By Kevyn Schneider
I was an LC-MS quia Confessional Lutheran for 57 years. I even entered online Lutheran Seminary (ILD) a few years ago. As the 500th Anniversary of Martin Luther’s Reformation approached, I asked myself what Luther’s beloved Roman Catholic Church would have looked like had it not erred. (Remember, Luther was Germany’s top Catholic theologian and was trying to reform the errors of his beloved Catholic Church and was willing to die in the process – he never intended to leave it nor start a new church!)
As I traced back through time seeking to “get in front of” when the Roman errors occurred, I came to 1054, when (technically at least, let’s not discuss Rome’s 1204 sack of Constantinople) the Patriarch of Rome officially schismed from the other 4 Patriarchs of the Orthodox Church, and plunged Rome into heterodoxy.
However, Rome had earlier errors which began cropping up before the Roman Schism. I went all the way back to the 1st Century, and discovered Patristic reference to the Didache, which lead me to the recently rediscovered Didache! I was in awe! Here was a late 1st or early 2nd Century Catechism of what the Ancient Church taught! It was both very familiar as well as incredibly different than all modern Christian practice I was ever taught or had seen. Here was Christianity not only at it’s purest but also – *gasp* – it’s hardest! It was like they actually meant it! These people weren’t just thrown to the lions – they walked towards them! Bishops were telling their flocks “Quit turning yourselves into the Romans to be executed!” Origin’s mother had to talk him out of it when his father was arrested.
They took Paul’s words to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling literally! Although I mistook it at first as perhaps works based attempts to earn righteousness, I quickly saw that it was anything but – it was complete abandonment of this world and running headlong in love towards Christ our God!
Lutherans occasionally mentioned fasting in passing but never practiced it and the church never guided anyone in it. The ancient Church of the 1st Century constantly fasted – every Wednesday and Friday, and some of their fasts went on for 40 days, just like Christ’s example!
I wondered if the Lutheran faith could be “tweaked” to include these practices, but some of the ideas espoused by the Ancient Church were contrary to modern Lutheran teaching. It was at this point I realized I could no longer call my Lutheran confession “quia”; I became “quatenus” confessional, which means I no longer could agree with 100% of the Confessions in the Book of Concord (“quia”) but could only agree with it insofar as it was correct (“quatenus”). A quatenus Confessional Lutheran is not a Lutheran – this rocked me to my very soul, for being Lutheran was a defining characteristic of my entire being. The Filioque was one thing I came to realize Lutherans confess as a holdover from Rome which I no longer could – even beyond the theological issues the Filioque presents, it’s inclusion in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed was a Papist overreach which militated against Ecumenical Councils – as well as the statement of a previous Roman Patriarch (Pope Pius II, I believe) saying ECs can never be contradicted. Lutherans kept it, and even defended it, and that alone made me realize that while Lutheranism got so very many things right, it missed some issues of Rome, and in other areas it overreacted and threw out the baby with the bathwater.
I felt like I had perhaps discovered some long forgotten Truth, but certainly some church somewhere must still practice at least some of this stuff, right? I mean, I can’t be the only person who’s stumbled on this. I’ll be the first to admit some of the things I was realizing made me very uncomfortable as they went against things I was taught all my life as a Lutheran. But if you stumble upon the Truth, and find that you are somewhat out of step with it, what is the correct God-pleasing response? To hold on to your beloved long-held beliefs about the truth, or to abandon those and walk towards the Truth staring you in the face?
To make a long story – well – less long, I discovered Orthodoxy on the internet. But that is not real Orthodoxy, it is not even a pale shadow. Internet Orthodox like myself are typically jerks, new converts who are overzealous about “being right” and not yet understanding that “being right” equates to loving everyone, and seeing each person as an icon of Christ. “Being right” means being humble like Christ, and never assuming that you’re right and beating your chest in pride.
I finally worked up the courage to attend an Orthodox service. After that first service at St. Anthony the Great Orthodox Church in Spring, Tx., I understood Fyodor Doystoyevsky’s words regarding the young prince in “The Idiot” – “He thinks the world will be saved by beauty.” Such beauty of worship, I had never witnessed in my life (and I have been to RC Mass as well as services in all major Protestant denominations). Indeed, such beauty as the Divine Liturgy, will save the world.
I later told the Priest
“I felt like I was in the worship in Heaven described by John in Revelation.”
He smiled gently and responded:
I attended Catechism as an inquirer at first, not a catechumen. It was hard disassociating “Kevyn” with “Lutheran” and classifying myself as a “mere” inquirer allowed me time to adjust to this new reality that I was a quatenus confessional semi-Lutheran. For my generic-Protestantism wife, it was all “too Catholic” for her taste (she was once Lutheran but found the Lutheran liturgy of her childhood dry and lifeless). Nonetheless, she saw definite positive changes in me while attending St. Anthony, in my spirituality, and was fine with me going.
