After I had finished reading Anthony M. Coniaris’ Philokalia: The Bible of Orthodox Spirituality, I had come to the realization that Orthodoxy was much deeper than I had ever imagined. Centuries of writers were packed into the five volume set, their wisdom being passed down through the ages.
I had a preconceived notion that the Orthodox Church was nothing more than a re-packaged version of Roman Catholicism. As I was raised in Protestant churches, I had thought that everything related to Catholicism was at best a misconstrued version of history and worship. Now I had to rethink everything I had previously thought.
This tore at me, because I honestly felt like I was abandoning what I knew to be true. I would stay up late at night thinking everything through. I prayed that I wasn’t being led astray and I attempted to act like the Bereans and take everything back to scripture.
I went back to the seven ecumenical councils and studied how they started and read the results of those councils. I was ready to convert emotionally, but this scared me. What if I was making the wrong choice? What if I was leading my wife astray? Would I end up eternally damned and responsible for her soul as well? I wanted to be convinced without a doubt, and I still had plenty of those. I still could not bring myself to prayers to the saints, prayers to the Theotokos, or venerating icons.
I made a trip back to Saint Katherine’s for another meeting with Father Phil. I remember exclaiming to him how much I got out of the Philokalia. It was a treasure of information, and I remember being a little hesitant in returning the book to him (thankfully I now have my own copy).
I shared with him what I had read of the seven councils and how some of it surprised me. I had not been aware that the Third Ecumenical Council had set forth the canon of Mary being the Theotokos. Nor did I know that the Seventh Ecumenical Council restored the veneration of icons.
I felt like I was being overwhelmed with a reality I was not ready to believe. The facts that pointed to Orthodoxy being the true church to come directly from the apostles was too much for me to ignore, but mentally I still fought because I didn’t want to abandon what I grew up believing. I felt like I was betraying who I was at my own core.
Father Phil was, as always, understanding of my position. He shared parts of his own journey with us, and did his best to calm my fears and answer my questions. He reinforced some of what I read within the Philokalia and the seven councils.
Then a peculiar thing happened. He gave me another book to read, but it was not related to any of the issues I was struggling with. It was called Three Byzantine Saints, by Elizabeth Dawes and it told the tales of Saint Daniel the Stylite, Saint Theodore of Sykeon, and Saint John the Almsgiver.