Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Journey Home

This article was published in our parish newsletter in March, 2006

I (and my wife) were born into Lutheran homes, and we were baptized as infants in the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Both of our families were active in their Lutheran congregations, and both of us were raised in “traditional” Lutheran homes.

At the age of about 13, when I was confirmed, my pastor suggested that I consider becoming a Lutheran pastor. I’d never even though of this before. My education began in High School, continued through Junior College and Senior College, and culminated with four years at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. I left the seminary in April of 1972, and was ordained in that month. Karon and I were married in 1968, and our daughter Tracey was born in 1972, son David was born in 1976, both in Cedar Rapids Iowa.

As a Lutheran pastor, I served parishes in Mt. Vernon, Iowa, Troy, Michigan, and finally in Glen Carbon, Illinois. The first and last parishes were “traditional,” in that the Lutheran Liturgy was followed, and Christian growth and training was based the Small Catechism of Dr. Martin Luther and the Lutheran Confessions. The church in Troy, Michigan followed “church growth” techniques of various protestant groups and abandoned even the historic liturgy and teaching of the Lutheran Church.

In the last two decades of my ministry and life as a Lutheran, I was very much concerned that the “deposit of truth” be maintained. My parish in Glen Carbon was liturgical and celebrated Eucharist every Sunday and on feast days. I offered Confession and Absolution, although not many received this. I encouraged daily disciplined prayer, and as I grew in my understanding of the Fathers, encouraged reading and studying them.

However, within Lutheranism, particularly the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, the Confessions of the Church were given lip service, while practically speaking they were abandoned. Although Confession and Absolution were part of what Lutherans confess, the official church body didn’t require the practice. Increasing, any semblance of the historic western liturgy gave way to “pick and choose” when it came to worship. Rather than seeing improvement in these things, or any sort of repentance, things were glossed over. A number of my colleagues and I became very much concerned that Lutheranism, in particular the Missouri Synod, was akin to the Titanic. Everyone was always waiting for the next convention or the next administration to “fix” things, but it didn’t get better.

It couldn’t get better because when one asks wrong questions, one gets wrong answers. And where truth is obscured or made relative, there can be no freedom, but only a constant movement here and there. Prayers and Liturgy are replaced by high sounding doctrinal discussions which leave the people behind and which are aimed only at scoring points. And this is not what the Nicene Creed means when it says “one, holy, catholic and apostolic.” That phrase of the creed has always been very important to me, and to a number of my colleagues. We believed that this Church was visible (not invisible, some idealistic hoped for reunion), alive, well – and as our Lord Christ says: the gates of hell did not prevail against it.

We wrestled with the fact that seriously reading the Confessions of the Lutheran church indicated that there really shouldn’t be a “Lutheran” church at all: for the Reformers were demonstrating that they were actually one with the ancient church. Indeed, it is clear that they would hold to the ancient fathers, to that which the Church had handed down. Their claim was that Rome had ceased doing that – thus a call for Reform!

Three plus years ago, our small group began discussion which included Orthodox of the Antiochean Archdiocese, among them Fr Gordon Walker, one of a group of people from Campus Crusade for Christ that discovered the Fathers, formed an “orthodox” church body, and then discovered that there was an Orthodox Church, the ancient Church. We wrestled and prayed. Initially, although we certainly found large areas of agreement, we were pretty much convinced that Lutherans could still function.

Our prayers and study continued, amidst the crumbling Lutherans. All of us were very much concerned that the Office of the Holy Ministry (the Priesthood) was more often than not not seen as ordained by Christ and given to His Church. Pastors were defined as those selected to carry out things given to every Christian to do. They were literally hired and fired. All of us were very much in the minority in our church body regarding the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Theotokos. Most treated her ever virginity as a “pious opinion, ‘ in spite of the fact that the Church East and West confessed and taught this from the apostolic times.

Lutherans are run by a congregational polity. This is to say that a local congregation has autonomy and can do pretty much as it pleases. Indeed, the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod is a “voluntary assembly of congregations,” NOT the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. And as such a body, it really has no bishops. It even uses language that says that every pastor (priest) is a bishop – directly contradicting the teaching of the Fathers and the Church through the ages.

I have wrestled with these things increasingly in these last years. I’ve seen the church body in which I was raised split into many warring factions, its polity becoming a corporate giant concerned with survival and success as the world counts such things. Where was the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church?

And then, in February of 2005, our little group held a retreat at Dormition Monastery in Rives Junction, MI. I was overwhelmed as the Sisters sang the hours, beginning at 5 am, lasting until 7:30 am. I was touched by the Spirit at meals in which idle chatter was non-existent, and during which Fr. Roman Braga read from St Maximos the Confessor. And in evening discussions, this man who had survived Soviet solitary confinement and called it a blessing radiated the quiet peace and love of Christ. We were all deeply moved as Archbishop NATHANIEL spoke with us at an evening “banquet.” He treated us with love and respect and spoke of Christ and His Church in a way that I’d never seen in any President or official of a Lutheran Church Body. It was shortly after this that for me, my journey to Orthodoxy changed from “if” to “when.”

Indeed, one of my parishioners, the man who is now my Godfather, said to me on more than one occasion in the last half of 2005 (after he returned to the Church), “You are Orthodox. How can you continue to serve at a Lutheran altar.” Karon and I were talking (it was probably mostly me at that time) in June already about my increasing discomfort with what calls itself Lutheran.

And then, at Greek Fest this past September, met Fr. Dumitru. He and I “clicked” as they say. Indeed, I felt a closer kinship to him than I did to many of my Lutheran colleagues in office! What a joy that meeting was!

Now the question was “when.” Through some rather harrowing experiences in the fall of 2005, my lovely wife and I determined that the time had come to leave our Lutheran heritage for Orthodoxy. I won’t say much about that time, except that it became very clear that Lutherans have no proper bishops, and that pastors are treated by so many as hirelings. It also became clear that God was moving: He provided very supportive, loving and loyal families (I hope that many of them will soon join us), and the Church has now received us. Fr Dumitru’s “Welcome Home” after our Chrismation on February 6th brought tears of joy and relief.

The Church has indeed survived the onslaughts of hell! And despite the follies and foibles of sinful creatures, the Divine Liturgy continues to give faith! You can be certain that the Church remains in her Heirarchs, Bishops and Priests concerned and sworn to guard the deposit of Truth! Never take that for granted! For here, Christ is in our midst.

“We have seen the true Light. We have received the Heavenly Spirit.

We have found the true Faith, in worshipping the indivisible Trinity,

for He hath saved us.”

Ezekiel +


DebD said...

I appreciate getting to read your story. And I'm glad that you have begun blogging.

I look forward to reading more.

herbdove said...

Thank you for your post Ezekiel. As a former LCMS member myself--now Orthodox--I appreciate the struggles you went through (and probably still go through to a lesser extent). Myself, through a little research, I have learned that my family namesake has been Lutheran since the reformation, so it wasn't a quick step for me either.

Welcome home!

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Thanks very much for sharing your story. I so admire people who take such a difficult journey.