Fr. Gregory Jensen’s Journey to Orthodoxy

I came across this comment from Fr. Gregory Jensen in a combox of another blog recently and was impressed with his testimony. I think important lessons can be drawn from it regarding the importance of showing common courtesy and respect to people God brings our way. Fr. Jensen, who maintains Koinonia, has graciously given me permission to post his story here:

My own journey from the Catholic to Orthodox Church took me 10 years. Though I do not regret the decision and believe it is what God would have from me, it caused (and at times continues to cause) me a great deal of heartache. But then, as now, I believe that the fullness of the Gospel was to be found in the Orthodox Church.

My personal struggles and my theological reasons are however not my main points. Rather I want to offer a brief reflection on the two different ways in which I was greeted when I inquired into joining the Orthodox Church. Rather I offer them only to be clear that I approached the Orthodox Church desiring to enter into communion with her.

My first encounter with an Orthodox priest was back in 1982 or 83. I had attended Great Vespers at the OCA Cathedral in Dallas, St Seraphim’s. I was overwhelmed by the beauty and its theological and spiritual depth. Afterwards I went to the hall and found the priest with the intent on “signing up” right then and there.

I found the priest and introduced myself to him. He asked if I was Orthodox and I told him no, I was a RC. Before I could finish my sentence and tell him I wished to become Orthodox, he proceeded to tell me, at great length, why I was wrong.

Then, as now, I did not begrudge the man his differences with the Church of Rome. These were expected. What I did find offensive–and what caused me to leave and not return to considering Orthodoxy for almost 10 years–was the fact that the priest clearly did not know what he was talking about and had no interest in learning. He had his short list of why I was wrong and making sure I know why I was wrong seemed to be his only concern.

Years later, now in Pittsburgh, I met a Greek Orthodox priest. He spontaneously spoke about the beauty of the Catholic Church and all that we shared as Catholic and Orthodox Christians. He soberly acknowledged our differences but not at the expense of our commonalities. Unlike the priest I met in Dallas, this man was thoughtful and gentle and appreciative of me and of the tradition within which at the time I stood.

To the degree that I can say this without prejudice to divine grace and dogmatic truth, it was this second conversation that caused me to become Orthodox.

I do not doubt, and have known, many Protestant inquirers to the Orthodox Church come wanting a polemic presentation of the Gospel. It is what they know. It is also one of things that Fr Seraphim Rose warned about–the tendency of Protestant converts to bring into the Orthodox Church their spiritual baggage.

Sadly the case that too many converts to the Orthodox Church–the first priest in my story was himself a convert–see in the Church a chance to vindicate, at least in part, the Reformation and their own animus toward the Church of Rome. Pastorally this is simply a reality and one which sober spiritual fathers work to heal in their spiritual children.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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