Conversion StoriesEastern OrthodoxMethodist

Taking God out of My Pocket: A Journey from Methodism to Orthodoxy to Rome

By: Frank L. Johnson July 20, 2015 45 Comments

St. Paul — perhaps the greatest convert of all — was nonetheless suspicious of converts. In his First Letter to Timothy 3:6, concerning one who aspires to the office of bishop, St. Paul says: “He must not be a recent convert, or he may be puffed up with conceit.” So it may be a good thing that I am not a recent convert. I have had time to cool down, to reflect, and to mitigate, if not eliminate, the “puffiness” and “conceit” to which St. Paul refers. The main part of my conversion story happened, or at least began, about 15 years ago in 2000.

For the first 55 years of my life I was an active Methodist — beginning in Methodist Youth Fellowship in my local church in Daytona Beach and continuing in Wesley Foundation at University of South Florida in Tampa where I received my first degree in English Education. After teaching junior high English for a year in Tampa, I went to seminary at Southern Methodist University in Dallas where I received a Master’s of Theology. I had met my wife, Patricia, while we were students at USF, and we got married between my first and second years of seminary at SMU. She was originally Presbyterian, but converted to Methodism since she was marrying a future Methodist minister. I then served as pastor for United Methodist parishes in the Florida Conference for several years, eventually leaving the ordained ministry to return to English teaching until retiring in 2004. Though I had left the ordained ministry, I continued active membership in the United Methodist Church, which I continued to love.

The vacation that changed my life

In 2000, Patricia and I took an inside passage cruise along the coast of Alaska, making stops along the way to tour towns such as Ketchikan, Juneau, and Sitka. In Juneau and Sitka, my wife and I visited historic old Russian Orthodox churches where I was struck by the beauty of the iconography and picked up some brochures on the history and theology of Orthodox Christianity. Orthodoxy’s claim to have an unbroken Tradition going back 2000 years to the time of Christ especially impressed me since I was part of a Protestant denomination that began only about 200 years ago with John Wesley. When I got back home from that Alaskan cruise, I did a lot of computer searching on Orthodox Christianity, and so began my journey.

When I was a little kid, I had a sense that God was bigger than I was, and that big God pulled me through a lot of tough times in my growing-up years, and I believe He inspired me to go on and be ordained as a United Methodist pastor. But I also found that as I grew up, my God didn’t. In fact, as I grew bigger, my God got smaller. My Protestant heritage encouraged me to analyze God, to rationalize God, to privatize God, and to individualize God — and so I did — to the point that I trivialized my God. It seemed as though my God was no bigger than I was — in fact, my God was in the spitting image of me! I had successfully re-shaped and re-created God in my own image. God was pretty well reduced to nothing more than “the man upstairs” that the “jocks for Jesus” so often talk about. I lost respect for the God that I had so neatly tucked away in my hip pocket.

In my nearly 56 years of Protestantism, I experienced that Protestantism glories in its pluralism — and well it must — for there is no one unifying Holy Tradition to hold Protestantism together. Each Protestant denomination has its own general concept of God, but it doesn’t end there. Most Protestants, at least Methodist Protestants, are encouraged to go on and come up each with his or her own private and individual concept of God.

But then I discovered in Orthodoxy, through the Divine Liturgy and my studies of the 2,000-year-old Tradition, the “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal” — the One that so shook the Temple and so shook the earth and so shook Isaiah that all Isaiah could say in response was “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:1-8) In Orthodoxy I met the God who cannot be analyzed and rationalized and trivialized by little old me. I met the God who does not yield or give in to my judgments of Him, but rather who stands in judgment of me. I met the God who is not the result of my personal creative imagination, but rather the God who created me out of nothing. I met the God who will not allow Himself to be re-molded by me into my image, but rather who seeks to re-mold me into His image and likeness.

In Orthodoxy, I met the God that challenged and confronted me, even as out of the whirlwind He challenged and confronted Job, with these words: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?…I will question you…Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me if you have understanding…Who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:1-7) Yes, and where was I when God sent Jesus, called the Apostles, and laid the foundation of One Church with Christ as its cornerstone? Who am I that I should try to change God’s revelation as it lives on in the continuous 2,000-year-old Christian Tradition? Does it not make more Christian sense that I should change myself or let God change me in accordance with His revelation? In Orthodoxy, I met the God who prodded me as He prodded Abraham: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1) So I walked away from my Protestant past, even my family, and began my Orthodox journey. In Orthodoxy, I met the BIG God who came to me like a bolt out of the blue and struck me down, even as He struck down St. Paul with blinding light on the road to Damascus (see Acts 9: 1-19), but then He raised me up so that I can say with the hymn: “I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see” — thanks to the “amazing grace” of a big God — a truly BIG God.

