Sunday, February 14, 2021

Letters to my children - Letter 1: Introduction and a Confession.


Letter for my children - Letter 1

Introduction and a Confession.

This is the first of a series of letters I am planning to send you about our faith. I send these with love. I hope you will engage with me in a dialog.

I begin with a confession.

When I was much younger God was not central in my life. I was Orthodox in name only. I did not go to church regularly, I did not fast nor have periodic confession with a priest. I did always have a sense that there was some higher power, but it was one that remained a distant mystery. At times I wondered if there was a God and if there was a way to know Him. I was brought up in the United Methodist church where the emphasis was on social activities. I don’t remember having any serious spiritual guidance. My pastor only told me there were many paths without explaining any of them. I did search for spiritual knowledge. I investigated Buddhism and various forms of Hinduism. I learned passage meditation from an Indian guru. All the while I kept my minimal contact with the Orthodox Church. 

I did not realize the answer to my seeking was right under my nose in the Orthodox Church. I inherited Orthodoxy by marriage. Mom’s family had a faith that was a solid foundation for how they lived. For them Church and life activities were all integrated. At the time of marriage I had the idea that there were many paths, and it really didn’t matter. So becoming Orthodox was not a major choice. At that time, the idea of needing God to guide me was suppressed.  I felt self-sufficient and assumed I would live forever. As a result my faith was weak. Because of this low spiritual condition, I now do not feel I  was capable of fulfilling my duty as a father to give my children the right instruction and encouragement for their faith development. 

It wasn’t until I was about 50 years old that the reality of being mortal raised questions about the purpose of life. Going to church periodically I was subconsciously being influenced by the Orthodox way of thinking. About 50, most people begin pondering the purpose of life. They begin to realize this life will not last forever. Those who are fortunate learn that this life is only a preparation for the eternal life to come. It was at this time that I learned by experience that God was truly Jesus Christ, and it was by surrender to the way of life taught by the Church that one could come to know Him. I learned that the idea that you can know God and be united with Him is a central truth held by the Orthodox faith. It is fundamental in the Orthodox way of thinking. One is awakened to this reality, and then with faith, coupled with a detachment from self-centered passions that guide our worldly life, one discovers the true path to be united with God. I discovered I had a sick soul that required healing. To my joy I discovered that this was the purpose of the Church Christ established, the Orthodox Church. How lucky I was brought into it through marriage.

The moment I realized that the Church was God’s way to know and be united with Him, I sought out spiritual guidance through a priest and began to follow the way of life given to us by Christ through the Church. This was not an intellectual process of knowing the right doctrine but a gradual development of a way of thinking, where the mystical nature of our being comes to the forefront. It did not require giving up my worldly duties, but allowed something greater than my worldly mind to work on my soul in a loving way. I began to know my soul as distinct from my brain. 

Studying its history, I found that the Orthodox Church has preserved this wholistic, mystical, and integral way of thinking that passed on through the Apostles unchanged. You can feel it even when you enter an Orthodox Church. All the icons communicate a heavenly message. The smell of incense, the singing of the hymns, and that intoning of the prayers, lift you up from the normal daily experience. You sense that there is something sacred that lives here. 

The Orthodox mind is one that is quite different from the dominant way of thinking of our modern western society. It was totally different from the religion taught in the Methodist Church. It’s very difficult to explain, but I realized that as you begin to follow the way of the Church you begin to discover it and are gradually transformed. The difference becomes unmistakably clear. We do begin with a similar belief in the truth found in the Gospels and summarized in the Creed we recite in our services.

In these letters I want to start a dialog. I know you are good children and grandchildren and have good values. You have the seeds of an Orthodox mind even though it may not yet be fully developed. I am very proud of all of you. I want you to know what I have learned.

Developing this higher way of thinking, knowing we can know God, and accepting that the Church is the place where we will be developed and healed spiritually, is the aim of this series of letters. They describe a way that is more than becoming a good person, but is about a life centered on Christ coupled with a desire to be united with Him with love, now and after our earthly life ends. We call this Theosis.

I only wish I was able to share this with you earlier, but as the Lord tells us, it’s never too late.

Please reply to this email to ask questions or offer comments. I will respond to all your comments. In another week I will send another letter, and the dialog will continue. Please remember my own deviant path, and don’t let me make you feel feel defensive. I only wish I had discovered what I know now earlier as I would have been a better person to deal with all the trials and tribulations of this life and be closer to God and more hopeful of eternal life with Him. 

Accept this dialog with the love of a proud father and grandfather.

I look forward to seeing your questions. I know you will have some.

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