My wife, Jessie, and I became Orthodox Church on November 1, 2009. As we are about to celebrate the third anniversary of this wonderful event, it is a perfect time to reflect back on the journey that brought us here. This is not something either of us would have expected even up to a year before we first set foot in an Orthodox Church, but looking back it’s clear that God was guiding us home. When Jessie and I met in college, we hit it off right away because of our love of learning and our determination to understand our faith.
Jessie and I did not have the typical dating relationship. We spent the first year of our friendship, before we started dating, discussing and arguing about theology. This has continued to be a quality of our relationship to this day. In fact, I think it would be fair to say that the biggest arguments we’ve had in our relationship have been over issues like predestination. Jessie grew up in the Baptist tradition, and I grew up in…a little bit of everything Protestant. We both went to church regularly and were heavily involved in ministries. Jessie also had a very strong foundation from her parents, and I went to Christian schools for my entire life, even though my family was a mix between Christian and Agnostic. I didn’t actually consider myself a Christian until my junior year of high school. At that time, I had a very deep and real conversion thanks to the influence of a family whose hospitality and genuine love spoke to me in a way far deeper than could any intellectual arguments. Despite not being a Christian before this conversion, I was well versed in everything Protestant because of my upbringing and social involvement at church and school.
As Jessie and I challenged each other and learned from each other, we both grew in our desire to serve the Church. Jessie majored in theology and youth ministry with the intent of becoming a youth pastor and actually did serve as a junior high youth pastor for the last year before we started attending St. John the Baptist. I was majoring in philosophy, because I originally intended to go to law school, but I changed my plans and decided I wanted to become a pastor instead. We were both certain that God was calling us to serve in this way. At the same time, however, we were becoming increasingly disillusioned with Protestantism. We both wanted a faith that was cohesive and relevant while also being faithful to what Christ and His Apostles taught. What we found instead was post-modernism with a Christian flavor. We were both saddened and bothered by how little most of the churches and fellow Christians we were involved with seemed to care about truth or understanding their faith. Equally disturbing was the lack of unity even within a single congregation.
It was at this point in our lives that God sent a messenger to us in the person of my best friend, Andrew. I had been friends with Andrew for over a decade and most people who know us well were known to say that we were the same person in different bodies. Andrew had a very similar background to mine, but through his own journey had recently converted to Russian Orthodoxy. At the time neither Jessie nor I knew anything about Orthodoxy, but we both thought it was similar to Roman Catholicism. Andrew kept trying to talk to me about Orthodoxy. His persistence and my love and respect for him finally motivated me to look into the Orthodox Church. He convinced me to read The Way of a Pilgrim, so I found a copy of it and started reading. I can honestly say I’ve never been so deeply moved as when I first read that book. After reading the first few chapters, I already knew that it was going to change my understanding of Christianity. I started talking to Jessie about what I was reading. By the time I finished the book, I was fairly certain I was going to become Orthodox. I convinced Jessie to read it as well, and I started finding everything I could on Orthodoxy and reading books and websites as fast as I could find them. Jessie knew I was convinced, but she was apprehensive at first, even though she liked what she was learning.
When we decided to move to Portland from Seattle, I had my heart set on finding an Orthodox Church. I wanted to make the transition from reading about Orthodoxy to actually experiencing the Faith that I had become convinced was the true, Apostolic Church. Jessie wasn’t thrilled with the idea at first, because she didn’t know what to expect and was worried that Orthodoxy would end up just being cold and liturgical. As Protestants, we had always considered “liturgical” to be almost synonymous with irrelevant and legalistic. I started looking up Orthodox Churches in the area as soon as we moved to Hillsboro and found that St. John the Baptist was the closest. We attended our first service the week before Pentecost in 2008. I fell in love immediately and knew that I had found my home. Jessie wasn’t quite so convinced. She struggled with the services, which were so different from our Protestant experience, as well as certain theological beliefs, such as the veneration of the Theotokos and the role of sacraments in the Orthodox life. After many meetings with Father Theodore, reading lots of books, listening to podcasts and participating in the services these issues were overcome. Between the warm hospitality we received, the beauty of the Divine Liturgy and the solid and faithful teaching we heard, it was only a short time before we both knew we were home. We spent a little over a year as inquirers and catechumen before being received into the Church.
This journey has been the greatest blessing either of us can imagine, and we are so thankful to be counted worthy (though we certainly aren’t) of being a part of the Orthodox Faith and the parish of St. John the Baptist. The wealth of wisdom, the beauty of the Church and the inspiration and teaching of the Saints are such incredible gifts. May God have mercy on us and preserve us until the end of our lives.