John R. Dutcher was ordained as Sub-deacon October 17, 2004 at St. Elijah’s Orthodox Christian Church-Oklahoma City, OK and fell asleep on August 8, 2008 – With the help of Nila Dutcher, his loving wife, we have an account of his personal journey to Orthodoxy. May his memory be eternal+!
I guess you could say my journey began in my youth when my parents brought my brother, two sisters, and me up in the Episcopal Church. I enjoyed going to church, attended every Sunday and when I was old enough even became an acolyte, serving the Altar and the priest. I remember trying to be reverent at the Altar and holding my hands just so, which as we all know can be difficult at the age of ten.
During my youth and as a matter of fact, into my adult years, I knew of God, but didn’t know God; just as we can say we know about a person, but not know him or her. I learned some of the terms we use for God, such as the Almighty, the Trinity, etc…, and of course I heard the usual Bible stories.
But these things didn’t really sink in.
Then came the teen years. Mom and Dad said, “Go to church”. And for me that could have been reason enough not to. REBELLION! I guess I got bored with the routine of going every Sunday and sitting through sermons I had no chance of understanding. I had little knowledge of God, His love and His purpose for mankind and particularly for me. Nor, had I yet learned the significance and efficacy of the Sacraments. I did not know the power of God’s Word, the Holy Scriptures.
In other words I didn’t know Christ and His Grace. To me, God was only a judge, someone to be avoided unless in a time of emergency; a spiritual bail bondsman, so to speak. So, late in my teens, not being “rooted and grounded” in the Faith, I stopped going to church.
After a couple of years I met my wife and I returned to the church once more, but just for the wedding. We didn’t attend church for several years, except occasionally on Christmas and Easter. And that was it. Looking back, I don’t know how our marriage ever survived those early years, but by God’s grace, it did. I didn’t feel a need for Christ or His church to make my marriage work.
When my first daughter was several years old she said,
“Daddy, I want to go to church to hear about Jesus”.
Now trying to be a responsible father I did what any good father would do. I told her to go ask her mother! Mom did the same. We thought that would be the end of that, but thank God it wasn’t. My dad found out that she wanted to go and asked if she could go with him.
At that time my parents were attending a small store-front parish which consisted of several families who had left the Episcopal Church during the late seventies and were attempting to maintain their “traditional” form of worship.
The Episcopal Church, like many of today, was attempting to attract more members by softening its stand against sin in the world and by adopting a more liberal theology and form of worship. It sought to conform the church to the world instead of the other way around. There were many like the people of that small parish, who for whatever reason, did not want to be a part of that movement, who broke from the American Episcopal Church and formed what is known as the Anglican Church of North America. My parents had asked us to go to church with them, saying it was just like the church I had grown up in.
Well, as you might guess, I didn’t get real excited about that. I wasn’t quite ready to start going to boring sermons again, so we allowed our daughter to go with her Grandad. Little did any of our family know that this was to be the real beginning of our journey to Orthodoxy.
Soon after, my wife, who had attended any church that would send a bus by on Sunday mornings, became curious about the church her little girl was going to and started attending herself. (This was much to my discomfort, by the way). She liked it there so much that soon she began taking Catechism instruction from the priest in our home. I occasionally sat in on her class and I started to hear things I could remember hearing before, but not comprehending. Terms like Atonement, salvation, Sacrament. This stirred up curiosity in me, but by no means a commitment.
I still felt I could live without the responsibilities that come with knowing God. I thought I could continue just knowing about God. Soon afterwards, my wife was baptized and confirmed in this Anglican Church and she started attending regularly with our daughter. I attended off and on, but with one foot in the church and one in the world.
About this same time, my wife and I found our marriage in trouble and I knew I wasn’t being the kind of father I should be, so I agreed to marriage counseling with the priest. (I figured it couldn’t hurt). Well, it was during one of these counseling sessions that the priest asked me if I would start reading the Epistle at Mass. (The Priest, by the way was Fr. William McMurry, now +Deacon Basil McMurry+).
Reluctantly, I agreed to be a lay reader. With this new responsibility I began reading more of the Scriptures and attending more regularly. I even attended an occasional bible study, which up to that point in my life, I had never done. The Scriptures started to come alive for me, becoming more than just a list of who-begat-who, etc. And learning more about it, I began drawing more and more life from the church, and less from the world. Even though I had been baptized as an infant, I was just now beginning to grow in Christ. This is where the journey began in earnest.
I grew for a while. Though slowly, I was developing a love for God, for His Church, and for the people of that parish. And my life started to take a different, better course. A couple of years passed, and one day in his office, Deacon Basil asked me if I had ever thought that I had a calling to Holy Orders. This question brought back memories of when I was a boy in the Church and how I had enjoyed serving the Altar. I had in fact thought about the priesthood when I was young and thought maybe this was my calling. So I started taking instruction for the Deaconate.
Through my studies my curiosity about the true Church began to grow and my spiritual hunger was being fed with the Word of God. Studying the Scriptures I found more than history. They teach that there is a Church and Faith which Christ established and the Apostles received from Him to pass on to others. And that He instituted Sacraments or as we Orthodox call them, the Mysteries. I found that the Eucharist really is Christ’s Body and Blood. The remission of sins through the Sacrament of Penance/Absolution is sure, and that Baptism is more than just a beautiful ceremony. I learned too, that God could make a marriage work, through the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. I thought,
“This really is God’s Church”!
After two years of my study for the Deaconate, Deacon Basil, his family and others, left the parish of St. Michael’s and came here to St. Elijah. I had not realized it, but Deacon Basil had long been on his journey to Orthodoxy. I suspected something was changing when Fr. Constantine came to our parish to present the video, “Journey to Orthodoxy”, but did not want to think of what might be happening to our little parish and the life we had come to know there. My family and I were not ready to leave what we had come to know as The Church.
After losing our beloved priest and some of our dearest friends, our small parish struggled to sustain itself spiritually and financially. Most of the people that were left when the doors finally closed there moved to a sister church across town; another parish that was part of the “continuing Anglican” movement. I continued prepare for my examinations for the Deaconate and was eventually ordained in the Anglican Church.
After my ordination, I was asked to teach a bible study on Sunday mornings and relate to others what I had learned of the Church. It didn’t take long for me to realize that what I had accepted as “Anglican” in my studies with Deacon Basil was actually Orthodoxy, and for a large part was not well received by some of the people I was teaching. I was defending what I knew to be the Faith in a church which claimed to be “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic”, but where heretical beliefs of all sorts were not necessarily taught, but were certainly tolerated.
As a Deacon, I found myself in many situations where I was asked to compromise my faith. I was once asked to take Communion to a woman who told me that she didn’t care if I brought it or not; that she could do without it. I was very uncomfortable about that because I had come to know the Eucharist for what it is, the Body and Blood of our Lord. But I was told that that was my job as a deacon. More and more I found myself compromising because there was no authority to appeal to.
In Protestant thinking there is no authority except the Bible and how one chooses to interpret it. And what I was finding was that I was in fact, serving in a Protestant church. At some point, I realized that if I didn’t make a change, that I, like many, would get caught up in the popular idea that it didn’t matter what one believes; just that one believes. Having studied the history of the Church and how the Fathers defended the Faith and read of the lives of the Martyrs and how they had died for what they believed, that being the True Faith, I knew it was important and would have to leave the Anglican Church and the Deaconate.
My wife and I agonized over leaving our family and our friends, some of who I had worshipped with all my life. I thought of how my mother had labored to sew my vestments and how proud my parents were the day their oldest son was ordained in the church they had raised him in. But hadn’t Christ said,
“He that loves mother or father, sister or brother, more than me, is not worthy of me?”
So we, my wife and three daughters, would leave. But where would we go? Knowing what we knew, we certainly couldn’t go to a Protestant Church and abandon our sacramental lives. And the Roman Church was out of the question because of the dogma relating to Papal infallibility, which was not historical.
Then I remembered the visit from Fr. Constantine Nasr back at St. Michaels and the video he had shown. The words of Metropolitan Philip almost rang in my ears when I remembered how he had said,
“Come home America, come home to the Faith of Peter and Paul”.
I wanted to go home!
I had only talked to Deacon Basil a couple of times since he left St. Michaels, and for various reasons I was a bit apprehensive about contacting him for information about St. Elijah. But I did, and it just so happened, (God’s grace again), that Father Constantine Nasr and Deacon Basil were starting a new series of lectures in the Inquirers Class. My wife, oldest daughter, and I attended the next lecture.
I remember that first night as I sat and listened again about the True Church, how I felt as if I had been wandering in the desert for several years and was taking my first sip of water!
We were hearing as we had heard before, that Christ had established His Church, commissioned the Apostles to carry on His work in the world, and that His Church still existed in its fullness. The Orthodox Church still lives the
“faith once delivered to the saints”.
And I remember, as I always will, attending my first Liturgy. It was as if I had gotten a glimpse of Heaven, where all nations and tongues worship the Lord together; where the music is to God’s glory and not those who sing it, and where the worship of God is a living, breathing, growing thing, not just a ceremony to be performed week after week. This is where I can say the Creed during the Liturgy and know that it is all still true. And were I can raise my children to do the same.
My family and I, along with several others who had been on their journeys, were Chrismated into the Holy Orthodox Church on Lazarus Saturday, the beginning of Holy Week in 1991. That is a week none of us will ever forget. Nor will we ever forget the warmth and love we were shown by the people here when we, as weary travelers, arrived at St. Elijah. I can’t tell you how grateful we are to God that there was someone here to welcome us home.
It was a long journey to the Orthodox Church, with a lot of rough roads along the way, some road blocks and dead end streets. But it has proved to be well worth the trip, and I can only hope and pray that somehow God can use all of us to help others find their way home.
John R. Dutcher
August 15, 1992
The Falling Asleep of Our Lady
John R. Dutcher was ordained as Sub-deacon October 17, 2004 at St. Elijah’s Orthodox Christian Church-Oklahoma City, OK and fell asleep on August 8, 2008 – Memory Eternal!
++Deacon Basil is now Fr. Basil McMurry, Priest at St. James Mission, Stillwater, OK