The Pastor’s Path to Orthodoxy: Did I Join A Cult?

This post in our series of spouses who become Orthodox without their spouses is for husbands, and interestingly, also for heterodox clergy. This article is from a former Assembly of God pastor who found his way to the Early Church, and behold – discovered that it is Orthodox Christianity. Thank you, Patrick, for allowing us to publish it. 

By Patrick M. Pace

My religious roots are a woven fabric of periodic religion and secularism. From childhood until twenty, I had cycled in and out of a variety of religious settings, including Oneness Pentecostalism, Trinitarian Pentecostalism, Roman Catholicism, and before I exited my teens, I became an Arch-Druid within neo-paganism. Much of my faith philosophy was built upon a syncretistic mixing and matching, which left me feeling quite insecure about what I really did believe, and truthfully, I felt hollow and lost.

When I was twenty, I stepped foot in an Assemblies of God church in order to placate my mother’s nagging invitations. It was there that I can honestly say I first met Christ. Within two years of converting to this stream of Christianity, I felt an insatiable desire toward full-time ministry and so I left the public safety field for the proverbial missions field, as the Assemblies of God was well known for its missional approach toward ministry. In this, I enrolled in Bible college, graduated with a Bachelors in Religion, was credentialed as a pastor within the Assemblies of God in 2001… Off I went, but not very far, nor very deep.

As an Assemblies of God pastor, I was completely reliant on individual churches to validate my credentials, as each church was autonomous in its hiring processes. For my fourteen years as a credentialed pastor, I struggled to find my niche in service, serving most of my time in voluntary roles as an Associate Pastor or in interim Senior Pastorates. In between all this, I worked a variety of secular jobs, including work as a security guard, campus police officer, business owner, chauffeur, and in shipping and receiving. I yearned for a long-term and full-time ministry, and this constant sense of unfulfillment took its toll on my wife and I.

In 2013, while pastoring a small church in Burbank, California, my wife’s faith and interest in church life seemed to wane. Out of respect for her, I won’t detail all that undergirded her distancing from church life, but certainly the frequent transitions in ministry, as well as some in-house betrayals by some within our churches, seemed to contribute to her disregard. It got to the point that she just didn’t want to attend church anymore. How could I remain a pastor when my wife, in her pain, was going the other direction? We needed a change… A break. In August of 2013, I left my pastorate to care for my wife’s needs, as well as for my dying father, who died of lung cancer in October of that year. It was the beginning of a new phase for us.

In late winter of 2014, we moved from Los Angeles to Cheyenne, WY, and by the fall, we were planting a new Assembly of God church. My wife seemed resolved and I was ready to get back in the saddle. With a core group of around ten people, we began meeting at my house for a weekly Bible Study, and we decided that we would never seek to be more than a house church. With this, I began to investigate the Early Church and the Patristic Fathers more thoroughly, in order to see how the most primitive of churches looked. What I found was that what modern Protestantism called a house church was quite different than the house churches of history. Modern variations centered on a Bible study and a toned down or unplugged musical worship set, while the ancient Church seemed to contain liturgy and were likely not as small-group centric as I supposed. And this got me thinking,

“If this is how the primitive churches looked, what else have we [modern Christians] gotten wrong?”

To make the proverbial long story short, what I found is that the Early Church was largely parallel to what I was seeing in Eastern Orthodoxy, only with the necessity of house churches giving way to more permanent churches as the socio-political system shifted favorably toward Christianity. Still, I saw a constant in apostolicity, theology, and liturgy, which I honestly wasn’t finding in my western context. I continued to dig deeper and began to apply Orthodox themes to my Pentecostal church.

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I wasn’t ignorant of Orthodoxy as many western Christians often are. My Bible college professors esteemed Orthodoxy, and friends of mine from college had even converted. For me, it had always been a beautiful part of the Christian world, but like with Presbyterianism or Methodism, I saw it as just another choice or flavor of Christianity, and one which has some parallels to my Pentecostal experiences, namely in that the Holy Spirit and mystery was elevated more consistently than many Protestant churches do in practice. This resonated with my charismatic tendencies, albeit in a more tempered and sober fashion than I was used to.

