USA OF MY HEART
All-Merciful Saviour Monastery on Vashon Island,
9933 SW 268th St, Vashon, WA 98070, USA
JOURNEY TO ORTHODOXY
If someone told me four years ago that I would become Orthodox I would have suggested psychological testing! Before moving to Washington in 1996, I was a Protestant for 26 years, hopping from one church to another. There was always something missing but I couldn’t identify it. My marriage of 16 years failed so I decided to “take a break” from anything church related, move to Washington with my son and start over.
After being there for nearly a year, I quit one security job and was hired for another company. My new boss, Pete, was a big bear of a man with a wonderful sense of humor and the ability to speak the language of his ancestry which I had always wanted to learn—Greek!
To a background in Hawaiian, Hebrew, Latin, French, and American Sign Language I wanted to add Greek, especially since the New Testament was written in it. When Pete suggested I call one of the Greek Orthodox churches in Tacoma I had no idea what to look for. I “let my fingers do the walking” and arbitrarily chose St. Nicholas.
I know that the Holy Spirit led me to choose that parish. I inquired about Greek lessons and the woman took my name and phone number. A few days later Despina Kipelidis called me. That was the beginning of my adventure!
During my Greek lessons, we would talk about spiritual things and she would answer my questions about Orthodoxy with as much zeal as I had as Protestant. She loaned me books like St. Seraphim of Sarov, Mother Macarius, etc. Being the “good Christian” that I was, I checked everything against scripture. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t getting into something strange or something that went contrary to what I knew scripture taught.
I could find nothing wrong but it took a while to get used to certain theological issues such as the rightful position of the Holy Mother, and the transformation of the break and wine into the Body and Blood of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ. Once I started attending services— first at St. Nicholas and then at Holy Resurrection (OCA)—1 began finding what had been missing in all the other churches I attended—WORSHIP and REVERENCE.
I was relieved in what I found in Orthodoxy. There was no “show” or a need to “entertain” to attract new believers. I found meaning in everything that was done in the Liturgy and at home. It was comforting. I had come home.
The traditions in Orthodoxy are passed down from the Apostles themselves and there is the desire for more spiritual discipline. There is a right way and a wrong way to worship, dress, pray, fast, etc.
And I found people who wanted to do it right. I had been covering my head for 19 years and for the first time I wasn’t the only (outside a messianic congregation)! There is consistency. There is a cycle. But make no mistake about one thing; there is just as much, if not more, emotion. These traditions are in no way dead or boring! I discovered in Orthodoxy that which so many other Christians have forgotten. After several months of being a Catechumen I was baptized. My Godmother is Fevronia Prodomidou from Kavala, Greece.
I chose the name Kyriaki, after my Greek teacher’s aunt so I actually have TWO names; Kyriaki-Fevronia.
I have been Orthodox for a little over a year now and thought it would be wonderful if my family, especially my son, became Orthodox, it’s God’s job to enlighten them the same way He enlightened me. I’m just in awe of the way He blessed me and helped me find my way home!
by Tudor Petcu
A Romanian writer, Tudor is a graduate of the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Bucharest, Romania. He has published a number of articles related to philosophy and theology in different cultural and academic journals. His work focuses on the evolution of Orthodox spirituality in Western societies as well and he is going to publish a book of interviews with Westerners converted to Orthodoxy. In this article, he interviews William Harrington, an American Convert to Orthodoxy.
TP: With your permission, I am interested to find out more information about your spiritual personality before becoming an Orthodox. Who were you before before discovering Orthodoxy and what was your view on life and its purpose?
William Harrington: Right now, I am teaching adults who never graduated high school and want to get their diploma. I live in Parsons, Kansas on the edge of the GreatPlains and I travel about an hour to get to a small mission in Joplin Missouri. About fifteen years ago, things were quite different. I had been married, but my wife cheated, then got a divorce. This is accurate and I don’t think there is much I could have done that would have changed what happened, but it did make me take a look at my life and see what was missing. My parents were both in the Air Force. My mother had been raised a Low Church protestant and my Father had grown up in an Irish-German Catholic family. He left Catholicism for her and I was baptized by a United Methodist Air Force chaplain.
