...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 8:20 AM [+]
…with my friend and brother’s permission, I relate his story to you.
William sat destitute in his Arizona residence at 2am watching a program about Alaska on PBS. He knew that his life was coming apart - being addicted to alcohol – and he was desperately concerned for the lives of his sons who lay asleep beside him and were being equally affected by his disease. He had to do something…anything.
As he watched the program with all these thoughts in his head, he saw something that really struck him. He says he remembers vividly standing to his feet as an image of a small church was being shown; a “strange looking church with weird bulbs on the top and funny looking crosses all over.” He was further mesmerized as a “holy man” wearing all black and sporting a huge beard came out “swinging something with smoke coming out.” Inside the church, William relates that all he could remember was that it was filled with pictures. Something or (someone), in this moment of desperation (which I imagine few of us have ever experienced), called to William and compelled him. He had to go to Alaska…to see that funny church.
Money in his pocket was only enough for bus fare to Seattle. He went and as it turned out, this would be close enough. Wandering the streets of downtown he found himself weeping in a park when two men approached him handing our sandwiches. They talked, and William explained to them about his pilgrimage (though he could not at the time know to use such a word.) To say the least, the two men where amazed because they were laypersons at St. Paul Antiochian Orthodox Church and it was Holy Saturday.
It was my first Holy Week and my mind was all-awash in the splendor of Orthodoxy when I saw the strange burly man walk into our Church. I was particularly touched because he was obviously in dire straits and also had no idea what to do or what was going on during this great Paschal vigil. (Apparently he’d not had time to read Frederica’s 12 things!) But I watched in amazement as he approached the central icon and not knowing what to do, he fell to his knees and laid his hand gently upon it…weeping. I leaned over and asked my wife if she knew who it was…she shook her head, we were still fairly new ourselves.
Months later I would find myself standing next to this burly man holding candles and being received together into the Holy Orthodox Church. He had, and would continue to become a beloved member of our Parish. William was in many ways, gone as he struggled through the catechumenate and into sobriety. No doubt he readily embraced the Orthodox tradition of taking a new name, and even now has to frequently remind me to call him by his Christian name: Olaf.
I have nothing but admiration for people who fight alcoholism (or really any serious addiction). Someone once said that the greatest victory is over one's self. Nothing could be more true...and it is in many ways a never ending battle: one day at a time (as they say.)
He would eventually make it up to Alaska for a visit (he ended up calling the greater Seattle area home for a couple of years now)- though I'm not sure he ever saw the exact church he'd seen on TV - but he had found THE Church, and it made all the difference in the world. One cannot help but believe that God was behind all of this.
Olaf has now reached a milestone in the process of his healing and has decided that it is time for him to return to Arizona, to no doubt face many demons (both literally and figuratively), and to begin to help his sons out of a very bad situation which has apparently developed during the time of his neccesary absence. He needs both our spiritual and our material support, and I am going to ask those of you who read this blog to consider helping as well…which is especially appropriate in this season of Advent. If you would be interested in helping Olaf, please email me at the address in the menu above and I will give you further specific instructions on how you can do so. If you cannot help materially, please take a moment now and pray for Olaf?
I know that we will miss him greatly, he was indeed an inspiration and a model of Christian humility and love to me. God speed my friend…hurry back.