And so it begins. At 8:45 AM, I received Chrismation beside my sponsor, Seraphim Hamilton, by my priest, Fr. James Purdie. Fr. James joked with my wife saying that she had better take her photos quickly as the ceremony is over in the blink of an eye. And as it was. I was sealed with the promise of the Holy Spirit by being anointed with Chrism (a specially scented oil used for the newly baptized and converts). Being anointed and reading the Nicene Creed, I was welcomed into the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.
It wasn’t a very emotional experience for me. I was already on the path to conversion and pretty much considered myself a closet Orthodox Christian in the first place. This pretty much confirmed what had already happened to me. If anything, I was more joyful that my wife who rarely attended services at Trinity Baptist Church in my 17 years as pastor was at my side. She may have been unsuccessful at taking photos with her camera. But, she had the strength to be with me on this part of my spiritual journey. That is what really made me happy.
During Matins, some of the other worshipers came in and whispered words of congratulations. St. Basil was packed today and there was a guest deacon from St. Paul’s in Emmaus, PA where Fr. Andrew Damick is the pastor. My wife, who is not really interested in converting any time soon, followed the Divine Liturgy better than I did when I first visited the church. Taking the Holy Eucharist was moving to me as I took the bread and wine from the same cup as all of my fellow believers. This was a common-union in act as well as word. Immediately after receiving the body and blood of our Lord and Savior, I could not wait to give a piece of the blessed bread to the woman who has put up with the best and worst (and I gave her plenty of worst) of me.
Then came the Theophany service and the blessing of the Holy Water. This was a first for me. The service was not as long as Pascha (Orthodox Easter … Pascha is Greek for Passover). But, you could tell the little children were more than a bit restless. There were a few snacks prepared for Coffee Hour (in some traditions, this is the “Agape Meal”). But the best part of the repast was the conversation with Seraphim and Jeff Edens as we shared how we came to Orthodoxy. We have Ethiopians, Russians, and a couple of other immigrants and first and second generation (“cradles”) at St. Basil. But, most of us are converts from either Catholicism or some form of Protestantism. Me being the first African-American convert in the church means that I have an interesting story of how I came to the faith. But, in the end, I think we all came to the Orthodox Church for the same reason. We all wanted to experience the presence of God the same way the early Christians did. Of all the denominations, we found this church to be the oldest and most authentic form of worship with a deep well spring of history, spirituality, and wisdom. We don’t hate our former denominations in any way, shape, or form. In the end, God and God alone determines who enters His kingdom. We believe Othodoxy offers a more complete and holistic path of self denial, carrying our crosses, and following Jesus Christ. Nearly 2,000 years of the same doctrine seems a good path to follow.
I thank God for my wife and my new church home (in a most unlikely place). St. Basil the Great Antiochian Orthodox Church, 1022 Poquoson Avenue, Poquoson, Virginia 23662.