Tuesday, June 15, 2010


I'm noticing as I'm writing this that I'm talking about my experience of Orthodoxy in a not-Orthodox sort of way. Prayer and fasting and worship weren't things that I just discovered, these were things that Christians had been practicing since the time of the apostles, and so I was connected with Christians throughout time and around the world. Before that, I had invented spiritual practices, like reading a chapter of the Bible and then writing something about it in a journal, or waking up early to study, or going for a lot of walks to pray, and these were all helpful, but I would do them for a couple of weeks or a couple of years, but intermittently. In Orthodoxy, I was doing old disciplines, I was trying things that people had already tried and refined; I also felt like I had moral support from those who had gone before me.

One Friday afternoon in January, I went over to the home of Fr Gregory, the Orthodox priest, to have a chat. On my way there, I had gone to 7-Eleven for Pop-Tarts and coffee, I ate the Pop-Tarts on the way there, and struggled to finish the hot coffee during the 15 minute drive to Fr Gregory's house. I suppose I woke up around 11 that morning, and was to meet with Fr Gregory at around 2. Buying Pop-Tarts at Seven-11 is a bad deal; I must have forgotten to go to the grocery store for proper breakfast food. I would have gotten doughnuts or something at Seven-11, but it was a Friday, and Pop-Tarts are vegan. Then, I got worried because I was running late, and then, I felt ashamed, because who runs late to a 2 PM appointment because they overslept? I'm sure my disturbed sleep came from my psych issues, but I was blaming myself for being lazy rather than going to the doctor.

Anyway, I got to Fr Gregory's house, and I apologized for being late, I was maybe ten minutes late. Of course, he was forgiving. Most people don't mind if you're ten minutes late. There is a difference between saying, "It's not a problem" and "I forgive you" and I felt Fr Gregory warmly forgiving my tardiness. We sat in armchairs in the living room. I told him that I was interested in Orthodoxy, that I was almost certain that I was going to become Orthodox. He told me that it was good that I was so eager, but that it was important for me to not just have good reasons to become Orthodox, but to practice knowing God through the life of the church.

He also suggested that I pray the psalms, so I did. I'd gotten advice on spiritual discipline before, but I know that I took that tip—pray the psalms—differently than advice I'd gotten before: the advice came from a priest. I was used to the idea that pastors are the same as anyone else, but pastors and priests aren't just like anyone else, they've studied a lot about spirituality, they teach it, and they are noted by their communities for their diligence and perseverance and wisdom. By thinking of Fr Gregory as not just like everyone else, it helped me take his advice more seriously. Having grown up Protestant, I had been warned about priests causing harm, spiritually, leading people to compliance out of fear of their clerical authority. That's not what I felt that Friday afternoon. Fr Gregory wasn't inventing a new rule for me out of nowhere, he suggested that I pray the psalms because he knew it had helped people for thousands of years and thought it would be helpful for me.

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