Over the past five years, I have begun to recognize the grace which God has poured over my life from the very beginning. Becoming Orthodox has been the greatest culmination of so many difficult and beautiful events. At the same time, however, my baby steps in Orthodoxy are the start of a whole new journey which is both brand new and yet, at the same time, intimately familiar.
I was raised by two loving parents, both of whom were the first Christians of their families. They became Christians in the protestant “Jesus Movement”. I don’t ever remember a time when I didn’t love Jesus. I wanted to be with him and go to heaven, something my mom made sure to tell me wouldn’t happen for a VERY long time. As a child and teen, I experienced various traumatic events, and was able to keep my eyes on Christ through it all. I know now this is solely due to His grace over my life.
As I started my freshman year of college, my parents began going to a Messianic church on Saturdays. I slowly began to attend with them when I was home, and within two years I went regularly. Don’t be confused, we are not Jewish. We were searching for the Hebraic roots of our Christian faith. I spent the next six years fully immersed in the Messianic realm, which means eating kosher, not celebrating Christmas, and keeping the Jewish feasts and calendar. I am very thankful for this time, as God showed me the immense beauty of His love throughout the Old Testament. This experience was actually really helpful when it came to learning about Orthodoxy years later. After being highly involved in our congregation, our little church split in half. I had met my dearest friend, Julie, at this church, and I continued to spend a lot of time with her and her beautiful and growing family.
About four years ago, Julie, her husband Blake, and I went to a class taught by a pastor friend of ours on the dogma and history of the Church. This was our first taste of anything Orthodox. The pastor was very pro-Orthodox, although he still remains protestant. Julie and Blake began to look into the Orthodox Church, and since they were my closest friends, I looked on with hesitant interest. The summer we took this class was the summer Cecelia Buckley passed away. Patrick Buckley, Cecelia’s father, went to high school with Julie, but hadn’t stayed in contact since. About 6 months after the class and Cecelia’s death, Patrick and Julie reunited with some old friends to check in with each other, specifically with Patrick. It was at this dinner that Patrick described to Julie how the Orthodox Church got him through the darkest period of his life. Julie was very moved by Patrick’s experience and the love he received from the family at Saint John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church. She and Blake soon became catechumens at a local Orthodox church in Arlington, Washington. I was still a bit leery about this massive change in my friend’s life.
I hadn’t been attending any one church regularly. Having become disillusioned with the Protestant churches, I felt like they were all missing something. As my dear friends prepared for their upcoming reception into Orthodoxy in September 2012, I was torn about making a decision to learn more about this for myself, verses learning to understand for my friends. Julie and I took a girls’ weekend away, and I found myself honestly sharing my fear about making such a huge change to my life. I knew there were aspects of Orthodoxy that went against all the Protestant teachings I had grown up with, i.e. the veneration of saints and presence of icons; however, one saint who bridged the gap for me was Saint Nicholas. During the turmoil of trauma in my childhood, Christmas was a time of joy and love, unique for me among all the other seasons. I also knew the story of Saint Nicholas, how he helped maidens marry. He was the first saint I asked to pray for me, specifically regarding my desire to marry. His prayers availed much.
One month after my weekend away with Julie, she and Blake and their three youngest kids were received into the Orthodox Church. Patrick drove up from Portland to support his friend, and he and I hit it off. Starting a dating relationship with Patrick in October of 2012 definitely helped me on my path towards Orthodoxy, though he didn’t push it on me by any means. Julie invited me to attend the St. Nicholas day service at her congregation on December 6th, 2012. It was on this evening that I officially gave up my struggle with pursuing Orthodoxy. I couldn’t stop crying all throughout the service. It was so beautiful and striking; my heart was torn between acceptance and rebellion. After a long heart to heart talk with my dear friend, I drove home elated and full of peace to move forward in my understanding of Orthodoxy. Soon after, Julie found me a church closer to where I lived in Kirkland, Washington, and she and Blake joined me for my first Vespers service before Christmas. By the spring, I was attending the Catechumen classes taught by Father Barnabas Powell, and became Orthodox the following Nativity with Saint Nicholas as my patron saint.
As you can see, the road to Orthodoxy was an easy one once I accepted the path on which God was leading me. Each piece of my spiritual life lead me to that place, and I’m eternally grateful for my varied protestant background. I see how God’s grace has ever surrounded me and how he has protected me with His great love in many ways. I know that Saint Nicholas has always been my patron saint, guiding me during my singleness, as well as praying for me as a hurting child. Attending a messianic church gave me experience in trying something out that was totally foreign to me, which made the transition to Orthodoxy more familiar. The pure love and joy I had in Christ as a young child is renewed with each service I attend, as the focus of liturgy is rejoicing in His resurrection and receiving His body and blood, which heals my soul.
Patrick and I were married in the church July 13, 2014, and we are expecting a little girl this August. I am beyond thrilled to continue to grow and learn about my faith with my new family at Saint John the Baptist in the coming years.