My best friend says she loves it when I blog. Of course she does. She's my best friend. She's liked hearing what I have to say for decades now (God bless her). I think she might start assigning me topics, as she knows I love to write, but need subjects. (I also asked her to give me deadlines, but she refused; saying I'd start dodging her calls as if she is an editor.) She requested this topic: My first year in the Orthodox Christian Church.
As of December 26th, 2011, I've been Orthodox for a year. For those that are Orthodox, you know that one year is no big shakes. It's like having been born for a nanosecond. That's what happens when you join a tradition that sees itself as having spanned through all of time. You have a sense of being nurtured, held, home. But I also have a sense of smallness; in the best way. Being in this tradition is like being in the mountains or at the ocean; I am a small, small, but integral part of this whole beautiful Church.
C.S. Lewis said of prayer: “I pray because I can't help myself. I pray because I'm helpless. I pray
because the need flows out of me all the time- waking and sleeping. It
doesn't change God- it changes me.”
After a year as an Orthodox Christian, this is how I feel about not only prayer; but the church calendar, the sacraments, Liturgy, community... living within the life of the church. After a year, I am convinced more than ever that this life is God's gift to me. Some of the biggest surprises of all those gifts have been:
The Liturgy itself: I knew that I had fallen in love with the beauty of the Liturgy as sung in the Orthodox church. The amazing truths, beautifully stated and proclaimed for centuries. (For those of you that have not heard the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, it is burgeoning with Scripture.) I knew that the Liturgy was organic throughout the church year. It is ever the same, yet always changing during the seasons, during our fasts and feasts.
What I DIDN'T know was how that Liturgy would plant itself in my mind and soul. It comes, unbidden, into my heart at the times I am most in need. One of my friends, a beautiful poet, said that it leaves "striations in the heart." I breathe in and out the Liturgy when I am not there. I am enveloped by it.
The marking of time: Orthodox Christians see time as a function of this world, and God as having always stood outside of time. Time is the measure of movement (Aristotle), and we cannot imagine the timeless ocean He is. But the liturgical day, week, and year help me number my days aright. I can mark my time with His timelessness.
I awake, and pray. I close the same day with prayer. The liturgical week: Wednesday-Christ's betrayal, Friday-His Crucifixion, Sunday-His Resurrection day. Every week is a miniature Lent and Pascha. The liturgical year itself, the cycle of fasts and feasts.
The marking of time in the Orthodox church is important because my heart IS that fickle, that forgetful. I forget beauty faster than I forget anything. I need a structure that reminds me that I AM held and home. I need a structure that reminds me of the Trinity that holds all things together. I need this every, every moment.
The Sacraments and the Organic, Holistic Nature of the Faith: I went to WAY too much Bible college. Both my head and heart have been exhausted at the practice of having faith be primarily a set of intellectual suppositions. Orthodoxy will have none of that. God and I meet each other in the physical and sensate, the spiritual, and in the intellect. I need His Body and Blood, not just a symbol of it. I need to fast and feast. I need to celebrate with beautiful song and incense, the way He did in the Temple. I need wine, bread, oil, and water to bring me His grace. He used mud to open the eyes of the blind. How did that work? Who cares?? He met people with physicality. I need that just as badly now as anyone ever has.
All of these things that I have found in the Orthodox Church are my joy; His gifts to me and to all who will come. In participating in all of these, I have done Him no favor. My thankful response is what I can bring to Him. Feeding the poor, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, telling the Good News... and exemplifying that the Good News is, in fact, really, really GOOD. How can I respond with enough thankfulness? I can't... my heart overflows.
My beautiful new friend Anne said to me of her conversion to Orthodox Christianity: "I decided that I'd rather be bad at this than good at anything else." Of all the truth and beauty that I have seen and lived in the past year, I think this phrase sums it up most honestly. For all the gifts I have been given, I will bring my thankfulness, such as it is.
" Bring before your eyes the blessings, whether physical or spiritual,
conferred on you from the beginning of your life down to the present,
and call them repeatedly to mind in accordance with the words: 'Forget
not all His benefits' (Psalm 102:2). Then your heart will readily be
moved to the fear and love of God, so that you repay Him, as far as you
can, by your strict life, virtuous conduct, devout conscience, wise
speech, true faith and humility—in short, by dedicating your whole self
to God." ~St. Mark the Ascetic
“What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd I would give a lamb,
If I were I wise man I would do my part,
But what can I give Him?
I’ll give Him my heart.”