The beauty of early Christian traditions

I finally got the nerve to call the Greek Orthodox Church in the Orlando area to set up an appointment with a priest to discuss what was happening to me. I ended up meeting with the parish’s associate priest who was a former Texas Methodist and had himself converted to Orthodoxy in his earlier life. I began meeting even more Methodists who had converted to Orthodoxy, so I decided to become a catechumen. After several months as a catechumen, I was chrismated (confirmed with holy chrism) in the Greek Orthodox Church in January 2001.

It was not all that difficult to convert from Methodism to Eastern Orthodoxy, because I found the two churches share a similar theology of salvation, thanks to the fact that John Wesley (the Anglican priest who founded Methodist societies that became the Methodist Church) was greatly influenced by the early Christian Greek Fathers. Wesley’s idea of “going on to perfection” is similar to the idea of “theosis” or “deification” that is at the heart of Eastern Orthodox theology. Both traditions share the idea that salvation is a growing experience.

Like other converts from Protestantism to Orthodoxy or Catholicism, it took me time to understand and adjust to the emphasis on Mary in the more ancient Christian Tradition. But I finally came to see Jesus’ mother Mary as chief among the saints and our friend in Heaven who lives there to intercede for us. We can ask her to pray for us even as we might ask a friend in this world to pray for us. And, yes, as the mother of Jesus — who is the incarnation of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity — she can be and should be called the Mother of God.

Another matter to which I had to adjust was the veneration of sacred images — mostly icons in Eastern Orthodoxy and statues in Roman Catholicism. Orthodox people are frequently found kissing icons. I came to realize that Christianity is truly an incarnational faith. We believe the Divine comes to us “in the flesh.” The spiritual comes to us and is revealed to us in the material. Orthodox and Catholics do not worship images, but we can and do honor and venerate the holy persons represented (or re-presented) by the images. Icons are like “windows to heaven” through which we can look to see the sacred realities behind the icon and depicted in the icon or statue.

Full of history, but lacking unity

I was “head over heels in love” with Orthodox Christianity — the beauty and mystery of the Liturgy, the iconography, the history, the theology. It was like, after 55 years of “wandering in the wilderness,” I had finally found the Truth — yes, the Truth with a capital “T.” And here is where that “puffiness” and “conceit” that worried St. Paul entered in. I am sure I unfortunately beat a lot of friends and family over the head with my new-found faith. After all, I had found the Truth, and I could not understand why other folks could not see what I was seeing.

Then in 2005, shortly after Benedict XVI became Pope, came the second major part of my conversion and my move into the Roman Catholic Church. Why? I loved Orthodoxy — and I still do; I long for the day when the East/West Schism of 1054 will be healed — but the longer I was in Orthodox churches, the more I became aware of inherent weaknesses and problems that disturbed me.

I think it can be said in fairness that Eastern Orthodoxy is not really one church, but a kind of loose confederation of various, nationally-oriented churches. There are the Greek Orthodox, the Russian Orthodox, the Syrian Orthodox, the Egyptian Orthodox, etc. — each with its own patriarchal leader. As Orthodoxy entered the United States, the multiplicity of Orthodox churches led to the problem of “overlapping jurisdictions” in America. So, for example, for Orlando, Florida, there is not one Orthodox bishop, but many — one for the Greek Orthodox, one for the Antiochian Orthodox, one for the Orthodox Church in America (the OCA with Russian heritage), one for the Coptics, etc. Though the various Orthodox churches cooperate with each other to some extent and have inter-communion, they do not manifest for me the true Oneness and Catholicity that are marks of Christ’s Church. One of the reasons I moved on into the Catholic Church is because I became convinced that Jesus really did know what He was doing when He put Peter (now Francis) in charge of His Church. We need that strong central leadership or otherwise we degenerate into the ecclesial confusion of Eastern Orthodoxy and the denominational confusion of Protestantism. Our unity as Roman Catholics enables us to be more effective in such matters as evangelism, missions, and service to the world at large.

