Monday, December 9, 2013

My Journey as a Catholic So Far, Pt. 6: Encountering the Christian East For the First Time

My patron saint.
From the very beginning, my life as an unofficial and official Catholic has been somewhat of a paradox, or at least, has fallen into a paradoxical nature.  When I was baptized, I took as my patron saint St. Anthony the Great, the most illustrious and beloved of all the Desert Fathers, and the founder of monasticism as we know it.  I remember listening to the podcast on him done by Dr. Paul Camarata of SQPN's The Saintcast over and over, ad nauseum.  Early on in my conversion process, I had ordered the Life of St. Anthony by St. Athanasius and ate it up.

My mother even experienced what I consider to be a miraculous healing due to his prayers, an event I have not been able to forget since.  In retrospect, all that had happened, the appearance of this saint in a dream to my mother (who is not even religious), the overnight healing of her ailment, even the description of him given me by my mother - all of this sounded right out of the pages of any other mystical account I have read or heard of.

As I floundered about in scholastic intellectualism and bleak existentialism, suddenly a beam of light shot through into my troubled life as a catechumen - it was from the East.  By Providence, I had come across a work entitled The Way of a Pilgrim, a book anonymously written in Russia in the 19th century.  I had no idea what the book was about - it was even just one book of many in a typical New Agey series that the book was from, on "spiritual traditions" that included the Buddhist, Hindu, and other classics of non-Christian religions.  Still, the beautiful Russian icon of Christ, and the curious burning question of how to pray unceasingly moved me to purchase it.

Orthodox Christianity had never been on the map for me in my conversion years, much less the Eastern Catholic Churches.  Growing up as a child, all I knew of Orthodox Christians was that they were usually Ukrainians and Russians, ate perogies after church, and had churches that my Mom called "onion churches" due to their characteristically-rounded domes.  That was all I knew.  As I progressed in studying history, Orthodox Christianity still remained a curious footnote - something about some man named Photius and the year 1054 A.D.  I had heard a Saintcast on Orthodox saints, but beyond that, I knew absolutely nothing.  To me, they were just ethnic churches in some far-off world, even if an Orthodox parish was just down the road. 

Now, I had read beautiful works before within the Catholic spiritual world - St. Faustina's Diary of Divine Mercy, St. Francis de Sales' Introduction to the Devout Life, and the Fioretti (Little Flowers of St. Francis) were all beloved classics that profoundly affected me.  But this one little work, so short that I read it in only a few days, cut through everything - all the intellectualism and proof-texting I had mired myself in was instantly split in two by this incredible writing.  Suddenly, the heart of Christianity was made known to me.  The peace that passes all understanding was suddenly shown to me in the pages of this book - and though much of it was new to me, I could not forget or ignore what I learned within its pages.

Shortly after finishing it, I went to Europe, where my wife and I were married in Ireland, our second home.  Travelling about Europe for two months affords one much time on the multitudinous trains and airplanes to pray.  So it was that I began for the first time, as I had done with the Rosary, to pray the Jesus Prayer.  I accepted that I knew nothing about the advanced spirituality of works like the Philokalia and St. Symeon the New Theologian - instead, I simply began, as I had done with the Rosary.  But this time was different than in those days.  I simply said the words, under my breath, in my mind, using my wooden rosary as a prayer rope.

In doing this, I found a peace come over me (just a taste of it) that I had never known before.  I took a copy of The Way of a Pilgrim with me on the journey, which sparked my interest to look up and learn about the names and concepts mentioned in it.  Soon enough, in my research, I came across St. Seraphim of Sarov, the famed Russian mystic and hermit.  I was surprised to see how he was so universally revered - Bl. Pope John Paul II, in Crossing the Threshold of Hope, refers to him as a saint, and I believe he is recognized by the Catholic Church as such due to the Russian Catholic Church.

In reading the life of this amazing saint, I came across something entirely different from any saint I had hitherto encountered in my many readings of the lives of the saints.  Though I was astounded by the little I read about, and found myself incredibly curious to learn more, I largely relegated it all to simply being "over there."  I returned from Europe a little wiser, and dead set on finishing RCIA and becoming Catholic.

5 comments:

  1. Any particular reason you weren't baptized as Jason? St. Jason is an Apostle of the 70, commemorated with St. Sosispater.

    And, dear soul, I think you are really Orthodox, but don't realize it yet! :-)

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    1. Be sure to read the next blog in this series my dear friend.

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  2. Seems that Jason has leanings towards being an Eastern Catholic, I'd say. :)

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  3. Speaking about The Philokalia, one can find that and Saint John Climacus - The Ladder of Divine Ascent at http://prudencetrue.com/ in a PDF format that can be downloaded and saved and if you have a kindle the saved PDF can then be emailed to your kindle...

    I enjoy reading your article very much and you are very blessed as a writer. Peace be with you...

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  4. Thank you for mentioning about 'The JESUS Prayer'. I went ahead and searched the Internet for it.

    I am amazed that all this time, I have never heard of it. I found it here: http://www.integratedcatholiclife.org/2011/01/kreeft-the-jesus-prayer/

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