Monday, August 31, 2009

On the Avoidance of Extravagance (WOA Ch. 21)

The Fathers frequently take great pains to remind us that fasting and other forms of asceticism are not ends in themselves, but merely means to an end: our theosis. In this chapter, Colliander presents a summary of the Fathers’ warnings about extreme fasting and ascesis (this is the “extravagance” he refers to), which can often be counterproductive, especially in those of us who are relatively new to such practices.

As is his custom, Colliander begins with simple yet profound analogies: “It is a known fact that a person who practices the piano too zealously gets cramp in his hands, and a too diligent writer exposes himself to writer’s cramp. Dejected and downcast, the musician or author, just now so full of hope, must break off his work; in idleness he is exposed to many evil influences.

“From this example you should take warning. Fasting, obedience, self-discipline, watchfulness, prayer all make up the constituent parts necessary for practice, and only practice. And any practice should be always undertaken genuinely, quietly taking into account one’s own resources of strength (Luke 14:28-32), and without exaggeration at any point. Be ye therefore sober and watch unto prayer, advises the holy apostle Peter, and through him the Lord (1 Peter 4:7)” (78-79).

Many of the Fathers (examples that come to mind immediately include St. Seraphim of Sarov, St. Silouan the Athonite, and the Elder Sophrony) show and teach us that the main sign that we are progressing on the road to salvation is how we treat others. If we exhibit kindness, humility, love, joy, and forgiveness toward others, then it is clear that we are allowing the Holy Spirit within us to rule over us and to transform us. However, if we are constantly filled with bitterness, anger, and a critical and unforgiving spirit, if we do not treat others as persons created in the image of God, then we are opposing the Spirit and are making no progress toward salvation. Listen to what Colliander has to say about this:

“If we do not find within us fruits of love, peace, joy, moderation, humility, simplicity, uprightness, faith and patience, all our work is in vain, points out St. Macarius of Egypt. The work is carried on for the sake of the harvest, but the harvest is the Lord’s.

“Therefore, keep watch over yourself and be deliberate. If you notice that you are becoming irritable and intolerant, lighten your load a little. If you have the desire to look askance at others, to reproach or instruct or make remarks, you are on the wrong road: he who denies himself, has nothing with which to reproach others. If you think you are becoming “disturbed” by people or by external circumstances, you have not understood your work aright: everything that at first glance appears disturbing is really given as an opportunity for practice in tolerance, patience and obedience.“ (79-80).

And what do we do when (not if!) such trying periods come? Colliander gives the following advice: “Go into your room and shut the door (Matthew 6:6), even when of necessity you find yourself in a large and noisy company. But if this sometimes becomes too hard to bear, go out anywhere where you can be alone and cry out from your whole soul for help from the Lord, and He will hear you” (80).

Colliander concludes this chapter with another wonderful analogy that helps explain why trials are necessary for us: “Think of yourself always like a wheel, advises Ambrose: the more lightly the wheel touches the earth, the more easily it rolls forward. Do not think of or speak of or concern yourself with earthly matters more than is necessary. Remember, too, that a wheel that is completely in the air cannot roll” (80).

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Brains or Brawn -- by Clint

I have spent the vast majority of my adulthood with my nose in a book. Honestly. I am not really even exaggerating. As an English teacher, I have to pass on knowledge of hyberbole, which is basically serious exaggeration to make a point. But the reality is that I am reading books all the time. I have books in my office, in the living room, near the bed, in the car – I even carry one in my pocket at all times. I love to read.

Of course, my love of reading is not just because of the pleasure that is derived. I also appreciate the enhancement I receive intellectually. I like to learn new things. I like to be corrected if my prior understanding was mistaken. These things are important to me.

One of the reasons that I am always working diligently to learn and develop intellectually is because of my heritage. My previous religious group is BIG on “head knowledge.” Actions are only important as they relate to knowledge. Whether one’s baptism is “acceptable” or not depends upon what that person “knew” or “understood” at the time of baptism. If they did not do it for the “right reasons” then they must rebaptized for the correct ones.

In fact, their entire religious experience is focused upon the advancement of knowledge, both individually and collectively. As children, we were taught the “correct” method of interpreting scriptures so that we could “defend the faith” when the time came. Many stories were told of times that these “facts” saved the day in a debate.

