This evening, I will make my first confession before God alongside my priest. Early tomorrow morning, I will receive Holy Chrismation before Matins and will partake of the Eucharist which will mark my entry into the 2,000 year old body of Christ. I am going into Orthodox Christianity with a deep sense of gratitude for the Baptist faith that I nurtured me for the past 46 years. My grandmother Dinah was known for her devotion to God and wisdom in teaching Sunday School. The passion for Biblical truth was passed down from Daddy Joe & Momma Di to their son John. My mother is also the product of a very devout household which has produced generations of pastors and deacons. The African-American Baptist community in King William County, the Pamunkey Baptist Association has given me many opportunities to develop socially and spiritually. I grew up surrounded by saints who kept the faith through the awful oppression of Jim Crow to see the heights of our people rising in every profession once denied to us, even the Presidency of this nation. Without the black church, I would have never known salvation. Jesus would have never been real to me. Baptist Liberty, Mt. Olive, Third Union, Trinity; these in particular and others in general have well prepared me for the journey I am undertaking now.
Some are asking, “Why take this journey at all?” Just as my past as an African-American is important to my faith, so is the ancient history of Christianity. While the Bible is central and essential to our faith, I see no reason to ignore the prayers, spirituality, writings, and wisdom that led the early church fathers to compile the books together. I see no reason to ignore the multi-cultural foundation of early church history and the role that Africans played in it. After seeing the ancient faith still being practiced among the various Orthodox jurisdictions and learning and practicing the faith as best as I could “in the closet,” I felt it was only right to step out of the safety and security of what I have always known to be a part of the church that was always there.
I believe that African-Americans should learn about and consider converting to the church of Simeon called Niger, Simon of Cyrene and his sons Alexander and Rufus, and the Ethiopian Eunuch that was the first non-Jew to be baptized. People in Bulgaria, Greece, Russia, and Serbia know of the “desert fathers” and venerate icons of Jesus and the saints that look like me. Sure, I suppose I could have continued to speak about these things from a Baptist pulpit. That would be like telling someone about kayak fishing yet never having done it. Sure, I could talk about paddling strokes, adapting equipment, and locating fish in shallow water from the comfort and safety of a pier. But, until I get into a Wilderness Systems Pungo 140, make my own rod holders, and drift the coves at Horn Harbor to pull up large croaker and red drum; I really can’t tell anyone what it is like to fish from a kayak. Well, I can talk about kayak fishing not only in theory, but from experience as well. The experienced are the most credible witnesses.
So when I tell African-Americans and others about Orthodoxy, I won’t be doing this as someone who has read some books and heard a few podcast and visited a few websites. I am a part of the ancient faith. I am a credible witness.