Our journey to Orthodoxy started with my grandfather, Charles. Grandpa grew up in East Texas to poor sharecropper parents. He was the first in his family to go to college. His father even predicted that he would be back on the farm soon. Grandpa was determined. Together with hard work and an anonymous benefactor, grandpa graduated from Trinity College in San Antonio, TX. Before completing his studies, he married our grandmother, Prudence, who was from Virginia. Later, grandpa left for NJ to study theology at Princeton. For various reasons, many financial, he transferred to another Presbyterian Seminary and graduated from Dubuque in Iowa. Grandpa’s ministry was carried out in service to our troops in the USAF as a Chaplain. As he explained it to me, his job was not just to serve the spiritual needs of the troops and their families, but he was also responsible for base morale. He shared many interesting stories with us about the tenure of his career. He had served in the Navy during WWII and then served another 26 years in the Air Force, retiring as full colonel. As I understand it, he remained true to his roots, both Texan and Presbyterian. He retired in Kansas City, MO. He did not work for any length as head pastor at any of the local parishes. Instead, he supported communities wherever there was need. He was featured often as a guest speaker of sorts. He was a large man who was very charismatic in nature. Not long after his military retirement, the Presbytery called a meeting during which the leadership would discuss various theological issues within the Presbyterian Church in the USA. This led to a split within the organization, as many felt the body was becoming very theologically liberal. Incidentally, since 1982, membership has dropped by half in the United States. Grandpa did not split with the new group. He felt that God was the same yesterday, today, and always. He wanted a Church that didn’t update its theology with the shifting of the cultural and social tides. Grandpa was very opposed to Roman Catholicism, for various reasons, so that was not an option he would explore. He had befriended other chaplains with whom he had kept in touch over the years. One of these was a priest in the Russian Orthodox Church. He kept in touch with my grandparents and regularly shared newsletters with them. Well, grandpa began studying Orthodoxy and eventually converted to Orthodoxy and joined a OCA (Orthodox Church in America) parish in Kansas City. This Church had strong Russian cultural ties. This was around 1982. By this time in his life, his four children had already moved out of the house. Two of his children did not actively go to church as adults. But two sons, including my father, continued worshiping in various Protestant Churches. I was very young at this time and lived with my mother outside of St. Louis. She and her family were Catholics who mostly only attended Church on Christmas and Easter. I was not heavily influenced by any tradition or doctrine. In fact, I wasn’t taught much at all. When I did visit my granddad, he bought me Bibles and encouraged me to read them. I always admired and looked up to him. He was spiritual mentor to most of us in the family.
Neither of his other two sons converted with grandpa. In fact, both had married women who were also protestant. The wives had no interest in investigating the road that my grandparents had chosen. Their youngest son went into the Air Force and served in the JAG Corps. He was stationed in England for a time and attended Anglican Churches while there. When he moved stateside, he continued to attend Episcopalian Churches while stationed in Florida. Later, he moved to Kansas City. His wife told him, “promise me that you won’t try to force me to go to the church your parents are going to!” He agreed, as he had no interest either. As seems to be the case with many Protestants, they hopped around trying to find a place to call home. Frustrated, my aunt finally said to my uncle, “let’s go to Church with your parents next Sunday.” They did. After some time, they also converted to the Historic Church. They had just had their third daughter at the time of their conversion. My uncle moved to Houston for a new job and began attending a large Greek Orthodox Parish there. They had two more daughters who were both baptized in that parish. The Church was very ethnic and they didn’t always feel embraced. They then began worshiping at an Antiochian Parish. Antiochians had come to be known as friendly to converts. Eventually, my grandparents moved to Houston too. They all approached Fr. Joseph at the Antiochian Church and asked what it would take to start a mission. In 1993, my uncle and family, my grandparents, and a couple other families opened an Antiochian Mission in Houston. Fr. Joseph sent his assisting deacon, Thomas, to serve typica there immediately after Liturgy most Sundays. Grandpa gave many of the homilies and my uncle along with a couple other men were the altar servers.
I moved to live in Arizona near my father by this time. When I first moved there, my grandmother encouraged me to go to the Orthodox Church in my town. Well, there was a Greek Orthodox Church only two miles from where I was living, so I went there. I was 17 at the time. Nobody talked to me for the first few weeks. On the fourth week, a woman pulled me aside and let me know that she had seen me coming. She asked if I was Greek. No, I said. Then she asked why I was going to a Greek Church. I believe she also admonished me against pursuing any of the Greek girls. Apparently they were reserved for Greek boys. I didn’t go back. In 1996 I went to go visit the family in Houston. I had been attending a local Evangelical Church at this time in Arizona. I was having various personal struggles, so my uncle invited us to visit him and the rest of my family there in Houston. It was during this visit that my uncle began talking to me about Orthodoxy and invited me to Church that Sunday. I was immediately interested.
They sent me back home with a few books and new-found excitement. I quickly scheduled an appointment to meet with a local parish priest. It wasn’t long before he enrolled me as a catechumen. My dad’s interest was re-piqued at this time too. We were received, through Chrismation, at the same time at an Antiochian parish in Tucson, AZ in May 1999. My grandparents have both since passed and are buried in a Greek Orthodox Monastery outside of San Antonio. He traveled all over the world, but came full circle to be buried within a few miles of where he graduated college many years prior. Their oldest son converted a few years ago after a long, hard journey. He passed away soon after and is buried next to his parents. He also graduated college in Texas, UT Austin. After living most of his life in California, he moved back to Texas, which is where he eventually embraced The Faith. My father and his wife are both active Orthodox Christians. I am his only child. My Uncle now has 12 grandchildren and four sons-in-law, who together with his wife and five daughters, are all baptized, practicing Orthodox Christians. My wife and I have three children. We are all Orthodox. A few years ago, I was privileged to serve on our Church’s board during the construction of a new building, over twenty years in the making. It serves as a beautiful monument in our city. It’s classic Byzantine architecture and beautiful domes stand tall and proud. The Mission that my uncle and grandparents helped start is now a Church with a thriving community. It has been actively serving the community for nearly 22 years. Deacon Thomas, who used to serve typica services during its first days is now Bishop Thomas.
I hope that my cousins and I will be able to pass down the Traditions to our children and grandchildren as effectively as our parents and grandparents did for us. We have big shoes to fill. We are very thankful and grateful that, by God’s grace, the True Church was revealed to us. We must now keep hold of the directive that “to whom much is given, much is expected!”