My name is Simon Scionka and my wife Ira and I have been at Holy Theophany Orthodox Church since December of 2003…
My wife Ira is from Russia and due to her god-fearing babushka, she was baptized in secret as a baby during the communist regime. Ira grew up in the Orthodox faith. My coming to Orthodoxy came much later in my life after time spent in Russia but then really discovering Orthodoxy here in America at Holy Theophany Church.
I grew up in a non-denominational Christian home. My parents were introduced to Christ and were baptized in Costa Rica when I was three years old and so I was brought up in the Christian faith. My dad is a godly man who raised me up to have a Christ-centered, biblical worldview and he taught me how to pray. I’m very thankful for this upbringing and it definitely set me on a good course in life.
While I was a young teenager I was very involved in my youth group. I got connected with a group of friends with whom I would remain deeply connected with and serve the Lord together with them. We pursued God and a life of ministry together. We did youth ministry and traveled to Russia to do orphan care ministry with a grouped called Children’s HopeChest. It was on my first trip to Russia in 1997 where I was first introduced to the Orthodox Church. I didn’t know anything about Orthodoxy but Children’s HopeChest taught us that the Orthodox Church was the Christian church of Russia and it should be respected. I found these Russian churches I visited to be fascinating yet I didn’t really grasp what was there. I thought the sounds we beautiful, the iconography was beautiful, but I certainly didn’t get it. It was interesting and I liked it, but it just wasn’t for me.
Back home in Dallas, Texas my Christian community and I eventually started our own church. We started a “youth church” for high school and college students and we lived and breathed that ministry for about 3 years. We were honestly searching for something bigger to be a part of but we just couldn’t find it so we tried to make it up on our own. We were learning about early church traditions so did things like burn incense, light candles and serve communion. Little did we know how we were actually reaching out for the traditions of the Orthodox Church.
At 21 I moved to Colorado Springs and pursued working in the video production industry. It was my first job outside of church work. I was kind of tired of church work in fact. I just didn’t want to do it anymore. In fact, I didn’t even go to church at all for quite awhile even though I never gave up on my faith. It was just “me and Jesus” and I thought I’d be happy that way. Well, I wasn’t. I knew there had to be more to life, faith and the church than just me and Jesus.
During my many trips to Russia I met and fell in love with Ira who worked for Children’s HopeChest as a translator. We met in 1999 and she has now been my wife since 2003. She grew up Orthodox in Russia and it was dear to her, but she didn’t necessarily have a solid formation of her faith and the traditions of the Church. When she first came to the States, I was visiting a non-denominational protestant church in town and she’d go with me. I thought it might be cool for us to go visit the Orthodox Church sometimes as well. We started visiting here at Holy Theophany and after a few weeks of hearing the services in English (I had previously only seen Orthodox services in Russian), I started to hear some things that I really responded to. Initially I had the misconception that Orthodoxy was about tradition and not scripture. Well, I heard scripture being read. In fact, I heard a lot of scripture being read at every service. I heard more scripture in one Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning than I had heard in months of services combined at previous churches I had attended! I loved the liturgy, the teachings, the focus on living a life of humility and of love; love of God, love of neighbor and even love of my enemies. Christ’s Gospel was proclaimed and Christ was the center of the worship, culminating with communion to partake of His holy body and blood. I was blown away by the richness and depth of what I experienced and began to learn.
One thing that our priest Father Anthony said to me early on was “come and see.” Just come and see the church. Hear the music, listen to the words, and participate in the worship. And so I did just that. And the more I came, the more it made sense and the more I embraced it, the more it began to change me, to bring me closer into a right relationship with Christ. After a few months I became a catechumen in the church. During my 6-month time as a catechumen, I went through an intro to Orthodoxy class with Fr. Anthony and then received holy Baptism into the Orthodox Church in September 2004. My wife Ira was along side me in this journey. She was learning with me and lovingly encouraging me the entire time. It has been great for us and for our marriage to be joined together in the same Church. We have truly found our home here.
I’m very grateful for my early years of faith. It introduced me to Christ and gave me a good foundation for my life. In the Orthodox Church, I discovered this rich heritage that I never knew existed before. Initially I had met Christ, but now in Orthodoxy I met the rest of His family, including His Mother. As well as I was introduced to the great cloud of witnesses who came before me; the great martyrs, the holy saints, the keepers of the Holy Tradition. In Orthodoxy I’ve discovered that there is more to my faith than just me and Jesus. I do have a personal relationship with Christ, but it’s not individualistic. It must be experienced within the context of the Church, that greater body of Christ. I have a biblical worldview, but my biblical interpretation does not come from what makes me feel good, by modern trends, by currently political issues, or by how I choose to interpret scripture. My biblical understanding comes through the framework of the Holy Tradition of the Church, which has been preserved and passed down throughout the ages.
