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‚ Mystery and Divine Magnetism: a Conversion Story">Beauty Mystery and Divine Magnetism: a Conversion Story

April 15th, 2016 by Fr. Vasile
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Come and Seeby Daniel Bishop

I often hear stories from people I’ve met along the way about the path that lead them to Orthodoxy. More often than not these stories involve books by particular authors or saints whose writings made an influence on their perspective and opened them up to the wealth of the teachings of the Church. These are stories of beautiful and brilliant minds seeking truth amidst the pages of history leaving no stone unturned until they found the true path. I sincerely wish I could give you such a brave story of my conversion. The thing is I can’t manage to retrace my steps through books or knowledge though I did read a lot while turning to Orthodoxy. The best picture I can use to describe my journey is this: if these people I mentioned were striding resolutely up the steps to the Church I was on my belly pulling myself up by my hands so to speak. I had to have some help to get here. I didn’t choose Orthodox Christianity because it became clear to me that its theological and historical claims were true?—?although that certainly did happen at some point. I chose Orthodox Christianity because of something much more obscured from my human eyes. A mysterious and Divine magnetism that lifted me up off my hands pulled me into the Church and allowed me to see and feel for myself albeit only to some human limited extent what prayeris about. Though I had made a routine of mocking Christianity and its devotions Christ had patience for me and simply stood there beckoning me with this call: Come and see.

I was born into a Baptist home which turned into a Messianic Jewish home when I was about seven years old. I could literally write an entire book explaining what Messianic Juadaism actually is and detailing my growth within this faith tradition from this young age but instead I’ll skip ahead a few years to the time I started taking my spiritual and religious life somewhat seriously. At a younger age I saw how older people were inclined to read the bible and pray whereas my every inclination was to run around outside or build cities out of LEGOs. I assumed that one day I would magically become interested in the life of faith and it wouldn’t be such an effort to sit down and pray or read the Bible. Of course I was wrong. Yet still for the first time I felt myself naturally asking questions about what it is that God expects from us when I was about twelve. When you reach the age where you start to become aware of the effects of your sinfulness these questions start to brew in you involuntarily. I approached a young pious man who I looked up to and asked him how the Law is kept. This young man taught me about the Old Testament and its context within Jewish tradition and we began a many-year-long conversation on observance which included my family and other dear friends as well. Fast forward several years we had some knowledge under our belts. Knowledge of Jewish tradition Jewish scriptural exegesis ethics Hebrew language practical Talmudic law liturgics and even some aspects of Jewish mysticism. The only area of knowledge remaining that we couldn’t seem to develop was the New Testament. It became the red-headed stepchild of our Jewish experience a roadblock to conversion and an impossible task to fit into our spiritual regimen.

This is where some of us parted ways for little bit. I will speak only of the direction I went. It’s surprising to many how religious scholasticism in the western world has actually influenced much of Judaism and its academic praxis. I became obsessed with this side of things. I toted copies of Maimonides and Yehuda HaLevi to school with me absorbing and attempting to apply each minutia of Mishnaic law and digesting each morsel of Aristotelian-influenced Jewish rationalist philosophy. All pretty complicated and important stuff I thought. This is where pride led me into some dangerous places inwardly and outwardly. I became cynical toward my Christian upbringing and quickly demolished whatever belief in a Divine Christ I had left. I chanted every Friday night the Yidgal a Maimonidean creed of Jewish faith particularly the line declaring:

“….He is One?—?and there is no unity like His Oneness?—?Inscrutable and infinite is His Oneness; He has no semblance of a body nor is He corporeal…”

With each theological dogma I rearranged in my head the effect rippled all the way through to my soul. When pride in my own human reasoning took root and Jesus suddenly became merely a created man and no more my insides began to wither. On the outside I was striding towards more perfect performance of the Law of Moses but within me the law of death was gaining victory. At that point I began to consider complete conversion to Judaism. In defiance and bitterness towards Christ I was fully resolved to make a formal renunciation of Christianity and embrace the pharisaic orthodox Jewish tradition.

