Looking back, trying to achieve theosis while working in a warehouse and going to college was a really bad idea. Theosis is the belief in Eastern Orthodoxy that one can have real union with God, and participate in the divine nature. To say I was struggling would be an understatement. I was trying so hard to be the perfect Orthodox Christian. I supervised the acolytes behind the altar, had mastered the perfect sign of the cross gestures, and attended every liturgy, matins, vespers that was possible. Why then was I struggling so much to be holy?
In addition, I was being constantly bombarded with assertions of how bad Christianity really is. The professors at college certainly were part of the assault. After all, don't you know that Christian communion is just a twist on cannibalism, Christians co-opted every pagan holiday, and hymns are called hymns in order to suppress women? And here's a gem: God can't be a he when clearly God is a she. Typical attempts at indoctrination...blah, blah, blah.
At my warehouse job it was not much better. People were angry with God, and there were atheists who constantly attacked me for being a Christian, and some Christians who questioned my faith—claiming I worshiped idols.
All in all, it was a confusing mess of a time which I was not really prepared for. I had been raised as an Orthodox Christian and really tried to throw myself into that belief system to shield myself from the world. I couldn't do it. I could not become holy enough and none of my observance of asceticism (keeping clear of the pleasures of this world) seemed to strengthen me against the attacks of the world around me. Finally, something did manage to pull me out of the mess that I found myself in.
One day, I rediscovered a book from my Lutheran school days. Yes, in a strange twist I, an Orthodox Christian, attended Lutheran schools. I cracked it open and it led me to another book and then to another book. Finally, I came to the conclusion that the confirmation classes I had taken in 7th and 8th grade might have the insight that I so desperately needed. I dug through my books and dusted off Luther's Small Catechism.
I opened it, knowing well what I would find. I memorized the contents of the Small Catechism in school, after all, but now I was rediscovering it with a new sense of freedom. That freedom was found in the Gospel. The most striking to me was the explanations to the Second and Third Articles of the Apostles Creed, namely "...who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil...? (Second Article) and most especially, "I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him..." (Third Article) That part hit me like a ton of bricks.
I went on to be confirmed in the faith and was eventually called to be a Lutheran school teacher. I thought I had known the Gospel so well, but I had chained myself so severely with the law I did not know which way was up. When those chains came free, I felt different. That difference was the Gospel. How easy it is to know the Gospel and still be so far from it. How freeing it is to have those chains drop off to know the love of Jesus through His gifts of Word and Sacrament!
Andrew Strickland is a member at St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Prior Lake, Minnesota.
Created: May 25th, 2016