I am celebrating ten years of becoming an Orthodox Christian (as in Eastern Orthodox, as in Greek Orthodox, as in My Big Fat Greek Wedding).
I joined the church two days before 9-11. That’s how I remember the date.
Back in those days, I would hang out a lot at Greyfriar’s coffee shop. (Okay, I would spent the whole day there every day.) I had many long conversations with Warren Caterson, a happenin’ Presbyterian youth pastor, then Urban Young Life Director (anybody remember the “Metro”?), then founder of the Urban Art Institute. Warren had joined the Greek Orthodox church in town and had fascinating insights on his spiritual journey.
Over time, he won me over to his way of thinking. Warren is quite the evangelist, but he pulls it off wearing low key, surfer dude drag. You never feel like he’s proselytizing. Actually, he wasn’t. He was just talking over coffee. He later brought a priest down from Oak Ridge each week to share with a group of inquirers, and Fr. Stephen supplied a similar low-key, gentle style, but his content was explosive and powerful.
I already had a heart toward the concept of Orthodoxy. A philosophy major at Covenant College, I was the son of a doctoral student at Dallas seminary who won best student for theological studies. We talked doctrine over dinner. I thought a lot about the issue of control and authority in God’s church. Who’s in charge? Who gets to make the rules? I guess that was my lot in life. While other guys were driving Mustangs and chasing girls, I was mulling over Ecclesiology.
Anyway, by the time I found Warren, my one real exposure to Orthodoxy was through Franky Schaeffer. I brought Franky to speak at Covenant College in the 80’s and spent three days with him. A nice enough guy. Took himself a little too seriously. Darn sharp. (Son of the famous Francis Schaeffer, of course, who was probably the main icon for my father’s denomination, the PCA.)
Franky published the Christian Activist magazine and the covers stopped showing picketers and were replaced with guys in full length black cassocks with beards to their waists. What gives? Franky had become Orthodox.
I knew there must be something to it, because I respected Franky’s intellect and his heritage. Unfortunately, Franky has gone down a very weird and disappointing road, dishonoring his heritage. That’s probably a topic for another blog post. But Franky did pave the way for my openness to Orthodoxy.
(Quick caveat: I did not become Orthodox in reaction or rebellion to my parents or my upbringing. Rather, I embraced their faith because I experienced Christ in a genuine way through them. Orthodoxy is my attempt to give the faith they handed down to me a firmer foundation.)
I watched my Dad go through two or three very bitter church splits. I could not answer the question of who was right, because in Protestantism it seems anyone can break away and start their own deal if they feel “called by God.” Thus my teenage obsession with church polity.
To cut to the chase, Orthodoxy answered those questions for me. Today, I feel like I married into a royal family. The amazing heritage, the rich spiritual depths, the ability to focus and major on the important things, not petty things. I am so blessed.
On 9-11, Warren and I were both hanging out at Greyfriars. Then we both found ourselves watching the TV next door at the bar of Sticky Fingers restaurant. When the first tower went down, I watched Warren shake his head, cross himself, and utter a silent prayer. It occurred to me that I didn’t think to cross myself. I had become Orthodox two days before but still had a long way to go.
Today, I love to cross myself (but not in public to make a scene). It is a great way to pray when you don’t have any particular words for that moment. Praying the sign of the cross is one of now hundreds of little and big things that have been handed down to me from my mega-aristocratic spiritual heritage. From the great King himself.