My years in Eastern Orthodoxy taught me to love and appreciate Tradition, side-by-side with Scripture, each complementing the other. But the longer I was in Orthodoxy the more I became concerned that a lot of little “t” traditions were accumulating and over-powering big “T” Tradition, like a snowball rolling down hill that just gets bigger and bigger. One aspect of tradition in Orthodoxy that I think has gotten out-of -hand is the fasting regimen. Sometimes I think our Catholic fasting regimen now is too puny and weak, but I also think the Orthodox regimen represents the other extreme. Orthodox can spend a major part of the year in fasting — and the fasting regimen is so strict and lean that it is just plain unhealthy. I have known Orthodox folks who have destroyed their health trying to abide by all the fasting rules and disregarding good nutrition. Though perhaps too easy, Catholic fasting rules are at least reasonable — and I do think God expects us to use good sense.

Professing the Nicene Creed

Since I had already been anointed with holy chrism in the Orthodox Church and since the Catholic Church acknowledges the validity of Eastern Orthodox priesthood and sacraments, my move into the Catholic Church was relatively easy. I did not have to go through the RCIA process and be confirmed again. During a weekday Mass, the priest of a local Catholic parish had me recite the Nicene Creed and then he shook my hand and welcomed me into the Catholic Church. By the way, since Baptism is a one-time event, both the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Churches accepted my Methodist baptism in the name of the Trinity.

I am now actively involved in Orlando’s Good Shepherd Catholic Parish. I teach a weekly Faith Formation/Confirmation class for youth and a monthly Baptism class for parents and godparents of the babies or children to be baptized. I am also an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion and I serve as a Lector at Sunday Mass. In addition to all the reading and studying in the Faith that I am constantly doing on my own, I also fully participated in the Orlando Diocese Catechist Certification Program (DCCP) and am certified as a Master Catechist.

As a sidelight, I might add that my wife did not convert to either Orthodoxy or Catholicism. She continues to be active in her local United Methodist parish. I visit her church occasionally for special programs and she visits mine — most recently for the Easter Vigil Mass on the Saturday night before Easter Sunday. At first, my wife’s not seeing things the way I did bothered me, but I have come to see it as God’s will. For one thing, I am still friends with many folks in her Methodist parish, including the pastors, and this positive relationship provides me with an avenue to share my Catholic faith with non-Catholics. Additionally, this situation has taught me a lesson in love: if we love only those who are like us, that is nothing — the sign of true godly love is to love those who are different from us. One of the beauties of Catholicism since Vatican II is that, as we now look at non-Catholics, we see their glasses as half-full instead of as half-empty — a major attitude change on our part and probably a very good one as we witness to the world around us.

  • Tom_mcewen

    You are the grass under the concrete, slow but driven to the light.

  • Cindy

    Not all Orthodox communions accept Methodist baptisms even though they are baptized with the Trinitarian formula. Some require re-baptism — at least of Catholics who join one of the Orthodox communions. And because all of the various Orthodox communions are not united on this topic shows forth the need for a central authority.

  • Lady Bird

    Welcome home!

  • Charles Buxton

    Although not mentioned in the article, but probably something Frank became well aware of after becoming a Catholic is the fact that the Catholic Church recognizes the sacrament of marriage in the civil union of baptized Protestants, regardless of the theology of any particular denomination. Therefore Frank and his wife Patricia were benefitting from the grace of that sacrament when he was Methodist, then Orthodox, and then as Catholic even though his wife remained Methodist. Along with his wife’s valid Presbyterian baptism and his Methodist baptism, their entering into an unbeknownst sacramental marriage as Methodists channeled God’s grace along his faith journey.

    • OnlyOne001

      Although not mentioned in the article, but probably something Frank became well aware of after becoming a Catholic is the fact that the Catholic Church recognizes the sacrament of marriage in the civil union of baptized Protestants, regardless of the theology of any particular denomination.

      This statement confuses validity and sacramentality. All marriages, including civil marriages, are considered by the Catholic Church as valid unless and until proved otherwise. However, by its very nature, a civil marriage cannot be sacramental. Only a Christian (religious) marriage can be sacramental. This requires that the couple’s vows be exchanged before a valid Christian clergyman.
      The Catholic Church, therefore, does recognize as sacramental the religious marriages of baptized Protestant Christians (both parties must be baptized). The Church also recognizes civil marriages as valid, but not as sacramental.

      • Charles Buxton

        According to Catholic Answers, “Non-Catholics are not generally under the authority of canon law concerning marriage, so marriages between non-Catholics are generally recognized to be valid unless proven otherwise. Some of these marriages are sacramental (when both parties are baptized) and some are not (when one or both are not baptized).” http://www.catholic.com/quickquestions/when-is-marriage-a-sacrament

        No distinction is made here between validity and sacramentality when both the man and the woman are validly baptized. Also, no mention is made “that the couple’s vows be exchanged before a valid Christian clergyman.”

