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Issues with faith that I'm grappling with

trevor72694

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After my very short time in the Roman Catholic Church, and my experiences as I left it, I've become a bit paranoid about the rules and regulations religion imposes on people.  I know it's silly, but I can't shake this feeling. 

I'm uncomfortable, at least right now, with a few parts of my Orthodox Christian faith.  What I mean is I'm uneasy about Orthodoxy claiming to be the sole source of absolute truth for the world, and that all people (not just Christians) who are outside of the Eastern Orthodox Church possess a more modified portion of the truth.

What frightens me is the sort of surrender Orthodox Christianity (and other such religions) requires of adherents.  We must modify our lifestyles, and even the way we think, to fit a certain ideal.  Even though few, especially today, can reach this ideal, it is still a goal and an expectation.

As I get older, I want to give myself more fully to God.  I've been looking into monasticism.  Recently, I find it terrifying that our religion encourages people to abandon the ever changing ideals of society to go out and live a life that is devoted to following ancient rules of living, trying to forget one's own will for that of God, and being always obedient to one's superiors. 

As I was thinking last night - without the Church in my life, I'd be a different person.  Being active in the Orthodox Church (at varying capacities) since I was 14, I realize that the Church has become such a large part of my identity that I can't even take a position on a divisive issue without seeing what the Church says, and sometimes the only rationale I have for a certain stance is that said stance is the interpretation of my own sect on an issue, and I must leave it at that.  It feels like I can't even use my own mind sometimes. 

A large part of my struggle is based on my sexual orientation.  No matter how I look at it, for gay people in the Church, it's a huge deal.  I'm struggling very much to be celibate and forgo the things I'm told are perfectly normal and healthy just because my Church says that I must.  At camp this year, the kids asked a lot of questions about homosexuality.  I just found it so weird that the priests speaking were able to tell children that it's wrong, and merely citing Holy Tradition as their source. 

I'm just having so much trouble with the idea that my Church has so much control over me.  I lament because I can't live up to their ideal and more fully submit to my Church's interpretation of God - but why must I submit?  It feels like I'm not an individual, because I've made the Church's positions my positions. 

What I wonder is - what if we end up to be wrong?  Who are we to say that our own little sect, out of all of the belief systems in existence, is the sole bastion of undiluted truth?  What's more, why should I let the Church dictate who I am, what I do and what I believe?

I'm having a tiny little crisis in my head tonight, guys, and would love your thoughts. 
 

xOrthodox4Christx

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If you believe in Christ, and the Orthodox Church, you should heed what they say.

I suppose you don't really have to though.

If you think Orthodoxy is wrong, then find an ideology that you think fits with your concept of 'right'.

I'm just having so much trouble with the idea that my Church has so much control over me.  I lament because I can't live up to their ideal and more fully submit to my Church's interpretation of God - but why must I submit?  It feels like I'm not an individual, because I've made the Church's positions my positions.

What I wonder is - what if we end up to be wrong?  Who are we to say that our own little sect, out of all of the belief systems in existence, is the sole bastion of undiluted truth?  What's more, why should I let the Church dictate who I am, what I do and what I believe?
In summation, it's whether Orthodox claims (or Christian claims) are genuine. If they are, then any Individualism you may express needs to be conformed in light of the Church and Christian teaching. It's also possible that you believe something is true, yet defy it's mandates. But, that shouldn't really be the case unless you have a pretty good reason to do so.
 

TheTrisagion

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Lord, have mercy on your servant, Tikhon.

I'm not really sure what I can say that can be of benefit.  It is so easy for those who don't struggle with a particular temptation to condemn it without realizing how big of a struggle it is for some people.  I'm sure the priest you reference is in that situation.  He has probably given the homosexuality is a sin talk so many times that it is easy for him to gloss over the personal effects it may have on those listening.

