Coming to Orthodoxy was like death by 1,000 papercuts (or like life, in this case!): there wasn’t just one pivotal moment or fact, but many small things over time. The Bible says we will experience trials and tribulations in life, and in 2010, our family received our fair share (cancer, death, and divorces). By the end of that year, I was left feeling sorrowful and lost as pieces of my world view began to fall apart. Also, at the end of that year, my brother, Eric Clary, came to live with me and the girls in Indianapolis. He was the first person to introduce me to Orthodox Christianity.
We grew up Presbyterian, and the girls and I were attending a nondenominational Christian church at that time. It offered many creature comforts and uplifting messages and, although I enjoyed it, I couldn’t help but feel it was superficial. As Eric was discovering Orthodoxy at St. John the Forerunner Orthodox Church (in Indianapolis), he would invite me to the Divine Liturgy, a Bible study, or to meet his Orthodox friends. At first, standing through two hours of the Divine Liturgy just didn’t seem to brighten my day like the sermon of an enthusiastic preacher, but God never gave up on me.
Once I was introduced to Orthodoxy, I treaded carefully, feeling trepidatious to fully commit. Orthodoxy seemed difficult and I didn’t identify with it. (I watched the movie Ostrov, “The Island,” after all). There was so much to learn, and it felt like a lifestyle change I wasn’t ready for. But two things really drew me in, the people and the tradition. In 2011, Eric and I moved to Oregon, and in 2012, Eric converted to Orthodoxy and began attending St. John. I started to attend as well, first a Pascha picnic, then the Divine Liturgy. At St. John, I met many wonderful people who made me feel so accepted in an otherwise confusing situation. Each person brought me one step closer to Orthodoxy, through their stories and their friendship. It was like a domino effect Sunday after Sunday.
Through all this, I was also discussing religion with my husband Adam, who was Catholic at the time. One night, he brought up the fact that the Bible was written well after the Crucifixion. Since Protestantism is so Bible centric, I hadn’t thought about how the teachings of Jesus were disseminated before the Bible was available. I realized I had been missing this big piece of tradition—so what else had I been missing?
Then in 2017, I met Fr. Russell Radoicich, who was visiting from Montana and staying with Eli Chiprout. I went to see Fr. Russell’s talk on the Orthodox Faith, which again challenged my foundational beliefs. After I left, I began digesting the information and making connections between history, the traditions, and what makes Orthodoxy different. Eli helped facilitate a few additional meetings with Fr. Russell and I at a nearby Starbucks. As Fr. Russell patiently answered my millions of questions, I felt myself feeling more sure that Orthodoxy was right. The fear I once perceived began to melt away, and as Deacon would say, First Grace, or Phase 1 of Orthodoxy, began.
With this new excitement, I read The Orthodox Faith, went to St. John the Forerunner Monastery in Goldendale, and began discussing my conversion with Fr. Matthew. On May 4, 2019, our whole family was baptized. I took the name Ioana for my saint, St. John the Baptist, who in retrospect, was with me the whole time.