        • OnlyOne001

          The quote from CA is referring to Catholic marriage (where the Catholic Church has jurisdiction), not Protestant marriage. This explains the difference in criteria.

          • Charles Buxton

            There is nothing in the canon law of the Catholic Church stating that two baptized Protestants must be married before a Protestant minister in order for them to receive a valid sacramental marriage. I was pleasantly surprised to learn this in my Liturgy and the Sacraments course when studying for a masters in theology since it shows the generosity of the Catholic Church with regards to non-Catholics. To reformulate: Two baptized Protestants (man and woman) receive a valid sacramental marriage when contracting a civil marriage. Don’t take my word for it, ask a priest. My main point and on which we both agree (since you seem to believe that Frank and Patricia received the sacrament of marriage only through the witness of a Protestant clergyman) was that the sacramental grace of Frank’s and Patricia’s baptisms made it possible for them unbeknownst at the time to enter into a valid sacramental marriage as Protestants. So Frank had both the sacramental graces of baptism and marriage propelling his journey towards the Catholic Church where he could encounter the other five, and in particular, the pearl of great price, the sacrament of the Eucharist.

            • OnlyOne001

              A marriage can be valid without being sacramental, but a marriage cannot be sacramental unless it is also valid. The conditions for validity are that the wedding be exclusively between one man and one woman and that there be no circumstance or intent which vitiates their consent. The additional conditions for sacramentality are that the wedding be between two baptized Christians, and that it be officiated by a Christian clergyman; this is the minimal condition for a sacrament to take place. Further additional conditions apply when one or both of the parties are baptized Catholics. The wedding must then either take place in a Catholic church, chapel or oratory and be officiated by a Catholic clergyman, or a dispensation must be obtained to allow the wedding to take place in another venue or under another jurisdiction.

              The Catholic Church does not have jurisdiction where two non-Catholic Christians are marrying. This is why canon law says nothing regarding them. But the very definition of “sacramental” requires a Christian religious wedding officiated by a clergyman. If the couple qualifies, the marriage is sacramental; if not, the marriage is natural. In any case, their marriage is, like all marriages, assumed to be valid until proved otherwise.

              Therefore, the person who told you that two Protestants who marry through a civil wedding are by that fact in a sacramental marriage is simply wrong. If a baptized Protestant couple has been married by a justice of the peace, their marriage would, by definition, not be sacramental, and if they then desire to become Catholic, the Catholic Church would require their marriage to be convalidated.

              • Charles Buxton

                If you would be so kind as to reference an authoritative source supporting your most recent post, particularly this statement: “Therefore, the person who told you that two Protestants who marry through a civil wedding are by that fact in a sacramental marriage is simply wrong.” It was a priest who told this to our class.

                • OnlyOne001

                  I received my information from a priest, too, Charles. However, my point rests, not solely on canon law, but on the definition of what constitutes a sacrament. In order to have a religious result (sacrament), you have to have a religious action. A civil wedding is not a religious action; therefore, it cannot be a sacrament.

                • Charles Buxton

                  The quote from Catholic Answers confirmed what I learned in the Liturgy and the Sacraments course: (1) A marriage between an un-baptized man and woman is valid; (2) a marriage between the baptized non-Catholic man and woman is both valid and sacramental. Nothing dictates what the manner of setting should be. You are the one who is imposing a non-Catholic religious setting in order to validate the sacramental nature of a Protestant marriage where none is required. Again, I provided a source. Where’s yours?

                • OnlyOne001

                  Charles, how do you define what is a sacrament? And how, given that definition, is a person to partake of a sacrament?

                • Charles Buxton

                  As I did for you, please provide an authoritative source external to yourself supporting your position. If you cannot, then let us depart in peace.

                • OnlyOne001

                  You are all bound up in legalities, Charles. My argument is not about legalities, but about sacramentality.