To kind of answer your question about how can we know if our tiny sect is right, in one sense, we can't know.  We are limited by human intuition and knowledge. We are not granted omniscience to be able to ascertain infallibly which faith system, if any is right.  We do know one prima facia thing that we can extrapolate reasonable info from.  We know that there must exist truth and falsehood.  If truth exists, it is likely to be an objective existence. If there is an objective existence to truth, it can be found. The existence of truth is not reliant on popularity or ease of usage.  From there, we must each humbly search for that truth.  I am Orthodox because I could not find what I was looking for elsewhere.  Perhaps others will say differently, but I do not believe we should be scared to explore other belief systems.  Orthodoxy is not easy, but it is strong enough to handle the faithful when they have doubts and are searching.  Orthodoxy is not a cult that refuses you the free will to think independently.  When our minds transform to what the Church teaches, it is because we do so willingly, not out of obligation.

Something will always dictate to some extent who you are and what you believe.  For me, it is freeing to have the opportunity of it being the Church.  If it wasn't, it would be my own desires, my ambitions, my pride, my fears, etc.  I have already tried that and it was a miserable time of my life.  I love being able to not have to work everything out in my own mind.  When I am tired, I can rest in the arms of the Church and know that millions have walked the same path I am walking.  I can read about those who have struggled and been victorious over the struggles I deal with.  When I was an agnostic/atheist, I desired to be a better person, but that was a very amorphous concept. There was no guide, no role model, no path.  Just an empty barren wasteland that I knew I wanted to get through to reach that "better person" whatever that might be.  I don't have that anymore, I have a support system that I can rely on.  I know where I need to be going and how to get there.  It is not easy, but it is immensely more satisfying.

I will put you in my prayers, Tikhon. I do not envy the struggles you have been tasked with.
 

Mor Ephrem

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Tikhon.of.Colorado said:
What frightens me is the sort of surrender Orthodox Christianity (and other such religions) requires of adherents.  We must modify our lifestyles, and even the way we think, to fit a certain ideal.  Even though few, especially today, can reach this ideal, it is still a goal and an expectation.
It frightened Christ, too.  But he surrendered to the Father, and he is whom we are trying to emulate.  We imitate Christ because we were created in his image: by imitating him, I become a more authentic me.  It is something we begin in this world, but in a sense it will never be finished, and the heavy lifting is his to do. 

I take comfort in that because it doesn't mean I have to accomplish everything at once or even very quickly.  It means I should do what I am capable of doing, what I am ready to do, and I should do it freely and without an unhealthy compulsion.  Maybe one person is capable of more than I am.  But as long as I'm doing what I can and offering it to God, he can take it and make it something greater.  Sometimes we think that this attitude is lazy, and perhaps it can become that, but on the other hand, there are plenty of things in life in which we start small and build up because trying too much too soon will work against us.  This is true of deeds and it is also true of thoughts and words.     

As I get older, I want to give myself more fully to God.  I've been looking into monasticism.  Recently, I find it terrifying that our religion encourages people to abandon the ever changing ideals of society to go out and live a life that is devoted to following ancient rules of living, trying to forget one's own will for that of God, and being always obedient to one's superiors. 
Monasticism is not for everyone, even if some of its principles and foundations are Christianity 101.  And it is not the only way to give yourself fully to God.  You've already done so in Baptism, and every time you receive the sacraments "worthily", you give yourself again fully to God.  It's not like a black robe makes it all legit. 

As I was thinking last night - without the Church in my life, I'd be a different person.  Being active in the Orthodox Church (at varying capacities) since I was 14, I realize that the Church has become such a large part of my identity that I can't even take a position on a divisive issue without seeing what the Church says, and sometimes the only rationale I have for a certain stance is that said stance is the interpretation of my own sect on an issue, and I must leave it at that.  It feels like I can't even use my own mind sometimes. 
I would say it's a good thing that your instinct is to see what the Church has to say about any given issue and that you're willing to adopt its view as your own when you don't have one of your own.  But I don't think it's a good thing that you think you can't think for yourself.  I believe you should think for yourself, but I also think your thinking should be informed by the teaching of the Church. 

