, that I obviously wanted to head in the direction of Orthodoxy, and her opposition was preventing my progress. She no longer needs to feel like she has to choose between my spiritual growth and hers.

Taking this step also establishes consistency in my spiritual example to my family and to others. As much as I talk about a sacramental outlook and matching external form with internal reality, I've spent the past two years working on my own through a process of spiritual growth, formally outside the Church, and excluded from the sacraments. I won't be able to participate in the sacraments until I actually convert, which could be quite a while longer yet, but now I will be on the Church's prescribed path toward that end. I will be in some sense formally part of the Church and a part of its prayer life, as catechumens are regularly prayed for in the public services. Moving forward thus clarifies the message I'm sending in my spiritual growth. More tangibly, it will also further my growth, as I progress under the guidance of a spiritual father and eventually come into the sacramental life of the Church, where the grace of the Spirit is experienced more fully.

In a related vein, the further I progress into Orthodoxy and the stronger my attachment becomes, the more comfortable I can be with my interaction outside the Church. Right now, all I have is what I do personally. I'm still very much on my own in this process, and that tends to focus my attention on the stuff I do to make myself more Orthodox. As I become more integrated into the Orthodox Church and more established in my organic connection to the Church, the emphasis can shift from doing to being. None of this is to say that right now it should be so much about doing, or that later the doing will go away. My point is simply that it gets easier to rest in my identity as Orthodox, once I'm really in. Perhaps it's the difference between holding onto a rope in the water alongside the boat and actually being in the boat. You keep up, and you get to your destination, whichever way you do it. But when you're in the boat, it's much easier to focus outward on other things. In that sense, I will be in a better position to minister to my family as I progress in my own walk.

On the negative side, the actual service in which I become a catechumen will probably be a difficult experience for Julie. She wants to be there, and I'm grateful for that, but it will be hard. I don't know how lasting the pain of the moment will be. I'm glad in this respect that she'll have a friend coming along for extra support.

Taking this tangible step also constitutes a rather concrete acknowledgement of things we have already accepted, at least mentally--that I want to be Orthodox, while she does not, and that we're not likely to reach any kind of unity on this issue anytime soon. It's not exactly a point of no return, but it does make the whole thing seem a bit more real, and that will probably cause some pain.

It could be argued that becoming a catechumen will also mean more time in Orthodox services, classes, and other activities, which will generally translate into more time apart and particularly more occasions when we go to church separately. On the other hand, my attendance has been increasing gradually over the past couple of years anyway, and it's unlikely that I would attend less if I didn't become a catechumen. (On the contrary, as I discussed above, I would probably feel more internal pressure to attend regularly to make up for my tentative position.) Even though the discussion about starting the catechumenate specifically precipitated a renewed effort to attend more regularly, it was about time for another transition anyway. It's been roughly a year since I adopted a strategy of attending special services, so I would have a chance to experience the different liturgical events on the Orthodox calendar. Now that I've been through the cycle, I would be looking for something with greater consistency anyway.

Even so, the fact of becoming a catechumen and its coinciding with increased attendance could generate a real or perceived distancing from my family, or more particularly from Julie. (Because Ian often attends services with me, I actually end up spending more time alone with him than I would otherwise.) I do need to guard against any real distancing that might result. I need to be more sensitive to ways that I can be there for Julie and that we can interact more closely in what we do share. I should also look for ways to focus my spiritual growth particularly on how Orthodoxy teaches me to be a better father, husband, spiritual leader in the home, etc.


Clearly, there are real positive and negative effects involved in this decision, but on the whole I see the positives as more substantial, particularly if I am cautious about how I handle the negatives.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

savages or saints?

