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

 

 

 

 

 

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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..