by Arlyn Kantz
In 2011, I began sneaking around and two-timing the evangelical home church I’d attended from my youth. Fort Worth is a big city. You can live a double life for a good long while. I took Willson (my eldest son who has severe autism) and sat on the back pew of St. Peter Antiochian Orthodox Church. We went mostly for evening prayers and an occasional Sunday mass. I wondered at first if I had the courage to enter this strange new world. But finally in 2012, my boy and I came into the Orthodox Church by chrismation. Other family members have since followed. Many of my Protestant acquaintances still think autism took me to Orthodoxy. From the beginning, Willson was enthusiastic about chanting. He immediately loved icons, incense, and kissing crosses, plus a great deal more I am sure he could not verbalize.
During one of our initial visits, he stood up out of his pew when the host was elevated. He then threw his hands in the air and declared, “king and queen!”. It was the most royal thing he had ever seen. Thankfully, his actions made the priest smile. Willson did benefit from our entry into the liturgical life of the Church, but in truth, I was the one in need. I was in desperate need to worship in the presence of Saints stretching back 2000 years.
I needed to know I was good to be a blessed, beautiful, greatly loved, nobody.
Adrift and Unaware
Though deeply emotional, spiritual, and mystical, my journey toward Orthodoxy was also rational. A big part of my adult Christian life hinged on learning to feed myself spiritually. Ironically, while adamantly protestant, much of what I read for sustenance was by Anglican or Roman Catholic authors. I had grown accustomed to a cafeteria style Christianity; picking and choosing what I perceived met my needs. Then, while helping to start a church for special needs impacted families, I ran head long into the issue of church authority. Our pastor was young, fresh out of seminary, and held an extreme conservative position regarding the role of women. Rebellion I did not know I possessed began to surface. For the first time in my Christian life I seriously questioned what constituted spiritual headship. I was forced to ponder how unity of the faith could be accomplished if any man could gather a group around him and form a congregation.
Crisis on Multiple Fronts
Now no longer able to escape the practical truth that church growth depended completely on a leader’s charisma, oratory skill, and Bible knowledge, other facades fell. It became plain that a man’s success in ministry could be won or lost by the talent level of his worship leader.
Most alarming was realizing that theological flavor depended solely on a pastor’s quiet time. And my arguments for or against his approach depended solely on mine. Coupled with my spiritual dead ends, I also hit a brick wall in my occupation. For the previous ten plus years I had used every gift and talent I possessed building curriculum for those with profound language impairments. Doors opened, miraculous coincidences occurred, I received a grant with stipend to gain a masters in special ed, folks I never expected donated their time, school districts I never expected bought our materials. I had found my calling. I had discovered what God was doing around me and had joined him. We were just getting to that place in business where we may actually get pay checks, and the whole thing shriveled.
The Final Crumble
During this time of crisis, my views of salvation, church structure, and predestination crumbled. Now open to letting go of most theologies I once held without question, I began to wander from congregation to congregation (sometimes literally but mostly online). Even when I found a gathering I liked, I found no security. I knew that if that particular pastor left that particular gathering of believers, the church would change dramatically. Or, as I had seen in many cases, close completely. Exhausted spiritually from holding on and believing, I came to a dead end. I began seriously doubting the “God has a special plan for your life” mantra and wondered if it was solidly scriptural. I was growing more sure that the Lord’s main goal is our spiritual healing, that the Kingdom of Heaven was within, not without. My faith had stagnated into an exercise of remaining committed to past decisions and going through the motions for the sake of my children.
Rescued by a Footnote
Months of wandering led to an unlikely discovery. A rabbit trail of endnotes in my stack of reading materials led to the discovery Holy Orthodoxy. I was taken aback by my attraction to a paradigm so foreign to everything experienced so far in my spiritual journey. But in this difference also lay my hope. Momentum grew as I discovered I was already journeying theologically toward what Orthodoxy taught. Most relieving, I found the Church with the authority to judge and teach me instead of visa versa. My husband, received by my spiritual renewal, was very supportive. He tagged along to monthly inquirers classes and took the role of Tree Beard from Lord of the Rings –
“anything worth doing is worth doing VERY slowly”.
He purchased and read with me the Orthodox Study Bible and as I began to read the morning and evening prayers provided in the appendices, I received a taste of what I had yearned for my whole Christian life. The discipline of these prayers put me consistently and palatably in touch with the Kingdom of God.To my surprise, there was an Orthodox Church within fifteen minutes of our home. (Bonus: American born priest, English speaking convert parish, western rite. But my desperation had reached such a point, I wouldn’t have cared if it had been Romanian, Greek, or Russian).
A Tough Transition
Social inertia is a hard thing to pull out of especially when you have been lay leadership for decades. We had not previous appreciated the pull of the expectations of family, friends, and familiarity! We wish we had encountered Orthodox Christianity during some natural break in life’s passages – upon graduation, upon marriage, upon parenthood. Then we could have made the switch while other cards were being reshuffled. The journey has been analogous to not knowing how to break up with a long time home town beau who has been nothing but decent to you after meeting your soul mate on a commuter train.There are no concise spiritual tracts on how to become Orthodox.
Conversion is not a one time event but a journey. The journey is easterly. Our roots are in the protestant reformation, a great distance culturally from where Christianity actually began – the middle east. I had to accept this unfamiliarity to move forward into something richer and deeper and more mysterious than anything I had previously encountered.I was once proud of swimming in the deep end of the pool, I have been brought low by a glimmer of the Pacific. May the Lord keep me journeying on my knees.