My father was raised Catholic by his Irish immigrant mother. His father, who was a kind and spiritual man, never attended these services. My mother was raised Presbyterian. When my parents began dating, my father had many unanswered questions about Catholicism, including the demand that my mother convert in order for their marriage to be recognized by the Catholic Church. Because of this, they were married in a Presbyterian church in Cleveland, Ohio and soon moved to Seattle where my father started his surgical residency at the University of Washington. I was born in Seattle and baptized in the Presbyterian Church. I remember attending Sunday school and enjoying it.
After my father’s residency he was drafted into the military, and our family, which now included my two younger brothers, moved to Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho. My parents became very involved in the nondenominational church on the base. They were active participants in the choir and Bible study groups. We then moved to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho and began attending services at the Presbyterian Church. My parents had concerns regarding some of the teachings and started exploring other options. We began to attend St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and soon were active members. My father was on parish council, my mother participated in the women’s group, and they both sang in the choir. I loved Sunday school, and this is where I took my Eucharist classes and First Communion. Our priest was a loving and kind man, as was his wife. My parents became close friends with them, sharing not only the love of Christ but the love of hiking, camping, horses and gardening.
When I was in the 8th grade, our priest divorced his wife, left the priesthood and moved to Alaska with a female parishioner with whom he had been having a long-term affair. I now look back at this time and realize how much this shook my parent’s faith in everything they had believed. This was more than the ugly divorce of close friends; this led to their questioning of everything regarding Christianity, God and the role of the Church. My parents were still spiritual and looking back on the questions my mother often raised I know that they still wanted to believe in the role of the Church, but this was a difficult time. We then became the family who went to church on Easter and Christmas. We would have a visiting priest at St. Luke’s and would try to go, but the wounds were too fresh. At the urging of friends, we began attending the Presbyterian Church, but the long-standing concerns over certain teachings could not be overcome, and we were not regular members.
I then went to college at UC San Diego with the goal of becoming a Child Psychologist. I had a very strong sense from the age of 16 that my gifts had been given to me to help other people. For the first two years I would visit my grandmother once a month and attend Catholic services with her. She passed away during my junior year. I tried to go to the services at the Episcopal Church in La Jolla, but it was not a church of young people. During this time I would occasionally pick up the Bible and read it. I felt a pull, and I knew that my spiritual side was yearning for growth. I became enthralled with Biology and soon was a double major in Psychology and Biology. I dabbled with the idea of getting my PhD in cellular biology but quickly realized that my desire to help people was not in the lab but in my individual interactions with people in need. I applied to medical school and was accepted at the University of Washington. By this time, St. Luke’s had a permanent priest and my parents were back to attending church on a regular basis. I attended services when I was at home, but I did not feel the spiritual bond that I had had with our former priest.
Medical school was an amazing experience but left little time for exploration outside of the classroom for the first two years, and even less time once our clinical rotations began in the third year. My friends did not attend church, or if they did, it was only occasionally when family visited. I did not attend church either and knew that this part of me was empty, but on my own, I could not fill it. I began to realize that the loss of my priest in 8th grade profoundly affected me as well. I began to read church history in an attempt to find an answer. Interestingly most books quickly jump from Judaism to Catholicism with little or no mention of Orthodox Christianity. I began to question the Episcopal Church purely regarding its conception. I had always had a fascination with history and found the role of Henry VIII in the development of the Church of England interesting but disappointing. How could I be a member of a church that had been created so that he could divorce his wife and marry another? This was a spiritual question that I could not overcome.
I met Scott my first day of surgical residency and we began dating that fall. I remember on our third date he told me he was Orthodox and asked if that was a problem for me. He felt very strongly about remaining Orthodox. I was impressed by his strong faith, and thought that Orthodox must be some sort of strict Catholicism. I had never met anyone who was actively Orthodox. The first service I attended was Christmas Vespers. I remember being slightly saddened by the lack of the traditional Christmas hymns. Surgical residency was six years of being in the hospital 110 hours a week. A good Sunday was to get to the hospital at 5:30 a.m. and leave by 2 or 3 p.m. There literally was no time to go to church. This was when I began to realize how much I missed this in my life. I needed the grounding of the church and its teachings to help me deal with the stress, pain and suffering that was all around me. This was not something I could gain just by reading the Bible and with prayer. How could I counsel patients and perform surgery under the stress of sleep deprivation and self deprivation with competence, love, patience, humility and understanding if I was spiritually empty? Today I emphatically know that the answer is that I cannot!
The next service I attended was Pascha. Wow! My feet hurt, my body was tired, I had never seen so many candles or smelled so much incense in my entire life! This was not “super Catholic,” this was something different. I ordered the book The Orthodox Way by Timothy Ware and began to read. This was the book I had been searching for all those years! I began to find answers to so many questions. Timothy Ware (now Metropolitan Kallistos Ware), as a convert from the Episcopal Church, was able to speak to me, and he still does.
Scott and I were married at Holy Trinity. I enjoyed our pre-marital counseling with Fr. Dimitri (Tsigas). Since my youth, this was the first priest that again gave me that feeling of warmth, unconditional love and a sense of grace. But again residency, with its demands on my time and energy, did not allow us to attend services. I finally knew which church I wanted to attend, but I could not go. When we completed residency in June 2000, I was six months pregnant and sought out Fr. Dimitri. I wanted to convert to Orthodoxy. Scott had never asked me to convert to Orthodoxy; all he had asked was for me to accept his religion. I had my first confession with Fr. Dimitri and was amazed by the feeling of love, forgiveness and enlightenment. My only prior experience with confession was my father’s negative feelings regarding it. I was chrismated on the same day that Kimberly was baptized by Fr. Dimitri. I asked Mina Roussos, a close friend of Scott’s parents who had given us a beautiful wedding shower, to be my nouna (godmother).
We continued to attend services at Holy Trinity until Fr. Dimitri moved. Again my heart was saddened by the loss of what I now realized that my soul had always been searching for: a spiritual father. At Mina’s urgings, we began attending services at St. John the Baptist, and although we were in the basement of a strip mall I was overwhelmed by the love and sense of welcome by the parishioners, and especially by Fr. Theodore and Presvytera Stacey. Again, the sense of love, acceptance and warmth embraced my nous and I was humbled and overjoyed to have found a spiritual father.
I am constantly amazed at the beauty of the Orthodox Church and all that it can bring to those who seek and ask. I thank God daily for bringing Scott into my life; not only is he my life partner and the father of our beautiful two children, but he introduced me to this wonderful faith. I continue to seek spiritual growth and understanding of all of these mysteries not only for myself but to prayerfully instill these teachings and sense of wonderment and beauty in Kimberly and Cole. I can only hope and pray that when they each meet their own future spouse that early in the relationship they will comfortably say “I’m Orthodox, I hope that’s not a problem.”