Welcome back! This episode is a little different because I am sharing a little of my faith journey and tie it in with the story of St Moses the Black, whose name I took when I was Chrismated into the Orthodox church. I first shared this at St John the Divine Greek Orthodox Church in Jacksonville, Florida. I have changed it up a bit because there are things I wanted to share that I wasn’t able to the first time.
So here’s some background… When individuals convert to orthodoxy they take on the name of a saint. This is usually someone they admire or with my children they just take the name of the Saint I gave them when they were born. When our family converted to Orthodoxy, I chose St Moses the Black because he was someone who I could identify with, but he was also someone I could look to in my walk of faith.
Lifestyle of a Saint
St Moses started out his life as a slave but was banished by his master because he, according to some accounts, murdered a man. Whether or not he did St Moses was an all around bad guy so his master didn’t want him around. Soon after being banished, he became the leader of his own band of marauders. What else could he do?
St Moses lived a life of excess whether eating, drinking or stealing. It is said that no man could stand up to him because of his strength. Once he was interrupted as he was trying to steal from a farm so he waited until night, swam the river to kill the farmer who had hid from him again so he stole two of his sheep and swam back across the river to kill and roast them for dinner.
The church I grew up in only baptized people when they accepted Christ into their lives, and this is known as Believers Baptism. They baptized me at 13 years old. I don’t remember what was said or what prompted me to go forward. I knew at that age I was filled with a blackness that needed to be cleansed. That’s where my connection to Abba Moses starts. Because when Abba Moses was ordained to the priesthood, someone commented that “now Abba Moses has become as white as snow.” And Abba Moses retorted, “all but in his heart.”
I understood at 13 years old exactly how he felt.
Even as a child I knew God couldn’t forgive me because of the blackness in my heart. All I remember hearing when I went to church was that God was angry with me for my sin. That I could do no right. I don’t even know that was what was said, I just know that is what I heard. Jesus was an insurance card to keep me out of hell, not someone I could have a relationship with or someone I could live like. I was a Christian in name only and believe it or not I was arrested within a year for breaking and entering. Church wasn’t where I could fit in, but the guys I was arrested with they knew me. We were close. Except for when they would steal my stuff, but that’s the price you pay to have friends.
I left the church at age 16 because those same friends didn’t go to church, so why would I. I walked out of church one Sunday and my best friend asked me why I went there because I cursed and smoked and did drugs, and he was right. Church was for people who were good, not people like me. Church was guilt driven and shame based, and I didn’t want to feel guilty or ashamed. My friends didn’t judge me, they encouraged me.
I stayed away from church for the next 10 years. I became an agnostic, which means I assumed there could be a God, I just didn’t want him in my life. But, in my heart, I knew I needed God, but I wasn’t willing to accept him. One story says that St Moses would talk to the God he didn’t know and ask him to show himself to him.
God has a funny way of getting through to people.
After 10 years I had a conversion experience ironically enough, my conversion came at a local county fair. I had a booth selling air purifiers, and across from my booth was a baptist minister selling burial plots now if you don’t think that irony. The Saturday night before the fair closed he asked me if he could buy me a coke and a corn dog, being a hungry young man I accepted and he set me down and presented the gospel to me. He said one thing I will never forget, Steve, you’re a good guy, but you need Christ in your life.
He told me all I needed to do was to pray and ask Christ to come into my life. So I prayed in my car on my way back to Jacksonville. The release of the shame and guilt I had built up overwhelmed me. I had to pull the truck over because I was crying so hard. That was my spiritual awakening. I knew I had finally been forgiven.
He had a funny way of getting through to Abba Moses. When Abba Moses was hiding from the authorities after stealing the sheep, he hid among some monks. He was so overwhelmed by the love and dedication he saw in the monks he wanted to be admitted. But the monks didn’t want him because they feared him. So he sat outside the gate begging them and crying for a long time. Once admitted he threw himself into the monastic life growing faster than his brother monks. But he still had a hard time adjusting to the Christian life.
Just like St Moses, I threw myself into reading and studying and prayer. My wife and I were baptized within a few months of joining the church, and we both began to grow. We started helping with the youth group and helping lead small groups. In 2000, I started a monthly men’s group. I went to college In 2001 I finished my degree in Religion in 2007 and began a Christian coaching business. I became the pastor of a in 2009 that was me trying to play God and came on staff at a local church as an associate/grounds keeper in 2011.
One of the histories of Abba Moses’ life it says that “he was zealous for the faith.” I was zealous for the faith I just didn’t know where to focus it. Then the lead pastor of the church left abruptly in 2013, and we knew it was time to go. I talked with people from different churches and even the home church movement who believe that the church should only take place in people’s houses because that is where the church started. But we knew we couldn’t decide from just talking to people and reading books, we had to make the jump, so in the spring of 2014 I resigned. Our plan at the time was to spend 6 months finding the right church for our family. Well, we made it to three. The third church we visited was St John, the Divine Greek Orthodox Church and we’ve never left.
Just like St Moses knew he was home when he saw how devoted the monks were, we knew we were home when we saw the Love and respect for Christ and His church that Orthodoxy had with just one visit. We started attending on Wednesday night where Father was showing the series Discovering Orthodoxy and I would fall asleep at night watching that series on YouTube. I read several books about orthodoxy; I searched online, I just couldn’t learn enough, and then I realized that no matter how long I’m in Orthodoxy, there is always deeper ground to cover and just like that I realized that a good and loving God used all of that to get me here.
It took me coming to St John the Divine and Orthodoxy to develop a genuine relationship with God. Through a spiritual father, a prayer life with a loving and forgiving God, and understanding that I don’t have to be perfect.
My favorite story
A brother committed a fault and they invited Abba Moses to a meeting to discuss an appropriate penance, Abba Moses refused to attend. When he was again called to the meeting, he took a leaking basket filled with sand. When he arrived at the meeting place, the others asked why he was carrying the basket. He replied, “My sins run out behind me and I do not see them, but today I am coming to judge the errors of another?” On hearing this, the assembled brothers forgave the erring monk.
If you are struggling with your faith or feel like you can’t be forgiven for something in your past, I can relate to your story as well. There is a loving God who forgives you even when you can’t forgive yourself. You can look to St Moses or Read the story of St Mary of Egypt as an example that we can all be forgiven no matter what the sin is. We also have to forgive ourselves because shame has no place in Christ Jesus. We have to shut the door to the past to move on to the future.
That’s it for this week. Next week I’m going to share on the Didache, which is an early Christian writing that almost made it into the bible. I also want to thank some supporters for their encouragement; Anna, Travis, Ed, Paul, and Niko Bob. I keep this podcast up because of the kind words and friendship of these people. I am deeply grateful for their support. See you next week.