19 For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ
In verses 19 and 20, St. Paul makes two interesting comments that both involve death.The death he speaks of is not physical death, but a death of a different kind. First, he says “I died to the Law.”What does it mean to die to the Law, that is, to the Law of Moses?According to the Orthodox Study Bible, “We die through the law, not by bypassing it or dishonoring it, but by recognizing [three things]:1. It is holy.2. We deserve its consequence, death, and 3.We voluntarily die to the law through our death with Christ.3. We voluntarily die to the law through our death with Christ.Being crucified with Christ, through baptism, we come alive to the law of the Spirit, which perfects the intention of the OT law.There is no contradiction between Law and Gospel.The law is ‘holy and just and good.’ (Rom 7:12).However, the Law is ‘weak’ (Rom. 8:3) and ‘obsolete’ (Heb 8:13), for it is fulfilled in the gospel, in Christ himself.”
As St. Paul writes in another place, the Law was given to Israel as a tutor to prepare them for the coming of Christ.But when Christ came, there was no longer any need for the Law.Christ renewed the moral aspects of the Law, like the 10 Commandments, but his having fulfilled the Law makes it unnecessary for Christians to fulfill the dietary and other legal requirements.So when we place our trust in Christ for salvation, we die to the Law.
Then St. Paul makes another intriguing statement; he says “I have been crucified with Christ.”Recently, I read an article about Christians in the Philippines who take that literally.Each Holy Week, many Filipinos literally allow themselves to be nailed to crosses and lifted up.Of course they don’t stay there long enough to die; they come down after a day or two.Is that what St. Paul means?Are we all to do the same?With all due respect to the Filipino Christians who do this practice, I think not.
Again, the Orthodox Study Bible explains it well:“I have been crucified with Christ means our sinful ‘passions and desires’ (5:24) have been crucified.This is not the crucifixion of human nature, but of the flesh, the corruption into which humanity has fallen.This crucifixion must be willingly and freely accepted, just as Christ freely accepted in death.”In other words, when St. Paul says I have been crucified with Christ, he means the old me, the person I was before I met Christ, the person who was ruled by passions and sinful desires, has been crucified with Christ.That old person has been put to death and is no more.
Like St. Paul, we must all be crucified with Christ.We must put to death the old man, the person that we used to be.And this is not just a one-time event; it is a daily struggle.But if we do this, we also receive a new life, which is the third thing I want to discuss today.
it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.
After speaking of the crucifixion of his old man, St. Paul goes on to say, “it is no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me.”By saying “it is no longer I who live,” St. Paul means it is no longer the OLD me that lives.It is no longer the me that did not follow Christ.It is no longer the me that was dominated by the passions and the desires of the flesh.
Instead, he says, Christ lives in me.In other words, he is saying that I allow Christ to be the Lord and Master of my life.I let him live through me.I let his Holy Spirit control me rather than just controlling myself.St. Paul is setting for us an example; we should seek to live just as he did.We should not control our own lives, but rather live lives that are under the control of Christ and his Holy Spirit. We too should allow Christ to live through us.St. John the Baptist, speaking of our Lord, said, “I must decrease, while he must increase.”This is something all of us should strive to do.
St. Paul goes on to say “the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God.”What a wonderful example for us.St. Paul lived a life that was characterized above all else by faith in Christ.Despite all of the great suffering that he underwent, St. Paul never doubted Christ.He never doubted that God loves him.He never doubted that God would reward him.
Like St. Paul, we need to not just HAVE faith but to live by faith.Our faith should not just be something that we express on Sundays.It should affect all aspects of our lives.It should impact our friendships, our relationships with our family, our marriages, our business dealings, and so on.Our faith in Christ should be the foundation of our lives, the center of our being.
Finally, notice how St. Paul writes that Christ “loved me and gave himself for me.”Note that he does not say that Christ “loved us and gave himself for us.”St. John Chrysostom marvels at this, saying, “How is this, O Paul!Why do you appropriate a general benefit, and make your own what was done for the world’s sake?For he says not, ‘Who loved us,’ but ‘Who loved me.”
