by Fr. Michael Harry
I was brought up a Methodist in a small Cornish town. There was Sunday school, the Bible, and not much enthusiasm for beer or betting.
When I became a rebellious adolescent, my mother let me make my own decisions. My first decision was to dump everything to do with religion and I thought myself a great hero at school when I refused to say the Lord’s Prayer in assembly. However, something kept nagging at me, so I became a Buddhist. It was a way of having religion without a god.
But Christianity wouldn’t go away.
At university, I started creeping into church for Evensong.
In the end I went to the college chaplain and virtually demanded to be converted. He was a good man, and I still remember that his response was to take me through the Nicene Creed; in between listening to his Wagner records.
So I left university as an Anglican, subsequently married, and came to Lincolnshire.We regularly attended our village church, but it was when I trained to be a lay reader that my troubles began. I had to take courses on the Bible, church history, contemporary social issues and church practice. The courses were clearly designed to promote a ‘modern’ view, but they had exactly the opposite effect on me.
The Bible course revealed to me, as a scientist, the arbitrary nature of much so-called scholarship. The history convinced me that my church had wandered far from its roots. I found that the contemporary social issues course promoted the view that the Church should follow the views of society, rather than the other way around.
By the late 1970s I knew that I was in the wrong place and began to search elsewhere.
Was it a coincidence that I remembered coming across Orthodoxy briefly at university? Whatever the reason, I rang up an Orthodox bishop who had written the only book on Orthodoxy I knew about and said, “So what do I do?”
My arrogance was met with kindness and understanding. I was directed to an Orthodox church and a priest. I made an appointment and went to the church. When the priest asked why I had come, all my bitterness spewed out. Once I had stopped complaining, I think it took him less than ten seconds to point out that frustration with my own church was not the same as being Orthodox.
It seemed like the end, but he invited me to go around the church. We went to the icon screen. In front of the icon of the Mother of God he said,
“This is the Christmas story”.
I thought that was a lovely way to explain the icon to a Protestant. Then we came before the icon of Our Lord. I was quite surprised at the priest’s approach. Instead of talking about religion, he described the icon in secular, artistic terms. He showed how the face had been made to look authoritative. He explained how the robe presented the figure in a very aristocratic way.
“In fact”, he said, “he is painted as if he were a God”.
There was a pause and then he said,
“Because that is who He is”.
Our Lord is “painted as if he were a God because that is who He is”- that is why I am Orthodox.