The following passage is quoted in Orthodox Alaska (Michael Oleksa, p. 171) from the autobiography of Rev. S. Hall Young, a Presbyterian minister who was influential on U. S. educational policy in Alaska in the late 19th c., after purchase of the territory from Russia:
I realized . . . that the task of making an English-speaking race of these Natives was much easier than the task of of making a civilized and Christian language out of the Native languages. We should let the old tongues with their superstitions and sin die--the sooner the better--and replace these languages with that of Christian civilization, and compel the Natives in our schools to speak English and English only.
Now, it should be kept in mind that by this point Orthodoxy had been planted and growing among the Aleuts for roughly 100 years. They had comprised the majority of the Christian population even before the Russians left, and after the U. S. took possession of Alaska, the Orthodox Church was kept going by almost exclusively indigenous clergy.

To suggest that any language was incapable of conveying Christian ideas would have been chauvinistic enough; to make this assertion about a language and culture that over the course of a century had so fully embraced Orthodox Christianity that it has ever since been treated as part of their native tradition is downright laughable.

Of course, this crowd probably didn't consider Orthodoxy to be a real form of Christianity anyway. They may have been English-speaking Protestants, but they seemed to differ little from the gang of Spanish Catholics who put to death St. Peter the Aleut a half-century earlier for refusing to convert. I don't want to give the impression that all Protestant missionaries are this culturally insensitive (any more than I would want to say all Catholic priests are murderous oppressors), but it is interesting to see the consistent tensions generated by Western attitudes. In this case, the plights of Orthodox Christianity and Native American culture run together, suggesting that in the end it really does come down to the West vs. everyone else.

Holy Martyr Peter, pray for us!

Friday, November 10, 2006

dark machine of superstition

In a recorded talk I was listening to by Fr. Hopko, he spoke highly of the writings of Karl Stern, a Jewish-converted-to-Catholic psychologist. I decided to see what I could find by him in the library and ran across (among other things) his autobiography, The Pillar of Fire. I've been puttering at it lately, mostly when I'm riding the bus and it's not convenient to use my computer, or when I can't muster enough energy to do anything else. I'm really enjoying the book so far. One passage in particular just jumped out at me. After explaining his lengthy morning prayer routine, he goes on:
I kept strict dietary laws, as much as I could in a household as impious as that of my parents. I kept even my own set of china and cutlery, and soon I was surrounded by a cloud of ascetic detachment like a yogi. At dinner after having eaten I would remain at the table and, with a black skullcap, say the long benediction which follows every main meal. They all tried to get up before that, or to look away. They behaved very much like a family of which one member has gone insane. . . . It was as if I had turned on some dark machine of superstition upstairs in my room every morning (55-56).
A couple of pages later Stern comes to the conclusion of this phase in his life:
As far as my stab at [Jewish] Orthodoxy was concerned, I very soon yielded to the pressure brought upon me by my family. I have a strong suspicion that I used it as an excuse to discontinue Morning Prayer, Afternoon Prayer, Evening Prayer, and the sacrifices involved in the dietary and the Sabbath laws. I had an alibi: it created too much friction and unrest in the family (58).
I can certainly sympathize. Although in my case the problem is not an irreligious family but one of different religious persuasion, I still feel there's some question as to my sanity and little doubt about my "dark machine of superstition." I've also felt the pressure to discontinue various practices for family's sake, and have in fact done so at different points in my journey. Indeed, it was the realization that this pressure would continually exist that led me in search of a community that would share my ascetic struggle. In Orthodox Christianity I've found a good deal more than that, but I needed at least that for starters. As I prepare to enter the second-longest fast season of the year (and perhaps the most taxing, because there is so much outside pressure to eat), I need to know that I'm not doing this alone.

Monday, November 06, 2006

let me introduce myself

Until I found the right time to tell my parents about my interest in Orthodoxy, I wanted to be discrete here about my specific identity. There were enough clues, I suppose, for anyone who knew me to put things together. I was mostly just trying to avoid them accidentally stumbling across the blog and finding out that way, rather than hearing it from me first. Now that we've had an initial conversation about it, I'm ready to change my practice. I'm not planning to post my home address or anything--just not explicitly hiding who I am.

