A Major Minority: Converting without Your Spouse

Believer converting without your spouse

Photo by George Konyev

This is the first of the articles we received after a call for stories about women who converted to Orthodoxy without their husbands, and the difficult, but surprisingly blessed, road they faced. 

by Emilia

When I initially heard the call for stories of Orthodox women who are married and converted without their husbands, I was more than a little surprised that this happens often enough to warrant a collection of stories. I thought I was in the minority. Perhaps the minority isn’t so minor after all.

First, a little background on who I am, on my husband, and on our marriage, before I begin about my journey to Orthodoxy. I am choosing to remain anonymous for the sake of my husband’s privacy, but am happy to share as much of my story as I am able. As I write this, my husband and I have been married for four years. We were married by a female Protestant pastor in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. We did not belong to a church together, but he was and is still a member of his parents’ Protestant church where he attends Christmas and Easter. We chose not to marry in this church as it was in another state, and we preferred to get married in the city where we met. When we married, I was still dedicated to the Protestant denomination I chose to belong to when I became a Christian in college.

Growing up, I only thought a Christian could be Catholic or Protestant; I was completely unaware of Orthodoxy. And as I disagreed with much that the Catholic Church believes, I became a proud Protestant. But it was at this time while we were dating and then newlyweds that I believe, in hindsight, that I was being lead away from my formerly beloved denomination, as I could not find a church to belong to. And so we were married in an outdoor garden ceremony in a place called God’s Garden. The only thing missing from this ceremony was the partaking of Communion.

My husband is the embodiment of what it means to be love according to St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. He is patient and kind, he is not easily angered, and he keeps no record of wrongs. He is a good man, but he does not attend church. He is a Trinitarian Christian, but I have never seen him pray except when he receives Communion. He enjoys attending church, but only does so on Christmas and Easter. He loves learning, but does not study or ever really read the Bible. We have never prayed together except on our wedding day, and we have never read the Bible together.

When we were dating, this bothered me a little, as I wanted to share my faith with the man who would become my husband. But something I know to be true about myself is that I am independent, hard-headed, and strong-willed. Say what you will about a husband and father being the head of the home, but I was raised by a single mother. She is the strongest Christian I know, and she taught me that faith is the most important thing a person can have. My faith is stronger when it is dependent on me; my faith is weaker when I depend on someone else to lead me. So when I stumbled upon Orthodoxy and immediately knew it was the answer to my prayers to deepen my faith, I knew I was going to convert with or without my husband.

When I told my husband about Orthodoxy and how I felt called to convert, he was surprised. He thought I was content with my denomination. But he was a good listener as I told him about how I struggled to find a home church and how I felt my faith deepening, and my current denomination wasn’t quenching my thirst. He read about the faith, attended the parish I began going to once, and listened as I told him about what I was learning in catechism.

And he was there on the day I was chrismated. Throughout my journey, he listened, learned, and supported me, but never once thought about converting himself. When I asked him if he would consider it, he told me he preferred the Western style of worship, and would miss eating meat too much during Great Lent. And he said that if he went to church every week, it would be easier to consider converting, but he felt that he would not change this habit if he converted. He prefers sleeping in on Sundays.

As for converting without my husband by my side, I feel like I had a positive experience. Once, when I visited a Greek Orthodox parish to buy my books for my catechism class, the priest at that parish asked me,

“Are you Greek? Is your husband Greek? Then why are you here?”

He couldn’t believe that I wanted to convert to Orthodoxy simply to deepen my faith.

The priest who would become the priest who chrismated me, though, couldn’t be happier to have another believer come home, and hoped that my husband will be called to convert by witnessing the faith of his believing wife (1 Corinthians 7:14). I have never experienced any yia yias coming up to me, noticing I’m without a spouse, offering to introduce me to their grandsons. I have never even had any fellow parishioners at my Church ask me why my husband doesn’t attend with me. Everyone (save that one Greek priest) has been very welcoming and accepting and happy to have me.

