by Dr. Eric Affsprung
This is the last of several ‘journey’ stories of souls who were changed forever by their experience at Holy Cross Orthodox Church, in Williamsport, PA. Your parish can, likewise, become a flower-bed of spiritual life, both for those in the parish, and those not yet in the parish. God bless the good work of Fr. Dan and the believers at Holy Cross.
I was raised in a mainline Protestant church and am very grateful for that. Moreover, I have always been drawn to places of worship and to religious books and ideas. My family lived in Austria for a year when I was a child and I am told that I would walk to the front of the European churches that we visited to gaze up at the altar. In Rome I was intrigued by the ancient ruins and the Christian catacombs. When I was older, while working in northern New Mexico, I was drawn to the indigenous Catholicism of the high desert country. I can also recall one summer afternoon, while working in Colorado with the Forest Service, walking through the woods and thinking that perhaps I should enter the ministry, although I am not sure where this notion came from. That led to a brief stint in a Protestant seminary. However, being much too immature, I withdrew after one year.
By my late-20’s I had lost my spiritual moorings. I knew that something was missing from my life but I was not even sure what I was looking for. Things were complicated by a loss in my childhood and by other early challenges, things which made me distrustful of happiness and relationships, and which left me with an angry, defensive attitude toward God and Christianity.
Unfortunately, the church of my youth was no longer a refuge. Increasingly, Protestantism seemed to have been co-opted by the modern culture, spiritually dead and theologically empty, at times more like a kind of social club or self-righteous political activism than faith. Like many young people, I flirted with Eastern religions, but I also understood on some level that these offered only an empty, nihilistic and self-absorbed experience of reality, and that I could not walk away from the church of Christ (even though I was not at all sure that He wanted anything to do with me). But where was that church? And was there a place for me within it? Something always seemed to be blocking my path. Was it my own emotional immaturity, stubborn pride and lack of faith? Was this God’s way of telling me that I was on the wrong path?
Moreover, having been brought up with a “Western” mindset, it seemed as if the modern Christian was faced with a terrible, impossible choice. I could put on intellectual blinders and approach the Scriptures like a “fundamentalist”, with lots of emotion and doing my best to ignore the world of the mind, I could try to adopt the barren “post-modern” and “de-mythologized” faith of many of my peers, or I could abandon Christianity altogether. The first choice was impossible for me and the second and third would have left me with a life devoid of hope or meaning.
Then I encountered the Orthodox Church. People have asked me how I found Orthodoxy. Truly, I have no real idea what brought me to the front steps of Holy Cross Church in Williamsport that first Sunday. I can only believe that it was the work of the Holy Spirit taking pity on a lost soul.
The friendliness of the Holy Cross community and the beauty of the Liturgy drew me in. Then, in the Orthodox Church, I discovered Holy Tradition and a new and profoundly different way of reading the Scriptures and understanding Christ’s work in Creation. Within Orthodoxy there is room for the life of the mind and for the heart, for the intellectual and for mystery — a mystery very different from anything I’d encountered before. Moreover, the Orthodox Church is a church built on a firm foundation and with a direct link to the ancient church of the Apostles.
In spite of my own stiff neck and stubborn kicking at the goads, I did finally join the Orthodox Church (taking the name Anthony) at the age of 54, thank God.
The Monastery of St. Anthony, arguably the oldest Christian monastery in the world, was established in the 4th century. It still stands today, built around a small palm oasis in the middle of the Egyptian desert. Finding the Orthodox Church was, for me, like stumbling onto an oasis after years and years of wandering in the desert. +