Michael Renza | 26 September 2020
Michael Renza studied Business Entrepreneurship at Palm Beach State College. He hopes to become a small business owner in the future.
Part 4, Will the real Jewish Messiah please stand up?
So by now this is the part that I really start to come to my own as a believer (I didn’t feel comfortable being called a Christian back then). By 2008 I had obtained my driver’s license in the state of Florida and I was finally able to get out on my own a bit and explore. I should also mention that one of my dad’s friends who knew my dad from his job as a probation officer really encouraged me to read the Bible and just try and find some comfort. But at that time, I was really in my own mind biblically illiterate to my own confession! You see, the type of Catholicism I was taught back then was honestly more like learning the faith to just make my family happy. Being raised in that type of system I felt no connection to God and was just trying to live up to family expectations. So, my first thing was to attend other types of churches, particularly Protestant churches like Methodist and Lutheran to name just a couple. But as I explored these churches, I felt like there’s a giant cultural gap between the doctrine I was hearing and where the Bible, both Old and New Testaments came from. How can I make sense of a collection of books that were primarily written in Biblical Israelite times as well as in what was considered the Fertile Crescent of the world? It made no sense!
To me, just trying to understand Jesus was also hard enough too! At that time I felt that He seemed so different from what any pastor or priest was saying. And it was at this time that I felt more of a connection with the Old Testament more and I wanted to study what Judaism had to say. I was literally ready to ditch any sort of belief in Jesus and go study Judaism for better answers.
But guess what, I didn’t! It was at this point in my life that I also started going to the gym more to get my physical health back in order and just get back in shape. Little did I know I would run into something in a gym and to this day this was no coincidence at all, I saw someone walking around with a two sided shirt and on one side it said “JEWS FOR JESUS” and on the other side it said “JESUS WAS JEWISH!” My mind was blown! WHAT!!!!!!! HOW!!! WHAT'S GOING ON?! IF JESUS IS JEWISH HOW COME HE LOOKS LIKE A BLONDE-HAIRED EUROPEAN HIPPIE IN ALL THIS CLASSICAL ART?!? My mind was literally blown, and I immediately started to find where these Jews for Jesus people were because I had literally hundreds of questions. But instead I found something else.
Part 5, Messianic Judaism and the Jewish Yeshua.
So, by early 2009 I was really looking for any Jewish, Christian, or whoever to explain the true roots of the Bible and learn everything about the Bible from both the Old and New Testaments. Instead, I found a congregation near where I live that has similar beliefs to Jews for Jesus but was more culturally Jewish and even believed Yeshua (Jesus) was indeed the Jewish Messiah after all! I found a hybrid faith system called Messianic Judaism instead! Messianic Judaism combines both Jewish cultural traditions and the belief in Jesus as the Messiah and makes it easier for Jewish people to accept him as the Jewish Messiah. As an example of their belief system and keeping Jewish traditions, they celebrate Passover alongside Easter, Hanukkah alongside with Christmas, Saturday is called Shabbat (Sabbath) and even the dietary laws of kosher are observed too! From the year 2009 to 2016 I was observant in all of these things and not only learned about the context of both what they called the Hebrew Covenant (Old Testament) but also the Messianic Covenant (New Testament). I even learned some Hebrew as well as learned Jewish history and other Jewish commentary books like the Talmud, the Mishnah, the Gemara. I really learned a lot from that time in my life and made many amazing friends that are still in that movement and even to my surprise too, my family background had Jewish ancestors that are called Conversos! The Conversos were Jews that lived in Spain around the 13th century that either converted to Catholicism for a better life or through forced conversion but were often accused of still doing Jewish practices in secret. It wasn’t until 1492 that things really got bad for those Conversos. Their faith was put into question and they were told to leave Spain. If they were found doing anything remotely considered Jewish they were taken to dungeons and tortured and ultimately taken and burned alive in front of the public.
But as time moved on, I started seeing some cracks to my dismay. Much of the modern Messianic Jewish movement which is culturally Jewish has a lot of its core doctrines which are heavily Evangelical Christian. Many of their leaders of these organizations, while born Jewish culturally did receive the Gospel from many Evangelical Protestants in the 1960s and 1970s, Jews for Jesus being the most famous group of that lot. And to my dismay as well, being a former Roman Catholic in that movement and having many family members who are devout Catholics that I went to church with to try and make peace with my family, but the relentless Catholic bashing from some of these Protestants inside of that movement was enough to make me eventually stop along with a deep calling inside to return back to the church. But the question was, which one?
Part 6, Coptic Orthodoxy
It was at this time in my life at the end of 2016 that I was at a crossroads. Because of certain circumstances in my life I decided to just not go to any house of worship for a time, be it a church, synagogue or congregation. At the beginning of 2017 I started getting a bit curious again and on my way home from work, which was a 40-minute commute, I passed by a very ornate church. I would pass by this church in Delray Beach called St. Mary Coptic Orthodox Church and would be amazed at the art and detail on the outside of the church, but what stood out to me was the word Coptic. Coptic. I never knew anyone from that branch of Christians up until that point of my life.
So, after debating back and forth in my head to go or not I said just go and see. When I first came in, I could tell I was in for a treat. The reception I got at the time was amazement that someone in their late 20s was interested in who they were but from some others, the cold stares really made my bones feel like ice. Eventually I did make friends and they answered questions that I had. By then I was starting to like what I saw and back in 2017 I met my spiritual father who was in the process of being ordained as a priest. I could feel that me and him were going to have a strong bond in the future.
But as much as I would like to say things were going well, they suddenly stopped going well. I met someone through another friend that thought it would be a good idea for me to meet another man and get some answers about Coptic Orthodoxy. I thought it would be a good idea to finally get some basic questions answered, but I was met with a verbal tongue lashing and was made to feel insignificant. He said if I really wanted questions answered I should go on the internet to look for them, basically telling me to do it myself and get lost. I stood in shock as I didn’t know what to make of this and just went home telling myself “I’m done, I don’t want to go to church anymore, and if this is how I am going to be treated because I’m not Orthodox or not even Egyptian then forget it, I give up! I’ll be a lone wolf Christian then deal with that!”
I will say this, thank God for those friends that still talked to me after that incident. I did stay in contact with a few of them and they answered my questions over time via text, Facebook and Instagram and even gave me videos on Coptic Monasticism, Coptic church history, and the families of Oriental Orthodox churches.
By February 2018 I was still starting to learn more and get used to my then new job at the time and was still intrigued about Orthodoxy and the rift between the Eastern and Oriental churches, as well as the many councils in church history and what caused the breakaway from the Catholic Western, Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox. Eventually one of my friends from that did invite me back and to my surprise that same man who was becoming ordained as a priest was now a priest at this church! His name is Father Suriel Costandi and now he’s my father of confession and would eventually baptize me too!