Twenty Years Ago Today


Twenty years ago today, I witnessed the birth of our third child, our son, James. Always a joy to our heart and those of others he has become a young man of whom I am proud and whose company is a delight.

He was ten years old when I announced to the complete family that we were converting to Orthodoxy. He had heard nothing of this before and had been blissfully enjoying his life in our parish (Episcopal). At the announcement he became very upset and with great emotion began to question the decision.

I took him aside and said, “Son I need to tell you some things that I have not spoken about to you before.” I could not discuss the problems and debates of human sexuality in the Episcopal Church because I could not imagine my first conversation with my son on the topic of sex being that of same-sex unions. Instead I began to tell him of Bishops who had denied the resurrection of Christ and His divinity.

As I was relating all of this to him his eyes got wider and wider. Finally, in a burst of indignation he yelled, “But…but…that’s just Buddhism!” I don’t think he knew anything at all about Buddhism, but it was the only word he had in his 10 year-old vocabulary to say that something was heretical.

In a very short time he became my constant Church companion, arriving very early at Church with me (which was now in a warehouse), lighting candles, preparing everything for the morning’s service. His company and enthusiasm was a strength for me he could never have imagined.

He is getting married this summer to a wonderful Orthodox young woman from my wife’s hometown. They met as young teenagers at a Youth Retreat, renewing their relationship each year as summer returned. We could not be happier with whom God has chosen for him.

He stated goal in life, relayed to me a year or so ago was simple: “I want to be married and finish college. I would like to have a job that’s not too boring. I want to live in Oak Ridge and have children, and raise them in the parish I founded.”

As always, music to my ears. Happy birthday, son, and may God grant you many years!

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.



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19 responses to “Twenty Years Ago Today”

  1. fatherstephen Avatar

    Photo: James with me at the gates of St. John the Baptist Monastery in Essex, England.

  2. Alyssa Avatar

    Many years, James!

  3. Steve Avatar

    Many years!

  4. Jeff Lee Avatar
    Jeff Lee

    Many years, James.

    My oldest was 11 when we converted last year. He, too, struggled with the notion of us leaving our Episcopal parish and all his friends. He still misses seeing them on Sunday.

    However, he, too, has thrown himself into Orthodoxy with quite a bit of energy, for which I am thankful. Most Sunday’s he is in the altar serving, even when not scheduled. Like James, I don’t know if he’ll ever appreciate how important that is for me, and what strength I derive from that.

  5. fatherstephen Avatar

    In my experience – for married converts – the issues surrounding family – spouse, children and even extended family – are much larger issues than anyone generally writes about. I readily admit that I not only am very much in love with my family, I am also deeply grateful for what God has done in their lives, particularly in the years surrounding and since our conversion. I write about them from time to time both because they are such a huge part of my world and because not enough is written about family and conversion (in my opinion), and if you are married, little else takes on as much importance.

  6. Elizabeth Avatar

    Many Years to James !

  7. Damaris Avatar

    I would be encouraged to hear your thoughts — and others’ — about the difficulties of converting when not all your family goes along. Right now I am interested in converting, one of our four daughters is passionate to, the other three are interested but primarily just want the family to be united, and my husband is not interested even in talking about it. We go cheerfully and without judgment to different churches on Sunday, but I wouldn’t want that to be a permanent arrangement.

    Forgive me if this is too personal a post, or too off-topic.

  8. Mimi Avatar

    Happy Birthday and Many Years!

  9. kevinburt Avatar

    Beautiful! Happy birthday to your son! My oldest child is only 6, but she is thrilled with our coming entrance into Orthodoxy. It’s a wonderful thing for a parent to begin to see their children joining the spiritual conversation and journey. Thanks for sharing this.

  10. kevinburt Avatar


    Have you blogged in the past regarding advice to those whose families reject their decision to be converted into Orthodoxy? My wife and I are dealing with that now, and she especially is being apparently completely cut off from at least some in her extended family. It’s tough on her, and tough for me to see her have to go through that. I just wondered if you had written about this before and, if not, whether you might agree to share some wisdom for such scenarios.

