Why Orthodoxy? — My Confession of Faith:
How I discovered new meaning in the word “catholic” and the true challenge of the Christian life
“In His unbounded love, God became what we are that He might make us what He is.” —St. Irenaeus (d. 202)
I am in love. The object of my affection, or rather, my devotion, is not a person per se, though it is very much alive. It has been alive for 2,000 years, persisting through seemingly insurmountable odds, and in that time it spread from the eastern shores of the Mediterranean north and east, ultimately reaching the shores of Japan, Virginia, Alaska and California. Now it is very much established and thriving here in the United States and across North America. What is this thing that has become such a defining part of my life? I have fallen in love with the Orthodox Church.
It is difficult for me to render into words an account of the transformation that this awakening has wrought in all areas of my life. I feel myself to be at last truly satisfied, spiritually and emotionally. I feel enriched beyond description after years of an ever-present void. From the depths of my heart I sense that I am now a more fulfilled Christian, and above all I know that I am a more inspired human being. Sadly in this increasingly secular society, many people my age do not seem to want or desire such inspiration. For the college student who craves a deeper inspiration that goes beyond a routine weekly church hour, for anyone who wants to enter into a new level of spiritual life, I urge him or her to consider Orthodoxy. It has awakened in me a kind of spiritual consciousness that I never imagined I would experience, a kind of spiritual inspiration that has proven to be my life’s greatest blessing. For this awakening, I am, and will always be, forever grateful.
These words open my account of my conversion to the Orthodox faith, Why Orthodoxy, which Pokrov Publications will soon publish as a print and e-book. My friend Jacob Sparks reviewed an earlier version I had prepared before sending it to the publisher, and reviewed the book here at his blog on The Odyssey.
I was raised in the Novus Ordo rite of the Roman Catholic Church, and I have many friends, as well as my immediate family members and most of my relatives, who remain Roman Catholic. In June 2011 while working two summer jobs in D.C., I was fortunate to have the presence of St. Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral in Washington, where I had been attending Divine Liturgy and Vigil since November 2010. Before this, I regularly attended the Divine Liturgy, Orthros, and Vespers at DC’s St Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral. Both of these warm, vibrant communities are pillars of the Orthodox Church in the DC Metro area.
Immersed in the life of the parish, which was the primatial cathedral of His Beatitude Jonah, then the Metropolitan of all America and Canada, Archbishop of Washington and Primate of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), I attended Sunday Liturgy and Saturday vigils with ever-growing wonder and fascination each week. I was not yet a declared catechumen, but by then I had a clear feeling that the grace of the Holy Spirit, which so abundantly filled the liturgies and the hearts of the faithful, had acted to bring me to Orthodoxy.
One day in June, I was overcome with the sense that I needed to commit to writing all the thoughts and feelings that had been stirring in my mind in the past months. Over the course of three days, while I was writing what turned out to be an initially forty-seven page account of my journey into Orthodoxy, I felt a constant warmth in my soul unlike any other I had ever experienced. Despite almost no sleep, I felt exhilarated and alive in a way I had never quite felt outside of this fevered period of writing.
As a writer, I naturally feel a strong sense of attachment to anything that I write – but with this piece, there was something different. I felt as though something beyond me, outside of me, yet also operating within me was moving me, stirring me, to write and revise and add to this document. I wanted to communicate to people my age, especially other Christians and specifically Catholics, why I felt so moved to embrace Orthodoxy and to give voice, insofar as I was able, to my immense gratitude for the gift of the indescribable richness and fullness of the Orthodox Faith. Above all, I wanted to share how embracing and living this life in Christ, this ancient yet timeless Faith tradition, changed my life in so many ways, and how I saw it at work in so many people around me, with God working through them and changing their lives for the better.
