On Saturday, May 12, Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy: Exploring Belief Systems Through the Lens of the Ancient Christian Faith turned one year old!
It’s honestly a little hard to believe. This little path has now been winding about for more than three years.
O&H was originally done as a series of lectures offered at St. George Orthodox Cathedral in Charleston, West Virginia, beginning in November of 2008. At the time, I conceived of it as something of an exercise in encyclopedia-making, an attempt to catalogue nearly every religious movement in the world (especially Christian) and offer a brief summary of its similarities and differences with the Orthodox Church. I had no expectation that hardly anyone would actually attend the lectures, since I figured that relatively few folks would have an interest in such questions. The folks at the cathedral proved me very much wrong.
When I came to St. Paul Orthodox Church in Emmaus, Pennsylvania, in July of 2009, I wanted to offer some adult education classes that Fall, and since there were already so many other things happening connected with newly taking up the pastorate at a parish that made any major writing projects almost impossible, I figured I would pull O&H out of my files, give each talk some revision, and then deliver them again.
Before I actually delivered the talks, I ran into John Maddex, CEO of Conciliar Media (which includes both Conciliar Press and Ancient Faith Radio) at the Missions and Evangelism Conference at the Antiochian Village in September of 2009. I grew up as the son of radio missionaries, and with his extensive background in Christian radio, we found we had some things in common. He was even aware of who my father is, and it turned out that he had helped run a local Christian radio station in northern Ohio that I listened to as a kid.
In the course of our conversations, I mentioned my plans to deliver O&H here in Emmaus, and he and his wife Tonya both agreed that they would be interested in recordings of the lectures for Ancient Faith Radio. Not long after that, I received in the mail a box containing a microphone / mp3 recorder, something of a step of faith on their part, since they had never heard me speak or even read what I’d written!
That Fall, I recorded O&H in Emmaus. Turnout at those lectures was also quite good, filling our parish hall nearly to capacity. Soon after the recordings began, O&H started airing on AFR as a podcast. I also started getting a lot of email from listeners—some highly critical and even hostile, but mostly exceptionally kind and positive.
In late February of 2010, I got an email from the acquisitions editor at Conciliar Press, saying that John had asked her to contact me to see if I would be interested in making O&H into a book, that the podcasts had been so popular that they were convinced it would also do well in print. In all honesty, I was exceptionally surprised.
I had in my younger days imagined myself being a published writer, but eventually I put away that childish vanity and settled on the idea that blogging was pretty much going to be my only real publication. So when CP approached me with the proposal, it hardly seemed real. Nevertheless, within about 45 minutes of receiving the initial email from CP, I responded positively. How could I not?
I then entered the process of getting hierarchical approval for the publication and, once that was secured, began working on a complete overhaul of the original manuscripts. I reordered the chapters, did some renaming, corrected errors, nuanced some things that had been phrased too absolutely, and added some new material. I started out with lectures totaling about 60,000 words and ended with a book that was roughly 72,000 words. Along the way, CP did a lot of work to refine the editing and also produced the cover featured above. It went to press the following Spring, in 2011, and went on sale in May. The following November, it was made available as an e-book.
I have been honored and humbled by this whole process, and I am most especially immensely grateful to my wife who is a good check on my temptation to vanity. I’m grateful to John Maddex who put the resources of Conciliar Media behind this material twice and also to all the listeners to the podcasts and to the readers of the book.
You may already be aware that I also have another, ongoing podcast with other lectures (and recently, sermons) entitled Roads From Emmaus, and I’ve also signed a contract with CP for another book tentatively entitled An Introduction to God: Encountering the Divine in Orthodox Christianity which is in the revision process. We’ve also lately been discussing the possibility of a book of essays, as well.
Again, thank you for your prayers and support in all of these projects. I love doing them, and I hope they’re useful to you.
It is Lent, and therefore many things have been happening. We hardly get much of a chance to catch our breath during Lent (despite a number of us being quite full of hot air). Somehow, though, in the midst of all this, there has been some recording going on here, and of course there are bits that have been recorded that had not been previously published. Thus, I thought I might give something of a recap of stuff that’s been released recently that you may have missed, as well as some items that are newly online.
A few weeks ago, St. Paul’s here in Emmaus (my church) hosted Richard Barrett to give a couple of talks for a retreat on Orthodox church music. (On his weblog, he recently reflected on his visit to Emmaus, among other places.) Here are the two titles, along with brief descriptions:
- Psalterion as pulpit: The privilege, craft, and discipline of Orthodox liturgical song: The Byzantine rite provides a unique opportunity for the church singer to preach the Orthodox Christian faith in its fullness. In this talk, the practical and spiritual implications for the cantor and choir director are discussed, exploring how liturgical music is a responsibility to be honored, a skill to be learned, and a calling to be respected.
- Mingling Prophecy With Melody: The Ethos of Orthodox Liturgical Music: St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil the Great both describe music as the sweetener that God has given us so that we will want to worship Him. How does music work in that way? What do we sing, who sings it, and why? How does Orthodox liturgical music "set the tone" for our worship? This talk discusses some fundamental musical concepts and explores how they interact with our liturgy and our faith.
These talks were both well received, and they even include a bit of singing. My contribution to them was mainly the introduction at the beginning, though I do hum a bit of ison at certain points.
