After months of what felt like dry liturgical services, my quasi-Pentecostal mindset wondered: where is the Holy Spirit in all of this? I recognized the validity the Orthodox Church’s claims to have the same beliefs and practices as the early church, but what good is that if the Holy Spirit has abandoned them and their services are dead and boring?
It was then that I somehow came across the book The Way of a Pilgrim. It is the story of a young Russian peasant during the late 1800’s who set out on a quest to experientially understand St Paul’s command to
“pray without ceasing.”
The pilgrim learns about the Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner”) and begins to practice it rigorously. I decided that I would journey with this simple Russian peasant and practice the Jesus Prayer. My priest, who himself was experienced in this prayer life, asked that I meet with him regularly to discuss how things were going with that.
THE DIVINE SPARK
Words cannot adequately express what began to happen in my heart as I opened myself to Christ and the Holy Spirit through a disciplined prayer life. When first venturing into Orthodoxy, I began reciting a few simple selections from the Morning Prayers. I was now coupling that with the Jesus Prayer throughout the day and I began to notice changes in myself.
The prayer is not meant to be a mantra, rather it is something that is fused to our hearts. It opens us to inner communion with Christ. As this deepened, I noticed that old sinful habits that had the upper hand over me for many years were shaken. I was far from overcoming them, but a visible shift had taken place. Even my wife commented that something was happening to me; at that time she did not want to join the Church herself, but she liked what it was doing to me.
After some months had passed, the church services that I once found boring were moving me to tears at times. I sensed a deep presence of Christ in the worship and even in the icons. The power of the Holy Spirit overcame me in a way that was very quiet, yet vivifying and profound. It was something into which God had allowed the briefest glimpses throughout my life. Now, it was happening more frequently and more deeply.
THE POINT OF NO RETURN
I came to the realization that Orthodoxy truly was not offering me a new set of beliefs with old ways of doing things. The offering was oneness with the Body of Christ and the Holy Spirit.
There were still some theological questions and hang-ups, but those seemed less important. I concluded that if this is where I am meeting God Himself, then this is where I belong. If there are differences of belief, then maybe it is me that needs to change and not the ancient Christian Church.
With everything that had happened, I felt like the twelve disciples when Jesus had scandalized the multitude by stating they must eat and drink His body. He didn’t shout, “Hey guys, come back. I was just being metaphorical and stuff.” Rather, He let them go and asked the disciples if they too would leave. Peter spoke for all of us when he said,
“To whom shall we go?”
And that is exactly how I felt.
I was convinced that Orthodoxy was Christianity in its truest and most powerful form. At the start of my journey, I briefly studied Buddhism and Taoism (the latter of which I found to be attractive), but everything I liked about those I found to an even fuller extent in Orthodoxy.