Chrysostom goes on to explain why St. Paul speaks as if he were the only one for whom Christ gave himself:“This language teaches us that each individual justly owes as a great debt of gratitude to Christ, as if he had come for his sake alone, for he would not have grudged this condescension though but for one, so that the measure of his love to each is as great as to the whole world.”
In other words, all of us owe a great debt to Christ.Christ died for all mankind, but if I was the only sinner in the world, or if each of you were the only sinner in the world, Christ loves each of us so much, he would still have gone to the Cross just for me and just for you.
Given this, let us daily take up our Cross and follow him, as today’s Gospel says.Let us daily crucify the sinful old person in us.Let us allow Christ to live through us.And let us live a life of faith in the Son of God, who loved himself and gave himself for each of us, and all of us.
To him who is our life, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, be all glory, honor and dominion, now and ever and unto ages of ages.Amen.
Here is the first half of the sermon I preached on the Sunday after the Elevation of the Precious Cross.
16 knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified. 17 But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ therefore a minister of sin? Certainly not! 18 For if I build again those things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor.
Justification is a concept that is discussed a great deal by Protestants, somewhat less by Catholics, and virtually never be we Orthodox Christians. But it is an important biblical teaching, and we dare not be ignorant about what it is and how it is obtained.
One of the rallying cries of Martin Luther and the other Protestant reformers was “justification by faith alone.” This is one teaching that nearly all Protestants, and certainly 100% of evangelicals, agree on. But before we discuss how justification can be obtained, let us first make sure we understand what it is.
Justification means the act or process of being made justified, or being made right before God. As we all know, the Bible teaches that our sin make us unrighteous before God and separates us from him. Justification reverses this and restores our relationship with God. For most Protestants, justification is a static event. It happens once in our lives; it is a one-time event that occurs at a single point in time, and it can never be reversed. It happens when a person believes in Christ, acknowledging that Christ is Lord and Savior, and trusting in Christ alone for salvation. When a person is justified, he is declared by God to be “not guilty” henceforth and forever more, regardless of what he does after the point when he is justified.
Now there is certainly some biblical support for such a position. The most famous instance occurs in St. Paul’s epistles to the Galatians and to the Romans. In both of these epistles, St. Paul quotes a verse originally found in Genesis, which says “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” To those who believe that justification is a static event, this verse is hands-down proof for their position. But as we’ll see in a moment, justification is not static, but dynamic; it is a process that lasts a whole lifetime.
It is important to know what justification is, but it is equally important to know how it is obtained. St. Paul clearly states in today’s passage and elsewhere that justification is not obtained by following the Law of Moses. This teaching was radically opposed to what the Jews of his day—and many Christians, too—believed. Justification comes through faith in Jesus Christ. But it is not by faith alone. St. James says this very clearly in his epistle: “You see then, my brothers, that a man is not justified by faith alone, but by works.” Note that this is the only place in all of Scripture where the phrase “faith alone” is used. Nowhere does the Bible tell us that we are justified by faith alone.
And lest someone say that St. Paul believed one thing and St. James another, listen to what St. Paul wrote to the Romans (in the epistle that most Protestants consider to be the “justification by faith alone” manifesto): “God will render to each one according to his deeds: eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor and immortality.” What is more, our Lord Jesus himself said “By your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” So when we read the New Testament as a whole, we see that while we most certainly must believe in Christ to be justified, we are not justified by faith alone. Our faith must be accompanied by works. Otherwise, it isn’t really faith.
At the most fundamental level, our justification doesn’t even come from our faith. It comes from the faith of Christ himself. For the Greek text of verse 16, when literally translated into English, reads, “A man is not justified by the works of the Law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ.” (Every English translation botches this except for the King James Version...which is not surprising, since most English translations have been done by Protestants!) Ultimately, it is the faith of Christ—his belief, his trust, and his obedience to the Father—that justifies us. Without Christ’s own faith in his Father and the Father’s plan for the world, we could not be justified. Our faith in Christ just makes us able to reap the benefits brought about by Christ’s faith.
