Turning Points

prodigalson

On February 15, 1998, on the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, my family and I were received into the Orthodox Church by Chrismation, bringing both the end to a very long pilgrimage, and the beginning to one far longer. It is significant to myself and my family, that this year the calendar has come back around to where it was 11 years ago. Thus this Sunday, February 15, will be exactly eleven years since we were received and the Sunday and the readings are the same. Sometimes it takes a while for such things to come back around, the calendar being such as it is.

But it is a very significant time in my family’s life – a time to realize that eleven years can mean nearly a lifetime, depending upon how it is lived. To my family’s credit, they have lived these eleven years almost as though they were all we were to be given.

My wife has grown in a wise Matushka – having always been a wise woman. Her prayers and support are a pillar of our parish and my life.

My eldest daughter, who had yet to begin college when we converted, now holds a Master’s Degree, her schooling having included a year in Siberia where she gained some fluency in the Russian language. She is today married to Fr. Hermogen Holste, Rector of Nativity of the Holy Virgin Orthodox Church in Menlo Park California (a Russian language parish of the OCA). They have a child, Peter Alexis Holste, the joy of his grandparents lives.

My second daughter, who was but 15 when we converted, found the grace of God present with her from the outset of her Chrismation. A faithful child of the Church, she became very active in OCF (college ministry), served on its national board, made mission trips to both Guatemala and Mexico while in college. She is married to Fr. Philip Rogers of the Antiochian Archdiocese, Rector of St. Gabriel Orthodox Church in Lafayette, Louisiana. His father is an Orthodox priest, his brother a Deacon. She continues to work on her nursing degree and in every respect is a help and support to her husband’s ministry and always the joy of my heart.

My son, who is now 21, was only 10 when we converted. On Sundays during those first few years, he accompanied alone to be at Church an hour or more before everyone arrived as we set things up, lit candles and prepared for services. He was my first altar server. Those were invaluable hours for me as I leaned on his love and utter faithfulness to support me during a lonely transition in my life. Today he is finishing college, is married to a wonderful Orthodox woman, Anna, and is a tonsured Reader in the Church. His major is in computers and internet technology, and he is as loving and supportive, and even admiring as he was as a 10 year old boy. I cannot begin to say how proud I am of the man he has become.

My youngest daughter, now 18, was but a child when we were received. When she read the oath, “This true faith of the Orthodox Church, I do now humbly confess…” at her Chrismation – in clear and unwavering tones – the entire church wept as we heard the innocent one finds in the child-martyrs. “Til my dying breath…” one of the phrases that ends the oath brought us all to tears of thankfulness to God. She graduates high school this year having been as active in the Church and Camps as one could ask of a young woman her age. Last year she was the Audio-Visual Person for the Orthodox Summer Camp she attended, keeping a video-log of the camp and producing a wonderful DVD at its conclusion. I can hardly believe that this autumn will see her begin her college years and begin the “empty nest” phase of my home life.

I can remember, before our conversion, praying, “O God, give me my wife and my children before your heavenly throne – united in one faith and one confession.” Any parent who has converted knows the agony of that prayer – particularly if the prayer concerns those who are already in their teens. God heard my prayer and accomplished in my family abundantly above anything I could ask or think. I credit His mercy, the intercession of the Theotokos and the unfailing prayers of my wife.

At the time I thought it quite appropriate that we should enter the Church on the Sunday of the Prodigal Son. It still seems fitting. I had wandered “far in a land that is waste.” And though for years I knew (on some level) the abundance that lay waiting in the Orthodox Church – like the Prodigal, I postponed returning to my Father’s House until I could no longer bear the famine that surrounded me. Much of my conversion was wrought in my heart by the thought of what I was doing to my family by raising them anywhere other than the Father’s House. His mercy since our reception in the Church has confirmed that instinct and has not punished me for my hesitance and procrastination.

The small accomplishments that have marked my ministry as an Orthodox priest have come to me as deeply underserved kindnesses. I now have a family (as I think of many of my readers) that stretches across the globe. I could never have imagined such a ministry. If all who were touched by my ministry were aware of how greatly enfeebled that I am by my sin and my many weaknesses – they would either despise me or pray ever harder for such as myself.

I cannot understand the Goodness of God – but I have seen it in my own lifetime. Were I to perish from the earth tomorrow I could offer no word of complaint. Were I to live another 55 years – I could ask for no more than I have already received.

