Ray is an inquirer who made contact with us a little while ago, and we have kept in touch with each other as he made contact with a local parish. This is a letter he wrote to his daughter, who attends a protestant university. His daughter recently wrote him back. He is an Orthodox Catechumen, and due to be brought into the Church in January 2016.
by Ray Anthony Iavasile
Regarding your first text: the good news is that Jesus, himself, says:
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Recognizing your sin and your helplessness should drive you to Christ. It does bring despair, as it should, because sin – leads to death unless you have Christ. The fact that you are conscious of your sin and know that you believe in Christ, is enough to quiet your soul and find the rest Jesus promises above. Yes, turn from your sin (it often feels like our own effort) but realize that it is he who gives you that desire to do so and it is he who gives you the grace and strength to do so.
“take my yoke upon you and learn from me, I am gentle and lowly of heart, and you will find rest for your souls…”
He wants us to be of the attitude and mindset to “learn” from him…to willingly take the yoke (attach ourselves to Him) and follow him. He knows we need to learn and grow. He bids us, when we fall, to get back up and not to let go of Him. He assures us that He is “gentle and lowly of heart.” He isn’t some angry task master. He doesn’t threaten us or berate us when we fail.
The Christian life is a battle in this life. We battle against unseen forces of evil that are trying to wear us down. That is a part of belonging to Christ. But in the battle, in the midst of trials, our comfort is this:
“they can kill the body, but they cannot kill the soul.”
There are several reasons why I am becoming an Orthodox Christian that pertain to this: I realize, more than ever, that Christianity is not a religion that is to be lived out alone. Jesus often spoke about His bride, the Church. Christianity finds its truest meaning in the community of the Church. When your mother’s and my marriage fell apart, I painfully realized then that the Presbyterian church did not know what to do.
In fact, they did nothing. I felt pushed aside and abandoned. It seemed that all that mattered to them was keeping things pretty outwardly. This is why I journeyed away and began asking questions…particularly what is the true church and am I truly a Christian or just a pretender? In my journey I went to the Catholic Church to check out for a while so that I could begin my research and not be scolded for it by those who knew me in the Presbyterian church. I saw things in the Catholic Church that I was reminded of why I left it 30 years ago, but I also found things that I loved about it…its history, it’s sense of community that spans the world and has been in tact for 2000 years. The Mass and Holy Communion also was beautiful to me because I began to see how the Body of Christ seemed more alive and meaningful. It wasn’t just attending a “service” in the local church, I felt like I was participating in the cosmic (past, present and future) worship with all the saints of all time. It was more than just a Sunday morning pep rally, but an awe-inspiring glimpse of worshipping in the eternal presence of the Holy Trinity and being blessed to be included.
For several reasons, I also saw error in the Catholic Church…particularly with the monarchy given to the Pope, but other things as well. This caused me to continue researching and keeping an open mind. In studying Church history, I kept reading more and more about the early church Fathers, like Saints Ignatius, Clement and Polycarp (men who lived only two generations from the time of the Apostles). I read some of their writings about the Church, Worship and the Christian life. There are many others as well that lived in the centuries that followed, like Saints Irenaeus, Anthony, Athanasius, Basil and John Chrysostom. I realized that the Protestant churches we’ve attended never really spoke of these men, but mostly the men of the reformation: Luther, Calvin and Zwingli. Why was the church history of the first 1600 years rarely talked about?
So that drove me more to read, study and listen to podcasts of early church history. What I found was that the Orthodox Church and Roman Catholic Church were the one and only church from the time of Christ until around 1054AD. Then there was a split because Rome wanted the Pope to be the single head of the whole church. Rome taught that the Pope was the Vicar of Christ and that he had the power to add doctrine and control the church by his unchallenged decrees. The Orthodox Church rejected this and excommunicated the Pope. Hence their was the Great Schism resulting in two main churches. Eventually, the Reformation came in the 1500’s: again, men like Luther, challenged the Pope, seeking to reform the Catholic Church only to end in another schism. Only the result of that schism is 30,000 different denominations.
It begs the question: which one is the true church? All along, the Orthodox Church remained one church. It traces its history back to the apostles. It has always been and continues to worship and practice it’s faith as was taught by the apostles and the early church fathers. I felt as if my heart was going to burst: could it be that this quiet, peaceful and historical church maintained and safe guarded the true worship of God as found in their Mass (Divine Liturgy) every Sunday morning since the first century? That’s what drew me to begin my attendance and it is what has captivated my heart ever since. It is why I am going to be confirmed (Chrismated) as a member of the Orthodox Church.
I am saying all of this because I believe that our source of strength and power to live in this world as Christians (who fight their own sinfulness and are persecuted for it by non-Christians) is by being in community with His Church, by the regular attendance in his Mass for nourishment, by daily simple prayer, and taking the easy yoke of Christ and following Him. All of these are essential because daily we fail. Jesus is more than just the payment and propitiation of our sins. He is our physician and His church is our hospital. He came to do more than grant us forgiveness. He came to restore us to His father’s initial plan: to make us like Him, to give us the eternal Eden of peace and joy, and Mostly: to commune with us His perfect Love. In fact, that is the purpose of our lives: to realize that He includes us in the very love and community that unites the Holy Trinity. The more we see ourselves and experience this perfect love, the more we are healed and restored in our journey toward Heaven.
“God is love.”
That verse in the bible is so very deep and very important.
Protestants focus on this: the cross of Christ was payment to an angry God so that we could be forgiven of our sins. There is much talk of God’s justice and the need for punishment or payment. The focus is on fear.
Orthodox focus on the Perfect Love of the Father, the love of the Son and Holy Spirit. That love is what guided Jesus to the cross to defeat death and restore man to health. Yes, they understand the need to confess and forsake sin, but they rest in the love of Christ who bids us to “come to (Him)” who promises to those who do that we will “find rest for our souls.” The cross is more than payment, it is restoration! It is the greatest act of Love ever known…the love of the Holy Trinity toward man…God loves us so much that He defeated death and made the way possible for man to be restored to the true life.
This is balance to me. This is what I hope for you, dear Amanda, is balance and peace.
His daughter’s response:
“That’s interesting dad. I guess I never looked at Protestantism in that kind of light but I guess grace and love were definitely not the most stressed topics growing up in either our church or home. So maybe that explains why I put so much emphasis on needing to do things right or be a perfect Christian because that was more instilled then God’s grace. I can see why Orthodoxy has attracted you. I think if that’s truly how the church focuses on then I think that’s a better direction to go.”
“I mean, looking at the people at my school and the extreme lack of theology they have it seems like something is missing and it wouldn’t be surprising if it’s because of the church’s lack of teaching good theology. Because that’s really what it sounds like it comes down to. Protestants and orthodox are reading the same Bible and believe in the same God but from the way you make it sound one is missing the central theme of Bible.”
“And without the central theme the rest of the bible principles fall apart and you have to start relying on things like your own strength or good works etc.”