Given this variety of responses, I have decided to write this last entry in this particular series on where I am at now, why I am moving towards Orthodox Christianity, and all the rest. I have chosen to not speak very much on why I would not remain Roman or become Eastern Catholic, because my desire is not to write polemics, apologetics, or frankly, anything negative. This journey is not about rejecting or leaving Rome for me, even if that is what some wish to boil it down to in a simplistic fashion. I have taken great pains to ensure this in my life and any criticisms I have made against the state of the Catholic Church right now are simply to give a context, to illustrate my own journey, or when I have made them, out of human weakness and frustration (I doubt that they are anything worse than one might find on Rorate Caeli or ChurchMilitantTV, for instance).In all honesty, I reckon that if I had not mentioned on this blog any of this few would ever notice a difference in my writing. Whether I am Catholic or Orthodox, my writing will always be what it seems people have come to expect - at least, that is my hope. I will always write out of an honest place, with all my heart.
Now, when I began this blog, I wrote it purely for myself, as a journal of my own conversion and experiences, and a way to write out my journey. I had no idea it would become as big as it did - as of today, I am nearing around 800,000 views, and though I have not "cracked the mainstream" as it were, it seems that what began as a journal of just another Catholic convert was noticed, if only to a relatively small degree. Therefore, I feel that I owe an explanation to those who read my thoughts, however poor they are.
This is not to say that I have not been through a lot of interior pain over the whole thing, with misrepresentations, allegations, misunderstandings, condemnations, and even cold shouldering thrown my way - a most hurtful thing when going through a process such as this. The criticisms I have recieved in some corners have almost brought me to tears, no doubt due to my very sensitive nature - but "He who wishes to serve God let him prepare his heart for tribulations,"1 (St. Basil the Great), and again, "When men revile us, we should consider ourselves unworthy of praise. If we were worthy, everyone would bow down to us."2 (St. Seraphim of Sarov)
It is true that I have been already deemed an "apostate," a "schismatic," someone who is trying to lead others away from Rome (which is not even remotely the case) - despite my hurt and anger over being called such things, I must strive to bear all of it for the sake of Christ. "And if everyone abandons you and drives you out by force, then, when you are left alone, fall down on the earth and kiss it and water it with your tears, and the earth will bring forth fruit from your tears, even though no one has seen or heard you in your solitude."3 (Fyodor Dostoevsky)
A friend of mine, who entered the Catholic Church with me from a Protestant background, asked me a question - saying he was a "Catholic-Protestant," he asked why I would not want to be "Catholic-Orthodox" and "reform" the Church from within as he wanted to do. My answer remains the same: I do not want to "reform" the Church, I want to reform myself. Who am I to reform anything when I cannot even reform my own heart? If I cannot walk with Christ and allow Him to change me, to radically affect and effect my life, how I can ever possibly hope to bring Christ to others? St. Seraphim of Sarov says, "Acquire inward peace, and thousands around you will find their salvation."4 During my life as a specifically Roman Catholic, I have not known that kind of peace, nor have I been able to acquire it to any large degree.
In fact, much of my struggles were self-inflicted (just to give some context). I am a very scrupulous person, often self-defeating and very sensitive, and this kind of temperament transferred wholesale into my spiritual life, despite periods of great elation. My life as a Catholic has been fraught with despair - despair of the mercy of God, desperately driving around town trying to find a church that offered confession still, and not finding one, having my heart tear at me with images of the Hell that waited for me if I could not slide into the confessional in time, or if my act of contrition was not sincere enough. One thought from one of the famed Optina Elders struck my heart at the end of it all - "The action of grace never leads anyone to despair, but grants the gift of tenderness, joy, long-suffering and peace."5 (St. Leonid of Optina)
Again, I do not so much blame the Catholic Church for this, but myself. But "The sick one who is familiar with his illness is easily cured and the one who acknowledges his pain is close to healing."6 (St. Isaac the Syrian)
As some have pointed out, I tended to be a recluse, never involving myself in the community of my parish - this fact has been held up to me several times. I suppose I never felt that I had much in common with anyone there; that, and my own extended family life has always been a painful arena for me, so the notion of "family" has been tainted by this. Even within my own family, I am an only child whose parents divorced when I was 16, and this has darkened and distorted my view of family anything ever since. I am only just coming out of much of this horrible mindset now.
