My journey into Orthodoxy was not easy. But it is not meant to be easy. It challenged me (and continues to do so) to become the person God has created me to be, and to recognize my place in His Body, the Church.
When one becomes Orthodox they are called a “convert,” which helps to emphasize just how much of a change one must experience. Becoming Orthodox is not simply acknowledging one belief system as being superior to another. It is an ontological change, meaning it regards your entire being.
In order for the conversion process to be authentic, one must encounter this mystical body of Christ and not ask,
“What do I like about this that I can choose from?”
rather we must allow ourselves to be shattered upon the Rock and rebirthed into a Son of the most-high God. One of the best images of that is the phoenix. I remember reading about how Harry Potter, while sitting in Professor Dumbledore’s office, was surprised to see the Professor’s bird burn up in flames. It is later rebirthed anew and begins a new life. Other ancient Orthodox accounts also draw on this parallel between the rebirth of the phoenix and the death of the old man and our resurrection in Christ.
I was raised in a conservative Christian home that leaned toward the charismatic, tongue speaking side. I attended non-denominational churches throughout most of my youth and student years. I enjoyed that type of worship for several years and stuck with it through college because it seemed alive and not full of “dead traditions.”
After college though, I became disillusioned with the modern American church scene, which often seemed to contain more hype and emotion than an authentic and life-changing presence of the Holy Spirit. I began to dialogue with other Christians as well as atheists through a blog network. These dialogues forced me to consider points of view I never knew existed. I began to take on the view that
“everybody has it wrong and I don’t know what to think church is supposed to look like anymore.”
My wife and I dropped out of church for a couple of years and I committed my time to studying the Bible and church history.
Eventually, I connected with a few churches in my area but couldn’t fully commit to one. I thought of that as a virtuous sort of thing, because hey, none of them had it fully right anyway. At least in this manner, I could cherry pick the things I liked.
I was a worship leader for years and, it seemed, no matter where I went I ended up assisting with or leading their music. I found minimal fulfillment in leading worship. It was exciting while doing it, but the warm feelings were temporal. When I left the parking lot of the church or outreach ministry, I felt the return of a nagging restlessness and emptiness.
THE RESTLESS EMPTINESS
What to do with these unpleasant feelings? Being the typical American Christian, the answer seemed obvious: become more busy with “serving God.” I hung out with the homeless one day of the week, reached out to the unchurched another day, went to a Bible study on another day, was involved in prison outreach, Sunday morning worship, etc. During a period in which I was jobless, I was involved with various spiritual communities almost every day of the week.
While a desire to be involved and serve God is admirable, I knew there was something missing. No matter how involved I was, the warm fuzzies of the event would fade away and I was left with my restlessness, emptiness, and even loneliness at times. I attempted to manage my sin the best I could, but it had the upper hand. I was a slave to my sinful desires and I exhibited self-destructive behavior that hurt both me and others.
Something had to change.