Introduction to Frontier Orthodoxy

The following is an introductory note for a new column to be featured here on OrthodoxHistory.org, Frontier Orthodoxy, written by SOCHA Executive Director Fr. Oliver Herbel:

Glory to Jesus Christ!

After some prayer and thought, I have decided to start a bi-monthly column building on my work for the Society for Orthodox Christian History in the Americas (SOCHA). My purpose here is to use the American Orthodox context as a launching pad for essays and reflections. For those of you who have not heard of SOCHA, please check out the OrthodoxHistory.org website. There is much in Christian history that is fascinating, and the history of the Orthodox Christians in America is no exception. Here in America, we can see the fruits of much hard work for the Gospel as well as the large open wounds of sin as well as the humorous and quirky. Okay, to many Americans, Orthodoxy Herself is quirky, but I mean the really quirky odd things, like the Bulgarian monk who became a ghost story for Bayhorse, Idaho.

A few of you may know of me from my academic work. Some of you know of me because I wrote two essays on OCANews.org concerning the jurisdictional disunity in early American Orthodoxy. Some of you know of me because of the effects of my asking questions during a Q and A portion of a closed-door clergy meeting at the last Antiochian convention. Although each one of these is a legitimate lens through which to view me, I think you all deserve a much more personal introduction. You may see the educational portion of my life from my CV, available here.

I am a product of the modern Upper Midwest. I was born in Minot, North Dakota. I have lived in Niche, ND, Bowbells, ND, and Lemmon, SD. I visited my maternal grandparents’ dairy farm near Fertile, MN, a few times every year as I grew up. I was raised to hunt and fish. I was raised believing that honesty is a virtue that should never be in short supply—that if one has nothing to hide, one has nothing of which to be ashamed. I was raised never to take family for granted, even when they cause you headaches, and I was raised to work hard, harder, and harder still. “Quit” should never be in one’s vocabulary. Oh, and don’t forget, “boys don’t cry.”

I have been married since 1996 to my wife, Lorie, and we have been very blessed to have been given the task of raising three beautiful young children (Micah, Macrina, and Anastasia, or “Tasha,” as she has come to be called). We have lived in North Dakota, Minnesota, New York, and Missouri. I once spent a little over a month in Romania.

Of course, I am more than simply what I was raised to be. I am also the result of lessons learned along the way. I continue to enjoy the outdoors and sports, though the latter has been reduced to fencing (foil and epee), my on again off again weight lifting commitments, and watching tv. I enjoy playing chess, but have not dedicated the time to studying the game as I would like. I also enjoy history, especially Church history, and philosophical theology. I suppose that all makes me half nerd and half jock. Yet, I’m more than that. I have come to see that modesty is a virtue that is in very very very short supply in our culture, that love and kindness are all too often hard to come by, and that courage and fortitude are rare on the issues that count and abundantly present in the face of some of the least important issues in life. Most importantly, I have learned that if one wants to be in the Ark, the Church of Christ propagated through the Apostles, one has to enter the Holy Orthodox Church and put up with the breath taking stench. The other option doesn’t stink, of course, but a rotten smell still beats lungs full of water.

All of these things will come together in this column. I might stick to an issue of American Orthodox history. I might use that same issue to explore the larger American religious scene. I might even use that same issue to explore something in preceding Church history or as a segue to a spiritual/theological reflection. Whatever I write and wherever I go, I assure you I will be the same person whether I am writing on contemporary events, history, or pastoral theology.

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