to the Orthodox Church more than a decade ago I had the privilege of spending time with Fr. Michael Harper and his wife at a local restaurant. Fr. Harper had been an Anglican Priest and a leader in the world charismatic movement and was now Orthodox. As the meal progressed we spoke of the transition to Orthodox Christianity and he said something that has stuck with me over time. He told me that as he was on his own journey to Orthodoxy he struggled with the idea of praying for the departed, a common Orthodox practice. Yet, he said, there was a choice. He could form the “Fr. Michael Harper Orthodox Church without prayers for the departed” or trust that even though this issue was personally difficult there was a larger wisdom on this matter in the life of the Church, a wisdom in which he could rest.
The challenge in this understanding lies in being able to rest, to trust, and to believe and not be the center of your own theological universe. To be Orthodox is to belong to something larger than yourself, to be a thinker, for sure, but one who thinks in community and communion. A person does have to set aside a certain amount of ego to make this a reality in their lives. In a culture where the emphasis for some time has been on micro-religion, that is individual and atomized belief structures peculiar to a person’s own experiences, this may require a lifetime of adjustment and be a central struggle to adopting not just the Orthodox label but the Orthodox way of life.
The strength, though, of this understanding lies in the freedom that comes with not having to personally reinvent the wheel each time a wheel is needed. There is none of the loneliness that comes with believing you have to create and sustain a spiritual way of life with only what you might have on hand at any given moment. You can learn from others, share in wisdom that’s been worked out over time, and realize a whole universe of fellow travelers walking with you on the beautiful path.
The late Fr. Harper made his choice and stepped through the doors of Orthodoxy. I took his words to heart and stepped through myself some time after this encounter. A perfect world all of the time? No. Yet there is rest here and that’s made it worth it all.