Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Convert Crisis

     As some of you know I came into the church through the back door. What I mean is my decision to follow Jesus Christ really had nothing to do with a specific Church. In fact, all that I really had to make my decision were certain elements that could found in our Christian culture. You could say that with only a few prayers that I learned from a Catholic neighbor and a bible I set out to follow the Lord. I did this not knowing what a Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox church was and had no grasp of the division. All I wanted to do was love Christ, which at the time I expressed by going to a different church every day. However, not to long after my commitment to Christ I was told that I was not really a follower of Him by various members of the different traditions because I was not affiliated with their churches.
     It wasn’t long in my journey that I learned about the significance that divisions had in forming a Christian identity. For even someone like myself who heard the message of Christ and began to call on Him in faith it seemed for some that what truly mattered was where it happened. This is of course had damaging effects on my relationship with God and I hate to say this but especially when I got involved in a Roman Catholic community{not saying there all like this}. It was there that I was told to some degree that I was not fully a Christian before because I was not part of the "True Church". Consequently, all that experience of Jesus Christ up until my time in the Roman church was called into question. For if I was not part of the True Church than the obvious result was I did not have Christ because Jesus is one with the Church. In looking for answers to this crisis that I developed I was told many things. Among them were that there was no salvation outside of the Church and even non-catholics can have parts of Christ. In the end I was left struggling with no real answers.
    This struggle that I had went on up until the time that I developed a firm foundation in the Byzantine tradition. It was there that I became rescued from a Christ that was constantly divided up into elements or pieces, which made Christ only available based on the affiliation with those elements. I think it was St. Diadochos in the Philokalia that help rescue me from this when he said that we receive all of what God is when we make that decision to follow Him(Philokalia v1 pg 279). The scriptures emphasize this very thing where it says, "For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved (Rom. 10:13)". As a result, I learned that there is never a time when we are incomplete in our relationship with God. No matter where or how we begin in Him we find the reality of the Church manifesting through Christ in us.
     As we Byzantines sing sometimes in our liturgies "all you who have been baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ". In this expression there is no East or West or even Protestant or Catholic for the gift of God has no boundaries. At no point does God hold himself back in His giving of His Spirit. For all who have received Christ receive the whole thing. Rather, it is us that sometimes hinders our communion with God because of sin, which is manifested in our divisions. Personally, I am now convinced that when I made that commitment to Christ many years ago outside of any church I received the whole thing. However, what I did not receive was the means to help me grow in the experience of it. There is no doubt that I had Him but it took many years to understand what St. Seraphim said about the Christian life, which is a life of acquiring more of the Holy Spirit.
     When the saint speaks of more he does not mean that we have less of God but rather we must learn to assimilate our humanity to the gift of God that we have. The easiest way to describe this is to envision our human nature as a building with many rooms. It is up to us to let God into all these rooms through our repentance. It is only then that we begin to share in a more complete way the gift of who He is. In essence, the gift of God does not change but rather our experience of it does. It is for this reason that God in His mercy has made many ways to lead us into repentance so that we can grow in our experience of Him.
     In my journey I have looked for various ways that would allow me to grow in Him. I guess you could say this is a reason why I am a Byzantine Catholic. For in this tradition I have discovered the best ways that help me personally grow in my relationship with God. Also, what I have discovered in this journey is that personal spiritually goes hand and hand with a communion with other Christians. In my opinion the Catholic Church in all its diversity has the gifts from God to bring about real and lasting communion. In saying this I wish to note that other Christians are in no way lacking in the experience of God or have less of Him. For this reason people that join the Catholic church after being baptized in other Christian communities are technically not converts but rather are people now sharing a greater communion.
     In my own life I believe this to be the case. For instead of converting from one church to another I see myself as growing in communion with the Church. However, even though I believe that I have arrived at my spiritual home I don’t see this growth at the end. As long as were divided as Christians we see a communion net yet achieved and one we need to work toward. With this in mind , I recall the Patriarch of Constantinople saying once to Blessed John Paul the Great that, " the future of Christian unity should not be envisioned as an organizational or structural model, or as a "leveling" of various Christian traditions, but as a spiritual communion lived by all churches". I think we can do this if we start to recognize what we all share within. When we stop comparing and contrasting the reality of Christ. For what we all share is a gift.

4 comments:

  1. ..great post Ric,your heart is good..
    "it is us that sometimes hinders our communion with God because of sin, which is manifested in our divisions"..yes,i agree...and sadly it's the so called men of God(preachers/priests/bishops)that foment these divisions because of their inflated Ego's and personal pipe dreams of greatness..its interesting to look at the contrast between how first century believers practiced communal worship of God and then later,after "The Way" was divided up into organized religious factions/sects by ambitious power hungry men...I feel its an abomination to the Body of Christ...I heard a wise man once say that the Bible is meant to lead us to God and then once we have found God we may safely lay aside the Holy writ and allow/permit the Holy Spirit/The Comforter to guide and teach us all things of God..i think that is profound.."for the Kingdom of God is within you"... ,(mike)

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    1. Mike, there is no one person we can blame for divisions. In some ways we all need to take responsibility because we all sin. As far as what you're saying about the bible I must strongly say that your belief is a deception. The scriptures when read in spirit and truth continually lead us into the experience of God. I have been reading the scriptures on a regular basis for about 16 years. There has never been a point when I felt it was time to put them down. I find that they continually speak to me the identity of God and at the same time make possible in my life paths to greater experience Him through repentance.

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  2. Ric,your taking my quote from the wise man in a literal sense,dont do that!:)Its message is much deeper than that.A literal interpretation only mimics the error of the Pharisees,who strived to keep/observe the Letter of the Law but entirely missed the Spirit or intent of its message..The Spirit never leads us to division(s)and strife,but the Letter can and does through our propensity and inclination toward sinful behavior (Ego?).
    I rarely intentionally sit down for the purpose of reading the Bible anymore,but i used to :).Im a voracious reader of spiritual material(books/articles ect),all of which include various scriptural texts and topics..once I have read a text or passage then the Holy Spirit is fully capable of bringing to remembrance what i have read *if and when i need it*..this is totally a function of Gods Spirit working in/through me and not my own ability of memory or recall..so it is not necessary to spend long hours or a lifetime memorizing verses and chapters or digging around hoping for a glimmer of hidden meaning.Meaningful insight and wisdom into the mind/Word of God can come only by Direct Revelation of the Holy Ghost..sorry for the extended train of thought..,mike.

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  3. I'm sorry Mike but Ric is right- your ideas are indicative of spiritual deception, or what the Orthodox would call prelest (in the Russian tradition). Countless men and women have been misled through the ages precisely because they insisted on following "the Spirit." But we have to ask, which spirit is leading you? Of course, sincere Christians would always insist they were following the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Holy Trinity, but humans, being fallen creatures, are open to the manipulation and crafty deceptions of demons. Don't forget that the Devil can appear as an angel of light, and can quote Scripture, all for the purposes of deceiving us. And why do we fall for his lies and deception? Because we are proud and refuse to submit to the authority of Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church. These have been left as safeguards for us by God so that we do not lose our way in our blindness.

    The mere existence of thousands of people around the world, all of whom claim they follow the Holy Spirit, and yet who disagree with and contradict each other should serve as a warning to us all of how easy it is for an individual to fall prey to spiritual deception.

    I would encourage you to do some in depth reading of Catholic or Orthodox teaching on the place of Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition in the life of a Christian.

    L.M.

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