Our journeys began many years ago when we were children. The son and daughter of Protestant ministers, we each gained in childhood a very clear sense of God’s presence in our lives, a love of his Holy Word, and an acceptance of “church” as a part of everyday life.
At separate times and places, both Fr. Nicholas and I began searching for a connection with the historical church and during college, each of us discovered the Episcopal Church. Here we found beautiful liturgy and music, devotion to the saints (particularly St. Mary), the sacraments, monasticism, and the ordained ministry of bishops, priest, and deacons. We each felt that we had found the ancient catholic church, expressed in English terms.
But it was an illusion, and by the time we met and married, the Episcopal Church had undergone many revolutionary changes and was torn by controversy and strife. Nevertheless, Fr. Nicholas could no longer ignore a sense of calling to ministry and was sent by our parish church to seminary to prepare for priesthood in the “Anglo-Catholic” wing of the Episcopal Church.
Seminary in New York City was a broadening experience in a number of ways. Evidence of the detrimental results of the Episcopal church’s pattern of compromise regarding theological truth, authority, and morality was very disturbing. At the same time, the opportunity for Fr. Nicholas to study the writings of the Fathers of the Church strengthened his sense of calling and gave him a greater ability to communicate the faith to others. Even after the transfer to a “traditionalist” diocese for ordination and the move to parish work in Pennsylvania and Indiana, we had a growing sense that we were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
During these years, we slowly became aware of the answer which God was providing. We met other Episcopalians who were converting to Orthodoxy, we read Orthodox materials, and we began attending services in Orthodox churches as often as possible. We were grateful to discover the provision for a Western Rite in the Antiochian Archdiocese. The Western Rite would allow those of us who had spent our lifetimes striving to practice the catholic faith expressed in western terms to bring that into the Orthodox Church. We knew that we would have to shed theological errors and questionable practices, but we would not have to reject everything that had come before. There would be continuity in our journey.
After meeting Bishop BASIL at a conference organized for Episcopal clergy considering Orthodoxy, there was no doubt in our minds as to where we needed to be. Getting there presented the next set of problems. Fr. Nicholas was the pastor of a parish, caring for the spiritual needs of some very good people who were in no way prepared to make the leap we were considering.
When we were presented with the opportunity to come to the Washington, DC area because of reported interest in Western Rite Orthodoxy here, we bid farewell to our parishioners, Fr. Nicholas resigned from the Episcopal priesthood and we were chrismated on October 1, 1995. We moved here later that month, and he returned to his pre-seminary profession of building and repairing pipe organs.
On March 2 and 3, 1996, Richard Alford was ordained to the diaconate and the priesthood in the Holy Orthodox Church by Bishop ANTOUN (taking the name Nicholas), and St. Gregory the Great parish was officially begun.
Today we continue to thank God for his great goodness to us and for the people of St. Gregory’s. We are grateful to have been adopted into the family of our archdiocese, for the leadership of Metropolitan PHILIP and our godly bishops, and we pray that God’s continual blessing will be upon us and our parish as we seek to do his will.
- by Khourya Rebecca Alford