We attended several different denominations, but by the time I was a teenager, my father had retired from the Air Force and became an Agriculture teacher. We settled in a really small town outside of the small town of DeSoto, Wisconsin. I hunted, fished, worked on farms, and we attended a Methodist church. I was deeply involved and considering becoming a minister, but after I attended college, I drifted away and became your typical secular American.
After the divorce, though, I knew something was missing. I went back to a Methodist church. The Pastor was wonderful. Korean and traditional. Then one Sunday I showed up and they had replaced my pastor with someone that I hesitate to call a Christian. This can’t be the Church, I thought. I quit going, but I had another chance to find what I needed. I have long been involved with a medieval re-creationist group called the Society for Creative Anachronism. The SCA has a huge on-line presence on the internet and I belonged to several e-mail lists devoted to the SCA. One of these groups was called PerRel for period religion.
Some people probably thought it meant peril, considering the arguments that we regularly engaged in, but we were a group that enjoyed honest, good arguments. It was on this list that I confessed that I was looking for a church but felt that most protestant churches were unreliable and changeable. One person, a member of a Greek Orthodox Church asked me if I had considered Orthodoxy. The seed was planted. At the time, I was living in Tacoma, Washington. I visited an Orthodox Church in America parish. It was intimidating, but fascinating. Shortly after this, I moved halfway across the continent, basically because I had not been able to rebuild my life after the divorce, and I found that a bachelor’s degree in History (which I had earned) had no real value.
So who was I? I was a well-educated person with a passion for history who had been broken by a failed marriage and, another relationship that had not worked out (I know, I hadn’t mentioned it before). I didn’t believe I had much value and I knew I needed Christ, but I wasn’t able to find Him in Protestant churches or by myself. I was going home to start over and figure my life out. I was in my mid-thirties and starting over, this time in Southern Illinois. I had never been there, but my family was there, so it was home. I found a job working with drug addicts and convicts getting out of prison. I was good at this job and I liked helping people. I was thinking of becoming a counselor. But I knew I still needed more. The seed had been planted.
TP: Which was the main reason why yiu have made the decision to convert to the Orthodox Church? What exactly have you discovered in Orthodox spirituality?
William Harrington: In 2003, I was researching Orthodoxy on-line when I read the difference between Protestantism’s view that God the Father has to punish us for our sins, but Christ took the father’s wrath upon himself. I discovered the Orthodox view that God loves us so much that Christ became one of us and died like us, just to conquer death so we can live. It was like such a weight was lifted off of me that I think I remember crying. I looked in the phone book, found the only Orthodox Church in southern Illinois and went the next Sunday. I didn’t have the courage to do more than stand in the back, but I watched everyone go to the front to kiss the cross at the end of the liturgy. The next Sunday I was there and at the end of liturgy I joined everyone in line and, when I stood before Father George, I introduced myself and said I had to become Orthodox. I was chrismated (I had already been baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) in about a month after Father got the go ahead from Bishop Job.
What I have discovered is a road that is hard to walk, but never grows boring. A well with no bottom. I found the Church that I had started looking for after the divorce. I remember the Sunday after I was Chrismated, the choir grabbed hold of me, put a book in my hands, and told me I would be singing with them. This was a small church with maybe, maybe, twenty people in it. Most of them didn’t actually sing. What I heard that Sunday was incredible. There was a glorious choir behind us but when I turned around I didn’t see one. I have never heard that again, but I believe I was allowed to hear the heavenly choir for that moment to let me know I was in the right place.
TP: Can you say that becoming Orthodox, you have lived the most important or the deepest spiritual revolution?
William Harrington: No. The problem is that past tense. It’s been twelve years, but I feel like I’m just getting started and the most important and deepest spiritual revolution is still ahead of me.
TP: How and why in your oppinion can Orthodoxy help people to gain redemption?
