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Coming Home: Why I Have No Choice but to Be Orthodox

Trevor Peterson June 13, 2006

I have a general conviction about telling stories, that there is no universally right way to tell them, and that this is generally a good thing. Particularly in the case of telling ones own story, the process is much like memory itselfever-changing, sometimes more lucid than others, and usually inuenced by present circumstances. This assessment should not be taken as an excuse for blatant dishonesty, but only an apologetic for inconsistency. I experienced my past as it came to me, and I experience my recollection as it comes back. I do not stay the same, and neither do my memories. All I can promise is that I will tell them in the most sincere way possible. On one hand, this conviction leads me to eschew writing my stories. Better to retell my past as I understand it at any point in time, whenever the need arises. Writing it all down would impose consistency that does not really exist. It would give the impression of authority, simply by being static. On the other hand, to codify one version of my story, if understood correctly, can usefully preserve what I was thinking at the time that I wrote. It can reect an earlier menot as early as the me that went through the events in question, but earlier at least than some later me that might need a reminder of what once was. There is also a utilitarian concern, in that writing saves me the time and trouble of articulating over and over again the same answer to the same question. Of course, there will inevitably be follow-up questions, and the detachment of referring an inquirer to some written text tends to suppress the voicing of new concerns. A text that seemingly answers the major issues might appear to be sucientso much so, that lesser questions are left unasked. If no real dialog was necessary to cover the bulk of the answer, why 1

bother starting one after the fact? Being a rm believer in the importance of dialog, I want to counteract this impulse right now. If I have referred you to this text for an answer to your question (or, for that matter, if you have simply stumbled across it somehow, and I happen to be accessible), please understand that I want your feedback. I want this text to be a starting point for discussion, not the end of it. So by all means, read on. But think about what you read. Critique it. Question it. And when you have nished reading, lets share our thoughts and see where they take us.

Seeking a Homeland

Its always dicult to know where to start. Pick a point in timesome event or rst thoughtand inevitably something that precedes it will show up as signicant in getting there. Our lives are part of one ever-owing river that begins and ends in God. Let me take as one example the wandering impulse that runs through my maternal grandparents and their descendants. For all I know, it might go back further than that, but this is my story, and two generations back is far enough. My grandparents have lived in over 100 placesnot because of military or job transfersthey just move around a lot. My aunt has tended to do the same thing, and so have my parents. We lived in eight dierent places before I was a teenager, and most of our moves were out of state. It seems weird to my wife, but for me it was all I knew. I adapted well for the most part, although I cant say I was much for building long-term friendships. We did stay put throughout my teenage years, but after I got married, my parents started moving again and havent really stopped. Im getting ahead of myself, but let me nish this out. I now look at my parents moving around from a few dierent perspectives. Personally, I dont want the same lifestyle. Its possible that I may have no choice but to move around for a career or other circumstances. But if I could have my way, I would prefer a more rooted existence. To be born, raised, live out my life, and die in one valley sounds to me like paradise. Im speaking here of physical location, but theres another perspective more relevant to the matter at handin my mind, something very similar has been going on. I have wandered far and wide, and now I am passionately searching for rootedness. Was my mental wandering my own way of living out the same impulse that runs in my family? Perhaps. At least, it helps me to sympathize 2

with my parents and provides some beginnings of an explanation for my own condition. The account might be cleaner if I didnt have to bring it up, but something would probably be missed in the process. But its time that we got down to the real point of this narrative.

