Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The beauty of Byzantine Chant

One of the things that really moved me into Orthodoxy was the beauty and richness of its hymnography and chanting in the Byzantine style. I will elaborate more on this in part III of my journey.

Here you will hear, in Greek, Psalm 135 (LXX) or 136 in the authorized version. It is chanted by Byzantine Master and Professor of Music, Mr. George Papanicholaos. It is chanted in plagal of tone 1, also called tone 5 based on pa. Enjoy.

So, why did you become Orthodox?--Part 2: College and Graduate School and coming to Nebraska

Here's a little summary from the previous entry. I grew up Lutheran in the LCMS (Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod). Though a conservative church unlike the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) which basically reduced Christian teachings on "settled" theological issues to mere options or suggestions and that Scripture really didn't mean what it said and that God was ever changing. But with the LCMS, I felt it was too fundamentalist, almost Baptist. The historic liturgy was more and more becoming just a mere option and personal preferences and praise bands became more of the established status quo. I thought that the way for me to attain a greater spirituality was to become Roman Catholic. I thought that all the historical research I had done would justify my claim.

Anyway, I remember being dropped off to college. I had just turned 18 and I was as a deer in headlights. I didn't know what I should do. To top it off, I didn't have a car to transport me around. Anyway, after getting settled in for a few weeks, I really noticed that the college culture was very different from the sheltered one I had encountered under the care of my parents. People thought much more radically and differently than I did. And there was such a range of opinion that I had never encountered before. I was in a very secular and liberal mindset on campus. And if you believe that, that's fine, but it's not for me so I started seeking out spiritual refuge. I knew there was a LCMS church in Kirksville but I thought Catholicism was the way to go. So, I started attending Mass. My friend Dan Baack, a friend of my roommate, Matt, from Joplin loaned me his car so I could drive over there. Anyway, I started attending Mass and, falsely, I already regarded myself as a Catholic which, I knew in my heart, was wrong. I even remember partaking of the eucharist and I should have known better but I did anyway. However, I soon became disenfranchised with the Catholics.

Why? I noticed no different in the Catholics than what I saw with the Lutherans. The liturgy was abandoned and more "happy-feely" hymns replaced the staples of the Catholic Church. So, in other words, the Catholicism I read about was not the Catholicism that was practiced. And that should never be a surprise. Reading about something is almost never the same as experiencing it. And that especially goes for matters of faith. So, I stopped going. I didn't go over to the Lutheran church in Kirksville, either. I was in a spiritual vacuum. When I went home I went to church with my parents still, but I was still unsatisfied. Tradition and history were still being replaced with what feels good and right. Nonetheless, I endured. This was pretty much the standard that I followed through the rest of my college years.

Now one might think that if I wasn't going to church that I started on a deep descent into bad habits and bad morals. Well, not really. I never considered myself to be a big partier or anything of the sort and I didn't do that. I just studied and hung out with my friends. I didn't date mostly because there was no one interested.

HOwever, at the end of my junior year, I was a preceptor at Joseph Baldwin Academy at Truman State University. This academy drew students from seventh to ninth grade to take college level courses. My fellow preceptor was Nichole Torbitzky (now Nichole Torbitzky-Lane) who had decided to go off to seminary when she was done with college. She was a member of the UCC, whose theology was way too liberal and care-free for what I was looking for. Nonetheless, she was trying to persuade me that my spiritual enlightenment could be better achieved if I wasn't so hard of heart and actually invited love into me. I think she was right, but I would never have given her credit at the time. But this is also where I met my first girlfriend, Sally. When I returned for my senior year, she and I continued to date for two months and then it ended.

My senior year ended and I still was in my spiritual void. I was going to go to graduate school at the University of Missouri-Columbia. When I went, I didn't even attempt to go to Mass or Church. I just wasn't interested. Now a question may be asked about why I wasn't doing more individual praying? And I've only found the answer to that question recently. It is hard, very difficult to pray on one's own. It is a work. We have to remember that our prayer life is ultimately communal. Just as it is difficult to really get workout results without a partner to help you and motivate you and encourage you, so it is difficult to come to prayer without someone else. I didn't realize it like that at the time, but it makes sense.

Eventually, I started going to the Lutheran Church which wasn't far from where I lived in Columbia, but it was not a good experience. I hated it. First, the church architecture was horrendously ugly. Why is it that whenever I go to a new town, the most ugly church in town is always the Lutheran one? I'm sorry, but that is just my opinion and I've been proved right far more than wrong. The worship was stale and it was no different. So I stopped going there too.

