by Thomas Reidman
In September of 1990, I enrolled at the Immaculate Conception College Seminary for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre. Having been raised a Roman Catholic, I felt the calling to study for the priesthood. I really knew little about many of the specifics of my faith then, and knew virtually nothing about Orthodoxy until my studies there.
My spiritual director at the seminary was a bi-ritual Catholic priest who introduced me to Byzantine worship. It was at this point that I begun to desire to know more about Orthodox Christianity. After much personal struggling, I decided ultimately to leave the seminary after a year and a half. I was not sure I could be happy as a celibate Catholic priest.
Another reason that did influence my departure from the seminary was the question:
“Who is the true New Testament Church?”
I decided to investigate Orthodoxy further to find out. In 1992, I first met Father Edward Pehanich, the pastor at St. Gregory of Nyssa Orthodox Church in Seaford, NY. He welcomed me in and answered many questions I had about Orthodoxy. Father Ed gave me some great books to learn much more detail about Orthodoxy, and recommended I visit St. Michael’s Orthodox Church in Binghamton, NY, since I had just transferred there to complete my college education. I started attending the Divine Liturgy, and other services there, and continued my study of the Orthodox Church under the guidance of Father James Dutko. When home on vacations, I attended St. Gregory’s and continued meeting with Father Ed.
One of the things that struck me about Orthodoxy, from the very first time at the Divine Liturgy, was the utter beauty of the services. The liturgy engages all the senses. The sense of reverence, penitence, and awe for the Almighty was profound. Having attended a huge Catholic Church for many years, being a part of the liturgy at much smaller sized St. Gregory’s was in stark contrast.
One of the things I have always loved about worship at St. Gregory’s is how much one can participate in the liturgy. Most times I felt like more of a spectator at Catholic services.
After experiencing Orthodox worship, I knew this was the right way. The liturgy and other services are saturated with expressions of faith and didactic proclamations. This showed me how the early Church was able to teach the faith to those with little or no education through beautiful prayers, antiphons, and icons.
After learning more about the history of the Church, I was awakened to the tumultuous history of the relations between the East and West which gradually led to their schism. More specifically the issues over Papal authority, the Filioque, and differences in tradition convinced me that the Orthodox Church is the true New Testament Church. While certainly not perfect, the Orthodox Church, to me, has done far better to preserve the traditions, beliefs, and practices of the ancient Church. While I still loved the Catholic Church, I felt I could no longer be a part of it after all this enlightenment.
In April of 1993, I was Chrismated at St. Gregory of Nyssa and joined the Orthodox Church. For me, it was a very proud moment and one of the best decisions I have ever made.
I am not sure that my family understood why I made the conversion, but they were supportive of my decision, for this I am very thankful. Since that time, I have been involved in teaching Sunday school and attending Bible study. My wife Kathie, a Roman Catholic, and I have two children and we decided to raise them Orthodox. We have always been made to feel welcomed at our Church and know that it is an important part of our lives.
Now that I have been a member of Orthodoxy for over ten years, I worry that I have become complacent in my spiritual life. It is easy to become spiritually lazy when one becomes familiar with things and loses that awe that first inspired me. Sometimes I find myself becoming impatient with the detail to ritual, or the completeness of liturgical prayers, as I become distracted trying to watch my children in Church.
But I know there is a right way to do things, and when worshiping God we can never truly do enough. I always take comfort in knowing that my Church is guiding me in the way I should go, and has stayed faithful to the foundation that Christ has established on this earth. I thank God for Orthodoxy, for the friendship and guidance I have received, especially from Fr. Ed and Fr. Jim, and for the chance to worship freely at the Church of “right belief and right practice,” the Orthodox Church.