Finally, we read in verse 17, “if we seek to be justified by Christ”…in the English translations anyway. The Greek literally translates as “If we seek to be justified in Christ.” This single word “in” (rather than “by”) makes a big difference. For justification is not merely legal, but actual; it is brought about by our real, personal union with Christ in his glorified human nature.
Here's a classic "Surf Rock" song from the early 60's by the best guitarist that you probably never heard of. This song is based on a Greek folk song. Those of you who are Orthodox will recognize that this song sounds a lot like Byzantine Tone 6. Enjoy!
Here is the second half of the sermon I preached on the Sunday before the Elevation of the Precious Cross.
What do we learn from this passage?
First, we learn that God loves the world.This would have been a striking statement for St. John’s Jewish readers.They thought that God only loved the people of Israel.After all, were not the people of Israel God’s chosen people?Of course they were, and God loved (and loves) them dearly.But his love is not limited to the Jews.Contrary to what most of the people of Israel thought, God loved even the Gentiles.He loves the entire world.And he proved it through the Cross.
For what was the Cross if not a sign of God’s love for the world?An old saying goes like this: The world asked Jesus, “How much do you love us?”He stretched out his arms on the Cross, said “this much,” and died.Yes, my brothers and sisters, even though it may not always seem like it, God loves you more than you can understand.And he even loves the people that you can’t stand.He loves the unlovable.And he proved it by sending his Son to die on the Cross, making a way for us to have victory over sin and death.
The second thing we learn from John 3:16 is that Jesus was a gift to the world.For you see, the Father did not have to send Jesus to earth.He could have let him stay in heaven and avoid the hardships of being human.Jesus could have avoided the suffering he faced:the mocking, the beating, the indignity of being nailed to the Cross.As Jesus himself said, he could have prayed for ten legions of angels to come and deliver him from the Cross.And we certainly didn’t deserve to have Jesus come, let alone die for us.But he gave his life for us anyway—voluntarily—because of his love for us.And God the Father gave him to us out of his love for us.
Third, we learn that we must respond to this gift by believing.Only in this way will we not perish but receive eternal life.But what does it mean to believe?In the New Testament the Greek word pisteuo (“believe”) means more than just intellectual assent to a particular truth.It is more than just accepting the facts about Jesus, such as his virgin birth, his divinity, his death on the Cross, his resurrection, and so on.These things are an important part of belief, but there is more.Accepting these facts about Jesus is necessary for salvation, but it is not sufficient.
“To believe” in the New Testament always includes an element of trust.We trust that Christ is who he said he is, and that only he can deliver us from our sins and grant us eternal life.But, wait, there’s more!Belief is not just the inner mental act of placing one’s trust in Christ.It goes beyond even that.True saving belief in Christ involves a commitment to join Christ’s other followers as his disciple and to make a continual effort to live like one.
In his excellent commentary on the Gospel of St. John, Fr. Lawrence Farley points out a common and widespread misunderstanding regarding what it means to believe in Christ.As he writes, for many American Christians, “‘to believe’ indeed means the psychological and volitional act of placing one’s trust in something.‘To believe’ describes the moment of saving faith, and this mental act and commitment is to be radically distinguished from anything bodily that might accompany it (such as, for instance, baptism).Believing, according to this teaching, refers to the cerebral and inner processes alone; it describes the moment of inner assent.”
But again, this is not what St. John means when he uses the word “believe.”As Fr. Farley points out, “For John, to believe in Jesus refers not just to a moment of assent, or even the fact of assent.It refers to the quality of one’s life as a disciple.It means to live as one of Christ’s followers and as a part of His Church.This corporate (one may also say ecclesial) dimension of believing is never far from John’s mind” (58).
So believing is not just a one-time experience.It also involves, again in Fr. Farley’s words, “remaning…abiding…possessing ‘staying power.’It is only as those who belive Him also ‘continue in His word’ that they will be ‘truly His disciples’ and will find true freedom” (59).
Finally, I would like to comment briefly on the final verse of today’s Gospel passage: John 3:17.John 3:16 is so well-known that the verse after it often gets overlooked.But it shouldn’t, because it is a beautiful verse in its ownr right: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” This also speaks about the greatness of God’s love.For you see, God had every right to condemn the world.Despite all he has done for the world, the overwhelming majority of the world has rebelled against him.As St. Paul writes, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”And yet, in the Cross, God’s mercy has triumphed over his judgment.