By God’s mercy I was delayed due to some practical issues. I was unable to move to an orthodox community and frankly I lacked the wisdom to even know how to choose one. I stayed put and kept studying with my friend who I had started out with. It was then that my friend who had a long-running love for Christian history and dialogue began to talk about Orthodox Christianity a lot. The mere idea was revolting to me. I had all the answers why did we need to keep looking for a “home for Jesus” in our life of faith? Is the wealth of tradition in Orthodoxy a good enough of a reason to go back into the same faith system I’ve tried to get away from. In my ignorance I had no idea what Orthodox Christianity’s faith actually was. It just sounded Christian and brought back memories of standing in my whitewashed Church as a young child singing “Our God is and Awesome God” with a slightly off-beat drummer. Yet something mysterious began to act on me in time. I began to take interest in the raw beauty aspect of the Church. I searched the web for pictures of churches icons etc…. I developed a benign appreciation for Orthodox worship. It was nothing like my earliest Christian memories such as I described. This is what I meant by my approach to the church being like crawling up stairs. I didn’t search the Church’s books for sound arguments for the Divinity of Christ because my heart was not open to that. It was however open to art and the sheer beauty and mystery of Byzantine chant. As I began to dabble in Church aesthetics I began to see myself being able to truly worship God within these forms. I saw a video somewhere of a monk at St. Katherine’s Monastery of Mt. Sinai tediously beating out a rhythm on the semantron walking up the stairs of the tower to the bells and then masterfully weaving a brilliant web of mysterious sounds. Somehow I instantly related to this kind of strange and foreign ritual and I recognized it as prayer. Gradually the possibility of prayer became a key factor that pulled me into the Church. Between kabbalistic meditation and breathing techniques on one hand and wrote memorization and lifeless recitation of a legally portioned amount of liturgical texts on the other Judaism had failed to provide a place where I could truly pray where I could strip away the masks of cheap piety and stand before the Divine in reverence and fear of Heaven.

Heaven was just what I recognized upon entering an Orthodox Church for the first time (well apart from a brief visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre while on a vacation in Jerusalem when I was ten years old). I recognized the smell of incense from that time in Jerusalem immediately. That little connection of childhood nostalgia opened my heart even wider. The chorus of beautiful elements the Church’s liturgical life which were presented to me as tools of prayer grew louder and louder until I had to take it seriously. I couldn’t deny that something was there?—?beyond the icon of Christ there was a man and at the same time something more than just a man. Fueled by a desire for prayer and spiritual life I began a process that continues to this day of accepting that I cannot fully digest this idea of Christ as the “God-Man” like I could digest the Jewish “static” monotheism. I can’t pinpoint a definite moment where I accepted that Christ was indeed God and Man but the text of On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius helped my brain to quench its unquenchable objections. I began reading various Orthodox books old and new and began through God’s steadfast mercy and love rebuilding the faith I once tried to demolish. I must end my story here because this is where I am now. I am still a spiritual infant learning the basics of the Gospel and allowing or at least trying to allow Christ to conquer this flesh rebuild me from the ground up. I eagerly await Baptism Chrismation and Communion and though I am ignorant and blind to the true significance of the Sacraments I know I need them. Please pray for me.

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The Christian Family Suspended Between Tradition and Temptation*

March 4th, 2016 by Fr. Vasile
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Root of JeseeBeloved Brothers and Sister in Christ,

As you can see, even from my short greeting, this talk about family is actually a talk in the family. I am not here to preach to strangers, but to converse with people familiar to us who will be able to better understand what I have to say, because you are hearing it from within. You hear a lot from the outside as well; there is a lot of talk about family these days, with everyone trying to define, or rather re-define, what family is, many times based on personal thoughts and feelings or ideologies of various groups of interests, creating a lot of confusion. In the midst of all… Continue reading

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An Icon of the Christian Family

January 12th, 2016 by Fr. Vasile
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Everyone’s favorite time of the year is the period before Christmas, when the air is filled with joy, peace and expectation. We are blessed to live in a country that looks forward to Christmas although we might seem to have lost some of its meaning along the way.  We have radio stations that air carols without ceasing, exalting the season, although many of them speak about snow, jolly figures carrying gifts, family time and other things that are all fine, but missing maybe the point of all this festival. It is wonderful that everyone celebrates Christmas, in their own way, and even people that don’t believe in God enjoy the season and try to be “good for goodness’ sake”, as a recent billboard from our atheistic friends reads recently (we… Continue reading

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Giving Thanks to God for All Things

