by John Brooman
“Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, bless the bed that I lie on.”
Such was the first Christian blessing that I remember as a child from my devout Catholic Grandmother, as she pointed to the four corners of my bed. Later, my Father took me to a Mass. I remember being so influenced by this that when I returned home, I set out a room like a church, using my Father’s school blazer slung on my shoulders like a cope, and using an upside-down wooden child’s sword as a cross!
A few years later I became an ‘altar boy’ at a Catholic church.
It was undoubtedly my Grandmother who was the main motivating influence on me – spiritually – in those very early childhood years. My Father was Roman Catholic and my Mother – Anglican. But neither, then, were churchgoers. When a nun at a nearby convent discovered that I was bereft of a Catholic education, she patiently tried to teach me the Catechism but I think became a bit frustrated at having to answer the questions as well as ask them! Nevertheless, she exuded ‘holiness’ with a demeanour that I can never forget.
Those were the days of frightening bigotry and I remember being warned by her of the perils of attending my Grammar School assembly that was essentially ‘Anglican!’
Timed moved on and the enticement of banging an Air Training Corps drum on a Sunday proved too strong an attraction for an altar boy. They were war years and militarism was the air we youngsters breathed. Learning Morse and navigation became far more interesting than learning the Catechism!
A rush of young blood to the head eventually prompted me to volunteer for a five year engagement in the Corps of Household Cavalry (Royal Horse Guards). The Korean war kept me in for a further year. My only ‘religious’ contact in those days was being paraded for ‘Padre’s Hour’; and a crucifix I kept with my more personal belongings. It was just before I left the Army that I began to think more seriously about Christianity.
I started going to Mass again and found myself eventually taking my faith life seriously. I even at one stage considered becoming a Monk, but was told politely by a Novice Master that a ‘good Catholic marriage’ was probably for me! A few years later, it was a Protestant that I married (albeit in a Catholic Church). She came from a pretty staunch Pentecostal / Evangelical background and lost no time in extolling the simplicity of the Gospel message and the ‘Salvation by Faith’ Protestant ethics.
The effect of all this was to broaden somewhat my theological horizons even though, at the time, I was faithful to my Catholic calling. I have never been an ‘academic’ person, but somehow ‘theology’ fascinated me. To me, it is little wonder that it has been called the ‘Queen of Sciences.’
I started to develop an interest in Orthodoxy about 25 years ago. It seemed strange to me that two seemingly ‘Sister Churches’ – the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox were at times at enmity with each other. I read books by Bishop Kallistos Ware, Fr. Anthony Coniaris, Fr. Alexander Schmemann and others and began to realise that here was an absolute ‘ocean’ of spiritual depths and ecclesiastical treasures. I was eventually invited to an Orthodox Liturgy. I was struck by its beauty and its ‘other-worldliness.’ I felt immersed in something, and Someone, of Infinite Majesty.
There indeed was the grandeur of the Kingdom. Subsequent studies enabled me to realise the importance in our Christian Faith of the Apostolic writings, the writings of the Church Fathers, the early influence of Monasticism and the first Seven Major Ecumenical Councils of the early Church. There was no doubt in my mind that the Orthodox Church was the Universal Church of the first millennia.
The Great Schism was largely due to the concept that Rome and Orthodoxy had over ‘Authority.’ The Roman Church saw it as emanating from the Roman Patriarchate; the Orthodox Church, whilst being prepared to afford some sort of ‘primacy of honour’ to Rome nevertheless saw authority as ‘collegial’ or shared amongst the ancient Patriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. The attack on Constantinople by hordes of ‘Crusaders’ did not help relationships either! Even to this day, there seems to be more friendly ‘rapport’ between Orthodoxy and Anglicanism than between Orthodoxy and Catholicism.
Undoubtedly, I was feeling ‘drawn’ to Orthodoxy. However, the attraction was hampered and tempered by several considerations. For a start, getting to an Orthodox place of worship posed a problem. My wife was ill; in fact, she sadly died in 1983. Furthermore, my involvement in my own church activities was considerable. On top of all this the Charismatic Movement was hitting the churches in such an ecumenical way that denominational barriers were getting ‘blurred.’ At one stage I felt I was becoming something of an ecclesiastical ‘chameleon’ as I felt at home in most denominational churches, seeing only the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit!
I eventually married again – this time in an Evangelical Church. I thereby fell out of favour with the Roman Catholic Church, but became extremely active with my new wife in an Anglican and Evangelical ethos. We were heavily involved in ‘outreach’ and giving talks and all seemed very worthwhile.
I found, after a while that my Orthodox leanings kept coming to my mind. In an evangelical setting, I missed the concept of ‘sanctification.’ Indeed, I rarely seemed to hear the word ‘sacred’ and never heard the word ‘ascetic!’
The beauty of ‘holiness’ was a concept I needed to re-capture. In religion, as in politics, opinions differ and ‘wave-lengths’ vary.
For me, I found what I can only describe as the ‘aesthetics’ of Orthodoxy irresistible. I believe that the concept of the Church being the custodian of the Bible needs to be re-captured and the stability of Orthodox theology needs to permeate Christendom if the ‘slide’ towards ‘relativism’ is to be halted. The Church must go into the world, not the world into the Church. The “if it feels good, do it” society maxim is, I believe, affecting the churches.
And so, after an appallingly long period of ‘dithering,’ (I wish I had made my decision years ago), I finally made the decision to be Chrismated into the Holy Orthodox Church. As I underwent the beautiful ceremony in a lovely little old dis-used Anglican Church, I noticed that the candle-wax from my Chrismation Candle was pouring onto my sandals. It didn’t matter! I was happy, extremely happy.
As most converts claim, I felt I had ‘come home’!