  11. Meg Avatar

    To Kevin Burt: All I can say, from personal experience with it, is that the Pearl of Great Price sometimes comes at a very high price indeed, but is worth every “penny.”

    As for James: Our son Christopher is 27. It just gets better and better. Many years, James! 😀

  12. Jfred Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    Your blog is such an encouragement to me and this posting touches my heart in a big way. Because I’ve been researching and infrequently attending a mission church for more than a year now, I know that the OC is more than just a curiousity. Indeed, I have just about come to the place where I can say that I believe the OC is the true church.

    But I can’t avoid confronting the fact that my five year old son, and wife love the evangelical church we are members of and the thought of taking that away from them has left me feeling more than a little depressed lately.

    I can’t even get my wife to read about, much less attend an Orthodox service. She thinks I’m just going through a phase, after having also examined the Catholic Church.

    The guilt it produces in me usually results in my justifying persevering in the evangelical church to not create an upheaval in my family. It would be a complete shock for my wife and son to go from our modern, comfy megachurch, to the old house where a small group of Orthdox faithful meet in a bad part of town.

    Honestly, sometimes I think I’ve plunged into spiritual madness trying to figure all this out. Should I just take the plunge, and pray that God will provide?

  13. fatherstephen Avatar

    Tomorrow morning’s post might be helpful – I’ve written a little more at length on family and conversion and I plan some more articles.

    My brief suggestion at present is to pray – don’t be afraid of not knowing what to do. We frequently don’t know what to do and that’s when it’s good to be patient. Fr. David at the parish you’re visiting is also a wise priest and worth talking to (if you haven’t already).

    I personally think it’s worth the time it takes to, if possible, be on the same spiritual page as your spouse – since she’s a Christian. My post tomorrow has some suggestions about that.

    In praying about this (privately) I think you should tell God what you want (if you want you and your family to be Orthodox). Ask for this (I personally think God’s in favor of it). God is God and is able to do all things wonderfully well. It’s not magic, of course, but I think that the place we begin with these things is prayer and patience. As far as I can tell, it’s the Biblical approach.

    I will be praying for you and your family as well.

  14. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Fr. Stephen. Your post brings up not only the issue of family staying together when coverting, but staying together in the same parish. All too often we “send our children off to school” never to see them return except on vacations and somethimes not at all. It is a testimony to your family that give me pause. My son will be 21 this year and he is going to school in the town where our home parish is. Since I am widowed, I’ve been thinking about moving to the town where my brother is a priest (not his parish). Now, I’ve got to think about it some more and coverse with my son. It is not just my decision. In any case, I think we all ought to think more on the issue to see if we can’t find a way to build up real Orthodox communities not just parishes needing to be fed with more and more converts.

  15. Matt Avatar


    Fr. Stephen’s advice is right on.

    For the better part of 10 years I wrestled with and considered conversion to the Roman Catholic Church. Although my wife and I joined the Episcopal Church five years ago, my wife wanted no part of Catholicism. In fact, she had a visceral reaction to all things Catholic. It was a serious conflict between us, and brought up deeper issues that, frankly, we both needed to deal with. Few people are more conflict-averse than myself. Especially when it comes to conflicts between my wife and I. I’m the kind of guy that prefers to not rock the boat. And everytime I brought up the church question it generated such heat that no matter how I approached her, somehow she ended up victimized and I the perpetrator. It was a completely impossible, no-win, no hope situation. So I continued to wait, be patient, pray, and allow this conflict between us to make me a better man.

