19 October 2012
Transformation Begins Before Baptism
from Joanna's notepad
be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind,
For converts a transformation begins even before Baptism
A typical American convert, [like Fr. Seraphim Rose, maybe], might come to the Church from a heterodox Christian upbringing. He may or may not end up rejecting his upbringing at some point along his journey. He may or may not explore religions far removed from Christianity. Prior to discovering Orthodoxy the convert acquires many experiences and ideas – some good and some harmful, but none that don't need to go through the transformation process.
A convert may begin in a heterodox church, and learn Bible verses and Bible stories and Protestant dogmas in Sunday School. If his parents are missionaries or pastors, he may acquire an unprofitable urge to teach/preach to others. The world is also impressing it's perverted moral system on his upbringing: the idea that everyone who says they are saved is saved, that homosexuality is inborn, that abortion is a choice. And the heterodox churches often reinforce these worldly morals as being pious. Some experiences come through prayer. Through prayer we learn to love and trust God. But many people who practice intense prayer outside of Orthodoxy, usually end up imagining God's "answers" to their prayers. For the potential convert who has found himself at the threshold of the Orthodox church, certainly God found something worthy in him to bring him to His Church. The convert who prayed/prays for the Truth, realizing that he didn't/doesn't have the Truth, is one most likely to be able to step completely through that threshold.
Then there at the threshold the sorting process begins: what to throw out and what to keep. Whatever can be kept, if it is any observable thing, needs to be transformed.
Some converts might make the error of thinking that a life's spiritual journey is a building process. I knew a girl raised in an Amish community who had married an Orthodox man, and converted to Orthodoxy prior to marriage. She said, "The Amish are nearly perfect, all they need to add is Orthodoxy." This same idea of "building" was had by another man I knew who even learned the ancient Hebrew to build on his experience of the Bible. Thinking his interpretations were superior, he wanted to add the perfect religion [Orthodoxy] to his superior Bible interpretations. Another man I knew had certain "spiritual experiences" that had been confirmed to him by a "vision" of an "angel". This man wanted to add Orthodoxy to his credentials to help validate his self-ordained preaching and "prophesying".
I recall, too, a new convert young mother I once overheard preaching to her Orthodox friends, all of whom had been baptized long before she was. Speaking about God's judgments she contradicted her friends' explanations and insisted emphatically: God isn't like that! God is this! God is that! He isn't that or this! Her hearers were shocked, and she misinterpreted their silence as acceptance of her fiery mini-sermon. In the canons converts young in the Faith are not permitted to teach; there is good reason for this. This young woman had not come into the Faith with the humility necessary to make it, and she eventually drifted away into her own religion which incorporated some fragmented ideas taken from Orthodoxy.
This idea of adding Orthodoxy to what a convert already has is an error. Everything, literally EVERYTHING the convert has needs to be first submitted to the Church, laid down at the door of the Church; and then what the Church says can be retained needs to be reshaped by the Church –sometimes beyond recognition– to fit into the fabric of the Church.
I Cor. 3:15
If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.
The transformation process does not happen overnight. It is a lifetime of dying to self. Even after we have died to certain sins and errors in thinking to which we won't return, still we must die daily, pick up our cross daily. The final "death" ends only with our earthly sojourn.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.
A note about the Bible:
Before coming to Orthodoxy, the heterodox have only Scripture. They meet Orthodoxy and discover Tradition. It is a mistake to try to ADD Tradition to Scripture to try to have the fullness of the Faith. Rather, see that the Scripture has always been and is already a PART of Orthodox Tradition, not next to Tradition, but already INSIDE Tradition. The Bible is one of the Church's canons – the greatest canon of the Church to be sure – but still a canon. Scripture can only be understood properly WITHIN Tradition. It is not open to self-interpretation.
See: Where Did The Bible Come From
[Review of these notes is welcomed by Roca clergy. -jh]