My journey to Orthodoxy
By Daniel L. Mullis
It was a cold November day in 1998 that I made a phone call to the Monastery of St. Anthony of the Kyiv Caves in Knox, Indiana about coming up for a visit. This time in my life I was almost homeless, having lived in an 18 wheel semi-truck and now without any work. My choices were to move into the streets or find a place to pray about my choices that lead to this problem. I knew that God loved me but I was growing further from Him because of these events in my life. A place to prayer made the most sense to me but where? I am a protestant pastor and going to any place Catholic seem to go against my beliefs. Catholic are wrong and I might be going into a den of heresy. Yet, I am broken and at the end of my chances to fix my problems. I must make this phone call.
At the end of the phone was a deep voice that greeted me. My mind raced with thoughts of what this person might look like and what would I find at a monastery considering I have never been to one. I felt safe enough to ask for sometime at St. Anthony, maybe a week or maybe longer but enough time to figure out why all these bad things had happen to me and why did I feel God hating me. That night I slept in a small mobile home that leaked from the rain and my thoughts wondered about what I was doing.
I could not put together why I was in this problem and how I got there. I could blame my now ex-wife for her cheating on me and breaking up our ministry team of her the pastors wife and teacher and me, the preacher. I knew of at least two affairs she had and there was a rumor of others she was with. Our marriage ended in 1997 and she headed for California to live with a guy she met on the internet. I ended my ministry and church I was pasturing because of these issues. I did my best to save my marriage and fix it but once someone decides to cheat, that marriage bond is always broken.
Being a middle age man I got thoughts of some of the things in my past that I should have done in my life. I should have stayed in the army for 20 years; I should have never gone to Bible College or let others tell me to be a minister. What about that time I was in Nashville, Tennessee in 1982 and planned to be with my friends and form a Christian rock band? Maybe I gave up too soon for that! It was like tons of thoughts came to me of all the things I should have done but what got me to this place in my life.
As morning came into my eyes, I knew my sleep was too short and not restful. I got to get up and head to the highway to hitch hike to a near by town to get on a bus for Knox or close by. The deep voice at the end of the phone told me to let him know where I was getting off at and he would pick me up. Without a ticket yet, I didn’t know where that would be. A cold wind on my back I got to the road and soon find a ride to Bloomington, Indiana and the old Gray Hound Bus station to buy a ticket. This was my last money on earth. I walked over to a local blood bank to give blood for money but I was not accepted. I had gotten a tattoo within the year and they could not accept me.
I was in a town that I had grown up in. Many happy thoughts ran into my mind as I pondered by hopelessness. I had been on these streets riding my bicycle or walking to school or home from basketball practice. There were the home foods I remembered and meals along with all my classmates and sleepovers. There were the care free days of being young and without responsibility and my dreams of what I would do with my life. These were days of hope and looking forward to days of how and why me Lord?
I waited for several hours and before long, I got onto a bus and headed to a town near Knox. The deep voiced man told me he would meet me there and my journey into a new world began for me. Sitting by myself, I tried to sleep and rest. The sound of the diesel engines would not allow that but who cares, I got bigger problems than not sleeping.
I meet the deep voice man at a northern bus stop. What does one think an Orthodox priest looks like when one has never seen an Orthodox priest looks like? The only picture I have ever seen of an Orthodox priest was that monk that was part of the Czar Nichols II court named Rasputin. Long hair and a long beard with dark clothes. Oh my gosh, he looks like Rasputin! I meet Father Tom at the bus stop and we greeted each and I got into his car and headed for the monastery. During our time in the car traveling, we got to know each other a bit and I was relaxed.
I got to the monastery late at night and there was no way I could see what the place looked like. Having never been to any monastery in any place, I would not know what to look for in the first place. We entered into the main building and I was given a room and a bed to rest and after getting my bed; I lay down and began to reflect more on my problems.
