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The Council Of Elrond: Part 1

April 23, 2010

If you aren’t getting annoyed with the Lord of the Rings/Hobbit titles yet, I thank you for your patience. I thought this fitting for the next phase of my journey. Frodo had come to Rivendell to drop off the Ring to those who would supposedly know what to do with it, but instead finds the course of his life forever altered, taking on a journey he never intended, having brought the Ring this far. Not only that, but he was on that cusp of becoming a shadow, as the knife of the Nazgul works its way to his heart. He and his companions also learn of the danger their peaceful land of the Shire has been in, in the midst of the problems of the world that they didn’t even know about.

I am doing this post in two parts. Partly because of how long it takes me to complete a post, and the fact that it would be far too long a post. As it is, the last post was too long.

As I had mentioned, I was excited by the prospect of holding to an orthodox understanding of the Bible and life in Christ, without having to become a liberal, or remain a Fundamentalist. I had been disillusioned that the “new wine in new wine skins” of Calvary Chapel was nothing more than a continuation of pietist emotionalism that has swept throw this country since the 1800’s. I was sick of the “taste not, touch not” mentality of life. At the same time, I did not want to throw out all doctrine, because I saw the foolishness that teaching led to. I was happy to leave such a recent movement (Calvary Chapel) for something more historically grounded (Reformed Theology) and started to appreciate the hymns and relative formality of the Presbyterian Church. I felt like I was connected to something bigger than my own understanding of things. There was a sense of nostalgia I had as I thought about the early reformers, and their effect on the forming of America. I liked feeling connected to something with history. At the same time, I wanted to appreciate where I had come from. As I had stated in my comments on CCBC, I learned a lot from my Fundamentalist days. Where I was once bitter and angry about a lot of things I experienced, or saw in the experiences of others, I started to take them for what they were; opportunities to learn.

One day, whilst getting my facebook fix, I saw a “So and So likes this” about something called Journeys To Orthodoxy. “Orthodoxy,” I thought. “This must be what I was reading about in Dr Mouw’s book.” So I click on the link, and find that it is a podcast series. I download them to my ipod, and started to listen while cleaning my pool. I didn’t know what to expect, so I no preconceived ideas, but I was NOT ready for what I heard. These were interviews with people who had converted to the Eastern Orthodox Church. I could honestly say, “I did NOT see that one coming!”

A friend of mine had converted a few years prior, (who I remember at the time thinking was crazy) so I thought I would listen to what these people had to say. I also had a friend who, along with his wife and kids, had become Roman Catholic. We followed similar paths out of Calvary Chapel and into the Presbyterian Church, but then he made a long journey to the Roman Catholic Church. I remember thinking his observations well thought out, as well as thought provoking. I thought it would be worth looking into Orthodoxy, given the amount of thought provoking material I had read from my friend about Rome. If nothing else, I figured it would be good material to keep in the back of my mind. Like learning something about pseudo-christian cults, so I could figure out why they were wrong.

There were so many things that I heard, felt and learned in the hours I spent listening to the podcasts, my head was swimming. Let me just give you an overview of the stories I heard. I will get into the specific points I questioned later. The general theme was that each person had a sense of something incomplete within themselves, with the form of worship they practiced and the kind of Bible interpretation their Churches taught. Some of them came from church backgrounds and found some form of paganism, with which they became discontent. They all started to ask questions, with varying degrees of unsatisfactory answers. Some started to learn about the writings of the Church Fathers, some were invited to a liturgy by someone, and some came to an Orthodox liturgy after a lot of study. After months or years of learning, experiencing, wrestling and struggling, they chose to accept the teaching of the Orthodox Church, and became Orthodox.

One of the things that struck me was how similar their testimonies were. They all said they had the sense they were coming home. They all talked about how the Church has continued from day one, and did not go apostate for hundreds of years. The thing that I liked the most was that they all said the worship of the Church was the worship of the apostles, the doctrines were their doctrines, and their traditions were their traditions. The other thing I liked was their sense of being connected to Christ in His Body, which had been missing from their former worship… and mine. Christ is present in His Church, and always has been.

One of the things I had always wondered was, how had the apostles done things? Apparently, this was it. But before I believed that, there were a lot of issues that needed to be cleared up. A lot of this stuff was downright disturbing to me, because it flew in the face of everything I had learned as a Protestant. These things sounded so… CATHOLIC!!! And everyone knows Catholicism is just a bunch of paganism that was Christianized! I say that tongue-in-check now, but I believed it back then.

My list will not be earth shattering truth for anyone because, as it turns out, almost all protestants share these doubts and issues about Orthodoxy. I didn’t like the idea of priests and hierarchy, and liked their titles even less (father being the first). I didn’t like the Real Presence in the Eucharist (especially after reading Foxe’s Book of Martyrs years earlier). Prayer to the saints was over the top, and the icons were idolatry. I especially didn’t like how they seemed to exalt Mary too highly. All these things, coupled together with the ritual, seemed to form a “Christian Superstition”. I had put up my “wall” of doubt, but made it just high enough to still peek over. But having said all that, I think I was hooked from the first podcast. Despite the many doubts I had, there was no turning back now that I had discovered the Church. Or maybe I should say discovered BY the Church.

