Monday, June 2, 2014

Seeking brothers and sisters

I was contacted at one point by a woman who visits the same group of invalids with whom I am acquainted. It was great to make a connection that had the potential for future collaboration.

So we became "friends" via social networking, and started to correspond, though never meeting in person. I was encouraged to see the work she's been doing.

Except for this one tiny detail...

...She's Russian Orthodox.

And you know, she might have even been there before when we visited. I kind of might have avoided getting acquainted.

Maybe I'm going to lose a few friends for even admitting this, but I'm not very good at mixing (in a religious context) with people of other confessions (that is, non-Protestants). In 10 years of life in Russia I still kind of shy away from deep relationships with Orthodox believers. There are certain topics that we have to avoid. And I realize that some of it is tradition and not really doctrine/belief, but it just feels like it comes between us sometimes. I'm not talking about casual friendship, or even good friendships with Russians who are nominally Orthodox, but when it comes to really partnering in the it possible? And if so, how?

Today I happened to see some caustic comments written by someone who is against adoption of Russian kids by foreigners. Thank GOODNESS Americans aren't allowed to do it right now, they added. My heart didn't respond very graciously and my fingers might have typed a few spirited comments of my own.

I was reminded that, to the rest of the world, we Americans don't do a very good job of minding our own business. And missionaries may or may not be the worst of the lot...we just don't give up, do we?

Unfortunately, politics do play a role in these issues. And I realize it partly bothers me because I am letting it. Perhaps I am too quick to take offense.

But this woman, the church worker...I saw what she wrote on her own page. Help the kittens, Help the invalids,...Laugh at America. And my heart seized up and I felt like a hypocrite writing to her cheerfully about field trips and birthday presents and massage therapy.

I went to bed last night pondering this problem. And when I was traveling home from church today, I saw her through the window of the metro car before the doors even opened. I knew this church worker instantly from her profile picture. In a city of 5 million, God sent her to my metro car to meet in person. It was unplanned, you fact, I think I scared her half to death as I darted from my seat and blurted out her name. "It's Elizabeth," I said. "We've been corresponding..."

We found two seats next to each other and had a little chat as we rode. We live at opposite ends of the city, but she happened to be going up north today, and our family happened to be riding on a different metro line, to go the same way as Andrei's parents.

The church worker is interested in Psychology, as she said. It isn't my area of expertise, but I shared about my work in the orphanages. I know she values personal relationships, and I shared how hard it was to find time with how busy they keep the children. She snorted and rolled her eyes. "They told you THAT? You have to understand that it's nonsense. They just don't trust you because you're a foreigner, your accent...they might be afraid of you." Liz, don't come in today. The kids need to practice their song for Victory Day, and memorize their lines. They've been SO tired! And then I tried to explain how the orphanage counselors are my friends and give me birthday cards and come over to my house for tea and fellowship. But the opportunity was slipping felt like we were on different wavelengths. A tiny bit of hope arose in me...maybe she just hasn't met an American before? She has said she doesn't actually know English. Maybe I'm the first American she's talked to...maybe the first Protestant, too.

That was pretty much the extent of our conversation, aside from tossing a few ideas back and forth. I wish I could say we bonded or that all my prejudices melted away...and it really didn't feel like anything earth-shattering. But perhaps the tiny seed of something good began to grow.


  1. What are the topics that "have to" be avoided with Orthodox believers? Maybe that would be an idea for another blog post :)

    1. That's a good question...I guess fair to ask since I mentioned it! But I think it depends on why you're asking. For me the challenge in Christian unity is to determine which differences are deal-breakers and which are "agree to disagree." But even if I can sort of overlook something, I might not ever really feel comfortable with it. Like icons, or saints. Baptism can bring up some issues. And just the whole exclusivity thing...if certain confessions believe that only those in THEIR church are can I fellowship with them in an ecumenical setting? And also some confusing cultural things, as I said, that are really traditions and not official doctrine. Like certain superstitions, that are really more Pagan in nature but have gotten sort of mixed up with ritual purity found in Orthodoxy. Confusing, right? :)

      So what I mean is that you don't "have to" avoid certain topics...I just prefer to, for my own sanity.

  2. Oh, Elizabeth, I'm not Protestant, so I hope we could connect. I think so, somehow, I do rather know what you mean about Orthodox believers....and yet, sometimes I wonder if I'm just associating the "zealousness" with Orthodoxy and feeling uncomfortable (maybe because I don't' quite understand where they are coming from?) I do think I feel the same discomfort speaking to a really right (or left) wing Catholic or Protestant. Or, is it just that hard "don't argue with me; I'm right" demeanor that so many Russian people seem to have about so many issues that scares me? Though, I figure you must be used to that by now!

    I'm in trouble with my Orthodox friends now; I can sense it is getting serious - because we have not yet buried Ilya's ashes. It has taken me a while to decide what seems right - and now, at least it is down to two choices. But, my RO friends are becoming less friendly. In my ignorance, I had not realized that actually both the RO Church and the RC Church believe precisely the same thing in this regard, and I am wrong for not having had him buried immediately. But, the difference in how they speak to me about it, is what I notice. From a priest friend, "Well you probably ought to... Why don't you call...." From the RO friend, "I hope you have called the monastery? What will you do?"

    I do think it HAD to be God's plan for you to meet that woman in person, and for that reason, that the visit was important in some way. Trust that you said and did precisely what was needed. That''s just amazing.

  3. I definitely pray for you, even if it's not the type of prayer you might be used to. We all have that "I'm right, you're wrong" attitude at one time. I guess what annoys me is the "I'm Russian, so I'm obviously Orthodox" attitude.

    Afterlife and burial beliefs are one topic I try to avoid. I do so want to mourn with friends who have lost loved ones, and yet I'm not comfortable with the whole praying for the soul and that sort of thing, and I don't thing the burial method really...gasp...matters, PROVIDED it is appropriate and respectful. So if there is only one way in Russian culture that is appropriate and respectful, I won't argue with that...but I won't affirm as the only proper Christian way, either.

    And as I mentioned in the above comment, I get confused about what is (Pagan) tradition and what is Orthodox doctrine. Those fears about unclean spirits aren't always related to Christianity, yet in Russian culture they go hand in hand.


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