In order to maintain family worship unity, however, and with the advice for that reason of husbandly/fatherly duty to my family from the Orthodox Priest, I decided to not become Orthodox. (You will find that Orthodox never rush you to say a “sinners prayer” and get you signed up as a member. Orthodoxy operates under a completely different understanding of “time” than the way the West perceives it.) In the month or two that followed that decision, I attended churches with my wife who was searching for a new Church home nearby our house. I attended a Methodist “service” in which the 40 minute “sermon” by their priestess was all about “me to.” Not a single mention of Christ. It was all I could do to not vomit. I became increasingly miserable, and my wife eventually encouraged me to go back to St. Anthony the Great Orthodox Church, where I was almost panting for.
With her assent (but not exactly blessing), I graduated from my beloved Lutheran heritage gifted to me by my parents, and I was Chrismated into the Antiochian Orthodox Church on Lazarus Saturday, 2018. I am nearing my 1 year anniversary of being Orthodox as I write this, after studying it for about 2 years previous to my Chrismation.
I have never been more spiritually alive. I have never been more alive in Christ, I have never loved Him more, I have never understood or been guided by a church in what it is to worship with my heart instead of only with my mind. Worshiping God in truth and in spirit is so very much more than closing your eyes and putting your hands in the air and swaying to rock music.
Earlier I wrote that the path of Golgotha is a stony one. This journey has been hard, putting a strain on my relationships with my family and having earned me everything from odd looks to outright rejection and scorn from former Lutheran and Baptist friends. But I gladly bear it all for my renewed relationship with Christ – and my new relationship with His Saints – so huge a cloud of witnesses! It is sometimes tempting to look back on where I came from with some negative feelings. I urge anyone on the road of discovering Orthodoxy, do not disdain the church you come from. It led you here and prepared your heart for the fullness of the faith and authenticity of doctrine that is only found in Orthodoxy. As such it has served you well. Rather than criticizing areas where you discover the your previous teachings were missing the mark, instead be filled with gratitude at all the things it got right and the path it set before you. The mind looks for dissimilarities and points of conflict, but the eyes of the heart (which in Greek we call the “????” or “nous”) looks for similarity, concord, harmony. In Orthodoxy the fractured and chattering and prodigal mind is returned to it’s proper place, inside the discipline and direction of the still and silent nous, the eyes of the heart which are forever on Christ our God. (2 Cor 10:5)
Those not on your journey, you will in some ways leave behind, be they in heterodox denominationalism or functional atheism, may be mad at you. Your leaving means you now believe the previous beliefs you once held to not be completely correct, and those still holding those beliefs take that as you calling them wrong. Your converting may well be perceived as a personal assault to their ego’s need to “be right”, to which they will respond by trying to turn the tables and show you how you are wrong. Only ever show them love, accept their criticisms (and sometimes outright attacks) with grace and peace that passes all understanding. If you are asked a question you don’t know the answer to, don’t fake it. Simply say something like “Thanks for asking that question, I honestly don’t know the answer yet, but I’ll ask my Priest next time I see him and get back with you.” Repay anger with love and reconciliation, repay injury with forgiveness and grace, and reply to concern with peace and joy. To be what Orthodox are, you must do what Orthodox do, and that is to be images and likenesses of Christ to the world, and of course to to occasionally fail at it, and to dust yourself off and never cease from trying to do better with the new chance God has given you, His Prodigal, to live in the reality of being His sons and daughters.
For others of you who are making this lifelong journey into Orthodoxy, please do not think that once you become Orthodox that your journey ends. The seal of Chrismation is the beginning of the real journey, not it’s end, As I heard one very fair and very educated atheist say in describing how he viewed Orthodoxy, “you pick up your damned cross, and you stumble uphill every day” to join Christ in his Crucifixion. You walk towards the lions. Like Christ, you must learn to be obedient, and to sacrifice yourself, who you were, the old Adam, so that in your Baptism and partaking of the Eucharist, you will as St. Paul said, become partakers in the divine nature. To gain this prize, you must sacrifice everything, your past, your future.
The past is no more, just an often inaccurate memory of our previous perceptions, a dwelling place of sadness and anger, of pride and loss. The future is simply a fantasy about what good or bad might someday be, a place where greed lurks and fear prowls, an un-reality which we in utter impotence and desperation seek to control. The only true reality that exists is now, this moment, this single ever-reverberating breath of life which the Holy Spirit provides us with. It is here, only here and now in this eternal present, where we can approach God, be with Him, experience His love, bask in the embracing warmth of that brilliant uncreated light of His divine immanence which is in all places and fills all things, stand in awe of the unapproachable darkness which is the utter unfathomable transcendence of He whom the Angels cry is Holy! Holy! Holy!
Our journey of salvation lies on the stony path to Golgotha, struggling with our own unique cross, joining ourselves to the self-sacrifice of Christ, being conformed to His image and likeness. Orthodox call this process of being restored to the original image and according to the likeness of God which we were each created in, the process of “Theosis.” It is not salvation, per se – it is more like the process by which our salvation is made manifest in our lives. It is not reserved for the monks on Mt. Athos, but is set before each person who would cooperate with the Holy Spirit and seek to become fully human.
It is this fully human image which the Priest in the Divine Liturgy censes. After he offers incense in front of the icons on the iconostasis in the front of the Church, he turns and censes each person in the congregation. He is not censing us as individuals, but censing us as icons of the Crucified Christ.
This is what it looks like to be truly Orthodox, this is the image we are created to be: Christ victorious on the Cross.
May you find great joy in your Journey to Orthodoxy!