I had been born into a well known Protestant Sabbatarian sect. My grand father had been one of that Church’s foremost Evangelists of the early 20th century in South Africa, and my father was a Pastor, Church Administrator, and Editor and Translator for them in Cape Town, South Africa.
I attended church owned schools, and all my friends were in that church. I lived in a narrow world, and we were warned not to associate with people “in the world” because that would corrupt us, and we would fall away from Jesus, and be ‘lost’.
In 1998 the Internet entered my life, and my world perspective was radically changed. Here for the first time were libraries and documents and books and ideas that I had never been exposed to. I was at first horrified to find sites dedicated to exposing the errors of my church. But I decided to keep an open mind, and if they were wrong, I would be none the worse off. But what if they were right? Then I would be judged for not rejecting error. So I studied and read, and slowly my views on the church I was born into began to change.
But I never gave up on Jesus. The Holy Spirit kept speaking to me, and He continued to open new doors of real truth. I had become non-denominational after becoming dissatisfied with my previous church.
When I found myself outside of organized Christianity in the “storm” of the world, I did not know which way to go.
My first idea was to study to find what the original early Apostolic church was like. Around that time I had already attend Divine Liturgy at the Russian Orthodox Church for a short period before I left my previous church. They still met in a house at that time. This was a result of my wife Seraphima’s ‘Russian Spirit’, and because she wanted to meet with Russian people. I had participated and observed, but at the time I was not aware of their doctrines, and to tell the truth, Orthodoxy seemed to be too ‘Catholic’ for me. My Protestant upbringing made me very afraid of Catholicism. I was looking for the Apostolic Church, and I did not even know I was standing in it!
During the next 18 months I tried ‘Home Church’ and ‘Cell Church’, but they on the other hand seemed too ‘charismatic’ for me. In the meantime, the new Russian Orthodox Temple in Midrand near Johannesburg had been built and my wife informed me she wanted to join them. So we started to attend Divine Liturgy regularly in September 2003. I attended with her, as I had to drive her over there due to her disability. I still was not interested in this ‘Catholic’ church. Then one day in the church car park, I saw a bumper-sticker on a car that said “Orthodoxy – the same today as in AD33!” That made me sit up and take notice, and I asked myself, “can this be true?”
For the first time I started doing the research, and the digging. All I had was a Catechism, and I went through the doctrines and beliefs. One by one, I accepted them, because they agreed with the bible verses supplied and I still believed in Sola Scriptura. I was well aware of the icons and prayers to the Saints going on, but I pushed that to the back of my mind, and tried not to think about them. Instead I concerned myself with the ‘Theology of Orthodoxy’.
This was well and good, but there came a point where I was confronted with Holy Tradition, and there I got stuck. I could not reconcile myself to it. I prayed for guidance, but no answers came, until, one day I was standing in Divine Liturgy again. As I stood there with the choir music and the Liturgy and prayers flowing around me, I looked at all the Icons, and I wondered to myself, “Is this God’s True Church?” I was very smug with my “Theological Knowledge”. I looked up into the dome above my head, and a voice in my head spoke to me and said, “Don’t think you know everything, because you know NOTHING!”
That shook me. I knew Who had spoken. I determined then to open my mind, and let God speak to me. From that moment, my life changed. I was still sceptical, but I allowed the Holy Spirit to direct me. And I prayed even harder. I began to see things in scripture, and the Church Fathers that I had not noticed before. And I continued to read and study Orthodoxy.
Another thing that I took into consideration was that of persecution and martyrdom. If one reads the accounts of the millions persecuted and martyred under communism in the Soviet Union in the 20th century, one tends to ask why. And the only conclusion I could come to was that the devil hated them! And if the devil hates something, it must be that they belong to God. That is what really helped me to decide.
My last barrier was the Theotokos. I could believe the doctrine of the Mother of God. That made sense, but praying to her for intercession was so difficult for me, I still held back.
One day the Voice said to me “Just try, just do it, and see what happens.” I opened my Jordanville Prayer Book, and started to pray the Prayers there. That in itself was at first a strange thing to do, praying out of a book. But I discovered that there is Power in those prayers. They were written by pious men, and they work! Issues that had been a problem in my life before now became non issues. My habits, and tastes in music and entertainment changed. I became a ‘new person’. I am still a sinner, but I am aware of my weaknesses, and I gave them up to the Lord to take care of for me, and He does.
I also accepted that the Orthodox Church has withstood the ‘hates and gates’ of Hell, and has come through the centuries triumphant. As individuals, we will always make mistakes, even the clergy do. But the Church as the Body of Christ is still on the straight and narrow way that Christ ordained us to walk in.
There is so much more I could tell you, but this will become a book. Seraphima and I were chrismated together on Palm Sunday 2004. The date was 04/04/04 – how could I ever forget that? We were crowned in the Church Marriage Ceremony on 13 February 2005, one day after our seventh anniversary. We had finally come Home.
Nikolai Venter, Johannesburg, 2006