Last night was Forgiveness Vespers in the Orthodox Church. That is how we begin Great Lent. We form a line of people that snakes around the church, asking forgiveness from each other, one-by-one. I bow in a sign of humility, touch the ground with my hand, and say, “Forgive me a sinner.” The other replies, “God forgives.” Sometimes they say, “God forgives, and I forgive.” Then they ask forgiveness in the same way.
The hardest part about Forgiveness Vespers is looking the other person in the eye, but it is also the most essential thing. I may not know the other person well, maybe I am distracted by my kids or my aching back, or sometimes there has been real conflict that I do not want to face, but looking the other person in the eye reminds me that love is never abstract. It was Dostoevsky who wrote that it is easy to love humanity. Loving the human being in front of me is far more difficult.
That is one reason why I began running a series last year called “Into Orthodoxy.” It is stories about why people come to the Orthodox Church. At least that is how it started out. For a few it ended up being about why they stayed Orthodox in spite of everything. I think I like those stories best if for no other reason than it makes clear that this series is not about marketing. I am not trying to offer compelling reasons people should convert to the Orthodox Church. Rather, I am trying to help us face each others’ humanity in its concrete expressions, there is no better way to do that than to share our stories with one another.
That is why this series solicits guest posts from a wide variety of people. Some of the authors are my friends, others are acquaintances I have rarely met in person, and few are basically strangers. Their authors are liberal and conservative, straight and gay, enthusiastic converts and the disaffected ones. The thing I have always loved about Orthodoxy – the thing that first drew me to it – was how it was able to hold together diversity in love and unity. That does not mean there is never strife. There is plenty of strife in the Orthodox Church. But we can love each other in our strife if we try to remember that the other person is a human being, whose experience of Orthodoxy is not less than mine, because the church is bigger than me. It holds us together…in spite of everything.
Every post finishes the statement “I became Orthodox because…” in about 500 words. Lent involves taking a hard look at ourselves, and long narratives can sometimes obfuscate. Hence the word-limit.
This series will comprise the bulk of my posts during Great Lent. I will re-post authors from last year, and I have some new authors lined up. The easiest way to follow “Into Orthodoxy” is to filter by the category “Blog Series.” If you want to submit something for review, you can find my contact information in “About Me.”