Friday, April 3, 2015

Mormon-to-Orthodox converts: Deacon Athanasius.

I am very excited to share with you this newest conversion story from Deacon Athanasius. What follows is the autobiographical account of his conversion. Enjoy!

“God forbid that I should boast except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus” - Galatians 6:14

Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy, Lord bless us Amen.

My journey to the Holy and Apostolic Orthodox Church is one of great turmoil and upheaval yet a story of God’s grace and mercy undeserved.  It started with my father becoming Mormon in 1966 when he found my mother was pregnant with me, being born six months after their LDS wedding. My mother was a fourth generation Mormon, whereas my father was raised Anglican in Liverpool, England.

For eighteen years I attended all and every LDS service from Sunday school, cubs, scouts, MIA, acted as a Home teaching companion for my father and went to all manner of conferences culminating in me attending one year of high school @ Church College in New Zealand (1983). My father by faith gave his all to the church and to the service of the LDS people; every spare second was spent away from home to the detriment of all family relationships – and his LDS reward, promotion to Bishop, Stake Councillor, Regional Rep and Mission Presidency etc.  

It was in this period of rapid promotion of my father that I felt a deep conflict about the LDS teachings and way of life, I completed seminary (my mother was the teacher for 3 of the 4 years) and I even interviewed to serve a mission, but in a heartfelt moment of clarity I declared to the Stake President I wasn’t “worthy” as the matter was more for the “family name and reputation” than out of any personal belief in the LDS teachings, that is not to say that the LDS church is not filled with some awesome people trying their best with the limited view of Church history they have chosen to accept.

Given my doubts and need to know the truth (by asking those difficult questions Sunday school teachers hate) it didn’t mean I hadn’t experienced the grace and mercy of God a number of times (near death in a car accident and the same when drowning whilst surfing) I had in private moments of tears and prayers been left with a sense that The Lord was near and His love was evident in hindsight of my survival to this day despite my best efforts to ignore Him and go my on way.

So I left home to wonder the world for twenty seven years – travelled extensively USA, UK, Europe, Australia, all of Asia experiencing tremendous financial success and spectacular failure which culminated in becoming homeless in 2011. In my travels I had seen first-hand many religions, from Buddha to Baptist to Jew but never felt any real connection to them and in fact found myself in a state of disdain at the “one day a week Christians”, in weakness and folly I dared to judge and formed a view that religion was made by man for man’s own ego and not to glory of Christ. Then in a state of absolute despair and contemplating suicide I meet Arch Priest James – an Orthodox Priest of 20 years serving the homeless and poor on the streets in winter. I looked on in awe at how the homeless greeted him with hugs, smiles, handshakes, sharing laughter and food, it was a his deep concern and unconditional love for the poor that struck me, time and again I witnessed his generosity and simple life style, God had planted a seed in me that yearned to be watered by Him.

May 30th 2012 I was asked to attend a meal at the homeless shelter run my Arch Priest Fr James, little was I to know that it was not a communal meal but just me, a friend and the Fr James. As I entered the small humble church (in an old warehouse) with all its icons and relics I was struck by the peace emanating from the St Marcy icon… Fr James had prepared a simple meal for us to share and in his uniquely robust and forthright manner wanted to know my story to the state of homelessness.
As I shared that journey through Mormonism, Baptist, Buddhist and through successive job promotions to CEO of public company to homelessness he said nothing, but his deep blue eyes glazed with an intense and scary scrutiny that I could feel blow right through me. At the end, he simply said “God exists, your sins and free will have brought you to this point”… I did not comprehend his statement and so asked some questions about Orthodoxy, laughing he said “come to bible study and all will be revealed”, at which point I was offered a room in the shelter, eyes filled with tears and overwhelmed I felt the Lord had shed a thousand pounds of my darkness and by His mercy shown this wretched man His love.

For three months I attended any and all bible studies (twice a week) and liturgies (twice a week) I could to understand what exactly Orthodoxy was, remarkably Fr James gave me plenty of time at the end of the bible studies and I was afforded the blessing of being able to ask many questions to fill the void and remove the misinformation I had learnt about Christ, filling my heart with joy at His life, His love and plan for me.

The catalyst for asking to be baptised Orthodox was three fold;
The one Holy Apostolic church has always been on earth since Christ and is active through Bishops, priests and deacons with the Holy mystery of liturgy and the divine body/blood.
The authority given by Christ to the Apostles to “bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven” has been passed down to this present day and that same authority provided a path of repentance and absolution of hidden and visible sin.

Christ through my weakness, frailty and sin was showing me undeserved grace and mercy calling me to Him, showing me what a Christ like life is in the service of others and the selfless attitude needed to be at peace whilst mindful of ones state at all times (evidenced by Fr James but also historically by Bishops, Priests, Deacons, Saints, Monks and lay people).
At baptism Fr James asked me if I wished to follow the tradition of being “renamed” and this I agreed to by his choice of names – hence I am Athanasius - Post baptism I spent hundreds of hours in study, pray and service to the poor and in doing so found a deeper personal faith in Christ, a profound love for St Mary and witnessed numerous miracles that served to show me that “fear of The Lord is the beginning of wisdom”.




 
Being ordained by an Orthodox Bishop to the servant office of Deacon has revealed further insight of the awe inspiring mystery of Christ’s Holy body and blood, the prayers that lift one’s soul before the Holy alter and to be content (at peace) in any and all conditions of life.

Today, I share this story not to boast of myself but to show that one has free will to ask, seek and knock with an open mind, a sincere heart, surely the truth of Christ Jesus will set you free. I am no one special, yet through the grace of God He sent His apostolic priest to teach me the truth and reveal to me my weakness yet hope, my sin yet forgiveness, my need for correction and direction by example of humble and God fearing Orthodox Christians, to whom I thank God for.
Finally in the words of St Paul the Apostle “O wretched man that I am!” - Lord have mercy.

Deacon Athanasius+

For those interested in Arch Priest Fr James teachings (one of the world’s foremost scholars on the Holy Fathers, Saints and church history) go to: www.frjamesscully.com
 

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