The problem was that little emphasis was made on true Christian living. Oh sure, there were admonitions to “do the right thing” and “live the Christian life.” But those encouragements were really short on substance. I mean, did living right matter if you didn’t do it for the right reasons? Was there really a connection between the two?

But imagine my surprise, when I encountered Orthodoxy, and not everyone was walking around quoting Acts 2:38 (that is a biggie in my former group). Occasionally, even priests might not be able to recall off the top of their heads where certain scriptures were to be found. The “book” knowledge was less than I was used to. I admit, it took me aback a little.

As I got to know each of these people, however, (even the priests) I came to see their wonderful Christian spirit and lifestyle. They might not have swelled heads, but they have swelled hearts – full of love and Godly devotion.

This made me wonder: what was really important? Did it matter if I knew who all the kings of ancient Judah and Israel were, in order, and who they were married to? What if I didn’t have the lineage of Christ committed to memory? What if I didn’t know that Methuselah lived to be 969 and was the son of Enoch, who at age 365 was taken to be with God?

But what if I did know each of those things, but didn’t have a Christian attitude and physical devotion? Did the knowledge help me? No, not really. But even if I don’t have that knowledge, but I do have the Christian Spirit, things are moving in the right direction.

It reminds me of the Roman Catholic devotional classic, The Practice of the Presence of God, where a simple man became the encouragement to Bishops and generations of Christians over the past four centuries. Who can remember the bishops of that day? Few, but many can remember Brother Lawrence.
St. Stephen the Proto-martyr

So, why do I bring this up? I have been accepted into the St. Stephen’s Program with the Antiochian Archdiocese. I have no idea if it will lead to ordination at some point in the future, though I admit that I hope it does. However, whether it does or not, it will give me opportunities to learn and work out my “brain.” What I must remember to do is to work out my “brawn” – that other part of living the Christian life, where I actually DO it. As St. Paul tells the Philippians in Philippians 2:12-13: Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. We must work out our salvation. Work it out. Not just study it and read about it. Work it out.

Pray for me that I will remember to do that with my daily prayers. Pray to St. Juvenaly that he will continue to intercede for me. Pray for my family as they deal with my extra time devoted to studies. Most of all, pray for our Orthodox Church worldwide. For one thing I have learned: none of us are in this alone. We are neither saved alone, nor lost alone. We are all part of one Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Pray for Your Priest(s)

I received this from a brother priest who served in the Navy for many years. It was intended primarily for priests, but it is good reading for all Orthodox (and other) Christians. I pray that you will find it profitable.

I was reading portions of a new book this evening, "Experiences During the Divine Liturgy" by Protopresbyter Stephanos K. Anagnostopoulos (ISBN 978-960-92117-5-8). I commend this volume to you; it is a running commentary on the Liturgy with vignettes taken from the experiences of the saints, other holy men and women, and contemporary fathers...[this book] is a wonderful pious read.

Knowing how difficult the life of a parish priest can be, and especially the discouragements felt by many of us in late Summer following the Dormition Fast, I found the following excerpt (pages 96-97) most relevant. Commenting on the petition, "For our Archbishop, the honorable presbytery, the diaconate in Christ, ...," Father Anagnostopoulos writes:

"The devil fights each member of the clergy furiously and when he does not manage to vanquish him morally, he will not cease to fight him to his death. He will try with slurs, slanders, false accusations to diminish his weight; he will even attempt to turn hatred and hostility against him, sometimes coming from the priesthood. Church history witnesses that hatred against the clergy has even ended up in murder!

"That is why the faithful Orthodox striving Christians, who take their cue from the ethos of the good shepherd's (i.e., the bishop's, priest's, geronda's) self denial, love him and support him in every way. However, when he reproves and brands sin, and the divergence from ethics, the distortion of faith, heresy, deception, and our society's countless evils, then he definitely makes enemies who slander and accuse him falsely. Therefore it is the devil's primary goal to tarnish the good shepherd's honor, through all kinds of insinuations, barefaced falsehood, etc.

"Hence it is imperative to pray for the priests, something which is done in every Divine Liturgy, Mystery, matins, vespers ... when we say: '"For our Archbishop, the honorable presbytery, the diaconate in Christ, and all the clergy and the laity ...,' however, in the privacy of our own nightly prayer, we ought to pray for our celebrant priest, our spiritual father, for all the priests."

