I was raised in a loving but nominally Christian home. I remember irregular attendance at various Lutheran and Presbyterian churches before the age of twelve. By that time I think my parents had stopped going to church. As a result, my teen years had little to do with Christ. I was just an average kid who (generally) stayed out of trouble, and who was blissfully ignorant of any need for God.
One sadly amusing memory from those days was throwing my morning paper route with my cassette player blaring out songs from one of my favorite groups at the time: AC/DC. I’ll probably never forget a refrain from a song that I used to enjoy singing loudly: “I’m on the highway to hell!” I don’t recall ever reflecting on the meaning of those words. (Any former rockers identify with this?) But God is merciful; and for some reason He chose to extend my years long enough to become awakened to Him, and ultimately to lead me to His Church.
This awakening occurred during my first year of college at the U.S. Naval Academy. At one point I remember hearing that the standard of living I had enjoyed while growing up (middle class) put me in a very small percentage of the world’s population. I was also quite grateful for having received an appointment to the Naval Academy. Reflecting on this I decided one night that I should go to church to thank God. That’s the first time I remember having a desire to reach out to Him.
I did not follow through with that resolution until after my first midshipmen training cruise some months later. I was aboard one of our nuclear carriers off the coast of Greece. I remember noticing an enlisted man lying in his bunk, reading the Bible. I approached him to ask about his faith in Christ. The brief conversation resulted in a trek to the Chaplain’s office. I pulled a bunch of Protestant tracts off the wall and brought them back to my bunk. (One of the tracts was the “four spiritual laws”, published by Campus Crusade for Christ. Ironically, just a few years earlier, some of their top leaders had left CCC and formed the Evangelical Orthodox Church . Metropolitan Philip received many of its members into Holy Orthodoxy in 1987.) I was soon convinced that I needed to give my life to Christ; so I bowed my head and said a fervent prayer, asking God to forgive my sins and receive me as one of His own.
Back at school, I firmly resolved to follow Christ, receiving a “believer’s Baptism” from the hands of a Baptist chaplain. I quickly made new friends who, by the Providence of God, were non-denomination and charismatic. I became very involved with their local church, and it wasn’t long before I was speaking in tongues and “dancing in the spirit.”
I would be a charismatic evangelical for about eight years. In my late twenties I had an intellectual awakening of sorts, and this led me to embrace Calvinism. I was enamored with the idea of a “Christian worldview”. Calvin’s systematic doctrine seemed logical and Biblical. I thus embraced Presbyterianism and utterly rejected the charismania of my past.
Not long after, my studies led to another discovery: symbolism, sacraments, and Eucharist-centered worship. A pivotal book was Thomas Howard’s Evangelical Is Not Enough. I began to realize that Presbyterianism was too nominal, and focused too much on preaching. Where was the worship that my heart was beginning to long for? I was also growing increasingly unsettled by some of Calvin’s teachings. It was time for me to take yet another baby step towards more authentic Christianity.
In joining the Episcopal Church I really thought I had arrived at the perfect balance between Reformation doctrine and Catholic worship. By now I had resolved to leave the Navy and go to seminary. In the spring of 1994 I hung up my Navy pilot wings. A few months later I entered a seminary of the Reformed Episcopal Church (a more conservative off-shoot of the ECUSA) in Philadelphia.
It was here, during my very first summer school class, that I was finally exposed to Orthodoxy. A visiting Anglican professor, Fr. Peter Toon, had us read Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s For the Life of the World. It literally blew me away. I loved the beauty of the Orthodoxy presented therein, this “sacramental, beyond-space-and-time worldview” that I knew in my heart of hearts was authentic. Here was a “fullness” to which I had never been exposed. I was enchanted, and it was time to find out more about Orthodoxy.
I began voraciously to read all I could find on the Orthodox Church. Fairly quickly I was confronted with Her claim to be the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church: The Church. This was my first encounter with real ecclesiology, and it challenged my Protestant understanding of the Church as a) something mystically one in the heavens but permissibly (though lamentably) divided on earth; and b) containing all those who confessed Christ, regardless of their beliefs (or Baptism). I began to realize that the questions “What is the Church?” and “Where is the Church?” were essential to answer correctly. If Christ sent the Holy Spirit to lead this Church into all truth (St. John 16:13); and if the Church is the “pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15); and if the Church is, according to the fourth article in the Nicene Creed, something we are to believe in; I knew I had to find and be united with Her. I realized for the first time that I was outside of the Body of Christ. I was a Christian, yes; but looking back from an Orthodox perspective, I was more a kin to New Testament “God-fearers” like Cornelius (Acts 10:2) or the Roman centurion (St. Matt. 8:10), not yet having believed correctly, nor having yet received the fullness of Grace that only the Church gives in Holy Baptism (and/or Chrismation, depending upon how one is received).
My personal studies continued for about six months. During this time I also had to work through the claim of the Roman Catholic Church to be the true Church. It didn’t take long to conclude that they had added too many doctrines to the Faith that were inconsistent with the Patristic witness. I was convinced that the Orthodox Church was right in Her stance against their innovations and heresies, which were especially well articulated in the Patriarchal Encyclicals of 1848 and 1895, written in response to Roman Catholic overtures for union.
By the end of 1994, I was determined to enter the Orthodox Church. I left the seminary and decided to move to Boston, where my dad and step-mom were living at the time. On Pentecost of 1995, I was received into the Church by Fr. Anthony Hughes of St. Mary Antiochian Orthodox Church in Cambridge.
It’s been a challenging and joyful experience thus far, and I am eternally grateful to God for His mercy shown to me by leading me to the fullness of the Christian faith preserved only in the Orthodox Church. I only hope that one day I will be able consistently to live up to our high calling in Christ, and ultimately be found worthy of eternal life with Him. I humbly ask for your prayers!