I began to think back throughout the years and see how God had been tracking me down. The first year I went to Russia, the teacher I worked with gave me a little icon book of Mary, Christ and St. Nicolas. He told me to keep it for protection. I gave him a What Would Jesus Do bracelet back. Oh well. I still have that little icon and I carry it with me in my computer bag wherever I go. I bought an icon of Christ on my second trip because I thought it was cool. That icon is now in my icon corner at home where I pray. The first gift my wife gave me when we first met in 1999 was an Orthodox cross. It eventually became my baptismal cross and I wear it to this day. Years ago I bought the book “The Way of the Pilgrim” because it was a Russian classic. I had no idea of the true treasure of Orthodox spirituality that was in that book. There are countless things throughout the years where I can look back and see the slow work of God in my life to bring me closer to Him and into the fullness of His Church.
Glory to God for all things!
Wayne and Grace were brought into the Orthodox Church on Holy Saturday of 2011 after attending Holy Theophany for the previous year.
They have lived in Colorado Springs for their whole married life, from 2000 to the present, and have two girls, Miranda and Kitty. Wayne is an aerospace engineer and Grace homeschools the girls. They took diverse paths to the Orthodox Church, but both view the Church as the fulfillment of their earlier faith.
Wayne grew up in eastern Washington state and attended Washington State University, where he became an Evangelical Christian. He then joined the Air Force and ended up here in Colorado Springs. Grace took a more circuitous route here. Her family is originally of Palestinian origin (her parents are from Jerusalem) and she grew up in Lebanon and England before moving to the United States in the late 1970s. She attended the College of Notre Dame in northern California, majoring in English, before working on Muslim outreach for a mission in Germany and then at a newspaper back in the U.S. Grace was raised an Evangelical, but, given her family’s Middle Eastern origins, she was exposed to Orthodoxy from her youth.
Given Grace’s background, the Yennes’ conversion to Orthodoxy begins, in a way, with her youth; however, their adult journey to the Church began shortly after they were married. Before coming to Holy Theophany, they attended a Presbyterian church whose pastor had an appreciation for Eastern theology and they would also read some books on their own. In addition, they would try to plan what they call a “Family Field Trip” every few years to examine churches. Their specific journey, here, though, began in earnest during Holy Week of 2010. Wayne and their daughters were involved in a buddy basketball team with the Morrisons and Battersbys, and once he discovered the connection to Orthodoxy, he tried to find a time for their family to visit. Wayne says he still has the emails he traded with Jeff Morrison in which he stated his family wanted to come visit but they were “not looking to switch” churches. Their first service was Matins with Lamentations at the Tomb on Holy Friday evening. Wayne describes the experience as being disorienting, but he liked it, while Grace says she felt comfortable and “at home.” While the Yennes were not looking to switch churches, after that first service, they couldn’t stay away. Within a month or two, Wayne and Grace had decided they wanted to stay at Holy Theophany, become Orthodox, and raise their children here. In addition to the explanations of beliefs and their experiences of the Church, they give the human connection they feel here as a main attraction. The fellowship lunches, the time the people here spend to talk and laugh with each other, and the general feeling of interconnectedness are all hugely important. Grace explains that she feels we lack a sense of true connection here in the West, and Holy Theophany supplies that. They feel it so much that, once they had their first taste of life here, they had to stay, and they’ve been here ever since.
I never would have imagined that I would be Eastern Orthodox. Like many Christians in America, I didn’t know much about Eastern Orthodoxy for most of my life. Even as a history major, Orthodoxy was taught in a very limited fashion. I knew there were Catholics—I was baptized in that church, and grew up Catholic for about 7 years. And I knew there were Protestants and that there were thousands of types of them. I knew I struggled with the lack of unity in the Church, and all the denominations, and everyone saying they based their doctrines on the Bible—“I stand alone on the Word of God” …and yet there were so many different interpretations and understandings of the Good Book. But I didn’t really know what to do about it, except pray for unity, and try to follow the Bible and be a part of a church that was doing the same.