William Harrington: First. And I can’t stress this enough. We are the Church of Christ. This is not triumphalism, it’s just fact. I’m not interested really, in speculating whether salvation can be found outside the Church. The important thing is we have the Church. She gives us all the mysteries we need for salvation. The hard thing for Protestants to understand is the mysteries are not just symbols. Baptism is really dying and rising with Christ just as we hope to do again at the resurrection. Communion really is the body and blood of Christ and through this we become part of the body of Christ. In addition, we have the teaching and wisdom of two thousand years of saints, not to mention Christ and his Apostles, on the nitty gritty details of what we need to do to become more Christ like. How to pray, how to fast, how to feast, it’s all part of what the Church gives us. As we grow, we can enter deeper into this ocean of teaching, pray better, and become ever more like Christ.
TP: Considering that you are a convert to Orthodoxy, what would be the most important lesson that everyone of us should learn in the Orthodox Church?
William Harrington: The Church is the pearl of great price. I often envy cradle orthodox, but I also see that they often take the Church for granted. They are no different from Protestants and Roman Catholics in this. The Church has more to do with who they see themselves as and less to do with a commitment to living for Christ. I would say, take the time to look at what you have. Its been given too you. Others have had to search for it, many have died to keep it. Don’t take it for granted.
This interview is one of many that will be published in the book “The rediscovery of Orthodox heritage of the West” by Tudor Petcu, containing interviews with different Westerners converted to Orthodoxy. It will be published in two volumes and the first one will appear by the end of this year.
PROTESTANTS MET ORTHODOXY
The Personal Story of Fr. George Johnson, Washington, USA
From Protestantism to Orthodoxy
Fr. George Johnson
JOURNEY TO ORTHODOXY
I am a priest in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, serving in the cathedral of St John the Baptist in Washington, D.C. There are some almost uncanny parallels between our lives, even down to the grumpy choir directors. I was (and sometimes still am) the grumpy choir director, however.
I became interested and involved in Anglicanism through a singing job in a “high” church in 1968. At the time, my focus was primarily musical. My parents were devout Southern Baptists, and, while I now appreciate their humility and devotion, in my youth I did not so much. The Episcopal Church offered an escape from the music and worship of the Baptists, which, shall we say, were not to my taste.
The Western liturgical tradition as carried on by the high-church Anglicans seemed to me to be just the right combination of grandness and sobriety justly suited to worship. Having just come from the Baptists, the intellectual and spiritual confusion which at length gave rise to tradition-destroying innovations did not concern me for a long time. I chalked it up to our fallen state, for which God was making accommodations which I did not understand. I thought I could press on for the sake of art and faith, and pray that everything would come out alright. It was going to take a great deal to make me want to throw away Tallis, Byrd, Weelkes, Purcell, …, RVW, Walton, Britten, … , not to mention all the great hymns and tunes, and the gorgeous language of the (old) Prayer Book and Psalter.
A great many things happened, but I’ll cut to the chase. In 1984 or 5, a lesbian member of our parish who sang in my choir asked me to be a member of a committee to help her explore a calling to the priesthood. Needless to say, I begged off. But I did not have the courage to tell her that the thought of her as a priest made me sick. You may be familiar with the musical “Fiddler on the Continue reading “The Personal Story of Fr. George Johnson, Washington, USA – From Protesantism to Orthodoxy”
WASHINGTON OF MY HEART
Is There Really a Patristic Critique of Icons?
G. V. Martini, Washington, USA
About G. V. Martini
G. V. Martini works as a senior product manager for a software company and is a subdeacon in the Orthodox Church. He and his family attends St. Innocent Antiochian Orthodox Church in Everson, Washington.
JOURNEY TO ORTHODOXY
Don, Jacque and Ron’s beginnings into Orthodox Christianity started 38 years ago when we first discovered Christ…
by Don & Jacque Kemper
We were living in Reno, Nevada and through our neighbors we began going to an Evangelical Free Church. It was a great Bible teaching church, very small but with 5 gifted Bible teachers, one had worked on the Dead Sea Scrolls before his retirement.