A Wandering Aramean

My own wandering started toward the end of seminary. Oh, there had been other minor ventures before that. I always liked to be dierent. I was about the only outspoken Evangelical in my high school, and I liked debating ethics and science with my classmates and teachers. Even in church, most people believed in eternal security of salvation, so I didnt. That changed in college, but after one of the professors was red for holding a somewhat extreme view on a picky theological issue, I ended up adopting the same view. I specically chose a seminary with a very conservative doctrinal position, but then I went and got caught in the middle of a theological controversy. Through all of this, though, I never seriously questioned anything central to Evangelical Christianity. It was only once I got into the role of an adjunct professor that the serious questions began. Throughout high school and college, I accepted the standard Evangelical view that right study of the Bible and right theology always go hand-inhand. That was the point of going to Bible collegeso I could learn the Bible better, which would lead to better understanding of theology, which would produce better ministry. At least, that was the logical way it ought to have worked. In practice, it never did. We started learning systematic theology and studying the Bible in English at the same time. What biblical material we started with was less theologically signicant narrativeless signicant in Evangelicalism, that isso by the time we got to Pauls letters, where the real meat of doctrine was found, we already had a solid foundation of theological training. The last step in the process was that which should have been rstthe study of biblical languages. I thought at the time that it was unfortunate but practically necessary. Looking back on it now, it seems more revealing of a fatal aw. Our theology was shaping our understanding of the Bible, because it had to. I dont know how many of our teachers knew that, but it is obvious to me now. Perhaps the single most important lesson I learned in seminary was that the process could be reversed. It was possible to study the Bible intensively 3

(now on a foundation of Biblical Greek and eventually Hebrew) and to draw conclusions that didnt necessarily t with any particular theological system. My job was simply to understand the Bible for what it said and shape my beliefs and conduct accordingly. The lesson was idealistic, though, as I began to see when theological controversy erupted and I found myself on the wrong side. Yes, there was freedom to follow my own reading of the Bible, but only within certain rigid boundaries. These boundaries bothered me, and I began to look outside at what lay beyond. I had decided to pursue a career in academics, so I was looking for Ph.D. programs. I determined that I would not attend another seminary but would get my degree from a university. I needed some fresh perspective. I also began to read outside my tradition. I had dabbled throughout seminaryenough to take pot-shots in assigned position papers. But now I was starting to realize that there was genuine value to be found in the work of other scholars. As I prepared to teach classes, I read a wider range of viewpoints than ever before, and I found in it much that made sense. There were a couple of particular issues in biblical scholarship that got my attention. One was the set of literary approaches referred to somewhat erroneously as rhetorical criticism. (It includes genuine rhetorical criticism, but it includes several other areas as well. The problem is in the history of the discipline, since literary criticism was already in use for the parsing of texts into historical sources.) The other was the so-called minimalist historical controversy. What I think drew me to these two viewpoints in particular was that they both ran somewhat counter to the historical-critical arguments I had been taught to despise. The literary approaches were unied by their treatment of the biblical text in its nal formas a cohesive literary whole, without immediate concern for its historical development. Granted, it was generally assumed that the text was based on earlier sources, and if anything, its date of nal composition was even later and its contents even less connected to the past events than in the theories I disliked so much. But I still felt like I had found an ally, in that we could put aside our disagreements, sit down, and talk about the biblical text as it is. The historical minimalist camp might seem like a less likely association for an Evangelical, but their arguments generally required them to repudiate the standard model of the historical development of Biblical Hebrew. Granted, they concluded that the material was generally late, rather than early, but the shared opposition to nding direct evidence of a long textual history in the language seemed to me like a good thing. 4

As I read more and more about these two approaches, particularly on the literary side (although this is a somewhat articial distinction, since the minimalist position also stresses the literary quality of the texts), I was introduced to, and found much to like about, postmodern literary criticism. I didnt get much chance to deal with such things in my university classes, but in my spare time I was getting acquainted with literary analysis both inside and outside of biblical scholarship. My conviction that meaning comes mostly from the reader was steadily growing, and the implications were beginning to weigh on my mind. Initially, I thought that perhaps such a view could be reconciled with biblical inspiration by simply allowing that God gave us the Bible to use, even if that sometimes means we learn from critiquing the Bible rather than accepting what it says. But I saw that this notion could only lead to relativism, since ones critique would come from various personal factors that may or may not be from God. I realized that the reading community had to play a signicant role somehow in the process. I could see that this happened whether by intention or otherwise, as for instance it happened that most Evangelicals accepted the views taught by their church leadership, even if the Bible was supposed to be the source of authority. The sharp disagreements between dierent Evangelical communities were not normally a problem, because they never bothered to look far enough outside to notice them.

