Still Unsure of Orthodoxy

What a journey!  I have not written anything about this journey for quite a while.  I think it is because I had made up my mind that Orthodoxy is the way to go.  Then something happened to make me question it all again.

 

So the investigative part of the journey began again.

The whole thing may very well have been engineered by God.  I ran across several articles and videos by protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox about justification by faith vs works and the losing one’s salvation.  I had already picked up on this somewhat from the Orthodox perspective, but I think I had just made up my mind to swallow it, thinking that maybe it was just semantics and that they were all really saying the same things.  But I know now that the words said by a protestant may have a different meaning when said by an Orthodox.

From what I have gathered from my research, the Orthodox Church does not believe in Justification by faith alone. Of course, that takes us back to the issues of the Reformation.  However, in an interview, an Orthodox priest said that we come to Christ by faith and are justified initially.  The issue is that we can lose that salvation, that justification.  I have yet to hear the exact criteria set forth to identify at what point we lose that salvation, at what sin, or at what degree of sin, or what state of mind.

It seems that in order to hold to the position that we can lose our salvation, one must necessarily believe that our works justify us, and not our faith.  Galatians 3:6 says “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” A few verses before that in verses 2 and 3, it says “This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?”

The one event in the Bible that speaks most to this is, the thief on the cross who said ” ‘Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.’ And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.”   The thief did no works.  He only believed.  Undoubtedly, had he lived, his faith would have manifested itself in works.  True faith has works.  As James says, “though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save him?”  Of course  not; saying you have faith does not mean you have faith.  That “faith” cannot save.  It is only the kind of faith that evidences itself by works that can save a person.  Yes faith alone can save, but faith is never alone; faith is manifested by works.

“It is God that worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” Phil 2:13

“Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Phil 1:6

“For who He did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.”

“Love never faileth.” I Cor.13:8.

“God is love.”  I John 4:8

So then God never fails.  He will accomplish what He set out to do.  He will conform us to His image.  The good work in us that He started, will be performed.

He will not lose even one sheep of those His Father gave Him. John 6:37-39:  “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of Him that sent me.  And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which He hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of Him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on Him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.”

John 10:28-29: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.  My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to  pluck them out of my Father’s hand.”

 

How can anyone say that Christ will lose any of those His Father gives to Him? How can we say that He will fail to keep His covenant?  Of course we will fail, but He will not.

 

Orthodox believe in infant baptism. Now as I understand it, infant baptism is infant regeneration or salvation.  The infant can neither have faith or do works, and yet he is proclaimed saved.  The liturgy after the infant  baptism states, ” It has pleased You to grant rebirth through water and the Spirit to Your newly enlightened servant, and to forgive his/her sins, both voluntary and involuntary….O You who through holy Baptism, have given to your servant remission of sins, and bestowed upon him/her a life of regeneration…  who has regenerated Your newly-baptized servant by water and the Spirit, and granted to him/her remission of his/her sins, .”  and to the child, “You are baptized. You are illumined. You have been chrismated. You are sanctified. You are washed; in the Name of the Father, and of the Son,. and of the Holy Spirit.”

Infant baptism is obviously more that just asking the Holy Spirit to go with the child and protect him/her.  It is salvation, regeneration, sanctification, forgiveness of sins, and rebirth. I do not see this taught in the Scriptures.  And here we have the crux of the matter.  Orthodox will say, “but it is taught in tradition.”  I do not believe that something as important as this would not at least have been mentioned or allowed for in the Scriptures.  James and Galatians speak of faith and of works, not of which the infant is able to have or do.   It does not allow for Infant Baptism/Salvation.

If becoming Orthodox means that I must give up the belief that salvation is eternal; that no one, not even myself can pluck me out of the Father’s hands, I cannot become Orthodox.  If becoming Orthodox means that I must not belief that salvation is by faith alone and yet a faith that is never alone, but always manifests itself by works, and instead believe that, according to Infant Baptism, one can be saved by works alone, since the infant is too young to have understanding and consequently faith, or in fact, since he/she is too young to have faith or to do works, one can be saved by ceremony without having faith or works, than I cannot be Orthodox.

Since it was, according to Orthodox, that the church gave us the Scriptures, than why if they thought is so  important, did they not include writings in the canon of scripture that supported or even mentioned Infant Baptism, or the veneration of icons, or the sign of the Cross, or how many times one had to immersed in order follow the “one baptism” that is actually mentioned in the Scriptures?  And if those who wrote supporting these things wrote other things that were not according to the faith or at least questionable, and that is the reason they were not included in the canon of Scripture, than how deserving are they of any credibility at all?  And by what authority did those who passed on those traditions, pick and choose from the writings those things to be followed, if not according to the authority of the very Scriptures the Church chose to include in the canon?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

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

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..