This weekend, Debbie and I had a good conversation about our journey to Orthodoxy. And as I reflected on our dialogue, I’ve become more aware of a few things.
God is truly leading our family in our journey to Orthodoxy. I have longed for a Christianity that is historically, spiritually and theologically rich and vibrant. And as I have mentioned in previous posts, we truly believe we have found it. Fr Thomas Hopko communicated the fullness of life and faith that we’re experiencing in Orthodoxy in his lecture, “When is Armageddon?” when he said:
“The Orthodox Church has nothing except everything we need… What we need is God the Father, the Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures, the sacramental life of the Church, the liturgical services of the Church and the teachings, the witness and the blood of the saints.”
As a father, it is moving when I listen to my children recite the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed or pray the Lord’s Prayer, or when I watch them cross themselves or venerate an icon. We have found a place where our children will be raised in the fullness of the Faith.
I wish I could explain how utterly awe-inspiring and humbling it is to participate in a virtually unchanging Divine Liturgy that Christians globally and historically have used for centuries, a Divine Liturgy that faithfully has escorted millions of Christians to a moment that transcends time and space into God’s kingdom and communion with our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ.
And it’s a wonderful thing to know that unlike my evangelical experience, there will never be a need for “trends” or “movements” (i.e. charismatic movement, Purpose-driven life movement, spiritual warfare movement, church growth movement) because we have and will always have everything we need to journey into Christ’s life and likeness. Everything we need is here. In Orthodoxy, to borrow again from Fr Hopko, we have “The Holy Spirit, who lives in the life of the Church through the Scriptures, the Sacraments, the Services and the Saints.” While there surely is room for further reflection, study, and adaptation, there is absolutely no need for additions or supplements to our faith and practices.
Now having said this, I’m also aware that everything I have experienced beforehand has been God-ordained. I am eternally grateful for the churches and movements I’ve participated in during my journey with Christ.
In Calvary Chapel, I came to know Christ as my Lord and Savior and to cultivate a love for the Scriptures.
In Youth With a Mission, I explored and confirmed my calling into ministry, participated in overseas missions, and learned how to live in Christian community.
At the First Baptist Church in Azusa, I was entrusted with my first youth ministry and opportunities to preach and teach.
At the San Gabriel Valley Japanese Christian Church, I experienced a vibrant Christian community and was given further room to grow in various ministries, including worship, youth, and preaching.
In the Vineyard, I experienced God’s intimacy and learned to live with risk-taking faith. It was there that I learned all of the aspects of local church ministry and honed my personal and ministerial values.
In the Emerging Church, I enjoyed the freedom of theological and missional exploration, the creativity of making theology accessible and relevant to everyone, and the camaraderie of theological conversation where everyone learned from one another without agenda and power struggles.
So as my family and I stand on the threshold of entering the Orthodox Church, I recognize that my being here is the natural and logical destination of my journey in and through all that I have mentioned. I can see God’s hand in each place in the journey as he used different people and movements to “tutor” me into a more vibrant and well-rounded faith that ultimately has led me here. I hold many fond memories and valuable lessons dear to me and know that I would not be here if not for God leading me in and through Calvary Chapel, YWAM, the Baptist Church, the Japanese Church, the Vineyard, the Emerging Church, as well as Azusa Pacific University, Fuller Theological Seminary and many other people and influences along the way. I admit that all of my experiences have been a mingling of joy and pain. But I truly love where I have been.
As I affirm the fullness of the Orthodox Church, it is not to discredit or disparage those in my past, but to thank and appreciate all who have contributed to my journey. Because of them I am here. Aware of this, my zeal for the Orthodox faith is not a renunciation of all I have learned and experienced as it is the affirmation of all the good I have learned and experienced. With deep thankfulness and gratefulness, I pray I am able to bring all of that good with me into my Orthodox faith.
This is very important to me because I’m also very aware that one brings his or her baggage into the Orthodox faith. An angry Protestant Christian simply becomes an angry Orthodox Christian. An insensitive Roman Catholic Christian simply becomes an insensitive Orthodox Christian. I bitter Emerging Church Christian simply becomes a bitter Orthodox Christian. Recently, I’ve heard Orthodox Christians on a few occasions speak with anger or mockery about the Protestant faith from which they have converted. And this saddens me. It contributes to the perceived superiority and exclusivity of Orthodoxy held by many. There is absolutely no grace in that kind of behavior. And being fully aware of the wounds and anger still residing in my own heart, I know I can easily become like this as well.
So I hope and pray for grace, for generosity, for the ability to listen to another’s perspective, for understanding, and ultimately for love. My goal in converting to Orthodoxy is that I would become a better man, to become like Jesus so that I would learn to love God, people and creation better as time goes on.
4 thoughts on “Thankful for the Whole Journey”
Nice post. Stay “non-triumphalistic”. Like the old saying, “No matter where you go, there you are… even in the Orthodox Church.” (I can’t remember which Father said that… LOL!)
Sounds like you’re on the right track. Welcome to the Church… sounds like you’ll have no trouble remembering the key to staying sane is that old Groucho Marx line: “I wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member…” Somehow it’s different in Orthodoxy… maybe we “belong”, maybe we aren’t worthy and that’s why we can’t help ourselves… it tends to get confusing. And maybe that’s all (the bad buzz) you hear. Again… welcome, as someone said, “Welcome aboard, grab a bucket and start bailing.”
One of the things I have wrestled with over my journey is precisely what you are talking about in this post – how do I understand my Protestant past in light of Orthodoxy. Unfortunately, I have gone to both sides of it – there have been times throughout my journey when I have looked at it rather negatively – I think some of that sprouted from the hurt my family experienced, some of the rest just from pride. Thank God for spiritual fathers to help point things like that out and to help keep you on the path!
Over the last few months, though, especially as I have seen my wife and my whole family begin to be healed by this Ancient Faith, I have begun to see it in a different light. It no longer seems to be a back and forth, but it has settled into a solid understanding of how God was working all throughout my life in these various churches, and in the pastorate. There are many lessons I needed to learn, many things I needed to experience, so that when I met with Fr. Patrick that night at Vespers, in many ways, by the mercy of the Lord, I was ready for that meeting.
Your post really hit home, and you took the words right out of my mouth. With some different names and places, this is a post I have been wanting to right – I just had not been able to put it precisely into these words yet. Thank you!