From the Desert of Paran

This focus on the community came together with some other things going on in my life at the time. I have always struggled on and o with my prayer life, and I had tried some dierent strategies to revitalize it. I tried what essentially amounted to Orthodox Christian fasting. (My intention was to mimic Coptic Christian fasting, but I could nd only limited sources on that in particular, and the dierence is somewhat negligible anyway.) I tried praying with a Jewish siddur (prayer book). These strategies would help for a while, but eventually the strain of doing them on my own, with no communal support, would become too much, and I would give up. I had also noticed how it seemed that Evangelicalism is afraid of traditionthat it will not admit when it has a tradition, and often changes its strategy so as not to create what might look like a tradition. Similarly, it calls itself non-liturgical, but the same general set of songs is sung regularly, the service is congured 5

more or less the same way from week to week, and the prayers use similar language and themes. I thought that a community that took more seriously the role of tradition and its own inuence on the way its members read would at least be more honest. So it came into my mind that if I were ever to make any real progress, I would need to seek out and join myself to a traditional community. Orthodox Judaism was a natural rst place for me to look. I had had some interest in Judaism from an early age anyway, and it had grown signicantly in recent years. A friend had introduced me to Chaim Potoks books, which portrayed for me a world in which study was devotionnot entirely unlike Evangelicalism, but with a great deal more depth. Also, I was studying Semitic languages, so the idea of praying in Hebrew and studying the Talmud in Aramaic appealed to me. If I had to pick some tradition, this seemed like a good candidate. I started to gather informationbrowsed what I could nd on the Internet, signed up on some e-mail listseven concluded that if I were going to convert, it would have to be an Orthodox conversion. But I never really took any meaningful steps. Perhaps if I had bothered to deal with the New Testament the way I had with the Old, I would have concluded that Jesus was probably nothing more than a popular Jewish teacher whose followers got carried away after he died. But I could not really see myself rejecting Jesus as Messiah, and it seemed inevitable that I would be expected to do so explicitly, since I was coming from such a strong Christian background. I also knew that my wife would never go along with it, and I was not prepared to give up the expert status I had earned within Christianity to start over as a convert who was expected to absorb and accept, not to question and challenge. I thought for a while that Messianic Judaism might be a suitable compromise. An acquaintance had introduced me to a type of Messianic Judaism that teaches Torah obedience for all Christians. I gured I could get at least some of Jewish tradition, including Talmud study (since theres no comparable Christian source to consult for the application of Torah to daily life) and prayer in Hebrew, without giving up faith in Jesus or asking my wife to leave Christianity. Since I wouldnt have to go through any type of formal conversion, I could keep my expert status and jump right away into the debate over what faith and practice ought to look like. The one nagging problem that I had with the idea was the role of tradition. In this respect, Messianic Judaism would not be much dierent from what I already knew. It would pick and choose from Jewish tradition whatever was determined by 6

individual study to be appropriate. And the whole system was based on a reconstruction of early Christianity that depended on sucient scholarship and might one day be overturned as easily as it had been established. I thought for a time that I could get past this problem, but ultimately I could not.

