The Journey to Antioch (Part II)

1. Encounters with Orthodoxy prior to June 2000

As has been told elsewhere, by the summer of 2000 I had looked outside my own heritage churches to find that longed-for connection to the historic Church and had made my way to Anglicanism in the belief that I had found it there.

But the search had antecedents that predated my Anglican investigations. The first event in which I can recall this longing began to manifest itself with the purchase at the college bookstore, in January 1987 between semesters of my freshman year at Ozark Christian College, of the Lightfoot and Harmer Greek and English single volume edition of the Apostolic Fathers. Here was my first attempt to find out what the early Church taught and believed. A seed had been planted as I spent the next semester reading through the Apostolic Fathers. I had no real understanding of what I was reading, but it both satisfied and intensified my longing for a connection to the New Testament Church.

The next event occurred about four years later. In the spring of 1991, just prior to my graduation from college, I prepared for a conditional baptism. I was seeking some certainty and authenticity about my baptism at age seven, especially in light of the fact that my life as an adolescent was godless and immoral. The preparation brought to my attention, for the first time, the Jesus Prayer, and aside from the Lord’s Prayer, was my first experience with an ancient prayer of the Church. All my experience to this point had been oriented solely around extemporaneous praying.

In the summer of that year (1991) I read the first edition of Peter Gilquist’s Becoming Orthodox. This was my first real and formal introduction to the Orthodox Church. During this time I had been investigating Anglicanism (and later that autumn, I would seriously consider, if only briefly, the Roman Catholic Church), so I cannot say how or why I chose to buy the book. Perhaps it was knowing that one of the persons noted in the book, now Fr. Gregory Rogers, was an alumnus of Lincoln Christian Seminary, where I later earned my M. A. in contemporary theology and philosophy. In any case, though it did allay my concerns related to Mary and the Tradition, it still seemed to me that Orthodoxy was too foreign, too ethnic for me. Which is ironic, considering that Gilquist’s book recounts the journey of a couple thousand evangelicals to Orthodoxy. But there you have it. To me Orthodoxy was foreign.

A few months later, in the autumn, I read The Way of a Pilgrim and was reintroduced to the Jesus Prayer. But by this time I was more intent on assimilating ancient Christian spiritual disciplines in my life than in understanding Orthodoxy any further.

After that, my encounters with Orthodoxy were infrequent, though they continued to be bookish. I read Timothy Ware’s The Orthodox Church in the autumn of 1992 and his The Orthodox Way in the summer of 1996. Daniel Clendenin’s two books, from an evangelical Protestant perspective, helped to further clarify some points of concern in the spring of 1995. But although in the spring of 1993 I did purchase a few Orthodox prayer books and a small laminated icon, I was still very much the intellectual tourist. These items were being used to deepen my exploration and experience of, ironically enough, Anglicanism. I made no real use of these things, at least not on their own terms. I merely knew about them.

[Next: 2. Orthodox Enounters June 2000 through January 2002]