November 10th, 2015 by Fr. Vasile
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Holy 40 martyrsEvery year on Thanksgiving Day, we give thanks to God for our wonderful life. We rejoice in the fruits of the earth (with or without feathers) gathered around a table of abundance. A good thing indeed! Saint Basil the Great advised us to do this as early as the 4th century:
”When you sit down to eat, pray. When you eat bread, do so thanking Him for being so generous to you. If you drink wine, be mindful of Him who has given it to you for your pleasure and as a relief in sickness. When you dress, thank Him for His kindness in providing you with clothes. When you look at the sky and the beauty of the… Continue reading

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A Union for the Kingdom

June 26th, 2015 by Fr. Vasile
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Greek-Orthodox-WeddingIn case you haven’t been following the news, the Supreme Court has recently ruled in favor of the recognition of same-sex unions throughout United States. Does this come as a surprise? Absolutely not! We knew it was just a matter of time. But how did we get here? How come that we need a court of law to decide what marriage is?

Before we start pointing fingers at the state for changing our understanding of marriage, we have to admit first that even in Christianity, there are different views of what actually marriage is. Most Christians would agree that marriage is a union between a man and a woman that mutually agree to spend their lives together, but looking deeper… Continue reading

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Equal to the Apostles

May 21st, 2015 by Fr. Vasile
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Constantine-signBlessed be the providence of God that makes all things evolve towards the order that best suits our progression in the Kingdom of heavens. All that God chooses to happen is for our edification in Him and for our development into His divine mold. This year for instance we celebrate the Holy Ascension (a moving feast) in the same day with the celebration of the Sts. Constantine and Helen (a fixed feast). One may say it is just random, at the end of the day even a broken clock shows the right time twice a day, but I don’t believe in coincidences.

Let me explain my train of thoughts in this particular instance. The Ascension of our Lord commemorates the… Continue reading

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From Hearsay to Social media – a Tale of Rumor Spreading

May 19th, 2015 by Fr. Vasile
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pillow“Strong minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, weak minds discuss people.” – Socrates

There is a story that circulates in Christian and Jewish circles about gossip. I was not able to track its origins but the story goes like this.

“There was a woman that liked to talk about other people’s affairs and spread unkind words around. One day however she felt remorseful and went to the priest to confess her sin. The priest listened to her confession and asked her if she truly understood the consequences of such hearsay activities. She uttered a rather unconvincing yes. Reading between the lines, the experienced priest offered her a penance, a small feat, he said, that will… Continue reading

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The Icon of the Kingdom

March 5th, 2015 by Fr. Vasile
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St. John the Baptist GOC, Euless, TX - AltarEvery year, in the first Sunday of Lent, we celebrate our Orthodox heritage. It is a wonderful festivity involving a touching procession with icons, lifted up high, around the church and ending in the declamatory proclamation of the Synodikon of Orthodoxy.  Since we do it every year, it became so engrained in our fiber that we rarely stop to ponder about what does it really mean to us. It is important to know, after all, what we celebrate; otherwise it makes no sense to go on with a party that we know nothing about.

So let me start by asking you a simple question. What is Orthodoxy to you? A place called… Continue reading

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Blessed is the Way – On Suffering Death and Resurrection in the Orthodox Church

February 3rd, 2015 by Fr. Vasile
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Judgement 001This is a talk I gave on January 31st at the NTOM conference “Falling Asleep in the Lord: An Orthodox Perspective on Dying, Death and Grief” at St. Demetrios Greek orthodox Church in Fort Worth.

Blessed is the way in which thou shalt walk today, O soul, for a place of rest is prepared for thee (Prokeimenon of the Apostle, Funeral Service)

Reverend Brothers, Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

When confronted with the reality of death most people reveal a deep-seated fear of such an event beyond any human control. This is especially acute nowadays when the science of medicine has made great strides in curing diseases that only a century… Continue reading

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The Sunday of the Romanian Saints – a universal celebration of all the Saints

June 23rd, 2014 by Fr. Vasile
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An icon of all Romanian Saints

An icon of all Romanian Saints

By Prof. Dr. Rev. Dumitru Staniloae

Romanian Christianity has given fruit to many and wonderful saints, even though, the humility characteristic to our nation, or other unfavorable historical circumstances in which they lived in, have not allowed our Church to canonize but a very few of them and only in 1955.

The Romanian saints were real and they have been recognized by popular piety, even though the Church has not formally canonized them and has not dedicated them certain calendar days; this is why their deeds have not been praised through special church hymns.

Actually, for the longest time, the saints have been… Continue reading

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