After leaving Reno for Kennewick, Washington we attended the Christian Reformed Church. Again a very conservative Bible teaching church, with a pastor who was very involved in Campus Crusade ministries and especially a prison ministry. For most of our 27 years in Kennewick our home (which was close to our church) became an auxiliary Sunday school room and a Wednesday evening bible study.
Don was actively involved in the church as an elder and a Sunday school teacher. My interest was in Bible Study Fellowship, a non-denominational 7 year Bible study that has over 900 classes world-wide. In BSF I had various roles and several years later Don helped start a men’s BSF class, where he was a Teaching Leader for 17 years. This was a ministry he loved and regretfully left when we moved from Kennewick to Colorado to be near family.
Besides our church involvement we helped a local Young Life program get started in Kennewick. Added to this involvement Jacque was invited to speak at various women’s retreats and was surprised to find out that instead of being a nervous wreck, that it was very satisfying and lots of fun.
Ron in the meantime graduated from our local community college and before going on to Washington State University to study nursing, he decided to take a year off and attended Ecola Bible college at Cannon Beach Oregon. This was an incredible experience and he was able to study and learn from some great teachers. After graduating from the Inter-collegiate School of Nursing at Washington State, Ron had lots of experience in Home Health, Hospice, and as an Oncology nurse. He took a brief respite from nursing and studied a second love of his, computers. But he decided his heart was in nursing and he now works at Sky Ridge Hospital in Lonetree, Colorado.
After Don retired we moved near to Glenwood Springs, Colorado. While there our introduction to Orthodox Christianity began with a visit from our youngest son Chris, who is part of an Orthodox Church in Post Falls, Idaho. We have to admit, when he first visited us 6 years ago we were intrigued by what he shared about Orthodoxy, but with our protestant outlook we found it all very strange and confusing. We wrote off his involvement as something for him but definitely not for us. Crossing yourself, candles, icons and incense were way beyond our grasp.
After some harrowing trips over the mountains to visit our daughter Rebecca and family, we decided we wanted to live closer to them, and moved to the Denver area. We were surprised and amazed to discover that she was also involved in the Orthodox Church.
In order to understand the reasons for Chris and Rebecca’s transformed lives we began reading the reams of material that they gave us on Orthodoxy and asked to go with her to church. She kindly took us to Saturday evening vespers, knowing that this was a less overwhelming introduction to a church that was so different than anything we had ever experienced. A church where the able-bodied stood for a 2-3 hour liturgy, where there was chanting, incense and icons everywhere. Fortunately what she had given us to read, her own personal experiences and observations really paved the way for our entering into a new way of worshipping.
One of Don’s greatest hungers was to find a church where worship of Christ our Lord was primary. Over the years we all had become dismayed how even the more conservative denominations were becoming more worldly and seemed to be focused more on the congregation and its needs rather than worship of the Lord.
The evening the three of us walked that into that Orthodox Church in Colorado Springs we were overwhelmed by the whole experience; the liturgy and the attitude of worship convinced us that we had come home. We are awed by the fact that we have been so blessed by God to be led to this church, where we are experiencing what our hearts have for so many years been yearning. On the eve of Pentecost, 2007, we we received into the Orthodox Church, and our journey that started 38 years ago in Reno took on a whole new and wondrous beginning. Our only regret it that it took so many years in coming.
The emphasis of my testimony is slightly different then that of my parents in the aspect that I was raised in a non-Christian home for the first thirteen years of my life. My mother became a Christian and soon afterwards in February 1969, my mother showed me a Campus Crusade Four Law book to me and I prayed the prayer in it, to receive Jesus as my lord. Shortly afterwards also our family began to attend the Evangelical Free Church in Reno, and later the Christian Reformed Church in Washington state, when we moved there in 1973.
