In the beginning, a very well known phrase, I was born into a totally Jewish family in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I did all the things a normal kid would do, and a lot I shouldn’t have. We really didn’t go to the Synagogue a lot. Back then you had to be a member and pay dues, and for the High Holy Days, you had to buy tickets at an additional cost to the membership dues. I questioned this and all my father would say is that I was too young to understand.
As was the custom, I had my Bar-Mitzvah and considered myself partially religious. In Judaism, there are three main divisions: Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox. Even then I appreciated the beauty of the original language and felt the services should be in Hebrew. Since Reform worship was only in English and there was no way I could ever be Orthodox, I considered myself Conservative.
Later, when I was a Marine stationed at 29 Palms, California, I became a Jewish Lay Leader. In this capacity I advised the Chaplains on religious customs and laws. For a little while I even flirted with the idea of becoming a Rabbi.
That’s when God’s providence intervened. It took the form of a beautiful Greek Orthodox girl, who so despised me on our first date that she married me to get even – and has been getting even with me for almost 39 years. We had a quandary, though. We both believed in God according to the teachings we had as children. As in most marriages, we came to a compromise. We were married in a non-denominational chapel and promised to not ever demand each other to convert.
We kept to this agreement for several years. Then along came our first son, Christopher. We were living in California at that time and realized that if we were going to get him a decent education, we’d need to look outside the public school system. We ended up getting him into a very good Catholic school. St. Joseph Parish was located in the middle of Mission San Jose, a Dominican Motherhouse, and a Sisters of the Holy Rosary Motherhouse. Every Sunday when I came home from attending services at this Catholic church, I gave thanks that lightning had not struck me for being there as an imposter and spy.
Since our marriage, we had moved often. One stretch of 10 years saw us move 11 times! In each new city, we would seek out the Greek Orthodox Church and the Synagogue. I don’t know whether it was me or the churches, but it did not feel right and whenever we went to the Synagogue, the Rabbi told me that my wife would be able to attend with me only two more times before she would have to convert.
When Chris was between 6th and 7th grades and our younger son, Jamie, was just about to enter Kindergarten, I found a job in Beaverton, Oregon, so we packed up and left the ‘golden’ state. Since we had been going to a Catholic church, we aligned with a church in Beaverton to keep Chris in a private school like he was used to.
In October 1997, about two months after Fr. Theodore came here permanently, I was on the road with my job and Deme saw an article in The Oregonian about a new mission church starting up. She went to the Liturgy in The Barn at Catlin Gable School and when I called that night, she informed me in a very positive manner that next Sunday we WERE going to church. That next Sunday was amazing. It was as if I had been there all my life. Not much in my life to that point had felt so right. The people were warm and wonderful and Fr. Theodore promised he would not try to convert me. Yeah, right.
After that first Sunday we started to attend regularly. The church was literally moved from place to place in Barry Ketrenos’ station wagon and the liturgical items were in a big, green trunk that Father brought with him. My job, at the time, was putting on trade shows for the company I worked for, so when I wanted to get more involved and Deme asked me what I wanted to do, I told her that I would do anything EXCEPT setup and teardown. This is how, every Sunday for the next two years, I ended up right there with John Poulos and Barry setting up the church and packing it away. During that time, though, I felt connected to something bigger than me or my puny existence—more than I had ever felt before. I KNEW I had to be a part of this.
I became a part of the steering committee of the new parish of Metro West – the only mission parish I know of named after an ambulance company. About 6 months after I first came, I told Father that I was ready to become Orthodox and we started the lessons that would take this Jewish sinner and change him into an Orthodox sinner. When I discussed what my baptismal name should be with Father (he discussed, I listened), he said it should be Nathaniel from the book of John –“Behold an Israelite in which there is no guile.” I guess, maybe, I should have been more tactful.
Things were going along at the parish and we had a target date of late June or early July for Metropolitan Anthony to visit and make us an official Parish. Then the Metropolitan pulled up the date by a month and we had to officially go into hurry-as-fast-as-you-can mode. The last week of May was a whirlwind. On Monday I was Baptized, Chrismated and Deme and I had our marriage blessed in the Church. The following Sunday, we became an official parish and when the steering committee became the first Parish Council, I was proudly sworn in with all the others. What a wonderful day!
No, I did not have a life changing experience that led me to Orthodoxy. Rather, it was a gradual journey down the path guided every step by a loving God who simply wanted me in my right place. I know that I am there now.