May 03, 2019

Our Journey to Orthodoxy
The Hinson Family

- Alexis Pappas -




From His first recorded words, “that I must be about My Father’s business,” (Luke 2:49) to His last, “Father, ‘into Your hands I commit My spirit,’” (Luke 23:46) Christ spoke of His complete surrender to God. And He spoke this way throughout his life, with statements such as:

“My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.” (John 4:34)

“For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent me.” (John 6:38)

And who can forget His prayer in the garden, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Mt. 26:39) 

 

                “Whereas,” we rather confess to Christ in the ninth hour prayer of St. Basil that, “we have left behind the way of Your righteousness and followed the will of our own hearts.” I’m sure all of us wish we could stand up here and relate to each other how we have spent our days surrendering to God, but as his prayer continues, “we have spent our days in vanity.” For this reason we continue in St. Basil’s prayer, asking our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ to “deliver us from the hand of the one who lies against us, and forgive us our sins and put to death our bodily mind.”

                Since we find ourselves in this predicament, we must be trained in surrendering to God, and we must apply ourselves to this training throughout our lives and especially during Great Lent. Like St. Paul, we too must say, “I discipline my body and bring it into subjection” (I Cor. 9:27) for the law of sin and death is warring against us to bring us into captivity (Rom. 7:23). Therefore, we must be taught by Christ to “put off … the old man … and … put on the new man” (Eph. 4:21-24). In short we must learn to “be imitators of God … and [to] walk in love, as Christ … has loved us and given Himself for us” (Eph. 5:1-2).

 

                For this reason finding the Orthodox Church has brought me the greatest joy since I first came to know Christ, because in the Orthodox Church the Holy Spirit has preserved the Way of surrender that leads us into oneness with God and with each other, as the lives of the Saints, even up to this present day, continually make manifest, revealing the Father’s good pleasure to answer Jesus’ prayer in John 17:20-23. Unfortunately there are many who have believed in Christ and have spent their remaining days trying different ways and making little progress, thereby growing frustrated and eventually accepting that this is just how it is this side of heaven, or sadly giving up altogether. This is the experience outside of the Church, because outside of the Church there is no definite Way of surrendering to God.

                The reason there is no definite Way, is that there is no consistency (in Roman Catholicism) and no consensus (in Protestantism) when it comes to what the Church and/or the Scriptures teach concerning how our life in Christ is to be lived. Consequently, after realizing this, the most logical first step for the believer in Christ is to attempt to learn how to interpret the teachings of the Church and/or the Scriptures. Outside of the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church, it is impossible for a believer to just surrender to Christ and build one’s life on what He says (Mt. 7:24-29). The believer first has to figure out exactly what Christ means. And so begins the process of thinking through the various interpretations of Jesus and the Scriptures to make sure one has the correct interpretation. However, not only is it impossible for one to just surrender to Christ outside of the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church, it is also impossible to arrive at the correct interpretation, hence all the confusion.

                Ultimately in this approach to being a Christian, Christ gets reduced to an idea, and you wind up (to quote Jesus) searching, “the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life” (John 5:39). This is where I found myself, and eventually I realized that Jesus was no longer a real person in my life, as He had been when I first believed. Oh I still knew Him to be a real person; He just wasn’t a real person in my life. This led me to broaden my search outside of Presbyterian and Reformed circles and has ultimately made Jesus a real person in my life again, as it has brought me to His Church, to His true Body. And it is this journey of trying to figure out just exactly how to surrender to God that I wish to share with you tonight.

 

                I was raised in Beauregard, AL, a small community that recently made the news, due to the tragic loss of life caused by tornadoes (Lord have mercy). My parents divorced when I was five, and I spent most of my time at my grandparents’ house. My grandmother was the only Christian influence in my life, but she was a great one when it came to setting before my eyes a life of love, joy, and peace; a life of patience, kindness, and goodness; a life of faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). No one who knew her would argue with the description of her life as that of the fruit of the Spirit, and it was with her life, more than her words, that she taught me what surrender really looks like.

                Once when I was 12, she took me to a revival at Providence Baptist Church. Towards the end of that week, I asked if I could be baptized. However after being baptized, I was rarely in church.

                Four years later, in 1994, I met the girl of my dreams, who is still here with me tonight. Although some of those dreams were nightmares the first few years, we were too foolish to let them prevent us from getting married four years later, when I was 20 and she was 18. A month after that, we had our first daughter. (Did I mention we were foolish?) All I had wanted to do was get out of that crazy, dating scene and on with “real life,” although I had no idea what that would be like.

                After several months of cycling through going to work, coming home, and paying the bills, I was beginning to wonder what I had gotten myself into. Was this all there was to life? As I talked with older guys at work, I began to realize many had different hobbies and interests that filled their time.

                Once while talking with a guy on a work trip, I told him that I didn’t really have any hobbies or interests, that I was still just trying to figure out life in general. “What’s the point of it,” I asked. “How do you enjoy it and make the most of it?” He told me to study different religions, but I just kind of dismissed it since that didn’t sound very fulfilling to me. Before the trip ended though, I thought I had figured it out. “Money,” I said, “without money, you can’t have all these hobbies, and money is all that seems to matter in this life anyway.” His advice to me then was to study the stock market.

                When I got back home, that’s what I began to do. I started watching CNBC and reading books on the stock market… but that didn’t last very long. That wasn’t doing it for me either. Finally another guy at work mentioned something about the Bible and that interested me, so I kept asking him questions about the Bible. Eventually he said to me, “I don’t know everything. Why don’t you get a Bible and go to church?”

                So that’s what I did. I got a Bible and started going to church. For the next nine months or so all I cared about was getting to know God, and I sought him earnestly through prayer and Bible reading. This led me to the one time that I can actually say that I surrendered to God.

