Chronicle of Conversion: Day 5 Not Wallowing, But Walking On

First, Memory Eternal to Nelson Mandela!  I can think of no other man in my generation who had ever moved the world in the ways of reconciliation as this man did.  Instead of a call for justice and retribution, Mandela called for forgiveness and peace.  While South Africa has many problems, the nation did not turn into a racial war zone as many had predicted.  In 2010, they hosted a heck of a World Cup.  Sometimes, letting bygones be bygones is a great way to move forward.

I am tempted to rant a bit about those who oppose my choice to become Orthodox.  But, I suppose Mandela could have ranted about his mistreatment at Robben Island Prison.  But, he had a habit of warmly greeting his prison guards.  He refused to let the attitudes of others determine his.  I see the work that lies before me.  It is in my best interest not to let my critics worry me and focus on the task, I feel, God is leading me to.  So, I have begun to reach out to others who are interested in forming the Virginia Chapter of the Brotherhood of St. Moses the Black.  As expected, I have produced a working rough draft of a monthly newsletter/blog for the group as well.  I won’t wallow in worry.  I will walk on through this storm.  I am following someone and something greater than I.

You'll Never Walk Alone!

You’ll Never Walk Alone!

Chronicle Of Conversion: Day Four And Wise Steps

Happy Founder’s Day to my Brothers of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity!  A Blessed Feast of St. John of Damascus!  And DID YOU SEE LUIS SUAREZ DESTROY NORWICH TODAY?!

Yeah, there are questions about why I am making such a dramatic change from being a Baptist pastor to being an Orthodox Christian without any title.  I have to admit, it will be weird not being called “pastor” and “reverend.”  One of my favorite professors in seminary, Dr. Charles Jones (Memory Eternal) used to remind us that, “Your momma and daddy did not name you ‘reverend.'”  I never did like being called that outside of church too much anyway.  Inside of church, hey, that is the position I hold.  I have heard a lot of people declare, “I don’t need a title to serve the Lord.”  I guess I will be putting that claim to use.

In making my decision, I am glad that I chronicled my journey into Orthodoxy so that no one can say this is some knee-jerk reaction to me not getting the money, perks, or something else I wanted.  In fact, anyone who reads my post from June of 2012 up to today will see this was a long and well trodden path I have taken to this point.  I remember meeting with Fr. James Purdie that August (at the NY Deli, the best eatery in the Williamsburg Area and owned by Greek Orthodox Christians).  He told me, “We don’t rush people to convert.  Take your time.  We are always going to be here.”  Oh, I had moments where Orthodoxy felt so right that I would have jumped ship had I had the same income I did when I worked at Dominion and not a pastor.  But, being a highly regarded pastor who relied on that church salary to pay the mortgage, staying where I was for as long as I did made more sense.  Plus, it gave me plenty of time to make sure that I wanted to convert and not based on positive or negative emotions.

I benefited from the wisdom from three wise advisers.  They didn’t interject or object to the course I was taking.  Initially, I found their silence somewhat frustrating.  Apparently, they were watching me think, ponder, pray, and post my views.  They wanted me to develop into the genuine Christian God was calling me to be.  Had I tried to move too soon or not at all and not been genuine, these men would have put me back on a fraternity pledge line (they are all Alpha Men).  I thank God they had and have my back.

So, I can give a word of advice to those who want to convert to Orthodoxy.  Take your time.  Make sure your steps are firm and that you are willing to commit to the faith.  The Orthodox Church is not a club for saints to get their praise on once or twice a week.  This is a hospital for sinners where we meet God with all of our senses and are expected to maintain the medicines of prayer, fasting, alms-giving, the scriptures, and living as new creatures in Christ.  Talk with the open minded and knowledgeable friends who truly care about your spiritual journey.  Carefully chronicle and think about your growth as you read about and participate in the faith.  When the time truly comes to convert, you will be able to look at your journey and see that the time is right.

The bird knows when it is time to display it’s feathers.

Chronicle of Conversion: Day Three How “White” is the Orthodox Church?

I am the son and grandson of African-American Baptist Deacons and Deaconesses.  I hold the office of Pastor which is a position of power and influence in the black community.  And I am about to leave my status and “lane” to go to a “white” church in one of the most white places in Virginia?  This doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.

However, let’s ask the question:  How “white” is the Orthodox Church?  Granted, I doubt if one will hear the singing of the Mississippi Mass Choir or the preaching of Gardner Taylor in the church I am heading to.  But, a close investigation will show that the Orthodox Church is a very non-white “White” Church.