I guess my experience with Protestantism is similar to that of many other Protestant Christians in the aspect that the emphasis was in praying the salvation prayer, and then try to live the Spirit filled life by being obedient to God’s word in the Bible. I knew we were supposed to worship the Lord, pray to Him, study His word, and somehow be obedient to Him; but there seemed to be no systematic way in doing these tasks. In my Protestant life worship ended up being a secondary activity, occurring only on Sunday morning services—usually consisting of reading the Ten Commandments, or of the Golden Rule, singing five or six hymns, praying four or five times (one usually silently for about twenty seconds to privately confess ones sins).
After about ten years in the faith, I heard a pastor mention that we should have five minutes a day for a quiet time of devotion in the Bible, so I added that too—to my life. I would drop my Bible, read whatever it fell open to and then pray a simple short prayer—‘Lord get me through this day without any close calls or flat tires’ (I had a pre-occupation with my driving in high school and college!). However apart from the time I spent attending church, and with my time in the word… I spent little time thinking of God… assigning my time with Him to a brief moment in the mornings, and an hour and a half on Sundays.
I went on with my life—in 1978 I attended nursing school, graduated in 1980 and began work on a poorly-staffed cardiac floor in Phoenix, Arizona. I got so depressed with the poor working conditions, and despaired over my lonely single existence that I took a year off to attend a small Bible college in Cannon Beach, Oregon. After rededicating my life there, I then had considered Christian ministry such as one on a Christian-run hospital ship. That opportunity fell through, but shortly afterwards, I then found a rewarding job as a cancer nurse in a large hospital in Tacoma, Washington; and considered that as a form of service to God.
Not finding any church completely satisfactory in fellowship, worship, or in Christian service—I began attending Bible Study Fellowship, a non-denominational Protestant Bible study, on a regular basis.
Eventually I was baptized in a relatively minor (and private) ceremony, in a mainline Protestant church where I was trying to find worship that made sense. What I ended up finding instead was the same old problem of token attention to worship, a ‘what’s in it for me attitude’ present in the church I went to—and more disturbingly I found that also to be in my own thinking. In the churches I attended, I also felt that no one seemed to care concerning my own personal walk with the Lord, or with where I stood with the Lord… there was no accountability to the Lord, to anyone.
After many years of emptiness, frustration and personal apathy over my walk with the Lord… my sister Rebecca suggested that I try the Orthodox Church in Colorado Springs where she was attending. I first went on a Wednesday evening to Vespers with some slight apprehension as a Protestant, not knowing what to expect.
But the very moment I walked into the building, I saw the iconography, smelled the incense, heard the gentle voice of the choir and saw the Priest, Father Anthony facing east. It became apparent that all of the attention was in worshiping the Lord God almighty.
It immediately became apparent to me that I was with the saints in heaven as much as with fellow believers in worship. Such wholeness, in worship I never had ever experienced in my life as a believer—this is the Church, the body of Christ. And refreshingly absent was the ‘me’ attitude, substituted instead by humility in worship.
Being an Orthodox Christian is being whole. I see the way we pray in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit—acknowledges the whole Trinity.
The way we venerate icons I see includes the whole body of Christ, including the saints who have run the good race before us. Now gone from my thinking is the agnostic way of neglecting the whole God-head in prayer. Gone also is my unbelieving ignorance of my spiritual forefathers and mothers—they are not dead but alive in Christ, able to hear, see in the present.
Being whole also includes the confession of sin, being accountable to Christ, with the help/guidance of His priest—this now allows me to turnover the full burden of my life all to Jesus—rather than trying to self diagnose myself during a token quiet time. Bible study, prayer and fasting in the Orthodox faith also is becoming apparent to me as being a 24/7process that doesn’t occur just on Sunday’s, or during a weekly Bible study—but as a daily, hourly, moment-by-moment process.
I still have so very much to learn concerning Orthodoxy. It is not an easy way to go. But as I see it, it is the only way to experience the fullness of walking with Christ.
The parish is a local community of the Church having at its head a duly appointed priest and consisting of Orthodox Christians who live in accordance with the teachings of the Orthodox Church, comply with the discipline and rules of the Church, and regularly support their parish. Being subordinate to the Diocesan Authority, it is a component part of the Diocese.