                How so? I quit my job and moved off my father’s land to Birmingham, with my wife and almost two-year old daughter. I thought it was to go to Southeastern Bible College, but as it turned out, it was to be near Children’s Hospital and in the one apartment complex in Birmingham that had, what they called, an “Open Arms” apartment for families in medical crisis.

                Having moved into apartment 819, we walked by the “Open Arms” apartment, apartment 818, each day for two months. Then it became our home, when our daughter Madison was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a very rare type of cancerous tumor that almost always affects children. For 19 months she fought hard, enduring toxic chemotherapy, multiple surgeries, a stem-cell re-infusion, and radiation. Then on March 8, 2002, at three and a half years old, she passed away. May the Lord grant her soul rest where the righteous repose.

 

                After this encounter with the Lord, I began to learn about so-called “normal life,” getting re-established in work, church, and married life. And for the next 16 years, I tried to reconcile my experience with the Lord with what I was being taught in church, seeking to make sense out of what people were saying the Bible taught and what I had learned from Him first-hand. Along the way I would learn things that I knew to be true of God, but it wasn’t until recently that I realized that I was not being lead into deeper communion with Him, because I was not being taught consistently how to surrender to Him. And actually, I grew more and more distant from Him, all while supposedly learning more and more about Him.

                As I mentioned at the beginning there is no definite Way of surrendering to God outside of the Orthodox Church and many out there, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, spend their remaining days lamenting and/or experimenting with the different ways. And eventually, they either settle or give up altogether, unless in the Lord’s mercy, they stumble upon Orthodoxy, this "treasure hidden in a field” (Mt. 13:44), where there is both consistency and consensus on the Way we are to live our life in Christ, evidencing itself to be from one Source, yea, from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ Himself, who “is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8).  This was my experience in the seven churches we were members of from 2002 to 2018. Time does not permit me to go into all those details. Suffice it to say that in 20 years of marriage, I have moved my family 17 times (including to California and back… twice), had 11 different jobs, and attended five different schools, all stemming from not being consistently taught how to surrender to God.

                But now coming to our eighth church, HolyTrinity - Holy Cross, I truly believe, in keeping with the significance of that number, that we are finally entering into the Kingdom of God and the life of the world to come. This has become clearer to us as we have progressively tried on Orthodoxy for nearly a year now: to begin with by listening to the podcasts and music on Ancient Faith Radio and by reading Orthodox books, then by implementing the Daily Readings app into our daily routine with its Saints and Feasts, Scripture Readings, and Prayers, then by attending this Church and reordering our lives according to the liturgical calendar, setting up our icon corner, and now by journeying through our first Great Lent. Finally we are being led into deeper communion with God, as we are being consistently taught how to surrender to Him. (And I might add that we are looking forward, with great anticipation, to the culmination of this journey 10 days from now, on Great and Holy Saturday, when we will be received into the Holy Orthodox Church by Chrismation and, for the first time, be able to partake of the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.)

 

                This is the treasure of Orthodoxy in general and of Great Lent in particular. We neglect it to our own peril. For being led in surrender to God in the Orthodox Way is the only trustworthy Pursuit of Happiness (to borrow the theme of last year’s Lenten Talks). Let us not be tempted to believe that there is any other Way, or that this Way is optional. It does us no good to be members of the Orthodox Church if we aren’t surrendering to the Way in which she leads us out of the death of self-will and into the life that is Spirit-led, where we cry out with the Theotokos, “Behold the bondservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). For the Mysteries (i.e. Sacraments) are not magic, and unless they are combined with ascetical discipline, they are of no benefit to us, and they may in fact do us harm.

                “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:1-2). Let us “consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest [we] become weary and discouraged in [our] souls. [We] have not yet resisted to bloodshed, [in our] striving against sin” (Heb. 12:3-4).

 

                Well it’s been 20 years now since I asked that coworker, “What’s the point of life, how do you enjoy it and make the most of it?” And now I finally have more than just the answer, which is to “be partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4). Now I am also learning the Way in which that is accomplished, as I am being consistently taught how to lay down my will and surrender to God. Therefore, the journey is really just beginning.

                And though it seems we have come full circle, with the next logical step being to move to Birmingham again. Presently, the Lord seems to be leading us to stay put and wait on Him. As much as we desire to live right across the street, so that we can easily be here every time the doors are open, for now we are praying that He will build His Church in Auburn. Please pray for this with us and consider if in any way your surrendering to God might involve participating with Him in that work.

                “Father, ‘into Your hands I commit My spirit.’” Please lead me in surrender to God, that I may truly become one with Him, that His name be may be hallowed, that His kingdom may come and His will be done, in Auburn as it is in Birmingham. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Submitted by Jason Hinson



Alexis Pappas was raised in Dalton, Georgia and attended Holy Annunication Greek Orthodox Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee. A graduate of University of Alabama (1993), Al

307 19th Street South, Birmingham, AL 35233 | Fr. Gregory Edwards, Dean | 205.716.3080

Photography Credits: Beth Hontzas - Music: Presbytera Katerina Makiej





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Alexis Pappas was raised in Dalton, Georgia and attended Holy Annunication Greek Orthodox Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee. A graduate of University of Alabama (1993), Alexis has a master’s degree in Business Administration and Health Services Administration from the University of Alabama at Birmingham(1996). Alexis began working at the Cathedral in 2009 as an Interim Youth Director. She has stayed on staff assisting with youth programs, church school, inquirer’s class and in various roles supporting the parish and clergy. Alexis is married to Dr. Peter Pappas and they have two children, Stav and Eli. Alexis loves to read, workout, travel to Montana, spend time with her family and is learning bee keeping. Her favorite part about working at the Cathedral is all the friends that she has made and getting to know new comers.