Hey, how ya' doin'? It's been a long while...working, family life and blogging, one of them had to give. So, I'm back to blogging, which means I'm not working outside the home. My blog is about to take a big turn; I'll still write about theology and life, but it's going to have a different flavor. My family and I are about to take an official step onto a new, but well trodden and ancient, path. We are going to be officially enrolled as catechumens in the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church at St. John's Orthodox Cathedral in Eagle River, Alaska.
How the heck did this happen?
Yeah, I have wondered this myself for many, many months. At first I wanted to make sure this isn't the theology nerd equivalent of a mid-life crisis. Some people might buy a sports car, others might have an affair, others might have plastic surgery, but do theology nerds fall in love with another faith and jump ship?
Looking back I can see the fingerprints of God throughout my life priming me for this decision, however, the turning point happened just over a year ago. I attended a training for Catechesis of the Good Shepherd at St. John's in June 2014 and I had the opportunity to attend the Divine Liturgy. My first physical impressions in no particular order: dang this is long, it is crazy hot in here, can I sit down?, they sure like incense, I can't see what the priests are doing, the icons are pretty. On the surface, these are fairly vapid and superficial observations, but I was a good little theology nerd and paid attention to the content too.
The beauty and the history of the Liturgy bowled me over. The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom has been used in the Orthodox Christian East since the 5th century. I could see the historical roots of the Mass within the Divine Liturgy and I kept thinking, this is how we all used to do it - way, way back in the day. I felt a connection to my ancestors in the faith - the saints and martyrs of the early Church - that I have never experienced in the Mass. It also warmed the heart of this Trinitarian geek to hear the Trinity mentioned so many times and that Mary, the Theotokos, the God bearer, was not only mentioned but reverenced, as is fitting to her role as the first disciple.
I have been to a few other Divine Liturgies in my life, but it was clear that I was an outsider and occasionally called a heretic (gee, thanks). That wasn't the case at St. John's and it was fantastic to be able to sit down with a few Orthodox theology nerds after the Liturgy and ask questions. The point that stayed with me from the discussions is that while we have the same early history, Orthodoxy is not just the Eastern branch of the Church. I had always heard that the Eastern Orthodox Church was the sister Church of Catholicism and that it was historical events and translation issues that kept us apart. However, there are significant theological and structural differences between East and West (which I'll blog about in the future). I wondered about these differences for months and would occasionally ask questions of my new found Orthodox friends.
After the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd training, I returned home to Juneau and didn't think much about the Divine Liturgy until I went to Mass the next time. I thought about the Divine Liturgy every single time I went to Mass and felt that "something" was missing. I recalled the overabundant beauty of the Sanctuary, the smell of the incense, the sound of the a capella music which is so different from modern Mass music, and an inexpressible feeling that I was in communion with history. The word that repeatedly came to mind when thinking about the Divine Liturgy was and is "gratuitous" and in comparison the Mass seems "naked".
Finally, I broke down and told my fellow theology nerd of Orthodox extraction, who used to be Catholic, that I couldn't stop thinking about the Divine Liturgy. She bought me a book, Light From the Christian East, and we talked and talked. I read more books, listened to podcasts, wondered, asked questions, read more books, and so on.
In June I returned to St. John's to complete the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd training, but I arrived a few days early so I could attend the Divine Liturgy before class started. Would the Liturgy be as striking as I remembered or was I simply under the romantic spell of a different theological tradition? I figured my response the Liturgy would be the answer and this time I was armed with a little more knowledge about what was happening. It was just as beautiful as I remembered. In my heart I knew I wanted to become Orthodox, however, my head was screaming "uh, what about your husband and did you forget you work for the Catholic Church?"
My husband already knew that I was researching Orthodox theology and we had some conversations about various topics: Original Sin, the Immaculate Conception, perpetual virginity of Mary to name a few. These were sticking points in the Catholic faith for one or both of us. In the course of the conversations I found out that my husband believed many Orthodox teachings. When I told him that his beliefs were not in line with the Catholic Church he said that he had heard a podcast about whatever we were chatting about on Ancient Faith Radio...which is Eastern Orthodox, but he didn't know that.
I loved the Divine Liturgy, but would my husband? My family came to visit me halfway through the course and we all attended the Liturgy. My Orthodox friends had prepared my husband for the Liturgy and basically told him, "don't be surprised if you are confused and hate it the first time." Well, he didn't hate it, in fact, he really liked it and said that it made perfect sense.
In the background, life continued to surprise us and in the midst of contemplating Orthodox stuff I found out that I was pregnant - SURPRISE! For those of you who have read previous blog entries, you know that our first baby died at term 7 years ago and that pregnancy is a pretty scary thing for me. But, this time we were in Alaska and the OB care in Juneau for a high risk pregnancy is non-existent; traveling to Anchorage for care would need to be part of the plan. This is where God kicked me out of the driver seat and said, "Hang on to your hat, kid! I'm about to take you on one crazy ride." At the end of June we found out I was expecting, the beginning of July my husband heard about a great job opening in Anchorage, the beginning of August he was hired for the job, we quit our jobs in Juneau, my husband left early for Anchorage, my parents arrived to help me finish packing and make the move. With all our stuff loaded into a U-haul truck, my parents, my son, and I drove on to the ferry in Juneau closing an exciting time in our life. After 4 days of travel, we arrived in the Anchorage area at the end of August. Now we're close to great medical care for me and our unborn baby boy and the door opened wide for us to join the Orthodox Church.
Here we are, again, at the trailhead of a new path. You'd think I'd feel scared or worried, but I don't. God has led us to this point and things have turned out pretty good in past when we've followed his lead...I just never thought it would lead me here.