It is a privilege to share our story with others; and, at the same time, it is daunting to reduce the events that have led us to Orthodoxy to a few words; but, we’ll try!
By way of background, Patrick and I share a similar past. We were both raised Roman Catholic and attended 12 years of Catholic parochial school (he in Portland, OR; I in Santa Barbara, CA). We each have been married before; and, we each have three adult children (coincidentally, two girls and one boy). Also, we both have enjoyed long careers serving the public (in Oregon city government). With regard to HOW we were led to Orthodoxy and St. John the Baptist, our experiences are uniquely different.
I left the Roman Catholic Church in the midseventy’s. I was twentysomething, a single parent, and I felt unwelcome in the “traditional” church community. For approximately the next thirty years, I tried to maintain a personal relationship with God (on my own terms), without being associated with any type of “organized religion”. My focus was on being a responsible parent and having a successful career that would enable me to create a healthy and safe environment for my children. Unfortunately, I was blind to the Truth that a life not centered in Christ is not life at all.
In the late 1990’s, I began to rekindle my lifelong interest in painting and contemplative prayer, by taking up Byzantine iconography. Unbeknownst to me, that was the beginning! Almost seven years (and several instructors) later, I joined the iconographers who were meeting in the basement of Annunciation Orthodox Church (Milwaukie, OR). I was struck by these extraordinary women. They were joyful, kind, intelligent, and genuinely supportive toward everyone. I had never spent an extended period of time with women devoid of competitiveness, jealously, and gossiping. I was intrigued and wanted to fi nd out what made them “tick”. As I watched, listened, and experienced these women interacting and living. I was drawn in slowly, gently, lovingly, and without judgment. I had never experienced such sincere hospitality and kindness. After quite some time, I felt comfortable asking questions — a lot of questions. When I began repeating many of the same questions, Linda Weick and Eva Walters suggested that I visit with a priest (Yikes! A part of me wanted to run for the hills!!).
If there was an initial ‘turning point’, it was that first visit with Fr. Timothy Pavlatos. I don’t think we talked about anything earth shaking, as I was not the least bit interested in becoming Orthodox. Nevertheless, I walked out of that meeting with a strong desire “to taste and see.” Other turning points include reading (Saint) Elder Porphyrios’ Wounded by Love, which deeply touched my heart and opened the door to the rich treasury of Orthodox spiritual books; and also, discovering Holy Presence in the liturgical services, in the Church family, and especially shining through the beautiful faces of the children. They have been Lights pointing the way.
The ‘turning points’ continue — points that cause me to turn again, and again, and again toward Christ, Who has shown His great and rich mercy.
The term “journey” most often includes departure, effort, hazards, seeking, fi nding, and return. My journey to Orthodoxy has included all these things. I was a Roman Catholic from childhood and a practicing Catholic through most of my adulthood. While along the way I doubted some of the theology, dogma, and Papal pronunciations of the church; being a Catholic was integral to who I was and how I was seen. Some of my experiences as an altar boy or “playing priest” (in my home) as a child remain very clear memories for me.
Some twenty-five years ago, I was fortunate to make a connection with a nearby Trappist monastery. I was totally drawn in by the beauty, simplicity, and holiness of the place and the monastic community. I felt closer to God than ever and it brought peace to soul and body. I was able to experience the various liturgies and services of the monastic community. It was “soul food” for me! The monastery was my fi rst exposure to religious icons, and I brought several into my home. A divorce brought about an estrangement from the monastery and from the Roman Catholic church.
For a decade, Sylvia and I sporadically attended Episcopal services and an occasional Catholic mass. We never found a “spiritual home.” Sylvia’s iconography practice eventually led us to attending services at Saint John the Baptist and its Salem Orthodox Mission Church. I felt a stirring while attending Divine Liturgy at both locations. It was the sense of the sacred, mystery, and Spirit that I had been seeking. Both communities also felt like guest houses, if you will – welcoming, joyful and generous. I loved the energy.
A wonderful dinner for inquirers, hosted by the Walters family in Salem, and an informational presentation at Willamette University by Fr. Timothy and Fr. Theodore helped to solidify the sense that Orthodoxy was home. I have been blessed with a Spiritual Father and to be surrounded in community by wonderful fellow parishioners who share the journey to eternity. I look forward to strengthening my faith and to growing towards something greater.
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Last October, we joyfully received the Holy Mysteries of Baptism, Holy Eucharist, Chrismation, and our marriage was blessed. We remain grateful and humbled to have been accepted into the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. May God grant us, and you, many years!