Saturday, December 25, 2010

Becoming Orthodox by Peter E. Gillquist

One of the first books I read when I was exploring Orthodoxy was Becoming Orthodox: A Journey to the Ancient Christian Faith by Peter E. Gillquist. This book chronicles the spiritual journey of several pastors who had been involved in the evangelical group Campus Crusade for Christ. They wanted to develop a church that was as close as possible to the New Testament church. Each one researched a different area--worship, church history, doctrine--and then they combined their research and tried to recreate the early church. What they discovered was that the early church was exactly like the Orthodox church of today. In 1986, hundreds of parishioners were chrismated and became Orthodox during one large service. The book is incredibly readable.

The story is told in this series of videos, called "A Journey to the Ancient Church":

Monday, November 8, 2010

Becoming Catechumens in the Orthodox Church

We’ve taken the plunge. We’re now catechumens in the Orthodox Church. I find people’s reactions interesting. Most people have no clue what Orthodoxy is, let alone what the term catechumen means. A Facebook friend simply said, “So explain what that is.”

I will try.

The dictionary definition of catechumen is: “a person under instruction in the rudiments ofChristianity, as in the early church; a neophyte” (from

The Wikipedia definition of catechumen is: “one receiving instruction from a catechist in the principles of the Christian religion with a view to baptism.”

For me it means becoming a disciple. Although I’ve been a Christian since I was very young, I’m discovering there is so much more to learn, an entire history of Christianity that I’ve known nothing about.

The leader of our catechumen class says that becoming Orthodox is “like becoming born again – again.” That’s how it is for me.

It began with powerful ceremony, where we repeated words that have been used for almost 2,000 years, whenever people made a public profession of faith in Christ.

Three times I was asked, Do you renounce Satan, and all his angels, and all his works, and all his services. and all his pride?"

Three times I answered, “I do renounce him.”

“Then blow and spit on him,” Father James instructed. (A skeptic friend later asked me, “So what exactly did you spit ON?” I explained that it was a symbolic gesture, that no saliva actually escaped my lips.)

Three times I was asked “Do you unite yourself to Christ?”

Three times I answered, “I do unite myself to Christ.”

Now we are taking classes with several other catechumens, who come from various backgrounds, but with whom I feel a tremendous bond. I’ve discovered a new family in this little community of believers.

After our classes, which will continue through the fall and winter, we will be chrismated (anointed with oil) and become full members of the Orthodox church. This will happen next year on Easter, which we call Pascha.

Interestingly, the first time we visited the Orthodox church was the Sunday after Pascha (Easter) of this year. I remember learning about Bright Week and shouting “Indeed He is risen!” on that day, little knowing that a year later I would become Orthodox. It’s also interesting to note, that while the Orthodox Pascha usually falls on a different date than the Western Easter, on these particular years, it is the same date as the Western Easter.

Stay tuned for more updates on our journey.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Spell Check Fail

I find it disturbing that neither the Microsoft Word nor the Blogger spell check recognize the words "chrismated" or "chrismation." Hopefully this will be changed in the next revision.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

An Amazing Christmas Eve Story: A Murdered Man Forgives His Murderer

I just heard an amazing story on one of my favorite podcasts, "Here and Now" by Frederica Mathewes-Green on Ancient Faith Radio.

Pastor Richard Wurmbrand, a Romanian Lutheran minister, was imprisoned for his faith, along with many other religious leaders. While there, he witnessed an Orthodox priest named  Iscu, who was tortured to the point of death. Then the Communists had a quarrel and turned against the man who had tortured Iscu. This man ended up also being tortured to the point of death and was placed in the same cell as Iscu.

So it happened that the murderer and the murdered were in the same cell together, both near death.  There, Pastor Wurmbrand witnessed an amazing thing. As the torturer cried out in agony, both of body and soul (for he could not believe that God could forgive him), the badly beaten priest called two other prisoners to bring him to the bed of the tortured man, and here he caressed and comforted him.

"I will never forget this gesture," Pastor Wurmbrand said. "I watched a murdered man caressing his murderer! That is love--he found a caress for him."  He went on to tell his murderer: "If I who am a sinner can love you so much, imagine Christ, who is Love Incarnate, how much he loves you! You only need to turn to Him and repent."

And so the murdered man heard the confession of his murderer, and that night both men died.  It was a Christmas Eve Pastor Wurmbrand said he would never forget. "It was a Christmas Eve during which Jesus was born in the heart of a Communist murderer."

You can read the entire story here.  (The story I referred to is at the end)
You can listen to the podcast here.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

"It's nice, but it's not church"

When a couple who had converted to Orthodoxy described their journey, they told us about visiting various evangelical churches. Their reaction: "It's nice, but it's not church."

Think about the services in many evangelical churches. If you didn't know the language, what would there be to distinguish the service from a concert/lecture?  Sure, some people may raise their hands, but you see plenty of hand-waving at some secular concerts.  Yes, someone might bow their heads to pray, but interestingly, the Bible never mentions anyone bowing their heads to pray.  Jesus lifted His eyes to the heavens.

