My Journey To Orthodoxy

Author: Subdeacon Robert A. Mitchell
Date Published: 05/24/2010

Subdeacon Robert is the president of  the Council of Orthodox Christian Churches of Metropolitan Detroit. This article is taken from an address given by Subdeacon Robert.

I grew up on Detroit’s near west side in a close knit loving family.

After High School I joined the U.S. Navy in Telecommunications and was stationed in Rota, Spain and aboard the U.S.S. Garcia, FF1040.

After my stint in the service I felt a love for anything foreign and began applying for overseas work.

I have worked in the following foreign countries:

  • Rota, Kingdom of Spain
  • Kwajalein, Marshall Islands, Trust Territory of the Pacific
  • Taiwan, Republic of China
  • Sinai Peninsula, Arab Republic of Egypt

When I returned to Detroit in late 1998 there was a clear void in my life but I could not put my finger on it I was in the world but somehow did not feel of the world.

Being an avid computer user, as my field is Telecommunications. In 2001 I began an internet study looking for information on accusations I had read in a newspaper article of the late Valerian Trifa who was prosecuted for concealing his involvement as a leader of the Iron Guard in Bucharest in 1941. The Guard was a Romanian group linked to the Nazi SS in World War II, that was dedicated to driving Jews out of Romania.

Just a quickly as my interest was piqued in this matter, my internet studies took a turn that I was not expecting, but now know, was the Holy Spirit working in my life. When I found out that Valerian Trifa was an Archbishop I wondered what denomination and found out it was Romanian Orthodox. From that time forward I was drawn to researching Orthodoxy to better understand it and find out what it was all about. I knew only that it was Eastern and mystical.

At first I studied the OCA and then found out that there were other Orthodox jurisdictions in the U.S. I began to trace each back to it’s ancient patriarchate in the “Old County”, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, Russia, Romania, etc, etc.

I was naive and thought there was only one Pope in the world, the Pope of Rome but I learned that there was more than one Pope. (The head of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria is: His Beatitude Theodoros II, Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa).

I did this for about a month still feeling a void in my life I realized that I needed to fellowship with Christian people. Since I was studying about Orthodoxy on the Internet I decided to take the plunge and visit a local parish.

My first visit was to the mother church of Russian Orthodoxy in Michigan, Sts. Peter & Paul on Gilbert St. in Detroit. I was most warmly received by the parishioners as well as the Priest Fr. Michael. One of their members was a Black fellow by the name of Jerome (Moses) Fisher who I later befriended. He is a “Reader” in the church, a position I did not then understand.

I next visited Holy Transfiguration where I must admit that the liturgical music that I heard that day made me think that I had died and gone to heaven and was listening to the angelic choir singing praises unto God himself. I believe it was this holy sacred music that led me to embrace Orthodoxy. Next I visited St. George Antiochian and later St. Mary’s Antiochian. At St. George I met a man named George Metrie who suggested I visit St. Raphael of Brooklyn Orthodox Church.

I told him I was not planning to go to NYC anytime soon but he let me know they were located at 23300 W. Davison St. in Detroit at the St. Andrew Center for Orthodox Christian Studies near I-96 and Telegraph Rd. I visited and have never left…

My priest Rev. Fr. Leonte S. Copacia, Jr. soon after meeting me said

“God sent you here.”

And I definitely believe that. He asked me to be a doorkeeper in the Church, what we commonly call an usher, a job I was happy to take on, remembering the scripture,

“I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.” Psalms 84:10.

Our Priest Fr. Leo and his Preoteasa Mary agreed to be my Nasu and Nasa and to sponsor me as I made a firm decision to become an Orthodox Christian. Because you see, it’s a decision that we make of our own free will.

Whether we’re born into Orthodoxy or come to it as an Adult, we must make a conscious decision to become Orthodox. After a short but intense period of study as a Catechumen, on November 18, 2001 I was baptized by Fr. Leo and Chrismated by His Eminence NATHANIEL, Archbishop of Detroit and the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America (OCA), choosing as my baptismal name, my middle name Aaron.

Immediately I joined St. Raphael of Brooklyn Orthodox Mission in Detroit.

My first year, I served the church as Head Usher, and served on the Interim Parish Council as Director of Fundraising. On December 3, 2002 I completed a nine-week course of study to prepare me to be an Orthodox Reader. By the Grace of God, having sought the recommendation of my parish priest and spiritual father and after having received the hierarchal blessing of his Eminence Archbishop NATHANIEL, I was tonsured as Reader and blessed as Subdeacon by him, on the Feast day of the Holy Martyrs Theodotos, Hesychios and Nestor on March 2, 2003 with my friend and partner in the Church Dean Katsilas who was later ordained to the Holy Diaconate on February 15, 2004.

What I love about the Orthodox Church is that it’s a total body experience, With your eyes you view the Holy Icons, with yours ears you hear the Holy Hymnography, with your nose you smell the Incense, with your touch you cross yourselves and with your taste you eat of his body and drink of his blood,

“Oh taste and see that the Lord is Good!”