    A little over one year ago, I reached a serious personal breaking point. I had become absolutely convinced that the Roman Catholic Church was indeed the Church our Lord founded. And yet, my wife still wanted nothing to do with it. I was 100% completely broken over this. I didn’t know what to do anymore, who to turn to. We knew we could not stay in the Episcopal Church, even though our parish was “orthodox.” I decided to put the books on the shelf and just pray. Within days I received confirmation that I was going the right direction. It allowed me to relax a bit and gave me the much needed inspiration to continue to wait. This waiting took every fiber of my being. It was very much an active waiting.

    In October of last year, I reconnected with an old friend who was familiar with my struggle in all of this. Turns out this friend of mine and his family had been visiting an OCA parish out in Portland, OR for a year or so. I called the local OCA parish in my area and the priest said to check out the podcasts at Our Life in Christ and Ancient Faith Radio. Within a week of listening to the Ancient Faith Radio broadcast, I heard the name of another old friend in the credits at the end of one of the shows. I looked him up. He had converted to Orthodoxy a few years back. Through various other circuitous events I found myself pointed Eastward. All of a sudden, this Church that I knew relatively little about – what I “knew” came only from the few books on Orthodoxy that I had read – was front and center on my radar screen. Oh Lord, what are you doing?

    After all of the conflict, the church question was still not settled between my wife and I. We both were in agreement that the Episcopal Church, while a divinely provided way-station for us, was not “home.” And yet, if not the RCC, then where? Could it be the Orthodox Church? Was THIS the Church that Christ founded? I somehow summoned the gumption to bring up church again with my wife. This time, broken and humbled in spirit, I told her I thought our Lord may be calling us to Orthodoxy. I flinched, knowing that surely she would come after me with a hammer. You see, to her, most of my journey in all this was simply the search to satisfy an intense, intellectual thirst that in reality could never be satisfied. And she was right. I was the one with the hammer – an intellectual hammer, which I carried with pride. I asked her forgiveness for my pride and apologized for my arrogance and for anything I had done to hurt her in this.

    No blows came. No visceral reaction. She was surprisingly open to the Orthodox Church. I fell apart. At that very moment, I knew we were home. So, we have been attending an OCA parish since November and are currently catechumens. Lord willing, my wife, our two boys, and I expect to be received sometime before the Feast of the Nativity this year.

    All this to say hang in there. God would not lead you and your wife in two different directions. If God is calling you to the Orthodox Church, just pray, man. Sink yourself into Him. He can change hearts. He changed both of ours.

    All – please forgive me for the long post here.

  16. fatherstephen Avatar


    This is a major issue. I’ll have to dig around this week and find an old unpublished (I think) article of Fr. Schmemann’s on problems with our American parish model. In a nutshell, it is the creation of parishes along the line of “the suburban protestant model” the parish as the more or less the religion store. He noted that for most of the life of Orthodoxy, there were no such things even as parish councils, etc.

    The parish must first be a community of prayer, and a community of common repentance. That some call the church the “Temple” is not inaccurate either – at least in the sense that this is a house of God where we come to pray. That the building is often only open when “program” is going on (including worship) can be a drawback and problem.

    Becoming more community with one another, sharing prayer, spritual concerns and our lives being more integrated with one another would also be a step in the right direction. May God bless you and your son and give both of you wisdom for your situation.

  17. Michael Avatar

    Dear James,

    I am blessed to share a birthday with you! It is a blessing to read how strong you are in your own Christian and Orthodox faith, and your example inspires me. I pray that you and all you love may prosper, and that the grace of the living God will always uphold, protect and transform you! Jesus bless you.

  18. Margaret Avatar

    God grant you many years, James!

    Our own James is much younger and has been Orthodox for a year now. He is VERY excited about becoming an Acolyte and his training during Divine Liturgy begins this Sunday! He has all but attached himself to his godfather who is a Deacon.

    I love the life goals of James shared here, thank you, and may God continue to bless your family!

  19. bob Avatar

    What alot of ink is spilt over what’s going on in Anglicanism, when your then 10-year old nailed it. Forward his insight to Rowan Williams (who allegedly did his dissertation on Vladimir Lossky).

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