A catechumen was received into the Church this past Sunday; a former Episcopalian priest for some forty years, he had held out due to his post as a professor and as a pastor to those still continuing on in his flock. Deciding he could no more abide the position, he has now joined the Orthodox Church with more fervor than anyone I think I've seen in my relatively short Orthodox life. Prayers for Jared, as his family life is quite a hostile environment now.
When he was received, he recited the Nicene Creed by himself, in the presence of the faithful. Never have I heard that creed read with so much conviction; indeed, after one or two articles of faith, he choked up. It is this Creed which is quickly becoming my favorite part of any service in which it is found. That a confession with such a relatively general theological nature has become so much more meaningful as of late is something that both surprises and comforts me.
Steve Robinson has stated quite rightly in a comment on this blog that converts to the Orthodox faith (or any other, for that matter) make the worst apologists, at least at first, as they end up focusing almost exclusively on the often-esoteric distinctives of their new faith rather than its catholic core. Such a tendency is understandable, even if it is horribly wrong. Indeed, focusing on the universally-accepted tenants of the Creed would almost be anticlimactic, as one might be tempted to wonder why one would convert from what many consider one of several nicene faiths to another in the first place, much less a more exotic, less palatable one. Indeed, much more titillating is the idea of focusing on all of the exclusively Orthodox practices and theological distinctives, as one can use those to browbeat fellow nicean-constantinopolitan Christians into a hierarchical, sacramental, theosis-based soteriological corner wherein they must become Orthodox because they have been manhandled into that particular confession through a type of forced process of elimination. As one was taught, so one will teach, as it were.
So it is therefore a comfort to me that, when someone asks a question to the tune of, "So, what is it you Orthodox believe," I immediately begin with the person of Jesus Christ, His work on the Cross, His Resurrection from the Tomb, His Ascension into Heaven, His Second Coming, and the Resurrection offered to all who will have faith in Him. I do not talk about fasting for half the year, uncreated grace, essence v. energies, apostolic succession, the Real Presence, the filioque, icons, incense, liturgy, or bishops. While all the latter components of the faith were new to me (a former Southern Baptist), the strongly-preached kerygma of the Creed I had grown up with was something I'd taken for granted, whereas the former Father James (now John) was blessed beyond words to affirm in the assembly of like-minded faithful who would have him what those from whence he came were desperate to denounce as irrelevant. We may confess (correctly) that the Holy Spirit precedes from the Father, full stop, thus distancing ourselves from the West, and we may ascribe "belief" to the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church -- belief which is equally ascribed to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, as well -- thus distinguishing ourselves from Protestants who have markedly lower ecclesiologies, but by and large, the rest of this Creed is affirmed by all of Christendom, and that is because it is the gospel, the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes.
My three year-old has taken to lighting and holding candles (which we've "rescued" from being thrown out at church) during the Creed in our household morning and evening prayers. It is a wonderful focal point for her to slow down, say the Creed deliberately (praise God, she can say the whole thing herself with very, very little prompting) and focus on the light as she speaks luminous words. If this Faith is to be more than a form of godliness without the power thereof (and it can be and has been countless times over for innumerable souls), it must be because of the radiant συμβολο which stands at the center of our Faith and, in true symbolic fashion, unites us to that which it proclaims. May its radiance illumine the words we say and those we pray, as well as the work which our hands find to do.