I have heard some converts refer to their journey to the Orthodox Church as “coming home,” but that was never my experience, probably because a problematic childhood has meant for me that “home” doesn’t always have pleasant connotations. My own experience in encountering the Church was more like “Where have you been? I’ve been looking for you my entire life!” (Met. Anthony Bloom has written that sometimes God feels absent because we are not yet ready to meet Him, but that is a topic for another time.)
At my sister’s wedding, I met relatives that I didn’t even know existed. My sisters, who are older than I, may have been ten or twelve when we last saw this branch of the family, which would have made me under the age of five. For all practical purposes, I had never met them before.
Last weekend, I had the immense privilege of attending the Enthronement of our new Antiochian North American Metropolitan, JOSEPH. Our Patriarch, His Beatitude JOHN X of Antioch, traveled all the way from Syria to preside. Needless to say, the church was packed, with hierarchs and clergy not only from around America, but from the entire world—and from several different jurisdictions. It was definitely impressive.
We say in the Creed that we believe in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church; we pray to the Lord to “be mindful of the Holy Orthodox Catholic Church” and to strengthen and keep it in peace, but it is one thing to pray it and quite another to see it. An Enthronement is quite beyond anything else I’ve ever experienced—I’ve never even seen a deacon ordained before—so I can only compare it to a more commonplace experience: a family reunion.
As I looked around the church, I felt like I was rubbing shoulders with total strangers who looked uncannily like me and my sisters. Not that there was any familial resemblance. (I’m an Irish-German-Dutch-Scots-American mongrel.) I don’t mean a visual similarity. As an introvert with social anxiety, in most situations all strangers are automatically suspect. But at the Enthronement, I felt like I was in a room full of distant cousins.
I have since learned that one of the titles of Patriarch JOHN is “Father of Fathers,” although I didn’t know that at the time. But I felt it. In this packed church crowded with strangers and friends I had never met, I knew we were all there for the same reason; we were family.
Sometimes at a social event, a formal birthday or a friend’s wedding, we might meet some out-of-town friends-of-friends with whom we immediately connect. At the end of the evening or weekend, they tell us that should we ever visit their distant city—several hundred miles or many states away—we should look them up. It is sincere on both our parts. Maybe other people follow through on these offers. I don’t do a lot of traveling, so in my case, I never meet these one-day new friends again.
But as I looked around the crowd at the Enthronement, I knew. If I was ever visiting in any of the towns, cities, or countries represented that night, I would be welcome at their churches. More: I would belong. We were, after all, family, with one Patriarch, our Father of Fathers, Shepherd of Shepherds, and Master of Masters.
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