It’s about time I told the story of how I ended up in the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Orthodox Church. For a couple of years I have had a page on my blog that is somewhat of a hodgepodge on the Why of my being Eastern Orthodox, but until now I’ve never tried to write out the chronological tale of the journey in its more obvious and observable aspects. It’s my nature to wonder at the mysterious way God moves in our lives, but He does His work through a sequence of people and events. I have procrastinated trying to write this down, partly because I know I will be unbearably long-winded about it. At least here on my blog you are free to stop reading at any time, and you can even skip ahead to the last steps of the journey if you want, and it won’t bother me in the least.
When I was a child my parents made sure I went to Sunday School at the Presbyterian Church, though they did not attend church themselves, and my mother taught me to pray, “Now I lay me down to sleep….” every night. I was given a sticky little luminescent cross that I put on the wall by my bed, and I would look at it as I went to sleep. As I got older I decided to stay after Sunday School for church, and got extra teaching in the faith from Evangelical church camp during summer vacations. I went through a Communicants’ Class at church, and was in Youth for Christ in high school.
I went away to college during the days of the Jesus Movement, and before and after I married I was active in what we called “non-institutional” or nondenominational churches, and tried to live for God within that context. Just what that context was is hard to describe briefly other than to say that it emphasized the believer’s individual relationship with Jesus, which was thought to begin when one accepted, or decided that one believed in, His sacrificial death for one’s sins. This relationship was supposed to continue through personal and informal prayer and Bible study.
Other than what could be found in the Bible, the historic elements of the faith were not often mentioned, but when I was in my 30’s a dear friend shared with me discoveries she had made of the riches found in the writings of Reformed Christians of previous centuries. My husband had recently been teaching in church about how our theology ought to be God-centered rather than man-centered, and though I don’t remember exactly what that meant, I was ready to progress from the usual offerings of what I called How to Be a Better Christian books to exploring those that were more deeply theological.
I sort of got stuck in what I call the Reformed stage of my journey for about a decade, all the while remaining with my family in a decidedly non-Reformed church and mostly thinking to myself about God and history with the help of various books and periodicals, including R.J. Rushdoony’s Chalcedon Report, which I loved to read in bed at night. The articles about how history, theology and philosophy are all interwoven stretched my mind and strangely calmed my heart, as I was confronted with a sovereign, holy, and gracious God truly beyond my understanding, but whose good will would surely prevail. I could sleep in peace.
1984 was the year that we began homeschooling, by which time my husband and I had four children, soon to be five. I taught them history and that included church history; I kept reading history on my own so that I could do a good job of teaching it. I began writing a newsletter for Christian homeschoolers in our area and published articles about the philosophy of education and about activities and events that homeschoolers might be interested in. I participated in a local support group and met some Orthodox families there.
During these years, the 1980’s and 90’s, several old friends of ours with whom we weren’t in close contact were converting to the Orthodox Church, and I read Frank Schaeffer’s book on his conversion, which was so arrogant as to put me off that track for several years. Anyway, I was too busy raising the children and running a household, and too committed to the unity of our family to actually take steps anywhere on my own.
One of the ideas that I picked up from some of the Reformed thinkers I read was that Christians ought to be creators of Christian culture, not merely consumers of the degraded popular culture. In the homeschool newsletter I was publishing I began to notice that the richest offerings of classes, lectures, and events that reflected a deep understanding of the faith and an appreciation for beauty, goodness and truth came from the Orthodox homeschoolers. At the same time, a Reformed journal that I subscribed to published an article accusing the Eastern Orthodox Church of being a “synagogue of Satan.” This brought my theological explorations to a crisis. I asked a couple of Christian friends who were neither Orthodox nor Reformed, but who were well-read, what they thought about this issue. If the Orthodox were truly worthy of such a label, I didn’t want to continue highlighting their works in my newsletter.
One friend said that she didn’t know much about the Orthodox Church, but that the extreme accusation made against it caused her to wonder about the form of Christianity that the author of the article held to. I began an e-mail discussion list I called “Historic Church” that provided a forum for these women and a very few others who were interested in theology and history to share what we knew and ask questions about what we didn’t.