It is common for each of us to become discouraged. The attacks we endure are often motivated by the evil one precisely because we are "doing our job," or, more appropriately, "doing what we believe in, or what we are called to do." Many of these attacks are actually evidence of success, not failure. Let us not be discouraged, but pray for one another.

It's not supposed to be smooth sailing in a parish. Quite the opposite. We are in the trenches, on the front line: it is uncomfortable and dangerous, even miserable. I remember being on my third ship, at General Quarters, in a dicey situation: my overwhelming feeling was that I didn't want to be there. Kind of like the way we feel after a miserable parish council meeting or an uncomfortable personal encounter in the parish: "I want out of the parish" (or even "out of the priesthood").

Off that hostile coast several decades ago I also thought to myself, "But, this is precisely why you joined the Navy." I guess it's the same in the parish. We became priests to fight the "good fight." When it's miserable is often when we are doing what we are called to do.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Interview With Byzantine, TX about From Baptist to Byzantium

As you already know if you read this blog often, one of my favorite blogs is Byzantine, TX, by my friend Joseph Birthisel. Recently, Joseph was kind enough to interview me about my new book. I thought you might enjoy the interview. Here it is, straight off his blog:

BT: What prompted you to write the book?

First, several people who had heard me tell my conversion story suggested that I write a book about it, since my story is so unusual. I resisted for quite some time, but finally decided to give in!

Second, I had always been frustrated by (usually due to lack of time) not being able to completely explain the various reasons why my wife and I chose to convert to Orthodoxy. There were so many factors that figured into our decision that a five or ten minute explanation just didn't do the story justice. Now, when someone asks, "Now just WHY did you convert to Orthodoxy?", I can hand them a copy of my book, and they will get a full explanation (assuming, of course, that they actually read it!).

Third, I wanted to provide a brief introduction to Orthodoxy--really a case for why someone (particularly a Baptist or other Evangelical) should give Orthodoxy serious consideration. Of course, there are already several excellent books that do this very well, but most are either somewhat long, incomplete, or not irenic in tone. My goal was to cover most of the pertinent concerns that Evangelicals might have about Orthodoxy, but succinctly and in a respectful tone. I tried to make the book very personal, walking them through the discoveries I made, rather than heavily didactic.

BT: Were there any surprises along the way?

I had wanted to write about my pilgrimage to Orthodoxy for quite some time, but unfortunately, writing is one of my least favorite things to do. So, for years, I procrastinated. Finally, in March of 2007, I decided to write a little bit at a time on my blog that I had just started. I had thought that the story might take 10 or 15 posts on the blog. It ended up taking 30, which was my first surprise. Even though I tried to not go into great detail, there was still much to talk about. The series took me about 6 months to complete, because I didn't have time to write every day.

After the series on the blog was done, I compiled the 30 posts into a single document, and formatted it to look like a book. It came out to 60 pages, double-spaced. Just for the heck of it, I sent it to Frank Schaeffer, the head of Regina Orthodox Press and asked him what he thought. I thought maybe it could be a small book or a beefy pamphlet. He said he liked the story, but it needed to be about twice as long. So, over the next 6 months, I gradually added more material. In particular, I heavily augmented the part about the reasons why I converted.

Finally, I ended up with about 120 pages, and Frank said he would definitely publish it (this was a very pleasant surprise!). It was originally supposed to come out in the Fall of 2008. For various reasons, however, it was delayed twice, finally being published in July of this year. The delays were unfortunate surprises, but in the long run they don't matter. It's finally out, and for this I rejoice.

BT: Where do you see this book in the larger category of convert writings? Who did you have in mind reading this book?

I see it as similar to books like Becoming Orthodox by Fr. Peter Gillquist, The Way by Clark Carlton, and Thirsting for God by Matthew Gallatin (all of which were very helpful to me). I designed it to cover more topics than Becoming Orthodox and The Way but to go into less detail on each topic. My book is certainly less detailed than Thirsting for God. And like all three of these excellent books, I include quite a bit of my personal story prior to becoming Orthodox. Particularly, I have included some stories of our adventures and misadventures on the mission field, which I think makes my book unique among convert writings.

