My path to St. Gregory’s and Orthodoxy took a long time to follow. I was raised a Baptist (ABA affiliated, if it matters), and in a church that had a lot of things going right. There were activities for children of all ages, outreach programs for the community, missions support, and tremendous talents shared by both the staff and the congregation. I thought that God was blessing the church and its people for all the things they do… and I still do. But that made my journey even harder to make, let alone start.
My wife, Jen, and I were raised with different religious backgrounds (she was a Roman Catholic), so we had a difficult enough time seeing things in a similar light. I had read some materials about the Orthodox Church, some at Jen’s request, and had mixed reactions at first. Most of the materials that exist on and for converts, especially from Protestant denominations, stem from some deep dissatisfaction or “church-gone-wrong” story where someone decides that they’ve had enough and start looking for something more. I could not really identify with that story. My time in the Baptist Church was for the most part good… in fact some parts of it were great! I was able to get involved in some ministries and was able to use my gifts and talents for the Lord, and hopefully bless others in the process. I never really thought of myself leaving, but God seemed to have other plans…
I have to confess, Jen was really the one who found Orthodoxy first. I wasn’t really looking too hard. She, with God’s help, was able to provide me with enough information and context for me to start my journey in earnest. It was Jen who first found Father Nicholas and St. Gregory’s, way back when they still met in the church off Bradley Blvd, some 9 years ago. We went infrequently (and that’s putting it nicely) and started building a relationship with Father Nicholas. We would come to evening services periodically and attend some of the classes that were taught for all the other converts. I remember always feeling welcome and enjoying my time there, yet I was not quite ready to give up where I was and what I had.
I can remember having a few big hang-ups about Orthodoxy in relation to the Baptist faith I came from:
2. Faith vs. Works
3. Eucharist and the Real Presence
My “problems” with Mary were really rooted in a misunderstanding of what praying to saints was. After listening to Scott Hahn (yes, I know he’s Roman Catholic) talk about how Protestants were really not giving Mary any respect at all, I was able to think about it in slightly different terms. I thought, why *not* treat Mary with the respect that she deserves? She definitely deserved more than I was giving her! Then, Father Nicholas was able to clear things up a bit more as he explained how there is no real difference between asking your friend to pray for you and asking St. Peter to pray for you. I reluctantly accepted the premise… because it did make sense.
Eucharist and the Real Presence actually ended up being a smaller issue than I had originally thought. I thought (with my Baptist side), what difference does it make to the symbolism of the Lord’s Supper to have the bread and wine actually be more that just bread and wine? Nothing. And since there were a lot of early church writings that seemed to indicate that there was more than grape juice in there, I was willing to accept the possibility.
Then, it came down to a big one… Faith vs. Works. I already had a pretty good (Baptist) understanding of the discussion the book of James has about Faith and Works, so I was at both an advantage and disadvantage for learning more about the topic. I knew that faith and works went together, as James says, but I had a good story for divorcing the two when it came to “Salvation” and its attainment. I didn’t want to have anything to do with “getting” my salvation, since that would be a work… of course, I wasn’t really paying much attention to the act of trusting in God, which itself is a work. Father Nicholas helped me see things from the Orthodox perspective, and how they are not all that different, but much more consistent and full… problem solved.
Faith and Works lead naturally into Salvation, which was the biggest stumbling block that I needed to overcome. Salvation and “being saved” were really interchangeable concepts in my Protestant background, so I was pretty concerned and confused by all the Orthodox writings that talked about Salvation in a different light. Then along came Father Nicholas again to explain how I was really comparing apples and oranges. Salvation, as defined by the Baptist Church, was a singular event, and this did not match the Orthodox concept where Salvation was a life-long process. My concept of “being saved” didn’t have the same meaning in Orthodoxy. That didn’t sink in very quickly, and I thank God for Father Nicholas and how he was patient enough to help me understand enough to overcome my preconceptions. This led into a long study of Salvation and all the related concepts… quite a big undertaking.
Through a lot of prayer and reading, and a lot of tears, I came to the point in my life where my heart was finally ready to follow my brain and move toward Orthodoxy. I had to ultimately surrender my life to God more completely… I had to be willing to give up what I had. Through all the talking that Jen and I did through the years, God was able to chip through my armor (and pride) to make me see that there were other things that I needed, and that they were able to be found through Orthodoxy. I think that God used St. Gregory’s to do a lot of that work.
Through all this time, and for all of my journey, I was always able to go to St. Gregory’s and meet others who were always welcoming and pleasant, and who had a somewhat similar story. That was comforting to me as I was slowly coming to the point where I would make my decision to convert. I found St. Gregory’s a comfortable place to be. From Bradley Blvd to Eldbrook and now here in Potomac, I can feel at home with people who share my faith, and I can feel confident that I have a place for my family to learn and grow.
St. Gregory’s has been in my life for a while (nine years, as mentioned earlier), but I was not really a part of it for quite a while. It was not until rather recently that I came to call St. Gregory’s home. I can say that it has blessed me during all that time, and that I hope I can return the same favor to others.
I can’t express the joy that I felt seeing my two boys being baptized into Orthodoxy, knowing that they will have the Holy Spirit to help them and guide them in their lives. I can’t express the joy I feel in the morning when my two year old makes sure that we remember to say “Amen” before we sit down to breakfast. I can’t express the joy that I feel knowing that I have finally found “Home.”
– by David Caldwell