Today, I pray mostly for the family of parishioners that accompany me from week to week in our pilgrimage to the Kingdom of God. I pray for the Deanery which must suffer through my leadership and ask for blessings beyond our present state. The brother priests I serve with there are my daily hope.

I pray always for my beloved Archbishop DMITRI, my father in God, who indeed welcomed me home eleven years ago and became for me the Spiritual Father I had never known.

Do not take time for granted. The good God who loves mankind can accomplish so much in so little time. We must always be filled with prayer and thanksgiving.

49 Responses to “Turning Points”

  1. jwickes Says:

    As one whom you received into the Church just three years later, I too thank God for you and your family. Many years, dear Father.

  2. Wonders for Oyarsa Says:

    Father Stephen, isn’t there a rather important part of the story missing from that icon?

  3. Ian Says:

    My warmest congratulations to you and your family Father, and my prayers for many, many years!

  4. Dale Says:

    Father Bless,

    This post feels as though it is the appropriate response to the question of how we “know” God. It is not an strictly intellectual knowledge or strictly experiencial knowledge but something far deeper. far more real and evident in the lives of the saints throughout the ages. It really is rather difficult to put into words what is meant by this deeper knowing but it is so beyond the modern concept or use of the term knowledge. I will stop at this because I am likely speaking of things when I ought to hold my tongue (or fingers in this case)

    Thank you for your words and Lord have mercy.

  5. fatherstephen Says:

    Wonders,

    Yes, it contains no reference to the older brother – which doubtless gave him one more thing to be angry about!

  6. zoe Says:

    Father Stephen, God Bless.

    Thank you for sharing this experience with us. It is encouraging and a source of joy to know, especially for us who are just beginning to really “walk in the light”, that God blesses those who follow Him; not in terms of material things but in quiet joy and insights that are hard to express in words. Thank you for preaching and living the “Faith of our Fathers”, the Gospel of Christ. God bless you and your family.

  7. Jane Says:

    This post touched many chords. I was chrismated by Fr Daniel Matheson two Sundays after Pascha in 1987. We were a former EOC mission parish so were not very in tune with the Church’s Calendar, but I know it was shortly after Pascha because when we went as a group to St Elias for the Paschal service and I couldn’t receive Communion with Presbytera Vera, I told her, I’m going to be chrismated! Today I had tea with Fr Dan, now 93 (Vera is in a nursing home and I see her regularly).

    Glory to God for bringing all your children with you into the Faith. Mine were baptized in the Anglican church but brought up rather haphazardly in and out. By the time I was chrismated they had all left home (the youngest went to his heavenly home at the age of 3 and is one of my strongest reasons for desiring to be in the Kingdom). I pray for the others, now in their late 40s, good and kind and accomplished human beings, and one day may we all be together before the throne of God where they will I hope speak for me.

  8. Margaret Says:

    Thank you for this beautiful and encouraging post, Fr. Stephen! We came in as a family Pascha 2006. We are going through trying times with my teenage daughter now and so hearing your prayer and reading the posts of others is very encouraging. I will continue to pray. I especially took to heart your final words:

    “Do not take time for granted. The good God who loves mankind can accomplish so much in so little time. We must always be filled with prayer and thanksgiving.”

    Thank you and may God grant you and your precious family many, many years!

  9. Subdeacon John Says:

    Fr. Bless!

    As I read this, I was reminded of the words of His Grace Bishop ANTOUN at the ordination of Fr. Philip to the Priesthood. He commented on all the relatives of Fr. Philip by marriage and blood, who served the church as Priests, Deacons and lay leaders etc. His words were “They’re takin over”! Of course, he said this in jest. Some of the members of your two extended families I know better than others but all of you impact many, many people in a postive way to the glory of Christ and his church. Thank you for your service and may God continue to grant all of you many, many blessed years!

  10. Nate Rose Says:

    Fr. Stephen,

    Every time I read your blog, I am aware that you are indeed a man with a heart turned in thankful prayer towards the good God.

    I especially enjoyed reading, “Do not take time for granted. The good God who loves mankind can accomplish so much in so little time. We must always be filled with prayer and thanksgiving.”

    Thank you so very much for sharing your life, your faith on this blog. May God watch over, protect, and bless you and your family. Amen.

  11. Fr. James Early Says:

    May God grant you and yours many years!

  12. Yudi Kris Says:

    What a story father. I wish I also may have the story like this of yours. It’s awesome!

    Bless me, father!

