“What cult is my new husband getting himself into?!” That is what I ask myself during my first visit to an Orthodox church, around 2003. Hanging back, I’m in shock and wide-eyed. People are bowing and kissing paintings of people! The incense burns my nose. Despite my discomfort, we stay for a fellowship meal because Brian was there for research. (He was a Theology minor.) “How have I never heard of Orthodoxy? I took church history classes in university!”
Brian continues to use school assignments to learn about Orthodoxy as we struggle to find a church as newlyweds. Our dissatisfaction with the Protestant church is growing and, despite the echoes of loved ones’ scoffs about empty tradition and rote liturgy, we feel that the Episcopal church is closer to home than the Evangelical mega-churches. Still, something is missing.
Our second summer (2004), we drive tour buses in Alaska. While in Juneau, we attend the local Orthodox parish. It is beautiful and I love how they alternate each, “Lord, have mercy,” in different languages, including Inuit. I offer Brian a gift for our anniversary: I’ll attend an Orthodox church with him for a year. That year, I fall in love with the Church.
We don’t commit right away though. Joining the church, like marriage, is a decision for life. We pour ourselves into reading and learning about the life of the Church. Icons begin to adorn our home, but questions about Mary, Church authority, and praying to saints still linger. Believing we’d get there eventually, we become catechumens in 2006, with no hard timeline for joining.
Life seems to delay the research we felt we needed to do to commit. Brian enters grad school in 2007. Magnolia and then Kaleia, a short 16 months later, are born. How can we make a huge decision like this while juggling young children, school, and work? Yet I long for my children to be baptized, and I can’t imagine going to church anywhere else.
Then in 2011, we move to China. We trek across Beijing, through security at the Russian embassy, to attend the one legal Orthodox church in China—once. With attendance too difficult, we try to continue our Orthodox inquiry on our own. The Prayer of the Optima Fathers seemed to be written for me that year.
In 2012, my job brings us to Portland and, after a year without, we immediately seek out an Orthodox church. Life still seems to get in the way of fully committing, though. Job challenges keep Brian traveling a lot and leave us little time to talk. Besides, we don’t know anyone at St. John—“Who would be our sponsors?” we wonder. Then, my father, 57, dies unexpectedly in 2013, so helping my mom and siblings consumes our limited time and emotions for the next few years. Again, the prayers of the Church support me, providing me words to pray when I have no words.
Then, Maggie and Kaleia, who only really know Orthodoxy, start asking, “Why can’t we go up front with everyone else?”
I’m ready, but Brian isn’t. After waiting and praying, I lay aside my ideal of our family joining together and begin preparing for the girls and me to become Orthodox. Shortly after, Brian announces he is joining us! On Holy Saturday 2016, just over ten years after becoming catechumens, we enter the Church.
I don’t necessarily recommend waiting ten years! Part of me regrets the years I missed out on receiving the Eucharist and wonders who we might be, had we taken the plunge earlier. And yet, I see God’s hand in our journey. Maybe that’s what it needed to be.