In college, I felt a calling to occupational ministry, so I worked as a youth minister and worship director for a number of years—with lots of Young Life and Navigators affiliation and involvement. And then my parents royally surprised us (their kids)—after years as a Missouri Synod Lutheran pastor and wife, they were going to join the Eastern Orthodox church. I was shocked, and weirded out, and confused. But, because I knew and trusted my parents’ love for God and grounded ness in Him, I decided it was worth it to look into Orthodoxy more myself. So began an 8-year journey towards Orthodoxy.
My first encounter with Orthodox worship, with my wife Patti (we were dating at the time), was a very positive one—I was awed by the reverence, the sense of God’s hugeness and holiness. The service was all about Him—they didn’t bend over backwards to make sure I was welcomed, happy, singing my favorite songs, comfy in my pew or chair (we stood the whole time). Immediately, there was chanting and prayer and Word, all to and for God. And yet, in all that, I felt like I was very important—very loved and valued by this huge God that was being worshipped. It was strikingly beautiful, refreshing, deep, and challenging.
And yet, I loved my Protestant world, and was very safe there. Besides, it was what I did for a living.
So, for years, I flirted with, and dated, and drew attached to Orthodoxy—but I resented the fact that I even knew about it, because I started to sense it was inevitable that I was going to end up Orthodox. But, I didn’t want to leave my world, my livelihood, my comfort zone… I think that’s why God called my family to Nashville last year, away from my Texas security blankets, and called me to NOT be a church worker for a while. After extreme struggle and wrestling with God, I finally took the plunge and we became Catechumens (that’s like getting engaged to the Orthodox Church), and, last June, my family became Orthodox.
I have no regrets. Orthodoxy is beautiful, incredibly rich and deep—at once so full of amazing God-grace and at the same time so holistically demanding on my life and my will—wanting abundant, full, and free life for me—the life God desires for me to have as His child. All the tools and resources and fullness are there. But, I still love the Protestant, and the Catholic world, and see much beauty and truth there as well. I continue to work in full-time ministry at Glen Eyrie Conference Center External Link, home of the Navigators, and am so thankful for it. As a song writer, I hope to put some of the ancient writings of church fathers and mothers to music—using their thoughts and prayers to instruct or be my lyric.
Again, I’m thankful for Orthodoxy—thankful for what I’m experiencing, and for what I’m seeing and learning about the amazing love and enormousness of our Most Holy Trinity.
Jason and Kristin moved to Colorado Springs from California in March 2010, after being married in Feb of that year. They both grew up in California and attended Christian colleges there, where Jason majored in Biblical Studies with a concentration in the Jewish roots of Christianity and Kristin majored in Vocal Performance with a concentration in Opera. Jason is currently a flight attendant for SkyWest Airlines and Kristin is getting ready to begin offering music lessons from their home.
When they moved here from California, the Parks started checking out some of the local churches, but couldn’t find one that fit. They had attended an evangelical church in California, and started looking for one here, but eventually found themselves at Holy Theophany, and haven’t left. As for how they even knew to look for an Orthodox Church, they each took quite different paths. Jason was first introduced to Orthodoxy on a trip to Ethiopia, where he was able to see and experience the Church there, while Kristin has a friend back in California who is an Orthodox convert and was encouraging her to “come and see” what the Church has to offer. Finally, after trying out a few other churches, they looked us up, and are now catechumens. Given his Biblical Studies background, Jason appreciates the way Orthodoxy matches up with the Bible and history; Kristin says she values that the Church has a solid answer for any questions she might have.
My name is Kerry Williams and I am 32 years old. On the day of the Ss. Peter and Paul Feast (Old Calendar), I was Baptized and Chrismated into the Orthodox Church on Spruce Island in Alaska…
Because this took place at the home of St. Herman, it brought with it a perspective of what it means to be alive before the face of God. My past experience with spirituality notwithstanding, my time on Spruce Island will be with me always.
Growing up in Texas, my mother gave me only the spiritual guidance in which she was grounded. Although not part of a church, she always read to me from children’s Bible story books and taught me to pray. I never forgot her lessons or the stories, but seldom remembered to implement their meanings and comforts. It was not until later that I realized their value in my life.
When I was sixteen, it was a very good year. Twelve months attending a local church inspired me to quit public school and persuade my mom to let me attend a private Christian school, and I graduated in 1993 with great friends, a comfortable place in youth ministry, and a desire to serve God.
