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I was received into the Orthodox Church yesterday.
It’s been a long time coming. I first attended a Greek Orthodox service about two-and-a-half years ago, another at a Russian Orthodox parish a couple of months after that, and a third two months later. I’ve been attending that Antiochian Orthodox church ever since. Today, I’m officially a member.
Since I began exploring Orthodoxy, my evangelical friends and family have been supportive but always asked why. Often in capital letters followed by several question and exclamation marks. Those of other traditions (or no tradition) have wondered as well.
“Don’t know where to begin,” I would reply. “I’d need to write a book.”
This isn’t a book, but the first in a series of posts explaining my “conversion,” if you can call it that. (I view it more as a gradual process of drawing closer to God.) My audience is made up of those family members, friends, and anyone else who might wonder why a child born into Lutheranism, a teenage convert to evangelicalism, former small group leader, megachurch employee, and Sunday school teacher would leave that world and head to some weird old church from the other side of the world. I hope this will provide some answers or at least raise new questions.
I expect to have a new installment of “Swimming the Bosporus” each Sunday morning. The title is a play on converts to Catholicism “swimming the Tiber” and Anglican inquirers “walking the Canterbury Trail.” The seat of the Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarchate is in the ancient city of Constantinople (now Istanbul) which overlooks the Bosporus Strait that divides Europe from Asia. So very clever of me.
“Heaven have mercy on us all — Presbyterians and Pagans alike — for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending.”
— Herman Melville, Moby Dick
But first, a warning. This is just my personal, finite view of infinite, capital-T Truth. Nothing I write should be taken as authoritative. I am neither a priest nor a theologian, just a dumb little pilgrim groping in the dark. I’ve been Orthodox less than 24 hours, for St. Pete’s sake. If you want the official stance of the Orthodox Church, talk to a pro.
I’ve long held a proper Finnish Lutheran reserve when talking about religion, never wanting to come off as preachy, judgmental, or rudely challenging anyone’s beliefs. I’m hesitant to write about faith at all.
Please don’t take any of my views on other denominations, faiths, or non-beliefs as a critique, dig, or insult. I am deeply thankful for all the Protestants, Catholics, Evangelicals, pastors, priests, monks, Bible study leaders, and countless Christian authors who have taught me so much. I’m indebted to rabbis, philosophers, teachers from the far East, scientists, psychologists, secular teachers, and everyone else who have pointed to the Truth in their own way. I wouldn’t be here without you.
Lastly, I take Truth seriously, but I can’t take myself seriously. (If you’ve met me, you can understand why.)
“The Orthodox Church is evangelical, but not Protestant. It is orthodox, but not Jewish. It is catholic, but not Roman. It isn’t non-denominational – it is pre-denominational. It has believed, taught, preserved, defended, and died for the Faith of the Apostles since the Day of Pentecost 2,000 years ago.”
Setting the Table
I was baptized as an infant. Don’t remember much.
It was in a Lutheran church, so I was probably sprinkled, and my father scheduled it for the morning of Super Bowl I. The Packers beat the Chiefs 35-10, so dad was in a great mood and I was spiritually destined to be a Green Bay fan for life. He probably dropped some cheese in the Holy Water.
We attended regularly in the suburbs of Chicago and mom taught Sunday School for a while. At age six, the family moved to Phoenix and attended another Lutheran church. It was in the very wealthy enclave of Paradise Valley, AZ, and my middle-class family was disregarded like Dickensian street urchins. Not a great fit.
My brother, five years my senior, got through confirmation but we stopped attending before my sister or I hit the right age.
Mom and Dad got divorced when I was about 14, Dad immediately remarried, Mom started drinking, my buddies and I started sneaking out booze and getting loaded in the desert. In short, high school sucked.
My dad, however, joined my stepmom at a peculiar little church near their house across town. It was non-denominational and evangelical but held several odd views. Their most passionate belief was that they were right and everyone else was very wrong. Other evangelicals might slip under the pearly gates, but they would never reach any level of spiritual maturity. The Catholic Church was the “Whore of Babylon”; the Eastern Orthodox were unworthy of mention.
Regardless, it was there I accepted Christ, stopped getting loaded in the desert, and studied the Bible with zeal. The textbook “born again” experience.
Right out of high school, I joined the Navy and began attending mainstream evangelical churches, usually leaning Baptist. I was deeply involved with evangelical groups on base and went to every Christian rock show that hit Hawaii. (Yes, even Stryper.) In my new thinking, infant baptism was irrelevant; I had to choose baptism as an adult. So I got dunked in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Oahu by a great guy in a Hawaiian shirt named Pastor Brad. You can’t get more evangelical than that.
Upon returning to Arizona, it was mostly megachurches. In college, I helped lead the young adult group, worked in the church office on communications part-time, led small-group Bible studies, hosted a weekly segment on Christian radio, and even started an alternative Christian ‘zine.
I met my wife in that young adult group, had two beautiful daughters, and we later taught Sunday school and AWANA (think Baptist Cub Scouts). In my heart, I remained fiercely non-denominational, jokingly referring to myself as a Megachurchian.
Then, life got more complicated.
The next installment of “Swimming the Bosporus” will appear next Sunday morning.Published in