Former Albany man talks about journey to Orthodox religion
When he was 15 years old, Stan Brittain read a newspaper article that changed his life.He had lived in Albany for 10 years, attending a Lutheran church with his grandparents in keeping with his family’s traditions and Germanic background. He hadn’t really questioned the church’s tenets or practices, or his place among them.
Then one day he picked up a copy of the Democrat-Herald, which talked about the Rev. Stephen Soot and his wife, Mona, who had moved to town and were interested in beginning a branch of the Orthodox church.
Now, 17 years later, the boy who was Stan Brittain has a new name: The Very Rev. Archimandrite Isidore. And two years ago, he was appointed to a new job: Chancellor of the Orthodox Diocese of Alaska.
Father Isidore spoke about his life’s journey so far during a short visit home this week. He returned to Anchorage on Tuesday.
Growing up in the Lutheran church was wonderful, he said, and much of what he learned there helped to pave the religious path he would one day walk.
At the same time, however, he wondered about the history of the early church. What had life been like before the Reformation? Was there really no truth to be found?
Pastoral ministry also interested him, even as a teen. The contemplative life intrigued him. He read a book by acclaimed Catholic author and Trappist monk Thomas Merton and was sorry the Lutheran faith didn’t offer a monastic path.
Then he read about the Soots and the church they hoped to build. A meeting was planned at the Albany Presbyterian church. He went.
For the first time, Isidore said, instead of following tradition, he began to think about what he, personally, held as God’s truth. He was intrigued by the depth of history the Orthodox church offered and wanted to learn more.
At the same time, however, he was worried if he would offend his family, particularly his grandparents. So on Sundays, after the Lutheran service, he’d think up an excuse and sneak off to the fledgling Orthodox church, now known as St. Anne and located in Corvallis.
“I was so worried about it,” Isidore recalled. When the double life finally became too much, he planted a note about his change of faith in his grandmother’s suitcase just before she left on a trip.
His family was indeed alarmed — but more by his sneaking than by the news itself, Isidore later learned. He had made the issue so large that they were worried that he might have become involved in something that truly was to be feared.
His parents asked to join him at a service the following Sunday, which they did. And his grandfather did some research and concluded that the Orthodox church was a Christian church, albeit different than Lutheran, and nothing to be concerned about.
Since then, Isidore said, everyone has been very supportive, attending his graduations, ordination and other significant events. His younger brother, Michael, also joined the Orthodox faith.
Even after openly embracing his new church, Isidore’s path to the priesthood wasn’t assured. He spent his senior year at South Albany High School as an exchange student in Germany and enrolled at Willamette University to study languages. He majored in Japanese and spent a year in Japan.
But when it came time to graduate, he didn’t feel called to any particular career. He decided to enter seminary — St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in South Canaan, Pa. — and study more about his faith. Three years later, he was ordained.
Isidore was assigned to a Las Vegas church as a deacon during 2000-01.
“It was a good experience,” he recalled. “Las Vegas is really a family kind of place, outside of the strip and casinos.”
When the year ended, the priest of the Las Vegas parish where Isidore served as deacon was elected bishop of Alaska. He asked Isidore to come along to Anchorage as his secretary, which he did. Two years ago, Isidore was appointed to the position of chancellor, which in the Orthodox faith makes him the bishop’s right-hand man and able to act in his stead on some occasions.
It wasn’t the life he’d expected to have when he was 15, Isidore said, but it’s a life he’d encourage anyone to explore if he or she is truly serious about it.
What’s important, he said, is following the sincere desire of one’s heart.
“If people are very sincere,” he said, “they’ll find what they’re looking for.”