Tuesday, October 1, 2019

God's Providence in the Life of Fr. Peter Gillquist: A Review of "Memories of His Mercy"

As a member of the Antiochian Archdiocese, I know Fr. Peter Gillquist for his instrumental role in leading the former “Evangelical Orthodox” into the Antiochian branch of the Orthodox Church. My parish, St. Anthony the Great in San Diego, was founded and led for many years by Fr. Jon Braun, who worked closely with Fr. Peter in searching for and joining the Orthodox Church.
Written near the end of Fr. Peter’s life, Memories of His Mercy was published after his falling asleep in the Lord in July 2012. As the subtitle states, the book is filled with “Recollections of the Grace and Providence of God” that appeared throughout his life.
It was delightful to get to know more of Fr. Peter’s life story in this remarkable, encouraging book. It felt like Fr. Peter was sitting beside me and regaling me with stories of his life. The conversational tone makes the book a quick and easy read.
Fr. Peter’s legacy is one of a great evangelist. As such, it is no surprise that when he speaks about the Christian faith, he makes profound truths sound straightforward. In one chapter, he discusses the need for evangelical Protestants and Orthodox Christians to dialogue with each other clearly about their beliefs. In writing about the famous debate over whether we as Christians are saved “by faith” or “by works,” Fr. Peter explains, “The fact is, none of us, either through our works or through our faith, are ever going to come up spotless or in any way able to merit our salvation. In the end, it’s got to be the mercy of God that qualifies us” (113). I feel like he boiled this concept down in a way that just makes sense, without sounding complicated or confusing.
I love to hear the stories of how God provided for the Gillquist family’s needs, often at just the right time. That’s the kind of story that strengthens my faith, helping me to keep trusting that God will provide for my family. Fr. Peter writes about finding a $10 bill in the mail when he and his wife were early in their marriage, had no money, and needed to go grocery shopping: “Throughout our lives this kind of thing happened. That day, we hadn’t even known we needed the money, and yet there it was, a total surprise! Over the years, these loving gestures of provision from our Lord have caused us to give thanks to Him; He has known our needs before we even asked Him” (48).
Another quote from the book that I love is, “God would always give us the strength we needed to accomplish any task He asked us to undertake” (62). These are words I want to live by.
Toward the end of the book, Fr. Peter discusses his battle with cancer. He describes deciding to “rely more heavily on the prayers of other saints, both on earth and in heaven” (155). I found this to be an interesting idea, because I tend to think that maybe I’m being lazy or neglectful if I ask others to pray for my needs but don’t remember to pray for those needs myself. I thought he made a really meaningful point by saying that “an illness can easily degenerate into a pity party” if we turn inward instead of casting our cares upon the Lord (156). I like the idea that maybe God doesn’t want me to focus on my needs and difficulties as much as on “the greater reality of Christ, His Church, and His Kingdom” (156).
According to the back cover, Fr. Peter’s stated goal for this book was “to share with other people the faithfulness of God in a way that I hope will motivate them to trust in Him more than they do now.” That purpose motivated me to read this book, and I’m so glad I did. It is a strong source of encouragement and enrichment for those pursuing the long race of the Christian life.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Review of "The Cross and the Stag: The Incredible Adventures of St. Eustathius," A Graphic Novel by Gabriel Wilson

