In order to join the Orthodox Church, I had to be chrismated. In this liturgical ceremony, the priest anointed me with chrism oil and prayed that I would receive the Holy Spirit. In charismatic circles, we would probably call this a “baptism of the Holy Spirit,” just without the speaking in tongues. While I certainly do not oppose speaking in tongues, and neither do several Orthodox leaders such as Fr Thomas Hopko, I believe that the fruit of the Spirit is even more critical than the ability to speak in an unknown language.
I am reminded of a song by Kirk Franklin in which he relates his young adult life. He attended an energetic, “Spirit filled” church, but his life was a wreck with ruined relationships, insecurities driving him over the edge, pornography addictions, etc. With a gripping honesty, he states, “The church taught me how to shout and speak in tongues, but preacher teach me how to live when the tongue is done.”
The “fruit of the Spirit” means the outcome of things. If I am truly Spirit filled and walking with the Spirit daily, then this fruit should be evident in my life and in my relationships with my spouse, coworkers, strangers on the street, comments in online communities, etc.
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22-23).
Growing up charismatic
depressed_by_stengchen-d5es7ymWhile this is not meant to be an attack on the charismatic movement, it is meant to explain a bit of my story. Like Kirk Franklin, I found that speaking in tongues could only get me so far. It seemed good when I wanted to pray but didn’t know what to say. But there was still so much wrestling with doubts, with sin, and with a fierce insecurity. I often hated myself and I felt dirty. I was certain that I was a disappointment to God.
While a deeper understanding of the Father-love of God helped heal many of those wounds of insecurity and self-hatred, I still was left feeling an emptiness. There was something missing. I knew I needed Christ in way I had not experienced Him, but if the charismatic church couldn’t provide that then who could? I enjoyed the spontaneity of charismatic services for a while, but the hype and emotion could only carry me so far into the week. I needed something deeper.
I attended different churches (progressive, conservative, and in between) for a few years and had some very good times, and met quite a few good friends. But I still felt something missing; I longed for something I wasn’t finding in those places.
A puzzle piece wasn’t missing, I misunderstood the entire puzzle
When exploring Orthodoxy, I dove deeply into their teachings on prayer. My wife was the first to point out a transformation in me. She said I was so much more at peace then I used to be. In a positive way, she affirmed that I am not the same person that she married several years ago. And I began finding freedom in my private life, you know, that life that nobody else sees. No longer did I feel like a slave to sin. I still struggle daily to pick up the cross and crucify my fleshly desires, but not in the defeated manner as before.
While I don’t believe the Orthodox have any kind of monopoly on the Holy Spirit or prayer, their teachings and forms of prayer have made such a significant difference in my life. I did not join the Orthodox Church because I thought their theology was better, I joined because I was constantly encountering God in a very real and personal way and I simply couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.
No longer was my sin a focus. In Orthodoxy, I found that Christianity is not about sin management, speaking in tongues, moral improvement, or social progress. Instead, it is about healing and life, and ultimately communion and union with God. It is about receiving the Holy Spirit and finding God and His peace deep within my being. Moral improvement and social progress flow out of union with God, but to make those things the focus is to put the cart before the horse.
Healing and Wholeness
In Orthodoxy I have encountered things that were foreign to me such as confession and the sacraments in general. Ultimately though, I found that these sacraments are here for my healing. I don’t go to confession so that someone holds me accountable; I go to find healing. My spiritual father doesn’t judge me; he prays for me. He has agreed to bear the burden of my sins and wounds with me. It has been freeing and beautiful.
In communion, we partake of the body and blood of Christ. This is not a nice symbolic act, but an integrating of God into every part of my being. The sacraments (including confession and communion) are for the healing of both body and soul. They are to bring me to a place in which I encounter God and find wholeness by being united to His Spirit.
Without Pentecost there is nothing
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost is critical to my faith. Without Pentecost, we have nothing to live for in this life. All we could do is look forward to the resurrection in the age to come. But Pentecost is here, the Holy Spirit dwells among us and inside of us. The Spirit heals us, makes us whole, and restores us to union with a God who is not “somewhere up there” but intimately dwelling within us.
I cannot think of much else to say other than to invite others to join me. This is not a belief system I can utilize to build crafty arguments and persuade you, but a journey and experience with God. While Orthodoxy has beliefs, it is ultimately a way of life that sets us into communion with our Creator.