On February 15, 1998, on the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, my family and I were received into the Orthodox Church by Chrismation, bringing both the end to a very long pilgrimage, and the beginning to one far longer. It is significant to myself and my family, that this year the calendar has come back around to where it was 11 years ago. Thus this Sunday, February 15, will be exactly eleven years since we were received and the Sunday and the readings are the same. Sometimes it takes a while for such things to come back around, the calendar being such as it is.
But it is a very significant time in my family’s life – a time to realize that eleven years can mean nearly a lifetime, depending upon how it is lived. To my family’s credit, they have lived these eleven years almost as though they were all we were to be given.
My wife has grown in a wise Matushka – having always been a wise woman. Her prayers and support are a pillar of our parish and my life.
My eldest daughter, who had yet to begin college when we converted, now holds a Master’s Degree, her schooling having included a year in Siberia where she gained some fluency in the Russian language. She is today married to Fr. Hermogen Holste, Rector of Nativity of the Holy Virgin Orthodox Church in Menlo Park California (a Russian language parish of the OCA). They have a child, Peter Alexis Holste, the joy of his grandparents lives.
My second daughter, who was but 15 when we converted, found the grace of God present with her from the outset of her Chrismation. A faithful child of the Church, she became very active in OCF (college ministry), served on its national board, made mission trips to both Guatemala and Mexico while in college. She is married to Fr. Philip Rogers of the Antiochian Archdiocese, Rector of St. Gabriel Orthodox Church in Lafayette, Louisiana. His father is an Orthodox priest, his brother a Deacon. She continues to work on her nursing degree and in every respect is a help and support to her husband’s ministry and always the joy of my heart.
My son, who is now 21, was only 10 when we converted. On Sundays during those first few years, he accompanied alone to be at Church an hour or more before everyone arrived as we set things up, lit candles and prepared for services. He was my first altar server. Those were invaluable hours for me as I leaned on his love and utter faithfulness to support me during a lonely transition in my life. Today he is finishing college, is married to a wonderful Orthodox woman, Anna, and is a tonsured Reader in the Church. His major is in computers and internet technology, and he is as loving and supportive, and even admiring as he was as a 10 year old boy. I cannot begin to say how proud I am of the man he has become.
My youngest daughter, now 18, was but a child when we were received. When she read the oath, “This true faith of the Orthodox Church, I do now humbly confess…” at her Chrismation – in clear and unwavering tones – the entire church wept as we heard the innocent one finds in the child-martyrs. “Til my dying breath…” one of the phrases that ends the oath brought us all to tears of thankfulness to God. She graduates high school this year having been as active in the Church and Camps as one could ask of a young woman her age. Last year she was the Audio-Visual Person for the Orthodox Summer Camp she attended, keeping a video-log of the camp and producing a wonderful DVD at its conclusion. I can hardly believe that this autumn will see her begin her college years and begin the “empty nest” phase of my home life.
I can remember, before our conversion, praying, “O God, give me my wife and my children before your heavenly throne – united in one faith and one confession.” Any parent who has converted knows the agony of that prayer – particularly if the prayer concerns those who are already in their teens. God heard my prayer and accomplished in my family abundantly above anything I could ask or think. I credit His mercy, the intercession of the Theotokos and the unfailing prayers of my wife.
At the time I thought it quite appropriate that we should enter the Church on the Sunday of the Prodigal Son. It still seems fitting. I had wandered “far in a land that is waste.” And though for years I knew (on some level) the abundance that lay waiting in the Orthodox Church – like the Prodigal, I postponed returning to my Father’s House until I could no longer bear the famine that surrounded me. Much of my conversion was wrought in my heart by the thought of what I was doing to my family by raising them anywhere other than the Father’s House. His mercy since our reception in the Church has confirmed that instinct and has not punished me for my hesitance and procrastination.
The small accomplishments that have marked my ministry as an Orthodox priest have come to me as deeply underserved kindnesses. I now have a family (as I think of many of my readers) that stretches across the globe. I could never have imagined such a ministry. If all who were touched by my ministry were aware of how greatly enfeebled that I am by my sin and my many weaknesses – they would either despise me or pray ever harder for such as myself.
I cannot understand the Goodness of God – but I have seen it in my own lifetime. Were I to perish from the earth tomorrow I could offer no word of complaint. Were I to live another 55 years – I could ask for no more than I have already received.
Today, I pray mostly for the family of parishioners that accompany me from week to week in our pilgrimage to the Kingdom of God. I pray for the Deanery which must suffer through my leadership and ask for blessings beyond our present state. The brother priests I serve with there are my daily hope.
I pray always for my beloved Archbishop DMITRI, my father in God, who indeed welcomed me home eleven years ago and became for me the Spiritual Father I had never known.
Do not take time for granted. The good God who loves mankind can accomplish so much in so little time. We must always be filled with prayer and thanksgiving.