Out of the said desire and a lack of knowing what to do, I followed my friends’ academic pursuits and attended Christ For the Nations Institute in Dallas, Texas. For two year, I studied the Bible, sang songs to God and wondered who was really on top of things in Christendom. It’s fair to say that this is also the time when I wondered who was really right in their respective take on God, the Bible, and especially on how to do church. Primarily, because they accepted my CFNI credits, I took my studies to Dallas Baptist University, as well as my persistent questions on what exactly I was learning. While at DBU, two major events transpired: an introduction to philosophy and my first trip to Russia.
Still wanting to serve God yet having no clue as to what that would look like, I started taking classes from a philosophy professor. The classes were small, the content intense, and the teacher made everything interesting, all with a Christian perspective that was neither too Protestant nor enough Orthodox. During August, 1997, I went to Russia and worked in a summer camp for orphans. The experience forever changed me, and I came back to college with the need to understand what true Christianity is. Aside from a church visit in Suzdal, my first introduction was a textbook for a class on Christian worldview, For the Life of the World, by Fr. Alexander Schmemann.
While going through CFNI and the university, I was interning at various youth ministries. There was a core group of us: young students, all involved with summer camps in Russia, and constantly searching for something deeper in God and church. I was particularly finding it difficult to be settled doing youth ministry with no vision beyond. Russia was always on my heart and I wanted desperately to go back and live among the orphans. Finally, I got my chance and moved to Kostroma in December, 2000.
For all of 2001 I lived among the saints of Holy Rus’, the ancient monasteries and churches, and Orthodox believers. I came back to America with no interest in Orthodoxy. Therefore, my understanding of the Church was limited and stale. My disinterest, however, was not limited to Orthodoxy, but to any church of any confession. I, along with my transplanted friends from Texas, searched Colorado Springs for a place to worship God. Going hither and thither proved unfruitful, and with great reluctance I visited Ss. Constantine and Helen Orthodox Church. It was the beginning of Great Lent and I kept going back. Eventually, I told the priest, Fr. Anthony, that I was out of excuses and did not know what to do with myself. The next Sunday I became a catechumen and three months later I was on the church work trip to Kodiak Island in Alaska.
I was able to go to Spruce Island and help restore Ss. Sergius and Herman chapel. While there, I drank from a supernatural spring, met and worked alongside the monks Fr. Andrew and Fr. Martyrios, and learned of the beloved St. Herman. On July 12 (Old Calendar in Alaska) I was Baptized and Chrismated into the Orthodox Church in Monk’s Lagoon, the waters of the Pacific Ocean, receiving the Eucharist on Ss. Peter & Paul’s Feast Day.
The desire to serve God never left me. Rather, it became more clear, as are most things since converting. Working in youth ministries and with Russian orphans, living in Russia, looking for churches – all of this led to something that God made clear at Ss. Constantine and Helen Church. Understanding who the Greek Fathers are, what icons tell me, how the Church formed and by whom, what the Bible is, reading account of Fr. Arseny and Elder Paisios – this is what my soul craves today. I want to learn more; I want God to make them clear. The Wednesday night classes at Ss. Constantine and Helen Church with Fr. Anthony, my first spiritual father in two decades of being a Christian, made me want to go to seminary more and more, to learn the truth of being alive and Christian.
Today, I am in my second year at St. Tikhon’s Seminary. I would love to tell everyone that it has been a breeze academically and spiritually a cinch. Truth be told, I’ve never had to study so hard before, not for getting the grade, but studying in order to understand. What is more, any spiritual growth I have experienced has not come wrapped up in a pretty box with my name on it. The process of learning what it means to be humble and fleeing the passions has been the most difficult endeavor of my life. In the context of seminary, the thoughts of truly serving the Church are so much more real, more serious. This is good, for I have realized the importance of understanding and spiritual wisdom over good grades and snappy answers.
I am the seminarian Kirill, named after St. Kirill, Evangelizer to the Slavs, Equal to the Apostles, and emulating this great saint at St. Tikhon’s Seminary is the most challenging time of my life. Without the support of my home parish family at Ss. Constantine and Helen, I could not endure, spiritually and financially. By the grace of God, may I continue to soldier onward…
Don, Jacque and Ron’s beginnings into Orthodox Christianity started 38 years ago when we first discovered Christ…
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 womens 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 church has always been the center of the life that Carolyn and I have lived. We were both raised in nominally Christian homes but rejected the church in our teen years…
After flirting with godlessness, we both became Christian in our 20’s at one of Seattle’s growing mega-churches. We met at a single’s bible study, married a year later, had our first child a year after that and then headed out for Bible College.
