Life in cyberworld:

A letter to Theophilus from Des Moines by way of Fayetteville, N.C.

A young man's journey to Orthodoxy from Anglicanism

THE FOLLOWING LETTER was received via electronic mail from a reader in Des Moines, Ia., who read a series of Theophilus columns reprinted from the Times in the bulletin of a church in Fayetterville, N.C., whose pastor found them on the Times Online electronic edition of the paper on the Internet worldwide web.

—Theo

Dear Theophilus,

I have been following your column lately through the newsletter of St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Fayetteville, N. C. Your recent discussion of Eastern Orthodoxy...has particularly intrigued me.

I grew up in the Episcopal Church and was a devoted member until college. I, too, found the example of the average Episcopalian to be less than inspiring and the theological coherency to be dubious. Thankfully, my mother was a Roman Catholic by upbringing and my priest was evangelical, so I managed to learn a traditional Anglicanism.

Toward the end of my freshman year at Grinnell College in Iowa, I decided that the ECUSA was not for me. I happened upon a magazine published under the auspices of the Antiochian Evangelical Orthodox Mission about this same time and was enthralled.

They seemed to burn with Pentecostal fire, hold to Evangelical doctrine and worship in the Catholic tradition, just as the Episcopal Church claimed it did! This was an exciting "whole" rather than the tepid compromise that had been my experience of Anglicanism.

During my college years, I continued to study Eastern Orthodoxy and Christian history in general. I also was became vice-president of my Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship group. That position was a joy, as it allowed me to be part of a unique group of Christians who truly laid aside their theological differences.

However, those differences remained in our lives, and I became painfully aware of Christendom's division and of the serious claims that each denomination makes. As a Russian major, I finally had the opportunity to live in an Orthodox culture and to be around Orthodox Christians every day. It may disappoint you to find that Dostoyevsky portrayed mostly the best of Russian Orthodoxy and that Alexander Solzhenitsyn divorced his wife in order to marry his secretary.

However, I found that Orthodoxy is the more beautiful because it does involve human beings. More and more I appreciate it because it teaches the right things rather than containing only perfected people. It was inspiring to see the devastated Russian Church recapture the dream of God's perfection despite it's disillusionment. For that same reason, I have finally left the Episcopal Church.

Since the beginning of Lent 1995, my wife and I have been attending a local Greek Orthodox Church. The congregation is united in its dream of perfection in Christ, usually termed "deification" or "theosis," and in the fullness of its belief and worship. It is still the same collection of sinful human beings that every parish is.

However, its members believe that they are new creatures in Christ through baptism, and most are consciously committed to the fulness of life in Christ and the Father and Holy Spirit as taught by the Church. While some of the dualism you described exists in our parish, the parish is still committed to the dream of being Christ's Holy Bride.

It's this committment to the historical mission of the Church that seems to ultimately separate Eastern Orthodoxy from Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. As in my wife's and my marriage, the unforgiveable sin is to grow so hard-hearted and cynical that one stops attempting to communicate and live by that mysterious dream that is God's love in true community.

Protestantism has chosen a coexistence creed and balance-of-powers approach to resolving divine matters, which is found in most remarried couples. Catholicism is committed to one party always being right, found in may couples as well.

Eastern Orthodoxy still believes that people can resolve questions and come to a stronger unity through the love that God mystically provides in relationship with Him. This is more than method though. It strikes me as the Truth that Jesus Christ claimed he would be for anyone who came to Him in humility.

Life is not yet perfect for us. One day in Heaven, I believe and hopefully pray that it will be perfected in us. Grace and peace in God, who is truly united in true community.

—Jamie Magruder

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© 1995 Jon Kennedy