Frustration over Baptism
I will attempt, with my mind made as clear as possible, to describe as well as to justify the cause of this distress and my being so affected by it. It will not include any of my usual fine-tuning of late-night language. It will be an unrestrained, no holds barred explanation of all the events leading up to yesterday. If you are from my parish and/or easily scandalised, I strongly suggest you stop reading right now and hit the ‘Back’ button.
So I was visiting my would-be godmother at her place yesterday – she just received news that the date for her returning to her country (she’s Romanian) has been confirmed, and it was a mere 13 days away. With such a constraint on time, I wasted no second and began to discuss my baptism with her. Apparently, she had a discussion with my priest on Sunday (I was not able to be present due to insomnia on Saturday night), and he still refuses to baptise me – until much later, that is. At that point, she told me that I may have to consider finding another sponsor. It grieved me further when she showed me everything she has prepared – from the baptismal robe, to prayer beads, icons and other assorted goodies. She wasn’t planning on showing them to me until my baptism itself.
I have acknowledged this lady as ‘godmother’ for the past two years, only to discover yesterday that this might not come to past for reasons that have still not been made clear. I was meant to be baptised last year during Pascha, but I was not, for I only turned 18 in November and prior to that, the church requires parental permission. My devoutly Presbyterian parents did not give their approval, of course. Now when I am finally 18, and being able to be baptised without seeking another’s consent, the church adamantly refuses to take me in.
The reasons I perceive for this include – my ecumenist leanings, my lack of faith and my concentration on the externals of Orthodoxy instead of the important aspects. I derived these largely in part from conversations (or should I say, admonitions) with parishioners and the occasional talk with my priest.
This is the straw man fallacy in effect. People who don’t know me well enough to begin with have misrepresented my actions and beliefs (along with fictitious beliefs and other assumed beliefs) and criticised them.
No faith my foot. No man may see into another’s heart. Just because I don’t talk about it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. I extremely dislike talking about my personal faith in God and His works in my life – it highly resembles evangelical Protestantism in that manner – and besides, I don’t like discussing my faith with others (except for a select few) for the most part. It is not meant to be aired in public like dirty laundry – for me at least, it is personal and meant to be shared between the individual and God.
Being knowledgeable is no indication at all about the lack of faith. If that were the case, then many of our leading clerics and theologians have a disturbingly huge lack of faith, even Bishop Kallistos Ware. Faith and knowledge go hand in hand; we cannot do without one or the other. Knowledge without faith is empty spirituality. Blind faith leads to fanaticism.
My priest has confronted me about this – but I thought he didn’t mean what he said (given the context and tone of voice). The rest of it comes whenever I am rebuked by someone in the parish – when it was known I attended Coptic Nativity, I was accused of ‘spiritual licentiousness’ (yes, those were the exact words).
For all that I am, many often forget that I am, after all, only 18 years of age (the youngest individual convert in the parish, or so I hear) and am still subject to the hormonal imbalance that plagues most youths. It goes without saying that I am, of course idealistic and will challenge authority. Yet, so much is expected of me but at the same time nobody really takes me seriously on account of my age. I understand a certain level of obedience is expected of me, which many have yet to see. I know blaming my age is a lousy excuse for this, but I will go ahead and do so anyway.
I came to know about Orthodoxy while learning about Church History (on my own that is). I found the Orthodox to have a more complete theology than the other denominations, as well as a much fuller worship. I have been told that it was a rather rationalistic journey, without much consideration being given to faith. It seemed almost condescending when my journey was compared with that of the person who told me that. I have taken much offence in this. God works in mysterious ways – I am now in the Church and that is what matters.
I was accused of joining Orthodoxy because I was Russophile. Here’s one bit of information: I am first and foremost a Latinist (which explains why I know the Lord’s Prayer and various other prayers in Latin and not in Russian or Slavonic). I had considered the Roman Catholic Church (it turned out I was highly disturbed by many teachings) before I found Orthodoxy. My interest in the Slav lands and Byzantium began almost simultaneously with my journey to Orthodoxy. From the Roman Empire, my interest shifted to its successor, the Byzantine Empire and later, to the “Third Rome” – Moscow. Thus, it is highly presumptuous of anyone to say I’m becoming Orthodox purely for the reason of “becoming Russian”. Remember, I am not always as I seem.
Another move by the Church that has also scandalised and insulted my dignity as a convert is how people who are converting for marriage are being baptised so quickly and easily, with minimal fuss. All of them were only made catechumens 30 seconds prior to their actual baptism. Yet I (and another, as I recently found out) have to endure many months of being a catechumen. Why do I have to go through boot camp? What priority do these people have that they may escape being a catechumen? Is conversion to Orthodoxy to be run as how a country grants citizenship? What, marriage to a “local” makes becoming a citizen of the country easier??? At this rate, I might as well stop attending church now and come back only when I’m slated to get married – gets through the red tape a lot easier.
To think, I was recently told that I should consider going through the more traditional 3 years of being a catechumen before being baptised, just to sort out my priorities. I will do the full three years if every woman during the Divine Liturgy is properly veiled, the 8 different tones in chant are made more audible (up till now tone 1 to 8 sounds similar in whatever is being chanted) and my priest swears off meat, quits his day job and becomes a full-time priest.