Passing Through Samaria

This desire for real tradition, however, was not what pushed me over the edge. Oddly enough, it was a lm review written by a Sephardic Jew that led to my nal break with Judaism. Like, I suppose, many others, our church decided to capitalize on the release of Mel Gibsons The Passion of the Christ by scheduling a few discussion sessions for those who had seen or were interested in the movie. As adult Bible study coordinator and resident expert on Aramaic, I was naturally part of the group that organized the sessions. Because of my association with Judaism, I oered to prepare some material on anti-Semitism in the movie. I knew I would be able to gather a list of the possible criticisms from several posts that had appeared on the Jewish e-mail lists that I read. By far, the most insightful review that I came across was written by David Shasha, editor of the Sephardic Heritage Update, an electronic newsletter devoted to issues of concern to the Sephardic Jewish community. I subscribed to his newsletter and went looking on the Internet to see if he had written anything else or perhaps had his own Web site. What little I found included an editorial he had tried to publish in a newspaper but ended up instead having it posted on an e-mail list called shamireaders. Discovering this list marked a major turning point for me in both the political and the religious arenas. shamireaders is a distribution list with over 1000 subscribers. It is used by Israel Shamir to post his writings and other writings that he thinks his readers might appreciate. He also runs a discussion list with a much smaller membership called togethernet. I read a little bit and decided to subscribe to both. Israel Shamir is an Israeli journalista Russian Jew by birth, but recently a convert to Orthodox Christianity. With the beginning of the second intifada he started writing in English to protest the policies of the state of Israel and advocate a one-state solution to the conict. Through his writings, I was reminded of some things I ought to have known. Christianity has long been a part of Arab society, while Ashkenazic Jewry is something 7

completely foreign to the region. As Shasha frequently points out, Israeli policy is dominated by Ashkenazic, not Sephardic Jews, the latter of whom generally got along quite well with their Christian and Muslim neighbors before the Zionist venture. Shamir stresses the environmental and social destruction of Palestine by Zionism and the closer relationship that ought to exist between Christians and Muslims, who at least agree that Jesus is a prophet, that he was born of a virgin, was taken to heaven, and is coming back at the end of the world. His position is exaggerated in some respects, but it seems to me that this is intentional embellishment, to counteract the prejudices of the West. Changing sides in the Israel-Palestine conict was a paradigm shift for me that radically re-aligned my thinking about religion as well as politics. Shamirs preference for Orthodox Christianity over Evangelicalism (which he characterizes as Christian Zionist) also pointed the way to another tradition that I ought to explore. As I came to realize that I would not t very well into a Messianic congregation as an anti-Zionist, it also occurred to me that Christianity had already been through this once before. No one denies that Christianity and Judaism started closer together than they are now. And there probably were those who wanted to take the kind of path laid out by the Messianic groups. So why didnt Christianity in general go down that road? I gured if anyone had a response, it would be in the patristic tradition, which was yet another reason to look at Orthodox Christianity. I found this answer (in the writings of Justin Martyr, for one), and I also found that Orthodoxy took what I considered to be a more appropriate stance toward Middle East peace issues than most of what I saw in Evangelicalism. But the more important question was whether it could be the authoritative, traditional community that I sought.

A City with Foundations

What I discovered about Orthodoxy genuinely surprised me. I went looking for a traditional community that took seriously its interpretive role, and I did nd that. But even more, I found that this was Gods plan all along. He had established the Church, even before giving the New Testament, to be the controlling voice for interpreting the Bible. I had envisioned the Bible as a text divorced from its author, now irretrievable through the passage of time, and incapable of true dialog. But in the context of the Church, it 8

