Mary and Forgiveness

Today the sermon was about Mary, the Mother of God.  The veneration of Mary  vs the worship of Mary has been one of the obstacles I have encountered as I have entered in to Orthodoxy.  Some of the language of veneration sounds much like worship words to me.  Words like “make us worthy of compassion,” and “manifest thy power as ever.”  Those words seem to indicate that Mary has power.  I struggle to understand.

However, I have been thinking a lot about Mary.   Father Timothy said that Mary was a bridge from God to us and a ladder from us to God.  She was the conduit through which Christ was made incarnate, and when she died, she portrayed God’s redemption to mankind, a way to heaven.  The priests wore blue today and there was a blue cloth on the altar table in honor of Mary.  I did not realize that blue symbolized Mary, but then I noticed the icons of Mary after my friend Nadine whispered to me about them. Mary wore blue.

Blue.  The color of the heavens.  The color of Mary.  The color of peace and tranquility. The color of forgiveness?

I have two icons of Mary that show many swords piercing her heart.  “Then Simeon blessed them and said to His mother Mary: “Behold, this Child is appointed to cause the rise and fall of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed —” and a sword will pierce your soul as well.” Luke 2, 34-35. 

I have yet to understand the full meaning of the swords that pierced Mary’s heart, but a sword must have pierced her heart when she stood below the suffering Christ on the Cross, watching Him, looking into His eyes, His blood possibly even dripping down on her, as she longed to take His suffering, feeling helpless, with love, in great distress.  In anger?  In “mother bear” mode?  With her innate strong sense of protection rising to the forefront, and yet unable to protect?  Perhaps wanting to lash out at those who hurt Him?

Mary, did you struggle with forgiveness?

Oh Mary, Mother of our Suffering Lord Jesus, you who know the piercing sword, please pray for my children, who have caused many swords to pierce my heart, as I have watched their pain and trauma play out in their sicknesses, their decisions and their sins. I have struggled with forgiving those who hurt my children.

Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on them; on my children and on their offenders. And help my children to forgive, lest the root of bitterness defile them.

Today the sermon was also about forgiveness. It was about the man who had been forgiven much, penalized the man who owed him little.  Father Timothy pointed out that we have trespassed greatly against God.  We ought to forgive those who have trespassed against us, especially in that their trespasses against us are so minute compared to our great sin against God.

Father Timothy read a part of the liturgy indicating that God forgets our iniquities.  I struggle to grasp that.  Forget as in no memory of?  Or forget as in our sins not counting against us?   I truly wish I could really not remember what someone has done against me.  In my struggling, I can can come to the place of forgiveness, as in I do not want revenge, or vengeance, and I can think charitably of them, understand them, and pity them.  And I do believe that I have truly forgotten some offenses.  Yes, I can love  the offenders, even.  But in some cases,  when I live with the effects of the trauma and hurt every day in my personality, in the formation of my soul, in the sickness of mind and body, the pain it caused in those I love, and in the painful aftermath of the unwise decisions that trauma influenced, to totally forget is impossible.

I choose not to speak of it with the offenders.  I choose not to seek revenge or inflict pain.

I choose to bear it, to seek that continual state of forgiveness, and to pray for healing.

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How Then Should We Worship?

I have been a church member almost my entire life.  More specifically, I have been a Baptist church member most of my life.  Attending church every time the doors were open was a priority for my family.  Not only that, but we attended neighboring revivals, camp meetings, church retreats, tent meetings, and vacation bible schools.

I have had, therefore, the opportunity to observe many church services, forms of worship, various types of singing, church leadership, church government, and pastors.  It does not make me an expert, but it has created in me areas of concern. I will address these areas of concern and try to work through to a satisfactory conclusion or at least a direction.

When all is said and done, there is only one reason I go to church.  That reason is obedience.  God said to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together as believers, and that is that.  No questions asked.  Period.  It is not for fellowship.  It is not for networking.  It is not to hear good preaching, good singing, or to be entertained.  It is not to “get something out of it.”  It is not to make friends.  It is not for my kids.  While these are all  good reasons, important reasons; the bottom line is obedience. Truth be known, there are many times that obedience is the only reason I go.

