An interesting discussion, but one that I think is important for members of any faith to seriously ask. It’s one thing to say, “I am a Christian,” or “I am a Muslim,” or “I am a Buddhist,” and it’s another thing to know what that really means. Not only is this important for apologetics should we ever enter into it (intentionally or unintentionally), but also for our own personal edification and spiritual growth.
What drove me towards Christianity in general and Orthodoxy in particular partially has to do with my own hectic spiritual path, which I know was under the guidance of our Lord.
I was born to a Roman Catholic father and Episcopal mother, and as might be expected from a mixed faith marriage I wasn’t given as strong a spiritual upbringing as I should have. In high school I took an amateur interest in theology and, through a naivety that often colors youth I came to the idea of universalism and that all religions were the same. This led me to agnosticism…which eventually downgraded to full blown atheism in college.
After I graduated and got a job, I felt something draw me towards a supreme being again. This is something that cannot be explained in any way, and even I can’t explain how it works. Calvinists call it Irresistible Grace, but whatever it was, it compelled me towards religion. I don’t know what it was…perhaps it was the fact that I liked Lawrence of Arabia as a kid or I always enjoyed Middle Eastern history, but…I felt myself compelled towards Islam. I bought the Koran, read it, did initial research into the faith, attended a local mosque, and finally took the shahadah.
In Islam, there are several key teachings regarding Christianity:
*]Christ is simply a prophet and not the Son of God.
*]Christ’s crucifixion did not happen as Christians believe - there are actually several trains of thought regarding this in Islamic tradition: some believe it never happened and it was made up; some believe Judas replaced Jesus; some believe in the swoon theory (Jesus didn’t actually die and woke up later).
*]Early Christianity was distorted.
*]The Bible was corrupted.
I embraced all of these ideals without question. I began to heavily research Islam to strengthen my faith and defend it against critics. After a short debate with an Evangelical regarding the gospels, I realized rather humbly that I didn’t know as much about Christianity as I thought I did. From then on I began to research heavily into Christianity: comparing the gospels together, researching history, and understanding the Islamic opinion regarding it all.
At the same time, I visited an Orthodox church nearby my apartment out of curiosity. I didn’t know anything about Orthodoxy, and still had an interest in comparative religion. I wasn’t at all pleased with the services at first, but they had a bookstore sale going on and I bought some books on their history and spoke with some on their theology. What I discovered was that the Orthodox Church claimed to be the apostolic Church which had continued the teachings of the apostles since the time of Christ. Contrary to the popular opinion that the Roman Catholic church had popped out of nowhere in the 4th century, there was a unified church that kept the teachings of Christ well up to the Schism and beyond.
After further research, some realities hit me:
*]I could not continue to argue that the Bible was corrupt while attempting to prove Islam with the Bible. I could do one or the other, but could not do both without some intellectual dishonesty.
*]Supposed “contradictions” I had previously known in the gospels suddenly began to resolve themselves for me, and I found that, instead of contradicting one another, they were merely complimentary - I also found some that bore no theological shift from what the original writers had intended. Further research showed that at the time of Islam’s advent there were thousands of manuscripts across the Middle East, and I began to wonder how one could gather them all and tarnish them in such a way as to destroy Christ’s original teachings.
*]I found that, contrary to what I believed, there was ample evidence of Trinitarian and divine Christ thought from the time of the early Church Fathers well into the eighth century. I found it hard to believe that somewhere along the line the theology had been tarnished - I could not find where this had happened. Orthodoxy, in a way, made Christianity real to me, because it showed that the teachings of the apostles were preserved by the grace of God through godly men.
*]I could not, nor I ever, deny that the crucifixion ever happened, or that it didn’t happen as the Christians believed. To me, this would be the greatest conspiracy in the history of mankind. The crucifixion was a reality for me.
It was a bit like C.S. Lewis and Lee Strobel that I found myself being turned to Christ by the evidence before me. I didn’t have a Pauline moment where I was knocked off my horse and immediately converted (I think many are disappointed by that), but gradually the Lord took me from the modern era to the 7th century, finally to 33 AD where that crucifixion and resurrection occurred. Obviously, I’ve shortened this a bit and left a lot of details out (especially in regards to my research into Islam, out of respect for famdigy and his request not to turn this into an attack against other faiths), but this is the gist of why I believe what I believe. The testimony of the facts that support Christ and his Church made me realize the Divine Truth that stood before me - when one encounters such Truth, they can either deny it or embrace it, and I finally chose to embrace it.
Doxa soi, kyrie, doxa soi…