Secret Destinations

Beginning the Journey“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” So says Martin Buber. I don’t normally agree with the man, but this time I feel like he’s describing the journey my wife and I’ve set out on. It feels like before we started this path, we knew where it would take us. The more steps we take down it, however, the less I feel like that. Not that anything exotic or strange has happened, we’ve followed the steps recommended by Fr Anthony, beginning to spend more time with our Orthodox parish community by attending vespers and the Divine Liturgies, and, on Wednesday we were to attend our first Orthodoxy 101 class, but it was cancelled since Fr Anthony was ill. We are experiencing the trials and physical demands entailed in Orthodox worship and struggling to meet them. In that respect, I think we both really wish we had come East much earlier in life; being in you’re mid-60s doesn’t make this any easier. We do our best.

We have also met with Fr Anthony, our priest, one on one, and were able to ask him some of the more important questions we had, which he answered satisfactorily, to say the least. This, in itself, is a bit strange for us; I think over the last month or so, I’ve spent more time talking to him than to all the Catholic priests I’ve met over the last 18 years or so. Still, all this represents the first steps on the journey.

That said, it seems like there’s a long road ahead. My impressions of Orthodoxy are that it’s a very different matter, becoming Orthodox, than what we went through on our way into the Catholic Church. In that process, we attended classes for about 8 or 9 months, learned some key things, did our first reconciliations and communion, received Confirmation, and that was that, we were on our own. That’s a simplification, but essentially the truth. I already sense that, when and if we are admitted to the Orthodox communion, we won’t be on our own again. It’s quite a culture shock.

I can also say I think for a person to become Orthodox requires more than anything else conversion; a true, deep, heartfelt, conversion, taken as a profound change of heart. In other words, it isn’t something external, a matter of satisfying certain requirements; it’s a matter of being a different person at the end than you were in the beginning. In that sense, it’s an intimidating prospect; a journey to a secret destination of which I am only vaguely aware.

That’s the present. Looking ahead for this blog, I can offer a warning. I’m fairly sure that over the next year or so, I’ll probably offer much nonsense concerning Orthodoxy and my growing understanding and conversion. I’m not a theologian, or even a deeply spiritual writer to begin with, and trying to write about something so different to anything I’ve experienced will likely compound whatever issues arise from those failings. I ask you to bear with me. I also ask, if I write something particularly stupid or, even more, just plain wrong, feel free to correct me and set me on the right path. I’d appreciate any help you can give.


The Start of the Journey

imageI’m a Catholic convert; it’s been 20 years since I came into the Church after roughly 5 years in a Presbyterian church in Texas. The thing that drove that conversion was that both the local and national Presbyterian churches were being infected, I might say taken over, by all the decadence in the surrounding culture. I realized that I could no longer be Presbyterian and my wife and I began searching for a church with the moral and theological strength to withstand what was happening. Through a series of events that transpired quite rapidly, we discovered that the most likely candidate was Rome and so we made the leap.

Fast forward 20 years and we find ourselves with something of the same problem. It seems evident to us that, with the election of Pope Francis things may change. From what he’s said and written he intends to open the Church to more acceptance of things, such as communion for divorced Catholics and allowing bishops much more authority over matters of faith and doctrine in their dioceses, heretofore unacceptable. I can’t help but wonder if I made a mistake and my whole concept of what the Church was was wrong. I remarked to my wife, when reading about Francis’ wish to allow bishops greater leeway over doctrinal matters, that it sounded to be a lot like Orthodoxy. As soon as I said it, a light went off — what was Orthodoxy?

As I do whenever I’m in need of completely accurate, absolutely solid intellectual knowledge, I headed to the Internet and began reading. I’d always been interested in Orthodox writings on prayer and spirituality, and interested in both the Church and Desert Fathers; I thought both very attractive even before I became Catholic. But in my quick reading, I also began to get a little different understanding of the Church and, especially, what happened in 1054 AD and how that split was viewed in the East. As the old German soldier on Laugh-In used to say, I found all this “veddy interesting!” I decided to investigate further. Within a few days, I’d called Fr Anthony, priest at the local Orthodox parish and proprietor (I believe) of the very popular coffee shop and bookstore run by the parish, and arranged a meeting. We’ve already attended our first Great Vesper service and, yesterday I attended my first Divine Liturgy. I think we have taken our first steps in the journey Eastward.

This blog is meant to be a journal, the story, of that journey. I can’t say we’ll see it through to the end; there’s much to learn and to experience before that will be clear. I will say that however far we go, I hope this blog will document what happens on the road, the ups and downs, good weather and not so good weather, smooth road and rough mountain passes, and, perhaps, serve as a guidebook for others thinking of taking this same road.