Fr. Peter

edited December 1969 in Random Issues
Hey Fr. Peter, just a random question that I have been wondering about since i joined the site,

Just out of curiosity....

What convinced you to convert to orthodoxy? How about oriental vs. eastern? What denomination were you before and what about it caused you to search for something new?

Once again, just curious....

Pray for me,



  • [quote author=AikotiEnsok link=topic=10475.msg127201#msg127201 date=1295240693]
    Hey Fr. Peter, just a random question that I have been wondering about since i joined the site,

    Just out of curiosity....

    What convinced you to convert to orthodoxy? How about oriental vs. eastern? What denomination were you before and what about it caused you to search for something new?

    Once again, just curious....

    Pray for me,


    same here! i have always been wondering and i am sure that this is the hundredth time someone asked you :)
  • I will share some aspects of my life story, especially those relating to my becoming Orthodox.

    I was born to parents who had converted to Christianity in their early teenage years, partially through the preaching of Billy Graham. Eventually they attended the same evangelical congregation, which was part of the Plymouth Brethren movement.

    The Plymouth Brethren had been founded in about 1829 by a few intelligent, thoughtful and well-to-do Christians from various Protestant backgrounds who deplored the divisions in Christendom, and resented the fact that they could not worship in each other's churches without joining it. As they read the Bible they decided (in brief) that they should be able to gather together simply as 'Christians' and not as Baptists, Methodists, Anglicans etc. This led to them eventually being excluded from their denominations, and a new movement was formed which quickly spread. The history is unimportant, except that in the Brethren any male member might contribute something edifiying in the Eucharist or Lord's Supper meeting, and that membership was determined by Believer's Baptism. Membership was taken seriously, and someone visiting another congregation would always have to take a letter of recommendation or would not be able to participate. The congregation was governed by elders, and there were deacons responsible for various practical matters.

    I grew up in this type of congregation. Our familiar relationships were generally within the congregation, but we also attended some meetings with other local Plymouth Brethren congregations, and had visiting preachers from the same network. But we were congregational, ordering our own affairs. It was natural that I would want to be active in my faith.

    Sundays were always busy for me. I would attend the Lord's Supper with my father, who was an elder for much of the time. Then stay for Sunday School and Bible Classes. Home for lunch, and then out in the afternoon to Crusaders, (a Christian youth organisation). The Gospel Service took place in the evening, and then there was a Fellowship meeting into the evening.

    As I grew older I was baptised, took responsibility for some of the children's work, was allowed to contribute occasionally. Most of my time was spent with other youth in the Young People's Fellowship which my father was responsible for. We did everything together, were often busy in Church, and several times a year would go away for a weekend. These were sometimes condemned by others because we might miss the Sunday morning service, but in fact they were increasingly filled with teaching and worship (according to an evangelical and slightly charismatic pattern), and so such criticism was unfounded.

    I spent five Summers in a row as part of a Children's mission team at the English seaside helping to run what we call a Beach Mission. During the latter years I had also started studying at a Bible College in preparation for an Evangelical ministry in the future, and the last church in which I helped organise a mission offered me a post as Youth Pastor, which I turned down. I spent about 5 months in Senegal staying with evangelical missionaries and testing a vocation to the overseas mission.

    I would say that I was very active in my congregation, and very committed to Christ and to service, in the context of evangelical Christianity. I was interested in the charismatic movement, although we were not charismatic in my church. Like many others we introduced a band on occasion and sang modern songs, and there was a degree of friction with the older people.

    Spiritual growth was a different matter. It seemed to me that the evangelical tradition lacked the tools and insights to help people become properly spiritual. There were busy people, and there were people who behaved in a sober manner, and there were people who knew the Bible very well. But I would not say that there were many people who were spiritual in the sense I might now understand that. My own goal was to become holy, but no-one could teach how that was possible. Quiet times were not productive because it was a case of me reflecting on scripture from a state of ignorance. And I was one of the very committed ones. So I was always seeking to be a better Christian, but never finding the answers as to how that might take place.

    Before I went to Bible College my reading material was often concerned with modern interpretations of prophecy, with charismatic descriptions of church life, and to a growing extent with Reformed Protestant theology. My own congregation was not very theological at all. Indeed I cannot remember being taught any theology at all there. And so to discover Reformed Systematic theology was a joy because it showed that there was a substantial content to the Christian Faith, and that it could be explained. I did not become very Reformed. But it helped me to understand the basics of how theological questions have been asked over the centuries.

