The Long, Strange Trip

To help you understand why I’m where I am now, we need to start at the beginning. So make yourself a cup of coffee and sit back.

I was born before Vatican II, into a mixed religious family (and I think mixed religious affiliations are a bad idea and should be discouraged). My father’s family was Roman Catholic. My mother’s family was Campbellite (which branch depends on which person). I was raised Catholic, and my First Communion was before the liturgical reforms, although for various reasons I won’t go into here, my father lapsed and began going to my mother’s church and taking me. My younger brothers were raised as Campbellites.

My paternal grandfather died when I was a teenager, and I was then old enough to choose for myself. I attended Mass regularly, but everything had changed. Gone was the aura of holiness and mystery, and replacing it was the self-congratulatory, secularized, Protestantized Catholicism that exists in most parishes today. I eventually lapsed for a number of reasons.

Skip forward to the early 80s when we lived in Louisville. My better half is a cradle Episcopalian of the Anglo-Catholic variety, and the emptiness inside me drove me to search. I found the Episcopalians across the spectrum to be nearly impossible to take seriously, be it the ultimately faithless concept of “latitudinarianism,” their unique “apostolic succession as magic” concept, the inexplicable Anglo-Catholic devotion to Cranmer, the mainstram Episcopalian lack of orthodox faith, oh, the list goes on, and includes Barbara, the priestess who was very into liturgical dancing and attended one of the local non-denominational evangelical churches. I bring her up because she embodies the schizophrenia of Anglicanism.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that the Anglicans were a dead end.

Louisville has, along with amputees and hospitals, more Catholic churches than anywhere else I have experienced. There’s a Catholic church on nearly every block, including some very conservative parishes (and exceedingly “Jesus wore birkenstocks” parishes). St Louis Bertrand on Sixth Street, run by Dominican Friars. St Martin of Tours on Shelby near Germantown, and the very conservative Fr. Robertson (God rest his soul), who like Newman, converted as an Episcopalian priest, and was offering regular Tridentine Masses.

I went once or twice to Assumption, the Greek Orthodox parish in what looked exactly like a quonset hut (also on Sixth, if I remember correctly, and they have built a new church), but had no idea what was going on since every word was in Greek (nobody but the oldest congregants had any idea what was going on, to judge by the looks on their faces), and made the mistake of going downstairs after Liturgy. I got the “Are you Greek?” question and shook my head. I was promptly snubbed from that moment on.

Then, I went to St Michael Antiochian Orthodox Church, in the suburbs (Buechel). It is a large parish by any standards, but for an Orthodox church in the United States, is immense. It was wholly different from St George. It was pan-ethnic, for one thing (the meal after Divine Liturgy consisted of raw kibbeh, fried chicken, various curries, and kielbasi), and perhaps between a third and a half were converts. The Divine Liturgy was in English. The people were friendly and welcoming, as was the priest.

But there was a magnetic pull that is almost impossible to describe. Initially, it was the liturgy, but the more I found out about Orthodoxy, the more contact I had with this strict, disciplinary, but loving and kindly priest, the most contact I had with these rigorously Christian people, the more powerful that pull became. I couldn’t spend enough time there, and regretted that there weren’t services every day (there are now).

The fear of apostasy was there, of course, ingrained very deeply, but the light of Orthodoxy was strong enough to overcome it. I was Chrismated, and became Orthodox.

A year later due to fiscal considerations, I returned to Indiana to pursue a graduate degree. At the time, the only Orthodox presence was a very small ROCOR mission, led by the insane Father C and his equally insane wife.

I should say here that, although I didn’t know it at the time, Orthodoxy tends to attract odd people. All over the United States there are Orthodox parishes with American converts who wear babushka scarves and are more Russian than the Russians ever thought about being. I found that out at the mission. When the insane Father C dropped by unannounced to rummage though my refrigerator and make sure there were no prohibited items there, I had had it. I was done with Orthodoxy, at least there.

I began going intermittently to the conservative Catholic parish, but intermittent became infrequent, and then stopped. Not until we moved to Pennsylvania did I begin searching again.

The problem was that Pennsylvania had too many options. There is a conservative Catholic parish, several Eastern Rite (Catholic) parishes, and an Orthodox parish. My battle has been to decide between Eastern Rite and Orthodox, but I have decided.

I am Orthodox. I belong in an Orthodox parish. I understand the historical reasons the Eastern Rite exists, and am sympathetic, but Eastern Rite makes no sense for me. The Orthodox parish here is OCA, but is as free of nutiness and exclusionary ethnic clubness as St Michael’s is. The priest is a kind, loving man, whose first concern is the spiritual welfare of his parish, the people are welcoming and friendly, and there really is no reason not to go. For a while, I told myself that Metropolitan Phillip’s cumulative idiocy was too much for me to put up with, but that’s not a reason. It’s an excuse. The parish here isn’t Antiochian, if being disgusted with the Metropolitan were a reason to excommunicate myself, which renders that absurd. And I embraced the faith, the light of Orthodoxy, not the Antiochian Metropolitan.

I found my home in Louisville. I am returning home, and at an appropriate time: Cheesefare Sunday, and Great Lent.

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