                  Regarding the definition of “sacrament,” the Catechism of the Catholic Church states the following:

                  774 The Greek word mysterion was translated into Latin by two terms: mysterium and sacramentum. In later usage the term sacramentum emphasizes the visible sign of the hidden reality of salvation which was indicated by the term mysterium. In this sense, Christ himself is the mystery of salvation: “For there is no other mystery of God, except Christ.” The saving work of his holy and sanctifying humanity is the sacrament of salvation, which is revealed and active in the Church’s sacraments (which the Eastern Churches also call “the holy mysteries”). The seven sacraments are the signs and instruments by which the Holy Spirit spreads the grace of Christ the head throughout the Church which is his Body. The Church, then, both contains and communicates the invisible grace she signifies. It is in this analogical sense, that the Church is called a “sacrament.”

                  1084 “Seated at the right hand of the Father” and pouring out the Holy Spirit on his Body which is the Church, Christ now acts through the sacraments he instituted to communicate his grace. The sacraments are perceptible signs (words and actions) accessible to our human nature. By the action of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit they make present efficaciously the grace that they signify.

                  1131 The sacraments are efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us. The visible rites by which the sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces proper to each sacrament. They bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions.

                  As you see, there is not a word about legalities or civil authorities. How can any civil authority celebrate a sacrament? That is the office of the Christian clergy, for they act in the name of Christ. How can any couple receive a sacrament they do not want, do not seek and prefer to ignore — isn’t that why they go to a civil authority to be married according to civil law? These people are not properly disposed; even if they were to go through the motions of the rite, they would not receive the grace of the sacrament. This is why the Church cannot accept a civil marriage as sacramental.

                • Charles Buxton

                  You provide no authoritative external source supporting your view that baptized Protestants who contract a civil marriage only do not have a valid sacramental marriage. There is no negative prohibition in your quotations from the catechism but only in your concluding opinion. I’ll stick with Catholic Answers and may the peace of Christ be with you.

                • OnlyOne001

                  Pope John Paul II, in his apostolic letter promulgating the Catechism, refers to it as “authoritative exposition of the one and perennial apostolic faith” and a “sure and authentic reference text.” The Catechism provides clear evidence that sacramentality is the domain of the Church, and not of civil authorities. Civil marriage is not a religious act; therefore, it does not involve a sacrament.

                • Charles Buxton

                  Your recurring method is to quote and then state your opinion. If you ever do find an authoritative source in the Catholic Church specifically stating that the sacrament of marriage among baptized Protestants can only be received in a Protestant Church wedding ceremony, I would be most grateful. Thanks for your time.

                • OnlyOne001

                  I don’t know where your head is, Charles. I quoted a pope who stated that the Catechism is authoritative. Evidently you recognize neither the Catechism nor the pope. In my quotes from the Catechism, you will find this sentence: “The sacraments are efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church.” In my last reply, I simply reiterated this point; I did not assert my own opinion. Somehow you missed that, when it says that the sacraments are entrusted to the Church, this means that they are not entrusted to civil authorities. The remainder of the quotes from the Catechism refer to the fact that a sacrament is a sacred religious act. Civil marriage is not a sacred religious act, but a secular one. How, then, can it produce sacramentality? It’s all there. You just need to open your eyes and see.

                • Charles Buxton

                  Are you aware that according to the Catholic Church, anyone can validly confer the sacrament of baptism, even an atheist or civil magistrate, provided they use the correct matter and form and intend to do what Christ wants for His Church in response to the desire of the party requesting baptism? So in these cases, an atheist or civil magistrate would be involved in producing sacramentality, even though baptism as one of the seven sacraments is a sacred religious act entrusted to the Church. God willing, tomorrow I will call my diocese and ask for their judgment pertaining to the sacramentality of Protestant marriage and request an authoritative reference in support of their position.

                • OnlyOne001

                  It is not by virtue of their secularity that non-Christians can baptize, but only insofar as they intend to do “what the Church does” in baptizing. From the Catechism:

                  > **1256** The ordinary ministers of Baptism are the bishop and priest and, in the Latin Church, also the deacon. In case of necessity, anyone, even a non-baptized person, with the required intention, can baptize, by using the Trinitarian baptismal formula. The intention required is to will to do what the Church does when she baptizes. The Church finds the reason for this possibility in the universal saving will of God and the necessity of Baptism for salvation.

                  The footnotes reference the Code of Canon Law, canon 861:

                  > **Can. 861** §1. The ordinary minister of baptism is a bishop, a presbyter, or a deacon, without prejudice to the prescript of can. 530, n. 1.

                  > §2. When an ordinary minister is absent or impeded, a catechist or another person designated for this function by the local ordinary, or in a case of necessity any person with the right intention, confers baptism licitly. Pastors of souls, especially the pastor of a parish, are to be concerned that the Christian faithful are taught the correct way to baptize.

