I was not raised in the Christian faith. My mother can take an online quiz and it tells her that she is “a believer.” And to this day, I have no idea what my father believes about religion in general. As a child, I read the nativity story on Christmas as we sat around with extended family. This only happened a few times. And other than that, my early childhood was pretty devoid of religion. I recall dabbling in Fellowship of Christian Athletes when my club wrestling coach discovered Christ and became a born again evangelical. Dabbled. That can pretty much describe my late teens to mid-twenties; in and out of “Christianity”, atheism, agnosticism, and back to Christianity. I lived a fairly drunken haze. Spent most of my time at concerts and at friend’s parties, trying my hardest to not grow up. My then-girlfriend belonged to an Assemblies of God church and had attempted to break up with me because ‘we were unequally yoked.’ Being the intellectual I was, I used scripture to inform her that it was me that had to break up with her for that reason. After much deliberation, suffice it to say, we ended up getting married.
I had made a conscious decision at this point in my life that yes, I did believe in Christ, and yes, I did consider myself a Christian. I can remember my future in-laws inviting me over to discuss marrying their daughter. They had asked me to describe my relationship with Christ. I sat silently for a while, and the only thing I could muster at the time was to say that it was personal. They took this to mean that it was private and I didn’t want to talk about it. Looking back on it, I could have answered in a better way, but I honestly don’t think I understood my relationship with Christ. I probably still don’t either.
So we were married. We couldn’t agree on a church to attend; my wife having issues with the church she was raised in, me having no idea what I was truly desiring in a church. We had church-hopped to a few local churches, visiting a few times. We finally settled on what would later in its life become an Acts 29 church in a town an hour away. The people were nice. The sermons were nice. The open communion-at-will was nice. It was simply nice. We stopped attending the church when the pastor told me via email that he would not baptise me because we lived an hour away and were not really part of their church because we couldn’t attend any of their ‘missional communities.’ My mother liked to joke that this all sounded like a cult. And you know what? I kind of agree, on some levels. Eventually, we tired of a Christianity based off emotionally driven highs. My wife likes to say that as a kid, her church was a place to get drunk off the Holy Spirit. Which is why she always went back during the week. We wanted more. Something that we could grasp at all times. And at home.
So, how did I become Orthodox? We were friends with a married couple who was going to the Orthodox church in town. They were going originally to prove somebody wrong about the Church, only to decide for themselves that, yes, this was The True Church. The husband told me once that Protestantism teaches you what you have to do to go Heaven and that’s it; Orthodoxy gives you all the tools to succeed. They’d all talk to us when we would go over for parties, or they’d come over for parties, or we’d eat dinner. Pretty much we’d all sit around in the dining room, listening to one person tell us about Orthodoxy. I was also reading a lot of Russian literature. I like to joke that it was Anna Karenina that finally sealed the deal for me. The footnotes told of so much beauty in the tradition and Tradition of the Russian Orthodox culture that I wanted icons right then and there. Our friends became catechumens and we had become more and more interested in going too. But we always made an excuse. Usually because we were really just too lazy. And perhaps a little scarred. My wife was pregnant with our first child and gosh, 10am was just too early. Even after our son was born, we still missed the Chrismation of our friends for these reasons. But, FINALLY, we went to a service. We walked in and were taken back by the incense and the icons. The priest came out and introduced himself (only then did it hit him that he knew me as a child). We felt at home. It was beautiful. The people were wonderful. The choir was glorious. I could go on and on. But I’ll save you all. Just going to that first service took us more than a year, but as my wife and I drove home, we turned to each other, and almost instantaneously, we both proclaimed that yes, that was home. That was what we had been searching for. My wife will tell you now, that the Church is sobering. And I cannot agree more.