01 December 2006

Chronicling a Journey (Part I)

I guess you can blame Frank Lloyd Wright for sparking the interest to consider Orthodoxy. I was living in Milwaukee. My wife and I had recently married. She was teaching at a Lutheran school, and I was finishing my studies for a bachelor’s degree and K-12 teaching certification. I was also training for the Chicago marathon. One of my running routes took me past Milwaukee Lutheran High School on West Grantosa Drive. Next door to Milwaukee Lutheran is a rather unique building. From the outside it looks like a flying saucer. It was one of the last buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, and it was commissioned by Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church.

Needless to say, the design intrigued me—particularly since it was a church. We had become good friends with the pastor of the congregation we attended, and when he told us he was taking a vacation and wanted to visit a unique church in Milwaukee, I immediately suggested the “Flying Saucer Church.” I still remember the unique atmosphere—the bright colors through the haze, the jingling, jangling censor, the server physically moving the irritated old Greek woman aside so the priest could incense the icon, the lack of an organ, the sermon (more like a speech) at the end of the liturgy, and of course the architecture. By the way, my wife went along and was not impressed with any of this.

I can’t recall whether it was in preparation for our visit or afterwards, but during that same Autumn of 1983 I began reading The Orthodox Church by Bishop Kallistos Ware. As I read, I was immediately struck by a number of things, most notably the straight-forward unapologetic yet irenic tone.

As a history major, I appreciated the link to the apostles. I was pleased with the statement that infants were communed—something I had wondered about since I was 13 years old. I was intrigued to find several familiar critiques to Roman Catholicism. I had recently begun reading about Lutheran liturgics, and so was pleased to see that emphasis. But most of all, I noticed several commonalities to Lutheran doctrine and, at the same time, several commonalities to Roman Catholic practices that I had been taught were wrong (invocation of saints, bishops, “other” sacraments, etc.). This especially piqued my interest since I wondered how a church could get doctrine right in so many places, but wrong in some practices; but these “errors” I dismissed in typical Lutheran fashion as “accretions to purity” and “barnacles on the church.” Of course, I was troubled by what I perceived to be a synergistic approach to justification (i.e., the process of regeneration and conversion). And holding, as I did, to the unLutheran doctrine of the total depravity of man, I was put off by the description of free will and original sin. Finally, I was most intrigued to see that certain Lutheran theologians had corresponded early on with the Orthodox and that, according to Ware, Patriarch Jeremiah’s response in this correspondence was considered akin to our confessional documents.

Overall, however, my visit and reading proved to be quite positive and led me to several conclusions: (a) the Orthodox were not Roman Catholic; (b) the Orthodox had much in common with the Faith I knew; and therefore (c) the Orthodox Church and its teachings were worth considering and studying.


christopher3rd said...

My first experience of Orthodoxy was this same church. My classmate from nearby Gloria Dei-Bethesda (WELS), Jason Hellwig, lived across the street from "The Flying Saucer Church" and we used to play in the field surrounding it. You beat me into an Orthodox church by about 15 years, but I was playing outside it by 1981. :)

The Orthodox Lutheran said...

I read the same book several years back. All the same things you have said intrigued me as well. I came to all the same conclusions. Another great book that my oldest son is studying right now for his Homeschool Bible studies is "Common Ground" and introduction to Eastern Orthodoxy for the American Christian.
God bless,

Dixie said...

Oh, I am glad you are going to do this. I was disappointed (and I understand that I am not alone in this!) that Jaroslav Peliken never shared his story publicly.

Frederica Mathewes Green says that in today’s world, where truth is relative and subject to the individual, one’s experiences are not easily challenged. Such a Zeitgeist creates a natural interest in the individual “story” and, accordingly, is a good tool for evangelism.

Myself…I am encouraged by the stories and usually find a nugget or two to carry off and share with others. For example, we had a young Baptist man come to our church (now a catechumen). He told me that he could never remember a time in his life when he didn’t love Jesus, but that he never really worshipped Him until he experienced the Divine Liturgy. His joy in finding this missing element has stayed with me.

So…staying tuned for future chronicles.-----D

DebD said...

I love hearing these stories and am glad you are sharing them with us.

Looking forward to the next installment.

Timothy D. May, S.S.P. said...

A few years ago we were able to visit the inside of Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church as part of a tour associated with an annual Greek Festival (which has since then moved to the State Fair Grounds). Although I am not a fan of contemporary church architecture I appreciate this exposure I had to the Orthodox Church (as limited as a brief tour is able to provide). This is the only instance I have been inside an Orthodox Church building that I can recall. My personal background and experiences have brought me to a greater familiarity with the Roman Church than with the Orthodox Church. As a history major I appreciate your remarks regarding church history. As a Lutheran pastor, bound to the Lutheran Confessions, I look forward to reading and learning more about your spiritual journey and the theology of the Orthodox Church. Thank you for making this chronicle available.

Rosko said...

My fiancee's family are long-time members of Annunciation, when it was in the "old edifice" in a different area of Milwaukee. Her father became Lutheran, thus she is Lutheran, and my family has always been Lutheran. I like Annunciation. I go up there from Chicago for Greek Fest, baptisms of family members, etc. Father Jim is a great guy, and it is a nice church. I, too, am looking forward to more chronicles, now on number 3. Keep it up!