My book, then, is part adventure story and part apologetic for Orthodoxy.In other words, if books like Becoming Orthodox and Thirsting for God are "Level one" books for inquirers, mine might be considered "Level zero," or an introduction to the introductions! If someone reads my book and says, "I want to learn more!", then I have accomplished my main goal in writing it.

My hope is that the book could be given by an Orthodox believer to a non-Orthodox friend or loved one and that it would be helpful for them, whether or not they are asking about Orthodoxy. I pray that it will be instrumental for many in helping them find their way into Orthodoxy, or at the very least to help them gain an understanding and appreciation of the Ancient Faith.

For those who are already Orthodox, I hope it will confirm them in their faith and provide them with an interesting read.

BT: You are in the midst of doing book signings at parishes in Texas. How have people responded to your book at those functions or even more generally what sort of conversations have you had with people about the book?

People have responded very well and have been very generous in supporting me and the book. Several people have purchased multiple copies and have sent them to friends of various religious affiliations. One of the most common things people say to me is "I have a friend who is a Baptist (or another type of Evangelical). I've got to give them a copy!" Another thing that I heard often from cradle Orthodox is (in essence): "Those of us who have been Orthodox all our lives have no idea of what you converts have had to go through just to find your way to the faith. Books like yours help us to not take the faith of our ancestors for granted!" Hearing this has been a real blessing to me.

BT: During your time in Eastern Europe you put a lot of effort into learning the local language. Has your knowledge of Serbian been of service to you as a priest?

My knowledge of Serbian has been helpful mainly when I have filled in for vacationing priests at local Serbian Orthodox parishes, which I have done a total of about a half dozen times over the last few years. When I do this, I generally do about 25% of the Liturgy in Serbian and the rest in English. It is fun to be able to pull my Serbian language skills off the shelf and use them every now and then. Once when I was serving the Divine Liturgy at St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church in suburban northwest Houston, a man came up to me after the service and asked (in Serbian) "What part of Serbia are you from? I don't quite recognize your accent." Needless to say, I was greatly flattered!

BT: You are the asst. pastor at a very vibrant parish divided rather evenly between "cradle" and convert parishioners. Did experiences you've had with catechumens inform some of your topic choices?

Not really; I just tried to tell my story, carefully reconstructing the experiences I had and the thinking processes I went through that led me to change (and pretty quickly at that) from a dedicated Baptist to an on-fire Orthodox Christian.

Having said that, let me agree with you by saying that I am blessed to be in a very vibrant parish filled with fervent believers, both convert and cradle. We have grown from about 40 or so families in 2001 (when I joined) to almost 100 today. We have first-time visitors nearly every Sunday, and our visitors tend to keep coming. Most of them eventually become catechumens and get baptized and/or chrismated. We have had non-stop catechumen classes (and, of course, catechumens to take them!) since at least early 2001. I think that the friendliness of our people, the greatness of our pastor, and the fact that we use 100% English in the Liturgy are a large part of the reason that we have been blessed with such growth and stability.

BT: What is the most most common concept or practice found in Orthodoxy that is difficult for Baptists/Evangelicals to accept or understand?

How did you choose to tackle the topic in the book?There are several Orthodox doctrines and practices that are hard "pills" to swallow for Southern Baptists and other Evangelicals. For Baptists in particular, infant Baptism is especially problematic; after all, the whole Baptist movement was started by people reacting against the practice of infant Baptism, which reformers like Luther and Calvin carried over from Roman Catholicism. The Orthodox Church's lack of belief in Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide are also major stumbling blocks for Evangelicals. Other problematic beliefs include the sacraments, the veneration of Mary and the Saints, the use of icons (especially their veneration), and prayers for the dead and prayers to the saints.

In my book, I dealt with all these issues in a more or less formulaic way. When discussing each, I would say, in essence, "Here is what I had always believed, here is what I read and what that author pointed out, and here is why it made sense and I changed my mind on the issue." Again, I made it all very personal, adopting a tone of "this is what I discovered and why I found it persuasive" rather than simply "this is the truth" (even though I, of course, believe this as well!).

In passing, I must note that the turning point for me was when I accepted the fact that the Orthodox Church was not just the Christian tradition that in its doctrine and praxis is closest to the New Testament Church, but that it is the New Testament Church. At that point, I still had questions about some issues, such as Mary, prayers to the saints and prayers for the dead. But once I realized that the Orthodox Church is the same Church founded by Jesus and the Apostles, guided throughout the ages by the Holy Spirit, I also decided that I could trust the Church. If I had a problem with something the Church did or taught, the problem was with me, not with the Church.

