by Chris and Randy Shatto
Glory to Jesus Christ! I’d like to start by quoting St. Paul,
“Therefore brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions by which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle”
2 Thessalonians 2:15
Chris and I weren’t really familiar with this scripture when we began our journey to Orthodoxy, but we’ve since found it to be not only well-preserved, but steadfastly defended, in the Orthodox Church today.
I met my wife Chris in 1999 and, after about three and a half years of dating, I finally worked up enough nerve to propose to her. This was also about the time that we began our journey to Orthodoxy. Chris had been raised in the Roman Catholic Church and I grew up in the Episcopal Church. Neither of us had been recently active in our respective churches but, with marriage looming in our near future, we began to re-evaluate our spiritual lives. We agreed that we needed to get God back into our lives and we needed to get back to church. But which church?
The more Chris and I talked seriously about our faith and what we believed in, the more we began to feel uncomfortable with the changes and the directions that both the Roman Catholic and Episcopal churches were taking. I always heard that change is inevitable and in many cases a good thing. However, when it comes to faith, God and the Church, such changes, in our minds, just were not ringing true. So we began to search.
If I my digress for a moment… My mother and father had left the Episcopal church — or as they like to put it, the Episcopal church left them — some years earlier. They also had gone through a period of searching and questioning before finding and embracing the Orthodox faith. Over the years and since their conversion to Orthodoxy, my parents and I had numerous intense discussions about the Orthodox faith and how they believed it to be the one, true apostolic faith. I was skeptical and resisted their invitations to visit Holy Cross. I suppose in retrospect, this was when the seed was planted in me. I had just refused to let it grow!
Back to our search… Chris and I visited many different local churches and various Christian denominations and met a lot of really nice people with really good intentions. But as we delved into the nuts and bolts of the various faiths, we found the common denominator of all of them to be change. They all seemed to be offering some sort of “new and improved” version of Christianity. We just didn’t see the need to re-write or fix Gods word. At this point, Chris and I decided that we needed to look backward instead of forward. Chris’s brother had given us a book on world religious denominations. The book featured a denominational timeline that really caught our attention. We traced the timeline back to The Great Schism of 1054, when the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church split. We were intrigued. It appeared that the Orthodox Church had indeed been there from the beginning — that is, since the day of Pentecost. It seemed as though my parents were on to something. Had they found the one true Church of Jesus Christ? It was time (finally!) to pay a visit to Holy Cross Orthodox Church.
We started attending the Sunday liturgies at Holy Cross and although they seemed, initially, to be rather unfamiliar or foreign to us, we soon began to feel a sense of comfort and peace. We felt enveloped in a deep Christian spirituality; surrounded by the many icons, the incense and the singing of the liturgy. Chris and I were inspired by the reverence and deep respect that the priest and parishioners showed for the Holy Eucharist. We wanted to learn more about this ancient faith! We began attending the adult education classes and reading various books about Orthodoxy. The more we learned about the faith, the more we were convinced that Orthodoxy was what we had been searching for; the one true Catholic and Apostolic Faith; unchanged, steadfast not to the traditions of man, but to the apostolic traditions.
Today, Chris and I feel truly blessed as we continue to grow in faith and spirit as members of the Body of Christ here at Holy Cross.
If you too are searching or if your church has left you, we encourage you to come and join us at Holy Cross and get to know the Orthodox faith.
“Thus says the Lord: ‘stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.” (Jeremiah 6:16)
I really appreciate all these Journey to Orthodoxy posts. Here is my dilemma and this post touches on it… the scope of Tradition. St. Paul’s words were written long before Constantinople was even built, before the great liturgies, before royally vested clergy, etc. The teachings of the early Church are amazing and true – far beyond what most Protestants (like me) understand. But I can’t seem to connect the dots between the Orthodox doctrine (Fathers, Councils, BIble, etc.) and the highly Byzantine-Arabic-Greek-Russian traditions that came much later.
Would love to either read a JTO post on this or be referred to some written on it –
One of favorite quotes regarding ‘”inevitable change”:
“No practice ever dies as long as there are people around to perpetuate it.”
Great but simple testimony. Thank you
Fr. John says
Brian, first you must remember that Tradition is a living thing – and by this I mean that it is passed from living soul to living soul, and this passage of Tradition changes it but only as a child changes from infant into teen.
Secondly, try reading the Didache, the Apostolic Fathers and the like. Then ask yourself (as I did), “Is anyone still doing this?” You see, Christianity isn’t something to think – it’s something to do.
Dcn Michael says
I really appreciate where barefootbrian is coming from and his question. Also, Fr John has made a very good reply. It has to be said that the first time I heard an Arabic/English liturgy and heard the word Allah used for God I felt a certain alienation. These things take time to digest and reflect on, however, do most people have this option?
It’s only natural that the countries of the east which maintained the Orthodox faith reflect their own culture and music preferences, into the liturgy. While this is understandable it’s a bridge too far to expect Westerners to readily adopt these cultural expressions unless they like the exotic nature of them.
Dcn Michael says
And if they accept these this doesn’t mean identifying with them. This is not a bad thing, afterall, God created the nations and it was inevitable therefore that distinctives would arise.
Perhaps the situation is akin to a teenager waiting for their parents to go out for the evening so that they can watch the programs they like! The reintroduction of Orthodoxy in a larger scale into the West means the “parents” are essential to it’s success, but the “teenager” while loving the same Lord will inevitably express the faith in other, and just as valid, ways.
