A couple months ago, I happened upon a YouTube video. I think it probably showed up there because I was searching for things along the lines of “history of the early church” or “early Christianity”. Otherwise, not sure what would have caused YouTube to put it in my recommendations. Here is the video. Watch it if you want, I haven’t watched it since that first time but I thought it was good then:
Like I said, I haven’t watched it since then, so I don’t recall exactly what it was, but something about it intrigued me and I started searching out more regarding the Orthodox Church. I started just searching for other videos on YouTube, and then also just doing generalized Google searches, wondering what the Orthodox doctrine regarding some specific issue was. The thing that started to stand out to me the most about Orthodoxy was really that it asks different questions than the Western church does. And it’s much more comfortable with mystery.
A lot of what I was reading seemed to click in my mind – it just sort of made sense to me. And so I continued to delve in. One of the things I had discovered during my Google searches was Ancient Faith. I at some point realized that they have a huge collection of podcasts in addition to the blogs and such I had been reading. I tried to figure out what a good place to start would be, and at first started going through what is listed in “New To Orthodoxy“. It starts off right off the bat with some things that are pretty different as compared to Protestantism… Icons, Saints, the Theotokos… (I had no idea what that meant at first, so I’ll help you, that’s Greek for Mother of God – that is to say, Mary). I’ve still not listened to most of those, probably still under 10.
I also discovered pretty quickly on there a podcast called Amon Sûl. I was immediately intrigued by that, because it was obviously a podcast about The Lord of the Rings. If it’s not so obvious to you, Amon Sûl is another name for Weathertop. If it’s still not obvious to you, then, you’re probably not much of a Lord of the Rings fan. I started listening and it was a nice mix of something I was familiar with (the lore of Middle-Earth) and things I was less familiar with (Orthodox theology). I did a bit more research to see what people online recommended regarding podcasts I could listen to… One of the things that seemed like a must-hear was a podcast called “Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy”. So I grabbed the first few episodes, started listening, and thought to myself… “Hey, this guy sounds really familiar.” Turns out, both of those are hosted by Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick. I devoured all of them (Amon Sûl was easy, there were only like 3 episodes at the time, up to 5 now), moved on to another called Faith and Philosophy hosted by someone else whose name I can’t recall offhand, and then after burning through all of those started on “The Aeriopagus”, which, again, is hosted by Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick, as well as a Pastor of a Protestant denomination named Michael Landsman. This was another that really hit the right notes for me as again I had a little more that I was familiar with. Really something about Fr. Damick’s voice is just nice to listen to as well – this time around I specifically picked the podcast because I saw his name on it.
If you can’t tell, I’ve listened to a LOT of audio content related to Orthodoxy – specifically, Ancient Faith is part of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America. Which is a whole other thing with Orthodoxy… Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Antiochian Orthodox, etc… Now, all of these are just regional part of the Orthodox Church, but due to an “accident of history” as I’ve heard some Orthodox folks say, there is no American Orthodox church as such, and there are various Diocese that are under the jurisdiction of the aforementioned groups. But, all these churches are in communion with each other – and it’s worth noting, this is the second largest (Roman Catholic Church is largest) group of Christians that self-identify as being part of a single church (I’m not sure if I worded that the best way possible, but I think you’ll get what I mean). So in regard to doctrine, it’s not actually relevant which one the information comes from, they are all in agreement with each other.
So at some point during all this, actually it was probably at least a month ago, I decided to see if there were any Orthodox churches near me that I might possibly go to visit and see what it was like. As the Orthodox are fond of saying, “Come and see.” I did some Google searches and discovered two such churches in my immediate vicinity (that is, within a 15 minute drive). First was Sts. Peter and Paul Greek Orthodox Church, and then there was St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church. It took me awhile, because as some of you know I run lights every other week for Collective Church, which I’ve been attending for the last year and a half or so, and also had a half marathon one of my off weeks, etc, but I did finally make a visit yesterday.
I ended up visiting St. John the Baptist. I had initially felt inclined to go to the Greek Orthodox church because it is a bit closer and also larger, but then I learned (if I recall, from reading Yelp reviews) that they do a large portion of their service in Greek, and well, I do want to understand what is going on, so… I decided on the other. Now, it’s also worth nothing that having grown up going to an Assemblies of God church, then a few non-denominational churches, that I had never really been to anything resembling a liturgical service (there’s kind of an exception as during the brief period I went to a Catholic high school, they had 1 or 2 services I was around for). But honestly, it’s all foreign to me. So knowing that, and having researched what to expect, I was highly intimidated about going. Also, while I have some vague recollection about dressing up for church when I was a kid, I couldn’t have told you when the last time I dressed up for church had been. Now I can, it was yesterday. I’ve never been much for dressing up. For the past couple decades it’s been for job interviews and… well, that’s it. But doing so is part of the Orthodox tradition, and so, I did it.
So I go to bed on Saturday night knowing that I will be going to the church the next day. I wake up, still feeling a bit anxious about it, but get myself to drive over there. I pull up to the church and realize it’s smaller than I had even thought it was. And there was no parking lot, just parking along the side of the road. And there were not nearly enough cars. This was not a place I could go in largely unnoticed. So, I wasn’t really sure what time I should arrive – let me explain why. On a Sunday morning, an Orthodox church will first have Matins- morning prayers – and this will flow into the Divine Liturgy, which I guess you could call the “main service”. So, since I was “just checking things out”, I decided to arrive just before the Divine Liturgy started. This was another thing I realized as I was getting ready to go in – no one else seemed to be arriving at this time really. So, it certainly wasn’t a big deal, but, I walked in, and let me just say… I have never felt so lost in regard to what I should be doing… haha. I don’t doubt that everyone there knew it was my first time ever being in an Orthodox church. But, a nice lady, who I later learned to be the Pastor’s wife, helped me find where they were in the service so I could follow along. I was grateful for it, because I was completely at a loss… haha.
So, here was my initial reaction to it – I thought, “This is weird”. Now, as I’ve said, my interactions with the Catholic church have been pretty limited, so I’m not sure if the same is true of their services, but the Orthodox Divine Liturgy is largely sung. And that felt very weird to me. That’s on top of the other various things going on that aren’t part of any Protestant service I’ve ever been to. But with all that said, I made it through, went up front as they took communion (not being Orthodox, I could not partake, but instead received a blessing) – then returned to my seat and the Pastor spoke a bit and welcomed me as well as a couple other visitors (though they were Orthodox). I had a good talk with him after the service as well.
This is quite long, and it’s getting late, so I’m going to end this here for now. Tomorrow, or whenever I next have time, I’ll continue on in my thoughts on this.