Father Gregory Brent Gilbert Featured in Baltimore Sun

Mat. Deborah Belonick

Our alumnus, Priest Gregory Brent Gilbert (M.A. in Theology, 2004), presiding priest at Ss. Mary Magdalene and Markella Greek Orthodox Church, Darlington, Maryland, was featured in a cover story of The Baltimore Sun, June 24, 2017. The article tells of Fr. Gregory’s conversion to the Orthodox Christian faith and also describes his parish and the changing demographics of membership among Orthodox Christians in America. 

Fr. Gregory with his Parish Council (photo: Ss. Magdalene and Markella Greek Orthodox Church archives)Fr. Gregory with his Parish Council (photo: Ss. Magdalene and Markella Greek Orthodox Church archives)Father Gregory grew up as a Southern Baptist in eastern Tennessee, but encountered the ancient faith of the Orthodox Church while attending Davidson College in North Carolina. He majored in the classics and found himself fascinated with the writings of the early church fathers and the descriptions of Christianity in their day, which he could read in Koine Greek, their native tongue.

After college, as a teacher of Latin at a school in Nashville, Tennessee, Fr. Gregory began attending services at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church. There, he observed church practices that he now recalls as "shocking” to him: seeing believers venerating objects, hearing chants from the first millennium, and listening to sermons that lasted a mere 15 minutes (instead of the usual hour!).

As he began tentatively practicing Orthodox rituals and learning more about church history, he felt his faith growing. He eventually came to believe in the Orthodox Church's authenticity. Then, he came St. Vladimir's Seminary, but mainly as an intellectual pursuit, since he still planned to become a college professor.

During his first day here on our seminary campus, he surprised himself by kissing an icon in Three Hierarchs Chapel. "That was the moment,” he said, “that I knew I'd crossed the Rubicon.” Eventually, Fr. Gregory converted to the Orthodox faith, along with his wife, Rachel; they were chrismated in 2002, on the Feast of St. Nicholas in the Seminary’s Three Hierarchs Chapel.

After completing his seminary studies, Fr. Gregory traveled throughout Greece and then earned a doctorate in Greek and Latin studies at the Catholic University of America. He was ordained a deacon, and then elevated to the priesthood in 2015. Father Gregory and Presvytera Rachel are raising their five children to speak Greek and English. 

At his current parish of Ss. Mary Magdalene and Markella, more than 80 percent of the 100 families who are his parishioners trace their religious roots back to the three oldest Greek Orthodox parishes in Baltimore: the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation, St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, and St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church. Needless to say, as a convert to the faith, Father Gregory stands out in his parish.

However, say his parishioners, he’s also outstanding. With his fluency in the Greek language (both ancient and modern), his down-to-earth personality, his commitment to the faith, his deep knowledge of church history, and his empathy for parishioners of all ages, he has quickly won over the mostly ethnic Greek congregation.

"I believe this is exactly what Fr. Gregory was intended to do," says parishioner Deanna Karkoulas Mojarrad. "And I believe his success here is good overall from a big-picture perspective: it starts to solidify the idea that you don't have to be a certain nationality to be a Greek Orthodox priest."

Statistical Note: Almost half the nearly 1 million Orthodox Christians in the U.S. today are converts, the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America reported in 2015. The majority of these married into the church, but a growing number are joining simply out of an affinity for the faith. More than 70 percent of the roughly 75,000 Antiochian Orthodox Christians in the United States are converts. The Orthodox Church in America, which has roots in the Russian Orthodox Church and has about 85,000 adherents, reports a 50 percent figure. The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, representing by far the largest jurisdiction of Orthodox Christians in the U.S., with almost 480,000 members, reports a 25 percent figure.

This web story was based on text from the original Baltimore Sun article, written by Jonathan M. Pitts. Father Gregory was also featured in another Baltimore Sun article, on April 27, 2016, titled, “For Eastern Orthodox Christians in Harford, Holy Week is a busy time.”