About 6 weeks ago Brian and I were talking about our life. He had been filling out the paperwork to begin his postulancy in the Reformed Episcopal Church. We had a plan for our life and everything was working out. Then, after the Christmas break, Brian was getting so exhausted that he was falling asleep everywhere. It became very clear that he could not continue working and going to school full time. There was something that just was not right with the whole process.
At the same time we were deciding what to do about Brian’s school I started preparing a Bible Study on Esther for my Ladies’ Bible Study. I don’t know how well you know Esther, but there are 2 versions of the book. The Eastern & Oriental Orthodox Churches along with the Roman Catholic Church have a longer and more fleshed out version of the book. The Protestant church uses a version of the Old Testament based on a different text, which excludes some various sections. I decided to get my hands on an Orthodox Bible so that I could read the “extra” text. Abuna Raphael, a Coptic Orthodox priest we know, was generous enough to give us a copy of “The Orthodox Study Bible”.
As we looked at the Bible and discussed our lives and our future I was pressed with the thought that we needed to look at Orthodoxy again. We had been dissuaded easily just before our
wedding by Abuna Raphael. Our only real exposure had been in the Coptic Orthodox Church. We have had wonderful experiences with St. George’s in Norristown, but it was clearly not the place for us. First, the Oriental Orthodox Church, of which the Coptic Church is a part, is non-chalcedonian, and Brian and I do hold to the Council of Chalcedon. Second, the Coptic Church, like many branches of Orthodoxy, is primarily ethnic, meaning it is for Egyptians, in Arabic and/or Coptic.
So we turned to the one of the most useful gifts God has given modern man, Google. We did our research and discovered that there are branches of Orthodoxy that are less ethnically oriented. First there are the Antiochians, as in the Church at Antioch in the New Testament. While they are, or at least were until relatively recently, primarily Middle-Eastern Christians, they are more evangelical than most branches and have in the last 30 years been populated by more and more Protestant converts. Second, there is the Orthodox Church of America (OCA) which is the child, as it were, of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Russians brought Christianity to America via Alaska and the church they planted there spread throughout the continent and became the OCA. The Divine Liturgy is in English and the population of these churches is a melting pot of Protestant and other converts, people who were raised in ethnic Orthodox churches by immigrant parents and grandparents but who are thoroughly American themselves, and beautiful old ladies from “The Old Country” whichever country that might be.
We decided to take a week and talk with an Orthodox priest and see an Orthodox service in English. We went down to St Michael the Archangel Church in Wilmington, which is OCA. One week turned into two and three and four. I was in love with the Liturgy, and more in love with Christ than I think I have ever been. We began to read everything we could get our hands on.
We learned how the New Testament Church grew into the Eastern Orthodox Church and how those first century churches maintained the teaching of Christ and the Apostles for 2000 years.
We realized how much of our personal theology, the beliefs and impressions that we had gleaned from out own learning and study, were in line with the teachings of the Orthodox Church. We were in awe of how much of a shift we DIDN’T have to make.
Everyone warned us that we would need to learn to understand and speak in different language about God and theology. This was definitely true, the language is different, words don’t always mean the same thing in the East as they do in the West. But the things we thought were points of divergence were actually points of semantics. We had inadvertently, and we’ve come to believe by the leading of The Holy Spirit, become Orthodox without the Orthodox Church. There is no other way to say it, as cliche as it has become among Protestant converts to Orthodoxy, we had come home.
So that is where we are. We are leaving Anglicanism for Orthodoxy. I won’t say it wasn’t an easy decision to make, because praise the Lord, the actual decision seemed to make itself. But it hasn’t been an easy decision to carry out. We love our family in the Reformed Episcopal Church, and our actual families have been Protestant for generations. We learned last year that Brian’s great-great-etc-grandfather planted the first Anglican churches in this area. This is a departure from many things that we love and hold very dear.
We are sad to leave people who we love, and who love us, behind. But we are filled with so much joy to be joining ourselves to the church of the Apostles and Church Fathers. We hope and pray that no one is hurt by the path we are taking, but if we turned away from the path laid before us by The Holy Spirit then we would be putting those potential hurt feelings ahead of Christ, and we can’t do that.
Some people may have a lot of questions, and we would welcome any and all of them. Some people may have concerns, and we will do our best to answer them. Some people may have criticisms, and those we would ask you keep to yourself. If you are just curious about our journey and the answers we have found there is a book we can recommend. It is called “Becoming Orthodox” by Fr. Peter Gilquist and it answers Protestant questions about why one might choose to journey into Eastern Orthodoxy better than I ever could.