BT: Where's the best place to order the book from?

If anyone would like a signed and dedicated copy, they can order it directly from me. Ordering instructions can be found on my blog, in the top left-hand corner. The book can also be purchased directly from the publisher, Regina Orthodox Press, at It should be available on and similar mass booksellers in a few months.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

On Fasting (WOA Ch. 20)

Having spent a great deal of time discussing prayer, Colliander now turns to the Fathers’ teaching on another crucial part of the spiritual life: fasting. The primary question he addresses is “Why should we fast?” There are several good reasons to fast, and Colliander devotes exactly one paragraph to each, giving the reason in the first sentence and then elaborating upon it in the rest of the paragraph. I will reproduce this chapter almost entirely in full, because it is so powerful.

“Fasting, neither above nor below your ability, will help you in your vigil. One should not ponder divine matters on a full stomach, say the ascetics. For the well-fed, even the most superficial secrets of the Trinity lie hidden. Christ Himself set the example with His long fast; when He drove out the devil He had fasted for forty days. Are we better than He? Behold, angels came and ministered unto him (Matthew 4:11). They are waiting to minister to you, too.

“Fasting tempers loquacity, says St. John Climacus. It is an outlet for compassion and a guard upon obedience; it destroys evil thoughts and roots out the insensibility of the heart. Fasting is a gate to paradise: when the stomach is constricted, the heart is humbled. He who fasts prays with a sober mind, but the mind of the intemperate person is filled with impure fantasies and thoughts.

“Fasting is an expression of love and devotion, in which one sacrifices earthly satisfaction to attain the heavenly. Altogether too much of one’s thoughts are taken up with care for sustenance and the enticements of the palate; one wishes to be free from them. Thus fasting is a step on the road of emancipation and an indispensible support in the struggle against selfish desires. Together with prayer, fasting is one of humanity’s greatest gifts, carefully cherished by those who once have participated in it.

“During fasting, thankfulness grows toward him who has given humanity the possibility of thanksgiving. Fasting opens the entrance to a territory that you have scarcely glimpsed: the expressions of life and all the events around you and with you get a new illumination, the hastening hours a new, wide-eyed and rich purpose. The vigil of groping thought is replaced by a vigil of clarity; troublesome searching is changed to quiet acceptance in gratitude and humility. Seemingly large, perplexing problems open their centres like the ripe calyces of flowers: with prayer, fasting, and vigil in union, we may knock on the door we wish to see opened.

Here we find the reason that fasting is often used as a measuring-stick by the holy Fathers: he who fasts much is he who loves much, and he who has loved much is forgiven much (Luke 7:47). He who fasts much also receives much”

So the purpose of fasting is manifold: we fast to help us in our vigil (i.e., in watchfulness against temptation), to help us to guard our tongues, to show our love to God through sacrifice, to help free ourselves from the tyranny of the flesh, and to learn thankfulness for all that God has given us. Colliander concludes this chapter with a warning:

“The holy Fathers recommend ‘moderate’ fasting: one ought not to allow the body to be weakened too much, for then the soul, too, is harmed. Nor ought one to undertake fasting too suddenly: everything demands practice, and each one should look to his own nature and occupation” (77).

I often counsel people new to fasting to start by just avoiding meat and alcohol. Then, once they get used to that, I challenge them to also cut out dairy, eggs, and olive oil. Next, I urge them to increasingly cut down on the total amount of food they eat (although certainly, even from the beginning a fasting person should never gorge him/herself!). Finally, if they have the strength and the desire, they can cut down to only two or even one meal on a fasting day, or even fast completely from food. As Colliander states, however, people can only fast to the best of their ability, keeping in mind their own unique health needs.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

On the Bodily and Mental Accompaniments of Prayer (WOA Ch. 19)

While some consider prayer to be a purely mental and/or spiritual activity, in which the body plays no role, the Fathers teach us otherwise. If we do not keep our bodies disciplined and their desires in check, it negatively affects our prayer life. One way in which an undisciplined body harms our prayer life is by robbing us of joy. As Colliander says,