Let me pause from speaking about myself and turn to you. How many cradle Orthodox are there present, especially young people, let me see a show of hands…

Let me speak directly to you… Please don’t ever take for granted so great a faith as this, our Orthodox faith, for it is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic faith. Don’t forsake the veneration of the ever blessed and most pure Mother of God.

Neither forsake asking the Saints of our Church to intercede on our behalf to the Lord. Never cease to venerate Holy Icons remembering that they offer, direct personal contact with the holy persons represented on them, we should venerate them, remembering that worship is reserved for God alone. Enjoy the rich smell of incense remembering the great hymn sung at Vespers in our Churches,

“Let my prayer come before you like incense, the raising of my hands, like an evening sacrifice!” Ps. 141:2.

You have much in this world to distract you, TV, music, friends, etc., but remember we are on this world but for brief time let us all resolve to make our time here matter. Show kindness, don’t be so quick to anger, be patient, don’t loose your cool, show love, don’t hide your true feelings with your family and close friends, during this Lenten period these thing will help you in your walk now and throughout the year.

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Matt. 5:16

Why did I become Orthodox? Where else could I go to find a mindset that would say

“The Eucharist is the Sacrament of the Church, her eternal actualization as the Body of Christ, united in Christ by the Holy Spirit?”  Alexander Schmemann

or

The Eucharist is the actualization of one, single unrepeatable event, and the essence of the Sacrament consists first of all in the possibility of the conquest of time… the Liturgy incorporates us into a reality which is in no way subject to time, again Schmemann. All that God is, except for an identity in nature, one becomes when one is deified by grace”

or

“Knowledge of God comes from illumination, the inner vision of true light, for “God is light.”

Both quotes from Maximus the Confessor.

What a rich heritage we have in the Fathers of our Church both modern day and ancient.

Now do I say that all is right in our Church, sadly no. The situation we find ourselves in, that of a lack of administrative unity in North America will require fervent prayer and supplication on our part and a strong determination on the part of our bishops of the kind shown at Ligonier, PA in 1994 to bring us out of this darkness into the marvelous light of an Orthodoxy were there is only one bishop in a city and our Patriarch is one living right here in North America.

Let us continue to pray for Orthodox Unity.

There is also the problem of the growing financial scandal at the H.Q. of the OCA in Syosset, NY.

In October 1997, Protodeacon Eric Wheeler, Treasurer of the OCA discovers that a $250,000 check sent to the Church by the Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) Foundation was not deposited into the audited bank accounts of the OCA but a secret “discretionary account”. Said account controlled by Metropolitan Theodosius into which the ADM monies, and other OCA monies, have been placed.

Wheeler subsequently refuses to sign off on the financial reports of the OCA for the years 1997 and 1998. He was fired in September, 1999 and replaced by then Archbishop HERMAN as acting Treasurer. In December 1999, publicly available documents reveal more than $1 million in contributions from ADM to the OCA – none of which appears on church records. On January 3, 2000, the web site Orthodox News reveals that more than $2 million has been placed in the secret account from 1992 – 1999.

To put this amount in perspective, the amounts placed in the “discretionary account” in 1996 alone were equal to more than 50% of the “official” OCA budget of that year.

On April 12, 2000, Orthodox News reveals more than $3 million in unreported funds have now been traced as having gone into a secret discretionary account controlled by +Theodosius between 1992-1999.

In June 2005, the Midwest Diocese adopts a resolution opposing any increase in the OCA assessment at the forthcoming All American Council (AAC) in Toronto until the integrity of the finances of the OCA can be assured.

The Diocese asks for a full accounting at the AAC but that request was denied. On February 11, 2006 40 clergy from the Diocese of the Midwest sent a letter to the Holy Synod calling for an audit and full investigation into the finances of the OCA.

On February 21, 2006, seventy senior clergy, all with over 20 years of pastoral experience, sent a joint email to members of the Holy Synod, exhorting the Bishops

“to take swift action now to restore good order, confidence and trust in the OCA’s administration”.

On 3/16/2006 V. Rev. Protopresbyter Robert Kondratick was fired as Chancellor of the OCA by the Metropolitan.

And most recently Diocesan Council of the Diocese of the West voted last week to withhold all payments to the OCA until the next meeting of the Holy Synod in May. www.ocanews.org

So as you can see there is much for us to pray for.

With all the bad and crazy things happening in our world today, it’s important to know that we have a rock and anchor.

Remember, education, wealth, prestige will all pass away. We are all citizens of two worlds a temporal one and the celestial world to come, we live here, but we are striving for the world to come, eternal life in Christ Jesus.

And finally I say don’t forsake the Holy Eucharist for it is truly the Body and Blood of our risen Lord. No Protestant Church can offer you that, only in our Orthodox Church can you dwell in Heavenly Places simply by coming to the Divine Liturgy, for when we join together with other like minded souls and come as the Body of Christ and eat of his body and drink of his blood we do so in heaven on earth surrounded by his saints.

I grieve to see so few people come to receive the body and blood of our God.

But that which ye have already, hold fast till I come. Rev. 2:25

The journey is not over; it has just begun as I learn of him and perfect myself in the faith striving as we all do for theosis.

What an experience, what a faith, what a Holy Church!

In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen!