Thursday, June 21, 2018

How I Became Orthodox (Herman Tristram Engelhardt)

Dr. Engelhardt was born in Texas to Roman Catholic parents, but became Orthodox in his mature years, taking the name Herman after St. Herman of Alaska. He studied philosophy and medicine and is now a professor at two Universities in Houston, Texas. His research has been done mainly in Bioethics and his most important contribution to Orthodox ethics is his book "The Foundations of Christian Bioethics".

At the Symposium for Intensive Care organized in Bucharest, Professor of Philosophy and Medicine Tristram Engelhardt presented a paper. During a discussion in Bucharest, a question was put forward on how he became Orthodox. His reply is published below.

Herman Tristram Engelhardt: 
How I Became Orthodox

How did I become Orthodox? The answer is: only through the love of God.

Once I went to Mount Athos and one monk told me: "Look around you at all these people. The repentance of each of these people is a miracle from God."

I had very devout Roman Catholic parents who sent me to a very good Roman Catholic school, and in the fifth grade when I was reading about the history of the Church, I realized that the Church of the first five centuries was something I had never seen before. So I asked a nun: "Why isn't the Roman Catholic Church like the early Church?" The sister looked at me like I was crazy. And because I was only in fifth grade, I stayed quiet.

Elementary school seemed very boring, but I liked the Mass. And I really liked being an altar boy. Because I was lazy, when I went to the sanctuary I did not have to be in class. I liked being an altar boy in church more than sitting in class.

In the eighth grade, in 1954, a Roman Catholic priest told me that a Uniate bishop would be coming from Palestine and that he was to perform the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. I did not know what that was, so I had to read it to be the altar boy for the Liturgy. And I did this. But I did not know that there was Matins before Liturgy, and for one and a half hours I could not understand what was happening. After Liturgy, this old Bishop came to me and told me: "Come here, this is for you. All true Christianity will disappear from the West in the course of your life. True Christianity will come like a light from the East and this will be very important for you." I could not imagine what he meant, so I asked him, "What?" And he repeated, "All Christianity will disappear from the West during your life. True Christianity will come as a light from the East." I asked my father, "What could this mean?" My father said, "Don't worry, he's just some crazy Palestinian." Not understanding what was meant, I continued on with my life.

In 1984 a representative of the man who came second in the last election for Pope of Rome (when Benedict XVI was elected) called me. If one wishes to be a candidate for Pope, one must start early, like a presidential candidate of the USA, except that one does not know when the election will be held. A group of intellectuals was being put together to help him in his campaign, and I was asked to become one of them. The first invitation was to go to Milan in six weeks for a meeting. I told the person who called that I could not go in six weeks, because I was too busy. But then my second daughter, who is now the mother of five sons, asked, "Can I come with you to Milan?" And how could a father tell his fourteen-year-old daughter no? So I said, "OK". The person on the phone told me that he would pay for expenses. I worked a lot with this cardinal. And I understood for the first time in my life that the entire Christianity of the West was the creation of Germans who fashioned Roman Catholicism, as well as some French and Swiss who had made the Reformation.

In 1988 I was invited to spend a year as a Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in West Berlin. Academically, my life was successful. But I felt like a whore, realizing that what I was doing was wrong. I prayed, "My God, if there is a true religion, show it to me and I will convert." For the first time in my life I had an experience that I had never felt before.

Within a week, we received invitations for a presentation of Orthodox music and went. We attended, but the people looked so strange and ethnic. We then went to Berlin for a year (1989-1990). We're from the South where it is very hot and we were afraid to stay in Berlin for Christmas where we would freeze. We wondered where to go so as not to freeze during the Christmas holiday. I arranged to give lectures at the University of Istanbul and at Marmara University. So on Christmas day my wife said: "Where can we go for Mass?" And I said: "Let's go to the Greeks." And we went to the Phanar. It was our first Orthodox Liturgy. Patriarch Demetrios was there. During the Liturgy, my second daughter touched me and said, "Papa, this is the true religion, is it not?" And I replied, 'I'm afraid you have a point, because it is very poor."

We went back to Texas and I began to ask if a Texan can become Orthodox. Someone who was a Baptist from east Texas told me, "If I can become Orthodox, so can you." And so with the patience of God my two daughters and I converted. My wife, who is Irish and was raised Roman Catholic, has authored two stories about her conversion: "Bless me, Saint Patrick, I am Coming Home" and "From Rome to Home".

I thank God for His mercy!

Translated from a Greek translation into English by John Sanidopoulos and edited by the wife of Dr. Engelhardt in 2011.