I mention all of the above in order to highlight my own fault, my grievous fault, in all of this. As a convert, I made many grave mistakes (all of which I have outlined in this series). Fr. Seraphim Rose highlights these rather well in some writings of his, and I have noticed two in particular that I fell into: what he refers to as academic over-intellectualism (which causes one to become detached from the actual life of the Church, the everyday realities of being a Christian), and "quenched syndrome" (discouragement, despair, etc.).7
Little did I know that the cures for these conditions were things I had already begun to do - focusing in on the interior life, reading the writings of the Fathers, ignoring the outward chaos within the Church and choosing instead to focus on the kingdom within.
In Metropolitan Anthony Bloom's excellent little work, Beginning to Pray, I came across this passage concerning his father: "I remember [my father] said to me after a holiday, 'I worried about you,' and I said 'Did you think I'd had an accident?' He said, "That would have meant nothing, even if you had been killed. I thought you had lost your integrity."8
I will not be a pew-warmer - if there is something that I do not believe is true or disagree with, I won't stay in order to "reform" the Church from within, or to simply fill the seats. I am not interested in being a reformer of the Church, nor a dissident against it, nor a polemicist who makes a career off spouting venom at the state of it. I am interested in being a Christian, in being a follower of Christ, and in having my life changed by Christ. I truly believe, as Fr. Seraphim Rose said, that the search for religious truth is "a question literally of life and death."9
Now, I am well-aware of the papal encyclicals being hurled at me by some (Unam Sanctum, Lumen Gentium, etc.), what the popes have said in the past about the Orthodox, what specifically Catholic saints and theologians have said (St. Bonaventure's remarks were particularly brutal), that from a certain point of view I am putting my soul in grave danger and eternal peril for walking on this path (the irony is that the same folks who hold this view often adore the spirituality and saints of Orthodox Christianity almost as much as I do, but when pressed, deem them "outside the Church," as schismatics and apostates, before fawning over their writings again). I console my heart with the words of St. John the Evangelist, who wrote that "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love." (1 John 4:18)
All I have ever learned from Orthodoxy is how to live a life in Christ, how to reform myself and my own heart. I have no interest in church politics of any kind, no interest in petty squabbles, all of which occur in both the Catholic and Orthodox worlds - my only goal is to have Christ change my life and my heart. Orthodox Christianity has shown me how to do this. "Within you is the battle you are to fight; the evil structure which must be torn down is within; your enemy comes from your own heart."10 (Origen)
I do not look at all of this to be a rejecting and a leaving, but a fulfilling and a deepening. I am tired of the search for Truth, because this search did not end when I became Catholic. Something has always felt missing - a deep interior relationship with and love of Christ crucified and victorious. I experienced extreme highs and lows in Catholicism, but never a deep peace within my heart. I grew tired of the tribalism and recurring liturgical nightmares within the Catholic Church (like many Catholics), but to this very moment, I would not leave Rome for any of these reasons. The grass is not greener on the other side - I have no illusions about that anymore in regards to any church or tradition. I have done much research, studying the Fathers, the papal encyclicals, the theologians, and can no longer deny what I have found.
But I am not interested in "combox" arguments, prooftexts, condemnations of anyone or anything. This post is not written to burn bridges but to build them, not to sever relationships with others but to deepen them, not to reject so much as to grow. In this spirit, though friendly advice, prayers, and thoughts are invited and most welcomed, I will not allow argumentative or negative comments to be posted - I am not interested in trolling, online debates about who is the true church, or anything else. I seek simply to follow Christ and to allow my life to be permeated and changed by Him, so that I may help bring others to Christ. Having been drawn to Orthodox Christianity for so long and in such a deep and heart-rending way, I cannot help but heed the call of love, Love Who is Eternal.
May God bless everyone and continue to show you His love and mercy. I love you all.
"The end of each discovery becomes the starting point for the discovery of something higher, and the ascent continues. Thus our ascent is unending. We go from beginning to beginning by way of beginnings without end."
-St. Gregory of Nyssa
1 - qtd. in Death to the World, Issue 3, 1994
2 - Spiritual Instructions, 16
3 - The Brothers Karamazov, VI:3
4 - qtd. in Ware, The Orthodox Way, 118
5 - qtd. in Living Without Hypocrisy pg. 3
6 - On Ascetical Life, II:2
7 - See Father Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works, ch. 88
8 - pg. 5
9 - God's Revelation to the Human Heart, 20
10 - qtd. in Spirit and Fire, 550