                  Meanwhile, here is what the Catechism says about the minister of marriage:

                  > **1623** According to Latin tradition, the spouses as ministers of Christ’s grace mutually confer upon each other the sacrament of Matrimony by expressing their consent before the Church. In the tradition of the Eastern Churches, the priests (bishops or presbyters) are witnesses to the mutual consent given by the spouses, but for the validity of the sacrament their blessing is also necessary.

                  It goes on to describe how a wedding should take place in a church setting — indeed, if possible, in the context of the Mass. The point being that, in the Catholic Church, a clergyman must be present to officiate, or the wedding is invalid. See canon 1059, where the Church’s law states that civil authority has competence only “concerning the merely civil effects of the same marriage.” The sacrament, then, is conferred, not through any civil authority, but only through the Church — reflecting Catholic dogma when it states that all divine grace come from Jesus Christ through the Catholic Church.

                  Non-Catholic Christians have contact with this grace only insofar as they are united with the Catholic Church. If they adhere to their own denomination’s regulations concerning marriage, they will be that much more united as the denomination is united to the Catholic Church by way of faith and act. This is why a clergyman is required to officiate even at Protestant marriages, for such marriages to be considered sacramental.

                  As you can see, the Catholic faith does not live by canon law alone. There is theology, there is doctrine, and above all, there is faith involved. Therefore, you should not base yourself solely on the law, or on the word of some priest, but following your faith inquire of the Tradition of the Church and of Christ himself, who is embodied in the Church.

                  It’s late. My final word: Remember that we are speaking here of CIVIL marriages by non-Catholic Christians. We are therefore not speaking of marriages authorized by Protestant bodies, but of individual Christians who defy even their own denominational faith to marry “outside the church.”

                • Charles Buxton

                  It’s early and my diocese’s offices are not open yet. But here’s one scenario: Based on the Catholic Answers quote above, in the case of two non-baptized people, a man and a woman, they can contract a valid non-sacramental marriage in a civil ceremony. If they both receive a valid sacramental baptism outside of the Catholic Church (or even outside any Protestant denomination, let’s say they both baptize each other using the correct matter and form), their valid marriage automatically becomes a sacramental marriage without any ecclesial ceremony. The above happened when Christianity first came to Korea in an unusual manner: Korean emissaries to China brought back a catechetical book by the Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci to their country and began what they thought was the Catholic Church. Decades later, when the first foreign Catholic missionaries were finally allowed to enter “the hermit kingdom”, they were astonished to discover a community of Christians who had already had valid sacramental baptisms and valid sacramental marriages, even though their other attempts at ‘sacramentality’ were ineffective due to their inexposure to the bearers of Holy Orders who could legitimately confer the other sacraments.

                • OnlyOne001

                  Exceptions do not prove the rule, Charles. Stop wasting your time and mine. Just go ask your bishop if a deliberately civil marriage can, for Christian, be a sacrament.

                • Charles Buxton

                  These exceptions demonstrate that Jesus Christ, the good shepherd, provides the sacramental graces of baptism and marriage to the scattered members of His Body who unknowingly find themselves outside of any ecclesial boundaries, whether Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant. What a magnificent and generous Lord and God He is! I am getting ready to contact my diocese.

                • Charles Buxton

                  OnlyOne001: The priest in charge of the marriage tribunal at the chancery is off today so I must wait until tomorrow to speak to the official diocesan subject matter expert. The suspense for me is as good as an Alfred Hitchcock movie.

                • Charles Buxton

                  OnlyOneoo1: Exceptions abound in my family: (1) My father, raised Unitarian, married my baptized Protestant mother in the Episcopal Church in 1946. Due to my father’s status, in the eyes of the Catholic Church theirs was considered a valid non-sacramental marriage. 32 years later in 1978, my father was baptized in the United Church of Christ. Their marriage immediately became sacramental in the eyes of the Catholic Church without the requirement of another Protestant wedding ceremony and they attended both Protestant churches regularly together for the next 31 years until his death in 2009. (2) A similar situation occurred with my father’s brother, Uncle Jerre, who married my Aunt Rose in her United Church of Canada in the early 1950s. They lived a valid non-sacramental marriage until he was validly baptized in the Episcopal Church over 40 years later in 1994. Whereupon, according to Catholic understanding, they immediately received the sacramental grace of marriage without the requirement of another Protestant wedding ceremony. Sadly, Uncle Jerre lived this state of marital sacramentality with Aunt Rose for only a few years before his death.

