Sidney at Harbor Bank asked me, "Michael, what possessed you to be Orthodox instead of Baptist?" Examine this question. I am sure that you can easily see what is wrong with it. Why should I be Baptist? Just because I happen to be black? How absurd!

I responded that I believe in what the Church teaches. Then he responded by asking, "Have you looked at your skin lately?" What does that have to do with being Orthodox?

On another occasion Jerel asked me, "Michael, are you the only African-American at your church?" I did not get into the issue that I am not an African-American, but an America and simply answered "yes." He then asked, "Don't you feel out of place there?" My response was that the only place where this is an issue was here [at work].

I have on occasions heard people wondered "Why is he, being a black man, Orthodox?" This is the wrong question. The question should had been "Why am I, being black, not Orthodox?" If people knew their history, they would be Orthodox.

When I was in the sixth grade, I was playing down the block from my home and saw my classmate Joseph. I said to him, "Joseph, what are you doing in my neighborhood?" He said that he was there for church. I said, "This is a Catholic church?" He answered, "Yes, Ukrainian Catholic." This was my exposure to the Byzantine Rite of the Catholic Church. This was Holy Family Ukrainian Catholic Church.

I started going there for Liturgy on Saturday morning and I even learned many of the correct terms. We did not have Mass, we have Liturgy, for example.

In my senior year of high school Fr. Ray from St. Gregory of Nyssa Byzantine Catholic Church celebrated a Byzantine Rite Divine Liturgy for us and it was completely in English. Fr. Joseph Keffer of blessed memory was surprised that everything was in English, including the "words of consecration."

After I graduated from high school I attended the Summer School of Catholic Action, later changed to another name with the same letters. We had a Divine Liturgy served by a Russian Catholic priest in English. I used my Ukrainian Catholic Liturgy book to follow the service. The English was a different translation, but the Liturgy was basically the same.

One day I went to the Liturgy at Holy Family in their second location. They had moved from Illinois Avenue to Blagden Avenue. I lived within walking distance of the church. I walked home in a different direction and found St. Gregory Byzantine Rite Catholic Church and the sign said that the services were in English. So I started going there eventually.

After my first Sunday Liturgy there, Carol Parker and somebody else came up to me and invited me to join them for coffee hour. They also had a dinner that Tuesday and asked me to come. When I came and asked how much, they told me that I'm their guest. I was hooked.

In time I petitioned the Holy See to change rites and it was granted. I do not have a copy of the document since it was so long ago and it is unimportant now since I am Orthodox. But I did go through the procedures.

I met Ruth Witzel at the Catholic Club of Capitol Hill and we were married at St. Gregory Church. Fr. Armand Jacobin of blessed memory also served at the wedding. We had invited Fr. John Kurutz of Holy Resurrection Capathro-Russian Orthodox but he could not attend since he was kicked by a horse shortly before the wedding. The program had his name on it. Fr. Armand was out of the country. So we were very surprised to see him show up for the wedding.

Ruth and I moved to New Hampshire and there I finished my college education and several months later Ruth left me and a year or so later she was married to another man. I was out of work. So I entered the Air Force. At that point I made the decision to become Orthodox.

In New Hampshire Ruth and I were active at St. Joseph Melkite Catholic Church in Lawrence MA, where she taught church school, and at Our Lady of the Cedars Melkite Catholic Church in Manchester NH.

Two factors at the time was the fact that there were more Orthodox churches available to me than Byzantine Rite Catholic Church and also as an Orthodox I could remarry. I had already rejected the filioque in the Creed and the doctrine of infallability of the bishop of Rome.

Fr. Gregory Pelesh received me into the Orthodox Church on or around Pentecost Sunday during Basic Training. I have never looked back.

Other factors which led me to Orthodox were things like the guidance of some of the Melkite Catholic priests with whom I had contact. They recommended that I read the book by Timothy Ware The Orthodox Church. I loved the book. Since then he had become Metropolitan Kallistos.

Another factor was a hierarchal Divine Liturgy at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception with His Beatitude Maximos, the Melkite Patriarch, presiding. There were three Orthodox bishops in attendance and I made the comment that I wish that they also were serving and their answer was full of love and sadness. They did not imply that we were heretics or even schismatics.

On another occasion at the Post Office I met a gentleman who was Greek Orthodox and I commented, "You succeeded from us" and he replied, "No, you succeeded from us." At the time I did not fully understand his statement, but it was enough to make me think.

It was only after returning to Washington DC did race every enter my mind. Many black people see me as a traitor and this is indeed very sad. I returned home where they also need to return.


Page updated Thursday 29 October 2009.


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