Walk into a typical evangelical church, and it might look like a hotel, a school, office or even a warehouse, but not like a church. There may be a cross somewhere, but there is nothing that sets the building apart as a place of worship.

This is often intentional, part of the "seeker friendly" model. But what are seekers seeking?  If they are seeking something "not of this world," do we want it to look just like the places they hang out in all week? If they are looking for an encounter with the supernatural, will they find it in a lecture or a concert?  Some food for thought.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

How we started on our journey towards the Eastern Orthodox Christian faith

“We don’t know if we believe in God anymore.”

That announcement from our teenage daughters started us on a journey toward exploring Orthodox Christianity.

I was a “dyed in the wool” evangelical, from a long line of Mennonite Brethren ancestors. My husband, Evert, was raised Missouri Synod Lutheran, but later became part of the Christian and Missionary Alliance.  We met at a Southern Baptist Church and were a part of a new church plant in the north part of Lincoln. The church plant’s denomination (Berean Fellowship) was similar to an independent Bible church.

As far as we knew, we were going to stay in our church the rest of our lives. To be truthful, we were just kind of “coasting” in our spiritual life, but it seemed to be working okay for us.

But then our daughters announced their agnosticism. They began asking us questions that we couldn’t answer. And that started to shake up our faith as well.

At the same point we knew we couldn’t give up believing in Christ. Faith was so much a part of our lives that we couldn’t imagine life without faith, without worship, without that assurance that God was a part of everything we do. And we’d seen God work in our lives and the world around us enough to know that we always would believe in God. But we weren’t so sure about the evangelical faith.

So we began a search of our own. Ever since Evert heard that Frank Schaeffer, son of the well-known evangelical thinker Francis Scaeffer, had become Orthodox, he’d been intrigued. Since the girls were wanting to visit other places of worship, we thought we’d all go together to an Orthodox church.
Evert looked online and found three local Orthodox churches: a traditional Greek Orthodox church, a Russian Orthodox church with services in the Russian language, and a third one: St. John of Krondstadt Eastern Orthodox Church.

I had a connection there. A family from my daughter's dance studio were members, and I’d had many conversations with the mom, Tracey. (She homeschools too.) For years we’d driven past the church’s coffeehouse/bookstore, called the Catacomb, and wondered about it. There was something weirdly fascinating about a coffeehouse for “Ancient Christianity” – a place “not of this world.” We would peer in the windows as we drove by, sometimes seeing men in long black robes, and we’d wonder what it was all about. Later I found out Tracey’s husband sometimes led meetings there.

So on a Friday night, Evert and I decided to drop in at the Catacomb. A bit nervous, we walked into the small room. A couple sat at the table, and the priest stood behind the counter.

The priest introduced himself as Father James and said I looked familiar. He told us he played folk music, and I realized that he had played for some of the dances I’d participated in. The woman at the table looked familiar to me too, and before long we realized that we both work out at the same Curves.

We liked Father James immediately. He wore his gray hair in a ponytail, had kind eyes, a good sense of humor and the insights of an artist. We chatted for over an hour and left with two books and plans to visit the church on Sunday.

A Facebook message from Tracey informed me that the ladies usually wore dresses (and some wore head scarves, but we didn’t need to), and that they always had a potluck lunch after church.

The church is located only a few blocks from our home. Ironically, we had worked to start a church in the north part of town because we desired that neighborhood feel. But the church plant we helped start is still about five miles from our home and many of the members live about that distance or more. Here was a church within walking distance, and as we later discovered, many of the members lived in our immediate neighborhood.

As soon as we stepped out of our car, we saw someone we knew: a young woman who does folk dance with us. We brought our food down to the basement kitchen, while the girls stepped into the sanctuary, literally wide eyed.

During our first service, we were struck by the beauty of the liturgy. We felt like we were worshiping someone holy. We loved the music, the incense, the icons, the bells. We loved the ancient words. And, although we didn’t understand everything they believed, we felt there was something there.

But what we found the most amazing was the people. All ages fellowshipping together. Families, singles, young couples, retired folks, and a few new Americans from Russia. We found much in common with these folks. Many were interested in the arts. Some were from similar spiritual backgrounds. One woman with Mennonite roots even looked like she could be related to me.

It’s been about four months since that first service. Now we attend every time we don’t have commitments at our present church. The girls, although they do not believe in Christianity, love the liturgy and the people, and they want to keep going. My husband and I are feeling more and more drawn to the church. We’ve been devouring Orthodox books and Ancient Faith Radio podcasts.

Sunday we told Father James we were ready to start lessons to learn more about the Orthodox Church. We’re still on the journey. This is a huge step for us. But even being on the journey is amazing, considering our background. This blog will document that journey. Although we do not know our final destination, it’s exciting to be moving intentionally.