However, because I do go to church, I do expect certain things.  Not getting my expectations met, will not keep me from going, but there are some issues that cause me grave concern.  I have considered that it might be, on my part, a reluctance to change with the times.  Culture does change, and the way we relate to it changes. For the most part, I have learned that whatever the vehicle of worship happens to be, I can use it.

Maze Jackson, an evangelist who did much to influence my life when I was a teenager, taught me that I can praise the Lord no matter what kind of church service happens to be going on.  My body is the temple of the Lord and my heart is His sanctuary.  I am at home with the Lord at all times in my heart, and nothing but my own sin can hinder my worship of God.

Having said that, why then as I sit in the contemporary worship service of today, does my heart feel heavily burdened, and my desire for something more, something long gone, sits unrequited in the depths of my soul?  Something is missing.  Something is gone.

Perhaps we need to consider a bigger picture.  As we sit in our luxurious pews, our feet on carpeted floors, our ears entertained with the pleasing sounds of pianos, guitars, and drums, our minds stimulated with Bible trivia, relating to corny jokes meant to break the ice of preppy minds, have we lost sight of what is happening in the spiritual domain as the war between good and evil intensifies and the battle for souls is waged?  If we really believe what we say we do, would we be doing what we are doing?

Is there not a cause; a cause that is not about us? It is not about our entertainment or fellowship.  It is a holy cause.  C.S. Lewis describes the deep longing in our hearts for something more as a desire for another country, a better country.  We are not home yet.  We are pilgrims and strangers in a foreign land.  How dare we claim this as our own!  We are not here to acquire status symbols, prestige, fame or wealth.  That is not our purpose. We have a cause.

The Bible says a man’s gift makes room for him. This gift can be used in the secular world or in the Christian ministry. Using this gift in the secular world in order to minister Christ is noble, although at great risk for compromise leading to contamination. It would take the absolute surrendering to God of every faculty in a man to keep him at the place of humble useability. Otherwise pride and the seduction of the world would destroy him. But then, this is also true of the same man using his gift in Christian ministry. The infection of sin is constantly a threat in either case. “We have this treasure in earthen vessels…”to be sure.

But still, is there not a cause? What right have we to take our gift for ourselves? Should the gift not be subject to the Lord’s purpose?

Should the church not be subject to the Lord’s purpose? What right have we to take the church unto ourselves? What right have we to use it in any other manner expect a holy manner? How the lines have blurred between the holy and the unholy!

One could argue that it is not sin to use the arena of church to have fun, entertainment, and recreation. But is this the purpose of the church which is pictured as waging war against the gates of hell? Is there not a greater cause than fun, entertainment, and recreation in the name of Christ? All things are lawful, but all things are not expedient.

I concede that there is a great battle for the minds of our young people. Pizza parties, camping trips, and dancing to Christian rock music may not be the best venue in which to reach our children. Chanting seven words eleven times plays games with the mind and opens the doors to emotions mistaken for the Holy Spirit. And still our batting average for saving our young people remains very low. This is a battle entered too late, for it is first fought and won in the home before the age of six.

Do we think we can make the Holy Spirit more user-friendly by separating the family and congregation into age specific worship? The family lives together; can they not worship together? Would that not promote family relationship and cohesiveness? Would they not relish the memories of witnessing together God’s work among the congregation? We have fragmented the family of God in the effort of user friendly worship.

We all in our deepest core desire a greater purpose outside of ourselves to serve and worship instead of being focused on ourselves and our enjoyment. I submit that young people are much more likely to rise to the challenge of training for missions and evangelism, and in doing so become more like Christ, than they are to be changed by line dancing in the youth department.

I concede that the most effective evangelism is friendship evangelism. We reach out to our neighbors and the ones whose lives we touch. We love them with the love of Christ and pray for their souls, watching for that opportunity to give an answer when asked about the hope within us. I am not saying that having fun with friends at church is wrong. It does have its place.

What is missing is intentional evangelism in our activities. What is missing is the manifest difference between the holy and the unholy, the clean and the unclean, and the wise and the unwise. We are called to be a peculiar people. While this may be subject to interpretation, it obviously calls for a definite delineation between the saint and the sinner. Are we raising rock stars and dancing queens or people who would lay down their lives for others for the sake of the gospel?