In truth I share the same reservations as Brian. Did the early apostles really have all the iconic and liturgical and theological trappings of today’s ‘orthodox’ church ?
We do know that they generally simply met as believers in the homes of other believers to pray, praise and be preached to.
The orthodox church in some countries were so interwoven with the royalty of the day that it’s just not possible to see a church of Jesus that is only ‘in.. but not of the world”.
If I am honest, I would admit I know that the practice/patterns in my own church is in many ways at variance with the model I see in Scripture.
What really is ‘orthodox’ about even the orthodox church?
I am a Christian seeker and I’ll appreciate anyone’s help.
Fr. John says
You are mistaking the Apostolic faith with its expression by the Church. The Apostles didn’t have the internet either, but that doesn’t mean the medium of our message should not be sent out on it. Likewise, the expression of theological truths in action are more detailed and we express those truths in every way we can – through song, hymnography, color, gesture, posture, physical action (like making the sign of the Cross, which we know goes back to nearly the time of the Apostles), etc. We should not pretend that we don’t know if the worship of the Apostles is possible – we have the Liturgy of St. James. Things were not always as we think they were.
But as a Body, like any body, the Church also grows, matures and bears the wisdom of that maturity. Did you know that even as early as the first century;
Christians fasted on Wednesday and Friday (The Didache, ca. 70 a.d.)
Bishops, presbyters, deacons and laity each had their own prayers (1 Clement)
Ignatius (d. 107) warns to “submit to the bishop, be subject also to the presbytery”, and reminds that deacons are the ”servants of God”.
Tertullian notes that the heretics make frivolous appointments to these three offices (died c. 200).
Hippolytus of Rome describes the ordination rites of subdeacons, deacons and presbyters and their relationship to bishops who are seen as successors to the apostles (d. c. 200).
Ignorance of the Apostolic era is one thing, but filling it in with our own ideas, well, isn’t Orthodox. Yes, the faith was not as articulated then – they were fighting fewer false teachings then, but the faith was the same with no systematic theology, no sola scriptura (the ‘Scriptures’ at that time were the Old Testament), no predestination – what was it like? Read the letters of Ignatius, Polycarp, the Didache, the Shepherd of Hermas. These are called ‘the Apostolic Fathers.’ Once you read them and ask yourself as I did ‘is anyone still doing this?’ – you’ll probably do what I did – join the Orthodox Church. See for yourself!
Remember the pearl – it’s pretty, but it’s not all luster – the core of it is an irritating pebble, which is covered with beauty.
Dcn Michael says
I like Fr John’s approach, ‘Kunle, he seems to answer your concerns.
Where we are today can’t be exactly the same in externals as it was at the commencement or else we would simply be a historical re-enactment society. But all that we are reflects biblical truth and what the church has always believed.
For example, the eucharist is not described down to the last detail in the NT but the way we partake is consistent with that which was given to the apostles. Nothing is done needlessly , the reality is the liturgy preserves all the essentials, nothing is lost and there is nothing superfluous.
Best wishes on your pathway, ‘Kunle.
John Raley says
I have read the above with great interest. Orthodoxy has been a pebble in my own shoe..when I step on it I once again …like Jacob…”wrestle with the angel” The times that I have visited the church I always feel that I am on Holy Ground. As stated I also felt with my senses along with my mind the transcedance of God. In prot. ch. you get the “God is my good buddy”
music…(Woodstock…I am giving my age away here)
The realization that I am attending a church that traces its roots back to the apostles and that therefor there is a True Apostolic succession I find immensly satisfying. I am however a “sola scripture” Lutheran and my wrestling comes from how one balances scripture with tradition.
I cannot reconcile The LXX with the Heb Massoritic Text pertaining to the Apocrapha? How can they possibly be put on the same level as the other recognized scritpures?
I really enjoyed this post and the conversation that followed! ‘barefootbrian and ‘Kunle what I would say is, don’t expect perfection from Orthodoxy. It isn’t all black and white, and the Orthodox Churches can seem too ethnic. But I ask myself, “Which Church would St. Paul go to? Where would St. John feel at home?” I am sure the only Church they would recognize and attend is the Orthodox church. Our Church beats any church by a long run.
It isn’t perfect, but it’s the best. The more you look into it, the more you’ll see that it has preserved all that you need.
God Bless you
Fr. John says
John, the question is – why are they removed from heterodox Bibles, and under what authority. If I, an Orthodox priest, decided to ‘remove’ a book from the Bible, I would be suspended and defrocked – as it should be. The LXX is far more authoritative, as it is 700-1000 years older, and translated by Jews for Jews with no bone to pick about Christ – they were just awaiting their Messiah, not trying to keep Jews from seeing Christ in the text. As a former Lutheran myself, I do understand where you are coming from, as do many former Lutheran pastors now Orthodox priests – you’ll be in good company. 🙂
John Raley says
Thank you Fr John for your response. If I may trouble you a bit further…might you suggest a refrence book pertaining to the developement of the LXX? I know some basic aspects but not anything with much depth.
Also….The Antiochean Orthodox Church and the American Orthodox Church…are they both recognized as full fledged members of the universal orthodox community? I presume that both must fall under the auspices of the Patriachs ?
Caroline Humphrey says
Browsing through all these comments, and especially those about the liturgy. I was blessed to be able to attend several Orthodox Jewish services several years ago I was mesmerized by the many elements of those services which have been incorporated into our liturgical services. We are on a continuum.