One question that came up in my study of church history was about the implications of Christ’s statement in Matthew 16: “…I will build my Church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.” Many Protestant Christians believe that the church in the first millennium did indeed fail to carry on the true faith, which seems to leave them with the responsibility to recreate the “New Testament” church. This mission has been carried on repeatedly and constantly for many centuries now, while the Orthodox Church just continues to pass on the faith that the apostles handed down.
From my reading of online discussions among people with Reformed/Calvinistic viewpoints I gathered that many Reformed like to argue about doctrine, and I realized that I was tired of this intellectual exercise. I was also concerned about some disturbing conclusions (have you heard of full preterism?) that resulted from private Bible study. I was hungry for heart worship, but in our Bible church I didn’t feel that I had the opportunity for it, as my mind was always sifting and judging the ever changing content of the services, leaving no opportunity to really pray. It appeared that I might need to go back further than the 1600’s to find the connection to the full apostolic faith I was yearning for.
Some of the writings that contributed to my dissatisfaction with the Protestant form of Christianity were: Against the Protestant Gnostics by Philip J. Lee; Evangelical is Not Enough by Thomas Howard; and John Whiteford’s article “Sola Scriptura: In the Vanity of Their Minds.” Whiteford’s article was the clincher; it explained the inadequacy of the Reformed Protestant principle of sola scriptura that allows every Bible reader to decide for himself what the faith is. I wanted to be liberated from that tyranny of current opinion and become part of the church that honors and listens to believers down through the centuries, including those very church fathers who gave us the Bible.
On a more devotional level, my prayer times were enriched by using formal prayers from Lancelot Andrewes and from the devotional guide published by The Fellowship of St. James.
One of my friends on our Historic Church list converted to the Orthodox Church, and she soon invited me to a women’s retreat at a nearby monastery in 1999. Monastics have many services every day, and in addition to lectures on Holy Tradition and many related topics (and what topic wouldn’t be related?) I attended eleven Orthodox services during the four days of the conference. It was an immersion in the kind of reverent, prayerful, and Scripture-soaked worship I had been looking for, and I fell in love.
The next several years could be said to have been my long and unofficial catechesis in the Church. I knew in my heart and mind that it was my spiritual home, but the idea of having a home not shared by my husband and children was counter to everything I had thought and lived until that point. I continued to attend a small independent Evangelical Bible church with my family, and visit Orthodox services when it didn’t take time away from the family.
I added the Orthodox Prayer Book to my resource materials, and my heart and mind both were also fed by reading For the Life of the World by Alexander Schmemann, Orthodox Dogmatic Theology by Michael Pomazansky, and The Orthodox Church by Timothy Ware. This is not the place for me to try to summarize what affected me about those books, and I’m not sure I could break it down anyway. I was sponging up the faith, Christ and His Church, and it was much more than you can get from books.
As I am such a homebody, and given how counter-intuitive it was to be attending services alone, for most of 2005 I didn’t go to Orthodox services at all. Of course lots of other things were going on; that was the year I went to England and Scotland with Pippin, for example. The activities of four other children and the several grandchildren, and my love for my dear husband, all kept me busy. So I put my longings on the back burner and worked at being content. Contentment and acceptance are strong values in Orthodoxy, and I was happy, even in my unsettledness.
Early in 2006 our last child had left the nest and I had time to notice that I needed more nourishment in the Lord than I had been getting, so I began making connections with a broader cross-section of the Orthodox community in three parishes. In the past I had felt that the priests I knew were guarded about my pursuing of Orthodoxy without my husband, but the two I met that spring encouraged me to be more proactive about my faith and to follow what I believed as much as my husband could support. In the summer he began to suggest that for my own good I go ahead and convert to the Orthodox Church.
I dragged my feet a bit, knowing what a huge change it would be, and feeling that he wasn’t truly ready for me to do it. But in the fall I began taking catechism classes, and in January of 2007 I became an official catechumen. It was about this time I was able to put my thoughts into words and write “I Believe in The Orthodox Church” which is here on my site. I was baptized into the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Orthodox Church the day before Pascha in April 2007.
Though I was in my 50’s by this point, I felt that I had become a child again, in that a whole world was opened up to me of which I had before known only a parcel. There was so much to learn about the family (over two millennia’s worth of friends and relations), significant events of our family history, and our current culture. In spite of this awareness of my ignorance and beginner status, I was very comfortable, because I had felt loved and welcomed for a long time. Home is the perfect place to grow up.