  13. Prilej anamnetic « Teologie pentru azi Says:

    […] sursa. Publicat […]

  14. zoe Says:

    I’m waiting, hoping and praying for my son to come home to the Kingdom of God. I know that God will bring him and his wife Home and I pray that I may see this event in my lifetime on this earth. God works in mysterious ways (or “secret hand”–phrase, I hear Fr. Stephen uses in his teachings); for it is partly through my son’s rebellious desposition towards me that I realized my own rebellion against Him (God) and His great love for me and all mankind.

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen, for your admonition to not take time for granted
    and to always be filled with prayers and thanksgiving. Please continue to remember my son and his wife in your prayers.

    May God bless you and your very loving family.

  15. david peri Says:

    The Lord´s blessing upon the faithful. It is my prayer that my wife and family would turn to the Lord. Your prayers are desired for this.

  16. Dean Arnold Says:

    I have seen the grand stone church in Oak Ridge that you gave up to become Orthodox.

    What a far greater house you received in exchange.

  17. OldToad Says:

    Isn’t the older brother seated at the table on the right?

  18. fatherstephen Says:

    That’s likely

  19. Meskerem Says:

    Father, congratulations to you and your family.

    I have been Orthodox all my life, this is a blessing that the LORD continues to bring to our church, people and families like you to serve us in the FAITH.

    I have learned a lot from your messages on this site. And this one reminds me of to look around all the Blessings I have been gifted.

    FATHER BLESS!

  20. Wonders for Oyarsa Says:

    “That’s likely”

    Heh – more closet universalism! Isaac the Syrian would be proud. 😉

    I kind of like it. Jew and gentile united in Christ at last.

  21. Karen Says:

    Dear Father, bless!

    I am tremendously thankful for God’s faithfulness to you and your family, and for your ministry. I thank God for you, all who support you and your ministry to us, and I remember you in my feeble prayers.

    “I can remember, before our conversion, praying, ‘O God, give me my wife and my children before your heavenly throne – united in one faith and one confession.’ Any parent who has converted knows the agony of that prayer – particularly if the prayer concerns those who are already in their teens.”

    Those words pierce me to the heart. When I was married, I asked the Lord not to give me children unless He knew they would also be with Him in eternity. This is a matter that keeps me prostrate at the feet of Christ–until we all are safely home!

  22. Fr. Philip Says:

    It is funny that just before I saw this post for the first time, Kathryn was mentioning that this Sunday was 11 years of her being Orthodox. As you mention, 11 years now seems like a lifetime with how much has transpired since that moment in 1998. To what you said about Kathryn, she is “in every respect a help and support to her husband’s ministry,” I wanted to second. She surely is!

    I do ask that you continue your prayer ““O God, give me my wife and my children before your heavenly throne – united in one faith and one confession,” as we continue to work out our salvation with fear and trembling and in God’s time have children of our own. Glory to God for all things!

  23. mic Says:

    Glory be to God! God bless and multiply you and your family and grant you all many years!

    peace
    mic-

  24. zoe Says:

    How many of us can identify with the older brother, who out of his own choice, refuse to join the celebration? I can identify with him fully because of the pride and the resulting suffering brought on by his pride; that he ignores the Father’s entreaty for him to join the celebration.

    When I was a child of about three or four years old, my mother sent me to my room as discipline for having done something wrong. When it was time for dinner, all my brothers and sisters sat together with my parents and ate dinner. I remember feeling so empty and lonely for the family’s
    company; but it never occured to me at that time to apologize or ask forgiveness from my mother, for whatever wrong I’ve done, I’m sure, she would have forgiven me and let me join the family in the dinner table if I had only humbled myself at that time. But no–even as a small child, I was already too proud. Lord have mercy on me! It took me all these many years to learn the “turning point” (lesson in humility) that my mother was trying to teach me.

    Dear Father Bless.

  25. St. Susanna the Martyr Says:

    Wonderful post, Father. It brought tears to my eyes, especially because I too, despite having some sense of the riches available in Orthodoxy, wandered far too long in the far country before returning to the Father’s house when I could no longer bear the famine, as you put it so well.

    It reminded me of what we will hear at the end of our Lenten journey. The true and comforting words of the Paschal sermon of St. John Chrysostom:

    “If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness; for the Lord, who is jealous of his honor, will accept the last even as the first; he gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has wrought from the first hour.

