The Rev. Daniel Hackney, a self-professed “ecumenical mutt,” has found a home in the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church.
Father Daniel, 45, grew up in a Baptist family, was active in the evangelical Jesus movement, attended Assembly of God and Roman Catholic universities, and served as a pastor in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod for 10 years.
On Sunday, he was ordained an Antiochian Orthodox priest by Bishop Mark Maymon, bishop of Toledo and the Midwest Diocese, in a ceremony at St. Elias Antiochian Orthodox Church in Sylvania.
“One thing I’ve learned is you don’t run from something, you run to something,” Father Daniel said in an interview this week at St. Elias.
A native of the downriver Detroit suburb of Melvindale, Mich., Father Daniel said Eastern Orthodox Christianity first drew his attention while he was in high school and read a book by Bishop Kallistos Ware titled The Orthodox Church.
“That kind of whet my appetite but I didn’t really do anything with it for years,” he said.
Then, after his ordination as a Lutheran minister, he was studying at Boston College and took a class at an Orthodox seminary on the early church fathers. He has continued to study church history on his own, and over the last few years began attending Orthodox churches.
“As I was becoming more comfortable with the Orthodox approach to the Christian life, I and my family made the decision last year to come over,” he said.
With short gray hair and goatee, wearing black clerical garb and a silver cross, Father Daniel said he consulted many Orthodox priests and Bishop Mark – who converted from Roman Catholicism – and felt drawn by the history and continuity of Orthodox Christianity.
“Most people come into contact with God through the worship services. Most people don’t read their Bibles, really,” he said. “And so I wanted to be a part of something whose worship transcends categories such as traditional and contemporary, something that remains the same so that I can have the assurance that my children and their children will be praying the same prayers, singing the same hymns, and worshipping in the same way.”
Father Daniel said his parents were Baptists who attended church with his older siblings but had lapsed after he was born.
“The first time I stepped foot in a church was a Lutheran church when I was 10 years old for a wedding,” he said.
As a teenager, he started a chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at his public high school, then became involved in the Jesus movement, a counterculture revival that started in the 1960s and lasted into the 1980s.
He enrolled at Southeastern College in Lakeland, Fla., which is run by the Pentecostal Assembly of God denomination, and majored in biblical studies with a minor in Greek and Hebrew.
Father Daniel graduated from Concordia Lutheran Seminary in St. Louis in 1998 and served as a Lutheran pastor for 10 years at parishes in Mississippi, Florida, and Missouri.
As a Lutheran pastor, he organized numerous mission trips, organized youth activities, and led a capital program to build a $1.5 million parish hall in Palm Bay, Fla.
Yet there was a desire for something else, he said.
“I found in the Orthodox Church a richness in their daily prayer lives,” he said. “They had a structure. They had offices of prayer that are easy to follow. And by daily commemorating the saints that have gone before us, I am now connected with them in a way that has found its fullness in the Orthodox Church.”
He has been studying at St. Tikhon’s Seminary in South Canaan, Pa., since last summer, while his wife, Carole, and their three young boys live in Erie, Mich.
The separation has been difficult, Father Daniel said, but it was a sacrifice he felt God called him to make. Another sacrifice was giving up his retirement and health care benefits from the Lutheran Church, and when he converted there was no guarantee that the Orthodox Church would ordain him as a priest.
While in the Toledo area, he has been studying with the Rev. Basil Koory of St. George Orthodox Cathedral in Toledo and the Rev. Paul Albert of St. Elias. He will serve as an intern at both St. George and St. Elias this summer.
“Father Paul has worked with teaching me and training me in the Byzantine liturgy, which is not something you just walk into and do. It takes many hours of training and apprenticeship. It’s very intricate,” Father Daniel said.
Father Paul said it takes 5 to 10 years to learn the liturgy enough to feel comfortable, comparing the learning process to that of a jazz musician.
“You take years of music theory, and then more years of practice time, and then years later, down the road, you begin to express creatively through discipline, theory, and practice,” Father Paul said.
“Even after 10, 20, 30 years of serving, we are just beginning,” Father Paul said.
A new priest in the Orthodox Church can be “overwhelmed by the details,” he said. But participating in the liturgy is “a foretaste of our life to come in the Kingdom, when we will be able to wrap our understanding around the fullness of God’s glory.”
Father Daniel, a captain in the U.S. Army Reserve, plans to apply this summer for active duty as a chaplain.
“I’m committed to religious pluralism, and by that I mean everyone has a right to worship as they deem necessary according to their conscience,” Father Daniel said. “This does not mean that we have to accept what everyone believes, we have the right to disagree.”
Military chaplains must “perform and provide,” he said. They perform liturgical rites and sacraments in their own tradition, but will listen and talk with any soldier who asks and are committed to providing ministry for people of all faiths.
“If a Jewish soldier needs ministry from a rabbi, for instance, I’m to ensure he receives that,” Father Daniel said.
Father Paul said there are more priests than assignments in the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese, which has 271 parishes in the United States and Canada.
Father Daniel added that as an Army chaplain,
“I am willing to serve wherever they send me.”