With New Eyes
By Else Maria Tennessen
I used to be Protestant. I am becoming Orthodox.
This is the end of a search that subconsciously began many years ago
when I noticed that I was uneasy and unhappy when I attended church (first Methodist,
then Presbyterian), even though I loved God deeply. My soul and heart kept asking, Is
there more? More to worship, more to living the Christian life, more to God?
To me, worship felt more like a town meeting or an entertainment venue.
'Communion was served infrequently. God's holiness was less popular than socio-political
agendas. There wasn't even quiet in the sanctuary-it was so loud all the time!-with folks
talking and visiting instead of realizing where they were, in the Lord's house.
The spiritual and mystical aspects of God were not even mentioned-God
had to be "figured out" and explained. Rational thought was more a god than God Himself.
The Trinity was not mentioned too often-resulting in an uneven balance between God the
Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. It seemed to me like folks were picking and choosing
what they wanted to believe and how they wanted to practice the faith.
More questions bubbled to the surface. Was this how it was in the
ancient church, in the beginning? Is this what the Lord intended? For it certainly didn't
square with Scripture in many ways.
The Apostles didn't have entertainments, giant TV screens,
megachurches, numerous creeds and variety in practice. How did the church get from the
church of Acts to where it was today? I still didn't know anything about Orthodoxy. I
didn't even know I was asking about Orthodoxy. I didn't know where to turn for the
answers, but God made a way. The Lord left a trail of breadcrumbs for me to follow,
some Orthodox, and some not.
For example, during my search, I read a book about the mystical life of
C. S. Lewis. So much of what he wrote about the "mysterious" resonated with me. But did
anyone in church talk about God's mystery and the "numinous"? Of course not-it was "not
rational" and couldn't be explained. Yet I felt the reality of it; that feeling that
there is more than what we see; that there is something 'round the bend besides our
present reality and what I was being told about God.
I discovered Rublev's ikon of the Trinity. I started asking, Why
did the artist create this ikon? What was the story behind it? The explanation, the
mystery of it, was mind-boggling. I read an article where a woman (not even an Orthodox)
derived comfort from contemplating an ikon. There was something ancient and meaningful
When I began reading church history, investigating the early church and
going back to the beginning of things, I found out that much had been left out of what I
was taught. In Protestant churches, history before the Reformation wasn't even talked
about, so I knew nothing about it. Reading history, I discovered what the early church
was about, its practices, its beliefs and the Apostolic succession. It seemed to me that
God had clearly communicated what was required of us through His Son and the Apostles and
Next, I saw an online article about a "call" back to the ancient
Christian church, ironically authored by-Protestants! It briefly mentioned Eastern
Orthodoxy as a place one could find some aspects of ancient Christianity. So I began
reading about the Orthodox church.
And the light went on. I saw with new eyes.
Indeed, this was the ancient church, the first Church, the true Church.
What had come through the Apostles was still alive. And one could still be a part of it.
Orthodoxy believed what was handed down from the Lord: that communion is actually His
Body and Blood, that there was ONE creed that everyone agreed on, that the church was
Apostolic. That the Apostles didn't start out with the Bible; there was traditional
teaching before the Scripture. I saw that Protestant reliance on sola scriptura led
to an incomplete understanding of the faith, too prone to individual interpretation. That
there was a real, liturgical way to worship God and that I could still do it. That
"being saved" meant actually doing something and living a certain way. That the Church is
us, not an institution. Most of all, I didn't have to figure out everything about God. He
was Mystery and that was okay. I read some books by Orthodox writers: Peter Gilquist,
Frederica Mathewes-Green and Timothy Ware. I knew in my heart that it was Orthodoxy was
In January of this year, I attended my first Divine Liturgy here at
St. Luke the Evangelist. And I felt God's Holiness and His Majesty. I felt in the midst
of the Sacred. It was a relief to let God be God. The rest, as they say, will be history.
I'm sure God smiled at all my realizations. Praise Him for His endless patience and mercy
in bringing me-HOME.
(Author's note: I will be chrismated October 28, 2007. Praise Him!
If you are interested in learning more about Protestantism so you can be a witness
to your friends, neighbors and coworkers, I would be delighted to talk to you.)