If you've been reading for a little while, you already know that my son's name is Ian (hence, abuian, which if Ian were a common name in Arabic would identify me as Ian's father). My wife's name is Julie, so now I can fill in the gap from a comment back in July about her pseudo-name saint. She and St. Julia of Carthage were both born into Christian families, both were valued by their employers as hard workers, both are unwavering from the faith in which they've been raised, and both have a heart for the lost.

As for me, my name is Trevor. I've alluded before to the possible connection with a group of martyrs. I was referring to the martyrs of Trier, which is a shortened name based on the Celtic tribe of Trever. Not that I have much clue of whether there were any remaining Treveri living in Trier by the time of their martyrdom, but if there were, then we could call it the feast of the Treveran martyrs, which is about as close as I would get to a name day with my given name.

As my profile now indicates, I live in Columbia, MD, which is a bit closer to Baltimore than to Washington. I've alluded on various occasions to three parishes that I've visited more than once each. The closest geographically is St. Matthew's OCA parish in Columbia, which right now meets about 10 min. (on foot) from where I live. They're building further south, however, so it won't be long before I'd need to drive to get there. Right now they meet only on Sundays, which has prevented me from getting there much. The other two parishes are both about 25 min. away (by car)--to the south, Holy Apostles ROCOR parish in Beltsville (Fr. George), and to the north, Holy Cross Antiochian parish in Linthicum (Fr. Gregory). My language in referring to them will now be somewhat more natural.

I suppose some of you might be wondering how the talk with my parents went. It was civil, without a lot of emotions openly expressed. They listened a lot and offered some responses. No disowning, no forbidding us from visiting, etc. All in all, I'd have to say it went about as well as I could have hoped. We still have a lot to talk about, but at least things are out there. Thanks to any who prayed.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

parents a-plenty

Yay! I have Godparents. And it was a two-fer. I thought I was just getting a Godfather, but apparently it's a package deal. Thanks, Jim and Laura! I appreciate your prayers on my behalf.

Speaking of prayers, tonight we plan to talk with my real parents about Orthodoxy for the first time. I mentioned earlier that we didn't get a chance when we saw them in person a couple of months ago. Now that there's some definite movement coming, it seems unavoidable that we talk with them by whatever means necessary. I really don't know how this is going to go, so any prayers are welcome.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Holy New Martyr Peter, pray for me!

We have a date! Lord willing, I'm to become an official catechumen during the liturgy of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple (Nov 21, but this will be an evening liturgy, Nov 20). We'd looked at another possibility, but this one is a bit later, which will hopefully allow time for the elders at our Evangelical church to come back with their thoughts on our situation. (My wife wants that to happen before I enter the catechumenate.) More importantly, it's in the evening, which will make it easier for her to have a friend come along for moral support. The intention was to do it around the beginning of the Nativity Fast. I like this particular timing because I'll be entering the catechumenate (and in keeping with the metaphor of my blog title, finally entering the temple) on the day that the Theotokos entered the temple in Jerusalem to begin her life of service to God.

Of course, now this means I'll have to work more earnestly on picking a name saint. Five months ago (to the day, actually) I posted about my struggles with picking a saint. I can't say I've gained much clarity since then. One thing that has seemed to come out is that, after trying on the Archangel Michael for several months, I'm not feeling a very intimate connection. On the other hand, I recently observed with particular devotion the feast of Martyr Peter the Aleut, and I continue to find myself drawn in that direction. It's hard to explain fully the connection that I feel. Some of the specifics:

  1. He's relatively obscure. I'm not sure what that does for me, but I like about him that there's really only one story--that of his torture and death.
  2. He's North American born and raised, and martyred in the territory of the continental U. S. No other saint right now fits these criteria. There are only two saints who were martyred on North American soil, and only two saints born in North America (not the same two). I guess, because I don't feel much cultural connection with my own heritage, and I've never been outside North America, it's particularly meaningful to me to have a distinctively American saint.
  3. He's Aleutian. To my knowledge, I don't have a drop of American Indian or Native Alaskan blood in me, but if it's going to be an American-born saint, I like the idea of him being indigenous. I'm saddened by our past (and present) exploitation of the native peoples on this continent, and it somehow seems right to me to venerate an American saint from that group. I have a rather complicated relationship with this country, and this seems like the kind of saint who can help me love my continent at least. He also inspires me to a more intimate connection with the land--even though we come from quite different regions, I'm impressed with the way Christianity took root in this very North American people.
  4. Sort of related to the previous connection, he was martyred by Catholic missionaries. I'll say to start out that this doesn't inspire in me a hatred for Catholics. But it does speak to both the "Western" chauvinism that infused colonial efforts and the tendency in "Western" Christianity to discount the authenticity of the "Eastern" faith. (I'm using quotes here, because in this case the Orthodox are coming from the West and Catholics are coming from the East.) I would say this tendency applies just as much to Protestantism, whatever one might say about whether Protestants would have martyred Peter for refusing to convert. I suspect I'm always going to have to deal with my fellow Euro-Americans questioning the legitimacy of my Orthodox faith, and it will be good to have a saint who understands so intimately that struggle.
  5. Finally, I just like his simple courage and conviction. For the past several years leading up to my discovery of Orthodoxy, I was so uncertain about what I believed. Not only that, I was so intellectual that I could always shroud my uncertainty in an air of academic mystery. I don't know anything about Peter's intellectual life, but his testimony is one of pure, confident faith. There's no indication that he tried to persuade his captors that he was right, or that he gave any momentous speeches. He just responded with the most straightforward and heartfelt answer anyone could muster in such a situation--I am a Christian. He never wavered from that conviction, whatever means they tried to convince him. I can only hope that one day I would respond the same way.
So there it is. I'm not 100% certain of the choice yet, but if I had to pick right now, that's the direction I'd go. And I must say, I'm already feeling a connection, in just the short time I've been praying with him. As for the other element, of picking a Godfather, I'll hopefully have some news on that shortly.

A final thought: Am I going to change the title of my blog? After all, I won't be on the doorstep anymore. Even in the ancient church, a catechumen was allowed inside. But then, he was also sent back out and the doors were closed behind him, before the liturgy of the faithful. So I think it's still a fitting title. I'll be out here on the doorstep often enough, at least for a while yet.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

full steam ahead?

I worry sometimes that I'm rushing things too much. That might sound odd coming from someone who's been exploring Orthodoxy for two and a half years and just on the verge of becoming a catechumen. Nevertheless, it's how I feel. For some time I hoped that my wife and I could take this journey together. I knew I had a head-start, so I was willing to wait. I saw the wisdom in the various priests who wanted to give her more time. But it never really turned into anything productive. We talked, which mostly consisted of me trying to explain what Orthodoxy taught about a certain issue, and her disagreeing with everything. She would end up frustrated, because she didn't know how to respond to what I was saying and felt pressured to accept it; I would end up frustrated, because I never seemed to be able to communicate to her either the content of Orthodox teaching or my feelings about Evangelicalism.

Eventually we started to conclude that neither of us was going to budge, and the only solution might be to accept that something different was going on in each of us. Although mentally we both seemed to accept this idea, it was not easy to embrace emotionally. We've gone to church together for more than ten years of marriage, four years of dating, and even before that, we got to know each other in church youth group. It certainly felt to me like a "lesser evil" type of solution. Ideally, we should be on the same page with these things. We should be in agreement on how we're going to worship in the home, what we're going to teach our kids, and where we're going to go to church. Honestly, church was one of the few areas of interest that we consistently had in common. To let that go feels like it can never be anything more than settling. I think my wife takes it even harder. I don't fully understand why. I could chalk it up to her being a more emotional person, but that doesn't seem adequate. Obviously, part of the picture is that she has all the reason to feel cheated. Neither of us planned on this, but all she's contributed to the gap is staying where she was. I'm the one who has gone off and found something else.

