You might have seen my Twitter/Facebook post a couple of days ago but I thought I’d share this story with you all in full because it’s one of those little nuggets of joy the Lord will drop into our laps on occasion that we just have to share.
About a week ago, I received an email unexpectedly from Fr. Philip Pelikan, an Orthodox priest who is currently serving as a Navy Chaplain in Naples, Italy. He had read a story I wrote a couple of years ago for the Oral Roberts University student newspaper about the Orthodox faith and the historical connections between ORU and the Orthodox Church.
Fr. Phil attended the ORU seminary briefly in the 1980s during a time when a great many graduate theology students were converting to Orthodoxy and joining the priesthood. At least two professors in the Graduate School of Theology at that time–Professor Theodore “Ted” Williams and Dr. Howard Ervin–and the then priest at St. Antony’s Orthodox Christian Church in Tulsa, Fr. Michael Kaiser, played key roles in influencing many of these students in their decisions to convert.
Though I haven’t been able to directly confirm this information, people have told me and I’ve read anecdotes suggesting these conversions were met with some hostility from the university administration. Allegedly, Professor Williams’ classes were in danger of being canceled due to the number of conversions and there was a sit-in protest that averted this action from taking place, but, again, this I haven’t been able to directly confirm this. All things considered, however, it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if this story were true and for multiple reasons, not the least of which is the fact that a current professor I know is occasionally in hot water over students (not that many) who have converted to his church (one that doesn’t fit the traditional ORU “mold,” if such a thing exists.)
At any rate, Professor Williams later left ORU in 1981 and also became an Orthodox priest. When Fr. Phil contacted me, he had apparently been trying to locate Williams for some time without any success an thought I might know since I mentioned his name in the story. He wanted to thank him for having such an influence on his life and spiritual walk and let him know that he had converted to the Orthodox faith after many years of serving as a Navy chaplain affiliated with other churches. Williams’ classes had rocked his faith so intensely in the year he attended seminary at ORU, Pelikan told me, that he had converted to Orthodoxy right then in his heart, even if it took him another twenty-five years to make the full conversion and join the Church.
I didn’t actually speak to Williams when I wrote the story and my only knowledge of him what I was told in my interviews of his former students who are now serving as priests. Initially, I suggested to Fr. Phil that he contact Bishop MARK (Maymon) of the Orthodox Church in America, who is also a former ORU professor, but he told he had already done so and the bishop also didn’t know Williams’ current wherabouts. I let Fr. Phil know I’d ask around in Graduate Theology to see if anyone remembered Williams or knew where he might be–or even if he was still living after so long.
I talked to a few people in the department but only one current theology professor is left from the early 80s and to the best of his knowledge Williams had already died. In a last ditch effort, I looked through every search result on Google I could find until I found an obscure reference in a Yahoo! Groups page from 2005 to an Orthodox priest named Theodore Williams; this individual was (or had been) a monk at the Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Haverhill, Massachusetts, not far from Boston. I visited the monastery website, found the informational email address, and sent an email asking if the reference was accurate and if the Ted Williams listed in the search result was the same who had taught at ORU. I also asked if he was the same person, was he still at the monastery.
The next day, I received an email from Williams, who is now Hieromonk Theodore at the monastery (“hieromonk” means a person who is both a priest and a monk), informing me he was who I was looking for. Obviously, I was elated and I emailed Fr. Phil right away to let him know I’d found the spiritual mentor who’d had such a profound impact on his life. To the best of my knowledge, they’re catching up with each other after many years of life and spiritual growth.
Anyhow, I wanted to share this with you all just because it’s a reminder that the Lord will, indeed, use us in lots of diverse ways to answer other people’s prayers, even those of people belonging to portions of the faith that Charismatics and Non-denominationals tend to understand only a little, if at all.