The eye is no longer single, we have a perverted purpose. We have learned that we can safely make a decision for Christ without any kind of life change. We have believed without repentance. Gone are the days where we come to the altar to mourn our sins and repent. I can remember a revival meeting when I was a teen in which the evangelist preached a message on “My Sins.” His message addressed the verse about being less concerned with the mote in our neighbor’s eye and more concerned about the beam in our own eye. He emphasized the enormity of our own sin and the call to repentance and forgiveness. The power of God was felt and evidenced in so much that people flocked to the altar in repentance and then got up from their knees and went to their neighbor to ask forgiveness. I remember fathers going to their children, husbands and wives reconciling, and friends asking forgiveness for offenses. There was weeping, and there was great joy. It was indeed one of the most beautiful services I have ever witnessed. That was only one of the many memories I have of the altar being filled with people weeping and rejoicing.

The lack of emphasis on repentance in the church has given birth to a shallow Christianity that is satisfied to leave the doctrines of the hymns and sing songs that talk about worship and praise, chanting lines over and over until people are worked up emotionally. We have substituted this created emotion for the work of the Holy Spirit. It was Isaiah who said in the presence of the Lord, “Woe is me for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for mine eyes have seen the Kind, the Lord of hosts.” That would more than likely be our response in the physical presence of the Lord. We would be struck with our unworthiness to even be in His presence, a far cry from singing over and over that we worship and praise Him, and I am sure that at that moment we would know what true worship and praise really is.

The lack of emphasis on repentance in the church has also given birth to a people who can walk out of church on Sunday and feel that God will bless their efforts no matter what they are. So then, we end up with young people entering any profession expecting that God will help them and approve.

II Chronicles 7:14 says “If my people who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. What a promise! What an answer to the sickness in our lives and in our nation! This indicates that the answer does not originate in reforms of government or a promising presidential candidate, but in the repentance of God’s people.

This is not a call to stop enjoying God’s gifts to us. We are not called to legalism where women are targeted as the spiritual thermometers of the church according to their submissiveness and dress, and where the men are expected to attain to an authoritarian headship where wives dare not question and children are alienated. This kind of self-righteousness has done nothing to draw people to give “their utmost for His highest.”
It has also driven away our young people and destroyed our marriages.

Once you have experienced the convicting power of God in a worship service, you can never forget it, and you long to see it again for that is where lives are changed and the world sees God. It is not only where people are saved, but it is also where Christians are sanctified by His truth.

This is a call to fasting and praying, seeking God’s face. Did not God say, “Is not this the fast that I have chosen: to loosen the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke.” Many of the old preachers, such as Spurgeon, attributed the blessings of God on their preaching to the hundreds of people praying for them, even while they were preaching.

The pendulum has swung from law to grace…from legalism to liberality. Balance the most important word in the christian language.

Carol

http://townhall.com/columnists/michaelbrown/2013/01/03/whats-right-and-wrong-with-american-christianity-n1478711?utm_source=thdaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=nl

My Journey to the Way- Part 5 – Lent

I joined in about 2 weeks late, but I fasted for Lent, giving up dairy and meats.  It was not easy.  My body reacted by making me ravenously hungry. And I can’t say I read every label and completely followed every element, but I did pretty good.  I went into it not knowing really what was the purpose of Lent.  I knew part of it is to identify with Christ in His sufferings. I am still not clear about all of it, but the self-discipline of it, the denial of self, the focusing of our energies of Christ, makes us better followers of God .  I felt that.  I am eager to do it again next year.

Not just the fasting, but also the services. I attended all I could.  It is amazing how the worship services are so saturated in scriptures.  Two of the services were approximately 2 and half hours in length.  We read all of Psalm 119 in one service and several long passages in the gospels in another.  I managed to attend the Monday night Matins of the Bridegroom about the 10 virgins, the Friday night service about Lazarus, the Holy Saturday Matins, and the 11:30 pm service that lasted til 3:30 am.  We went back then for the 1:30 Sunday service.  Quite an exhausting experience, but spiritually refreshing as well.

Father Timothy had walked me through it during my session with him, so I knew some of what to expect.  There were beautiful aspects of it.  I was very moved with the icon of Christ being taken down from the Cross.  We marched around the church like a funeral procession led by the icon of Christ being borne above the heads of 4 men.  They stood in the doorway of the church still holding it high while we passed under the body of Christ and kissed the Word of God as we entered.

Time stood still as we commemorated the death and resurrection of Christ.  We stood with Mary and John there in Jerusalem at His Cross.  We went with Joseph as he brought the body of our Lord to the tomb.  We watched the stone being rolled into place and the guards set.

The lights came on, the  priests wore white, the people rejoiced as they sang “Christ has risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and to those in the tombs bestowing life!” over and over.  Jerusalem shone and Mary was radiant.  We felt all that as that sacred moment in time stood still.

We rejoiced further to realize once again that as Christ called Lazarus’s name and he came forth alive from being in the grave 4 days, so He will call His own by name some day and we will also come forth to live with Him forever.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

The most important event ever to take place was celebrated.

I felt so much closer to the people after that.  I want to be closer still.

There is the matter of confession.

to be continued…

MY JOURNEY TO THE WAY- PART 4 – more hope

Father Timothy said he will interested in my thoughts about Lent.  The saturation and poetry of the scripture readings went straight to my soul where they steeped in the deep waters of my being.  I had never experienced Easter in that way before.  It was a journey with Christ from Lazarus  to the Resurrection in Holy Week.  I loved it!

An act of love I will also never forget was that of Nadine sharing her umbrella with me, holding it more over my head than hers so that she got rained on and I did not.  I felt so bad, but she insisted.  I was unworthy of such an act and so receiving that gift was extremely difficult.

The fast itself was difficult at times as well.  Part of it was that I still have yet to grasp the significance of it.  I am willing to learn.

My favorite part of Holy Week was the Friday service where the Lamentations were read.  You know that author who actually puts into words the thoughts in your mind?  This is Lamentations for me.  It is full of the echos of my soul.  I absolutely loved it!  It included Lamentations in the Bible but also had the journey of Christ to the Cross, to Hades to the Resurrection in beautiful language.

There was something special about the Lazarus story that struck my soul. Jesus called to Lazarus  after he was in the grave for 4 days.  Lazarus was indeed dead. No doubt about it.  When they removed the stone, the smell of rotting flesh must have escaped the tomb. There were people standing outside the tomb, as the icon depicts, with their hands over their nose, not in wonder, but because of the smell.  That is reality.

But what strikes me is that Lazarus had nothing to do with Jesus calling His name.  He did not ask for that to happen.  He was helpless to respond. He was dead. He did not want to respond, but neither could he refuse to respond.  He was dead.

The same principle is shown in the story about the 4 friends who let down their sick friend through the roof to the room where Jesus  was.  The story says nothing about the sick man’s desires, condition or status.  It says nothing about his morals or his righteousness.  What it does talk about is the concern and action of his 4 friends.

There is hope, therefore, for the one who has strayed from following Jesus, and cannot even see that they are dead in their sins.  They may be blind in the darkness in which they are walking and may not even have a desire to change.  Worse, they may have deceived themselves and really believe that God would have them happy in the lifestyle they have chosen.

The hope is that the prayers and faith of the ones who love them may be effectual and may avail much.  God may have mercy, give sight to the blind and cause their spiritual awakening and salvation.  This is the hope for every parent who grieves over a lost child. The hope for every lost or wayward soul who is loved by one who knows God.

My Journey to the Way-Part 3-Hope

Hope – “This day you shall be with me in paradise.”  The grace of God is obviously not limited to those who have taken the Orthodox way of Chrismation, Baptism and the Eucharist.  The thief on the cross experienced none of these and yet Christ made this statement to him.  Christ looks on the heart. I suspect there are many hearts outside of Orthodoxy that belong to Christ.  He is a God of mercy and grace and He loves mankind. I believe that “He will keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day.”

Father Timothy said there is disagreement within Orthodoxy on some of the issues.  They seem to be pretty laid back on many things, but strict on others.  I hope as I become more familiar with Orthodoxy that I can discern which ones are which.

Human nature is the same across the board in whatever church one belongs, and it takes a miracle to change human nature.  I am grateful to have observed the change that God can make in a person’s life.  I saw it  in my mother first of all.  She was not perfect, but instead of displaying bitterness and hate which she had many reasons to do so, instead, I remember hearing the sound of her voice  praying in her room. I knew that is how she survived.  I had great reason to follow her example many years later.

I see the difference in my thinking of my children when they choose the way of darkness over the way of light; the way of Christ over the way of self.  I see the struggle in them, and I hope I can always say of them, “at least they struggle.”

I see the wisdom of those in my life who have followed God and the difference they have made in the lives of others.  I know there is light in some, and darkness in others.  Some despair. Some have hope. Some live by the dictates of self. Some live by the dictates of God. And it is obvious. There is also a difference between those that are good, and those who are good because of the light of God in their lives. The difference is the reason, the motive, their philosophy of life. The light of God shines from their eyes.  They are happy, and they have peace.

One of the greatest disappointments I encountered as a teenager, was finding out that there were those in the church who did not truly follow Christ.  I define it as “the end of childhood.”  It is a transition that is more severe for some than for others.  However, one of the greatest joys I encountered as a teenager was finding out that there were those in the church who truly loved Christ and showed this by loving others. For instance, I was the oldest of 6 children, and we did not have much money, to say the least.  There were a couple of women from church who would take me shopping for shoes, or invite me along to see a play; take time  out of their day to notice me and take an interest in me. How great was the difference I saw back then between those who loved Christ by loving “the least of these,” and those who were more interested in image.

I believe with all my  heart that there are those in other denominations who have been regenerated by the life of Christ within them.  God meets us where we are.  He met the thief on the cross while He was on the Cross, so He meets us in our  pain, our place of misery and aloneness, because He has suffered as a man and sees fit to lift us up to dwell in Him.

What in the world would I have done as a child, with all I went through, had I not known Him?

So I am comforted.

“I know Whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day.”

 

My Journey to the Way – part 2

Ok, so I have never had a beer, never had an alcohol drink really.  I sipped one once, but that was it.  Reason being, when I was a young teenager, an evangelist, named Bro. Maze Jackson, preached at our church about the evils of alcohol. His invitation at the end was for all the young people to come forward and make a vow to never have a drink of alcohol.  So I went forward and made the vow.  I have made a point of being faithful to that vow my whole life.

Last Monday night in our Orthodox class, Dale spoke about Pascha.   Apparently it is an all day affair on Holy Saturday, celebrating into the night and Sunday morning.  Rebecca mentioned that they celebrate and drink Vodka and other alcoholic drinks.  I don’t know what to make of this.  Doesn’t it loosen one’s inhibitions, making it more likely that one would do unwise things?  Also, is this required in the celebration?  And of course, what about my vow?

I have discovered that some look down on people who cross their legs in church, because it is considered disrespectful and lackadaisical.  Who knew?  Women can wear pants or a dress as long as it is modest. One should not chew gum in church. And it seems like I am picking up that one should fast on Sunday morning until he takes the Eucharist.  There are prayers that deliver one from the Evil Eye.  (kind of freaky).  The Evil Eye has its roots in paganism, but it is a feared thing by many Orthodox.

Chrismation involves removing one’s shoes and being anointed with oil on different parts of one’s body.  And you need a sponsor.  More to find out…

“Father Timothy, I made a vow when I was a teenager not to drink alcohol.  There is wine in the Eucharist and people will be celebrating with alcohol during Pascha.  I do not know what to do.”    He did not tell me to break the vow.  He told me that I was in a different situation now.  I acted on the information I had back then.  God would not hold me responsible for breaking a vow that would keep me from the Eucharist.  Common sense should prevail.  Whether or not I partook of the vodka on Holy Saturday night was up to me and my conscience.  Yeah, I guess so.

I asked him if going to confession is the only way I could know if my sins were forgiven.  He adamantly said, “not at all.”  That made me feel much better.  He explained how the process of confession works.  It is a public thing, but done in a corner at the front of the auditorium.  He will stand behind me while I confess softly.  He said no one will hear me.  He will not speak unless to guide my thoughts about confession, or confront an untruth.  Afterwards he will lay his (shawl?) on my head and absolve me from my sins.

I gather that the confession is to deal with sins that I regard in my heart and struggle with repeating them.  We cannot remember every sin.  Maybe it is the spirit of repentance that is important here. The Bible says,”A broken and a contrite heart I will not despise.”

We talked about baptism.  I remember being baptized as an 8-year-old sometime  after I went to the altar and asked Jesus into my heart.  Everything changed for me after that.  I knew God was with me. Had if not been for His love for me, I would have been destroyed as a young girl.

I was baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  So in that sense, it was a Trinitarian baptism.  However, Baptists are specifically named in a passage he read to me from a book that guides the practices of Orthodox, as being one the  groups that must be re-baptized  into the Orthodox Church.  That is ok.  I am willing, just in case it was not a valid baptism when I was young.