So, I continued to wait. I didn't change much right away about my involvement and tried to give her time to adjust to the idea. But at the same time, I kept pecking away at Fr. Gregory to accept what we already had--that if I was going to do this at all, it would have to be without her. While he dragged his feet, I took my time with Orthodoxy. I visited occasional services here and there but made no real attempt to go regularly. Not that I didn't want to go more often--it was just easier that way. I had the excuses--not wanting to take too much time away from my wife, not having a car of my own. And since I couldn't find a way to solve our struggles on these issues, it seemed like the next best option was to mitigate their effects. If Orthodoxy remained a part-time occupation, we could still share what we had in our Evangelical church.

But how much do we really share? Sure, we both go there most Sundays. Our outlooks are very different, however. She chafes to do more, be more involved; I find myself wishing I were somewhere else. I've tried to explain to her that it's not about leaving the Evangelical church. I love the people there, and there are still things I value about the services. If I could do both, I would. But to a great extent, I can't. Attending Sunday morning worship there means skipping Orthodox divine liturgy. I could try to do a mixture--one week here, one week there--but how much is to be gained by not being well connected in either place? (I'm willing to do it, however. Getting to Orthodox DL every other week would be a significant improvement.) It's not healthy for me, and I'm not sure it's healthy for her either. It's just a holding pattern. We keep doing what we're in the habit of doing and try not to disturb it any more than necessary.

So when I finally got the green light from Fr. Gregory, it does feel like suddenly things went into high gear. In reality, it was a long time in coming. The buildup was quite gradual, but because I had to hold it inside, feeding off of hope that one day I could finally move forward, it has tended to come out as an explosion. And maybe I am rushing too much. If I could wait this long, why not give a few more weeks for our elders to come back with their input? Why not give my wife some time to work through her personal issues? I guess the only answer I can give is that there's always going to be something. When I thought we might be able to do this together, I was willing to give her the time she needed. When I thought it would just take time to adjust to the idea of doing things separately, I was willing to wait. But waiting hasn't seemed to change much so far. It just drags things out. And even now I have little confidence that whatever the elders come back with will make a tangible difference in our situation. I feel like it's time to move forward by whatever path is open. (And I should point out that this moving forward might be just one step in a process that's going to stretch out more years until I finally convert.) It will be painful, yes; but it's already painful where we are now, and I'm not sure that staying here will make things any better.

Still, it's hard to escape the feeling that I'm rushing things--that I'm selfishly doing what suits me best without adequate concern for my wife. I hope and pray that's not the case, but what if? Lord, have mercy on me a sinner!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

all but the signatures

The joint committees of ROCOR and the Moscow Patriarchate have prepared and published the Act on Canonical Communion! Now it remains only to set up an official meeting so both groups can sign (expected to take place in 2007). Associated documents are also available on ROCOR's Web site. Rejoice! Wounds in the Church can be healed.

Speaking of ROCOR, I visited last night for a moleben to St. John of Kronstadt. It was good to be back there. As much as I feel like I'm on the right path by sticking with Fr. Gregory and keeping most of my attendance to one parish, I hope I can also maintain a friendly association with Fr. George and his little flock. It may be more chaotic, but everyone gets to be an intimate part of the chaos, and somehow it works. I was wondering at the beginning of the service whether I'd made the wrong choice when I decided to go there, but by the end I knew we'd really prayed before God. The conversation afterward was good as well. (I'd never been to a moleben there--it's much shorter than any other ROCOR service I've experienced.) Fr. George seemed genuinely happy for me and invited me to come back more often.

The evening ended with a bit of mystery, as one of the parishoners noticed a tool handle or table leg of some sort, resting between some bookshelves. Fr. George laughingly referred to it as a "cudgel," but he never said exactly what it was there for. I thought the metal spike sticking out near the end was a nice touch and suggested that it might come in handy if the catechumens didn't depart when they were told. I like these people. I don't know which way I would have gone if I had only myself to consider, but I still think my wife would have a harder time there. Not that she's going in any case, but I can still hope.