By SAMUEL G. FREEDMAN
October 2, 2009
LINTHICUM HEIGHTS, Md. — Cal Oren was threading his way through the Santa Cruz Mountains of California early one evening in 1993, driving his wife, brother and three tired children back from a day of hiking amid the redwoods. As their car neared the town of Ben Lomond, Mr. Oren said, his brother pointed to a church on the roadside and said: “I’ve been inside this. It’s really neat.”
So Mr. Oren pulled to a stop, and as the children stayed in the car, the grown-ups gingerly padded into the sanctuary of Saints Peter and Paul Antiochian Orthodox Church. A lifelong Presbyterian, Mr. Oren knew virtually nothing about the Antiochians or, for that matter, Orthodox Christianity in general. He had always associated Ben Lomond with hippies, geodesic domes, and marijuana fields.
As he entered the sanctuary, a vespers service was underway. Maybe two dozen worshippers stood, chanting psalms and hymns. Incense drifted through the dark air. Icons of apostles and saints hung on the walls and adorned the altar. The ancientness and austerity stood at a time-warp remove from the evangelical circles in which Mr. Oren normally traveled, so modern and extroverted and assertively relevant.
“This was a Christianity I had never encountered before,” recalled Mr. Oren, 55, who is a marketing consultant in commercial construction. “I was frozen in my tracks. I felt like I was in the actual presence of God, almost as if I was in heaven. And I’m not the kind of person who gets all woo-hoo.”the rest