However,  the thing that bothers me is that in my reading I have discovered that unless  I was baptized by an Orthodox priest, I am not saved.  St John Chrysostom teaches that “without the existence and grace of the priesthood there is no baptism or Eucharist, and thus, according to the words of the Savior Himself, no salvation.”

Could anything be more devastating than to find out that a lifetime lived as a Christian who has done her best to abide in Christ and to do His will, taking refuge in Him in all crisis, is all a lie?  And in view of that, to have to wait a year to even take the Eucharist and thus be saved? What if I die before then?

Philippians 2:13 says, “For it is God that works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.”

That tells me that it was Him who  gave me the desire to please Him and live for Him.  Would God have given that to someone  who was not saved? I have walked with Him all my life.  Was it a delusion? Is this life in me not of God? Is this not the Christ?

…to be continued

 

 

 

 

 

My Journey to the Way

Realizing that the foundation of my faith was not God, but my interpretation of God; not faith, but my interpretation of faith; not belief, but by interpretation of belief; not the Word of God, but my interpretation of the Word of God and what made sense to me; realizing that the foundation of my faith then, was me..has been one of the most devastating truths of my life.

 

My dad was a Sunday School Superintendent and deacon in a Southern Baptist Church.  My mother was a Sunday School teacher, Training Union teacher, Soloist and singer in the choir and special groups and I followed her example in singing and enthusiasm for spiritual things with a hunger for God. I would often hear my mother praying out loud in her bedroom. I knew she loved God and wanted her children to do so as well.   We attended 2-week long revivals, tent meetings, tabernacle meetings, neighboring church’s weeks long revival meetings, traveled to other churches and events to sing, attended VBS every year and won contests in biblical challenges often.

I married a baptist preacher. I was an AWANA leader and my children attended AWANA and excelled in its awards and championships.  I homeschooled my children and made sure they knew God’s Word and His principles.

But things were not as they seemed.  One after another God knocked all the props out from under me and my children.  The foundation of our home eroded.  The man we leaned on and counted on let us down. My husband’s life did not reflect the salvation of God nor His power to overcome sin.  The same story was true of my dad.  Those two men destroyed our lives and made us question everything we believed.  While that sounds devastating, and it was, it also caused us to embark on a search for truth.

My son, Danny, has always been concerned about the truth even as a young child.  He has read widely and also has a blog called “The Search for Truth.”  He grew disillusioned by fundamentalist baptists, as we all did, and began to look elsewhere.  He became very interested in the Catholic Faith and shared what he found with the rest of us.  We searched and investigated as well.  There were many things that drew us to Catholicism but there were many things that held us off.

It is devastating to lose trust in Christian leaders/pastors; and that lack of trust made it impossible to accept a pope who says he speaks for God.   We had known many Christian leaders, my ex-husband being one of them, that claimed that had some divine knowledge and /or claimed that God told them something, but treated their loved ones cruelly and/or had immoral life styles, manipulating the people around them for their own purposes.

 

So that cut out Catholicism.  What was left?  Was our choice Protestantism or Catholicism?  Then we discovered Orthodoxy.  Orthodoxy seemed to be governed by councils, scriptures, tradition, and laity, much more reliable than the word of one man.  This was much more appealing.  I studied Orthodoxy for  one to two years.  I watched Fr. Josiah Trenham’s Rock and Sand and went through the Orthodoxy 101 sessions by Fr.Barnabas Powell along with other Orthodox teachings and books.

I learned just how shaky Protestantism really is, how it was a movement away from Catholicism for good reasons, but opened up a plethora of 100’s of denominations each with their own “pope”. and their own interpretations which more often than not, disagreed with the others’ interpretations.  It was constantly evolving and eroding with no agreed upon stable doctrine by which to abide.

I had seen first hand how the Baptist Church had moved from a traditional service of hymns, gospel songs, and choirs to choruses, 7/11 songs( 7 verses, 11 times),  contemporary music with a worship leader who claimed that this new venue was so everyone could be included, not just one song director; however what took place was the exact opposite as the want-a- be  rock musician worship leader pretty much took the limelight no matter what, singing songs that were unfamiliar to the the congregation, a congregation made up of mostly young people who quickly learned the new format and joined in  with their sways and arm motions that gave off an air of spirituality gauged on the amount of movement and participation. The older people who were used to doctrine filled hymns and gospel songs, were left in the dust and either left in search of a venue of greater comfort level, stayed and was dissatisfied even though they tried their best to sway and  move like the younger crowd, not knowing if this was still a Baptist church, nondenominational church, or out and out Pentecostal, or just simply dropped out of church altogether.

