Holy Comforter Orthodox Church was a local church in Houston, Texas led by Archbishop +Walter B. Conway. I met +Walter through a co-worker, Larry, who invited me to his ordination ceremony. +Walter had a wonderful personality and I instantly liked him. I particularly remember that he would walk up to someone and say, “tell me something spiritual.” That generally made me think a moment!
+Walter’s church was a small building that had formerly been a convenience store. Before I met him, the roof had leaked badly, doing a lot of damage. By the time we met him, +Walter had already restored the building itself, but the small electronic organ no longer worked. Kathryn, my wife, cleaned the workings of the organ and restored it to playing order. She became our organist. We had such fun each Sunday gathering there to pray and sing.
Along with fellowship came a growing understanding of the mindset of some early church Fathers. Eastern Orthodox are certainly not the only Christians who understand such ideas as theosis, humility, compassion, and service, but their writings connected with me deeply when I was ready to learn. I was moved by the challenge to live a life of self-awareness and humility. For example, we can say this about humility without confusing it with humiliation, because God himself did as much for us:
The humble lay aside all vanity and conceit in the service of the least of God’s creatures, and to consider no good act as beneath one’s dignity and honor. [oca.org]
Though, of course it is far easier to say than to do. It is a life-long journey.
I had always felt drawn towards service to others. In 1990 I accepted ordination in +Walter’s Church. Our view was to work in our normal careers, not being paid as clergy, but instead to find ways to bring light and life with us wherever we go. +Walter was an attorney, and at the time, Larry and I were computer systems analysts and software designers. Our idea was not to convert, but to serve, inspire, and encourage, with God’s grace giving us insight and strength.
And, of course, we were deepening our connections with God, learning what He wanted us to learn, and growing in unexpected directions. I felt so alive during this time. It was also during this time that I began to understand how much I still needed to learn and to grow, and that God gives me situations that support that growth. Years later, in the context of the NTL Organization Development Certificate Program, I learned that even small situations can be rich sources of learning and growth. Every conversation, every interaction, every meeting, can be a revealing learning experience, if we pay attention to our inner self and to the others around us, and review the events afterwards looking for insights.
Both +Walter and Larry went to be with the Lord in 1993. I continued the church under the omophorion of the bishop in Tennessee who had been +Walter’s chief consecrator. We were not connected to a major, widely recognized Orthodox jurisdiction. And, our group was very tiny then, as most of our (already small) congregation had known +Walter through his law practice and left when that ended. Not long after I attended a synodal gathering in October 1996, my employer gave me a new assignment that would require overseas travel for years, forever expanding my view of the world. For purely practical reasons, we stopped operating our little church sometime after that assignment began.
I had done some church-related desktop publishing for +Walter, including preparing his Liturgy texts in computer form. It didn’t seem right to discard or shelve in a box the liturgy materials we prepared, so I put them in my small library of Western Rite Liturgy texts, along with some other Western Rite texts, such as a version of the Gregorian Rite.
My simple view of religion
The proper purpose of religion is to teach me how to live, not to teach me how everyone else should live. Or, as a sermon by Rev. Mark Schaefer says it:
Christianity is not a religion that tells us what to do. It is a religion that tells us who to be. And we are called to be Christ in the world. Ours is a faith that would have us collectively be the body of Christ and as individuals be Christ to the world.
Being Christ to the world can mean, for example, living lives of service and compassion, pursuing a life-long struggle to improve and grow in our walk with God.
Sometimes I talk to people who are surprised that I do not try to “convert” them, as if that would work anyway. While I am always happy to share something of my path when asked, I have no desire to force anyone to follow my path. I were to remove the freedom of choice from others, I would deny them an essential part of their personhood. It would mean nothing.
I believe hopeful, positive creativity is affirming of life and to be encouraged. Destructiveness and negativity are the opposite and to be avoided. People do often find me trying to encourage others to enjoy doing something creative and joyful. I feel that, when we create something positive, we give honor and worship to the God who created us.
My response to the Columbine Disaster in 1999
The Columbine Disaster upset me. Not as much as those directly affected, of course. Even so, I felt moved to write something because such actions seem to be a complete failure of the human mind and a negation of the human spirit. While I knew and understood how eastern Christianity explains a fallen world, I still felt outrage that simple facts of life are not understood. In response, I wrote this and posted it here:
Things to teach your children (or yourself!)
- God created us as an act of love.
- Life is precious because it is the Gift of God and irreplaceable by us. This is true even if the life form involved is a jerk.
- God wants us to treat each other as equals, with respect and service, recognising that God breathed a bit of his Spirit into each and every one of us.
- God gave us the freedom to choose between good and evil.
- We continually choose between good and evil, every moment of every day. Sometimes the evils seem small, like failing to use our time wisely, but even such small evils waste the precious gift of life. With the wrong choices, we can commit suicide one moment at a time and never realise it — until we run out of moments.
- Evil often pretends to be fun, so as to seduce us. Choosing evil leads to death, real death for all eternity, and it’s not a joke.
- There will always be some people who choose evil, no matter what we do. It’s terrible, but we’re stuck with it.
- Sometimes people choosing evil will cause others great pain or death. God allows this to happen so that people will be free. If they were not free to choose evil, they would not be free to choose good.
- God calls us to choose good, and by so doing, to choose to be with Him, the source of our life. The closer we are to the source of our life, the more we become the best we can be. Only then do we live to the fullest.
- No matter what other people do to us, we choose our own actions and are responsible for them ourselves. Stories of the lives of the saints give us examples of people who gave everything they had to choose good.
- Choosing good causes us to respect the image of God in other people, helping everyone to grow and achieve without usurping their own freedom.
- Choosing good means striving through prayer, reasonable self-denial, service to others, and study, to draw ever closer to the presence of God.