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.

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