    At the same time I started reading some Church History, and frankly found all the dates rather confusing. But this also opened up to me a world in which the Church had not started in 1829, but had been in existence from the beginning with an active and controversial narrative over millenia.

    Finally, I also started reading some Roman Catholic spiritual material and found it helpful. I had been brought up to believe that the Church of Rome was the anti-Church, but nothing I read led me to conclude that was so. I read the lives of some of the saints, and some of the mystical theology, and a few spiritual works and I began to be attracted by the 'catholic' tradition - that is 'catholic' in the sense of historic and universal.

    At Bible College I continued to read these sort of materials, such as I found in the Library. And I also discovered some of the works of the Fathers which I read with interest. I had not ever realised that there were any such writings. I remember especially reading the Early Christian Fathers, including the Didache and the Letters of St Ignatius. These were revealing in showing that the early Church had liturgy, and a hierarchy. I read the Way of the Pilgrim and a few other Orthodox works. I also was given an audio cassette of the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom in English. (It was important I think that it was in English).

    During this period I also went on retreat for the first times to a couple of Anglican monasteries, and I began to use a variety of written prayers including the Roman Catholic missal, and the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.

    By the time I left Bible College I considered myself a Conservative, Evangelical, Catholic, Charismatic. I did not want to become an Anglican, and had wondered at college that if I was expelled for being too catholic (it was an evangelical college) then I might become a Roman Catholic. I knew a little about the early Fathers, and I now knew that there were Orthodox Churches in various places, but I was not considering joining one at that time. Orthodoxy was one spiritual strand in my improving spiritual life.

    I came back home and clearly did not fit into my old Plymouth Brethren congregation. I will draw a veil over painful memories and lost friends. But eventually my father also began reading many of the same Orthodox books I had found interesting. I myself now wanted to see if it would be possible to make contact with Orthodox in the 20th century. I wrote to three addresses I had found in a Church Directory. Two were Eastern Orthodox, and suggested I became an Anglican, or sent material in their own language. I had already investigated my own local Eastern Orthodox congregation but it seemed very ethnic and more concerned with preserving their own ethnic character and culture than reaching out in English to English people. I do not want to become a foreigner. I wanted to see if I could become Orthodox.

    The third address was by chance one that put me in touch with Abba Seraphim. I had written with a completely different object than in the other two cases, but by providence I found the bishop who led me into Orthodoxy, and remains my father in Christ. At the time I had no idea about Eastern Orthodoxy and Oriental Orthodoxy, and no idea at all that there were Copts living in the UK, nor would I have known immediately what Copts were. As far as I could see Orthodox were Orthodox.

    Abba Seraphim invited my father and I to dinner, where I also met Father Michael, who became my own priest. Without putting us under any pressure he made himself available to celebrate services on a 6 weekly basis at a place that was in the middle of our locations. We would meet and pray, then we would talk about Orthodoxy. Over time several others joined, one of whom is still with me and my older brother in Christ. As time passed it was not clear what should be done. The British Orthodox Church at that time was still separated from the Oriental Orthodox communion. I don't think I wanted to join something that was not connected, even though I had the greatest respect and affection for the people who were members.

    A group of Anglican clergy started investigating the possibility of becoming Orthodox, and they communicated with the Americans in the Antiochian Church in the US who had come to Orthodoxy from Evangelicalism. I spent a weekend at a conference with them. But they were all Anglicans. And it was not clear to me even then that they all really wanted to be Orthodox, rather than trying to find a way to carry on being Anglicans. Some of them did become Orthodox later on of course. But at the time it was still a project in progress.

    I clearly started wanting to become Orthodox at some point, and I suppose that it was essentially because I was able to participate in the liturgy in English, I received personal and substantial spiritual mentoring from my bishop, and I had access to quite a few books in excellent English that explained and described Orthodoxy. There is no possibility at all I would have invested great energy in learning another language to experience Orthodoxy. I would have thought, and did, that if a Church did not worship in my language then I was not really welcome.

    What tipped the balance, easily in the end, for me was that the British Orthodox Church was invited to enter a conversation with His Holiness which led to the offer of union with the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate. This happened before the Anglicans were able to become Orthodox through a variety of means. It seemed to be the answer to my prayers. I had to start reading a lot about non-Chalcedonian Orthodoxy and the Coptic Orthodox Church in particular. Nothing I read made me consider that I disagreed with the non-Chalcedonian position. Probably at first I considered that they were essentially equivalent. I read Chalcedon Re-Examined very early on and that made me comfortable with the legitimacy of the non-Chalcedonian Christology.

