Friday, August 12, 2016

When confronted with another person's struggle / journey of Faith

It was startling,
reading an essay about a man who seemed to be CRC 
(Christian Reformed Church - the one I grew up in)
and had some painful experiences while trying to figure out if
the Orthodox Church was for him.
I wrote a long reply to him, after finding out that
his article was not upfront with the changes he was making,
namely leaving the CRC to become Anglican and go to their seminary.
Thankfully there are comments and also earlier articles are more upfront about this.
(my reply is at the end of this post).
I've been thinking about one's journey and struggle in trying to find 
out where one belongs in terms of church.
It brought up a lot and I am thinking of how I may write about it here.
I think the first thing to say is the following:
Everyone has their own journey.
I have lots of friends who are all over the spiritual map.
My local closest friend is a Protestant who knows a bit about Orthodoxy.
Mainly my closest friends, who live for the most part in Canada,
are Orthodox; yet on a daily lived out manner,
my Mom is my best friend after my Husband.
She's CRC and always has been.
I say this as being a committed Orthodox Christian,
one who believes that the Orthodox Church is the fullest expression
of Christianity found today.
But I know that everyone has their own journey,
their own struggles and path.
I often wish everyone knew about Orthodoxy and all that it offers.
But for many reasons, many will never become Orthodox, even more,
many will never be Christians. 
I really liked Dimitri's Cross in part because he somehow was
able to work well with other Christians of different churches; of course the world was
very different then; a lot of Christian churches are vastly different in 
appearance, belief and action today.  
In the end, 
I trust God to have mercy on all of us,
including myself, who has been given so much,
a good Husband, a Christian upbringing and for 12 years now,
the Orthodox Church.
It's in God's hands, not mine, to sort all of that out.
I think what I want to focus on first though is how we must not judge
another person's journey and, with that, be careful of how we speak of
what we have found to be best for us or even the highest truth.
I am not at all meaning or implying that every road or path is equal or that
there is not Truth.  I became Orthodox at age 27, knowing that if I was not 
allowed to become Orthodox, I would have nothing left.
It was Orthodoxy or nothing. 
I had found something that for me was irreplaceable...
 I remember that summer
that I was in Michigan, still a catechumen
 (someone who is in that process of
instruction before fully joining the church) 
I had this irrational fear, huge and gripping,
 that somehow I would be found
not ready to be a full member by Chrismation (the service where one joins,
some are only Chrismated, some are Baptised and Chrismated)
and I would have absolutely no where else to go.
I still feel that way, that Orthodoxy is all I have and all I need.
That said, I think gentleness when hearing another person's story is
always of paramount importance.
You don't know what struggles and life experience have brought them to 
the point they are at; the battle they are in, the person themselves
may not fully understand.
Life is really hard, let's be gentle first.
Zealous excitement about one's faith can often, as it did this
soon to be Anglican seminarian, really hurt someone and 
even stop them from a journey they may have been on towards
Orthodoxy.... or, worse, towards God Himself, if the person is not
a Christian.... 
Anyway, I thought I would write about the one thing
that I always hesitated to write about,
for fear of being misunderstood or worse, hurting someone else.
So, going back many years, 
I was recently chrismated when I moved
back to Canada; 
I had 3 Sundays as a newly chrismated Orthodox Christian before I went 
back to Canada to do my Masters in Library and Information Science,
over ten years ago now.
I went from two great parishes with friends my age
to a small lovely parish that had very few people my age, a church that
was hard to get to at the time, (they have moved now, different priest, location, 
everything), and I was so lonely.  Surprisingly to many, 
my Masters degree was the first place I went to that was not a Christian institution.
I grew up going to Christian Schools from Kindergarten through to my 
Honours BA in English Lit.
I had one Christian friend my age that whole first year, a Protestant.
At the time the church was small and there were some
very excited more zealous people who somehow left me,
I, who was still quite new and excited about the Orthodox Faith,
feeling excluded and bewildered. 
I think part of the issue, looking back, was that they did not realize that
I was still getting my inward footing; 
I have some beautiful memories from that parish.
It was just that Church was going through
a real time of transition and growth
and I went through a time of intense work at school,
not a lot of connection with my church during the week;
my blog was over a year from being 'born', facebook was not yet
what it became later, no Instagram etc. So not much social media 
connections either.
So I was isolated.  Lonely.  Confused.  
Add to this that the place I was renting became difficult;
I had a lovely small tall walled studio apartment,
ground floor of a big sprawling old yellow bricked house,
that in it's glory would of been a sight to behold.
The people in the apartments above me, got worse and worse.
Parties every weekend, etc.  Loud. Drunken. 
Eventually, weeks before I was to move to Ottawa for co-op,
the one group of kids was evicted after the cops told them
that I had reported their party.  (CRAZY).
(Were talking 2 AM in the morning here or worse).
They were evicted because they verbally threatened me through my window,
the next day, which was open with a large old fashion fan in it.  
I remember calling my landlord and leaving a very panicked voicemail;
thankfully it was enough to finally evict them. 
So I was so exhausted, frazzled, for months.
By the time I came to Ottawa I was really inwardly 
depleted, conflicted and confused; 
the Church that had given me so much was now something
I wondered if I could keep going to; I felt so alone;
it was so painful.
And then, well, I moved. Ottawa!
I met my spiritual father of 7 years.
I met tons of Orthodox friends my age.
My sister-friend and her husband moved to Ottawa the same
time that I did; I suddenly had a church in walking distance from my home;
my questions, the pain I was in, within 2 months or so evaporated.
I was able to go to Confession often; I was loved and accepted for where I was at.
I suddenly had this great community to support and love me.
It all got so much better...
such happy memories now.
My questions, my confusion, it was all healed.
And I know that my third church, the one in transition,
I know it's better too; it's now local to the community instead of far away; etc.
But I write this to say that if I had been shamed, guilted or 
treated badly by my Ottawa church, who knows what would of happened;
I was in a really confused vulnerable space.
Remember, I had been a catechumen for just under a year and then moved to my
3rd church (life of a student, moving for work, moving for school) and 
that church was so far away that I felt left adrift, Ottawa church was my 4th
church in 2 years! I was really new!
An example of how one can struggle, 
how one can be healed by being loved,
and how one must be gentle with others who 
may be struggling too.
Well, that's it for today.
My response to this essay, that triggered this post,
as I mentioned earlier, is below.

