by Gordon Atkinson, pastor of Covenant Baptist Church in San Antonio, TX
Sunday I went back to Saint Anthony the Great. Jeanene and the girls did other things, which was fine with me because I was wanting to keep my thoughts tuned to my experience and prayer. I love my children, but when they are with me there is always a piece of me that is keeping tabs on them.
I was so excited too. Really very happy to be there and hopeful that perhaps the Eternal Creator might have something for his imperfect child to learn that day. Saint Anthony the Great has a coffee and conversation hour after the service, so I planned to stay for that as well.
The first week I was very interested in the candles that the faithful lit and put in boxes of sand near several of the icons. These were little tapered candles that burned down, conveniently, about the time the service was over. I asked the greeter if I might light a candle. She was surprised and seemed very happy.
“Yes, of course,” she said.
She told me that the candles represented the light of Christ coming into the world. I feel that piece of faith is held in common with our church as well. We light candles for the same reason. I took my candle down front and prayed that I would be open to hearing from the Spirit of God during worship. I placed my candle with the others lit by various pilgrims at worship. For the entire service I kept an eye on my candle as it burned softly until it was only a tiny stub.
This week I decided not to spend any of my energy trying to keep up with the service in the liturgy book. Instead I wanted to watch everything and hear as much as I could. I found that I was able to follow the chants much better with only one week’s experience under my belt. I fell in love with the sound of them. Various readers have different tones and particular styles. Everyone calls the pastor “Father” at Saint Anthony the Great. Father’s voice came singing out from behind the Iconostas during the service. His voice is very resonant, and he has his own particular way of ending a phrase.
There is a step down in tone and then – just at the end – he lets the tone trail off even further. Dum dum dum dum dooooooo…eeee. I am easily hypnotized by repetitive and interesting sounds. Once in college I was driven to a state of absolute peace by the sound of a woman cutting thick paper with a heavy set of scissors. SniiiiiiiiiUP. I closed my books and sat there with my head in my hands until she finished whatever she was doing. I felt like I’d had a full massage. I think a lot of my peace on Sunday came from the simple fact that I didn’t have to understand everything. I was not the minister or anyone with a burden of comprehending the whole. I was one of God’s little ragamuffins, a kid who wandered in from the street. No one expected much of me, and I felt God would be pleased if I just stood quietly and enjoyed the sounds and the beauty while being mindful of God’s presence.
This week I noticed people sitting down during the homily. A number of people dropped to the ground like the crowds around Jesus. I sat down with them, and let me tell you that after standing for an hour, a seat on the floor is more comforting and comfortable than the softest lounge chair in the world. Ahh, the floor. A chance to rest my back before the push to the end of the service. Blissful.
And then it was over. It seemed much too soon. I was a bit surprised that almost 2 hours had passed. I sat at the back and watched everyone file forward to greet Father, who hugged people and chatted. I got to wander around and look more closely at some of the icons too. Stunningly beautiful.
During coffee hour I had a delightful chat with an enthusiastic woman named Tina, who became an Orthodox Christian 15 years earlier. She knew a lot of church history. It was nice chatting with her. Some others came to say hello as well. In time it came out that I am a Baptist minister on sabbatical, which was surprising for them. But just for a moment. Everyone has a story about how they arrived at Saint Anthony the Great.
That was my story. And it was okay.
Fr Levi says
Lovely story … or rather, lovely part of your story … it sounds like this is just a chapter in the middle, not the whole book.
Yes, lovely story. I hope it continues.
I have to agree with Father Levi that it is a lovely story, but disagree that it is a chapter in the middle. It seems more like the introduction phase. Just like any book, it either captures your attention completely and you finish it in its entirety, or you bookmark the page and come back later or sometimes never. I would not fret about having your wife and children on board at this time. Finding Orthodoxy is an individual endeavor. Oftentimes, loved ones follow when they notice a delightful change in their family member. My husband did not convert until 35 years after we were married in the Orthodox Church. He is now the tutor and the vice president. I send you my best wishes.
Kathleen Peters says
My husband was converted when we went on a church field trip with our Byzantine Catholic parish. He prayed for the rest of us as we studied and sought God on what this all meant. Next month, 1 1/2 years later, my husband and I are joining the Orthodox church thru Chrismation[ we will be remarried as well] and our 18 year old son will be baptized in a couple of months. Our other children, ages16 and 20, want to still be Byzantine Catholic. We support them 100% and they, after many struggles to accept this change, support us as well.I hope this experience for Gordon grows in the truth and beauty of Orthodoxy.Prayers to you and your family!
