My father was raised an Orthodox Jew. As a child, I remember visiting my grandparent’s home as they prepared for the Passover holiday. They kept a Kosher home, which meant that they followed Jewish dietary rules. During the eight days of the Passover season, we would go down to their storage area and exchange their normal set of kitchenware for the special kosher kitchenware. I didn’t understand why we did this, at that early age, but it was tradition. I also experienced going to their synagogue and seeing women stand on one side of the sanctuary and men on the other. They would rock back and forth, speaking a language (Hebrew) that I didn’t understand.
My parents, on the other hand, became Reformed Jews. The services were much shorter and at least 75% in English. My vision of the synagogue included the ARK in which the Torah was housed and “Seek ye the Lord and Live,” printed in big letters on the wall in the Sanctuary. The Torah was impressive and dressed in a beautiful crown, silver breastplate, a purple velvet robe and a special pointer was used when reading the text, which was read from left to right as the Hebrew language is written. I didn’t realize the true beauty of these symbols and adornments until many years later when God led me to the Orthodox faith.
There were many encounters with Christianity in my youth that I didn’t realize for years to come. My uncle’s law partner was Greek Orthodox. Our own Fran Williams actually went to Greek School with him. I would go to Greek Festivals yearly and saw icons but didn’t understand them. When I was 11-years-old and went to Boy Scouts camp, I would hang out with the Camp Pastor and ask him about Jesus. I was particularly drawn to the picture of Jesus on the wall of the pastor’s tent. I was raised to believe that Judaism was the only real religion, and there were a lot of nice people that were not Jewish. So naturally at age 13 I had my Bar Mitzvah, where I read the Torah to the congregation for the first time. Following Bar Mitzvah and Hebrew School, I was confirmed. This took place when I was sixteen.
Following confirmation, I started to lose interest in the synagogue. I still went to the occasional Friday night service, but I was reluctant. After a while, I only attended mandatory services if I wanted to be allowed to use the car. One evening right before I graduated from high school I was reading a Life magazine with a picture of a little child in Africa starving to death being held by his mother. I was fairly depressed and lost at the time and I asked myself, if there is a God why does this go on? I had all the material things plus some but still felt unfulfilled. At this point, my search for meaning in life took a quantum leap.
During the late 1960’s, many of us baby boomers were searching outside of the traditional religions. There was a lot of interest in Hindu, Sufi, other Eastern religions, vegetarianism, drugs, and other “dynamic” forms of spiritualism. The whole momentum was in pulling away from organized religion. I tried many different ways to find the answer to the restlessness I was experiencing. I even looked into several of the standard Christian religions from Gospel, Pentecostal, Roman Catholic and Lutheran. I was grasping for a spiritual home. I started reading the Bible. I even joined the First Church of Psychic Metaphysics! Whoa!
Eventually I found a community of people who were very serious about their Christian strivings, and I joined them. We lived together in community, prayed day and night, studied the Bible, went out two by two on street mission and spent little time following after our own pursuits. Finally, I felt that I was getting closer to finding the Church. I spent about eight years with this movement before leaving that community. Some of my friends became aware of the Orthodox Church through the St. Herman Brotherhood and Monastery in Northern California. I started reading the lives of the Saints. I remember my early experiences of Orthodox services and the sweetness the Theotokos showed me. At this time, things were all starting to come together and my Jewish education came back to life and helped me to know Christ. I was able to better see the connection between Creation, our Forefathers Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, the Prophets and the Incarnation, the Resurrection, Ascension, Pentecost, the Saints, Martyrs and the Second Coming. I had no doubt that I had found the true Church. There was no longer confusion about my Jewish past. In fact, now I see how it has been a continuous journey from my youth and will continue to be a journey for my whole life. I am thankful to have found in the Church a community where we can journey together.
Initially I attended the Church of the Annunciation in Milwaukie. I met my wife Eleni at St. John, and we eventually decided to make this our home parish, while still maintaining close ties with friends from Annunciation. I find much joy in watching the children grow up here. May God grant us many years together as we watch our Church grow!