A Perspective on the Journey Back to Christ
Kevin Jonke | Spring 2006
My life as a Greek Orthodox Christian began with
great pomp and circumstance, when just two
weeks after I made my debut into the world, a
priest gravely dipped me into an old, ornate basin of holy
water and cleansed me of my sins. I must admit at the outset
that I was on very bad behavior throughout my Baptism.
My family is fond of reminding me that my indignant wails
pierced the air of the church for the duration of the ceremony,
and my godmother insists that even the priest heaved a
sigh of relief as he completed his task of indoctrinating me
into the Brotherhood of Christ.
I recount this particular anecdote with no intention of
cheapening the sacraments; on the contrary, I mean to explain—
albeit facetiously—the beginning of my complicated
struggle to appreciate and understand my faith. I am a
steadfast Christian today, but my surety has come only after
having faltered at the border of that shadowy region where
God seems to fade away. I am not familiar with most of the
intricacies and paradoxes of the Bible, and I cannot quote
Scripture at will, but I do know the simple truth that it feels
right to give myself to Christ—largely because I have experienced
the listlessness and desperation of a consuming
doubt. I write today not so much for those fortunate in the
blessing of a strong conviction or for the biblical scholar;
rather, I hope to reach some of those who stumble where I
floundered, who are flustered in their search for a meaning
that eludes them.
Everyone’s relationship with God is intensely personal,
and the criteria of my spiritual fulfillment differ from those
of my parents, my siblings, and my friends. My early Christian
environment was in no way flawed; it only failed somehow
to resonate with me. By describing my own search for
truth, I do not intend to dissuade anyone from the spirituality
that suits them; rather, I hope primarily to encourage the
dissatisfied to persevere on their troubled paths to God.
In the Greek Orthodox Church, Baptism transpires concurrently
with First Communion and Confirmation. As my
disgruntled howling rose to the rafters, I simultaneously shed
the Original Sin, received the sacrament of the Eucharist,
and—by the tacit consent of being present at the ceremony—declared myself a true member of Greek Orthodoxy.
While I respect that many people feel rightfully fulfilled by
this formula, I struggled personally with the situation as soon
as I matured enough to ponder it. I lamented that I had not
made the choice of my religion, and my passive acceptance
of something imposed on me externally planted the seed of
religious uncertainties that burdened me for years.
At the beginning, I tried to conform to what I had been
labeled. I went to Greek school and learned the Lord’s
Prayer in Greek by mimicking the sounds of a language I
could not understand, but my spirituality felt both false and
forced. I gleaned no meaning from the church services conducted
all in Greek, but I continued to hum earnestly along
with the choir as they chanted ancient hymns—waiting with
a dying hope for the moment when I might finally feel God.
I could not find the transcendent link from me to Christ in
the ceremony and the ambiance of the Greek Church. For
many years, though, I did not expand my search beyond its
borders. I had been confirmed in my faith; if going through
the motions of religion left me with an emptiness, I concluded
that that void must have been an eternal hollowness
in me. I stood frozen in quiet resignation as I gradually lost
the Lord in imperfect translation, failing to see beyond the
swirling smoke of censers and stained-glass-filtered light.
Because I allowed myself to stay bounded by a structure I
had not chosen and that did not resonate with me, I mistook
one perception of Christianity for the entirety, and nearly
abandoned the faith.
I tell the story of my personal struggle because I see within
it the symptoms of a larger social phenomenon. In recent
years it has come increasingly into vogue for individuals to
distance themselves from Christianity as such, to declare
their opposition to the institutional nature of organized religion.
A detached and more freeform spirituality has been on
the rise, as the structures of traditional religion have been
exchanged for vague acknowledgements of a higher power.
While I understand that agnosticism and other nonreligious
spiritual orientations offer many people the satisfaction they
seek, I contend from personal experience that some who
subscribe to these philosophies acutely feel the absence of
the definite God from Whom they could have drawn their
strength. Frustrated by some quality of their traditional religion,
but also unsatisfied by the alternative they adopt to
replace it, these defeated searchers sink into the religious
apathy that permeates much of our generation. But this
downward spiral away from God is not the inevitable result
of personal dissatisfaction with Christianity. In my case, and
perhaps for others, the crippling crisis of faith ultimately revealed
itself to be only a crisis of agency masquerading as something more.
Feeling defeated, desperate, and alone one night, I promised
to give religion one final chance; only this time, I made
the strangely freeing decision not to return to my old church.
I was not entirely aware of what was missing for me there,
but I knew that it could never offer me the support I needed.
I began to try new churches with different approaches, and
while I still have not quite found the perfect fit, I derive a
profound and soothing satisfaction from the elusive something
I am working to understand. Agency is the antidote to
apathy, and giving up is giving in. That is the final message
I hope to convey to those peering wearily over the edge:
look more deeply, engage more completely, and—most importantly—
push more forcefully beyond the boundaries
that constrain. My suggestion is admittedly a tall order; it is
certainly difficult to chase after a goal without knowing the
real nature of what we hope to find. But that is what faith
is all about. We try our best to understand a God whose
perfection is beyond our comprehension, and we attempt to
puzzle out the nature of our relationship to Him. In pursuit
of understanding, faith is never passive, never “given.” Few
external forces have the power to define its particulars for
us; we need to discover for ourselves how we best fit into the
scheme, but—luckily—there is a deep and peaceful power
in the search. None of us knows precisely where we are going
or how we ought to get there, but we should all draw
strength and meaning from the challenging journey that
leads us closer to the truth.
Kevin Jonke ’09 is a Social Studies concentrator in