“True joy is quiet and constant, wherefore the apostle urges us to rejoice evermore (1 Thessalonians 5:16). It proceeds from a heart that weeps over the world’s (and its own) turning from the Light; true joy is to be found in grief. For it is said: Blessed are they that mourn (Matthew 5:4) and Blessed are ye that weep now with your carnal self for ye shall laugh with your spiritual (Luke 6:21).” In other words, joy is not the same as amusement, mirth, or temporary happiness. Contrary to what the world teaches, joy does not come through indulging ourselves with material goods or pleasure. Rather, in Colliander’s words, “True joy is the joy of consolation, the joy that wells up in the knowledge of one’s own weakness and the Lord’s mercy, and that does not need the bared teeth of laughter to express itself” (72).

He goes on to say, “Think also of this: the person who is bound to earthly things may rejoice but may also be upset or disturbed or grieved over earthly things: his mind is exposed to continual changes. But the joy of your master (Matthew 5:21) is enduring, for God is unchangeable” (72-73).

Perhaps the most difficult part of our body to control is our tongue. But it is also one of the most, if not the most important organ to control. Colliander tells us to “...control your tongue at the same time as you discipline your body with fasting and strictness. Talkativeness is a great enemy of prayer. A spate of fluttering words stands in the way of the words of prayer. [Fr. James’ note: see Matt. 6:7] This is the reason that we shall render account for every careless word we utter (Matthew 12:36). One does not bring the dust of the road into a room that one wishes to keep clean; thus keep your heart free from gossip and chatter about the events of the day that is past.”

The tongue is a fire, and consider how great a matter a little fire kindleth (James 3:5-6). But if one gives a blaze no air, it dies out: if you do not give air to your passions they are gradually quenched. If you are kindled to anger, be silent and do not let it be noticed outwardly. Only the Lord may hear your confession. Thus you extinguish the burning brand at the beginning. If you are disturbed over the mistakes of another, follow the example of Shem and Japheth: cover them with the mantle of silence (Genesis 9:23); thus you quench your desire to judge before it bursts into flame. Silence can b filled with watchful prayer as a bowl fills water” (73).

Finally, Colliander reminds us that it is not only the tongue that must be controlled, but also the mind. Particularly harmful to prayer, and to spiritual growth in general, are memories and fantasies. He advises us: “Do not stir up a memory that will cover your prayer with mud, do not root around in the soil of your old sins. Do not be like the dog that returneth to his vomit (Proverbs 26:11). Do not let your memory linger on private matters that can reawaken your desire or set your imagination going. The devil’s favourite wrestling-place is precisely our imagination; through it he draws us to further intercourse with him, to consent and action. In your thought-world he sows doubt and worry, attempts at logical reasoning and proof, fruitless questions and self-found answers. Meet all such things with the words of the Psalm: Away from me ye wicked (Psalm 119:115)” (74).

Monday, August 24, 2009

Moving Out and Moving In

Audrey and me at an Astros game in July. For you baseball fans out there, that's Lance Berkman, Miguel Tejada, and Michael Bourne on the field doing their warmups.

As I mentioned to you previously, Thursday night was the night that Audrey left us and moved into her dorm. The first thing she had to do to prepare was to clean and organize her room, which previously had been declared a national disaster area and qualified for FEMA funds (we didn't take them). The cleanup required Jennifer's help, took a whole week, and generated at least a dozen trash bags full of trash.

But by the time Thursday evening rolled around, the room was spic and span...

...and the stuff for her dorm room was all packed.

The other kids tearfully said goodbye to Audrey. Christine even helped close her car door!

And, she was off (with me following behind in the van)!

Of course, we had to stand in the obligatory line to get her key. Thankfully, the line wasn't very long.

Once we got her key, we proceeded to her dorm, an imposing structure indeed.

Look how excited she is to march through the door!

On each of the new students' doors was a sign with the name of each resident, and a Peanuts character. Now how did they know that Audrey is like Lucy? Hmmm...

Her room is small and plain, but hey, it's hers (and her roommate's)!

Goodbye, Audrey! I'll sure miss you!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Why Some Do and Some Don't -- by Clint

Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius - Orthodox Missionaries

I was recently asked a few questions on this blog (in the comments of a few of the posts about our journey to Orthodoxy) that got me to thinking about some things.