                • OnlyOne001

                  The information you supply shows that these instances in your family history are not exceptions. In both cases, there was a church wedding. The marriages became sacramental once both parties were validly baptized. If they had not had a church wedding, but were instead married by a civil authority, the marriages could not have become sacramental.

                  It is becoming apparent, Charles, that you are misunderstanding this entire issue. You evidently are not differentiating between a religious act and a secular act. Only a religious act can be or become sacramental. This is because a sacrament is, by definition, a religious act. No secular authority, and no secular intention of the couple marrying, can have any sacramental effect whatsoever. I quoted above the applicable canon from the Code of Canon Law on this point and again refer you to it.

                  I suggest that you talk with the canon lawyer at the chancery office, as you had planned to do. You will receive no further response from me.

                • Charles Buxton

                  OnlyOne001: Your quote from the Code of Canon Law refers to marriage between Catholics, not Protestants. Your quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to the minister of marriage in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, but not of Protestants. I can only assume that you plan no further response because you are unable to provide an authoritative Catholic source stating who can be a minister of marriage for Protestants. Pax Christi.

                • Charles Buxton

                  OnlyOne001: This morning, Friday, July 24, 2015, at ~11:00 AM EST (USA), I spoke with Father Workman of the Catholic Diocese of Arlington who works in the Marriage Tribunal of the Chancery. He informed me that baptized Protestants receive the sacrament of marriage in a civil ceremony because they are not bound by ecclesial law, but divine law. He referenced Gaudium et Spes and Lumen Gentium of the Vatican II Council Documents and the proper understanding of the Catechism of the Catholic Church regarding marriage between baptized persons. You may contact him at (703) 241-2751. Pax Christi.

              • Dane Ryan

                It need only be a valid marriage between two Christians, it need not be before a clergyman (1), the sacramentality is constituted simply by their being Christian. There can be no valid non-sacramental marriage between two Christians. A marriage between two non Christians, or between a Christian and a non-Christian can be valid but not a sacrament. But between two Christians there are no valid non-sacramental marriages. 1. For those in communion with the Church of Rome there is a requirement of form for validity which would normally require officiation by a priest or deacon, but that is a particular requirement ordained by the council of Trent. (before marriage could be entered into validly, and sacramentaly, simply by mutual consent even without witness (though such would be illicit though not invalid)).

      • Dane Ryan

        Sacramentality is constituted simply by a valid marriage entered into by two Baptised Christians, whether civil or what have you. However for Catholics except for some rare circumstances, Canonical form has been required for the validity of marriages between Catholics since Trent (a civil marriage between two Catholics would therefore be invalid), a mere civil marriage is not valid between them period, but in the case of two Baptised Christians in general any valid marriage is a sacramental marriage, simply by the fact of their being Christians.

  • Frank Johnson

    Here is Frank the author chiming in. You all may be interested to know that before I could be chrismated into the Greek Orthodox Church I had to have my marriage blessed in that church. What that meant was that my wife and I went through the whole Greek Orthodox marriage liturgy–crowns and all, plus receiving a new marriage certificate at the end. So when I moved into the Catholic Church I am not sure if they were accepting my earlier Protestant wedding in my young wife’s Presbyterian church or my later wedding in the Greek Orthodox Church. And then even later, on a Catholic pilgrimage tour to Israel, we renewed our wedding vows with a Catholic priest in the Wedding Church at Cana in Israel. So we feel like we have been married 3 times now! LOL!

    • OnlyOne001

      Your Presbyterian church wedding would have been valid and sacramental, Frank. The Orthodox apparently wanted to “make sure” you were married, so they did it again. Your renewal of vows in Israel was just that — a renewal of vows, not another wedding. Blessings to you for all three, anyway!

      • Frank Johnson

        All Orthodox do not have the same policy. Had I entered Orthodoxy through the OCA (Orthodox Church in America, with Russian heritage) I would not have had to have my marriage “blessed.” But the Greek Orthodox (at least the Atlanta diocese in 2001) insisted that I have my marriage “blessed” which as I indicated meant going through the whole Greek Orthodox wedding liturgy. Yes, the event in Israel was just a renewal of vows–but the event in the Greek Orthodox parish was more than that–they were apparently “sacramentalizing” my earlier Protestant wedding.

        • OnlyOne001

          Agreed, Frank.

          • Frank Johnson

            BTW,, we recently celebrated our 48th wedding anniversary–and they said it wouldn’t last! Ha!

