As a 34-year-old who was raised and formally educated as an Evangelical, it may sound strange that my family are on the cusp of entry into the Orthodox Church. It's particularly confusing to Evangelical friends and family who have known me for a long time, and this series of posts I'm beginning is meant largely for them. But it's my hope that these might also serve as a soft touch point for Orthodox inquirers out there who, like myself once upon a time, are looking for present day conversion stories that may help them better understand their own journey (and give them hope!). So to you, inquirer, fear not. The journey is necessary and worth it. To my friends and family asking "Why?," I hope this account will be accessible, personable and satisfying. It's probably unavoidable that some will find grounds for disagreement or even frustration with some of my theological turns over the last 4+ years, but after this series is complete, at least my journey should be demystified.
This whole business actually began many years before my formal period of exploration. When I was a child, construction of a Coptic Orthodox temple began very close to my family's church (Church of Christ) in a Dallas, TX suburb. I was somewhat fascinated by the unique architecture, the all-white facade and the interesting crosses that accented it. Driving by it one day, I asked my dad what kind of church it was. I don't much remember what his answer was, but I know it left me with the impression that the people there were "kinda" Christian, but not like us. In some ambiguous way, their faith had problems. That blunted my interest at the time, but years later I would have that youthful curiosity rekindled.
Some time in 2010, the PCUSA's General Assembly was convened, I understand largely with the purpose of considering the ordination of gay clergy. They brought in some leaders from Christian groups outside the denomination as "Ecumenical Advisory Delegates," with the rather self-evident purpose of speaking extra-Presbyterian perspectives into the gay clergy question. The delegates took turns speaking to the gathering, and a video of one such lecture fortuitously appeared in my Facebook feed. The envoy in question was Siarhei Hardun, an archpriest in the Orthodox Church of Belarus. I've no idea what possessed the PCUSA to include this man on their roster, but they can't have expected what they ended up getting. Give it a watch for yourself:
Watching this as a conservative Evangelical, I was equal parts amused by his takedown of the PCUSA brass and confused at how much in agreement with him I was. "What the heck is the Orthodox Church?" I thought to myself. "I thought they were off in the weeds on stuff," I recalled, thinking back to that brief conversation with my dad about the Copts in our neighborhood years before (for the uninitiated, the Coptic and Eastern Orthodox Churches are not actually the same thing). Even then, I wasn't curious enough to look into the matter. It would be a succession of odd events some months later that would finally get that ball rolling.
Some time after seeing the video, I was listening to a political talk radio show. The host was known for doing some fairly eclectic, apolitical interviews, and on the day in question was interviewing the head of Biola University's Torrey Honors Institute (at that time), John Mark Reynolds. There was no mention of Reynolds' personal faith profession on the show, but he gave a memorable enough interview that his name stuck in my mind. A few days later, I was reading a blog post from Southern Baptist spokesperson Russell Moore in which he mentioned Reynolds, referring to him as an Eastern Orthodox Christian. "Orthodoxy AGAIN?" I thought. Reynolds, then, unwittingly served as my gateway to the Orthodox Church. Already having been impressed by him, his confusing presence in a leadership role at a prominent Evangelical university was the final impetus I needed to start acquainting myself with the Christian East.
I visited Torrey's community blog, The Scriptorium Daily, where I found a link to the Antiochian Archdiocese website (I assume Reynolds' affiliation at the time). There I began haphazardly to read about the various beliefs of the Orthodox Church. When I'm online, though, my already short attention span shrinks to immeasurable smallness. Not having gained much satisfaction after a couple hours of clicking around the site, I went to my local Half Price Books in search of more substantive Orthodox reading.
Being that Orthodoxy's American presence is minuscule, I nearly left the store empty-handed. Just before giving up, my eyes caught the word "Orthodox" on the bottom shelf of the Catholic section. It was Timothy "Kallistos" Ware's The Orthodox Way. The book appeared to be just the sort of concise, ordered presentation I was looking for. It wasn't a theological tome, and it focused itself on the real-world application of Orthodoxy's most basic theological teaching. I read the book with fascination. Ware's delivery was disarmingly friendly, which made it possible for me to disagree with him without feeling the need to prematurely put the book down. He also spoke with authority as the Metropolitan of the Greek Orthodox Church in England.
Despite various disagreements, I finished the book still having been enlightened on several points. Most importantly, though, I was spiritually uplifted in a way I didn't at all expect. That was the magic component. Sans the spiritual impression, I would've said, "Well that was cool." I could've then gone to my various liberally minded friends in Seattle where I lived at the time and boasted, "Dude I just read this totally sweet book on the Eastern Orthodox Church!" And they would've said, "Cool, man! And I totally just read Rachel Held Evans' new book! Let's get together and talk about it!" Life would've resumed without interruption.
Alas, to my intellectual curiosity had been added a spiritual hunger. I needed to consume more.
Ancient Faith Ministries
Ancient Faith Publishing
Becoming Truly Human
Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy
Roads from Emmaus
On Behalf of All
Journey to Orthodoxy
Fr Patrick Henry Reardon
Orthodox Arts Journal
Glory to God for All Things
Crown Them With Glory
Paracletos Monastery Icons
Orthodox Church in America
Orthodoxy in America
Antiochian Western Rite
ROCOR Western Rite
St Anna GOC of Utah