[Ancient Faith Radio; August 23, 2007]
Voiceover: We have a recording today of Frederica Mathewes-Green addressing the audience at the Parish Life conference that was recently held at Holy Cross Orthodox Church in Maryland, where Fr. Gregory Mathewes-Green and Frederica serve. And she’s reminiscing about their early days of Orthodoxy and how thankful she is for the welcome they received.
Frederica: It’s amazing to me that Holy Cross is hosting the Parish Life conference this year. We started just 14 years ago, a handful of people, 19 people, meeting in rental space in Catonsville. And that we have gotten to this point where we can actually host a Parish Life Conference—I’m extraordinarily grateful to God that we have the capability to do this. And as my husband is now 60 years old, I’m extraordinarily grateful that we’ll probably never have to do it again. [Laughter] Once is enough in a lifetime! If you haven’t done it, you don’t know how much work it is. I don’t know how much work it is; I have to give a lot of the credit to someone who would be an unsung hero otherwise: our brilliantly creative, our brilliant Shamassy, Ina, who just has an imagination and an ability to accomplish the things that she imagines that are going to set this Parish Life Conference apart. I’m eager to take part in it.
My husband and I were talking a few days ago about this evening and about this fractured two-part homily. And I said that one of the things going through my mind was the whole concept of story. Of course, a number of people know the story of Holy Cross because I wrote a book a dozen years ago called Facing East that I think some of you have read. As I travel and give speeches, I find that more and more people are reading it, even for the first time. I run into college professors that are assigning it in their classes. So a number of people you wouldn’t even think of know about this little tiny mission outside of Baltimore Maryland, how we got our start, and why we’re Orthodox.
So I was thinking about story. There’s a saying that in all the world, in all the stories and the novels and the movies, that there are really only two plotlines. Every story, every movie is one or the other of these. The first storyline is: a stranger comes to town. And the other storyline is: a young man sets out to seek his fortune. The story of us at Holy Cross, by the power of the Holy Spirit, is a small group of people, 19 people who launched out to, ‘seek our fortune’ in Holy Orthodoxy. In a new faith, in a new place, a land we didn’t know.
But our story is also the story of a stranger comes to town. We were strangers to you; we were strangers to the Antiochian Orthodox of America. And when we came to town, you welcomed us in. The hospitality, the kindness of Antiochian Orthodox Christians went beyond anything that we would have expected. And it comes so naturally to you. You are a generous people.
I think maybe it goes back to the Holy Land, where the weather can be harsh and dry, the terrain is difficult. And if a stranger was not welcomed, he might die. But the people who live there know to welcome him in, as we see in the story of Abraham. When he saw the three men coming, he didn’t think, ‘strangers.’ He thought ‘guests,’ and he immediately rushed and hurried to make a feast worthy of them.
This kind of generosity comes so naturally to our older brothers and sisters in the Antiochian Archdiocese. It is literally in your blood. It is your inheritance. And we, the strangers ho came to town, we who had been Episcopalian in Charleston, South Carolina, and living in this country for three hundred years – my husband’s ancestor came to this country in 1680 – but we were the strangers when we came to your church.
When your ancestors came to America – I’m speaking on the Fourth of July, when we all remember that we all came from somewhere else, we are all immigrants here one way or another – I am aware that when your grandparents, when your great-grandparents, when your uncles and aunts came to America, they may not have gotten a warm welcome. But when we came home to Holy Orthodoxy, you went out of your way to make us feel at home. Whenever a reporter interviews me about our conversion story, I always emphasize that: the kindness and the overwhelming, astonishing generosity of the native Antiochian Orthodox. In particular, I always want to thank Sts. Peter and Paul Church. This is the parish where we were chrismated on January 30th, 1993. And apart from just a few visits before that, we’d really had no connection with the congregation; we didn’t know people there, and yet they were generous to an extent that still strikes me as amazing.
On the evening after our chrismation, the parish put on a banquet in our honor. And at the banquet they gave us gifts. A full-size icon of the Christ of Sinai, for example, that I still pray in front of every night. And this kind of generosity was so far from anything we had expected, so far from the way we would have welcomed strangers, that when they announced that the banquet was going to be held, at first we didn’t understand that it was for us. My husband, that day, had gone from being Fr. Gary to being Deacon Gregory, because he had one day in-between before he was made a priest. And when they announced, ‘Tonight there will be a banquet for Deacon Gregory and his people,’ we looked at each other and we said, ‘Who’s Deacon Gregory?’ [Laughter]
So I just wanted to say thank you. This kindness, generosity, the welcome that you gave us, goes so far beyond what anyone would expect. And it’s a manifestation not only of your native generosity but of the goodness and the kindness and the abundance of our Lord. He who gives us more than we can ask or imagine, who continually pours out his riches on us.
On that weekend in 1993, the people of Sts. Peter and Paul were Christ to us. In Matthew 25, our Lord says to the sheep on his right hand, ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me.’ My dear older brothers and sisters in the household of Holy Orthodoxy, I was that stranger. All of us who founded Holy Cross were strangers to you and you welcomed us. You didn’t see strangers, you saw guests. You saw family members. You welcomed us in and these words of Christ were spoken to all of you. And all I can add is, ‘Thank you.’