Looking back, I can see that the path that led me to Orthodoxy was one I started on when I was a child. My parents are wonderful, loving, Godfearing people, and they did everything within their power to raise me in a Christ-centered home and church family. I was raised United Methodist, and went to church with my family regularly while I lived with them in a small town outside of Corvallis. The church we attended since I was three-yearsold (and they still attend) followed a very traditional United Methodist service structure mostly comprised of hymns, Old and New Testament readings, a sermon, and prayers. One Sunday each month included a special time for communion to be administered.
When I was in middle school, and my best friend started to attend church with my family and me. She quickly became quite interested and had so many questions that it drove me to seek understanding and take ownership of my Christian faith. It was her conversion to Christianity that inspired me to strive for a deeper comprehension and relationship with my own faith. In high school I was surrounded by teachers and mentors who encouraged me to seek truth. My youth group leader & Sunday school teacher was a self-proclaimed “recovering Catholic,” and pushed us to read and understand the Scriptures, and to think critically and ask questions of our own faith as well as all other aspects of the world at large.
At that time I was fortunate enough to be able to take a trip with my parents to Greece for a week through an academic tour group. Even though I had never heard mention of Orthodoxy at this point, I do remember being shocked and awed when I walked into the churches. I remember being taken aback and impressed with the beauty of the mosaics, the architecture, the “pictures”, and the gold that was absolutely everywhere.
I went off to college at age 18 to Pacific University out in Forest Grove, and I was finally putting my faith to its first big test living outside of my parents’ home – picking a church to attend while at college. I started going to on-campus fellowships and getting “plugged-in” with different small groups, while attending the campus ministry offshoot of a non-denominational church. It was a pretty typical protestant scene: couches instead of chairs, a rock band instead of a choir, and projected lyrics onto a screen instead of a hymnal. All of which made me feel incredibly uncomfortable and homesick. So I kept on the search for a different church. I went to a couple of other local churches within walking distance of campus, including the local United Methodist church which was celebrating Earth Day and had modified the service to include a demonstration of proper recycling etiquette. I finally started to attend a Southern Baptist mission parish with some friends, and although there were things about the church and the sermons from the pastor that didn’t quite sit right with me, I decided to stick with it for a while. Even though it was a struggle to want to wake up for a church I wasn’t completely sold on, I tried to go fairly consistently until my third year of college when I took the fall term abroad in Sevilla, Spain.
Talk about a Catholic country–you could not go far in Spain without encountering a Catholic church. The group I went with was made up of students from all over the country, and I quickly fell into friendships with a few people from the East Coast who happened to be Orthodox Christians. I remember making a decision before I went abroad, to try and seek out a church to go to while I was living in Sevilla since I didn’t want to miss out on church for a whole three months. I also wasn’t too excited about going to a Catholic Mass every Sunday since I had been to exactly one Catholic service before in my life. I asked my group of friends if they had found a church to go to (before I knew they were Orthodox), and one of them told me I could go with them for this thing called “liturgy”, but warned me that it would be like nothing I had ever been to before. Intrigued by this, I of course agreed to go.
After getting lost through a maze of side streets, we arrived at a nondescript hole-in-the-graffitied wall building where they were housing the church. It was the smallest little space, where about 30 people were crammed together. There were many obstacles to me even remotely enjoying that first experience; it was horribly hot and stuffy, we stood the whole time, the incense was mingling with an overpowering smell of body odor, and the choir was off-key. That, and the “liturgy” my friend had told me very little about, was in Spanish. Nonetheless, my interest was piqued. Coming out of that first service, I had a whole barrage of questions. One of the friends I went with was a priest’s son who was heavily involved with his church and various other Orthodox ministries, and he fielded the majority of my questions. Which only led to more and more questions, which led to my friend asking his father to send a care package complete with a beginning inquirer’s package (prayer book and all of the little pamphlets explaining different aspects of the Church and it’s Traditions), which ultimately led to me continuing to attend this strange little gem of a church for the next three months. Looking back, I can see how God was guiding me towards that encounter – I had been searching for it unknowingly.
As wonderful and stimulating as my experience with Orthodoxy abroad was, I only went to one service at a little parish outside of Corvallis, and didn’t pursue anything when I returned to school. I fell back into routine, pushing away from Orthodoxy and attending the same church I went to before. The only difference was now I had tasted Truth. Try as I might to move on with my life, I wasn’t at ease spiritually. I went to church, but the services seemed to be more of a production than a time to facilitate worship. Not only that, but even the sermons given didn’t hold the same ring of truth any longer. The thought of having to go church hunting again held very little appeal to me, however a sense of spiritual homelessness was beginning to set in and weigh heavily on me. More than a few times I would find myself in tears.
I maintained friendships with my Orthodox friends from study abroad, and in the fall of my senior year (roughly ten months after I returned home) I was able to go visit one of them. While there, we went to church for all of the weekend services offered and had a good heart-to-heart about my dissatisfaction with my current church. My friend’s solution was simple: try going to an Orthodox church. So we looked up the closest church to my college, and it turned out to be St. John’s.
My first Sunday at St. John’s, I walked in, stood in the very back, looked around, and was overcome with a sense of being home. From then on, I had some of the more typical hangups that go along with converting from a protestant background, but glory to God I was able to get through them. I was received into the Orthodox Church on April 24th, 2011. My journey to Orthodoxy is now my journey through Orthodoxy, and I thank God for all of your prayers, love and support.