Why do I do it? Why am I a practicing Orthodox Christian. It’s not because it’s the true faith, the oldest form of Christianity, faithful to the teaching and worship of the ancient Church. It is these things, but that’s not why I’m a practicing Orthodox Christian. It’s possible to be convinced of the verity of Orthodox Christianity and still not want to be Orthodox. An acquaintance of mine is also convinced that Orthodox Christianity is the true faith, that it’s authentic ancient Christianity. However, he does not want to become an Orthodox Christian. My acquaintance doesn’t want to become an Orthodox Christian because, as he put it, Orthodox Christianity is like Shakespeare in the original, while he compared the version of Christianity to which he belongs to Shakespeare simplified for eighth-graders (which seems to me to be a big insult to English speaking thirteen-year olds everywhere). I don’t think the comparison of Orthodox Christianity to Shakespeare is as helpful as he does, but that was the image my acquaintance used.
For him, the church, what he calls the church, needs to be accessible, relevant, easily relatable. That’s why my acquaintance stays in his heterodox Christian world even though he is convinced that Orthodox Christianity is the original, the true Church.
So if I’m not an Orthodox Christian because it is the true, historic Christian Church, why am I an Orthodox Christian, particularly a practicing Orthodox Christian?
I am an Orthodox Christian because in the Orthodox Church I have found a way to be a Christian that actually changes me, that actually helps me to know and worship God, know and discipline (as in disciple) myself, and helps me to know and love my neighbour. But the secret is, you have to practice it. There is no magic in the holy chrism or the water of baptism. There is only an invitation, an open door, the beginning of a way.
It’s not an easy way. It’s Shakespeare in the original. It takes more effort than a graded reader. It takes some study, involves some frustration, and includes a lot of wondering about what it all means. It has to be practiced. The stomach has to growl during lent. The legs have to be tired. Your schedule has to be adjusted. You have to weep.
But the beauty is worth it. The terrible revelations of my own wickedness are worth it. The growing knowledge of my own soul, the insight into our common human weakness creating a deep pity (a species of love, Shakespeare tells us) for my neighbour, and the ongoing exercise of spiritual disciplines helping me increasingly to see my passions while they are yet thoughts and before they overwhelm me, all of these are worth it.
That’s why I’m a practicing Orthodox Christian.