Speaking for myself, there are a few things over which I struggle: I know what the Church teaches about them, but I also know what else the Church teaches about related issues, I know what I think about how it all fits together, and I also know who in the Church would vehemently disagree.  I think, in most cases, it's OK as long as you pray to God to lead you into all truth, including the truth about this particular thing.  Perhaps those doubts will have some practical consequences (e.g., maybe the way I think about X renders me unprepared to receive the Eucharist), but if we are genuinely seeking, God provides grace to help, to console, to transform.  At least I hope so.  :)     

A large part of my struggle is based on my sexual orientation.  No matter how I look at it, for gay people in the Church, it's a huge deal.  I'm struggling very much to be celibate and forgo the things I'm told are perfectly normal and healthy just because my Church says that I must.  At camp this year, the kids asked a lot of questions about homosexuality.  I just found it so weird that the priests speaking were able to tell children that it's wrong, and merely citing Holy Tradition as their source.
 

For many clerics, teachers, and leaders, it's much easier to simply point to an authority and say "This is not right because X says so".  Often, that may be enough to answer the questions of those who have them, and sometimes that's all you want them to say because they're not the best and the brightest and it's better for them to stick with something trustworthy rather than making it up along the way. 

But you're right about how frustrating it can be when that's the only answer.  I think there are ways of explaining these teachings constructively and in depth, but they require the kind of time and engagement that may not be possible in all circumstances.  Sometimes you just have to do the best you can in a given situation, pray for God to fill in the blanks, and hope for the best.  Our clergy and leaders have a tremendous responsibility on their shoulders, and it's not easy to do it well.  We should pray for them so that they can help us better, and we should also let them know when it's not working.       

What I wonder is - what if we end up to be wrong?  Who are we to say that our own little sect, out of all of the belief systems in existence, is the sole bastion of undiluted truth?
We are nothing, we could certainly be wrong.  But we believe because those who have come before us bore witness that Christ is right, he is true, and he is alive.  And we see that he is alive and true and correct because of the witnesses.   

What's more, why should I let the Church dictate who I am, what I do and what I believe?
If anyone should dictate to you who you are, what you ought to do, and what you ought to believe, it is Christ.  We are created in his image, and we are restless apart from him.  But we cannot know Christ apart from his Body, the Church.  Without the Church, Christ would've been a blip in history, no one would've known him.  The Church brings Christ to us, Christ is the Church's gift to us, the Church is Christ's gift to us, and both Christ and the Church give us our true selves as their gift to us.   
 

NicholasMyra

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Tikhon.of.Colorado said:
At camp this year, the kids asked a lot of questions about homosexuality.  I just found it so weird that the priests speaking were able to tell children that it's wrong, and merely citing Holy Tradition as their source. 
T,

I think you should try, please try, to stop thinking about "religious" (lower-case churchy) things for a while. You have been trapped in these thoughts for years, and you deserve a longer break. I think you took a brief one a few years ago; give yourself another break.

And maybe ask yourself this: What would those saints you truly respect say about "church camp" in the first place? :p
 

WPM

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I don't go to church but utilize the Book of Prayer for daily sessions at home.

Just because the website is synonymous with Christianity does not mean all the conversation has to be solely about Christianity. (Which isn't healthy) ...

 

katherineofdixie

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A lot of this is, honestly, your time of life. You seem to be still struggling with finding your place in the world. And the World is telling you one thing, while your faith is telling you something else. Is the World right or is the Church right?

Really, Orthodoxy is not about rules it's about becoming the person God meant you to be, in His image and likeness. As I tell my Sunday School class, these are not "rules," but "tools" to use in this struggle.

At some point, you do, however, have to choose whom you will serve: the World or Christ.
 
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