    And he shows mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; and to the one he gives, and upon the other he bestows gifts. And he both accepts the deeds, and welcomes the intention, and honors the acts and praises the offering. Wherefore, enter you all into the joy of your Lord; and receive your reward, both the first, and likewise the second.”

  26. mrh Says:

    I took the figure in the tree in the upper left to be the older brother. Who else could it be?

  27. Sophia Says:

    I think the figure in the tree is the prodigal again, at the moment he decided to return home. He is surrounded by the swine that he was feeding.

  28. zoe Says:

    St. Susanna, the martyr, Thank you for reminding me of that wonderful,
    reassuring, and very comforting sermon of St. John Chrysostom. I look forward to hearing for the second time during the Paschal Service–
    the sermon brings tears to my eyes.

    Father Stephen, thank you for this timely
    topic. I would like to prepare my heart and mind for the coming Great Feast of our Lord Jesus Christ by asking forgiveness from you and or anyone whom I may have offended intentionally or untentionally in this blog. Please forgive me for my pride.

    May God bless us all.

  29. Deb Says:

    I’m a longtime reader who has never commented, but I wanted to wish you a happy anniversary and may God grant you many, many years. We have all been so blessed by your words. My children were similar ages as yours when we entered the church a few short years ago. Sadly, not all came with me and I did not enter with my spouse. I loved your prayer and hope someday that my family too will be “united in one faith and confession”.

  30. BJohnD Says:

    Many years, Father! It has been a wonderful 5 years since I was chrismated. I will always remember our deacon saying to me, “Welcome home.”

  31. kh.kathryn Says:

    You have made it difficult not to respond! One of the wondrous things about God is that even as you prayed in late 1997 “O God, give me my wife and my children before your heavenly throne – united in one faith and one confession” — this work had already begun. This is a credit to the prayers of many — Mama especially, I’m sure — that our hearts would have begun the journey long before. I know that on February 15th, 1998 we became orthodox in long, beautiful prayers…but I can’t possibly think that we had not in some way, journeyed ‘home’ long before that time. When we received the news that the day was coming, we were sad and thrilled, I believe I said “finally.” Happy anniversary, Fr. Papa. Thank you for blazing the trail.

  32. Theoden Says:

    Father Stephen,

    Beautiful post.

    You are indeed, most blessed. Reading the faithfulness of your wife and children brings tears to my eyes.

    I read it with holy jealousy, anger, sadness and, at times, despair.

    I can’t echo your conversion to the Orthodox faith.

    I have a wife and many children. We were a Christian family faithful in church attendance and service. O was preparing for the ordained ministry.

    My wife left the faith and had an affair. My ordination process was stopped, with good reason. Our marriage is falling apart, and the crisis of the last few years, including my wife’s departure from the faith has caused our children to doubt their own. I fear that the oldest two are wandering.

    Pray for me that God would give me my family before your heavenly throne — united in one faith.

    Dear readers, pray for me.

  33. fatherstephen Says:

    Fr. Philip and Kh. Kathryn (my son-in-law an daughter),

    What joy that you should read this small account. There was so much in the years leading to our conversion that Kathryn could surely say, “Finally.” And there was much in my heart that on your wedding day I could say, “Finally!” All because God has been so good to us. I believe His goodness also has a purpose and I pray that each of us fulfills what that purpose may be in our lives. Many years to my children! May God continue to give me fruit while I have breath in my body! And may God hear the prayers of such men as my father-in-law, Austin, who taught me much and never wavered in his faith in God. May I become a rock instead of a dead stick.

  34. Damaris Says:

    Theoden —

    I will pray for you.

  35. Margaret Says:

    Theoden, You have my prayers.

  36. PastorS Says:

    This reminds me of the putative church sign: “We wanted to be Orthodox but we couldn’t figure out the calendar”.

    That aside, I wish you all the best. You’re blessed in having children who believe. And you are blessed in knowing that you are blessed.

  37. V. & E. Says:

    Evlogite, Father.

    Thank you for your ministry.

    May God grant you, your parish, your work on this blog, and your family many, many years.

    – V.

  38. zoe Says:

    Theoden, I will pray for you.

    Most of the times loving someone means letting them have their own way and then waiting and praying that they come back home to us; as the parable of the Prodigal Son relates to us: The loving Father did not try to stop the prodigal son from leaving, He could have, but then it will not be out of his(son) own choice. It will not be “free will”. The loving Father waited patiently and was overjoyed when his son saw the error of his ways and decided to come home.

