Dear “John” (*),
I understand that you are on the way to becoming Orthodox. I know nothing about you, beyond the fact that you are English.
Before we go any further, there is one point I should make clear. I have not been told why you are about to convert, but I assure you there is no point whatsoever if it is for negative reasons. You will find as much “wrong” (if not more) in Orthodoxy as in the Anglican or Roman Churches.
So – the first point is, are you prepared to face lies, hypocrisy, evil and all the rest, just as much in Orthodoxy as in any other religion or denomination?
Are you expecting a kind of earthly paradise with plenty of incense and the right kind of music?
Do you expect to go straight to heaven if you cross yourself slowly, pompously and in the correct form from the right side?
Have you a cookery book with all the authentic Russian recipes for Easter festivities?
Are you an expert in kissing three times on every possible or improper occasion?
Can you prostrate elegantly without dropping a variety of stationery out of your pockets?
Have you read the Gospels?
Have you faced Christ crucified? In the spirit have you attended the Last Supper – the meaning of Holy Communion?
Are you prepared, in all humility, to understand that you will never, in this life, know beyond Faith; that Faith means accepting the Truth without proof. Faith and knowledge are the ultimate contradiction –and the ultimate absorption into each other.
Living Orthodoxy is based on paradox, which is carried on into worship – private or public.
We know because we believe and we believe because we know.
Above all, are you prepared to accept all things as from God?
If we are meant, always, to be “happy”, why the Crucifixion? Are you prepared, whatever happens, to believe that somewhere, somehow, it must make sense? That does not mean passive endurance, but it means constant vigilance, listening, for what is demanded; and above all, Love.
Poor, old, sick, to our last breath, we can love. Not sentimental nonsense so often confused with love, but the love of sacrifice – inner crucifixion of greed, envy, pride.
And never confuse love with sentimentality.
And never confuse worship with affectation.
Be humble – love, even when it is difficult. Not sentimental so called love – And do not treat church worship as a theatrical performance!
I hope that some of this makes sense,
With my best wishes,
(sometime Abbess of the Monastery of the Assumption, Normanby)
(*) Sir John Tavener the composer
Mother Thekla, who died on Aug. 7, 2011 at aged 93, was the last surviving nun to have occupied the enclosed Orthodox Monastery of the Assumption in North Yorkshire, but became better known to the wider world as the spiritual muse of the composer Sir John Tavener. Mother Thekla wrote the following letter in 2009, when she was 91 years old. You can read more about her here.