The title of this post seems rather ominous and almost out of place on an Orthodox blog site. Nevertheless, fear is real, and I’m not necessarily referring to the sort of fear one encounters in a horror film, or while being mugged. In both of these instances you pretty much know what’s causing your fear. I’m talking genuine fear of the unknown.
When I was in the third grade I won the class spelling bee. This meant that I was supposed to go on and compete against the other third grade classes in school, on stage in front of everyone. That was the first — and last, now that I think about it — time I suffered from stage fright. I had no previous experience that gave me good reason to not want to go on stage. In fact, I had no idea at all what it would be like. Nevertheless, I chickened out, and the person from my class who took second place went in my stead. The person didn’t do too well, and my class was none too pleased with me. I regretted it immediately. I’m pretty sure that moment helped shape me into who I am today; someone more willing to confront the fear instead of running from it, and always willing to speak publicly if called upon. That experience also allows me to recognize that same type of fear when I see others confronted with Orthodoxy.
I’ve had more than my fair share of clumsy attempts trying to explain what Orthodoxy is. For all of you who are Orthodox, you know that’s like trying to place the ocean in a bucket (if you would allow me to borrow, dear St. Augustine). Orthodoxy, for me, can best be explained as “the fullness of the Christian faith”. That’s it. Bingo. Spot-on. Can’t capture it any better. Nevertheless, regardless of how true this phrase may be, it’s pretty much impossible to use without giving off an air of “my faith is better than yours” or at least being perceived as doing such. Then one is stuck trying to give historical example after historical example of why the Early Church did what it did, while reminding folks that the Early Church was, in fact, one Church. A lot of my Protestant friends have a hard time looking at the Church through anything other than the glasses their own culture gave them. It is during these times I have to remember that I wasn’t very different before I converted to Orthodoxy.
I’m part of a young adults Bible study that’s ecumenical in its format. In fact, I’m the only Orthodox member of the group. I want to say from the beginning that this group is comprised of some people that I would categorize as unabashedly gung ho for Jesus, and love Him very, very much. Their knowledge of the Bible is impressive, and something I wish more European Orthodox would pursue. We were recently having a comparative look at the Old Testament canons of the Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant Bibles. I was mentioning that we in Orthodoxy had a larger number of books in our canon of Old Testament (the Septuagint. Click here for the list) that we consider Scripture. I also mentioned that the Old Testament apocrypha should not be confused with the New Testament apocryphal books that are often mentioned (think Dan Brown “Da Vinci Code”-type hidden gospels), when a member of the group said that they hoped we wouldn’t be reading from any of those “extra” books in the Old Testament. I hadn’t planned on doing anything like that at all, but couldn’t help but ask “Why not?” The response was a cross between they didn’t consider them Scripture (because of their church’s tradition) and they simply didn’t want to. It was like they were afraid they would be possessed at the very reading of them. The expression on the person’s face, and the tone of voice they used reminded me very much of someone I was very familiar with: me in the third grade. The person had never read any of the books before, or at least ever admitted reading them, yet they seemed fearfully bent on avoiding reading them at all costs. The fact that Orthodoxy has been around since Christ and the Apostles didn’t seem to matter, nor did it matter that the Orthodox canon of Old Testament Scripture I was referring to is the very one that Christ and His Apostles quote in the New Testament. Then that hard, honest side of me kicked in. It was one thing to have someone who follows Christ fear of the unknown, but it was another thing altogether knowing some of my atheist friends would show more willingness to hear about the entire Old Testament canon of Orthodoxy than some Protestants I know. That was both sobering and personally jarring.
I have no happy ending or clever comeback I gave to write about. If anything I’ll close with an admission of realization. As much as I want the world to know about Orthodoxy, I realize I must be prepared for rejection not only from non-believers, but believers of other traditions inside Christianity as well. Such a thing must’ve been exactly what Sts Irenaeus and Tertullian wanted to avoid, and why they fought heresies with as much vigor as they did. I say, “Lesson learned”. I will walk more gingerly in this area. Indeed I must.