I only came back when a very terrible event happened. My very good friend, Sara, committed suicide. I loved this woman with all my heart and I cherished her though the feelings were not reciprocated. I won't go into the details, but, needless to say, I was thrown into a pit of such despair. My parents did their best to help me out, even calling Pr. Gerike at the Lutheran Church to come visit me at where I was working at the time. Eventually, I went over to the church, since it was Lent, and the other pastor heard my confession. But, I really can't say I felt better as I was carrying a lot of guilt and I carried that guilt with me for a long time.

I got a job up here in Bellevue, NE and I moved here in August 2004. My parents still were trying to find me a church and they found one for me here in Bellevue, but I decided to go to the Lutheran Church in Papillion, the town next door. But I was doing a lot of church shopping and everywhere I went I was disappointed. Everything was about modernism. I couldn't worship at these places. Eventually, I found a very traditional Lutheran congregation that worshipped way out there in Papillion and I felt at home for awhile. But then I started to feel isolated again. Don't get me wrong; I appreciate what the pastor was doing. This pastor even practiced private confession, something which is regarded by many Lutherans as something too "Romish" and therefore to be thrown out. But, it was a very shallow form of confession. This congregation also made the sign of the cross, which again, was a very "Romish" thing to do and celebrated feast days that fell on regular weekdays. But it seemed fabricated.

Eventually, I found a Roman Catholic Church here in Omaha that actually served the extraordinary Rite of the Mass, sometimes known as the Tridentine Mass. They chanted everything in Latin, in the Gregorian style and it was magnificent. So, again, I made serious inquiries into becoming a Catholic in this parish since this was the Catholicism I had read about, that was traditional, that was more concerned with true worship than what was popular. I thought that would be the end of my spiritual journey and I would become, as I originally thought, a Catholic.

During the summer of 2005, I was taking classes at Creighton Univeristy. The class was on a break and I went out into the hall and looked around. I kept coming to this one flyer which advertised the local Orthodox Churches and their service times. I thought to myself that I never had seen a Greek Orthodox service. I had done some research into it. A paper I wrote during my senior year of college dealt with the schism of 1054 between East and West. My paper was mainly focussed on the Western side of the schism, but it was at that time that I had come into contact with books written by Sir Steven Runcimann who was and is the greatest authority on the Byzantine Empire. So, I did a little reading about the history of the late Roman Empire, but knew next to nothing of its Christian history. I had heard of such great illuminaries like St. John of Damascus, St. John Chrysostom, St. Basil and others but I only knew of the "filioque" which separated them from the West. So, I was curious. I found a church that offered a Saturday night service (there was only one).

So, on Saturday, July 24 (St. Christina's day), I attended a Great Vespers at St. Mary Antiochian Orthodox Church. And I never stopped going.

Part III will go into the Orthodox phase of my journey.

Monday, July 27, 2009

So, why did you become Orthodox?--Part 1: The Lutheran Years

This will be my first official entry on my new blog. And I thought it best to answer the age old question, "Why did you become Orthodox?" And then, of course, there are always the follow-up questions, "Weren't you happy as a Lutheran?", "Why would you go to something so...ethnic?", "What do your parents think?", etc.. So, I shall lay out here why I became Orthodox, though you shouldn't expect a thorough retelling of cause and effects, of a natural and organic sequence to come to a realization which I had not had before. Now, I should also point out that I am always becoming Orthodox. It is a process, it is not a state of being. The ontological, or state of being that I want, is becoming like Christ, partaking of Him so that, like He prays in the Garden of Gethsemane, that we become as one as the Father and the Son are one. This will be lengthy. Please, be patient.

I grew up Lutheran in the LCMS. My parents are both good, faithful, God-fearing people who raised my brother, my sister and me correctly and well. They took us to church every Sunday and I was active in the church's youth groups. That is not to say that I was always diligent or even desiring about going to Church. I remember that I hated it for a long time until I remember distinctly my parents saying that I was getting to the age where I needed to be more participatory in church and take it seriously. So, I did, reluctantly and, funny enough, I took a liking to it. Later, I was made an acolyte and I took my job seriously on Sundays when I was expected to serve. I later became a torchbearer and upon my confirmation, a crucifer.

I remember that I probably did not take confirmation classes, which was during my seventh and eighth grade years, very seriously. I don't know why exactly, but I think it was because I wanted to get more into materials and theology, if that idea can even be understood by a seventh/eighth grader. I just felt that I was being cheated out of something. I suppose, also, at that time, that my interest in history became more paramount. I started to research into the past and my favorite times were the Roman Empire and the Medieval eras. My sophomore year in High School, I took AP European History which focussed a lot on the Late Roman Empire and the Middle Ages as well as the Renaissance. The more I looked into those times, the more I also inquired into how this era related to the religious instruction I had and was receiving. And I was trying to understand why I was Lutheran. I couldn't seem to understand how Lutheranism fit into the grand scheme of history of Europe that was mainly dominated by the Roman Catholic Church.