So we see that the purpose of Christ’s coming was to save the world, not to judge or condemn it.But this does not mean that there will never be any judgment at all.Christ came into the world, gave his life on the Cross, and rose from the dead to make it possible for the whole world to be saved.But the problem is, the whole world will not believe in him.Some will reject him.And those who reject God’s loving offer of salvation through faith in Christ will indeed one day face both judgment and condemnation.This condemnation will not be something that God arbitrarily assigns to people, regardless of their belief and actions.Rather, it will be nothing more than God respecting their wishes.As C. S. Lewis once said, when we say to God, “I don’t want you in my life,” and we keep repeating it over and over, God finally says, “Very well, then, I’ll go away…forever.”
In other words, to reject Christ--to fail to believe in him, to follow him, to live our lives for him—is to invite judgment upon ourselves.But we don’t have to do this.We can choose to look to Christ and his Cross for healing.We can choose to believe in him, and as long as we have a true faith, a faith that involves action, we can receive the incredible gift of eternal life.We can avoid condemnation on the Day of Judgment.
So, my brothers and sisters, let us, as our Lord Jesus said, take up our crosses daily and follow him.Let us place our trust in Christ for salvation and live out our faith day by day.For if we persevere in our faith until the end of our lives, he has promised us eternal life.This is the Gospel in a nutshell.This is the central truth of the Christian faith! “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
Here is the first half of the sermon I preached on the Sunday prior to the Elevation of the Precious Cross.
On September 14, the Orthodox Church celebrates the Exaltation of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ. Today, we look forward to that celebration by hearing some well-known and well-loved words of Jesus, spoken to Nicodemus during his evening visit to the Lord. But it is impossible to understand Jesus’ words here without first understanding a particular incident that occurred during the wilderness wanderings of ancient Israel. Let us therefore begin by looking at a passage from the Old Testament book of Numbers.
At one point in their wandering journey from the Red Sea toward the Promised Land, the Israelites attempted to cross through the land of Edom, which is southeast of what would later become the kingdom of Israel. But the Edomites would not let them cross, and so Israel was forced to go far out of the way to get to their destination. From here, the story reads as follows:
They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!"
Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, "We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us." So Moses prayed for the people. The LORD said to Moses, "Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live." So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived (Num. 21:4-10).
So we see that through their sinfulness, which manifested itself in constant whining and complaining and a general lack of trust in the Lord, the Israelites brought punishment and even death upon themselves. But in his great compassion, God provided a means by which the people could be healed, in the form of a bronze snake lifted up upon a pole. All the sick people had to do was to look upon the bronze snake. And in so doing, they would be reminded of the cost of their sinfulness, and they would be healed.
Now fast-forward to Jesus’ discussion with Nicodemus. Nicodemus had come to Jesus with many questions. But Jesus did not even wait on him to ask, for he already knew what was on Nicodemus’ heart. He explained to Nicodemus that no one can enter the Kingdom of Heaven without being born from above. Nicodemus did not understand Jesus’ words, so Jesus explained things in a different way, comparing the work of the Holy Spirit to the blowing of the wind. After this, Nicodemus was still confused.
So Jesus chose to use an analogy that drew upon the story of Moses, Israel, and the serpents. Surely, Nicodemus would understand this! Jesus told him, “No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish buthave eternal life” (John 3:13-15).
We don’t know what Nicodemus’ response to these words was—if indeed he had any response at all. It is doubtful that Nicodemus fully understood Jesus’ words. What did Jesus mean when he said he would be “lifted up?” Did Nicodemus understand that Jesus was making a veiled prophecy of his own death? Whatever the case, he certainly would understand later! For just as the serpent was put upon a wooden pole and raised up, so would Jesus be nailed to the wood of the Cross and raised up for all to see. The Israelites who looked upon the serpent received healing, and in the same way, those who look upon Christ with faith will be healed of their sins and receive eternal life.
