Thursday, September 25, 2008

Orthodox Patriarchal Blessing

A few days after The Decision I drove to Father John's to discuss it. He was waiting on his porch as I drove carefully into his driveway, got out of the car and staggered up the stairs into his house to the chair he had prepared. Angus, his black Scottie "guard dog", lay down on my feet and went to sleep.

Then Fr. John took a deep breath and exclaimed “You will forever be a pimple on the behind of Orthodoxy!” We both laughed when I replied I hoped they would not have to lance me as did the Mormons. He then became serious and declared: “Now I am going to pronounce an ORTHODOX Patriarchal blessing upon you!”

This caught me by surprise as he began to speak with great enthusiasm and confidence what he perceived and felt. As he finished I was left speechless and weeping. He could not have spoken more insightful, penetrating and meaningful words to me. I was completely undone, chastened and rejoicing. "Thou art Joseph!" he announced at the blessing's beginning. "And I don't mean Joseph Smith. Rather, thou art like Joseph of old, who was betrayed by family members and sold into Egypt", he continued, tying in the parallels to a descent into slavery and, because of his skill with dreams, was subsequently raised to levels of influence in the courts of Pharaoh.

Earlier that same morning I had come out of a dream, having jolted myself awake by “slamming on the brakes” of a car at a crossroads without traffic signs. My car is heading east and I wait for another vehicle coming at high speed from the left (north), which obviously does not see me. It whooshes through the intersection on its way south and I feel relief to have avoided a collision. I return to sleep.

After awakening a little later, I feel dizzy and have to use the dresser and walls to keep upright before climbing the stairs unsteadily to my computer room to inspect the morning email. There were three messages: 1. just in from Ukraine from the aforementioned Mormon patriarch to Eastern Europe; 2. from a Rabbi friend in Idaho; and 3. from the local Mormon stake president. The latter two were sent the previous evening. Messages 1 & 2 were analytical responses to my play The Defense of Cain. Message 3 was a dismissive response to an early draft of a Sunstone Symposium paper sent two months earlier. These three messages together felt like cross traffic.

I shared that dream with Fr. John during our discussion and he suggested I could turn in whatever new direction I chose, if I felt uncertain at the crossroads. I told him that I'd only stopped to allow cross traffic to pass. I was not changing course in heading east.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Decision

I had just finished unloading students at Barancca Elementary School at the last part of my morning school bus run on September 19, 2008, when I felt the decision. It was not rational, but it was clear. When I got home Birgitta greeted me at our back door and before I could say anything, she said she knew what had happened. I had decided to apply to the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) for membership--IF they would have me just as I am.

If I were pressed to explain, I would refer to two tipping events. The first was a personal letter from Russia by a Mormon patriarch to Eastern Europe; the second was my awareness of a 30-year scandal in the OCA that had just become public, which had brought down their highest ecclesiastical leader.

In the first case, I had renewed a correspondence with an old Mormon friend, a retired professor of Russian whom I had met at a conference in Salt Lake City the previous month. The last time we had interacted before then was when we had worked on a project together at BYU in early 1979. His letter convinced me that further communication with Mormon leaders would be fruitless.

In the second case, I recalled an old dream (November 1966), where I am with friends telling them that I am at odds with the Church and that
"...the administrative structure needs complete overhaul, beginning with the old men at the top...It's not that one or two might not be retained in an advisory capacity because of their experience. And their removal isn't because they aren't 'good' men..."

Well before becoming aware of the OCA scandal I had generally thought of "The Church" only in Mormon terms. Now I was able to see it in broader, traditional and inclusive Christian terms.