The Line Between the Spiritual and the Physical

There's just never a good time to talk about death.

In the West, we tend to have a sense of the finality of death.  Of course, in church we acknowledge that in Christ we never die spiritually, but we still draw this very distinct line at death.  In my experience, this line is as much about the difference between the physical realm and the spiritual realm as it is about the difference between life and death.

Probably because of the tendency to make things very black and white, western Christians have a propensity to draw a sharp distinction between physical and the spiritual realities.  We may recognize that spiritual beings such as angels or demons or whatnot have an effect on the world we live in, but they are still two very separate spheres of existence.

The east, on the other hand, has a much more inter-connected view of the physical and the spiritual.  Yes, the physical world we live in is fallen - our flesh is corrupt - but we are spiritual beings.  There is no wall between these two worlds, the spiritual realm is all around us.  It is in us.  We reside in the spiritual realm everyday.  Our actions affect the spiritual world, and the spiritual world affects us.  There is no separation.

In the west, there is this sense that once someone dies, they go to this other place - totally separated from us until we die and join them.  Western Christians often speak of being with loved ones again 'some day.'  The eastern perspective on this particular situation has been of great comfort to me as of late.  There is a freedom and a joy in realizing that when a friend or family member dies, the deep and true parts of our relationships don't change.  It is true that we won't be able to sit down and have a cup of coffee with that person, or give them a giant hug like we may wish, but we are not separated from them in any spiritual sense.  We can still pray for them, and they can still pray for us.  As members of the body of Christ, nothing changes.  To echo the words that Father Victor Potapov spoke in a conversation with his mother on her deathbed, "We remain members of the one Church of Christ. While we will no longer be able to kiss you or hold your hand, we will, through our prayers, be able to kiss you and be kissed in return."

It is a beautiful thing to be able to kiss and be kissed.


Orthodoxy?! What's that?

It blows my mind how little Western Christians know about the Eastern Church.

It doesn't anger me - until February I didn't know anything either; I still don't know as much as I would like, but it really does amaze me how ignorant we are of our past.

The problem is that when people ask me about Orthodoxy, I don't really know where to begin.  It is pure, unadulterated Christianity.  Beyond that, it's hard (at least for me, in my current position) to draw fruitful parallels between the Eastern and Western Church (the Western Church being Protestantism and Roman Catholicism combined).  In the introduction to Timothy Ware's (now Bishop Kallistos Ware) often-cited book The Orthodox Church, he writes the following:

"Christians in the west, both Roman and Reformed, generally start by asking the same questions, although they may disagree about the answers.  In Orthodoxy, however, it is not merely the answers that are different - the questions themselves are not the same as the west."

This intense paradigm shift has been quite apparent to me since our first day at St. John's, and the remembrance of this statement has helped me work through a lot of questions that I've struggled with off and on during the last several months.

One of the biggest differences I've experienced in my Orthodox journey thus far, and one that is closely related to the shift mentioned above, has been the language difference.  According to my understanding, the Western Church is sometimes classified as the 'Latin Tradition,' that is, both Roman Catholicism and Protestantism are rooted in Latin.  Latin is the language of law.  It has a tendency to be black and white, right and wrong, absolute, absolute, absolute.  There is little room for mystery, acceptance of things beyond our grasp, truths beyond our understanding.  Greek, on the other hand, is a much more open language.  Some refer to it as a 'mystical' language.  There isn't this inherent drive to explain everything, to understand everything, to draw these neat little lines around every concept presented in the Holy Scriptures.

In the Orthodox Church, there is mystery, there is a beauty and a richness, there is an openness to the unknowable that I had never encountered before.  Now, that is not to say that Orthodox Christians are wishy-washy and unable to say anything definitively - on the contrary, there are doctrines laid out by the Ecumenical Councils that state quite clearly what it means to be a Christian (such as the Nicene Creed).  There is absolutely right and wrong.  What amazed (and continues to amaze) me is that there isn't an overwhelming need to explain or comprehend everything. 

We can't have all the answers.

We can't understand everything.

We can't explain God.


How We Found St. John's Greek Orthodox Church

At St. John's, like most other churches, it not uncommon for people to inquire as to how you ended up attending services there.

My answer?


This may seem a little unorthodox (sorry, I couldn't help myself), but it's the truth.

We quit attending Cross Point around the end of October in 2010, and while we were (and are) still going to our Community Group gatherings on Sunday nights, we had no desire to return to the Sunday morning services.  We were tired.  We were sick of contemporary church; sick of loud music, spectacular videos, and flashing lights (or if it would help set the mood, lights that slowly changed colors from a warm, energizing red and yellow theme, to a more relaxing, cool, blue/green motif).  It was all meaningless.

The music and the lights and the trendy videos could evoke an emotional response - sometimes.  When they did, we felt close to God, connected to something bigger.  When they didn't, church felt empty, dead, lifeless.

We were longing for substance.  Something that wasn't about emotions or 'feeling' close to God.  Modern church seemed like nothing more than emotional manipulation under the guise of spiritual enlightenment.  I truly believe that it was all done with the best of intentions, but that didn't really change anything.

In February, we finally decided that we had to go to church, but we had to find a new kind of church.  Not just a new church, with new people, a new band, and new songs...we needed a fundamental change in our spiritual journey.  The way we saw it, we had three options - Protestant, Roman Catholic, or Orthodox.  Protestantism wasn't what we needed, Roman Catholicism certainly wasn't what we needed, so Orthodoxy it was.

A quick Google search for 'Orthodox churches in Nashville' and I had the address for Saint John Chrysostom Greek Orthodox Church.

We went.


How We Left Protestantism

There was no grand "I'm not going to church anymore!" moment.  We just quit going.

We attended Cross Point Community Church for a little over two months after coming to Nashville as newly-weds.  Cross Point is a good church.  The pastor, Pete Wilson, is an excellent speaker.  His sermons are thought-provoking, intellectually rich, and contain lots to chew on throughout the week.  The church is debt free and works hard to serve and impact the community.  It was the best protestant church I'd ever attended.

But it still felt incomplete.  We had joined an amazing Community Group (which we are still blessed to be a part of), but weekly church was still a chore, a burden, an obligation; to be quite honest, church was a pain, and we eventually just slipped out of the routine.

I used to feel guilty for the way we just quit going, and the excuses we made for why we weren't going to church anymore; while our excuses may have been less-than-adequate, I can now see (and be forever thankful) that God placed that dissatisfaction in us so that we might search for the fullness that we have found in the Orthodox Church.


My Goal

I am not creating this blog for anyone in particular; I am writing this for myself.  My goal is not to convince anyone of anything; my goal is not to prove anything; my goal is not to speak on behalf of the Orthodox Church; my goal is not to educate people about the Orthodox Church; my goal is not to provide my interpretation of scripture; my goal is not to state my unwavering beliefs and my personal doctrine.  My only goal is to chronicle our journey into Orthodoxy as best I can, so that I look back and see where we have come from.

I plan on posting about things I've learned in the Orthodox Church that have challenged me, changed me, and comforted me.  Some of these things will probably not sit well with Protestants and others.  If you want to have an honest, open discussion, I am all for it, but if you want to bicker and call names and act like a child, I have no interest in conversing with you.  I don't claim to have any answers, just thoughts.

Naturally, I would love for others to benefit from this, but if no one reads it, or no one likes it, or no one agrees with it, I will be just fine with that.