Short memories

In my journey toward Eastern Orthodoxy, I am surprised and increasingly saddened by how much I did not know about the Church, despite my Christian heritage. I was raised in the Wesleyan-Armenian (Methodist) tradition. My grandfathers were pastors and my parents were active in the church, teaching sunday school, serving as treasurer, singing in the choir, being part of the pastor’s “cabinet”. Others in our family served as missionaries and Christian leaders and teachers. A love for God surrounded me and taught me as I grew. There is no question about who we loved and desired to serve.

Given all this, it has been troubling to learn not just how I was separated and skewed from the Orthodox faith, but how many Protestant denominations are presently teaching or acting in ways that are frustratingly opposed to their own doctrines and history.

Today’s Protestants when learning about Orthodox practice often struggle with the idea of using the sign of the cross and with calling priests “Father.” I recently discovered that not using these is a relatively recent innovation.

In his book, Becoming Orthodox: A Journey to the Ancient Christian Faith, Fr Peter explains how the sign of the cross has been used from the early centuries of the church. He notes that Martin Luther, who is called the Father of the Protestant Reformation, exhorted his flock to use the sign of the cross. He continues:

Astonishingly, it was not until the seventeenth century, at the time of King James, that a small group of Puritans began writing and speaking against the use of the sign of the cross. Reacting to the ills of the medieval Roman Church, they believed it to be a human invention which catered to superstition. These same English Puritans, who significantly influenced the North American continent, deserted one of the most powerful and cherished weapons of the entire history of the Church.… Today, many American Christians have been deceived by the actions of a vocal minority and have become ashamed of the glory of the cross signed on their breasts.

From the earliest times, Christian practice has been to call spiritual directors “Father” or “Mother.” In an article in The Christian Century, David L. Holmes discusses the question Are ‘Mother’ and ‘Father’ Appropriate Titles for Protestant Clergy? He writes:

Protestants would undoubtedly reject both titles. “A wall goes up whenever I hear clergy addressed as ‘Father’ and ‘Mother,’” a Protestant churchwoman recently told me.

Such opposition, however, is ironic in the context of church history. For American Protestants regularly called their clergy “Father” 200 and 300 years ago, and some continued to do so a century ago. And during the same years, Protestants addressed venerated women in their churches as “Mother.”

He then describes various ways that Americans used “father” and “mother” for church leaders. Significantly for me, he notes that “American Methodists, for example, referred to John Wesley not only as ‘Mr. Wesley’ but also as ‘Father Wesley.’” He also shows that missionary pioneers were often called father, including Francis Asbury. Apparently an anti-Roman backlash led to the change in terminology among Protestants: Prior to the rise in Irish immigrants coming to the U.S. in the 1840s, Roman Catholic non-monastic priests were mostly called “Mister,” “Monsieur,” or “Don.” Irish Roman Catholics called all priests “Father.”

Although these are minor examples of differences in practice, it makes me wonder how many other beliefs I took for granted as long-held Protestant dogmas were actually recent changes. Lord have mercy.

What’s a Name Day?

Today the Orthodox Church remembers the holy apostle Timothy. For some unknown reason I’ve been anticipating this day for almost a week. Since early childhood I’ve been aware that Timothy is a biblical name. My knowledge of this special day for remembering him is new. What a gift to have the name of this holy martyr, whose name means “one who honors God.”

Troparion for Timothy, Tone IV
O master of goodness renowned for moderation, you were robed in the purity of conscience that befits a priest. Drawing forth ineffable truths from that chosen vessel, Paul, you preserved the faith and completed a course equal to his. O holy martyr and hierarch, Timothy, beg Christ, our God, to save our souls.

Kondakion for Timothy and Anastasius, Tone I
Let us all faithfully sing the praises of Timothy, Paul’s holy disciple and companion, and the wise Anastasius, too, let us honor, as a star that rose over Persia, that by their prayers the Lord will heal the maladies of our bodies, as well as the brokenness of our souls.

Laura’s Front Porch

One of my favorite blogs to read right now is Laura’s Front Porch, written by Laura Nee, a new catechumen in the Orthodox church. Her struggles and successes with her children during the liturgy sound so familiar that at times I just have to laugh and sometimes cry.

I first found her blog a number of months ago and remember reading back some entries about how she got interested in the Orthodox church. In October last year she wrote that she and her husband Jim were investigating Orthodoxy pretty seriously. As with so many of us converts Bp Kalistos Ware’s book The Orthodox Way helped them along the path. I believe they actually started back in September reading Becoming Orthodox by Fr Peter Gillquist.

When we seek him, God gives us the desires of our heart. Reading “It’s getting spooky” Part I and Part II, I can’t help but rejoice at how God had been drawing them. Although new and different to them, Orthodoxy clearly feels like a kind of homecoming for them. As Laura put it once, it feels like an old fuzzy blanket you’d would wrap yourself into…ahhh. When they were received as catechumens a few weeks ago, she wrote “Jim and I become catechumens today in the Orthodox Church. I am excited, but not overly so. It feels like the natural thing to do…so off we go!” God bless you!

Just write, right?

The hardest part is getting started again after a break. With a new year comes a new office location and with it a longer drive each day. I feel like I’m not adjusting well to it at all. Moving various computer hardware and other things seem to have caught up to me and given me what seems to be never-ending back pain. Or maybe it’s just that the new office chair doesn’t like me. I really need to get the keyboard tray set up, too.

One of the things I most miss from my old office is the view of the trains. I’ve been a fan of trains for as long as I can remember. My old office window looked out on the busy double-track Norfolk Southern mainline. It got so I recognized particular trains: there’s the one taking coal down to the powerplant and returning with the empties; there’s the one headed down to Nicholasville. And of course, watching railroad track maintenance is engrossing, especially the tampers and ballast spreaders.

As with all change and loss, the adjustment period takes some time. I hope that it’s better after a few weeks.