One of the people that was interviewed on the podcast was a man that sounded a lot like myself. His church background and love of apologetics sounded a lot like me. And yet this guy had become Orthodox. I became very intrigued, and decided to try and contact him via facebook. He not only gave me links to several articles about Orthodoxy from the perspective of converts, but gave me his cell number. I thought this was pretty cool. It took me a couple weeks to finally call, but when I did it was exciting. We seemed to share a lot of things in common, so I asked how he had gotten over his issues with Orthodoxy. As he shared his testimony with me, and we conversed, a small part of that wall broke off. I still had a lot of questions, but this conversation was so exciting and compelling, I had to learn more.

At this point I shared my discovery and conversation with my wife. The gist of it can be summed up in four words, “What? Are you CRAZY?!?!?!” At this point I was only looking into the claims I had heard on the podcast, so I assured her I wasn’t going to do anything “Crazy”. (Oops) I wasn’t sure what I was expecting to get as a reaction from her, but this didn’t seem so positive. I might have had a naive notion that she might want to look into it with me. Needless to say, I was a little disappointed. I can see her point of view though.

Over the next several weeks I poured over tons of articles about Orthodoxy, read Bible passages that I thought I knew, and kept listening to podcasts. I read an article that debunked Sola Scriptura and pointed to the validity of Holy Tradition as inspired by the Holy Spirirt. I was shocked. I kept reading more articles about Orthodox theology versus Evangelical Theology. I turns out I had been wrong about a lot of things most of my life, but I hadn’t even scratched the surface yet. I discovered a blog called “Glory To God” by Fr Stephen Freeman. He talked about viewing the universe as a one-story house, but that most modern Christianity views the world in two-story terms and that it creates a “practical atheism”. This one was earth-shattering for me. I thought I had always had a pretty good understanding of God, but I learned that I never really saw Him “here and now”. He was always “Up there, somewhere”, and I was  “down here”.

I started reading Kallistos (Timothy) Ware’s book The Orthodox Church. The first few chapters on Church History were fascinating. The sections that dealt with the years following the various political, doctrinal and other problems that came up after the first 1000 years were a bit disturbing to me. I had heard from the Journeys To Orthodox podcasts how Orthodoxy was “the one true Church”, “The fullness of the Church”, and all these other exalted terms. But the Church I read about in the book seemed pretty defective to me. It was a several months before I started to see some of the big picture about Church history, but at the time, I almost put down the book and abandoned the search. Like I said earlier though, I was already hooked. Next came the doctrine and practices section. This was almost worse! They believe What? I have to do what? Every day? They fast how often? The one thing I had found comforting at the time, was the thought that I didn’t “have” to do any of it. I thought, “well, that’s good.” But if I neglected the practices and teachings of the Church, I would have a weak walk, and not benefit in the Grace that we have in Christ, because grace does require participation. “Dang!”

I next discovered a bunch of podcasts on iTunes from Ancient Faith Radio. First was Search The Scripture by Eugenia Constantinou. She is a professor at USD and teaches an introductory course on the Bible. Her podcast series is very scholarly and thorough. I thought I knew a lot about the Bible, it’s history, the cultures it came from, etc. But it turns out I know a little less than nothing. Not only that, but she does it all from an Orthodox perspective. Her style of delivery was right up my alley. Even though I still had a lot of questions, I listened eagerly. She even has a podcast on Revelation, called Beyond The Veil. She shattered my flimsy belief in the Rapture, and my faulty views on Revelation, but I liked learning about what ancient Christians believed.

I failed to mention this before, but at the time of these discoveries about Orthodoxy, my wife was pregnant with our 3rd daughter. A few weeks after we brought her home (late July 2009) I wanted to attend a divine liturgy. My in-laws were over, so she had all the help she needed. I had heard that it is so radically different than anything I experienced before, I should go several times before I make a judgement. Good advice. I had called the priest of the small parish I attended the day before, so I knew what to expect, a little bit. At least, I thought I knew what to expect…

I walked into a small room, rented from a larger church, with only a few people. There were pews and chairs, but they were all standing. The room was full those 2 dimensional pictures I remember from art history, and candles, and the smell of incense. I’m sure I looked as awkward as I felt. The priest’s wife walked up to me with a smile and introduced herself (very quietly). She told me they were just finishing up morning prayers, and that Liturgy would begin shortly. She handed me the service book (folder really) and said that was what we were going to follow. After a few more prayers, the liturgy started. It was word-for-word out of the book. I started to flip ahead, and noticed there were A LOT of pages! “Are they gonna do all of this?” Yes, they did. I did my best to focus on what we were praying, sing, etc. I was trying to remind myself, this is the most ancient form of Christian Worship. But what was this stuff they were praying to Mary? It is truly right to bless thee? Oh man. I decided I couldn’t do this! But again, the hook was already set in my soul, and I knew I should look into what I didn’t understand, instead of rejecting it prematurely.

My first experience at an Orthodox Church was very positive overall, yet it left me with more questions than I entered with. I was in something of a paradox, not unlike the disciples in John 6 (the Bread of Life narrative). I found that even though the things I heard and saw were like the “hard sayings” of Christ (meaning they were an offense to me at the time), I felt like I could not go back to Protestantism and remain “content”. I had to go on and explore further. I was experiencing the confession of St Peter at the end of John 6 (I believe verse 68) “Lord, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of life.”

My next encounter would prove to be a very powerful one for me.

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