At one point during the summer, I showed what I had initially written to Metropolitan Jonah, who frequently presided over liturgies at his Cathedral. He seemed astonished, and took the piece, which I had titled Why Orthodoxy, and said he was looking forward to reading it. Having seen him lead the parish in prayer week after week as the Liturgy was offered, the faithful gathered around their bishop just as the faithful did in the early Church, I had come to see what an extraordinarily kind pastor and person he was, and so his wisdom and pastoral guidance during my catechism meant so much to me.
I continued attending Liturgy each week, and as I came more and more into the inner life of the Church, I was moved to edit and expand and revise the document in August and September as the academic year began. I became an official catechumen on Sunday September 25 on the feast of St. Sergius of Radonezh, with His Beatitude guiding me through the brief ceremony. During my period of catechism, the very kind Father Valery Shemchuk instructed me in the fullness of the history and the beliefs of the Faith. It was he who introduced me to St. Silouan.
As my limited knowledge of the Church Tradition and her ancient Faith began to slowly expand, I felt moved to add more to Why Orthodoxy in October and November. A few weeks after my chrismation by Metropolitan Jonah at St. Nicholas on December 4, 2011, the celebration of the feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple on the Julian calendar, I returned to New York to spend the Nativity holiday break with my family, who, to my immense gratitude, had come down to D.C. for my reception into the Church.
There is a beautiful men’s monastery in my hometown, the Brotherhood of the Holy Cross, which is under the omophorion of His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR).
The brother monks maintain the beautiful monastery chapel, originally one of my hometown’s earliest primary schools built over a century ago, which is dedicated to St Herman of Alaska, and the beautiful grounds. Archimandrite Maximos, the abbot of the monastery, Fr. Cornelius, Fr. Silouan, Hierodeacon Parthenios, Elias, and others in the community are extraordinarily kind and warm-hearted men. Visitors are always welcome, and you will be unable to refuse the monks’ delightful and varied conversation, offers of several cups of tea, and a variety of fast-friendly snacks.
When I left for Scotland in mid-January 2012, my thoughts were still very much with all that I had experienced, learned, and continued reading – the beauty of the Liturgy, the unique mystery and transcendence of Orthodox spirituality, the wisdom of many twentieth century Orthodox theologians, the Church Fathers, and of course the Holy Scriptures.
During the spring semester I spent in Edinburgh, worshiping at the beautiful, small Orthodox community of St Andrew, I continually added onto and revised Why Orthodoxy up to March of 2012, and as of Fall 2012 it is now over a hundred pages. After reaching out to several publishers for their suggestions for revisions, I am in the process of revising and refining it further. For now I will share my different musings, articles, videos, podcasts and links on subjects relating to Orthodoxy. I invite any thoughtful and interested comments on any of my posts.
I lived again in Washington, D.C. for my senior year at American University beginning in June 2012, where I led the student-run Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF). From this time period, you can expect to see many things on my blog related to Orthodox life and different Church activities in DC! In fall 2014, I transferred to the excellent Stony Brook University on Long Island, NY, where in January 2016 I graduated with my BA in History. I am now a MA candidate in European History there.
In addition to my current obligations as a university student, I am the graduate assistant in the Office of the Dean in the Stony Brook University College of Arts and Sciences. In the recent past, I have also worked in communications for the University’s Office of the Bookstore Liaison and as a Conference Planner for the Stony Brook University Charles B. Wang Center’s Office of Conferences and Special Events.
I am a contributing writer at Ethika Politika, an online journal of ethics, politics, and religion. I also write as a contributing historian for the Marie Stuart Society and The Crown Chronicles (TCC), a popular London-based British monarchist blog affiliated with the prestigious British Monarchist Society and Foundation, with which I am also affiliated. You may find my articles for TCC here. I am also a contributor to the BMS Crown and Country magazine and Pravoslavie.ru, the historic Moscow Stretensky Monastery’s popular Orthodox content website. You may find my articles for Pravoslavie.ru here. Besides writing here on Orthodox topics in particular and Christian ones generally, I often write on historical issues, political theory, international royal history, and touch upon contemporary political and social events.
Wherever you are, may the Lord bless you and give you peace.