IF THE SHOE FITS...
This commentary is written by Mitchell R. Bright, of Hobart, Indiana (a member of a former "Evangelical Orthodox Church" parish now in canonical Orthodoxy) in response to comments on the Internet by an Orthodox Christian who was afraid of the "infiltration of the Church by Christian Fundamentalists." His comments are worth meditation. Ed.
As someone who was first baptized and began his journey to the Kingdom, via a heretical, Sabellius-type sect known as the United Pentecostal Church (I use the term church loosely), I fully believe it was the hand of God that led me to Christians who LATER became the Northwest Indiana expression of the Evangelical Orthodox Church.
It was those "ill-trained, ill-schooled Protestant Fundamentalists" that showed me the falseness of the modalistic teaching of the UPC, brought me out of the darkness of my denial of the Holy Trinity, and eventually unveiled Holy Orthodoxy to my starving heart.
Not that I hadn't met Orthodox people before they (I later discovered) were all around me. At work. At the local restaurants. At the gas station that had been repairing my car for ten years. It's just that none of them ever mentioned their faith!
Now there is more to being a devout Christian than talking, but it is almost ten years since my Chrismation and nearly twenty years since I began to look around for Orthodox Christians, and I have only met a very small handful of Orthodox (except at services) that gave anyone even a clue that they were Christian. You couldn't tell by their speech, by their dress, by their patience, by their eating habits, by their devotion to prayer, or (and here's the kicker) their love for their fellow man.
In fact, the only person I knew at work who was Orthodox, when I told her about Metropolitan Philip deciding to take us in, said, "Oh, Philip. I've heard about him!" She didn't say, "Bless the Lord! Welcome home!" She didn't say, "Please, come visit us at Ss...." She turned her attention back to her lunch and left me standing there like an orphan.
When I tried to explain to many of my old Protestant friends what it meant to be to be Orthodox, they looked at me like I had joined the Mormons. Why? Because they had never heard of Orthodoxy! All they knew about Orthodoxy was that there was a church on the corner with lots of pretty crosses on top that they used to go to every autumn to get drunk at the fund-raising festival, before they became Christians! "Is that the Church you joined?" they asked me.
For the record, I have no problems with celebrating, or festivals, and I love Orthodox church buildings! But, the world is dying around us and we are sitting around arguing about which Orthodox Church is the Orthodox Church. Lord have mercy!
Should our acolytes wear ties? Should our priests be allowed to wear crosses? Should our music have harmony? Am I the only one who sees people all around drowning in the deceptions of the evil one?
My neighbors need Christ in their lives. They need the Eucharist running through their veins. They need to know that the Church that Jesus Christ established 2,000 years ago is alive and well and willing to give them rest. They are trapped in a sinking boat, being dashed to bits on the rocks, and we plug up the entrance of the harbor with name-calling and finger-pointing.
My next-door neighbor just became a catechumen. She was a Roman Catholic. Her husband was born Orthodox and he told me, "My grandmother went to church for the whole family, so there was no need for me to go." He used to only go to church at Pascha and Christmas. And that was only in years past. He will soon participate in Confession and be restored to the Table. Bless the Lord!
A man that stepped into our church a few months back will become (God willing) a catechumen this weekend. He brings two others with him, that have also asked to be received.
We have a number of parishioners who used to attend other, ethnic, parishes. These are "cradle Orthodox" individuals and families. I feel no true joy that these people have decided to leave their parishes to be a part of our parish (other than the fact that I love them, and they are proving to be incredible blessings to our parish). But they said they were about to lose their children to the pluralistic, anti-Christian society that surrounds us all, and they needed a place where their children could understand the language of the Liturgy and experience "zealous" Christianity.
I wish every Orthodox parish in Northwest Indiana was growing. I wish every Orthodox priest was challenging his members to "acquire the Holy Spirit." I wish every Orthodox parish had a large "VISITORS WELCOME!" sign outside. I wish every Orthodox parish ran an ad in the local paper every week, letting the thirsty know when services are scheduled, so they might come and drink. I wish every Orthodox parish was filled to overflowing. And the sad truth is they could be!
These people didn't seek us out because we compromise the faith of the apostles. Neither did they join us because we do everything perfectly. Far from it! We, unfortunately, celebrate the Liturgy a bit clumsily and ill-prepared from time to time. But not because we don't care. We're just still learning. We're still "becoming" Orthodox, as one "ill-trained, ill-schooled Protestant Fundamentalist" might say! We will continue to work very hard to "improve" the way we serve our God. I'm glad we threw out the chairs! I love standing for the entire Liturgy; what could be more fitting? I'm glad we threw out the musical instruments! I'm glad we continue to learn more traditional music.
These people came to us because we love God. We're all sinners and we fall regularly, but visitors notice the long line of people waiting for confession after Vespers. They hear the joy and sincerity in the voices of the entire congregation as we sing loudly the wonderful hymns of the Church. They see the way we love those around us who need food, or to be driven somewhere, or just someone to talk to. They're even willing to drive for over an hour every Monday night to view the Inquirer's and Catechismal videos.
I'll say it again. We are surrounded by confused and starving people. We, the authentic Church, are the hands, feet and voice of Jesus Christ to the world, and He has told us to reach out and save them.
But it won't be perfect chanting alone that saves the souls of the wounded around us. It won't be beautiful buildings, or incredible choirs, or perfectly timed rubrics alone. It won't be properly executed prostrations, or proper vestments alone that will draw them to the Throne of Christ.
It will be the Light of Christ, shining in His children, as they tell the world around them that a safe harbor still exists. It's calling to work together to make sure the harbor is unpolluted and void of hidden dangers.
Perhaps we are just a bunch of dumb converts that don't know what we're doing. After all, what do I know? But I can tell you this any "mistakes" we may be committing are not being committed because we don't care or because we take the Orthodox Faith for granted.
I can only assume that when Metropolitan Philip says he wishes all of his flock could visit Ss. Peter and Paul Church in Ben Lomond, at least once, it's not so they could all have a good look at the "ill-trained, ill-schooled Protestant Fundamentalists" serving the Liturgy.
So in closing, let me say this regarding some of those old EOC guys they may not be everyone's idea of holy and Orthodox men, but I happen to love them all. And the fact is, many of them have stayed in my home and broken bread with me (that only makes me slightly prejudiced). Last, but not least, my own priest has shown me a desire for holiness and single-minded devotion to Christ that I can only hope to imitate (some day) in the near future.
RELATED ARTICLES IN ONE:
Cradle-born Thoughts, by Fr. John Dresko
A Typology of Converts, by Fr. John Garvey
A Comment on the issues, by Fr. William DuBovik