My conversion came after reading St. Ignatius of Antioch, who—in the very beginnings of the 2nd century—spoke in high regard to church unity and opposition toward schism. In this, I began to see how far the Protestant west was and how close the Eastern Church is toward original foundations. This drove me to examine more fully the totality of doctrines of my form of Christianity, and in my studies I found that my presuppositions against liturgy were founded mainly on anti-Roman assumptions, and that my own tradition had many things more in line with classic heresies than a perceived recovery of lost tradition. I knew I could no longer remain in the Assemblies of God, so in May of 2015 I resigned my ordination and during the Dormition Feast in August of 2015, I was Chrismated.

I feel that I am utterly ruined to my old brand of Christianity, as in Orthodoxy I have found a fullness and robustness, as well as a consistency that my old path could not compete with. All my theological puzzle pieces began to fit better than they ever had before. I surely had most of the pieces before, as well as some odd pieces from who knows where, but the picture never seemed to come together as it does now. Sadly, my wife has yet to see the breadth and depth of Orthodoxy. This pains me greatly.

My wife presently attends a Wesleyan type church, to which I am thankful for. She has at least not abandoned Christ. I pray she will one day come to a fuller relationship with Christ in the Orthodox Church, but she has—at present—rejected it fully. She has even told me that she thinks I have joined a cult, which she gathers from the liturgy and lack of free-form she’s used to. She has also seen the drastic and relatively quick transition for me, so she feels I have been brainwashed, where I see only illumination. It is currently a tough position to be in, as I have actually lost some footing as the pastor of our home… I have lost credibility in my wife’s eyes, and so I am forced to tread softly around her.

To those in similar circumstances, I have no surefire solutions. I am still wrestling with the tension daily. My only advice is to stay the course and persevere as the Apostle James admonished in his Epistle. Pray for your loved ones who don’t understand. But, if Christ is truly Lord and God, and Orthodoxy is the unity He’s called us to, then we can only take it one day at a time, and love more fully those in our lives who simply don’t get it.

May our lives be the illumination they need toward fullness.

 

 

 

The Pastor’s Path to Orthodoxy: Did I Join A Cult?





Comments

  1. Athanasia says:

    Patrick, I feel your sorrow and pain deeply. My husband said he felt I was having an affair when I joined the Orthodox Church. Keep praying. Also, get some Holy Water and when you are able bless her pillow with it regularly. It made a difference. Maybe it will for you too.

  2. Simon Pearson says:

    I am in your position too only my wife is probably a lot more vehemently against Orthodoxy as she views it as Roman Catholicism with icons. She converted from a RC background and she just will not listen to anything that tells her otherwise. She thinks I am a deceived idolater and bound for hell. She followed me some way on my journey which took me from Pentecostalism/Charismatic background to Reformed Calvinism then God led me to Orthodoxy and I was received some 4 years ago. We were missionaries in China with YWAM. Only the Lord can open their eyes to see the fullness of the faith and for us to become closer to Christ through His Church and demonstrate the difference in our lives. Lord Jesus Christ Son of God have mercy on me a sinner!

  3. Fr. John says:

    Hang in there, Simon. Your faithfulness will sanctify and save your family. In the meantime, please consider writing up your own journey article. Please!

  4. Thank you Patrick. I have recently been chrismated into the Orthodox Church and feel an extraordinary sense of coming home. From a wonderful Christian Brethren upbringing into teenage waywardness and experimentation that led to a life changing baptism in the Holy Spirit in my late teens and into the Charismatic House Church movement in the early 70’s. Now 45 years later entering this incredible journey of Orthodoxy. My wife over the years has gone from interested agnosticism to total disinterest, believes I am being ‘radicalised’, and my children think dads become a bit cranky, but thank God we still love each other!
    I find it hard to define the nature of this Orthodox light that seems to penetrate my spiritual and temporal life in quite unexpected ways, revealing enlightening and exposing so much, subtly changing and molding me, I am as C.S.Lewis so aptly put it constantly ‘surprised by joy’

  5. deborah pendleton says:

    It took 3 years of attendance and a very reluctant Orthodox priest to see me converted to Orthodoxy as he would not allow it until I could convince my husband to also convert. That husband was violent and very abusive and it took the outside intervention of another priest to help me out of that bad situation since the priest who oversaw my conversion believed in and protected my abusive spouse. Fortunately, I didn’t allow the actions of one priest to deter me from Orthodoxy. I have since remarried and my present spouse converted to Orthodoxy. We now have our daughter, a cradle Orthodox.

  6. Deborah, thank you for sharing that. An excellent cautionary tale, and it would make an excellent journey story for others. Please consider writing it up for us!

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