I was different from my classmates, but in no way was this contrast more demonstrable than in music preference. I hated, absolutely hated, rock n'roll. I thought it was ridiculous and unartistic. I was not only listening to the symphonies and concertos of such illuminaries like Mozart, Bach and Beethoven but also their sacred works, most of which were written in Latin. At that time, I began to learn the Latin of the mass on my own and learned quite a lot. I also noticed that much of these texts were used in the Lutheran services, week in and week out so I naturally put forth the question, "why doesn't our worship sound like this?"

At Hope Lutheran Church, where I was confirmed, we were very fortunate to have a wonderful pipe organ. Our organist, Rick Deasley, also a friend of my Uncle David, also a world famous organist was spectacular and he and I enjoyed the same styles of music, particularly that of the Baroque. But Rick was also very much into modern praise band music and started to put one together which would perform every now and then on Sundays. I detested this. This was the basest and lowest common denominator music I could think of. There was nothing particularly reverent about the texts. They say that praise band music is basically pop music on the radio. The only difference is you substitute Jesus for baby! :) Why on earth would we discard such a heavenly instrument like the pipe organ for loud and cacophanous guitars, drums and bass? Not only was the music changing, but the structure of the services became rearranged and new every week as well. The orders of service we had in the hymnal (the red hymnal of 1943 p. 5 and 15 respectively) were routinely altered. I also noticed in the front of the hymnal were the propers (parts of the service that were changing for each Sunday and feast day) and that we never used those. I later found out that these were part of the historic Liturgy which was never celebrated. I also found out that major feast days were also not celebrated. I suppose if it wasn't on Sunday, it wasn't important.

My frustration kept growing. It was at this time that the Roman Catholic Church seemed to be calling to me. From my historical resarch, I thought that the Roman Church was the church of all time, free from innovation and free from the stale and ephemeral worship I experienced. I even started to incorporate some "Romanish" practices into my spiritual life--I made the sign of the cross, I knelt as I came into the sanctuary, I said the prayers in Latin (which drew much ire from my dad so I had to say them very quietly), I bowed as the cross came by, etc.. People started to notice and to openly criticize me because Lutherans don't do things like that. I would ask why since Luther himself did that. But we're Americans and we don't do Catholic things. Nonetheless, I couldn't make any move in that direction since I was living at home and I knew my parents would have had a very difficult time in understanding my desire for a belief system which was different from the one that they imparted to me. Out of respect for them, I did not go forth and become a Catholic, but my heart yearned not to be Lutheran any more. I kept participating in youth activities and I have many friends from these days still to this day, two of whom are now LCMS pastors and are true men of God. But I know that I was the lone voice. I went to summer camp where everything was geared towards such a emotional and feeling based version of Christianity. I just got more and more frustrated. I couldn't reconcile the Lutheran faith with my historical research and the answers I seemed to get from Lutheran pastors and elders in the church did nothing to dissuade me from my calling. I would have to wait to pursue my journey until college and that will be the next entry.

Now, you may want to ask, didn't Lutheranism do anything good for you? Oh, yes. It gave me a good appreciation for good music and a yearning for higher theology. But I could only go so far as a Lutheran. I needed something more. Now some may say that if I was in more of a confessional congregation where the historic Liturgy was preserved and such "Romish" practices were actually encouraged or, at least, not censored that I might have stayed Lutheran. Perhaps, but we'll never know.

Part II will deal with my spiritul journey in my college and graduate school days.

Why is this blog here?

The internet is replete with any number of sites, both personal and official, that deal with the Orthodox Church and faith. What do I have to offer? Probably not much, but I've always been a person to express myself regardless of how much in the minority I am, how wrong or right I may be, how well or ill spoken I come off as, etc..

This site is devoted to my own experiences with the Orthodox Church. Just like the TV ads say for those "get rich quick schemes", the experiences described here are unique and not necessarily applicable to everyone.

Nonetheless, I will continue to write and I will continue to express my opinions. I certainly welcome your input, your criticisms, your agreements, your corrections, your wit, etc.. But keep in mind that this website is dedicated to Holy Orthodoxy. Please know that I will defend church doctrine and teaching. Unsollicited attacks on the Orthodox Church because you have an ax to grind or are just not a fan will not be tolerated. If you disagree, fine. I'm not here to convert anyone as I am simply supplying information and opinions, but if someone does express such a desire, that is not license to attack that person with ridiculous ad hominems.

I invite you to be a part of the discussion. Thanks and I hope to have you come by.