    Abba Seraphim became a Metropolitan of the Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate at the Feast of Pentecost, 1994. One week later I became Orthodox in the British Orthodox Church within the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate.

    I have never regretted the decision. What is the summary of my journey? It seems that it was:

    i. Searching for a deeper Christian life
    ii. Discovering the wider historic Church
    iii. Experiencing Orthodoxy in my own language
    iv. Having someone spend a long time helping me

    Father Peter
  • i love to read your story, father peter  :)
    i also had a longing for greater depth, and i also found reading church history opened my eyes and was a great surprise.
    what non-protestant Christians don't understand is that it is really hard to find out anything about church history before 1500AD for someone in a protestant church. it's as if it didn't exist, and people are surprised and slightly suspicious when you keep asking questions!

    i, however wanted to study arabic (i started studying it a few months before finding the coptic church), so that's why i joined the main coptic church, not the british orthodox church (which is also coptic).
    some study material written by father peter was extremely useful and came at exactly the right time as i was considering joining the orthodox church  :)
  • Having no wish to take attention away from Fr Peter's testimony but wishing to add something I find interesting, I too had my first living experience with the Plymouth Brethren (although I seem to remember they were not partial to being called that). This was at the age of 15.

    Many years later when I was a catechumen with the Russian Church Abroad I came into contact with the Coptic church. I was as confused about my choice as a man who is engaged to married wonders if he should marry her sister instead!

    To this day I attend Coptic liturgies in English sometimes and my preferred prayer book is the Agpeya.
  • Lol! I do know quite a few people who have come to Orthodoxy who have been associated with the Brethren at one time or another.

    You are quite correct that we never called ourselves Plymouth Brethren, but I thought I'd use the term that others used so I did not confuse anyone with other Christian Brethren.

    Father Peter
  • I had access to quite a few books in excellent English that explained and described Orthodoxy.

    I'm curious which books they were. To be honest most good books I read that introduce orthodox christianity are from EO churches. Is there a list of books you would recommend??
  • I also was given an audio cassette of the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom in English. (It was important I think that it was in English).

    Off topic (as usual): Which churches pray the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom? Not Coptic, right?
  • The greek church prays his liturgy and we have a prayer of reconciliation by him
  • All the Eastern Orthodox Churches use the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom.

    There was great variety in the past, but in the Medieaval period all the local liturgies were forbidden in the Eastern Orthodox communion and only the rite of Constantinople was authorised. The Greeks in Egypt, for instance, used to use the Liturgy of St Mark

    Father Peter
  • I understand, thank you Father.

    Nice story, by the way. :-)
  • Bless you, Father Peter. I hope to one day have a story like that to tell.

    To Hos Erof or anyone else who is curious about English-language literature on the Coptic Orthodoxy:

    While I of course defer to Father Peter for any English recommendations, if I may I would like to share a bit about what has helped me. I am not coming to Orthodoxy from Protestantism, but from Roman Catholicism, and for me one book that sort of "came out of left field" and really walloped me is Journey Back to Eden: My Life and Times among the Desert Fathers by Mark Gruber, a Benedictine monk from the USA who went to Egypt to write his sociological Ph.D. thesis on the Copts and their monasteries. I don't know...maybe it is because I am at that point in my own education, maybe it is because I was deeply involved in Catholicism and have visited Benedictine monasteries...for whatever reason, it really spoke to me. The previous books I read since becoming more serious about Coptic Orthodoxy were Fr. Tadros Malaty's "History of the Coptic Orthodox Church" (1993) and a few somewhat less than well-translated pamphlets by HH Pope Shenouda III. Gruber's book was the first one that really "spoke" to me, I guess you could say, even though it's not meant as a work of apologetics or catechism (the author is a Roman Catholic, after all). I've gone back to it at least half a dozen times since finishing it the first time in September. Before I found Gruber's book, I actually tried to read V.C. Samuel's "Chalcedon Revisited" (referenced by Father Peter in his post), but I think it was too heavy for me at that time. I have since started fresh with it, and hope it goes better this time now that I am less afraid in my journey than I may have been some months ago.
  • Father Peter, I want to learn from your experience and wisdom: please provide me with advice on the following question: How and when should we speak to people of other denominations about Orthodoxy?
  • Dear dzheremi,

    When I first started to take an interest in Orthodoxy it was perhaps 25 years ago. At that time there wasn't a great deal of material in English about Orthodoxy itself. In terms of specific books, I read at some point...

    The Orthodox Church by Timothy/Kallistos Ware
    The Way of the Pilgrim
    The Philokalia
    On the Prayer of the Heart
    The Way of the Ascetics by Tito Coliander

    Of course I was reading much else, but it tended to be general theology and church history such as

    The Early Church by Henry Chadwick
    Documents of the Christian Church by Bettenson
    Early Christian Doctrines by J.N.D. Kelly

    When I started having to investigate non-Chalcedonian Orthodoxy there was not much at all. Of course I was particularly interested in the issue of Christology. I did find Letters of St Severus, and Chalcedon Re-Examined helpful, as well as a collection of early texts like Bettenson, but produced in India in English and containing some non-Chalcedonian material. I suppose that I was content early on that the Coptic Orthodox Church and other non-Chalcedonians did not positively hold to the heresy they were accused of - since I could find no-one among all my contacts who did hold to Eutychianism - and that was enough to start off with.

    Later on, much later on,  I also read Journey Back to Eden. I think it is a wonderful book, and I have given more copies of that book to friends and enquirers than any other.

    I think that there is not yet a book like The Orthodox Church by Timothy/Kallistos Ware which is based on our own non-Chalcedonian history and tradition, and that one needs to be written.

    Father Peter
  • Hello Father Peter,

    Yes, I think you are right about the lack of a Kallistos Ware-type book for the non-Chalcedonian Orthodox. It is a shame. I also started with Ware's introduction to the Orthodox Church some years ago. It is the standard English reference for very good reason. My only previous exposure to any type of Orthodoxy was in the Russian Orthodox church, at cultural events attended as part of my Russian language studies (which included a bit of religious content; I learned to pray the Jesus Prayer in Slavonic, for instance). In light of that, I couldn't really say why I'm here and not investigating the EO. That would certainly be easier (I could actually attend services within traveling distance of where I live  :o), but alas...that's not God's way.

    Anyway, I'm glad to know I am not the only one who has been enriched by Gruber's journey.
  • My experience of Gruber's book came at a crucial time. I was reading it whilst a catechumen with the Russian church and I kind of wondered if I was going in the right direction.

    I presented a copy to the English EO monk who was instructing me. The negative visit to St Catherine's reported by Gruber made him feel he needed to justify the monks there. Otherwise I think the book made him feel uncomfortable. Although he is one of those who calls OO people monophysites, he greets Coptic monks when he sees them out and about so I don't believe he has ideological difficulties; 'them' and 'us' problems.

    Incidentally, I visited several places last year mentioned by Gruber including the Pope's residence in Cairo. Gruber being treated like a monk made his experience way different from mine.

    I loved my pilgrimage to Egypt and I'm still digesting it.
  • wow, I never knew that people from outside the Coptic church actually join it! you're the first I've "met" Fr. Peter. I've heard lots of muslim convert stories to the Coptic church, but not ones from other christian backgrounds! It makes me wonder about talking to my friends about the Orthodox Church!

    But how do I avoid coming off as thinking my church is better than theirs? (I kinda do.) I love the Coptic church ALOT, and I'm VERY proud of belonging to it, and if you get me started, I'll go on forever.
  • As one of those non-Copts who is looking very hard at your church -- don't worry about that, Epiphania! If you speak out of love for your church, fidelity to its traditions, and a desire to share those things that you love with your friends, there shouldn't be any problem. Of course everyone thinks his church is the best or he'd be in some other church. :)

  • I've been thinking about this for the last couple of days. If the BOC is part of the COC, then do you have exactly the same rituals as us? for example, is mass still 2-3 hours? do you use all the same hymns, just English in instead of Coptic? Some of our church hymns go directly back to things sung of the Pharaohs, do you keep those? I know of one hymn sung in Coptic churches that the ancient Egyptians would use to greet Pharaoh when he came to visit their villiage. When Christianity came to Egypt they just changed the words and used the song to praise God instead. do you keep that stuff?

    Since before 1994, the BOC was separate, then did things change from before 1994 to after?

    Ultimatly I guess my question is, to what extent do you separate the religious from the Egyptian?
  • We have the same rites, except that we use the Liturgy of St James, and we don't use Coptic chant. We use English with a simple English chant.

    When I baptise someone I use the same Coptic Rite but in English. Our liturgies last 2 hours.

    We venerate the saints in the Synaxarium and those other Orthodox saints of the Orthodox Church, including those of the British Isles.

    Father Peter
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