By Karissa Knox Sorrell
“We grew up with the Jesus story, until we outgrew it,” Frederica Mathewes-Green says in her book At the Corner of East and Now. What a perfect description for how I felt when as an adult I became disenchanted with the church I’d grown up in. Jesus had always been enough for me. I’d grown up as a Nazarene preacher’s kid and missionary’s kid. I attended church three times a week, read the Bible and prayed every day, memorized hundreds of verses, and evangelized all my friends.
But toward the end of my college career, I began feeling a disconnect between my faith and my “real life.” I remember spending an hour at chapel three days a week, fervently singing, lifting my hands, and praying. Afterwards, when I walked out of the church doors, I completely forgot about God for the rest of the day. Worship, while emotionally touching, seemed momentary. I knew I had to find a way to bridge the chasm that had become apparent in my own life. The Jesus story was simply not enough for me anymore.
At that point, I began a five-year journey of exploring liturgy. It actually began within the Nazarene Church, with my theology major friend telling me that “when you pray, you never pray alone,” my Christian Life and Ministry professor challenging me to define Christian, and Dr. William Greathouse, a well-known theologian in the Nazarene Church, explaining to me how the church had become too user-friendly.
My journey took me to the Episcopal Church for a few years, but I eventually landed in Orthodoxy. The Orthodox Church gave me a rich history that included a wealth of stories of the saints and traditions that came from the early church. It gave me a way to pray that did not feel like banging my head against the wall to get some special message from God. I could look at beautiful icon and say the written words and it did not feel like meaningless ritual. I came to understand prayer as a way of connecting to other Christians, not just in the present, but also across the centuries.
The Orthodox Church gave me a new way of understanding time. The church year takes place both in chronos time and in kairos time. As we repeat the cycle of feasts each year, we don’t just remember; we relive the life of Christ. During Orthodox liturgy, earth and heaven come together to worship God. That “great cloud of witnesses” sings and worships with us. The line between earthly life and heavenly life becomes blurred: we are already in our eternity with God.
I also love the physicality of Orthodoxy. We are truly doing liturgy, the work of the people. Every movement has a meaning: standing during the service to represent the resurrected body of Christ, crossing ourselves with three fingers together to represent the Trinity and two fingers down to remember the dual natures of Christ, fasting to prepare our bodies and souls for Eucharist. The spirit and body move as one to love God.
Every movement, every word in the Orthodox Church points me toward God. You could say I re-found Jesus here. But this time, it wasn’t from trying so hard. It was from being. Showing up. Being present. Basking in the mystery of Orthodoxy. And there was Jesus. Already waiting for me.
Karissa Knox Sorrell is a published poet and author. She blogs on faith and family at www.karissaknoxsorrell.com.
“Into Orthodoxy” features stories of conversion from diverse guest authors. Read more about the series here.