[Note: I wrote this below with the understanding of your current service and being a CRC pastor, it seem that you are leaving the CRC to become Anglican; I am going to leave what I wrote as I wrote it, but wanted to make that clear that I wrote it without knowing your change of liturgical direction, Church affiliation, etc. It does, however change a lot of my understanding of who you are and where you are going, not only in what you already understand but in what you are willing to undertake. Please keep in mind that when I wrote this, I had no idea of the huge change you are undertaking. Side note: My friend who gave me my first ride to my first Orthodox church is still Anglican and very aligned with what I see the school you are going to is trying to do. I was at her wedding 2 or so summers back and she and her friends were delightfully classical and Christian, so I get where you are at or aiming to be at. However, I am keeping what I wrote it ‘as is’ in part because it seems to be the only way to answer what you actually wrote as opposed to what you choose to conceal.]
My husband pointed out that you are in the CRC church. We both came from CRC backgrounds, but you could say that I am a CRC (former) ‘pharisee of ‘pharisees’ (as St Paul said of himself about his Jewish roots). I grew up in Western MI, went to CRC school and church from Kindergarten-2nd year of college. I learned to swim at Calvin as a girl. To this day I am deeply thankful to God for such a wonderful, unified Christian upbringing. My parents have virtues that I still do not have in myself and I really respect them. My sister and her husband were (Protestant) missionaries to Romania, which, as you know is an Orthodox country. While we may not agree on things, I still hold my sister and brother-in-law with great respect for the love and care they have demonstrated there to orphans and now as urban missionaries in the States.
I become Orthodox about 12+ years ago, by way of experience more than study, though I did read various books. I am sorry for the personal experience you have had; you clearly met a lot of ‘hyperdox hermans’ as we like to call them. Actually Ancient Faith Radio often ran a ‘blurb’ (for us Orthodox) about a convert who was bashing his Protestant upbringing and the Bishop finally asked him ‘did you become Orthodox so you can hate? And then said you should appreciate your upbringing and thank God for it; he went further to say that you can ‘baptise’ everything and bring it with you. While perhaps you do not like the ‘baptise’ part, the message he said is clear: take everything that is God-loving, God-honouring and bring it with you.
You love a lot of the writers I love within Orthodoxy and have clearly read a lot and it has really enriched you. It’s wonderful to meet Christians who are willing to go outside of what they know to learn more about ways Christianity is practiced. I have a family member, who I love dearly, who asked me “Why are you leaving the faith?” when I was becoming Orthodox. So thank you for your openness. I am so sorry you have not experienced the same kindness that you were offering within yourself when looking at Orthodoxy as an option.
I wanted to touch on a few things you wrote:
First, here, you write:
"In addition to this, the divisions that existed back then between the bishops and the heretics were quite a bit more severe than the divisions which exist between the Orthodox bishops and the Western Church today. Listen to how St. Ignatius describes the heretics of his day:
“For they speak of Christ, not that they may preach Christ, but that they may reject Christ; and they speak of the law, not that they may establish the law, but that they may proclaim things contrary to it. For they alienate Christ from the Father, and the law from Christ. They also calumniate His being born of the Virgin; they are ashamed of His cross; they deny His passion; and they do not believe His resurrection. They introduce God as a Being unknown; they suppose Christ to be unbegotten; and as to the Spirit, they do not admit that He exists. Some of them say that the Son is a mere man, and that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are but the same person, and that the creation is the work of God, not by Christ, but by some other strange power.8”