Something you probably saw (but I think is worth highlighting again) is my hour-long, airport parking lot interview with General Hospital actor and musician Jonathan Jackson, who is a catechumen (along with his wife and children) in the Orthodox Church, in the process of converting to the faith. The Jacksons are slated to be baptized this coming Holy Saturday (April 14, by the Orthodox reckoning). Here’s the chat:
- From General Hospital to the Hospital of Souls: Interview with Jonathan Jackson: Four-time Emmy award winner Jonathan Jackson, star of ‘General Hospital’ and ‘Tuck Everlasting,’ talks with Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick about his journey into Orthodox Christianity, his family, how he lives his faith as a Hollywood actor, music and writing, on this special episode of Roads From Emmaus.
Jonathan and I have stayed in touch in the weeks following the interview, and I’ve found him to be a remarkably earnest, thoughtful man. We’ve shared bits of writing with each other, including him offering some insightful comments on the manuscript I have in production (tentatively entitled An Introduction to God: Encountering Orthodox Christianity). He’s also shared some of his music with me, which I now recommend—it’s also earnest and thoughtful and not at all a mere “side project” for someone who’s otherwise got his career elsewhere engaged.
Finally, the newest release is the completion of a talk that is the last in my Meeting the World series. This one is a broadside against pietism in Orthodoxy. Here’s both parts:
At the beginning of the second part, I apply the naval cannons to that famous saying attributed to Francis of Assisi, “Preach the Gospel at all times; if necessary, use words.” For those interested in some other comments on pietism, take a listen to “Giving Up Something” for Lent (original weblog post here).
All this stuff is edited and produced by the fine folks at Ancient Faith Radio, to whom I am ever in debt.
This morning, after Matins, I high-tailed it across New Jersey over to Newark Liberty International Airport, pulled up to the Departures area at Terminal A, and picked up a man holding a tray of coffee. We drove to the airport parking, picked a spot, and proceeded to chat for about ninety minutes, about sixty of which I caught on tape.
The man was (as you can see from the photo) Emmy award winning actor Jonathan Jackson, who is perhaps best known for his role as “Lucky Spencer” (son of the mighty super-couple Luke and Laura) on “General Hospital.” Jonathan and his family are currently catechumens of the Orthodox Church, preparing for baptism this coming Holy Saturday, the day before Pascha (Easter).
I’ll let you listen to the interview yourself for all the details of our chat, but I will say that it was a genuine pleasure to conduct. One occasionally finds people that convert to Orthodoxy for various reasons (many of which can, indeed, be good), but it’s always such a delight to find someone who is entering into the Church because of a diligent and earnest desire for the truth. Jonathan has that. But this post isn’t really about that. (But the interview is!)
What this weblog entry is actually about is how a lowly, no-account priest like me got to interview a Hollywood heartthrob, especially because, when his name first came to my attention, I had never heard of him. (He didn’t seem to mind.)
The story essentially goes like this: In the process of exploring the history of Christianity, Jonathan and his sister ended up coming across Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy (also on Amazon) and reading it together. Out of the blue, she contacted me this past November to ask if I’d be willing to send a couple signed copies out to them over on the West Coast, as a surprise Christmas gift. She also asked if I’d be willing to be introduced to her brother.
As I’ve mentioned in the past, I often get people contacting me out of the blue and asking for things from me as a priest that are really properly asked of a priest who is local to them. So my first thought was to try to politely brush them off, because I essentially have a local-only policy about such things. But this wasn’t the same kind of request. She wanted to introduce us, because she thought we might get along, and she also let me know that he was already fully plugged-in with a priest and parish local to him. But I must admit that my first thought was, “What the heck will a soap opera star and I have in common?”
But there was just something about the request that kind of intrigued me, even though I am naturally wary of anyone with fame. (I was particularly amused to hear Jonathan say today, “Fame is ridiculous.” I agree.) So of course I sent the books, but instead of initiating the contact myself, I just put a couple of copies of my business card inside the books.
Sure enough, he contacted me sometime after Christmas. We corresponded a bit over email, and I was particularly amused at the (barely restrained) gushing of some of my female parishioners and friends when I happened to mention the whole thing to them. They couldn’t believe that this guy was really becoming Orthodox, and they also had a hard time believing that their priest (of all people) was somehow connecting with him.
Over the course of our correspondence, he told me that he was going to be on the East Coast with his band Enation to play some shows not terribly far away from Emmaus, all within a couple hours or so. So we decided to try to meet up.
Anyway, we eventually were able to work out a time when we could connect, and in the meantime, I suggested the idea of doing an interview for the Roads From Emmaus podcast. He graciously agreed, and now you can listen to much of our talk.
It was a wonderful encounter. I guess I should probably get familiar with his work, though I can’t say I’m likely to start watching “General Hospital” any time soon. (He’s off the show for the time being, anyway, so I guess that lets me off the hook. I should probably watch Tuck Everlasting at some point, though.)
I have to say that this is one of my favorites among the things I’ve written. A number of folks have actually asked me to expand this into a book, but I don’t think I really yet have the experience or background to have enough material to warrant a book on this. Perhaps I will someday.
Two of my lectures from the recent Meeting the World series are now fully online, courtesy of Ancient Faith Radio:
- Meeting the World: Taking the Gospel Into Our Times and Our Places: Part 1, Part 2
Three more will be available in the next several weeks, each broken into two parts. All the pieces in this series are about how Orthodox Christians can engage the surrounding culture.
In honor of the feast of St. Ignatius of Antioch today, I’m reposting links to all the parts of my podcast series, Voice from Antioch: An Ignatian Catechism, which covers major themes in Orthodox Christianity from the writings of the third bishop of Antioch and great hieromartyr of the early Church. Happy feast!