remains part of a living dialog, because the same tradition that gave birth to the Bible continues to speak. Because the Spirit indwells the believing community, the very author of Scripture speaks in the reading community and shapes the readers perception in conformity to Gods will. This is the role that tradition was always meant to play, and the role that it did play until the Reformation. I realized that, where the Reformers thought they had found a useful tool with which to critique the awed tradition of the West, they actually got more than they bargained for and unleashed a force that could only lead in the end to pure relativism. Liberal theology went that way long ago, and it is only the conservative impulse of Evangelicalismthat boundary that seemed misplaced to me in seminarythat prevents it from doing the same. But Evangelicalism is living a contradiction; the best of its theology it retains from a tradition it no longer accepts, and the more it embraces its fundamental notion of sola scriptura, the more fragmented it becomes. So Orthodox Christianity provided the answer I had been seeking. But could I accept everything that went along with it? Remember, one of my obstacles with Judaism was that converting would require me to accept everything implicitly. Not that there is never room for disagreement or independent thinking within a traditional framework; there can actually be quite a bit of freedom, and the boundaries are more logical than in Evangelicalism. But I still think its rude to convert to a belief system with a whole stack of conditions and exceptions. Part of what had sent me looking in the direction of Judaism was a feeling that it involved less, or less oensive, baggage than traditional Christianity. The prayers in the siddur might not have anything about Jesus, but they didnt have anything about Mary or saints, either. Not that its all subtraction to get from Evangelicalism to Judaism, but at least the additions havent been the subject of a major protestant movement in my own ecclesiastical background. Eastern Orthodoxy has some advantage over Roman Catholicism, in that it is not guilty of some of the specic abuses that provoked the Reformation. It also shares Protestantisms opposition to papism and such Western doctrines as the immaculate conception of Mary and the need to pay o temporal debts for sin in purgatory. But Orthodoxy has a lot in common with Catholicism from an Evangelical standpointthe use of images in worship, veneration of and prayer to saints and Mary, acceptance of the Apocrypha, priestly orders, and sacraments. Then there are the trappingscandles, incense, liturgical format, and signing the cross. Surprisingly, these things were not as dicult for me to get over as I would have 9

thought. I had done some reading about Orthodoxy a few years earlier, back when I was looking for information about Coptic Christianity and found Eastern Orthodoxy as a convenient bridge to the more obscure Oriental traditions. So I had encountered explanations of some of these practices before, and some of them had made quite a bit of sense at the time, even though I didnt think much about changing my own practice. For instance, Orthodox apologists argue that their form of worship involves the whole person. Not just the mind, but all ve senses are usedthe taste of the bread and wine, the smell of the incense, the sight of the icons and candles, the feel of kissing icons and relics, the sound of bells and chants. There is also more action on the part of the congregantslighting candles, venerating icons, chanting along with most of the service, bowing, crossing, etc. This made a lot of sense to me, and the fact that OT worship set a similar precedent suggested an appropriateness I had not considered before. Also, the notion that icons stand in for persons who are physically absent but spiritually present, which is grounded in a concept of the church that includes both the living and the dead in a very real way, seemed to me a proper response to the belief in an afterlife that most Evangelicals would share. I could accept that an icon represents a spiritual reality and is not an object of worship in itself, that the incarnation of the Son added a physical dimension to worship that is appropriately expressed now, as we recognize the divine and spiritual through the human and physical. As I came back to investigate Orthodoxy again, I was reminded of these arguments that had made sense to me before. I also recognized that the justication of icons at the seventh ecumenical council really was a continuation of the Christological focus of the earlier councils. If Jesus is fully God and fully human, then it is appropriate to contemplate him in a physical way when we worship. Also, as I have tried it out for myself, I have found the practical benet of adding a visual component to worship. Where praying with my eyes closed still allows my mind to conjure inappropriate or distracting images, keeping my eyes focused on an icon provides positive reinforcement of the task at hand. My already strong focus on community made it easy to accept other aspects of Orthodox practice. I can recognize the importance of the saints, as champions of the faith, whose lives guide us much like Paul said to imitate him, and who pray ceaselessly for Christians. If they prayed for others on earth, how much more do they pray before the throne of God in heaven? 10

