July 2, 2012

Remembering Fr. Peter Gillquist (+ July 1, 2012)

With sadness I was informed that Fr. Peter E. Gillquist departed this life at 9:20 p.m. last night, 1 July 2012, surrounded by family, after a long battle with melanoma.

I first met Fr. Peter when I was 17 years old in 1993, after having read his book Becoming Orthodox, which chronicles his conversion to Orthodoxy from a leader of the Campus Crusade for Christ Movement and Evangelicalism to Orthodox Christianity, together with about 2,000 other Evangelicals. He had come to Boston on a speaking tour sponsored by Orthodox Christian Fellowship, where he was going to give talks at the various universities and colleges of Boston about his conversion and discovery of the original New Testament Church. I was in high school at the time and not involved with the youth activities of the Church, such as GOYA and camps, but I did take my faith seriously and was known to only take part in things where the faith was similarly taken seriously. For this reason I was asked by the Boston Diocesan Youth department if I wanted to attend these lectures. I jumped at the opportunity.

Of the five university lectures, I attended three of them that week, at Harvard, Boston College and Boston University, and the students there received him with much interest and curiosity. I don't know if they ever went to the next level of embracing Orthodoxy, but when I would speak with Fr. Peter behind the scenes I was most impressed by his zeal to reach these young people, and the passion with which he would relate his path of discovering the Orthodox Church.

A few months prior I was asked by the Diocesan Youth Director to write a few short pieces for the newsletter of the Diocese about Orthodoxy, and I was told that Fr. Peter, at the end of his five-day speaking tour, had read what I wrote. The two he read were titled "How Does Holy Tradition Convey the Fullness of the Orthodox Faith" and "Feeling God's Presence In Our Everyday Lives". I was informed that he was highly impressed and wanted to speak with me about them. We had lunch at his last talk at St. Mary's Orthodox Church in Cambridge and he told me how much he enjoyed my writings and encouraged me to continue. I brought along my Orthodox Study Bible for him to sign it for me, and he graciously did, along with writing a verse from the New Testament, that he told me to go home and look up. Unfortunately my books at the moment are packed away, but if I remember correctly it was Philippians 1:27, which says:

"Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you."

I found these words to be very encouraging at the time, as I was struggling in high school with the atheism being shoved down my throat by some of my teachers. I went to high school in Belmont, Massachusetts, which is very conservative upon first impressions, being a Mormon-based town (popularly known as the home town of Mitt Romney) which did not allow alcoholic drinks to be sold or any sort of big business or chains that took away from the family-centered environment. But my high school ironically was nothing short of, what I called, a communist day care center, where atheism was strongly encouraged and religious belief ridiculed, to the point where I even shortly embraced atheism. My re-conversion made me more serious about my faith and I was in rebellion to my high school, hardly ever attending classes and doing just enough to slip by and get my diploma. So to meet Fr. Peter during these times and receive his encouragement was a big deal to me.

A few years later I saw Fr. Peter again on the campus of Hellenic College/Holy Cross School of Theology, where he was to give a lecture during Missions Week. As he walked by me I happily greeted him, but he looked at me not having a clue who I was. I thought it was funny and just went on my way, since he seemed busy at the time. But I remembered him, and that's the important thing.

Eternal be his memory!

At this link you can see a video about his conversion; at this link you can read an interview; and at this link you can hear Fr. Peter talk about his discovery of the New Testament Church.