Posted by: Shawn Ragan | May 22, 2008

Father Patrick

So about a year and a half ago – actually we’re coming up on two years now – I was studying for a class I was teaching. I had developed (with the help of another member of the church) a year long basic teachings class called the “Foundations Class.” The intent of the class was to give a basic understanding of Bible and Christian history, as well as this particular church’s history and the doctrines this church holds to.

This required a great amount of study on my part. I was developing many of these classes, and it is important to me when I teach that I teach accurately. History has always been something I have enjoyed…I remember when I was in the 9th grade and I took American History how much I enjoyed the class. I even wanted at that time to become a history teacher. While that aspiration was replaced with other ones, I always maintained by love of history…not to just study the past, but in order to understand the present. About half the books I have in my library are historical in some sense, and last year when I was in the local university bookstore, I saw as textbooks several books I read for enjoyment. My wife thinks I’m nuts reading non-fiction all the time…she keeps telling me I need to read fiction books (which by the way I have started to do – Louis L’Amour, who I’ve enjoyed reading and who presents a lot of history in his books, also I am currently reading The Brothers Karamozov which takes place in 19th century Russia – a great book so far). Anyways, I digress…

Here I am reading all of these history books, and as I am studying those first few hundred years of Christian history, these references to this “Eastern” church keeps coming up. Now, my history up to that point in time had been based in a Roman Catholic-Protestant paradigm. I had been told that the who church apostasized very early on, at least by the time of Constantine, and that the Protestant church was God restoring the Church to its earlier glory. There was nothing else in my mind outside of this paradigm, other than the “remnant” that God had kept alive in the “wilderness.”

So, what was this Eastern church I kept reading about – this church of Antioch, and Jerusalem, and really – every church mentioned in the New Testament except the church of Rome (the letter to the Romans is the only one mentioned that is written to a Western church, and other than some vague references to Spain, all of the churches in the New Testament are Eastern churches, not Western). This was striking to me, because many of these churches were outside of the Roman Empire, and therefore outside of the realm of Constantine. In addition to that, I kept reading about how the Eastern Church resisted the innovations of the Roman church in regards to the Papacy and some of her peculiar doctrines. In fact, when the Roman Bishop (called the Pope) tried to declare himself as the head over the universal church, not only did the East resist but it led to a schism (called the Great Schism of 1054 A.D.)

This was confusing to me at first…I had no framework within which to put this Eastern Church. While I had heard of “Greek Orthodox” and “Russian Orthodox” I did not understand their place in the Christian world. That led me to make contact with someone from earlier in my life.

Many years earlier, before I was pastoring, while in college, I took an Ancient Greek class. The professor for this class introduced himself as Father Patrick, an Orthodox priest. Since I was in a Greek class, I assumed he was Greek Orthodox (I was wrong, when I talked to him years later, I found out he was with the Antiochian Church, which is connected to the Church of Antioch, Syria “where they were fist called Christians.” Father Patrick mentioned Orthodoxy while teaching the class, but as I already said, I had not context within which to understand or even place his beliefs. I do recall that much of what he said made sense and much of it came up in discussions as I pastored the church here).

So, as I read about this “Eastern” church, I wanted to know more. The only person I knew who was Orthodox was Father Patrick, though I had not talked to him in 5-6 years, and then only as a student in class. Thanks to the internet, I was able to find him and email him, requesting that we meet so I could ask him some questions about this church. My intent at the time was to be able to use it for teaching in the class. He said he would be in my area (he lived about 2 hours away at this time) and invited me to a Vespers service at the local Antiochian Church and he said we could visit afterwards.

I went that Saturday evening, with no real thought about the service, just excited to visit with Father Patrick. I had enjoyed him in class and looked forward to seeing him again. And besides, I had been in liturgical churches before and had been to Roman Catholic Vespers services. Really, I guess what I am saying here, is that I was wholly unprepared for what I was walking in to. It was not a Roman Catholic Vespers service. What I saw and experienced stirred something up inside me that would take the better part of a year to really grasp and understand.

Afterwards, I sat down and visited with Father Patrick…

(BTW, Vespers is the evening service in the Orthodox Church, it is the service at the setting of the sun, and is considered the first service of the day, since in Ancient Judaism, the day began at sunset – this service is the continuation of the evening Temple service and has many Psalms in it.)

Also, Father Patrick is blogging, if you’d like to check him out…see the link.



  1. Very interesting. What did you learn from your meeting with Father Patrick? I assume you will share later!

  2. I will share as we go along…maybe not all at once though 🙂

    Thanks for the comment!

  3. Shawn,
    How well I remember that encounter, and what a treat to read through your memory of it!
    I look forward to many wonderful years ahead with your friendship…

  4. […] And, now, a witness to that converting power. Go to: […]

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