I personally do not know of any Western Christians, Catholic or Protestant, who would adhere themselves to any point of this heretical tradition as described by St. Ignatius. Given that this is the case, perhaps the word “heretic” needs to be reconsidered just a bit. I sincerely hope that my Orthodox friends can see that the wedge which divides us Western Christians from their bishops is much less severe than the divisive issues that St. Ignatius is speaking of.”
Sadly it needs to be said that I do believe that you friends are wrong in dismissing you and other Christians as ‘heretics’ in the way that you are using St. Ignatius is writing. Any pride and elitism in any Christian church is wrong. (I knew the CRC/ RCA division and its elitism and even of one Dutch Grandmother of a friend, God bless her, who did not like Dutch people who were from Friesland!). I must say, however, that in your efforts to show why the elitism you found in Orthodox people is wrong, you are not accounting for the whole picture of the Christian world, the West. While, thank the Lord, there are many Christians who still believe in Christ and His Resurrection, I know there are those who call themselves ‘Christians’ who have ceased to believe in Christ, His Resurrection and the Virgin Birth. You have not taken into account a lot of the more liberal Christianity as it were, such as the Anglican Bishop Robinson of the 1960 who quested the Virgin Birth and Second Coming of Christ ( Bishop Spong came after Robinson and continued in dismantling many Christian tenants, sadly like St. Ignatius was describing. I was never confirmed in the Anglican church, but attended one for a couple of years. It was the Anglican Bishop there who, when I did go to an Orthodox church and meet an Orthodox Bishop, convinced me to ‘jump ship’ as the Anglican Bishop was continuing the liberal tradition I just mentioned above. [ have Anglican friends who are in conservative pockets of Anglicanism who are trying to preserve what these Bishops were and are destroying].
For me, I became Orthodox in part because I found a Church who was not dismantling the fundamental Christian beliefs and because I had come to believe in the Eucharist as ‘real’ and that the IS in John ch 6 simply means ‘is’. I was living in BC Canada when I first ‘discovered’ Orthodoxy and it was the kind Bishop and priest there who were such examples of both hospitality and love while keeping the truth of Christ and the Church beliefs unbroken. I am sorry you did not experience the same hospitality.
On another note: I think you are missing something in your (understandable, normal) reaction to being ‘evangelized’. Yes, of course you don’t need to be introduced to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, or at this point, some basic Church history, as you enjoy reading it. You don’t need to be ‘made’ a Christian or need training in the beliefs that you quoted St. Ignatius speaking on. However, the Orthodox Church (and the Roman Catholic on this point) do have a different view on some fairly basic things. The one I would say is most easy to see and one of the most important is the difference in belief of Holy Communion, or as we would also say, the Eucharist. I went to catechism class at my CRC church in my teen years and of course there are Adult Sunday School classes. I studied the Heidelberg Catechism, Canons of Dort, etc. These all are about teaching the faith right? Well, if the Orthodox Church is true to their beliefs, they would also offer teaching on them. And the Eucharist is a fairly clear ‘dividing line’ of difference in belief. I know the CRC well and I know Orthodoxy well and they believe fundamentally different things in terms of what the Scripture means in John ch 6 plus the words later by St. Paul on the Lord’s Supper/the Eucharist. Please, in your upset about how you were treated, don’t fail to see that it would be the calling of both the CRC and the the Orthodox Church to teach according to their beliefs. If the Orthodox Church is ‘right’ on their views (i.e. the Eucharist), it could be hard to know what to do with it. It’s pretty hard to ever deal with the possibility of what you thought to be true may not be so. It’s great that you have been open in this way, it’s appreciated and the struggle too!
I want to touch on this as well:
“Is there one Eastern Orthodox eucharist within a region under the headship of one Eastern Orthodox bishop, or do we often find multiple eucharists under multiple bishops in a region? Do not the various jurisdictions (OCA, ROCOR, Antiochian, Greek, Romanian, Serbian..etc.) have their own churches within close proximity to one another that celebrate their own eucharistic services under the oversight of their own bishops? Within my own city (St. Louis) I know that all of the various parishes do not come together for the Eucharistic Liturgy but they all do their own thing on Sundays. Is this not contrary to what St. Ignatius is instructing us in? Does this embody the oneness that he speaks of whenever Orthodox churches are divided along lines of ethnicity?”
