Quite often, it seems to us that our questions and doubts have no answer; that they destroy the image of the world that the religion paints; and that… they are absolutely unique. We stop looking for the truth when in fact, the reason for our unwillingness to continue looking for truth is our laziness. Every person has a decent knowledge of some facts of lesser importance from the standpoint of a person’s posthumous existence and the eternal life, e.g., professional knowledge, politics, economy, technologies, and sports facts. Unfortunately, our level of proficiency in the practical religious experiences accumulated by the human race and our understanding of the meaning of our lives is extremely low. As a rule, people possess an astonishingly naïve and superficial understanding of all those issues. We lack the basic information about the methods that our ancestors used to tackle the essential questions, what they were seeking, what they based their philosophies on, what their best representatives achieved, and who their spiritual leaders were. We have an immense advantage over the previous generations due to so many books, the ability to ask priests online, to go to church freely, and the availability of pilgrimages to holy places. What is more, our questions tend to be quite common, and there are dozens of answers to those questions in many sources. We would like to give you several pieces of advice concerning the most typical questions.
- There are many people who would like to take a neutral position with regard to God: we are not against the Church but prefer to stay away from Her; we believe in God in our heart. Unfortunately, it’s self-deception, a fake faith.
- There is no middle ground in the spiritual realm: if we don’t pursue God, we reject him and create our own ideals.
- There can be a powerful temptation to criticize people who go to church and to point at their bad actions in order to justify one’s inaction. Don’t make this mistake. The people you are so eager to condemn are on the road which leads to the purification and salvation of their souls, and the Church has given them all the necessary tools and means to accomplish that. No one becomes holy by the very fact of entering the Church. However, if you come to Church, you have found the only way that leads to holiness.
- We are often quick to idealize a priest and then be disappointed as we find out the priest’s numerous shortcomings. Priests are transmitters of God’s grace and love to us thanks to the Apostolic succession that they receive during the ordination; in all other respects, they are humans just like everybody else, with their own good and bad personal traits. Don’t waste your time trying to find a “unique” priest who corresponds to your ideas about a “real” priest. It won’t do you any good but will easily help you to explain off why you don’t go to church.
- You read about wrongdoings of clergy in the papers and don’t go to church because of that? It’s no different from a patient’s refusal to go to a hospital due to low-quality medical care instead of looking for a good doctor. Even if there is only one doctor in the whole country who is capable of healing their mortal bodies, people stand in lines to see him. We are speaking of the immortal soul and the eternal life. Even the most die-hard detractors of the Church don’t claim that 100 per cent of Her servants are unworthy of their ecclesiastical rank. Let us avoid mixing things up. The Church is a place where a human being meets God in the Sacrament of Eucharist (See: how to prepare for Communion), not a metropolitan’s palaces or the notorious priests in Mercedes Benz cars.
- The Orthodox faith puts you off by its dogmatism. You are a modern, forward-looking person, and you value freedom of opinion. Try substituting the word ‘dogmatic’ for ‘eternal’ (if you are still frightened of it). If anyone tells you that the Church prohibits watching TV or reading books about Father Brown, don’t believe them. Only your conscience and your spiritual experience can restrain you.
- Be ready for external and internal obstacles on your road to the faith. You are not alone: these obstacles are called ‘temptations’. You will be surrounded by lots of brilliant prospects, unexpected worries, attractions, and perhaps even troubles. Stand firm, for If God be for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31).
- You’re afraid of doing something wrong in church and being scolded by “angry old ladies”. Currently, it almost never happens. The vast majority of priests stop such attacks. If someone comments on your behavior, pay attention: it may be reasonable. If you run into a conflict in church, be calm, polite, and firm. Remember that the old lady has never been appointed to give advice or admonish anyone. (And see the previous tip, too). Read more about church etiquette.
- Avoid pseudo-Orthodox horror stories. Thrilling stories about social security numbers as the ‘number of the Beast’; about present-day prophets; about exact dates of the end of the world have nothing in common with the Orthodox faith. It is meaningless to waste your time fighting external enemies when you haven’t put your inner self under control.
- You shouldn’t keep feeling ‘not ready for the Church’ and continue to delay your conversion to the faith. Don’t be afraid of mistakes. You cannot learn to swim if you don’t get into the water.
- You are a free person, and you will remain free when you come to church. The Orthodox Church is not a sect. No one and nothing but your faith will dictate you how to build your life; no one will coerce you into doing anything or limit your freedom. On the other hand, your concept of freedom will acquire a completely new and wonderful meaning after you turn to the faith. And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free (John 8:32).
By Anatoly Badanov
Translated by The Catalog of Good Deeds