Primarily, I was asked about the people who took the Church History course with me at a Church of Christ university. Of course, that class had a big impact on me in my journey. To refresh your memory, the instructor of that class even told us that he wasn’t trying to convert us to Orthodoxy, he was simply teaching us about what the church was like in the first centuries after the New Testament period.

The question dealt with those other students and their response as opposed to mine. Obviously, I did in fact convert to Orthodoxy, while I assume that the others did not. Why is it that I made that move but they did not? Why did the instructor admit that Orthodoxy is the same today as it was then, at least in the major points, yet remain within the Church of Christ?

The most important answer that I can come up with is that I have no idea why they reacted in the way they did and not convert. Of course, I don’t KNOW that none of them has since become Orthodox, but I have no reason to think that they have, either. The fact is that I have a hard enough time figuring out why I do what I do, without having to worry about other people.

But at another level, I was experiencing the Divine Liturgy on a weekly basis at that time, while I suspect that none of them had EVER heard of the Divine Liturgy before that class. It has often been mentioned that Orthodoxy is experiential. One can read books and study tenets and history until the cows come home, but they will never KNOW Orthodoxy until they experience it on a regular basis. So I think that the fact that I spent time surrounded by Orthodoxy affected the way that the instructor’s words impacted me.

For me, the bigger question is not my fellow students, but the instructor. He was not just taking the class for credit and going through the motions. He was a historian. He spent years immersed in these historical facts and had committed himself to the study of Church History. How could he remain in some protestant sect and eschew the fullness of the faith?

Again, I will fall back on the “I have no idea” answer. Because, simply put, I don’t know why he or anyone else chooses to receive or reject Orthodoxy. Some people reject it because they are never introduced to it. That is why I appreciate people like my new friend Robert James Hargrave, who has committed his life to Orthodox mission work. Some people reject it because they aren’t looking for it and simply overlook it. Some reject it because they don’t understand it and don’t take the time to do so. Some reject it because they have faulty underlying values that cause them to look at it with an improper view. Some folks are just dishonest. Some couldn’t care less what church they are a part of; they simply attend for social or business reasons.

I am sure there are a thousand other reasons why one chooses to reject Orthodoxy. So I am not going to speculate as to why my classmates and instructor remain within the Church of Christ, even after studying Church History. What I will do is praise God that my eyes were opened and that my wife and children are able to worship, along with me, each week within the confines of Holy Orthodoxy. I will offer up prayers for my deceased parents and other relatives who never had the opportunity to hear the truth of Orthodoxy. I will pray for those classmates and former instructor that they will someday have the privilege of partaking of the body and blood of Christ. And finally, I will pray for Orthodox missionaries that they will have unprecedented success in teaching others about the Orthodox Faith.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

To Audrey (part six)

Audrey's "Glamor Shot" senior picture, taken in the summer of 2008.

Audrey, midway through your eighth grade year, we brought you home yet another sister -- Christine! You now had more little sisters than you knew what to do with!

You continued to be a big help with taking care of all these sisters!
When we all went to the Wiggles concert, I think you had the best time of all!

For some reason, at your fourteenth birthday, you didn't want to be photographed!

But on the last day of school, you were all smiles. (I'm not sure if this was your eighth grade year or your freshman year, but no matter!)

Here you are on the first day of school your sophomore year, the same day Beth started kindergarten and courtney started second grade.

At your sixteenth birthday, you clearly had a blast.

Well before you turned 16, you started talking about driving and getting a car. Fearing for your safety, I stalled as long as I could. Finally, around the time you turned 17, you got your learners' permit. For your senior year, we had no choice but to get you your own car, because of your mom's and my crazy schedules. You worked hard to raise the money to pay for the car. This photo perfectly captures the nervous excitement that you felt when you started driving.

You and had our share of fights your freshman year, and your sophomore year, we were constantly at each others' throats. Thankfully, your junior year, we got along great. You were such a happier person that year, as this photo shows.

We loved watching you perform in the orchestra in junior high and high school. Here you are at your final concert.
And then, you graduated. We had a great summer and did a lot of fun stuff together. And now you've moved out. You're a college student. I'm going to miss having you around (although I'm glad that your dorm is only about 10 miles from our house, so we'll still see you often). You did great in high school and made me very proud. I have no doubt that you will do the same in college.