I feel that you need to be more patient with the American Orthodox situation. We are all pretty much aware of this and it is merely situational as it were; it’s what America is, almost everyone here is from somewhere else culturally and they bring where they are from with them. There are 2 things you may be missing here. 1. We who are Orthodox can commune at any Orthodox church. I have communed at all the church jurisdictions you mentioned and more; I have, by virtue of moves, been a member of 5 churches in 5 different jurisdictions. I have gone to various monasteries and am currently serving with my husband at a very traditional jurisdiction. I mention this to show you that 1. We are not all ‘hyperdox hermans’ and 2. The Orthodox Church is still one and shares one Chalice universally, as it were. It is beautiful that there are so many ethnic traditions within Orthodoxy; there is a wonderful freedom in this way that you may not be seeing, perhaps because of how you were hurt by zealous people.
2nd point here: It’s good to realize how Orthodoxy has changed - you are right. I would say this does not upset us, though, but makes the history of the liturgical changes quite fascinating. Have you read _The Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy_ By Fr Alexander Schmemann? I loved that one esp. because it also did not gloss over times the Orthodox church made mistakes, historically speaking. This actually helped me trust the Orthodox Church more, as I find anyone/anything that will not admit mistake/s to be false/untrustworthy. The Orthodox Church doctrines are what we would say have not changed, not liturgical practice. As you know, Saints like St. Gregory Palamas have further refined understandings that the earlier fathers were writing on. The form of Orthodoxy, in terms of liturgical changes, have happened and I don’t see that this takes away from Orthodoxy or it’s doctrinal claims.
Lastly, I don’t know if you realize how hurt you have been by being treated as you have. There was a point in my life, early on in Orthodoxy, that I was hurt in similar ways, by well meaning but zealous people who needed to calm down a bit. Thank God I soon after met a very good priest and confessor who helped me through that. In time I was able to get past the hurt because I was loved out of it and accepted where I was, with all my questions/hurt. This helped me to gain perspective (took some time!!!), to let it go and to forgive. Think of your beloved St. Silouan and his father, who he said was a deep example of a Starez. The Father had such silence and love, doing a simple reproach to his son months later. It’s hard when we meet people who are not like that, but we are all to see ourselves as spiritual beginners. To be honest, esp. for converts, it can take a while for them to get to a point where love and hospitality to take root at the same level as their excitement. St. Silouan’s father was at a very high level spiritually speaking.
To be able to see Orthodoxy in a different light than you do now (which you may or may not want or choose to do), I think you would have to be healed of the hurt first. And that can take a while. It’s very painful to feel so failed by what one was once so excited about; it’s hard even for us who have been Orthodox a long time to realize that people in their own church/es, including oneself, are so wounded spiritually, etc. However, the Orthodox Church is a place for sinners and while painful to be the one who experiences fallout from another’s struggle, one can regain peace and have healing in time. I would agree with the priest and monk you spoke to, that if Orthodoxy is creating such unrest within you, it is not for you at this point, maybe later, maybe not. I think it is fair (at least in some ways) to point out the failings that you have seen in the untoward. It’s good to realize where one fails and what to try NOT to do to others. Of course, as you yourself alluded to, your experience is limited to the people you have met; Orthodoxy is a lot bigger and better than only those you have met up to this point. May God bless you! Thank you again for your honesty and openness to other Christian traditions.