Firstly, for a church to be truly “white,” it must be some form of Anglo-Saxon Protestant preferably with some sort of contemporary worship style.  The Orthodox Church is predominately Slavic and worships with a liturgy that is older than the Bible its self.  Mix in the Greeks, Lebanese, and Syrians (yes, there are still Christians from and in that part of the world) and Orthodoxy is a bit to exotic to be  a truly “white” church.

What sort of “white” church would be named after black people?  You will never see “St. Moses of Ethiopia Southern Baptist Church.”  But, there is St. Cyprian of Carthage Orthodox Church (OCA) just outside of Richmond,  St. Mary of Egypt Serbian Orthodox Church in Kansas City,  and churches of all jurisdictions named after Sts Athanasius, Anthony, and some other saints from Africa.  Even when the icons of these saints are shown to have pale skin, there is no question of their continent of origin.  Many Orthodox believers admit that they were of some level or another of black origin and that the early church accepted members and leaders of all races (Acts 13:1).

Not only are there Orthodox Churches named after black people, believers venerate their images.  This includes bowing down to and kissing their icons.  In the popular “Jordanville Prayer Book” (Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia) there are the prayers of St. Macarius.  These “white” people pray the prayers of a black man as they do prayers of any other saint.  Can you name a “black” Protestant church that does these things, much less a “white” one?

Am I saying there are no racist and prejudiced attitudes among Orthodox Christians?  Certainly not.  Every church, including the black church, has it’s share of bigotry.  I know of stories where hyper ethnic congregations have been very cold to black inquirers (before 1987, there were whites who were met with unfriendly stares when they entered these churches as well). But, the Orthodox Churches I have visited have been very welcoming to African-Americans as they have not forgotten their church’s African heritage.  So, I am going to join a predominately white church that is partially mine to begin with.  That is not selling out.  That is reclaiming a part of my heritage.

Yeah, I (and later, prayerfully, my wife) will be the only African-American member at St. Basil Antiochian in Poquoson.  But, I feel at home among this hodge-podge of  Arabs, Eastern European, Ethiopians, and white people.  Who knows, maybe I can influence a few more of “us” to (at least) take a serious look at the ancient faith.  In heaven, there will be a great gathering of people from every nation, language, and race.  It may be a good idea to learn to worship with each other now so that it won’t be a major adjustment later.

Great music can be made when we play together.

Chronicle of Conversion: Day Two Dizzy With a Direction

2 December

We had a wildlife management hunt at the park this morning.  So, I hit the woods about 4 am, assisted the hunters to the stands, and painted the men’s restroom at the Visitor’s Center.  The whole morning I replayed all that went on inside and outside of me yesterday.  This is kinda the “Morning After.”  And in my small town of West Point and rural King William County, I am sure the news is spreading quickly.  Thus far, I haven’t received any “nasty-grams” by e-mail, Facebook, or phone.  A co-worker at another park wanted to assist me at Trinity with some sort of plan for evangelism.  She does have some good ideas.  I referred her to our chairman of the deacon board.

My co-workers were interested and surprised that I made such a bold choice.  I am still in shock a bit that I made such a choice.  Who steps down from a 16 year pastorate with no other church in the waiting offering more money?  I never did anything that would cause a scandal nor shame my good name and reputation.  Plus, I have some very energetic young adults that are ready to work.  Leaving at a time when all is going well seems foolhardy.

I am foolhardy enough to believe that African-Americans should have exposure to the Orthodox Church.  This is the faith that our ancestors helped to establish.  Eastern Europeans know the names Athanaisus, Cyprian, Catherine, Moses of Ethiopia, and pray the prayers of Anthony and Macarius.  For us continue not to want to know who these brothers and sisters are while some white kid in Kiev kisses their icons is shameful.

I have a problem with the idea that unless people are shouting and waving their hands that they aren’t really worshiping “in the Spirit.”  Orthodoxy is a tried and proven alternative to this pervasive “holy peer pressure” that is happening too often among Baptist as well as its usual Pentecostal circles.

I got other issues too.  I will finish later.

Okay, it is later.  About 7 pm Eastern.  Keeping the Nativity Fast has proven to be extremely difficult.  Thanksgiving leftovers, staff hunt breakfast, and today my wife and her aide cooked a turkey; Great Lent is an easier fast to keep.  I will have to run from Christmas parties from now until the 25th.  

Oh, and a major piece of good news.  I may be getting Chrismated on Sunday, January 5th, 2014.  The Eve of Theophany will start a new chapter in my life.  I already have ideas for the new blog for the new Virginia Chapter of the Brotherhood of St. Moses the Black.  I am seeing a lot of possibilities on the other side of this time of confusion and sorrow.