I have been attending church for approximately three years now. During this period, I was regular (and by regular I don’t mean once a month) and my face soon became a familiar sight. You’d think that was enough indication that I won’t be changing jurisdictions anytime soon. My ecumenist leanings have nothing to do my faith. I seek reconciliation with our Christian (no, Protestants are not Christian, they’re heretical apostates) brothers, both in the West and East, but by no means will I compromise doctrine or theology for unification. Many do not know the extent I go to defend the absence of the filioque clause in the Creed.
Regular attendance for THREE years – that is more than I can say for those who have converted for marriage - and a catechumen for nine months already.
Come to think of it, my baptism was denied when I mentioned I attended Coptic Nativity. I spoke of one event, and my priest and many parishioners immediately began forming half-baked ideas about what I believe. Those parishioners told me I was wrong to attend churches that have fallen out of grace – now, I may have taken them at their word, but people who are not learned in theology should not talk about a phrase whose meaning is not clearly understood by them in the first place. I remember I was better liked when I still had convert mentality, that is to say – the adamant belief that the religion I’ve converted to is absolutely true, completely flawless and free of scandal. Also, hatred/dislike of the Roman pontiff along with Rome may be another effect of Orthodox convert mentality. Now since, I’ve purged this immature mindset, and have adopted a more conciliatory attitude toward other Christians, I have been chastised. I really don’t know what lengths I must go to prove that I am remaining Orthodox and have no intention whatsoever to join the Copts, Maronites or the SSPX, for that matter. I have been called more Catholic than the average Catholic, yes, but that is no indication of my willingness to convert over to the West. I merely know and understand their practices more than the average Catholic. Perhaps when I’ve carved “Orthodoxy or Death” in large Greek alphabets on my body, and begin to behave as if I were a brother of Esphigmenou monastery – will the parishioners then be convinced I’m remaining Orthodox.
If I remember correctly, some parishioners along with one or two readers did attend the same Coptic church on one occasion and returned to discuss about it. I do the same, and get punished by having my baptism postponed? For the love of God, I NEVER for a moment even considered becoming Copt – and I went, just once, for the experience. Wait, don’t tell me – these people are spiritually mature enough to discern what is wrong and right and thus they are allowed to do it for the sake of experience? Oh, for crying out loud, what sort of message do you think this sends out to impressionable young catechumens like me? That aside, the theological understanding of the aforementioned people do not run as deep as presumed.
Why people here seem so overtly concerned when I seemingly cross into heresy and at the same time, baptising people whose sole purpose in becoming Orthodox is for marriage? My soul is no more important than theirs, and I do not see the reasoning (if any at all) for the postponement of my baptism. I am also exceedingly upset at the double standards used to judge (if I may use such a word) me and the “marriage converts”. Nobody knows what sort of beliefs they may hold on to despite their conversion – after all, who receives catechism here at all – original sin could be the brand of a chocolate for all they know.
Some months ago, I began to ask (isn’t that what a catechumen is supposed to do – ask and clarify) what some would consider “disturbing” questions concerning the papacy and various heresies. This was interpreted as rebelling against the establishment, apparently. Some of these “marriage converts” don’t even ask! Does anybody care what they believe? No (apparently). Are you surprised? No.
I have not been nicknamed the parish grandmother without a good reason, and I know that many of these people attend less than 5 times a year. However, whenever I am late or miss Divine Liturgy on Sunday without a valid reason or good excuse, I get slammed. Why is there so much leeway given to people converting for marriage, damnit? What, God has brought them to the Holy Apostolic Church through marriage and thus they are to be given this privilege over me? I don’t buy that for one second. What about considerations to my journey to the Church?! I was not brought here by accident because of love of culture or marriage. I came here purely to seek the truth and I have found it. If people are not convinced about that, then perhaps they should ask why I attend church even when few people (by that I mean less than 2) turn up for the service. I hope (but as usual, my hopes usually count for nothing) that that will make them see that I am not attending church because I am obliged to, or because I am seeking friends.
Why are people being so damn difficult with me? Why are my actions singled out and microscopically scrutinised? If we wanted to play and see who could be more nitpicky, I’m more than game:
Women have married pagan/heathen/atheist husbands and its okay because they are still able to receive communion. I attend a Coptic service once and its not bloody okay at all.
My priest wed Inna and her non-baptised husband (they were already civilly married for years) in the Church, on the promise that he would return and undergo catechism before being baptised. Last month marked the 1st anniversary of that wedding… and the last time which I saw him at church. Say whatever you want about ekonomia; in practice, it really depends on how much a priest likes you.
All I desire is to enter the Orthodox Church. Damn it, if I die without ever being properly received in the Church, the fault does not lie in me; it will lie on them.
What am I to do to get baptised here – stop attending all other churches (or do so, and not tell anyone), become obedient and listen to what people tell me (or at least keep up a pretence) and stop the pursuit of knowledge? What they have taught me is not love, is not how to live the life of an Orthodox Christian, but to cynically manipulate the system. Congratulations. I hope they’re proud of what their handiwork.