Ever since I first heard the story of St. Eustathius and his family, about 10 years ago, I have been intrigued by these saints. When I read saints’ lives, I often lament the lack of detail that has come down to us. It’s so much easier to connect with saints as real people, part of the “great cloud of witnesses” who are cheering me on, when I can know some of the vivid details and twists and turns of their real lives. When it comes to St. Eustathius’s family, I can really connect with their story and see it as a source of strength for my own.
Before reading Gabriel Wilson’s graphic novel, The Cross and the Stag, I was concerned that it might extrapolate and add details to St. Eustathius’s life that would fictionalize it. However, I was quite pleased to observe that all of the events were very true to what I knew about St. Eustathius, and any dramatizations felt like realistic interpretations of the story.
The members of this holy family are commemorated for the faithfulness that they all maintained amidst their trials, despite separation and loss. Reading about them was perfect timing for me, as I am facing my own difficult time and having a great need to hold onto my faith despite adversity. It was definitely God’s plan, through the intercessions of His saints, that this book should come to me right now.
I love that St. Eustathius’s wife received the name “Theopiste” at her baptism. This name means “faith in God.” What an interesting name for someone whose faith was going to be severely tested beginning soon after her baptism! I think that if my name were “faith in God,” it might feel a tiny bit easier to hold onto that faith. I’m so glad that I can pray and ask for St. Theopiste’s intercessions, and that I can imagine how she is cheering me on to keep practicing trust in God’s plans, confusing as they may seem. In her own life, she was separated from her husband and sons for years, and yet she clung to God. I want to be like that, firm enough in my knowledge of His goodness that no circumstances can shake my belief in Him.
While I am not someone who is typically drawn to graphic novels, I was immediately attracted to the cover of this one,

and I wasn’t disappointed. Overall I thought the art was very well done and helped to bring the story to life. This image is one of my favorites:

So, I highly recommend The Cross and the Stag, the first in Ancient Faith Publishing’s new series Among the Saints, and I am looking forward to the next one! 

I received a review copy of The Cross and the Stag: The Incredible Adventures of St. Eustathius from Ancient Faith Publishing in exchange for my honest review. Check out the link to get your own copy! https://store.ancientfaith.com/the-cross-and-the-stag-the-incredible-adventures-of-st-eustathius/

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Disappointment Is Only Temporary

I've been thinking a lot about disappointment lately. It seems that things are never as nice as I want them to be. I'm not talking right now about big disappointments, like the recent doctor's appointments that, one after another, reveal that I have more steps left to take, not fewer--that's another story! But I'm thinking now about things that promise to delight me, but fall short.
For example, certain images always draw my interest and make me feel that something magical awaits. Views of old houses with shutters and attic windows, peeling paint and vines running wild, make me think of stories that start in such places, like The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, or The Secret Garden. Interest arises in me, with the sense that if I went into that yard, if I stepped into that house, I would enter a mysterious environment where adventurous and wonderful things would happen. Beautiful scenery can make me feel this way as well: looking up at the night sky when the stars are especially bright, or seeing the way clouds settle on the hills south of my home, just capping their tops in mist--Fog on the Barrow-Downs, I think to myself, remembering the chapter in The Fellowship of the Ring. And when I'm driving beside the ocean, catching glimpses of it when my eyes flicker from the road, my chest swells with momentary excitement that something amazing lies out there in the deeps.
Yet my experience of daily life counters these promises of excitement and delight. When I stare at the sky or the ocean or distant hills, no fascinating adventure comes my way. When, from outdoors, I see light behind windows at night and the sight enchants me with promises of coziness, I walk into my home and find that it feels like life as usual.
I have in mind two answers for this disappointment. One is that I can learn to appreciate things more, to slow my mind down and adjust my expectations so that I can find delight in the ordinary. But I think another answer can combine with this one and offer even more hope.
I think my perception of wonderful things just over the edge of the horizon isn't just a fantasy, a relic from the days when I read children's fantasy stories while believing that such imaginary events could really happen (How I longed to find a wardrobe door that would really lead to Narnia! I even had a house picked out in my neighborhood that I thought might hold the entrance). I think disappointment comes because I've seen glimpses--shadows--of things that will one day be fulfilled.
When Jesus returns and re-makes the world, the beauty and joy and wonder that can show themselves to us now in flashes, for fleeting moments, will fully manifest. As St. Paul said, "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him" (1 Corinthians 2:9). In his essay "On Fairy-Stories," J. R. R. Tolkien spoke of "Joy beyond the walls of the world," the joy that would someday come when the fallen world is fallen no more. 
So, when I find myself believing that things might be wonderful and amazing, I don't have to feel crushed when I remember that they aren't. I can take courage, because one day, the ideal version of the world that existed before the Fall will exist once again, and disappointment will have died forever.