And now we come to what is perhaps the most often-memorized, most often quoted and most dearly beloved individual verses in the whole Bible. It is a verse that we often see written on posterboards and held up during football games: John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten on, that whoever believes in him may not perish, but have eternal life.” Most biblical scholars believe that Jesus’ actual words end with verse 15, and that verse 16 and the verses that follow are St. John’s own commentary on what Jesus has said. In any case, the profundity of the truth explained in the verse does not change. What do we learn from this famous verse?
Tumeangushwa chini, hatukuangamizwa. Kila wakati tumekuwa tukichukua mwilini mwetu kifo cha Kristo, ili uhai wake Yesu pia udhihirike katika miili yetu. [We are] struck down, but not destroyed-- always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our body. -- St Paul the Apostle, in his second letter to the Corinthians
Greetings once again from Mwanza, Tanzania. Since I last wrote I have been to Dar es Salaam and back again. Now, I believe, I am in Mwanza 'for good'... but we shall see.
When I took the bus out from Dar to Mwanza in mid September, on that very morning fellow OCMC missionary Katie Wilcoxson took an ambulance to the Aga Khan Hospital in Dar es Salaam for an emergency appendectomy. It seemed a strange time to skip town, but on arrival in Mwanza I was immediately able to facilitate communication between Church leadership here and the team back in Dar. Fellow missionaries Felice Stewart and Michael Pagedas were with Katie constantly, and even Archbishop Demetrios of Irinoupolis/ Dar es Salaam made great effort to ensure she was being cared for.
Once Katie had recovered enough to travel, I flew back to Dar to make some final farewells, collect the rest of my luggage, and help the team depart. We shipped most of our bags by bus (quite a story) and traveled together to Mwanza by airplane. Now we five are together-- including Mama Charita Stavrou, who has been in Mwanza since March-- with our beloved Archbishop, His Eminence Jeronymos. In the to weeks Michael, Katie and Felice hope to continue on to their new home in Bukoba, as I chtontinue to hunt for a house here.
When a person arrives in a new culture as a missionary, one of the most important and difficult things is to learn to become part of that new culture. People join families as infants, and the very best way to join a new cultural "family" is to become as a child, knowing nothing and needing help in every way. Katie, in her sudden illness and gradual recovery, has been granted this difficult gift of helplessness. The grace of God is being made evident in her physical weakness, and the temporary limitations of her body are revealing a strong spirit which shines with the light of Christ.
I do not wish to make light of another's suffering, or to spiritualize profound physical pain, but I do thank God for using Katie to bless us all even in such a traumatic situation. Her side has been pierced even as was our Lord's, and the life of Jesus is also being manifested in her body. Felice and Michael have been true heroes in this situation, and while I think I have been of some help, I stand in awe of these three blessed people who I have the privilege of working alongside.
For me, myself, the news is that I need to find a house! This is not an easy thing for anyone, but house-hunting in a foreign culture just adds to the complexity. For the past thirty months, starting long before arrival in Africa, I have been living in spare rooms, hostels, guest houses, or just plain on the road. You can imagine how eager I am to be settled in a "home" once again! But I do not wish to make a poor decision in haste. Please pray that God will guide me to a house which is secure, affordable, comfortable, and a short distance from the Church office.
Many of you have been praying for Katie in these days. Your prayers have blessed and encouraged all of us, and I am personally grateful. Thank you also for your prayers on my behalf, for your friendship, good communication, and continuing financial participation in my life here. Please stay in touch!
By your prayers,
In my letter I mentioned that Katie was treated at the "Aga Khan Hospital." This is a medical facility familiar to most Africans, but they don't have them in North America, do they?
The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) is well-known throughout Africa and much of Asia as one of the largest and most reputable development/ aid organizations in the tropical and subtropical world. AKDN runs many of the very best hospitals and universities in Africa, as well as a variety of other development programs. It is centered in Pakistan and was founded by the imam of the Nizari branch of Ismaili Islam, whose hereditary title is "Aga Khan."
