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My Journey to Orthodoxy

Letters to:

My Church + My Beloved

Raised in a wonderful, loving, godly, Protestant (or, more precisely, Anabaptist) Christian home, I grew up believing in God and calling upon the Lord Jesus Christ to save me. I consciously committed my life to Christ at about age eight and was baptized when I was thirteen in the "Plymouth brethren" assembly in which I had grown up. From my parents I learned to seek the Truth with my whole heart, to speak it in love, and to live it. From the assembly I learned to seek the Truth in the Scriptures and to love them and to study them diligently and to apply them to my everyday life. From C.S. Lewis and the gospel of John I learned that Jesus Christ was the Truth—and the Way and the Life. I also went to a Christian high-school, where I learned to debate from and with a Lutheran friend of mine—against him on the question of infant baptism, and with him against most of my Mennonite teachers and classmates on the questions of pacifism and capital punishment. I have often said that the only thing I like better than decisively winning a debate is decisively losing one—which is a good thing, since, in the long run, I have found my oppenents to be far more right than I ever thought them to be.

Shortly after I graduated from high-school, I met an Orthodox Christian who seemed far more wrong on far more than any of my Christian opponents ever had been. Either that or (scary thought!) far more right. After about eight years of debating with him—and with his arguments when he wasn't actally present—I decided I had to resolve the question one way or another (it was far too important to simply ignore it) by looking into the history upon which both our extra-Biblical arguments were based. (Even the most thorougly Bible-believing Christian's faith is ultimately founded on extra-Biblical arguments: if our Lord Himself could not bear witness of Himself, how much less can the Scriptures which merely testify of Him be an adequate witness to their own authority!)

After about a year-and-a-half's worth of investigation, I had seen enough truth in the arguments for Orthodoxy to know that I had to check out the experience of Orthodox Christianity for myself. But I wanted to be sure, and I couldn't just leave, without explanation, my dear friends and brothers and sisters in Christ with whom I had lived and grown up and fellowshipped for most, and, in some cases, all of my life. So, at the beginning of 1997, I wrote two letters to my church, letting them know about my search, about what I was doing and why, letting them know a little bit of what I had found, and asking for their prayers.

At about the same time, I realized that I had finally found somebody with whom I wanted to spend the rest of my life: a friend with whom I had been sharing my investigations into Orthodoxy and who had been faithfully challenging and considering the arguments and questions that I was wrestling with. She, like me, loves and is completely dedicated to our Lord Who is Truth, and she is far better than I at actually living out the Truth in her everyday life. Unlike me, she was already very Orthodox in her beliefs and everyday life, but she shared my Anabaptist ecclesiology (understanding of the nature of the Church) and hadn't done anywhere near as much research into Orthodoxy and Church history as I had.

By March I knew I had finally found the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church founded by Christ through His apostles. My friend Sarah, however, though she was now researching and thinking about the question more intensely than she had before, was still unconvinced. It was in the utmost extremities of agony that I now did what I knew I had to do: act on what I knew to be true, even if it cost me my beloved. I was received into the Orthodox Church as a catechumen on April 6, 1997.

Sarah, leaving for a week-long riding clinic in Alberta, asked me to write out for her what had finally convinced me of the truth of Orthodoxy. The result was a whole series of letters to my beloved. They didn't convince her. Very few are ever convinced of the truth of Orthodoxy simply by reading, just as very few ever become Christians simply by reading the Bible: Orthodoxy, like all true (orthodox) Christianity is not a book, it is a life. But she did keep on thinking. And eventually she too became Orthodox, at great cost and agony to herself. But that is another journey and another story. Not entirely separate, of course, but then whose story is in this complex world of ours? And certainly not separate any longer. On August 16, 1998, Sarah and I were married—thanks be to God!—in the "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church" that we have both grown to love, and through which we have grown to love one another.

Thanks be to God for His indescribable Gift! For His mercy endures forever.

More about Orthodoxy

Orthodox Christianity, with 2000 years of history behind it, is a huge subject! Fortunately, there are a great many excellent resources on Orthodoxy available, both in print and on the net (where, unfortunately, you can also find some not-so-excellent resources as well). I was particularly helped by Bishop Kallistos Ware's excellent introduction to Orthodoxy, The Orthodox Way, in which Bishop Ware points out that, ultimately, Orthodoxy Christianity is not something you can learn from books.

This was one of the things that led me to "check out" the reality of Orthodoxy at my local Orthodox church, Saint Herman of Alaska Orthodox Church in Surrey, British Columbia (Canada). I was particularly fortunate to be introduced to Orthodoxy in the wonderful community there by a exceptionally knowledgeable and understanding mentor, himself a convert to Orthodoxy, Father Lawrence Farley. Saint Herman's is part of the Orthodox Church in America, a particularly evangelical branch of the Orthodox Church which, as a spiritual child of the Russian Orthodox Church, first began Orthodox missionary work here on the continent when Saint Herman came over to work with both the Russians and the Native Americans in Alaska in 1794. Inspired by Father Lawrence Farley's example, I am now studying to be a priest at Saint Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary in New York. I haven't written a whole lot while there yet, but, if you like, feel free to check out the pastoral essay I wrote on why it's important to go to church for my class on Liturgical Theology. Probably the most important resource on Orthodoxy available on the net (besides the Bible) is the collection of the writings of the Early Church Fathers, available, along with a variety of other books, at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library. It was in reading the writings of the "apostolic fathers" (particularly Clement of Rome, Polycarp of Smyrna, Ignatius of Antioch, and Justin the Philosopher) that I finally realized that while I could not make either my Anabaptist-Protestant ecclesiology (understanding of the Church) or soteriology (understanding of salvation) fit with any of these very early and important witnesses, everything that these "apostolic fathers" had to say about these subjects fit with the doctrines of Orthodox Christianity alarmingly well!

Author: Edward Hewlett
Last update: January 19, 2002