Tuesday, July 28, 2009
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.