I was born into an Orthodox family and was baptized at a very young age, thereby making me a “cradle” Orthodox. In looking back on my formative years, I now realize how green the grass was in my own backyard, but at that stage in my life, I did not take full advantage of it.
Being a native Oregonian, the bulk of my years, minus a handful during which we lived in California when I was very young, were spent attending Holy Trinity here in Portland. As a child and through my teenage years my parents would take my two older brothers and me to church on Sunday mornings. We were quite involved with the traditional church activities: Sunday school, youth programs, festival, etc… They were fond memories and many friendships developed over these years. One of my favorite times during the liturgical year was when my parents excused me from school on Holy Thursday and Holy Friday so that I could participate in the Divine Services. It was an exciting time, full of anticipation for the upcoming feast of Pascha. At that stage of my life, however, I wasn’t really thinking about what we were celebrating; I didn’t grasp the fullness of what was being offered to me. When we attended church, the services were mostly in Greek. I pretty much knew the whole liturgy in Greek, but didn’t know what I was saying or singing. The book was available in Greek with an English translation on the opposite page, but somehow I found it difficult to follow at the same time.
During my college and nursing school years, I did not attend church as regularly as I had during my youth. When I graduated nursing school in 1982 and began working night shift, I only attended when it was convenient. Around that time I met John, who was also a member at Holy Trinity and active in the young adults group there. In 1984, John and I were married. We continued to attend Holy Trinity and be involved in the various activities there. Our children, Angelo and Niko, were born in 1987 and 1989 respectively. Angelo served as an altar boy when he turned eight, and both were in Sunday School. John and I attended church a little more frequently as we felt it was important to have that foundation for our boys.
In early 1997, an announcement was mailed to parishioners regarding a meeting to take place at the end of March. This meeting was called by COME, the Commission for Orthodox Missions and Evangelism, to discuss the possibility of forming a new Greek Orthodox parish on the west side of Portland. For some reason, John seemed very interested and compelled to attend this meeting. I didn’t think twice about it, because I figured it would take years before anything would come of it. March 31, 1997 rolled around and of course there happened to be one of the final “March Madness” college basketball games on TV and we were all watching it. It was quite an exciting game and the score was very close and going back and forth. John suddenly got up and said that he was leaving to go attend the COME meeting. I thought he was crazy and told him so because the game was so good! He kept stalling at the doorway, really wanting to stay and watching the score and then finally walked away saying, “I’ve really got to go now.” Months later he shared with me that he felt such a strong pull to go to this meeting; only years later realizing it was the Holy Spirit working within him. I still figured that this was all talk and it would be years before anything happened, so I didn’t think seriously about it.
My personal struggle came when it was announced that there would be a Greek Orthodox mission parish coming to the west side soon—as in August 1, 1997! John was into it full throttle, but I wasn’t quite convinced for various reasons. We had settled our boys in at Holy Trinity, and I was very comfortable continuing attending there like I had with my family growing up. I spent many days and nights anxiously worrying and struggling if this was the right decision to make for our family. I do remember one night tearfully falling asleep over this, praying for guidance, and then waking up in the middle of the night feeling incredibly and miraculously at peace with the decision to help start this new church.
Little did I know that a new phase of my personal spiritual journey was about to begin. A new priest arrived with his family. We had a handful of families that met for services in a home and then at a conference center. As time passed, the sermons, adult discussions, Bible studies, and various meetings all brought up very thought provoking questions and beautiful stories of our faith. Each day I walked away wondering if I had heard this before in my younger years and if I had heard it before, why was it making such an impression on me now? Just one example of this would be the sacrament of confession. Of course I’d heard the word confession before, but it had a negative connotation, so I just stayed away from it. I hadn’t heard about the tradition of having a spiritual father who could work with you and guide you. The new things I was learning helped prepare me to experience the mysteries of repentance and confession. Other concepts that I came to better understand in this new chapter of my journey were about obedience, the meaning of salvation, how death is viewed, the lives of the Saints, and looking at daily trials as well as physical sufferings as potential blessings allowed by God. This felt like a whole new world in front of me! Realizing that the Faith was infinitely deep and that there was so much to learn was overwhelming, but also exciting.
I know that having to step out of my comfort zone to be part of this new parish challenged me to learn more about the rich traditions that were handed down by my parents. I am thankful for the upbringing I received, which gave me the foundation I needed for my family to be a part of the mission experience. By God’s grace through His Holy Spirit, I feel so incredibly blessed and grateful that I was able to continue my journey in Orthodoxy, seeing the green grass of my own backyard in a fuller light.