I’m eager to read Part 3!
Texas Seraphim says
St. Anthony’s was the first Orthodox Church I visited, while attending a conference in San Antonio. The visit was on Bright Wednesday Vespers. It was a nice parish and a good first experience. I am glad you enjoyed your visit.
Love it. Someone sounds like they drank the kool aid.
And yes don’t worry about your family.
Read Frederica MG about that.
As a converted Nazarene minister, this experience sounds all too familiar.
Highly recommend Frederica Matthews Greene also. Book is called “Facing East”. We converted from fundamentalist protestant to Roman Catholic to traditional catholic to Orthodox Christianity. I followed my husband along the way, and it was very hard at times, but I am so glad that I did it.
Beautiful, it made me cry.
David Conner says
Faith I believe is a journey, I Identify with a lot of these stories. I started out Baptist. King James only. I started reading different versions. went from Baptist to presbyterian to Catholic. Never been to an Orthodox Liturgy. I started reading about and saying the Jesus Prayer. Lets just say I’m still on a Journey. My wife tells me, kiddingly “I’m lost” My search is Like the Psalmest. “My soul is longing for the courts of the Lord more than a watchman who waits for the dawn. These stories give me inspiration.
MaryAnn Northey says
Thank you for your open heart. So good to see our beloved insanity through new eyes. The worst thing that could ever happen to me would be losing Orthodoxy. Sometimes I forget how it used to look, at first.
Nida Picton says
This story inspires and gives me hope that one day soon I ‘ll be able to make my final step into orthodoxy. Please pray for me that the obstacle be removed.
I am glad to have stumbled upon both parts of your story.
As I approach my 30th birthday next month and my future marriage in December to my fiancé’ who has been raised in the Greek Orthodox Church since infancy, my raising in an independent baptist church isn’t helping straighten out all the thoughts running through my mind. In the midst of my thoughts lies the story and its reality of having been married(2007) and divorced(2008) to an independent baptist minister’s son who had an affair 9 months into our marriage with an adult member of the youth’s praise team.
The past several years have consisted of my longing to find the restitution of my faith, particularly in practice and traditions. As my fiancé’ and I have begun preparing for marriage, we have especially challenged to dig deeper into our beliefs, why we practice the way we do, etc., since we both were born and raised in our particular faiths. With that being said, I really enjoyed reading your story and look forward to reading more, if any. Thank you for sharing.
The Holy Orthodox faith has no beginning or end. Who knows what chapter one is in???? The Divine Liturgy is eternal, as is the body of believers!
Very inspiring from this faithful father…..?
Gordon Atkinson says
This is me, the guy who wrote this. This thing I wrote is old and maybe no one will ever read this comment. I’m in the wildnerness now. I can’t find the interest to participate in American Christianity in any form that is familiar to me. I struggle with your…..well….orthodoxy. That scares the (shtuff) out of me. (sorry if that language is out of place here. I find I’ve experienced a coarsening over the years since I left the ministry. And that doesn’t feel bad at all to me.) So I’ve not become Orthodox. But something about hold old and how careful you are appeals to me.
At the very least what you do is gorgeous, right? There is that. Beauty has a power over the hearts of seekers, I think.
I don’t need anything. Don’t need a response. Just came across this old thing I wrote and had a strange urge to say hello to any pilgrims who have dropped by. Hello from one lost currently in the Negev, but one who hasn’t lost his hope. I never really could get over Jesus, you know? First love and all that.
Say a prayer for me, will you? I feel I need it. And I feel there would somehow be a real connection between us.
Fr. John says
Gordon, been there. We do and we shall continue our prayers for you. I feel the same, and I hope this is not the end of our association!
Tatiana Peters says
The key to Orthodox conversion, from what the Archimandrite of the monastery that I go to said (me and my husband and one of our children), is just do it. Dont sit on it, take the plunge, Gods grace is sufficient , things will fall in place. I felt like I was jumping off a cliff. That was 4 1/2 years ago. Praise God. He is faithful. Trust Him.
Glenda Cuddy says
I pray it continues as well. I am invested in this family now.