It was disconcerting and destabilizing.  So, who does speak for God?

 

Turns out, He doesn’t really need someone to speak for Him excathedra. He has spoken and then has said “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe whatsoever I have commanded you, and lo I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.”

 

We do not need something new or something that appeals to the young people, or something that needs changing with the culture.  We need the Word of God and the teachings passed down from the apostles to us.  And that is Orthodoxy.  That is what I have learned and that is what I am learning.

 

My son, Tim, and I have been going to an Orthodox Church now for about 4 weeks as of  this writing.  It took courage to go.  The first time we went, we got almost to the church and looked at each other. We discussed whether we should turn around and run, or be brave and go.  We turned into the church.

I had been praying for some time that God would send me help (someone) to guide me in this new endeavor.  I felt like the the one who plead, “Come over into Macedonia and help us!” or the Ethiopian eunuch who needed understanding and Philip came.   I had asked God repeatedly for help, and I think I had expected someone to drop out of the blue and ask me to go to an Orthodox Church with them.  Well, when we turned into the church, we parked along side another car that just arrived and a lady got out and started walking into the church the same time we did.  Tim asked her, “Can we follow you into the church?”  She said, “Sure.”  I explained that this was the first time we had every been to an Orthodox Church. She introduced herself as Nadine. She told us she had been brought up in the Orthodox Church and that her grandparents were Orthodox in the old country (Russia).  We went in with her and after conversing a little with one of the greeters, we went in to sit down.   Nadine asked us if we would like her to sit beside us and guide us through the liturgy book.  We eagerly and thankfully, said, “yes.”    She was a huge help, for we would have surely been lost as we  bounced back and forth between the liturgy book and the writings in the  bulletin.

 

Afterwards, we talked to Father Timothy who was very nice, and introduced us to Dale who operated the library and taught the class on Monday nights which we have attended a couple of times.  We bought the book for the class and a prayer book.

 

The first class, Tim could not attend, so I went and met Rebecca, Vicki, Peter, Kim and Dave.  It was a good class about grace and at the end I shared a little about my family, Amie, and my background.  They said they would pray for Amie and they were very friendly.  The subject of grace as an Orthodox views it still escapes me a bit.  I am wondering if it is just another way of saying “Christ’s life in us.”

I did not know the prayers they spoke at the beginning and end of class.  I am still trying to learn them as of this writing. Dale explained how to make the sign of the Cross.  I do not want to do this by rote, which I told Father Timothy in my meeting with him. I want to know the meaning behind it and how it applies to me, before I commit to it.  Father Timothy explained that it was used frequently as a refocus, that it can be used as an exorcism (which kind of freaks me out, I will have to find out about that).  Anyway, that explanation is not quite satisfactory to me.  Maybe I can find more out about the sign of the Cross later.  To me, if I were to do the sign of the Cross right now, the meaning I would give it would be this: “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me and the life which I now live, I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.”  I can identify with that completely.

 

I met with Father Timothy and it enjoyed it tremendously.  He was very willing to answer my questions, of which I have many but shared only a few. We talked about salvation.  I told him that Dale had said he did not know if he had salvation.  That kind of blew my mind, because how can someone expect to “acquire the Holy Spirit” and not even be sure they have salvation?  Is not salvation criteria to acquiring the Holy Spirit?  I suspect that the word “salvation” has different meanings to Orthodoxy. I do know though that they believe what I had learned as a Baptist:  I have been saved, I am being saved, and I will be saved. I said to Father Timothy, “When a person is saved, Christ’s life is in him, he thinks differently, he acts differently, he is a different person, a new creation. He does not look at things that way he once did. How can he not know he has salvation?  Does not God want us to know that we have the salvation he offers to us?  And having this life of Christ born within us, can it die?”  I am not sure he answered the first part, but he did say that after a person is saved, he still has the freedom to choose to reject it. I don’t know what to think about that.  It seemed to me that salvation is a covenant I have with God, but also a covenant He has with me.  I always believed that He would keep me and not let me go.  Instead, he would discipline me, chastise me as needed and bring be back to repentance as His child; as we do our children, without disowning them. I guess what  I am wondering is, can a true repentant believer really reject Christ?  2Tim 2:13:  If we are faithless, He remains faithful.

