Renee Ioanna Wilson, who hails from Los Angeles, California, has been visiting Cape Town to attend a Biblical Studies course, shares her feelings about what drew her to Orthodoxy.
Although I am of Greek origin, I grew up in an American Protestant home and my parents worked as Protestant missionaries for about 15 years. After leaving the mission field, they searched in vain for a church that would live up to their understanding of true worship.
So they began systematically hunting for the right church or faith. They were looking for discipleship, sound doctrines and a spirit of fellowship. After years of disappointment, my father had almost given up but his intellectual, truth-seeking, Greek mind found its way back to the Orthodox Church. In fact, it was truly, by the grace of God, that he found the path.
As my father had been raised as Greek Orthodox, it was not an unfamiliar form of worship for him. But like many of those born into Orthodoxy, he had to invest his time and effort into understanding the underlying theology of the traditions preserved by the Church.
He started attending Greek Orthodox services while my mother, my sister and I still held leadership roles in our local Protestant assembly.
My dad would invite us to services but we really only went along to humour him. I remember, one time after church, I said to him, “If I ever have a family, I will never bring them to the Orthodox Church because I do not understand it!”
After this, my father invited my mother and I to a lecture given by Father Peter Gillquist, a man whose spiritual journey also began as a Protestant and eventually led him and his colleagues, after studying church history, to join the Antiochan Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, along with about 17 other parishes.
Learning New Testament Greek was the key to my family returning to the Greek Orthodox Church as we could at least attempt to follow the Divine Liturgy. This was the last brick laid in the foundation of my conversion to the Orthodox Faith. I am also one who loves history, art and culture and thus, I was hooked by the very rich tapestry of Orthodoxy.
I am now part of and attend services at the Saint Sophia Cathedral in the heart of downtown Los Angeles. I also enjoy volunteering at the disabled kids’ camp my church runs.
I graduated from nursing school in 2009 and worked in the nursing field for two years before deciding to further my biblical studies, which brought me to Cape Town. I will be returning to California later this year where I plan on moving forward in my nursing education, working again and teaching in my own church’s bible study classes.
To me, the main difference between the Protestant and Orthodox faiths is lifestyle. Many Protestants seek a passion for God and try to live a life set apart from the world. While in Orthodoxy, endurance of faith by participation in the sacraments and holy mysteries, plays a huge role. In Orthodoxy, one witnesses the unity of Faith and good works, accompanied by discipline, humility and long-suffering, like Christ.
An aspect of the Church that has impressed me in my time here in Cape Town is something closely woven into Eastern cultures — hospitality.
I have been welcomed into the Cape Town Orthodox community of the faithful with unconditional love and generosity. Even, in my own home parish in the USA, I have not felt this degree of warmth and friendship and I have made some very dear friends here which will last my lifetime.
I feel that they have carried out the meaning of the word, “philoxenia,” love of the stranger. Jesus encouraged his disciples to act this out with his words, “Truly, I say unto you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:43-40.)
Renee Ioanna Wilson