I had thought I had done all of the right things. I joined the army in 1974 and caught the tail end of the Viet Nam War with me being stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado. I was a combat engineer and hoped I would learn a skill to carry into the private world after my during tour. Shortly before I was to exit the military, I felt the calling of God into my life and I chose to enter a bible college in Lincoln, Illinois. I was a member of the Fellowship of Christian Churches/Churches of Christ or what some called, “The Restoration Movement” founded by Alexander Campbell in around 1832. We are proud and believed that we know what the true Christian Church is. Four years of college and training and I entered into the world of Christian ministry with my first church in a small Indiana town. I think the nearest town to the church was 12 miles away.
So my life was in order and I was living out what I thought God wanted me to do. I got married in 1985. I worked part time at a local radio station and I had two gospel programs on during Sundays. Time goes on and I am proud of the work I am doing and of my life. Not yet getting what I wanted in salary but working on my goals of being a good protestant pastor with lives being changed and people coming to Christ and my church is growing.
My first slap in the face with reality was when I found out the my wife had an affair with a man at her job. We had gone to a marriage counselor and I thought we might be able to fix this problems. I ended my preaching ministry and focus on my relationship with my wife. Taking this free time off, I began to work on my master’s degree believing that one day I would go back into the ministry and restart my career. So I was getting my ducks in order and making my plans.
Slap two happened when my wife decided to leave me with a man she had met on the Internet. I was just ready to graduate from graduate school with a Masters in Religious Education and my thoughts headed towards my new future job. Now I am divorce with no one wanting to hire a divorced man.
I had no job training in anything else and now the only thing I can find for work is low paying work. I got a job at a local food store making about 6 bucks an hour. I lasted 3 weeks. I then got a job working at a saw mill that lasted for close to a year. I hated it so much; I found a way to get a job driving an 18 wheeler semi-truck. I hated that! So I quite and now I have no work, no home and no hope. This is when I knew I needed a place to pray and now I am at the monastery and I have all the time in the world to pray. How do you prayer???
My first night at the monastery was very easy and pleasant. Father Tom gave me a comfortable bed to sleep in and plenty of private space to be alone with my thoughts. We had a meal together and took time to get to know each other, mostly taking time to share how we got to where we were at this point in history. Once I got my belly full and did all of my talking, it was time for bed and a new beginning of my life.
I got up the next morning and once getting dressed, I wanted to take time to read my bible and begin praying. Reading the scriptures was fun; I have and will always enjoy reading the bible. I had no plan of attack for what scriptures to read, just to read. I did begin to understand that I had no idea about prayer and how to pray. I started out with the Lord’s Prayer and my long list of things I needed from God and looked at my watch, less than five minutes had passed. But it was going to be a long day of prayer if I was already done praying. So I knew my first weakness was knowing how to pray.
Father Tom had given me some books to read. My first book was about Orthodoxy by then Father Timothy Ware. He is now a bishop and has updated his book but I had one of his first printing on Orthodoxy. The first thing I realized was that Christianity was almost two thousand years old. Funny, I knew that but it really didn’t click with me even in Bible College. I studied about the Restoration Movement under the teachings of Alexander and Thomas Campbell and the history of my movement starting in 1832 in England. Wow, Christianity really is older than I thought.
I had to read this book several times to get the full grasp of it. Starting with the first century and going on to the fourth century, the first Ecumenical council and Constantine, emperor of Rome to the first split in the church and first two paths of Christianity and then a third path followed by the protestants. I begin to understand how small my understanding of my faith I understood was.
The second most important book Father Tom gave me was a book about a Russian pilgrim with an unknown name and author that told the story of a man who wanted to know how to pray and also how to pray without ceasing as the Apostle Paul taught. The story follows this man as he walks from town to town learning about his faith and how to pray. The Holy Spirit and priest taught him about the Jesus prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner”. He learned to say this prayer over and over again till he could pray all day long saying it.
This book had a profound influence on me. I remember my days at Lincoln Christian College and taking a class on prayer and basically the professor taught us to read prayers in the bible and just copy after them. That really never clicked with me and I had fallen into my own world of not praying but giving God my wish list. I found that I had to read this book over several times to get a grasp on it.
So as the weeks in November and December begin to pass, I was learning about the Orthodox faith and learning how to pray. By the time that Christmas came that year of 1998; I was enjoying myself and feeling like I was more on a vacation that searching my soul for answers. That wouldn’t hit me till the next year when the snows off of Lake Michigan hit the surrounding area and we were snowed in.
I guess the devil likes to let you feel comfortable and relax to take your mind off of your issues and drawing close to God. With the snow on the ground and being in the country side, I now had no place to go and I was wondering about what job I wanted to do in this life. You see, that is why I came to the monastery, I wanted my old job back and my old life back. I understood that I could not get my former wife back and I didn’t want her back, but I wanted to be a protestant preacher and make my living from this type of life. I was getting uncomfortable at the monastery and I wanted God to tell me why He had did this too me. Now the fun is just starting, God is getting ready to take me to the old tool shed and give my bottom a good whipping.
That January 1999 in Knox, Indiana was cold and snowy with several feet of snow on the ground in this rural area of the monastery. The roads were clear enough to pass but the grounds of the monastery was covered and only a few paths had been dug out to get from building to building. I used this time to go outside and prayer about my issues. I hit God up for the ‘why me Lord’ problems to ‘when will I get my ministry back’ to ‘I need a new car and possessions’. Clearly what I wanted from God and what He wanted for me was two different things. I would go outside early in the mornings and walk the grounds and continue to do so for many hours to when I would just sit on a log and wonder about this life God had given me. The devil wanted me back working and making money to give me some self worth about myself and I felt like I wanted the same thing for me. Answer me God so that I can leave this place and go on with my life. But that is not what was going to happen.
What I thought I would do would be to disprove to myself the realness of Orthodoxy and why we Protestants made the better choose to be true to the teachings of Christ as the bible taught. I had two issues to work out; one was the teachings and history of the mother of God, Mary and the bible being the only true doctrine of the faith. The first issue I was going to wrestle with at the monastery. The second issue took me several more years to work out.
Mary, the mother of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was no more than that to me. She was history, she was real, and once Jesus had died and rose again, she was nothing else to the faith. In fact, to have an icon or statue of Mary would have been sin and the worship of idols. I was never going to do that! So who was this Mary?
Well my first book on Orthodoxy got me going in the right direction. She had history before the gospels in that her parents had given her to the temple to serve there at the age of 4 years old. She served in the temple till she was old enough to marry and she was given to marry to a man named Joseph. Okay, I am good with that but what about this virgin deal; didn’t she have children with Joseph? Doesn’t the scripture say that Jesus had brothers and sisters?
I had a lot of questions about Mary and my readings were not getting me anywhere near to accepting the teachings of Orthodoxy about her. The bishop of the monastery, Bishop Alexander, helped me understand the churches teachings about her. God had prepared her from birth to be the bearer of God. Her time at the temple was to prepare her spiritually for her calling. Secondly, Jesus’ brothers and sisters were the children of Joseph, not Mary’s children. They were her step children. Thirdly, the church does not worship Mary as I had been taught, but reverence her as an icon. She bore Jesus, the son of God and the son of man. So she was not a god but as the scripture says, she is blessed among all women.
So I came to an understanding of who Mary was and I agreed with the bishop and the Orthodox Catholic Church. Now I need to wrestle with the view of the bible as the only source of doctrine for Christians to follow and what is this church thing. This journey will be longer than my time at the monastery.
The other issues that Protestants argue over were not an issue for me. One being the Lord’s Supper. The Bible was very clear to me that Jesus taught His blood was real drink and His body was real food. While everyone else in the churches that I pastured at thought this was only a symbol of His blood and body, I accepted the teachings of scripture to be factual, so I accepted this teaching as is.
The role of the church, with the bishops being the head of the church and the understanding of the role of a deacon and priest as again, no issue for me, I understood this during my time as a pastor. Accepting the teachings of Orthodoxy that interpretation of scripture belong to the church and not the individual was a relief for me. I cannot tell you how many times I taught members of my church what the Bible said and someone would argue with me that it meant this or that. Clearly, the Holy Spirit spoke to the Church about the meaning of the Word of God.
So now I come to this point at my time in the monastery that I needed to make a choice, do I accept Orthodoxy and become an Orthodox or do I look for a way to leave the monastery and return to my former self and ministry? It was now March of 1999 and the Lord was helping me understand why I came to the monastery. I was searching out the true meaning of Christianity. My movement taught me to trust only the scriptures and ‘where the Bible speaks, we speak and where the Bible is silent, we are silent’ lead me to view and understand that the New Testament Church was the Orthodox Catholic Church. So where do I want to go? Do I want to change and give up the life that I had prepared for and only knew or do I travel into a new world of Christianity that was the Holy Church of God? It would not be easy changing because I only knew of my former self. I could never return to what I had done in the past and make a living from it.
All the reasons for being at the monastery was met except what will I do with my life as being able to work for a living. If I become an Orthodox Catholic, I give up having a career as a Protestant pastor. I knew of no other way to make a living that I enjoyed doing. I could always drive a truck but my heart was not there. Turning to Orthodoxy means so much giving up and getting little in return as far as making a living. I had only one choice to make and I contacted Father Tom for his help.
In March of 1999, I decided to become an Orthodox Catholic Christian. All the reasons for coming to the monastery I believe were for this decision, to change my life around and follow and obey the true Church of God and her teachings. Father Tom helped me with a one on one Catholicism class and I accepted Orthodoxy as my new faith and understanding about Christianity. I choose Pascha or Easter Sunday of 1999 in April to take my first communion as an Orthodox Catholic.
Father Tom and Bishop Alexander would have loved for me to stay at the monastery and maybe become a monk. I was still working out my own demons and self that said I had to leave and start working at something. A friend in Vermont wanted me to visit him and his family and so I decided to leave the monastery and visit my friend before returning to work as a truck driver.
A few years later, once becoming a member of All Saints Orthodox Catholic Church in Bloomington, Indiana, I was able to work out my issues with my view of scriptures as the only doctrine of faith and came to an understanding that the Holy Spirit, church fathers and scriptures all are one part of our faith. I could accept the teachings of the church also because the Holy Spirit spoke also to the church and church fathers as well as the bible.
To this date, I have no idea why I am still working as a driver. No longer driving a truck, I drive a city bus and wonder if this is what I will do the rest of my life. A master’s degree in religious education and living in a university town, I cannot find any work related to my degree. So I still search for my calling but I know and trust in my Lord to care for me.
God gave me also a second chance on life. All that I lost He gave back to me two times. I have a wife and two daughters now, a home to own and a vehicle to drive. All the material things I lost in this life, God gave back to me two fold. I am truly blessed by Him.
The church that I attend has helped me grow in my faith and nurtured me. I will never go back to the faith I once knew and have come to know that the Orthodox Catholic Church is the true treasure of faith handed down by the Apostles first and continued on by the church fathers. It has been ten years and counting as a Catholic and still going on.
Those wishing to contact me may do so at: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com and you can visit the web page of the church I attend.
Rev. Father Peter Jon Gillquist, Priest
His father has written a book about his journey from leading within the Campus Crusade for Christ ministry to becoming an Orthodox Catholic and priest.
I would say that our church is made up of about 80 percent converts from the Protestant faiths so many are discovering the first century, New Testament Church.
You may also contact the priest who lead me to Orthodoxy. His web page is: