The Reluctant Orthodox – Volume 1 “Ten Years Ago”

IMG_2776It was 10 years ago when my husband entered an Eastern Orthodox church in Chicago and felt like he had come ‘home’. He was there with our oldest son on a college search and happened upon this church in the middle of the city.

I had no idea when he came home that our spiritual journey would take a sharp and unmistakable turn into the mysteries of the Eastern Orthodox faith and we would never be quite the same.

A couple of months later he urged me to attend a vespers service, a Saturday night service, call it “Orthodox light”.

Saturday night vespers begins with the setting of the sun and precedes Divine Liturgy, which will be held the next day. It’s a service with a lot of Psalms and a quiet, contemplative tone.

Everyone likes Vespers….everyone except me it seemed.

So we attended vespers. I did not like the service. I disliked how long it was on a Saturday evening and day dreamed of being back home sitting on our patio, enjoying the Phoenix sunset. I was irritated by the women who attended, their faces and voices raised in out of this world peace. I was annoyed by the icons. I quickly dismissed the whole package.

“We’ll get through this eastern orthodoxy stage” I thought, and continue doing what we knew well: vacillating between feeling sometimes alienated and sometimes a part of the American evangelical church. Nothing would really change.

But a month later he invited me to Pascha, that great and glorious resurrection service signifying the end of the great fast and the Risen Saviour. And I disliked that even more. My feet hurt. My back started to ache. The apostles glared at me from Iconic holiness and I wanted to cry. I barely made it past midnight in a service that would go on until the wee hours of the morning.

Despite all this, every Sunday I get up and head to Holy Resurrection in Allston, a part of Boston known for its high population of students, bars, and ethnic restaurants. There I humbly take part in the Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Church. I reverently venerate icons and make the sign of the cross, and I  say “Lord Have Mercy” many times. I hear the priest say “Thine own of thine own we offer up to thee” and join my voice with a hundred others singing “We have seen the true light! We have received the Heavenly Spirit. We have found the true faith, worshiping the undivided Trinity, who has saved us”

Because I am a Reluctant Orthodox. I am an unexpected, but thoroughly committed catechumen in the Eastern Orthodox Church, learning daily about this ancient faith that I sometimes doubt, other times believe, and all the time feel compelled to pursue until I reach the other side, and all is made clear.

And today marks a new edition to Communicating Across Boundaries. I will publish The Reluctant Orthodox every week on Sunday. My goal is to articulate my journey of faith, and through doing so perhaps others will see some of their own journey.

Welcome to the Reluctant Orthodox.

21 thoughts on “The Reluctant Orthodox – Volume 1 “Ten Years Ago”

  1. thanks for collecting these posts, marilyn. i haven’t been keeping up at all, so now i can read them all together (so far). in addition to the attraction of being connected to the ancient church, the beauty of the liturgy, and the smells and bells, there’s the emphasis on mystery, that seems to be ironed out in most evangelical church. have your read r. foster’s “streams of living water?” he tries to collect the different streams the Church universal, and show how each is a tributary of the big river of God’s kingdom coming into this world, and how we can honor and grow more like him, by growing into each one, as he fully exemplified each.

    love you —


    1. Sounds like a great book. For me the emphasis on mystery is huge. I too often try to figure everything out instead of relaxing in the knowledge that it’s too big and I’m not called to figure it all out, but to live faithfully in what I know. It’s hard explaining this journey — bottom line is its done out of obedience. There will always be things I question in the church. But I know this is where I am supposed to be. Thanks for reading – it means so much to me!


  2. I, too, have been hoping you would write about this part of your ongoing journey of faith. I am so glad! As you know, my Catholic roots share a comfort and fascination with mystery. I look forward to next Sunday!


  3. A number of my friends have ended up in the Orthodox church. The most amazing is a lady who was quite messed up in high school. She married a priest and has made being a priest’s wife her identity. I had to hide notifications from her on Facebook because she would fill screens and screens with monastery photos, images of saints, and right-wing political commentary (which is not necessarily Orthodox, I know).

    But back in my college IVCF days, Frankie Schaeffer became Orthodox. Several other prominent evangelical figures seemed to head that direction at the same time, as well as one of my favorite IVCF friends, who is now a professor of medical ethics. It seems to satisfy those who hunger for continuity in church history and apostolic succession (I’ve had other friends join the Catholic church for that reason) and provide a deep, contemplative theology.

    I grew up Plymouth Brethren, so the beards and scarves and gloomy icons put me off (although I can soak in a great liturgy with no problem). Even the trappings of North American evangelicalism bug me. I wonder what Orthodox missionaries would do in, say, a native Amazonian culture?


  4. Looking forward to following your ‘journey’ with You, Marilyn. I truly admire you for going along with Cliff as he feels so ‘at home’ there in that style of worship. I often feel people often chose their style of worship to fit their personality. For instance our Church is now worhipping in a school auditorium and I enjoy that more than a Church blgd. I enjoy the informality. I can see where the Orthodox service would appeal to those of an ‘artistic’ mind set…what do you think?


    1. Actually those I know who have converted to Orthodoxy have done so precisely because they are tired of a church that bends to fit them (and anyone else who comes through the door) So no, I don’t think it’s about an artistic mind set. Whether right or wrong, they have felt like the western church bends to cultural beliefs and values of the time, forgetting the historicity of the church.


  5. “Orthodoxy is not easy. Many have jumped with fervor into her fullness, only to drown ultimately from a lack of stamina. Orthodoxy should be savored slowly, taking bigger bites as your appetite naturally increases, not swallowed whole in one big zealous gulp.” (Molly Sabourin, “Close to Home”)

    I thought it’s a good quote for a Reluctant Orthodox :)


  6. Sounds to me just like Frederica Matthews-Green and her first experience of the Church in the book “Facing East”. I wondered how long it would take before you started blogging about it. But it does take a while to sink in and start to feel natural. Orthodoxy is a slow and deep burn, so take your time and ask lots of questions. I certainly do, and I’ve been Orthodox over half my life now.


  7. “‘We’ll get through this eastern orthodoxy stage’ I thought, and continue doing what we knew well: vacillating between feeling sometimes alienated and sometimes a part of the American evangelical church.”
    I am intensely interested in this story! I just got back from my third yearly visit to a Benedictine abbey, which Robynn directed me to, and I am in that uncomfortable place of “feeling sometimes alienated and sometimes a part of the American evangelical church.” I keep wondering if this deep, heady pull to the ancient church will just be a phase. Another friend messaged me last night: “Are you a Catholic yet?” I have more questions than I have answers.
    I love your blog all the time, but I just started loving it even more! Blessings on you.


    1. Oh Rachel….it’s been quite a ride. But what I’ve learned is it’s not a phase or stage and that I too have more questions then answers. Somehow mystery is encouraged in the Orthodox church in a way that I’ve not experienced before. I need to thank you for your comment…I started this series with some misgivings as it’s been at times such a difficult one for me. But I’ve wanted to chronicle it for some time and felt now is the right time. Leaving the Orthodox piece out of my posts on faith no longer works as well so this is a good way to begin. So receiving your comment makes me feel like there are others in the journey as well – thank you so much. And so many thanks for the words about the blog :)


      1. I love it that two of my favourites: Rachel and Marilyn are having this conversation! Blessings and grace to you my sisters on this journey…. Until we reach the other side where all shall be well.


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