Nancy McCarroll said...

Your thoughtful post, as well as your letter, proves your authenticity of faith.

Yes, we can never fully know another's journey. The scripture "judge not, lest you be judged" was brought to mind.

Blessings, Nancy

Pom Pom said...

Fascinating, Elizabeth. Thank you for your thoughtful sharing.

Zena said...

I've been thinking a lot about God this year and faith since I fell in to the darkness of being ill. I've always had a difficult family life when I was growing up and then I had two beautiful children to fill the whole. However I have learned that I give love out but I am not getting love back and I need it from my family and relatives. But I will never get it in the way I need it. I feel that I will only find it in God because there is no where else to look. I thoroughly appreciated your personal Journey of Faith as I look for my own. I hope to find more loving and non-judgemental people like you in my world.

Emmie said...

Elizabeth, I plan to re-read this many times. I have struggled since my conversion in knowing how to relate to other Christians. Many in the very Baptist area that I live are not sure that Orthodoxy is actually Christian...I have been at times overzealous. Lord forgive me! I so love your blog and it is such a gentle and healing space. Please keep writing. You have a good deal to offer.

elizabeth said...

Zena, your writing here moves me a great deal. I hope to respond further also, but if you every want to email me feel free - roosjeblog AT yahoo DOT CA

Emmie, it took me years to get to where I am in this understanding. I am still learning a lot about how to do gentle and healing things; just ask my husband, he knows I am imperfect! :) but we love each other and forgive! God bless you!

Joy said...

This is chock full of such good things to think about and consider, Elizabeth. I'm sure I'll be returning to it often. These points seem to get brought up very often lately and I've found myself a bit at a loss for words to articulate things. You did so in such an accessible way.

elizabeth said...

Thanks Joy! That means a lot to me. Your words via your blog are also things I find very meaningful and helpful!