I love you, Audrey!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

To Audrey (part five)

Audrey's fifth grade school picture, taken in September 2001

After we left our home in Banja Luka and returned to the U. S., we lived with your Mimi and Papa for the summer. Only a couple of days after we arrived in the States, you turned 10. During that summer, we brought you home another sister - Beth!

You loved your new sister and helped us take good care of her, as you had with Courtney.

You also began attending a new church. A strange, different church unlike any other you had attended, with incense, chanting, icons, and vestments. You and your two sisters always looked beautiful in your church dresses.
That year you dressed up as a leopard for Halloween. Pretty ferocious...
You had attended 8 different schools from Kindergarten to Fourth Grade. Now for your fifth grade year, you started at your ninth. But now you settled into a normal life of a typical American kid. No more adventures -- at least not minor ones. Your fifth grade year went quickly, and you soon celebrated your eleventh birthday.

We often visited your Mimi and Papa those first couple of years that we were back in the U. S.

I'll never forget the "Country" stage you went through. You listened to nothing but country music, joined the FFA, and got a cowboy hat and boots for Christmas of '02.

If I remember correctly, your "Country" phase lasted only about a year...maybe less.

Time seemed to accelerate when you got into junior high. Before I knew it, you were turning 13!

Soon you started eighth grade. I think this is one of the last times you went to school without makeup.

I tried to get you to stop aging and growing. I wanted you to stay sweet and little. But in spite of my best efforts to the contrary, you turned 13!

You always looked great in your Orchestra uniform.

Your next stop? High school! But oops! I forgot to remind you how your life changed dramatically again toward the end of your eighth grade year. Let's talk about that next time.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

To Audrey (part four)

Audrey in a big snowdrift during the "Great Sarajevo Snowstorm" of 1999, in which about six feet of snow fell in less than a week.

In early January, we packed you up and once again hauled you over to Eastern Europe, this time to Banja Luka, Bosnia. We were going to check you in with our other luggage, but the airline wouldn't let us.

Our first apartment in Banja Luka was a dark, cold, attic apartment that we called "the batcave." You liked to snuggle with Courtney under the covers.

When we moved to our "permanent" (Ha! That's what we thought, anyway!) apartment, there was so much snow on the ground (and you were so shy), that you stayed in the apartment 90% of the time. You liked to watch Veggie Tales videos and read to Courtney.

And once again, you started a new school.

Then in March, only two months after we had moved to Banja Luka, we were told we had to leave, due to the NATO bombing of Serbia. We had just gotten used to Banja Luka, and the weather was just starting to become nice. We were heartbroken about having to leave. You didn't really understand what was going on.

We spent a week in a hotel in Croatia, and then we relocated to Sarajevo. This meant another temporary apartment, and then another permanent one. At least this time we had a three-bedroom house. You loved your large room.

And yet again, you had to start attending a new school. You went to a Bosnian public school, where you rapidly picked up the language. (Unfortunately, I don't have any photos of your school in Sarajevo. How did I miss that?). Soon after we moved into our new house, you celebrated your eighth birthday.

We got another dog, a really cute little black one. Sadly, he came down with parvo and died only a couple of months after we got him. You sure loved him!

You always loved to swing, also. I don't remember where this photo was taken, but it is so cute I couldn't resist including it!
You had a great time when we all visited the beautiful coastal Croatian city of Dubrovnik.
After a beautiful summer, the weather turned bitterly cold, as it always does in the winter in Bosnia. One day in December, it started snowing. It snowed and snowed. After three feet had fallen, it stopped. Then a few days later, it started snowing again. Before it was all done, we had six feet of snow. You thought it was great fun! Courtney didn't.

You had a lot of fun at Christmas. Here you are playing with our cat "Joe."

Before long, the weather started warming up and the sun made occasional appearances.

And before we knew it, you were celebrating yet another birthday - your ninth!

That summer (2000), we were given the go-ahead to return to Banja Luka. Yet again, you moved to a new house and started attending another new school.

But after only a few months, we surprised you by telling you we were returning home -- for good. We told you that we had decided to leave the Baptist church and join the Orthodox Church. You didn't really understand, but you trusted us. You didn't complain at all. On the one hand, you were glad to be going back to Texas. On the other hand, you hated to leave your newly-adopted country and especially your best friend Andreja.

(The date stamp is wrong in this photo - it's really from late 2000).

Once again, your life was about to totally change.