A Frustrating Imperfection

Many converts eventually reach a certain state: the realization that the Church – both present and historically – is full of sinful scoundrels. Orthodoxy in books often leaves the impression that we’ve got it all together. Alas, we don’t – and I am one of the scoundrels, I must admit.

There are various paths that people take on their journey toward Orthodoxy. Some walk into a church service, and like the ambassadors from Prince Vladimir in the Hagia Sophia, they aren’t certain whether they are in heaven or still on earth. The beauty washes over them and they are in tears.

Others such as myself, approach the faith in a more intellectual manner, reading many books and wrestling with both history and dogma. There’s no one correct way to sincerely come to the faith – though a good catechism is important.

THE CHURCH OF THE IMPERFECT

A lesson that I learned in my historical studies is that, while the Christian Church was still quite young, in the third century, the entire Church came to a bit of a crisis point. Persecution was heavy and disgustingly brutal in the mid-200’s. Many people fell away from the faith because they couldn’t endure torture; others were never tortured but merely threatened with the instruments and broke down. When the persecution relented and Christians were granted a bit more freedom, the question arose, “What do we do with all of these lapsed Christians who want to come back?”

Our kind and loving Lord Himself said, “Whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 10:33). Many Christians concluded, therefore, that if someone denies Christ, they have excommunicated themselves from the Church. The lapsed were not condemned to hell, but were told that they would have to sort things out with God in the end.

However, not all Christians felt that way. In fact, most of those who had been tortured or who were being held in prison for their faith felt that there should be grace for those who have fallen. Their argument was essentially that the Church is to be a hospital for sick souls and not an institution of the perfect. Fortunately, their side won the debate.

WORKING ON OURSELVES

Back to today. The Church is full of scoundrels, of which I am one. There are scandals, schisms, fighting, back-biting, prideful priests, power-grabs, and every sort of trouble. But through all of this, God continues to guide His Bride in the Holy Spirit. Those who are content to work out their own salvation will hardly even notice the drama around them (unless it directly impacts them). They keep their heads out of the gossip, they focus on prayer, and day-by-day, the Holy Spirit renews them and makes them a little bit more alive.

Such is the calling for all of us, and such is the road to peace.  St. Seraphim of Sarov famously said, “Acquire the Spirit of peace and a thousand around you will be saved.”  Such peace comes through tearful and honest repentance; a thorough look at our own soul, a sigh of discontentment, and a knowledge that there is work to do.

I think God loves it when we come to such a place, when we say, “Lord have mercy, I really am a mess!”  He says, “Yes, and I know just how to clean you up.  Don’t give up, keep coming back each time you fall.  I never get tired of seeing you stand back on your feet.  As long as you are determined to go down swinging at the devil, you will find that I am there to catch you and carry you into Paradise in the end.”

I once heard a story about a highly regarded monk. A woman came up to him when he was speaking somewhere – she was quite irritated. She complained that she couldn’t find the perfect church. He listened patiently to her stories of frustration before telling her with a smile, “If you find the perfect church, don’t join it. Or else it won’t be perfect anymore.”


Image credit: Orthodox Church of St. Michael the Archangel in Turzańsk, southern Poland by CitizenFresh on Deviantart.

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Jeremiah

I grew up Protestant, but found my home in the ancient Orthodox Church while in my 20's. I'm now a seminary student and I keep this blog going to encourage those who are trying to deepen their walk with Christ.

4 thoughts on “A Frustrating Imperfection”

  1. Thank you for writing this, I have been REALLY struggling in regards to some challenges our family is having in Church. We have been wondering is this really what God has for us, were we really hearing him when we were “lead” to Orthodox Christianity. I studied for many years before I ever set foot in a Church, when I began attending it was wonderful. The first parish we were apart of was so loving and welcoming. We are a family of color and it is a traditional eastern European Church. We experienced no racism, it was truly filled with the love of Christ. We stopped attending because my husband wasn’t interested in converting and the Priest wasn’t comfortable baptizing my children and I without my husband. So after much prayer and time I began attending another Church and Praise God our whole family was received into the Church. We know God led us here but it is soooo hard. We are one of two black families at a historically Middle Eastern parish, I have never felt so unwelcome at a Church. There are some white parishioners and that kinda balances it out. It’s not everyone but my goodness, if I was someone else I would think Christianity was the last place someone should be. Thank God a few years ago a wonderful monk I have known since childhood looked me in the eye (I had never shared my struggles with him) and said “You are here for Liturgy, the Sacraments and Jesus Christ, you are not here for the people, if you never set foot downstairs for a cup of coffee that’s okay. Remember this.” I struggle daily with all kinds of feelings about my experience. I beg the Lord for forgiveness when I get angry or have hurt feelings, when judging my fellow parishioners for their bad behaviors. To help his Church not be an Ethnic social club and help us all heal and recognize each other as brother’s and sister’s in Christ Jesus. I pray for my priest because I don’t feel he catechized us well and leads as a spiritual father. I have confessed all these things and thank the Lord for the sacrament of confession, all these things were eating me up inside. It’s hard to talk to some of my other Christian friends and family about this, we have the greatest most diverse Presbyterian Church that our children attend school with, so no one could understand why in this day and age we would stay in such a xenophobic environment. I trust God who led me out of the occult, Islam and false religion so will strive to follow this narrow path with the prayers of the Virgin and all the Saint’s. I apologize for rambling but when I saw this post I was flooded with all these feelings about my struggles in Orthodoxy. God bless and have a Blessed Lent.

    In Christ Jesus

    Hannah

    1. Dear Hannah, I am so very, very sorry to hear about your struggle with racist parishioners. Before heading to seminary, I came from a church with mostly white people, but there were black families and Asians as well. It was a nice “all-American mix.” There are even two young black men here at seminary, one who is now a priest and the other who will be soon. I say this just to encourage you that while racism exists and is a HUGE problem in some communities, there are also quite a few churches where all of God’s children are embraced with open arms. I am inspired and encouraged to hear that you all are hanging in there. Please keep doing so! You are in my prayers.

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