We honor them for the mighty ways in which God has used them, and for their signicant role in the life of the Church. If we give honor to celebrities and political leaders for their accomplishments in this world, how much more should we honor those who have shown us Christ so vividly with their lives? I can also see the importance of the priesthood in the life of the community. What ministries and blessings belong to the Church belong to all of us collectively. But distinct roles are necessary for some types of experience. For instance, private confession before God is well and good, but on a very human level there is something dierent about confessing aloud to another person who is vividly present and responsive. The priest can stand in this role, to receive our confession as Gods representative. The sacraments were also easy for me to accept. Of course, God wants to sanctify our whole existence, including the material world around us. Of course, the incarnation shows this intention most clearly. Sacrament is nothing more than an extension of the incarnation, as the Spirit of God works through things in the world around us, allowing us to experience grace with our whole persons, both spiritual and physical. Where Evangelicalism tends to separate the spiritual events from the physical, Orthodoxy keeps them together as a mystery, without analyzing them to death as in scholastic Catholicism.

The Gate is Narrow

So on the belief front, I moved pretty rapidly to a point of complete acceptance. I can say now that I know of nothing in the dogmatic teaching of Orthodox Christianity that I would disagree with, and I am fully prepared to accept whatever the tradition might have left to teach me. In terms of practice, however, I am still just getting started. Initially, I followed something like the same strategy Id used with Judaism. I picked up an Orthodox prayer book and began to use it as regularly as I could manage. For quite some time, that was about as far as it went, but I was getting good exposure to the core ideas of Orthodoxy and growing accustomed to things like crossing myself and prostrations. My wife had not thought much of my idea about becoming Messianic Jewish, and although she was glad to hear that I was giving up on that idea, she was even less enthusiastic about Orthodoxy. I understood her prejudices, because Id had the same objections myself for years without ever giving them a second thought. I had been highly moti11

vated to learn otherwise, but she was not. She was quite content with her faith and spiritual life, and to a certain extent, I was reluctant to upset that. While I had drifted far and wide in my thinking about Christianity, desperately seeking some peace and fulllment, she had had these things all along. No matter how much I felt that I had found the truth, I could not shake the suspicion that it might not be what I thought, and I would have to go on to something else. I did not want to ruin what she already had for the sake of what I might or might not nd. I knew I had to attend an actual service, so I found a nearby parish and, with my wifes consent, I visited one Sunday morning. It was unfamiliar and a bit awkward, but certainly more palatable than I had expected. I had no visions, no realization that this was exactly where I needed to be. It was just a so-so, vague experience that didnt seem to mean much of anything one way or the other. I continued reading and praying occasionally, but not much happened for the next few months. I didnt want to pressure my wife, but I also didnt want us heading in two dierent directions. More and more, though, I felt like I had to do something, so eventually we had to revisit the issue. On the advice of an Orthodox acquaintance at school, I had been focusing on the cross during prayer, and it seemed like it was time to see about getting some icons. I had read somewhere about people carrying diptychs when they travel, and I thought that might be the best option. Since I knew my wife would nd it oensive to have a full icon corner, this way I could put the icons away when I wasnt using them. I asked her about it, and she ended up going along with the idea (although reluctantly, and with the stipulation that she didnt want to see them), but she admitted that shed been hoping I would just lose interest in Orthodoxy. I explained that that wasnt likely, but we left it at that. It happened a little later that Id lost track of time while thinking about whether I would fast for Lent or not, and when I realized that Orthodox Lent was about to begin, I gured God was giving me a second chance. (If you dont know, some Orthodox still follow the old Julian calendar, which puts all of their feasts out of sync with the West, but pretty much all Orthodox observe a dierent schedule for Pascha and the holidays that are linked to it.) When my wife went away for a week to visit some family, I gured it was a good opportunity to attend an Orthodox service again. This time, I prepared by reading through the liturgy and listening several times to a recording. It ended up being a much more fullling experience, and I felt 12

comfortable even with prostrations at the end and going up to venerate the cross. I also got to hang around afterward and talk to some people. Several of them had gone through periods when one spouse was Orthodox but the other was not. I found it encouraging that my experience was not unusual and that there was some hope that my wife would eventually come around. When I talked to her about it later and said it had given me some hope, she said there was no hope, and that led to further discussion. I tried to explain how serious I was about this, and how shed at least have to accept that this was what I was doing. It was obvious, though, that we had to start nding a way to communicate better about the situation.

