The Reluctant Orthodox – Volume 21 “Entering a Foreign Land”

We’re late today. 

A heavy rain preparing us for what are sure to become April showers is falling and with it comes a phone call from our son asking for a ride. Along with this, one of the transit system lines is under repair about a mile from our church and all traffic has been diverted.

When we enter, the sanctuary is full and all are standing. And it struck me that my journey to Orthodoxy has been like entering a foreign land. A land where the customs, the words, the actions, the clothing, the language have been unfamiliar, have had to be learned. And I have made mistakes, and I have wondered and questioned and shaken my head – just like I’ve done in the past entering other foreign lands.

Seeing it this way helps me to breathe. Entering foreign lands is something I’ve done since I was a little girl. I was taken to Pakistan at three months old to an already established home. I didn’t walk on American soil until I was four years old, and then only for a year before returning to Pakistan.

Entering foreign lands is something that those of us raised between worlds know well. We know that for a time there will be acute discomfort, even alienation. We know that it will take all our energy and skill set to settle in and learn what is considered ‘normal’. We also know that slowly by slowly we will settle, a part of us still in the place we were before, but settle we will. And through this we will grow.

The candles are flickering in front of me, casting a glow over the gold of the icon to the left of the candelabra. The choir is leading us in the Beatitudes – the blessings from the gospel of Saint Matthew. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled….”

This hungering and thirsting is what has led me to this foreign land. It’s why I have come Sunday after Sunday and sometimes during the week. It’s why I have learned to venerate icons and to understand the significance of many of the symbols. It has been because I hunger and thirst for a faith that is more than form, more than a service that I dreaded once a week.

And the God who has led me into other foreign lands has led me here. A God who guides, loves, and protects.

The thing about entering foreign lands, they don’t remain foreign forever. So the land is different, but the God who is leading me is the same.

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