    • Percy Gryce

      Frank, why weren’t you received into the Catholic Church in your rite, i.e., the Byzantine rite? There is a Melkite parish in Atlanta.

      • Frank Johnson

        I don’t live in Atlanta. I live in Orlando, FL, area which is part of the geographically-large Atlanta diocese of the Greek Orthodox Church. In Orlando also there are Eastern Rite Catholic churches–3 that I know of. However all 3 of them are a great distance from my home, and at my age I really do not want to drive a long distance to get to church. Also, though I do love the Eastern Rite, I also love the Ordinary Western Rite of the Catholic Church which is essentially similar to the Eastern Rite but just a lot less wordy and repetitious. Also back when I was a Methodist pastor the ritual I used for the administration of the Lord’s Supper was a watered-down version of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer which ultimately came from the Roman Catholic mass. So I am also very used to and comfortable with the Western Rite.

    • Dane Ryan

      The first since the sacrament of marriage is constituted by mutual consent between two Baptised persons (if you had been Catholic at the time it would require proper “form” for validity as declared by Trent), the East Orthodox see the marriage bond as constituted also by the priests blessing whearas the Church sees it as constituted by the consent of the spouses (such that before the Council of Trent a couple could enter into a valid, though illicit marriage simply by exchanging vows even without any witness present, in the 1917 code it is allowed that if a priest were not available for two months a couple could enter into a valid and licit marriage before two witnesses, probably an analogous principle would apply today if say they were stranded on a desert Island or in danger of death), though in the Eastern rite the Blessing is also co-constitutive (something on this can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s treatment of marriage). But I’m sure the ceremony was a very beautiful experience.

      • Frank Johnson

        Ah, my young old friend and former co-catechist at Good Shepherd, how did you ever find my story on CHN? Are you still in Indiana? And are you teaching theology which is definitely your forte? I hope so. If you are ever back in Orlando, please look me up and give me a call.

  • christopherschaefer

    Because you know the beauty of the Byzantine Divine Liturgy, I hope you have the opportunity to attend a Traditional Solemn High Latin Mass. Although Latin “Low Mass” (without music) eventually became the Roman Rite norm until the 1960s, the Solemn High Mass (sung and including deacon and sub-deacon) is THE form of Mass that was celebrated in the West at the time of the Great Schism. Its emphasis is virtually the same as the Byzantine Divine Liturgy: the Transcendent God, our unworthiness to be in the Divine Presence yet longing for deification, the eternal heavenly liturgy offered by the communion of saints and to which we join our liturgy, the silent recitation of the Canon–corresponding to the closing of the Royal Doors–at that awesome moment when heaven comes down to earth. It’s the Mass that the overwhelming majority of saints in the Roman Martyrology knew. And, thanks to Pope Benedict, we still can experience this ancient Mass–in full communion with the Pope.

  • Frank Johnson

    Percy Gryce asks– Frank, why weren’t you received into the Catholic Church in your rite, i.e., the Byzantine rite? There is a Melkite parish in Atlanta. Here is my answer: I live in Orlando, FL, area which is part of the geographically-large Atlanta diocese of the Greek Orthodox Church. In Orlando also there are Eastern Rite Catholic churches–3 that I know of. However all 3 of them are a great distance from my home, and I really do not want to drive a long distance to get to church. Also, though I do love the Eastern Rite, I also love the Ordinary Western Rite of the Catholic Church which is essentially similar to the Eastern Rite but just a lot less wordy and repetitious. Also back when I was a Methodist pastor the ritual I used for the administration of the Lord’s Supper was a watered-down version of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer which ultimately came from the Roman Catholic mass. So I am also very used to and comfortable with the Western Rite.

  • Dianne

    Frank, thank you for your story. I too grew up Methodist, went to Asbury College decades ago. Always something missing. Breaking point was when my parents died while in my 30’s. Nowhere to go with my suffering. Protestant Church doesn’t know what to do with that. Walked into a Catholic Church, saw Jesus up there on the cross, knelt down and I have never looked back. That was 18 years ago. G.K. Chesterton says the Catholic Church is like a good steak, a cigar and a fine wine or something like that. It has been the grandest decision I have ever made in my life. I still cry every Easter Vigil when I see all those new converts coming into the Church!

  • george

    “The sign of true godly love is to love those who are different from us”. That is so true but with one caveat: it has to be a discerning love.

  • Deb

    As a former rc convert to Orthodoxy, this article makes me sick and sad.

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