Archive for the ‘Journey to Orthodoxy’ Category

Fr. Moses Berry

February 2, 2010

Fr. Moses Berry, Orthodox convert, is an inspirational priest and evangelist.  He is the pastor of Theotokos Unexpected Joy Orthodox Church in Ash Grove, Missouri.  This week the New York Times published a very uplifting article   about his work preserving the African-American heritage of his hometown and the museum he founded, the Ozarks Afro-American Heritage Museum.

For several years Fr. Moses has been presenting Orthodoxy in a unique way to a community that is woefully underrepresented in our churches.  It’s important to remember that the historical Orthodox Church wasn’t a “white” church; the Middle East and Mediterranean were filled with Africans, Arabs, Greeks, Persians, peoples of all races and nationalities, who became the first Christians.    Sadly, we’ve lost much of that cultural, and maybe never had, that racial diversity in America’s churches.  Black Americans searching for the religion of their ancestors are more likely to stop at Islam without realizing that the  original faith of their grandparents 15 centuries ago was in many cases Orthodox Christianity.   

Besides full-time priestly responsibilities, lectures, writing and museum duties, Fr. Moses had the energy and drive to found the Brotherhood of Saint Moses, an organization that sponsors an excellent yearly retreat (going on 18 or 19 years now), called the Ancient Christianity Afro-American Conference, focusing on Orthodox evangelism to minorities, African-Americans, in particular.  Ancient Faith Radio has been broadcasting the retreat lectures for a couple of years and they are in the must-listen-to category. 

Also, please see Fr. Moses’ September 2009 video lecture  at St. Tikhon’s Seminary’s Annual Lecture Series, titled “Honoring a Shared Heritage”.   His testimony and conversion story are filled with a power and conviction that I wish I could honestly say I had.  Glory to God and His Holy Church in this country, and praise God for priests like Fr. Moses.   If we had 100 more like him, can you imagine what the Orthodox Church in America would be like?  Unstoppable!

My Seventeen Year Journey with Saint Herman of Alaska

December 12, 2009

 

The last week and a half  has been particularly difficult – illness, financial strain, job problems, holiday overload – and there have been days when I just didn’t give a crap about anything.   It’s not too hard to understand why the sin of anger is a big part of my confessions.  But it was this evening when the fog of sickness had started to lift that I realized I had something to be happy and joyful about. 

December 13th is the feastday of possibly the most beloved of American Orthodox Saints – Venerable Herman of Alaska.  A monk whose simple life has had the most profound impact on American Orthodoxy.  I count myself blessed that seventeen years ago on his feastday I was  received into the Holy Orthodox Church through chrismation.  It was and remains still, the most important day of my life.  I was reborn into a new life in the Orthodox faith and Saint Herman has been one of those saints I have felt closest to. 

Some people might say that one day of  total spiritual devotion and happiness would be enough to satisfy them a lifetime.  That’s how many Orthodox converts remember the date of their baptism or chrismation.  It is that one special day that seems to be a fulfillment of long, difficult journeys and sacrifices to achieve truth and salvation.  In His mercy, God has blessed me with 6205 days since my chrismation, but I never fail to remember how miserably I have squandered all that time.  I have so often let the problems and stress of this world interfere with my spiritual life and left so many areas of sin untouched and unchanged.  I can only hope that through the prayers of Saint Herman I can complete my life in the same spirit of peace that he had.  

If you would like to learn more about the life and miracles of Saint Herman click here.

O blessed Father Herman of Alaska,
North star of Christ’s holy Church,
The light of your holy life and great deeds
Guides those who follow the Orthodox way.
Together we lift high the Holy Cross
You planted firmly in America.
Let all behold and glorify Jesus Christ,
Singing his holy Resurrection.

Thanks Martin Luther

October 30, 2008

Today is Reformation Day in the Lutheran churches and I would just like to take this opportunity to thank Martin Luther for making me Orthodox.  I grew up in the 60’s when the Lutheran Church was conservative and traditional.  We still had felt Jesus banners in the church, but you didn’t find women or sexually confused or theologically heretical clergyman, or for that matter, sexually confused, theologically heretical women.  You knew just where German pastors were coming from.  And they were the ones who shaped my beliefs and future life as an Orthodox Christian.  I am what the Lutheran Church first made me:

  1. I’m Catholic but not Roman.  Luther is famously portrayed as a man who did not want to destroy the Roman Catholic Church but to reform it.  He seems to have started out that way, though later on as things started to snowball,  he sure ‘nuf took to the idea pretty darn well.  Be that as it may, this idea struck very close with me.  Why wasn’t I Roman Catholic if Luther only wanted to straighten things up?  If the Roman Catholic Church was worth saving, why wasn’t it good enough for me now?  So I began to explore the Catholic Church, but quickly found that Martin Luther had already primed the anti-papacy pump.  I can buy first among equals, but not The Big Cheese.
  2. I’m sacramental.  Luther tossed most of the sacraments, figuring only two (or maybe three if you count reconciliation) – Baptism and the Lord’s Supper – were sufficiently biblical to remain.  The practice of those two, particularly Communion, was all I needed to see that something special was going on between God and me.  Communion rightly had a prominent place and at my first Communion class I was taught the Lutheran layer cake view of the Eucharist – bread and under that, Body; wine and ditto, Blood.  I was sufficiently impressed that the Body and Blood were sacred or at least sacred enough until the wine was unceremoniously dumped down a holy disposal sink.   Down the drain with our Lord’s Blood, but it wasn’t always Jesus’ Blood, only at the time of communion… Very confusing.  Jesus was just kind of sitting under the elements – take ’em out of context and Jesus wasn’t there anymore.  
  3. I’m liturgical.  Worship has an order and a flow to it and that’s just the way it is.  As a German I can perfectly understand the need for doing things just so.   Luther thought so too.
  4. I’m traditional.  Given that my religious education started only at the year 1517, I still acquired an  “older is better”  mindset.  At the time of my catechism, I guess I just never thought too much about the 1500 years before that.  It was all Roman Catholic to me.  First there was Jesus, then the Roman Catholics, then Luther.  It was only later I realized Luther hadn’t been too straight with me about the timeline. 
  5. I’m symbolic.  Thanks Luther for the Holy Pine Tree and it’s sacred symbols.  I can remember a big, whopping Christmas tree in the sanctuary of Christ the King Lutheran Church covered in white lights and shiny, white, glittery Christian symbols.  Doves, Chi Ro’s, fish, Alpha and Omegas, Lambs with a Cross.  It’s only one small step from accepting churchy symbols to accepting the greatest visual symbols the Church has ever produced – Holy Icons.  Now I won’t say I didn’t have some initial trouble kissing them, but it’s just like kissing that first boy when you’re thirteen; do it enough and you warm up to the idea.

So Happy Reformation Day today and this coming Reformation Sunday.  Sing a good rousing chorus of “A Mighty Fortress is our God” for me.   I have much to appreciate where I came from and the foundation it planted in me.  Thanks Martin Luther for putting me on the path to Orthodoxy.  I wouldn’t be here without you.