I'm naturally a very skeptical person; I question everything -- there's hardly a thing I read or hear that I don't source-check -- and then source-check the sources. My incredulous nature has always been both a blessing and a curse for me. It's always made it hard for me to trust people and it certainly made my journey to Christianity -- and then Orthodoxy -- a much longer one than it might have otherwise been. But, once I reach a conclusion, I tend to have a firm conviction that I've arrived at the truth, if for no other reason than that I've exhausted every possible objection I could raise to it.
So... Of course, I applied my principles as I learned about the Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church said it was the ancient Church, so I learned about the ancient Church, reading every bit of the source texts -- even the Gnostics' gibberish; the Orthodox Church said it had never changed the Faith in the last 2000 years, and everybody else has, so I read everything I could get my hands on about Church history -- from every perspective possible; the Orthodox Church said it was the True Church -- so I source-checked it. And, of course, you all know the conclusion I reached.
I want to share with everyone the three "methods" I used when I was "source-checking" the Church's claims, and I hope they'll help someone who reads this to make an informed decision, even if it's not the one I made:
- First, I started in AD 33 with Pentecost and followed the Church to today. This involved reading lots of histories and pretty much all of the early Fathers and quite a bit of the later Fathers (and even the various heretics). The question that I kept asking myself the whole way through is "who is changing? who is innovating?" The reason this is important is because any departure, however slight, from the Faith of the Apostles is a betrayal of that Faith; it's basically saying that the Apostles had things wrong or didn't have everything, that Christ left them incomplete. And this is obviously wrong. Scripture tells us to "cling to the Faith which was once for all handed down to the saints" (Jude 1:3) and so I knew that's what I had to look for along the way: who is clinging, as Scripture commands us to do, and who is changing. And I followed that through to today. And I ended up in Moscow, Damascus, Alexandria, Bucharest, Sofia -- in short, I ended up in the Orthodox Church.
- I then did the reverse; I started with today and worked my way back. I knew it was impossible to look at each and every individual Christian group and trace each individually back, as there are several thousand. So, what I decided to do was divide them into five umbrella groups:
Starting with these five basic "movements" in Christianity, I traced each back to their roots from today. I found the roots of the Restorationists in the 1700's and 1800's, mostly in America. I found the roots of the "Low-church" Protestants in the 1600's and 1700's in the Anabaptist movement and, in the case of the Pentecostals, in the early 1900's in America. I found the roots of the "Traditional" Protestants in Germany with Martin Luther, England with King Henry VIII, and Switzerland with John Calvin. The Roman Catholic Church was a little harder, as I certainly find its roots in the ancient Church, but I also saw a single Patriarch, the Pope of Rome, split from the four other Patriarchs (Constantinople, Alexandria, Jerusalem, and Antioch) in 1054 to go and form his own Church, the Roman Catholic Church of today. And so it was only the Orthodox I was able to trace all the way back, through time, to the first century in Palestine with the 12 holy men called Apostles.
- Orthodox Church
- Roman Catholic Church
- "Traditional" Protestantism (Lutherans, Anglicans, Presbyterians, etc.)
- "Low-church" Protestantism (Baptists, Pentecostals, "Evangelicals," etc.)
- Restorationists (Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists, etc.)
- Orthodox Church
- And the third way I took was to take everything I had learned about what the ancient Christians believed and practiced, especially those of the first and second centuries, as they are the closest to the Apostles, and compared it with those five groups of Christians I gave above. I compared even the minutest details. I made columns in a notebook for each group and marked wherein they agreed or disagreed with the Christianity of the year 100 or so; early Christians fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays - check; early Christians believed in the Real Presence - check; early Christians Baptized via triple immersion - check; early Christians used incense in worship - check. And, when I had finished, I found only one "group" whose column was filled top to bottom with my little checks -- the Orthodox Church.