“We eat this bread in remembrance of You. And this grape juice, we drink in remembrance of You.” All who had not eaten their piece of bread and drank their small plastic glass of grape juice now took the opportunity to “take communion” as a whole church. Before the bread and juice were passed around the pastor reminded the congregation that we take communion, “not every Sunday, so as to become an empty ritual, but often enough to remember the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.” The grape juice was substituted for wine so those who struggle with alcohol are not unduly tempted.
I remember coming to the conclusion that foregoing this whole “process” of communion may be the safest route in keeping the Church from becoming too ritualistic. Nothing “special” happens when we take communion and we can “remember” Jesus without it so what’s the point? This was my understanding of the Church and Her sacraments not long ago. It’s ironic how the fear of performing a ritual can itself empty the most ancient and fundamental act of Christian worship of much of its meaning.
“not every Sunday, so as to become an empty ritual”
I was raised in an independent Protestant home; as a family, we claimed no particular denomination. While searching for a church to attend as a young adult, I consciously stayed away from any building that read Lutheran, Baptist, Presbyterian, etc. I felt all these places represented an “irrelevant” message which failed to speak to me as a young modern American. I walked around in ignorance believing I was an “independent” Christian who was following his own path; all I needed to be concerned with was my personal relationship with Jesus.
In retrospect, I was more Baptist than any other denomination (I did not agree with infant baptism or the transformation of the gifts and those were the only important sacraments) and I ended up in a Baptist church just before my conversion to Orthodoxy. It was a small church called simply “The Faith Journey.” The pastor was a progressive Baptist who was a good speaker who had a taste for flare. We met as a congregation at an elementary school cafeteria, coffee was served throughout the service and I taught the 3rd and 4th graders. I was content. Then I met my wife.
My wife had a similar upbringing in the church as I did. Her brother, while pursuing a job in the Protestant ministry, found the Orthodox Church, converted, and is now a priest in South Carolina. My wife felt, well, a lack of substance at her childhood church and decided to follow her brother, eventually converting to Orthodoxy as well. She describes the first time attending an Orthodox service as a feeling of finally coming home. I did not share her experience.
I know why a coffee hour discussion about the Bible could never compare to the magnificence of the Divine Liturgy.
Like many couples these days, we met through an online social network. I was reluctant to contact her at first because her profile listed Orthodox Christian under religion. I was completely ignorant of the Orthodox Church at the time and it even sounded a little strange to me. My first message to her was: “Hello. My name is Andrew Durand. Explain to me Orthodoxy in a nutshell.” What a question? She gave me a brief reply stating it was a bit difficult to put the Orthodox Church “in a nutshell”, which satisfied my curiosity; at least for the time being. To make a long (beautiful and romantic story full of passion and intrigue- right babe?) story short, she basically dragged me to Orthodoxy kicking and screaming after we were married; though we were married in the Church. As you may guess, I had many problems before going in- the seeming worship of the saints and Mary, the strict adherence to tradition, and the transformation of the gifts were the big issues. I knew my wife would not be happy in a Protestant church and I knew (based on the Creed) Orthodoxy was definitely Christian. Even though I did not agree with some of the teachings, I knew I would still be doing the Lord’s work. I decided to convert from Protestantism to Eastern Orthodoxy…
…and will never look back. Now I know why my wife would never have felt satisfied outside of the Orthodox Church. I know why a coffee hour discussion about the Bible could never compare to the magnificence of the Divine Liturgy. I know how the canon of Saints provides guidance and protection from the evils and passions that inflict us in this world. I know how the Holy Theotokos emits a beauty radiant and pure, and leaving her side would be comparable to trying to breathe without oxygen. I know now how the Eucharist can transform us into the Body of Christ and bring us into communion with the true eschaton which is ever present and not some distant catastrophic event. Now I know, above all else, I am home now.