We spent the next ten years headed toward and living on the mission field. I completed Bible College while Carolyn raised kids. I pastored a small church and then served on the staff of several large and growing churches. After five years of preparation and fund raising, we moved to Istanbul, Turkey where we learned the language and did further preparation for our final target—Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Tashkent is the key to Central Asia and the capital city of the Uzbek people. As Tashkent went, so would go much of the 50 million unevangelized Muslims of Central Asia. We arrived in Tashkent one year after the Berlin wall fell, just as the Soviet Union was breaking up. We were among the very first western missionaries to live in Tashkent in almost 100 years.
Carolyn’s health deteriorated in Tashkent and we eventually moved back to the States. Someone gave me a book to read on the long flight home—Becoming Orthodox by Peter Gillquist. On the face of it, the book seemed a crazy story. A bunch of Campus Crusade families had become Eastern Orthodox as a result of studying church history. Much of Gillquist’s persuasion left me cold, but one thing stuck. Gillquist challenged his readers to read the accounts of the early church fathers and compare the church they found there with the church in which they worshipped on Sunday morning. He said that an honest reader would find the church of the martyrs much more like an Eastern Orthodox Church and very much not like an American Evangelical church. I took him up on the challenge.
Of course, Gillquist turned out to be right. During its first 300 years, the church turned out thousands of martyrs, conquered the Roman Empire from within and wrote extensively about her beliefs and practices. It is a church whose doctrines are confirmed by her history and made unassailable by her martyrs. How can a comfortable twentieth century Christian tell a third century martyr that his way of doing church is wrong? And the way the Christians did church in the age of the martyrs was distinctly Eastern Orthodox. These Christians had authoritative, hierarchal church organizations. They worshipped in a liturgical way and they were willing to give their lives for the real, sacramental presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist.
The Eastern Orthodox Church claimed to be that same church of the martyrs, only grown and matured by the passage of time. In the same way that I am my parents’ baby boy grown to manhood, the Eastern Church claimed to be the church born of the Apostles, nurtured by the martyrs, trained by the ecumenical councils and grown to maturity by years of perseverance.
I was fascinated and horrified both. If I really had stumbled onto the church as given to us by the Apostles, that would be an amazing gift from a merciful God. On the other hand, if the Orthodox Church was what it claimed to be, that would mean a tectonic shift in our life and family. I loved being a missionary. The church was the center of our family—it was the rock upon which our marriage was built. If the Orthodox were right, we would have to change everything that mattered in our lives: faith, church, marriage, family, friendships and career.
The summary is that through a yearlong struggle, we managed to do just that. At times, Carolyn was sure that our marriage and family were going to break up. At times, we were all put off by the sheer Catholic-ness of the Orthodox Church. (If there is a foundational principal of popular Evangelical theology, it is that all things Catholic are wrong.) We had a tough time coming to grips with Mary. It took us a long time to appreciate the liturgy. Confession was terrifying and exhilarating. In addition to questions of faith and family, I had to find a new line of work.
Ten years after the fact, our family is solidly Orthodox. The kids were part of the journey and choosing to become Orthodox is a significant chapter in their growth from childhood to adolescence. Carolyn and I are growing in the love of our youth. Carolyn is missing a lobe of her lung—the sickness that brought us back from Tashkent turned out to be lung cancer—but the doctors say all the cancer is removed. As it has been for our entire married life, the church is very much the center of our life.
One last thing needs to be said. Many of our old Evangelical friends have great difficulty understanding our move to the Orthodox Church. They see the change as a rejection of the church that sent us to Tashkent and the friendships and prayers that sustained us there. That reaction is understandable but it is very different from our own view. We think of ourselves as having been given a chance to move from good to better. The Evangelical church is certainly a means of God’s grace. But our conclusion is that the Orthodox Church is more so. We do not think of ourselves as having moved away from the church so much as having moved to her core. If the cross of Christ is surrounded by concentric circles, then we have moved from a good circle to a better, and even closer circle. It makes sense that our change is hard to understand, but we very much appreciate the many Evangelical Christians that nurtured and prayed for us for many years. To all of you we say “Thank You” and invite you to take a closer look at historical Christianity in the Eastern Orthodox tradition.