It can be a lonely journey. For those of us who’ve ventured away from the warm, familiar arms of Western Christianity into the unknown, mysterious, and foreign embrace of Eastern Orthodoxy, it is a profound comfort to walk alongside fellow pilgrims. We find parts of our story in theirs; we can co-suffer, and ,also, rejoice together as we encounter the ancient faith, it’s healing, depth, and richness.
I never met Fr. Peter Gillquist of blessed memory, but in his memoir Memories of His Mercy, Recollections of the Grace and Providence of God, I came to know this fellow pilgrim and heard his heart for His Savior and for the lost. When he converted to Eastern Orthodoxy he brought not only himself, not only his family, but his whole church with him! What began as his passion for understanding the early church grew into the discovery that it had never ceased to exist; that it continued to this day in uninterrupted succession.
His memoir beautifully chronicles the ways in which God met him in the journey. One poignant example was in how God provided money for a breakfast that he and his wife were hosting for fellow Campus Crusade collegians. The day before they had no money to purchase the needed groceries, but unexpectedly received a ten dollar bill in the mail, anonymously sent. Again and again he recalls the big and little ways that God encouraged him and his wife Marilyn over the years as they stepped out in faith.
I resonate with how much he treasures his upbringing, his years serving as an evangelical, his experiences at Wheaton and in Campus Crusade. Becoming Orthodox wasn’t a cessation of that, but a fulfillment. His ministry has reached so many, and it’s easy to see that it will continue to do so through his books. May we be encouraged by this faithful, holy, and devout man and his heart to share the gospel.
Perhaps I’m not the only mother of a child who struggled to read, nor the only to find that graphic novels, comics, and Big Nate style hybrid books were part of the key to helping such a child to ease into reading, spurred on by visual story to decode the text that would give the key to understanding.
When I met the author of The Cross and the Stag, Gabriel Wilson, at a writer’s conference, I was intrigued by his project with Ancient Faith, the Among the Saints Series. Graphic novels with beautifully rendered illustrations that tell the stories of our beloved saints? I immediately thought of my newly-illumined eleven year old son and how much he’d appreciate this way of learning about the saints.
The Cross and the Stag tells the story of the life of St. Eustathius, his wife, and two sons through their conversion to Christianity, their seemingly insurmountable trials and tests of faith, and their martyrdom circa AD 118-126. I had heard his story before, but somehow seeing it illustrated placed and grounded my imagination into the scene, the horrors he faced as he lost all that he held dear were inescapably before my eyes, indelible as ink.
As a mother raising six children, I am so incredibly grateful for every tool available to teach my kids about the heroes of our faith. Finishing the book in one sitting, my eleven year old wrote out his thoughts, among them: “Never give up God, even in the hardest times. It’s hard for me to find God when I miss a playdate or something, but St. Eustathius lost his cattle, servants, grain, and got his wife taken away from him. He thought his kids were dead, but he kept praying to God.” What a powerful example of perseverance for all of us to aspire to!
It seems that anything is possible over coffee in a quiet cafe.
Even studying a biography 600+ pages long by three mothers whose combined progeny number fourteen. Fourteen souls to care for, wash for, cook for, run about for, and yet, three mothers laid aside a portion of time, of energy, of brain, to read and discuss together.
When you’re in the thick of it, in the swirl of parenting young children, a coffee with adults is luxurious. Add to it conversations of depth, on history, theology, politics, and it becomes downright heavenly.
We are reading Eric Metaxas’s biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor who plotted to assassinate Hitler, eventually dying in a concentration camp. There is so much to respond to, so much to think over, and it’s a true gift to do so with friends.
Most of my day is spent in cooking, feeding, and cleaning up from cooking and feeding, peppered with laundry and reversing the chaos of toys wrought by my toddlers. I find myself ever so grateful to add the discipline of study and reflection into my duties; it has become a priority, and this is due to the ladies who have banded together with me. We are happily obliged to one another to keep up, keep going forward; make reading an important task, which clearly, it is.