RTE: What finally brought you to Orthodoxy?
MICHAEL: All through my Rasta years, my reason for being there was to get closer to God. I think it was just God working with me through the Rasta movement. As I said earlier, in everything you read about His Majesty, in every speech, every proclamation, he talked about the Church, the Gospels, the saints, and especially about Jesus Christ, but I didn’t focus on those things.
The first Orthodox encounter I had was at the reggae fest here in Kansas City ten years ago. I always had a booth at the festival, and one year there was a man walking around in a long black robe. He was handing out a pamphlet that simply asked,
“Do you know what His Imperial Majesty’s faith was?”
There were a few lines underneath, and an Ethiopian monk on the front with a cross. The man in the black robe turned out to be Fr. Paisius, who was Orthodox and doing outreach at the festival. He was interested in Rastafari, and we began talking about books. We both knew about a rare set of books in four volumes called, “The Lives of the Ethiopian Saints.” I’d been keeping an eye out for them for years, and had managed to get Volumes I and III. Fr. Paisius, as it turned out, had Volumes II and IV! So, we got together to swap books. I actually walked through these very doors ten years ago. I was floored.
RTE: How so?
MICHAEL: To be honest, that first day all I wanted to do was get the hell out of here. I felt I had found what I needed, and I wasn’t ready for it. It was like,
“Oh my gosh, this is what you’ve always wanted, and it’s too real.”
Fr. Paisius and I got together a couple of times to swap books, and talk briefly. The next year he came back to the reggae fest, we talked some more, and he invited me to church. Usually, that was the last thing I would have done, but I came that Sunday because I always stayed the festival weekend in Kansas City. I came in the middle of the service, and felt like I was home. I didn’t know what I was feeling, I just knew that it was right and that it was what I’d been looking for my whole life. I still remember that day.
Then it became a thing of books – I’d read one, and Fr. Paisius would hand me the next. I had the radio show at the time, so I was up here a lot, and two of the women at St. Mary’s who had become Orthodox, Mari and Magdalena, were taking care of the bookstore. I’d come every day and we’d hang out pretty tough. We spent a lot of time together. Mari (now Mother Pachomia) became an Orthodox nun. I’m really grateful to all the Orthodox folks in Kansas City who helped me get there: the parishioners of St. Mary’s, especially Magdalena, and the nuns, Mother Pachomia and Mother Brigid, who gave me somewhere to be.
In the beginning, Fr. Paisius gave me Not of This World, the biography of Fr. Seraphim Rose, but after a few chapters I brought it back and said,
“No, this isn’t for me. It’s not clicking.”
So, he gave me The Way of a Pilgrim, and it lit something inside of me. I began doing the Jesus Prayer.
After The Way of a Pilgrim, I totally got into St. Theophan the Recluse – Path to Salvation, Unseen Warfare. The book that really touched me was the letters he wrote to nuns, Kindling the Divine Spark. I’ve read it so many times that it’s really the way my Bible should look, completely worn out.
Later, I got back to Not of This World, and liked it. Other Orthodox writings have also really helped: St. John Chrysostom’s writings on marriage, writings of St. Nikolai Velimirovich, the Optina Elders series, some things from the African and Ethiopian traditions such as Matthew the Poor, and Fr. Bishoy Kamel on the Lord’s Cross. This past year St. Isaac the Syrian’s Ascetical Homilies came to me. I’m grateful for all of these.
RTE: How was this time for you, Teresa?
TERESA: Before Michael met Orthodoxy, we’d had a real happy life, but after he started reading, he just didn’t seem happy. He wasn’t sure of himself anymore. I reminded him,
“This is what I left fifteen years ago.”
That is, I’d more or less stopped going to church, but in my heart of hearts I knew who Christ was, while Mike had never really been Christian. But now I was irritated that he was being taken from me. I’d had Jesus from childhood, we had gone to premarital classes and been married in the Catholic Church, but
now he was being led to Jesus Christ through what I saw as these freaky Orthodox nuts and I didn’t appreciate that at all. Who did they think they were, intruding on our happy marriage, our beautiful little family, our “simple” lifestyle?
For a long time our marriage had been very solid and we were very proud of it, but when he began going to church and learning about Orthodoxy, it was shaken to the core. The first time Fr. Paisius came up to us at the reggae fest, I took one look at him and understood that everything was up. I felt like screaming, and I prayed to the universe,
“Keep that man away from my husband!”
Fr. Paisius still remembers the meeting. He came strolling across the lawn because we had a book table and Michael was burning Ethiopian church incense.
When Mike started becoming Orthodox, I said,
“That’s it. I’m not doing what you do for my whole life. We can still be married, but I’m doing something else.”
“That’s fine. As long as you love me, it’s alright.”
But inside I was scared, seriously scared. I was afraid I was losing the man I’d loved, borne a child with, and built my life around for the past fifteen years. I was right, too. I did lose that man, and now I have a new man. He’s the same, but different. Not better, just different.