"I No Longer Believe out of Fear": From Grape Juice To Red Wine Part III
Today, I’m happy to bring you a post by Kelly Cone of Our Cone Zone. Her family converted to The Orthodox Church after bouncing around in various evangelical circles for years. I find her thoughts fascinating and her story powerful. Enjoy!
1. Before Orthodox, what was your religious background?
Both my husband Jesse and I grew up together in the same small Presbyterian church. I was baptized by the age of 5, and remember it vividly since it was something I initiated and wanted. We also attended the same private Christian high school and university. Basically, we grew up very saturated in evangelical circles.
2. Can you describe the moment you knew were ready to convert to Orthodoxy?
Jesse had heard of Orthodoxy through a mutual friend of ours, but I was very weirded out by the whole thing. Icons? Saints? Holy Water? These things were so foreign to me, and anything that slightly reminded me of Catholicism sent up red flags because of my Protestant upbringing.
Finally, one Sunday, as we were finishing up our third consecutive week at a local bible church, a sermon really got under my skin. The pastor was talking about suicide and its evil grip on our society. “If you feel like giving up and killing yourself,” he said, “don’t do it. Just keep trying. And call me on Monday during my office hours but not after 5.” A pastor, nay, even a random stranger on the street, should want to know NOW or ANYTIME if someone is feeling like suicide, right? Not just during office hours?
I turned to Jesse at that moment, and I said, “Okay. I’ll visit that Ortho-whatever church with you.” We visited St. Barnabas Orthodox church in Costa Mesa eight years ago and we’ve never looked back.
3. What were the things that drew you to the liturgical church?
First and foremost, Orthodoxy doesn’t just give a nod to mystery and mysticism, they believe it wholeheartedly and take it very seriously. I have always been an all or nothing person, and consistency is key to me. If a church is going to believe that baptism is important and required before becoming a member, I want to know why. Orthodoxy has an answer for that– a spiritual transaction is taking place. It’s a Sacrament. It’s definitely not just water (as I heard one pastor repeat over and over again during the “baptism” of a friend of mine at a megachurch). If it is just water, then how dare we think it special or require it of anyone? The ritual seems arbitrary and legalistic unless it’s real.
It’s the same thing with communion– the church believed for 1600 years that it was the actual body and blood of Christ. A writer named Zwingli decided that it wasn’t and wrote out his opinion on the matter. It was published, and then mainstream Christianity slowly adopted it. I don’t think people realize how arbitrary their beliefs about communion are. Even the protestant reformers believed it was the body and blood of Christ! John Calvin actually says in his writings, “If you believe that communion is just a sign, then the devil has won.”
4. How has your relationship with God changed since joining the Orthodox church?
I can’t count the number of times I’ve been told at various chapels and churches that God despises us and that it’s only because we’re wearing “Jesus Sunglasses” that we can get into heaven. I was told by one youth pastor that we can’t pray to God, only to Jesus, because He’s the one who intercedes for us. The other day, my husband heard a chapel sermon where the pastor held out his hand and covered it with a handkerchief, saying that Jesus was the handkerchief and that without it, God would destroy us.
It wasn’t until I joined a catechesis class at St. Barnabas that I realized God, not just Jesus, loved me. He wasn’t mad at me. He doesn’t want anyone to go to hell. He doesn’t delight in our suffering (I’m referring to Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners In the Hands of an Angry God”). I think that my relationship has grown by leaps and bounds since becoming Orthodox, because I no longer believe out of fear. I love Him because I am loved.
5. There are many evangelicals who are liturgically illiterate, because we grew up in churches which taught that high church traditions were meaningless and empty. Now in our adult lives, some of us are finding ourselves drawn to liturgy as a way of worship and connection with God. What do you tell evangelicals who are interested in liturgy?
First of all, I would say that it’s going to be tough as nails. Getting used to a liturgy is hard, because they are doing things the way that they’ve been done for over a thousand years. Most Orthodox churches don’t even have chairs, for instance (there are always a few in the back or on the sides for pregnant or elderly people). At one of our churches, we didn’t even sit down for the sermon. 2+ hours of standing, every Sunday, along with 1-2 hours on Saturday night.
I remember it being so hard our first few months of being Orthodox. I would actually pace myself, trying to last longer and longer before having to find a chair. And then, one day, I realized it wasn’t hard anymore. Now we stand for hours, WHILE holding and wrangling two toddlers. Our kids stand with us the entire time– no separate nursery or church school. They are part of the body of Christ, after all, and their screams and squeals have always been accommodated, wherever we’ve gone.
However difficult one might find things at first, most evangelicals find liturgical churches so beautiful and unlike anything they’ve ever experienced. Orthodox Liturgies are 90% sung, without any instruments. I never get tired of the melodies. The words are the same, no matter which Orthodox church one attends, but the melodies will change slightly depending on whether the church is Russian, Greek, Serbian or a combination.
The biggest thing to prepare for is that the service is NOT about you. Many evangelical churches cater to the churchgoer, focusing on the experience of the individual. We visited countless churches where there were reclining chairs, coffee shops, light shows, power points, and other things all intended to comfort and couch. But it’s called a “Worship Service” not “Worship Show” for a reason. If you were to visit an Orthodox church, for instance, the priest hardly ever faces the congregation. Nobody faces a worship team. The choir is always in the back, behind a screen, or up above where no one can see them. You only face the altar, because it’s not about any individuals or any human emotions.
And yet. Be prepared to cry. Lots. It will hit you out of nowhere. One minute you’ll be fine, and the next minute, some phrase, some truth floating along the melody, will hit you in the gut or will heal something deep within your soul, and you’ll be crying. I’ve seen it happen to myself and so many others that I’ve come to expect it. The Holy Spirit and all the Saints are there, worshipping side by side with you, and it’s a powerful, life-changing experience that keeps you coming back for more.