“And Yahweh said to Abram, “Go out from your land and from your relatives, and from the house of your father, to the land that I will show you.”
“We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth, for on earth there is no such splendor or beauty, and we are at a loss to describe it. We only know that God dwells there among humans, and their worship is fairer than the ceremonies of other nations.… And we cannot forget that beauty. Every man who has partaken of sweetness will not afterwards accept bitterness, and so we can no longer remain apart from it.”
Russian Ambassadors (987), in a report to Prince Vladimir of Kiev.
Some 1033 years later, I was circling the parking lot of an Orthodox Church, trying to see inside.
First things first, let’s go back about 15 years.
When I stepped through the doors of AA for the second and last time I was very, very angry at God. Fist shaking, name calling, pissed-off angry. I had wanted to be an Episcopal Priest. Did not happen. Settled for being a Pastor. We won’t even get into that. So, with family in tow, we moved back home and forget all about my ministerial dreams and desires. I worked numerous jobs and began to drink. God had left me up for grabs. So, I grabbed for liquor and the assorted party favors. I don’t know when it happened but somewhere along the way I lost my moorings and began to drift on the sea of alcohol. Some 20 years later, an idolatrous drunk, I would return to AA.
My first 3-4 years in AA I worked Steps 1-3 and came to realize that I did not know how to live and that God had not walked away from me, I had walked away from Him. Of course I did not know how to live. I decided to try Church one more time. I opened my fist.
I returned to the Episcopal Church of my youth. But, it was no longer The Episcopal Church of my youth. I tried some new churches, but they were too new for me.
I had been raised on liturgy. I knew God through liturgy. I loved God through liturgy. I needed liturgy. It was the reason of my mind and the song of my heart. Yet now it was nowhere to be found.
In college, long before marriage and children I had entertained an nurtured a monastic sensibility and calling. Maybe there was something there for my liturgical longings. I already had a makeshift prayer rule fitted together with bits and pieces of The Book of Common Prayer, Roman Breviary, Protestant Devotionals and AA prayers. So, I searched the Internet. Several years later, several ‘dispersed communities’ tried, I was again on the outside.
Finally, I got down on my knees and told God that he had saved me, changed me and was taking care of my alcoholism and the problems it had caused. I had now come to see that my spiritual life, my religious life was also beyond my desires and abilities. I was nowhere. A lost child of the church. Show me want You want. Whatever You want. I had the gift of desperation once again.
For the next several years I languished. I told myself I was a modern day hermit, solitary and silent. I prayed alone. Maybe this was it. What God wanted for me. I was use to being alone. I liked being alone.
And then, certain particular and peculiar signs started popping-up. I can’t explain them, but I paid attention and several weeks later I found myself sitting in the car, outside the Orthodox Church in the parking lot. Scared to death, I did not go in. I was afraid that after this last chance there would be no more chances left. This would be the last one. Or, my life might change again. But this time, it would be forever. No turning back. Two Sundays later I repented and stepped through the door of The Antiochian Orthodox Church.
I was finally, finally home. My Orthodox home.
“Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages.”
The Divine Liturgy
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
T.S. Eliot, from “Little Gidding,” Four Quartets