    May God bless you and comfort your heart in this trying time. But I
    believe that God (His Holy Spirit) continues to work in our hearts and in the lives of our loved ones.

    Thank you Fr. Stephen and God Bless.

  39. Mary Says:

    Many years to you and all your family, Father! Your post made me curious about when the calendar would “come around” to match my Chrismation date (Holy Saturday, April 14, 2001), and find that it will also be on the 11th anniversary – I wonder if 11 years is usual?

    I converted alone at age 47, without my husband, and our two sons were already grown. I continue to pray for them, although my priest counsels against praying for them to be Orthodox and to pray rather for their salvation, as for mine.

  40. luciasclay Says:

    Fr. Stephen, congratulations on your successful conversion and what appears to be a God blessed time as a parent.

    I forget the faith you began with, but recall you then became Anglican, and finally Orthodox. Do you ever look back and think it would have been better if you’d gone straight to Orthodox or do you feel, while still fully endorsing Orthodoxy as the True Faith, that it was a journey and in a manner that God had planned for you ?

    As I never tire of saying thank you for letting God work through you on this blog. It is truly a blessing.

    Regards

  41. fatherstephen Says:

    luciasclay,

    I am a sinner. I second guess myself and fail to trust in God’s Providence. But He has made all things work together for good. How can I judge such things?

  42. Jim Says:

    “…I could no longer bear the famine that surrounded me.”

    The hardest part about this acknowledgement is that many of us who feel famished will never have the courage to do anything about it.

  43. Theophan Says:

    Father, bless. May God grant you and your family many, many years in health and salvation! Thank for your ministry on this blog. Words don’t adequately say how much you’ve nourished me in the past year and a half since I met you and began to follow your blog. My deepest gratitude to our Lord for your (and your family’s) faithfulness. Glory be to God for all things! May He give you and your family a blessed Lenten journey.

    Theophan

  44. Fr. Peter Smith Says:

    One’s life…and one’s priesthood…may very well be measured by various things and events. Most, we pray, are “meet and right” in God’s eyes. The friendship, brotherhood, undying love and utmost respect I and my wife hold for the Freeman family are pretty much without equal – filled with admiration and seasoned with gratitude.

    We all just recently celebrated the Feast of the Meeting of the Lord…as I have many times since that unforgettable experience at Holy Apostles in Columbia, South Carolina in 1998. Elder Simeon’s words, “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in Peace…” ring in this humbled priest’s ears every year at this particular time. I thank God that He has granted such a monumental gift and the joy of enjoying such wonderful fruit in His Vineyard. May God grant you and your family MANY YEARS in His service dear Brother and Concelebrant!! Our prayers are always offered in heatfelt gratitude for you and yours.

  45. Ian Says:

    Father: I forgot to ask something in my post above; who is riding the bull at bottom right? And why? My thanks.

    My prayers Theoden.

  46. fatherstephen Says:

    The young man slaying the fatted calf.

  47. Ian Says:

    Thank you Father.

  48. Patrick Says:

    “At the time I thought it quite appropriate that we should enter the Church on the Sunday of the Prodigal Son. It still seems fitting. I had wandered “far in a land that is waste.” And though for years I knew (on some level) the abundance that lay waiting in the Orthodox Church – like the Prodigal, I postponed returning to my Father’s House until I could no longer bear the famine that surrounded me. Much of my conversion was wrought in my heart by the thought of what I was doing to my family by raising them anywhere other than the Father’s House. His mercy since our reception in the Church has confirmed that instinct and has not punished me for my hesitance and procrastination.”

    I feel as if I could have written this (although not as eloquently) as my family and I wandered in that same wasteland for many years until 3 years ago. Glory to God indeed!

  49. Tsvetan Biyukov Says:

    Jane please help!
    I will be publishing “Coming Home” – the book that features the conversion story of Fr Daniel Matheson to Orthodoxy – in Bulgaria but since this will be many years after the original publucation, I have agreed with Conciliar Press to include pictures of the priests and short notes on their current situation.

    I do not however, have a picture of Fr.Daniel, nor were the people at Conciliar able to locate any in their archive. Several years ago when the idea was first discussed I even called Fr.Daniel on the phone and we had a wonderful talk, but he told me he was too old and did not work with computers, so he would not be able to send me a pic of himself.

    If you have any pictures of Fr. Daniel, could you please send to my email address: biyukovgmail.com

    Thank you very much in advance,
    Tsvetan

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