Father John Edward, pastor of St. Michael’s Orthodox Church, Mt. Carmel, PA, delivered an inspiring, fascinating talk on “My Journey to Orthodoxy” – how he, his wife and family came into the Orthodox Christian Faith. This was the district’s annual St. Andrew’s Day observance. He was accompanied by his wife, Matushka Suja.
Father John and his family, who are ethnic Indians, were living in Malaysia, a country in Southeast Asia. He comes from a long line of Anglicans and, specifically, Anglican clergy. (In the United States, they are better known as Episcopalians). He eventually went to seminary, graduated and was ordained as an Anglican priest, serving on a parish. However, there were many changes occurring within the Anglican Church that planted a seed of doubt in him, beginning with the ordination of women as priests. Once he was sitting with his bishop – as a new, young priest - and the bishop asked him “what would you do?” if these changes kept happening. Father John replied, jokingly: “I’ll become Orthodox!” His bishop said: “That would be a good choice!”
From then on, Father Edward began his conversion to Orthodoxy. He started reading about the Orthodox Church, its history, theology, etc. but there were no Orthodox Churches in Malaysia. So he decided to write to the Greek Orthodox metropolitan in Hong Kong, which was the closest Orthodox bishop. He received a polite response but no invitation or much else. After some 10 years as an Anglican priest, Father John had the opportunity to undertake graduate studies at Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey. Once there, he intensively studied Early Church history and this convinced him all the more to become an Orthodox Christian.
Eventually Father John had the chance to visit St. Vladimir’s Seminary in the Yonkers, New York area and attended a Vespers service. He was “overwhelmed” by the beauty of the liturgics, the iconography, the music and, above all, the “family friendliness” with many children and infants in church. This experience caused him to decide to stay in the United States and he informed his bishop back home. He wanted to convert and become an Orthodox priest. So he phoned the Greek Archdiocese office in New York City and told the woman who answered the phone his desire; she asked him if he spoke Greek; he said no and she hung up on him!
Father John was becoming frustrated because “no doors” were being opened and his family was still in Malaysia. So he got assigned to an Anglican parish in New Jersey and moved his family to America. This was an upscale parish with an excellent local school system and wonderful parishioners. However, at the same time he knew “deep down” he couldn’t remain Anglican. He wanted to be part of the Early Church, but not the Roman Catholic Church. Only Orthodoxy has added nothing and removed nothing from the Faith, Father John said. “Keep our Faith intact,” he quoted St. Nikolai of Japan as having instructed.
After about 10 years serving as an Anglican priest in America, Father John decided “enough is enough.” The decisive moment came when a woman bishop was giving him Communion and he literally froze and didn’t know what to do. So he left the parish and took a job at Catholic Church Charities in New York City. At some point he went on the St. Vladimir Seminary website and saw Fr. Chad Hatfield’s (who is CEO) biography and realized that he had been a former Episcopal priest. He contacted him and a meeting was arranged with Metropolitan Tikhon. The meeting went well but he was told, why don’t you go down the road and join the Indian Orthodox Church? “I wanted to belong to an Orthodox Church where everyone was!” was his reply. So sometime later, he finally got a call from Father Chad who told him to study at the seminary for a year and a half before he would be considered as an Orthodox priest.
Father John then studied at the seminary and was assigned to SS. Peter & Paul Church in Jersey City, NJ as his internship, which he enjoyed. Two weeks before graduation he became a deacon but was told it would be sometime before he could become a priest. However, Archbishop Mark (Maymon) contacted him and wanted him to become a priest now. So the day after graduation, he was ordained an Orthodox priest and immediately assigned to St. Michael’s Church in Mt. Carmel where he and his wife are now.
(Editor’s note: under his spiritual leadership, the small but vibrant parish is growing once more!).
Jesus referred to the “pearl of great value” – for them, Orthodoxy is that “pearl” – they lost friends, they lost everything, Fr. John stated. The Orthodox Church has kept the Faith of Jesus Christ intact, the Church of the Fathers – God was faithful to us. There has been a lot of pain, but God was good. “Today, I don’t have to worry about a woman priest!” “I thank God that we have come home, we have come home to where we belong.”
“I am the first Indian priest in the Orthodox Church in America!” “Orthodoxy has a great mission for this country – we have something that this world and country needs.” “Orthodoxy is the answer to America and to this world.” But we aren’t reaching out enough. For example, young people especially want a “sense of mystery” – they turn to drugs, satanic cults, etc. Yet they don’t know that Orthodoxy already has this mystery. If only we could get their attention. And this is our challenge as Orthodox Christians today.
After his presentation, Fr. John and Matushka Suja entertained a number of interesting questions on their family’s journey to Orthodoxy. Gov. Gary Lelo and Fr. Dan Ressetar, district spiritual advisor, thanked both of them for the moving and informative talk and question-and-answer session. Jean Semanco and Fr. Dan then took them over to St. Michael’s Church for a tour.