Ismailism is a very different sort of Islam than the Salafist Sunni or Twelver Shi'a branches which often make news in the North American press. The primary thing that most Africans (myself included) know about Ismailism is our first-hand experience of the hospitals, universities, and other charitable/ development activities undertaken by the Aga Khan Development Network.
Last year, Fr. James had my wife and I record our conversion story here on this blog. If you care to do so, you can read it here. When we were in Estonia and I first came into contact with Orthodoxy, I realized that my days receiving income from protestant churches as a missionary were coming to an end. That created a fairly significant quandary. What job would I get to support our family? Where would we live? How could both of those issues be arranged so as to allow for our family to learn about, and eventually become, Orthodox?
It was at that time that I came across a very insightful article on a blog. It was called "Orthodoxy in Dixie," written by a mission priest in western North Carolina, Fr. Joseph Huneycutt. Realizing that I needed to talk to someone from "my country" that could speak Orthodox, I sent Fr. Joseph an email, asking some questions.
So began a long "email" relationship. Since 2004, Fr. Joseph and I have corresponded fairly frequently, sometimes more often than others, but never more than a few months between contact.
Those who know my family might be interested to know that I even called Fr. Joseph on the phone one night (NC time), when he was at his secular job, where he worked for income during his mission work. We talked about the difficulties that I was going through, as I was losing my missionary job at the time. That is right, I called from Estonia! Fr. Joseph suggested that we might consider moving to his area, where we could become catechumens and become Orthodox. It sounded great to me!
I scoured the internet, looking for any job that I might be able to get in his area. However, due to various circumstances, it was not to be. My wife was still not fully on board with the whole Orthodox thing, at that point. Moving to NC didn't seem like a good idea to her. We had no family in the area, and it just seemed to be a plan that wouldn't work. It had taken several months from the first suggestion to move to NC, to the final decision to NOT do so. When I finally let Fr. Joseph know, he told me that he understood, and that he was in fact soon moving to Houston, Texas to work the parish of St. George.
So we moved back to the San Antonio area for awhile, before I took a job in Virginia, where the whole family finally decided that we did need to be Orthodox. Now, as I mentioned, I still emailed with Fr. Joseph on occasion, even during this time, but since I was no longer in the same "isolated" circumstances as I had been, those conversations tended to be more of the "how are you doing" types of emails. Of course, if you know your geography, you know that VA and NC share a common border. So as I became more involved in becoming Orthodox, I got to know several people who actually knew Fr. Joseph. In fact, we had an icon commissioned by an iconographer, who had been baptized/chrismated by Fr. Joseph.
It was during that time that I got to know Fr. James Early through this very blog site (St. Jame's kids). With his help, I was able to get a job in the Houston area, and we came to worship at St. Joseph's. My family became Orthodox. I still corresponded with Fr. Joseph, and finally had the chance to meet him in person, last year. I was able to see him a couple of other times at gatherings and to share brief conversations with him.
As you know, our beloved pastor, Fr. Matthew reposed this past July (Memory Eternal!). After the appropriate time of mourning, Fr. Joseph was assigned to pastor St. Joseph's. So now, I find myself being pastored by the first pastor that I THOUGHT I would be pastored by! It only took 6 years for our plan to come to fruition. We are only 1000 miles away from where we first thought we would be united. But here we are.
So I have to wonder, why did things not "work out" the first time, six years ago? Certainly, I don't know the full answer to that, but I have a few considerations.
1. I have been blessed to know several other priests, some of are now reposed, that I probably wouldn't have been able to know, otherwise. Fr. Matthew, Fr. James Kenna, Fr. James Early, Fr. Christopher Foley, Fr. Michael Furry and others come to mind. Each of them has had a significant impact on my spiritual journey.
2. My wife had an authentic environment in which to discover the truth and beauty of Orthodoxy for herself. Had we moved to NC, I might have pressured her and caused her to reject the truth. Instead, it all worked out.
3. I learned more about myself: my limitations, strengths, and motivations.
In any event, I am blessed. God has surrounded me with caring and godly mentors and priests. I am drawn closer to our Lord by their example. Fr. Joseph is certainly one of those who has been instrumental in my journey and I look forward to what the future holds.