By Liz Korba
Why am I still here? This question probably crosses everyone’s mind at some point. I attend church regularly. I am a choir member and a member of the St Mary’s Saints-a teenage youth group at my parish. I’ve also been through my fair share of waking up on Sunday mornings and saying “5 more minutes over and over. I keep getting involved as best as I can and I have a good time with my friends and family. But even through all that, I occasionally question my faith. I think we all do at some point. Why Orthodoxy over Catholicism or Lutheranism or any other religion that is out there these days?
Everybody talks about the great miracles of God. Everyone talks about how they have prayed and now they have peace and life is so much better. I’m sure it’s all very real for them, but it sounds too simple to see things like that-to see God like that-since we are living in a world split between believers and non-believers.
I’m not going to go on a roll about how God has changed my life. I’m sure that He has and I just don’t realize it yet, but I’m also still young, and like most American teenagers, I’m still sorting out what it means to believe and what are the consequences of my beliefs. In the bible, a lot of people were followers of Christ, but a lot of people were killed for believing in Him. As I mature in my faith, I even find that there are Church teachings and traditions that I struggle to accept, understand, and support, especially on many of the so-called “culture wars” topics.
I’ve learned how to think critically with my modern education, which has led me to realize that some of the Church’s teachings are both very ancient and even divine wisdom. But I also wonder if maybe some other teachings are just cultural; just people being people- and these ideas got wrapped up in Church language and in the end we all think it is gospel. Going to school in 21st century America, even the idea of divinely-inspired scriptures are hard to swallow. Anybody can write a book and call it holy. Enough modern literature seeks to displace the Bible. A lot of teenagers I know also seek to displace it as well. Did this really actually happen or is it more like a fairy tale, just another story I’ve been told. But even in history, the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, the Qur’an, the Book of Mormon-all these are holy to their respective followers, and look at the fights that each one has caused through the centuries.
But my questions and doubts can’t overshadow the real beauty that I see here in the Church. I’m still here today because I’m still learning. As I have grown (and grown up) in the Church, I have realized more with each passing year how many interesting things are going on here. Pascha (my favorite church holiday and feast period!) is filled with sights, sounds, and breathtaking excitement when the clergy comes out of the altar and lights everyone’s candles before the procession. And every time I’m there, I see the icons and their meaning (windows to heaven), the stained glass windows decorating the cathedral, and I hear the melodies we sing every week.
Lately it’s the music that keeps me coming back. I’m hearing more of the words in our hymns and grasping more of their meaning. I’m hearing both the melodies and the teachings that make Orthodoxy so unique. And while I’ve heard the sounds for my entire life, I am beginning to understand now what everyone has been singing, talking and chanting about. The pieces are starting to come together and I can now see the big picture.
So it’s tough, trying to make sense of the church and our services and how our teachings relate to my daily life. The Butler Act and Scopes monkey trial in the 1920s and Daniel v. Waters legal case in 1975 are both examples of how Evolution or The Big Bang Theory are more excepted theories in today’s classrooms than anything religious, and usually anything ”˜churchy’ is avoided altogether – even in history classes! Yet even through all these obstacles, I have faith in faith. I guess that is better than absolute rejection. I haven’t been rejected by God, so it makes no sense for me to turn my back on Him either. On the other hand, I haven’t yet had that great, life-changing moment of revelation where I can feel something inside me helping or guiding me in the right direction. For now, the teaching that I can accept and relate to is that Christ is my physician and I am a sick patient who needs to (among other things) come to church for a “weekly healing”, whether that means a psychiatrist or a medical doctor. The best I can do is pray.
In a strange twist of fate, as I was finishing up writing this article, my parish priest, Fr Andrew Morbey, offered a few words of wisdom on the subject in our weekly bulletin. He wrote “why do we come to church? A pious person might say: it is all for God! Although that is true, it is all for you, dear parishioners, it is for those in the pews. The most important person in the church is the person standing in the worship devotion and prayer.” I’m glad he wrote that, because when there are no more ears for my words to fall upon to tell of my troubles, I come to church. I don’t have to say anything aloud, I speak through my heart. By the end of the service I feel as if a burden has been lifted off of my shoulders. It is truly a wonderful thing to have that feeling.
I think that the fact that I’m growing up in the Orthodox faith in the 21st century puts me in the best possible situation. I have tradition to support me in a new and exciting age. It can be challenging standing at the intersection between the modern world and such an ancient faith as ours, life is a scary path and we can all use a little guidance, but I’m still here, and I don’t plan on leaving any time soon!
 Fr Andrew Morbey, “Weekly Meditation” in St Mary’s Cathedral Weekly Bulletin, Minneapolis: Jan 20, 2013.