The Road is Dicult

I suggested that it was probably time to consult with our pastor, both so he would know what was on my mind and could determine what he thought it would mean for my ministry and presence at our church, and so we could get some guidance on our situation with each other. I gured my wife would appreciate having someone on her side and might be more willing to discuss issues than in a situation where she felt like she was alone. I was also willing to take whatever advice we could get about working through this kind of dierence, since wed never had to deal with anything similar in our relationship. Opening up to him was a big step for me, because although I had considered conversion before to diering degrees, until this point I had never talked to anyone in my Evangelical sphere, other than my wife. I didnt want to introduce the problem by phone or e-mail if it could be avoided, so I set up a brief meeting with him to explain the situation and give him some time to think about what we should do next. He agreed that the three of us should meet and advised that we start from what we had in common, which was still quite a bit. Our pastor also mentioned that two visits wasnt much to go by. Im not sure what he meant by that, but I took it to mean that if I was serious, I ought to be visiting Orthodox services more often. Before the three of us could meet together I got another opportunity when my Orthodox acquaintance from school invited me to join him for a Good Friday service. It was a wonderful experiencestill no epiphany, but this was my rst time in a real Orthodox church building, which made a signicant dierence in the eect. The music also had a somewhat more Eastern avor than what Id heard before, and 13

there were no rows of chairs to obstruct movement. I had thought before that I would prefer these elements, and I was glad to nd that I in fact did.

The Road Goes Ever On

So there you have it. Thats where I left o, apparently about a year ago now. A lot has happened since then. I attended Pentecost Divine Liturgy and Kneeling Vespers back at the rst parish Id visited. (I think that was a Fathers Day treat that my wife allowed.) That summer, while we were at the beach with another couple, we all visited a small mission parish for Saturday Vespers, which was my wifes rst Orthodox service of any type. It wasnt a great experience, since there were more of us than there were Orthodox people. Ive managed to get her to two other services since, but her impression hasnt changed much. Over the past year, Ive tried to catch special services. Ive also met with Fr. Gregorythe priest from that parish I visited on Good Friday last yearperhaps every couple of months. Each time weve met has provided another opportunity to visit a service. I met a guy at work whos Russian-American and attends a ROCOR parish. Ive managed to visit there once, and a smaller ROCOR parish thats closer to where I live on a few occasions. They had an open house several months ago, so I went to that and stayed for Vigil afterward. I went back there during Lent this year while my wife was out of town and met with Fr. George. Im torn between the twogood people and good priests at both, each with its unique characteristics. But thinking about my wife tends to push the balance away from the ROCOR parish. Its quite small, which she generally doesnt like in any church, the services are longer, and if I could get her to meet with a priest, I think shed probably butt heads with Fr. George. For now, though, I like the fact that I can often catch a holiday service by picking from two options, with one parish on the Orthodox calendar and the other on the Western. Ive done a lot of reading, a lot of praying, got to know some good Orthodox people, and I now have no doubt that I would convert as soon as my family situation allowed it. Ive asked both priests about converting on my own, and theyre pretty reluctant. So I press on. Ive talked to quite a few Evangelical friends about it. There was the couple we vacationed with last summer, two dierent small groups at churchone last year, and one this yearone-on-one conversations with two or three good friends, and another 14

scheduled for this Friday. Ive brought one friend to a regular service, and three other friends came with me to the Pascha service this year. In general, our conversations are positive. They might have some personal reservations, but for the most part they dont have much objection to my interest. Im starting to feel more comfortable about bringing it up in various circles. Just this week, I bought a few icons for my station at work. One way or another, I still have a long road before me. But Im encouraged by the way it has gone so far, and I look forward with hope that Christ will lead me exactly where he wants me.