What to do when you’re on your last legs as an Evangelical Christian.
by John Hughes
Many of you will be aware from my posts, or from simply knowing me in person, that I am first and foremost an Orthodox Christian and secondly a spiritual and cultural Russophile.
I have loved Russian tradition and culture going all the way back into my early childhood. Although born in England, I spent much of my childhood on the east coast of Canada in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. I was unlike a lot of my friends when I was a young boy growing up. Yes, I loved playing sports and I did all the things that a typical 1970s youngster would do, but inside the privacy of my home I was very different. My parents and grandparents had a tremendous influence on me and almost from the get go encouraged me to delve into the wider life of world culture and the arts and literature. At 10 years old I could tell you the birth and death dates of many classical composers, I knew the nicknames to many of Mozart’s symphonies and it was not uncommon to find me tucked in my bed on winter evenings reading a volume of Charles Dickens or some other 19th century author such as Robert Louis Stevenson.
I subsequently developed an interest in pop and rock music, but my first love was and will always be “classical” music although I have come to loathe that term as it is almost always inaccurate. For example, Johann Sebastian Bach is NOT classical music, it is baroque. Probably my favourite childhood composer was Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. There was something deeply melancholy in his music and it always reminded me of winter, somehow. I remember some of the Tchaikovsky records I had in my possession featured album covers with Russian winter landscape scenes, or scenes of 19th century Russian village life, often with an Orthodox Church in it. I remember being very curious about Russian culture, as a result.
Of course in those days I had no clue what the Orthodox Church was. My family were Evangelical Protestant Christians and if I ever wondered about the church in these Russian scenes at all, I just assumed it was some exotic form of Roman Catholicism that the Russians practiced.
I’ve never been a fan of summer or bright sunshine. Autumn remains my favourite season and I also enjoy the winter very much as well. Christmas has always been my favourite holiday and I’m still very childlike at that time of the year. I’ve also always been a very introspective and melancholy soul. Even on my best days I’m always a little sad and I spend a lot of time in my inner world thinking about all and sundry.
I’ve been very drawn to a romanticized ideal of the 19th century. I know it would have been difficult to live in those times and quite possibly I’d be dead by now as a result of the emergency appendectomy I had back in the year 2000. Nevertheless, my melancholy soul has always looked back with longing to a simpler time and the 19th century has always seemed to connect with me on a deep level I can’t quite articulate.
As I grew into my teen years my love of Russian music and culture continued to grow. I broadened my interests and began to tackle novels by Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. I even attempted to read the Gulag Archipelago by Solzhenitsyn. “Pictures at an Exhibition” by Mussorgsky became one of my favourite works of music. It was a very strange time indeed because as a teenager living in the midst of the Cold War, I was bombarded on all sides with how Russia as the Soviet Union was the evil enemy of mankind. Also my protestant evangelical church drummed into me over and over again how Russia was going to be the army of the antichrist during the end-times. I really wanted to go back and explore Russian history prior to the communist revolution but I didn’t quite know how to approach it.
In 1991 at the age of 23 on my last legs as an evangelical Christian sick of the rootless superficial nature of my faith, I didn’t have a lot of the hangups that many Protestant Christians have when faced with Orthodoxy for the first time. Mary, the Saints, ritual, etc. None of it really bothered me at all and it was remarkable how quickly my entire orientation changed within a matter of weeks.
Through embracing the Orthodox Church, I have found the true faith and the living, historical continuation of the New Testament church. I have plugged myself into a changeless 2000 year old tradition which still stands rock solid today in the midst of all of the confusing, competing voices out there claiming to be Christianity here in the western world.
The secondary joy for me in all of this is that my childhood fascination with Russia and Russian culture, the curious melancholic longing I felt to be connected to it in some tangible way has come full circle through my embracing of Holy Orthodoxy. I’m finally “home”.
I think I’ve always had a Russian soul, and it’s probably one of the mysterious ways in which my life’s path eventually lead to discovering the Orthodox Church. The Orthodox pre-disposition was always there inside me, although in my earlier years I had no way of recognizing what it was.
It’s all clear to me now.