 

 

Father Timothy talked about book ends.  He said that in the beginning, God created man in His own image.  But man fell.     Then at the Cross, Jesus called out, “It is finished!”  By that the work was done that made a way to restore man to God’s image.  Plan A vs Plan B which was meant all along to be Plan A?

 

Father Timothy made many references to pride during our conversation. Did I appear proud to him, I wonder?  I do not think I was  proud in coming to him.  I am a sincere seeker who really wants to please God, because I have failed Him so utterly.  I ask, not because I am contrary, but because I want to sort out the truth as I know it, and debunk it if is wrong.  I just want to know for sure it is wrong before I reject it. I feel like I have been so deceived in many ways.  The thing I greatly feared (deception) has come upon me for sure. The last prop to be knocked out from under me was the very thing that kept me going in the hard times of life, the rock that I clung to, the song that I sung.  I have to sort out which part of all that is the truth and which is not. Did I have a right to trust the Rock if I never had the Eucharist?  or been Chrismated?  This thing within me, this desire for God, to please Him, to love Him, to rely on His death on the Cross to save me, to reconcile me to God.. it has to be real… doesn’t it? It has to mean that if I die trusting in Christ, I will go to heaven…doesn’t it?

I will seek Him and I will find Him, for I will search for Him with all my heart!

 

I told Father Timothy about Amie.  I told him that when she came out a few years ago, that it devastated out family.  We did not lose faith in God, but I know that I lost faith in the way I thought He worked.  I thought that if I trained up my child in His ways, that she would not depart from that.  I was wrong.  O I have been wrong in so many ways.  I was wrong in that I did not see what she was going through. Or maybe I did not want to see it.  I know that many times I wanted to ask her about it, but I did not want to offend her.  Little did I know that she would not be offended. I failed her.  I failed God.  And I felt like He failed me.  Obviously He does not work in the way I thought He did.  That translated into other areas of my life, with the obvious result that what I thought mattered to Him, probably did not matter. Consequently, I made some very unwise decisions. Unwise Huge Decisions.  Ironically, the decisions I made were so ghastly, that it led me right back to the principles of God with a greater stronger sense and conviction that His ways as depicted in His Word are always right, NO MATTER WHAT.

 

I told Father Timothy about “What Dreams May Come,”  a movie starring Robin Williams, in which he goes to hell to rescue his wife who committed suicide when their children were killed in a car crash.  He went through horrific levels of hell to get down to where she was.  He thought she would be happy to see him and to be rescued, but this was not the case.  It was as if she did not even know she was in hell.  Instead of leaving,  turned away from him and sat down.  Although she rejected his pleadings, and he knew she would not come with him, he did not leave her.  He loved her so much, he sat down beside her to stay.

I told Father Timothy that this is exactly the way I felt about Amie, even though she does not even know that she is in hell and will not leave her lifestyle.  I love her so much I would do exactly what Robin Williams did if she goes to hell.  Christ loved us so much He died for us.  He gave me this mother-love.  What do I do with it?  I love her.

Father Timothy said to me, “She is not in hell, but you can sit down beside her and love her. God is not through with her.  She is on a journey.  Take care of yourself, just like they tell you on an airplane, that when the O2 bags drop, put the mask on yourself first, before you put it on your child.  It is sound logic.”  I think he was saying that I need to be at the place spiritually, where I can be of the most help to her.

I have been reading, “Know the Faith,” by Rev Michael Shanbour. It is the book we are reading for our Monday night Orthodoxy class with Dale. Even though I had some questions about the Orthodoxy view of salvation, I must say that the things in the chapter about Justification by Faith, are exactly what I have held to for years and years.  I am pretty sure I was taught it at Beulah Baptist Church, where I grew up, but I know that it is what I studied since then through many other books and speakers. We are partakers of the divine nature and our “old man” has been regenerated and renewed by being joined to the resurrected humanity of Christ. The chapter goes on to reiterate exactly as I have believed. I am relieved about that.

 

…to be continued..