Reflections on the Orthodox faith and life in this crazy 21st century world by an Orthodox priest and a few of his friends.
Tuesday, July 3, 2012
Fr. James' Thoughts on Fr. Peter Gillquist
(Fr. James’ note: the following is a slightly modified excerpt from my book From Baptist to Byzantium.)
After living among the Bosnian Serbs for quite some time, I became painfully aware that our organization had enjoyed very little “success” in persuading people to become Baptists. The Serbs were so stubbornly loyal to the Orthodox Church. I asked myself, “What is it about this faith that inspires such loyalty? Few of the people here ever darken the door of a church, and yet they will not leave their tradition. In fact, many have been willing to fight and die for it!” I decided I needed to study more about Orthodoxy. But I had VERY little material to study!
Then one day I received a phone call from one of my missionary colleagues. She said, “James, I have a book here that you might find interesting. “I had absolutely no idea that this book would totally and irrevocably change my life!
I asked her, “What is the book about?” She replied, “It is about a group of men that used to work for Campus Crusade for Christ but who all converted to Orthodoxy.” I thought to myself, “Why on earth would anyone want to do that?” I had to read the book and find out.
What really caught my attention about this book was the fact that it was not just about Protestants converting to Orthodoxy, or even just about Evangelicals converting. I had heard stories before about both of these types of conversions. What amazed me was that the book was about a group of leaders of Campus Crusade for Christ converting. Campus Crusade is an evangelical organization devoted primarily to evangelizing college students. Nearly all evangelical missionaries, myself included, held Campus Crusade in high esteem; its workers we practically viewed as saints. In our thinking, they ranked right up there with missionaries and martyrs in the evangelical “hall of fame.”
So now I was being told that not only did Orthodoxy inspire great loyalty among the Serbs and other Eastern Europeans, but it had also attracted some of the most dedicated American evangelical Christians in the world. Needless to say, I had to find out what these high ranking leaders of an esteemed evangelical ministry, along with two thousand of their followers, found so persuasive about the ancient faith.
The book that my colleague mentioned is, of course, Becoming Orthodox, by Fr. Peter Gillquist. It is a quick, easy read, and the story it narrates is gripping. I read the book in one day. After I finished it, I remember thinking, “He raises some interesting points, but I’m not sold.” I was not able to reject his arguments outright, but neither could I immediately accept them. So, for a while I put the book aside and tried to forget about what I had read. I tried to just go on with my life and ministry. It didn’t work.
I read more and more books and started attending the Divine Liturgy in one of the local Orthodox parishes. And you probably know the rest. Both I and my wife Jennifer ended up quitting our positions, returning home, and converting to Orthodoxy.
A few months after we returned home from the mission field, I had the privilege of meeting Fr. Peter in person and hearing him speak at an Advent retreat in Houston. Immediately after he finished, I walked up to him and said, “I would like to thank you for ruining my career!” Of course, he was puzzled, and politely asked, “Ruined your career? What do you mean?” I told him our story and how grateful I was that he had written Becoming Orthodox. I wanted him to know that fifteen years after the book first appeared, God is still using it to bring people into his Church.
I heard Fr. Peter speak about four more times over the next few years. It helped that he frequently came to Houston. Gradually, I developed a relationship with him. Late in 2009, after my book was published, I came home from work one day to hear a wonderful surprise. Fr. Peter had personally called to congratulate me about the book. He said he had not been able to put it down. Unfortunately, I was not home when he called, so I had to hear these very kind words from this very busy man on an answering machine. But they made my day…and possibly even my year!
Fr. Peter was a dedicated servant of Christ and his Church who loved nothing more than sharing the Good News of the Gospel of Christ and helping non-Orthodox people understand Orthodoxy. I don’t think I’ve ever met a Protestant convert to Orthodoxy who has not been influenced by Becoming Orthodox and/or one of Fr. Peter’s other books. I can honestly say that if it had not been for Fr. Peter, I probably would not be Orthodox today, much less a priest.
He will be greatly missed. May the Lord grant him a place in his Kingdom. I suspect that He already has.