The north gate to the walled city of Suwon, where James lived
In February of 2003, just as I was entering my catechumenate, the Orthodox Christian Mission Center sponsored a Korean Orthodox priest to visit parishes in North America. Father Daniel Na came to St. Stephen’s on a weekday evening, where he gave a presentation on Korean Orthodox Christianity to just a handful of people.
At the time, I was looking for work as an English teacher in Japan. I made the rookie mistake of thinking that Korea and Japan have anything to do with each other, and asked Fr. Daniel what he could tell me about Japanese Orthodoxy. He replied, “I don’t know about that. But you should come to Korea.”
I spent the summer trying and failing to find work in Japan, and by August had indeed landed a job in Korea. My school was located on the north side of Suwon, a short commute both from Seoul and from Fr. Daniel’s parish in Incheon. Paul, a friend from Africa who was also a recent convert to Orthodoxy also found work teaching English near Incheon, so he and I became communicants at St. Paul Orthodox Church.
St. Nicholas Cathedral in Seoul was also nearby, so I’d go there for weekday services and for confession. My father confessor was a priestmonk from Greece, and it was under Fr. Ambrosios’ guidance that my catechism continued in earnest. He had me read some important books—St. John of Damascus’ Lives of Barlaam and Ioasaph, Archimandrite Vasileios’ Hymn of Entry, and Zizioulas’ Being as Communion. St. John’s long parable is the best catechism I could have asked for, and the latter books did much to re-orient my life and worldview around Christ and the communion of his Church.
Father Daniel Na, James' priest at St. Paul Orthodox Church in Incheon
But far more important than text was Fr. Ambrosios’ patient love as he worked with me through my confessions, through my disordered attitudes towards life and towards my neighbor. I was Orthodox but still didn’t really know what it meant to live a Christian life; under Father’s guidance these things started to straighten out.
Father Daniel and all the faithful of St. Paul’s immediately welcomed Paul and me into parish life. We served as acolytes, taught English to the youth, and were even invited to say the Creed and Our Father each week in English (the rest of the service was entirely in Korean). Over hearty bowls of noodle soup after Liturgy, Fr. Daniel would translate his sermon for our benefit, and we often spent the bulk of every Sunday with the parish community.
It was this experience, early in my life as an Orthodox Christian, that helped me become comfortable with “ethnic” expressions of the faith in cultures quite different from my own. Of course it was tough to worship in a foreign language, but even when I didn’t know the words I did know that we were singing “Lord have mercy,” or that Father was proclaiming, “This is my body, broken for you.” And being invited—within weeks of arrival—to full participation in parish life introduced me to what will be a constant theme: becoming completely a part of the Church in places and countries where I’m identified as a minority or alien in every other aspect of life...