Becoming Orthodox

Homily 486 – 32nd APE
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
January 30, 2022
Epistle: (280-ctr) 1 Timothy 1:15-17 and (334) Hebrews 13:7-16
Gospel: (62) Matthew 15:21-28 and (11) Matthew 5:14-19
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

Today is significant for me, personally, as it was 28 years ago today, on this feast, that Candy and I attended our first Divine Liturgy. I thank God for bringing me here, to a place where I could have never imagined myself being.

How did that event even happen? I didn’t speak with a priest, I didn’t speak with a catechist.

I corresponded with people – ordinary, everyday, people, just like you and me. Who were Orthodox. And who were not shy about telling others about what they found in Orthodoxy.

Wasn’t just converts – a couple of cradle Orthodox, including one I’m still in contact with today, a Greek gentleman in Michigan who is a choir director.

Others were converts – a very small group, actually. A mother of two in Portland, Oregon, two families in Memphis, a semi-retired couple in Nashville. And I was at the beginning in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

I corresponded with these individuals deliberately in an online forum. I was searching, for what I didn’t really know, but searching. In looking at different Christian traditions, I knew one thing I was looking for – my life to be changed.

What was the impact Orthodoxy had on these regular people? Not the clergy, not the theologians, but the people following this path?

I had been a believer all my life. I had gotten frustrated with the need to be emotionally on the mountaintop in life experiences and didn’t know how to navigate the inevitable valleys in my spiritual life.

The answer the Baptist Church offered was to read the scriptures and study the scriptures and pray. This raised more questions – there are quite literally hundreds of study bibles out there with interpretations of the scriptures. Which was I do believe? Which was I to follow?

And for prayer, well, that was an entirely different matter. I didn’t know how to pray. If I’m honest, I still don’t, but hopefully, I’m trying. Nobody taught me how to pray.

We had the Lord’s prayer, but that didn’t seem to be sufficient in the circles where I hung out. I hung out with other couples who could pray circles around me, speaking from their heart with yearning and meaning. At least, it seemed that way.

But learning to pray had never been part of my Sunday school education. We were supposed to have a quiet time with God every morning, hopefully, an hour. I went to bible studies once a week in high school, again in the morning, with Godly people who helped me learn about the Bible.

I didn’t, however, learn much about Jesus. I learned doctrines, intellectual, rational, trying to understand. But we don’t study and understand rationally the people we have a relationship with.

I didn’t listen to everyone else’s opinions about my spouse when we were introduced. A couple of friends introduced us, and I didn’t spend much time exploring her belief system, her formation process, and her family heritage.

Relationships don’t work that way. Relationships are not about intellectual understanding or rational belief structures.

Relationships are messy. They involve thinking, but also emotion. I would argue the most important aspect of relationships is empathy. The ability to identify with the other in situations of joy, or pain, or frustration. Can’t always do anything, but hopefully, in strong relationships, we can empathize.

Just as Christ empathizes with us.

So what does all this have to do with the first divine liturgy I attended 28 years ago today?

Although I couldn’t articulate what I was looking for when I began to seek Orthodoxy, although I couldn’t define it or formulate a statement about it, I found it.

I found it.

That’s what my correspondents showed me – they didn’t really tell me, they showed me. Their lives had been changed because of their faith, and because of the disciplines of the Orthodox Church.

They had learned to pray – by praying. They had learned to be like Christ, through asceticism, also called self-denial. They were being transformed.

Here’s the other thing they did. They didn’t try to explain it. They didn’t offer excuses. They said to me – to us – here, come and see. Have dinner with us, come to vespers. Stay with us and come to Church. The parish was two hours from where we lived, so that was really a thing for us.

Do we do that? Today? Do we share what we have found with others? Are we like Photini at the well who told her entire town “come meet a man who told me everything I ever did”?

Sadly, even I am not always willing to speak up and offer Christ to others. At times, I’m embarrassed to say to others, “I found a path that has led me to a degree of peace and contentment like the Apostle Paul wrote about.”

See, we don’t have to be perfect to share our faith. It isn’t our ethnicity, it isn’t our tradition – it is our relationship that we share.

Are we willing to introduce others to Christ? And then let Him to the transformation?

Or are we only wanting for others to obey our social teachings and our moral standards?

I hope for all of us we simply introduce people to Christ. Come and see. Let it soak in. Drink deeply of the living waters.

For in the living waters of Christ, we become truly alive.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God.