So I do not know how helpful my story will be to any woman who is thinking of converting to Orthodoxy without her husband, but I will tell you to do what is best for you spiritually. This is your journey, and you should heed God’s calling. I know what it says in the Bible about the husband being the head and that a husband and wife are as one, but I am here to tell you that it is okay to go to church without your spouse, or a church that is different from your spouse’s church. Be gentle and patient with your spouse when you introduce them to Orthodoxy; I’m sure it will be different from what they are used to, and they may hesitate for fear of the unknown.

But I pray that your spouse may see the truth of the One True Faith and will listen to what you are learning about in Orthodoxy just as my husband listened to me.

 

A Major Minority: Converting without Your Spouse

Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for sharing. I am on the road to conversion but my husband and family are not. It can be lonely sometimes. Your story hits home with me. 🙂

  2. Sara Tinkelman says:

    How generous of Emilia to share her story – it’s great not to struggle alone!

  3. Athanasia says:

    These are very poignant stories and all too familiar. Unlike these though, the spousal response to my interest, desire and eventual reception into the Church was not very positive. Many years later, the ‘support’ now comes through no push back regarding my parish involvement, time in services and full icon corner (though truthfully there never was push back regarding icons). His feeling of my having divided the marriage in an unGodly way remains, as does his anger/resentment at being ‘excluded’ from Communion despite his being a life-long Christian. He is seminary trained and ordained. We served two Protestant churches for the first 5 years of our marriage, until he decided he’d made a mistake being ordained. As laity, we became very involved in our Protestant parish and served in significant leadership positions, as well as teaching (though never together). Interestingly, our theological beliefs can be different. He is much more moderate, standing in the middle of controversial issues; whereas I am much more conservative. We used to talk theology, but do no longer because I cannot explain the Orthodox teachings satisfactorly.

    The greatest errors I have made are those of talking about problems in the Church, both local and national; especially with the hierarchy of my jurisdiction. Being friendly with a couple of bishops, and knowing the problems one has encountered, has been very negative in my opinion.

    Many years ago, when Yahoo discussion groups were popular, OXWOMS was started by some one who was Orthodox yet his spouse was not. The acronym means Orthodox WithOut My Spouse. At its’ inception, the group was very active, supportive and helpful. Through the prayers of the faithful there, several spouses have been received into the One True Church, while others have become far less antagonistic.

    Forgive me for filling the comm box as I have. I look forward to reading more stories.

  4. Fr. John says:

    Athanasia, that is what it is for.

  5. I enjoyed reading your article. I was so sorry to read of your first encounter with a Greek priest being a negative one. I belong to a Greek parish and we are so warm and welcoming to everyone, especially the priest. But I’m glad you kept pursuing your search and found a church home. Welcome to the Truth!

  6. Athanasia says:

    Thanks Fr. John. Being able to write about it helps mitigate the sorrow.

    my reception into the Church, his own church attendance and involvement has dropped to nothing this year – not even attending worship for Christmas or Easter. That made me unbearably sad. He likes my spiritual father, who has worked hard to establish a relationship. Other encounters with Orthodox Christians and priests has been very, very negative – to the point of offensive.

    My reception into the Church was in a Greek mission parish that has since dissolved. The people were very pleased to receive me as their very first convert. It was the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross and two priests celebrated the Liturgy. It was a blessed day for me.

    God has been good and blessed me immensely despite my continued sorrow. I pray for my husband and my children (both of whom have fallen away from church attendance too). Of all my family only my father and I remain faithful to our respective faiths and attend worship regularly.

    I LOVE the Orthodox Church and regret nothing. I am where I need to be and where God wants me. The Church gives me the stability and security that I do not have anywhere else in my life.

    To God be the Glory.

    Kissing your right hand, Fr. John!

  7. Fr. John says:

    Your prayers and sacrifice are sanctifying them – do not doubt it! As the Scriptures say,

    For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his believing wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy. (1 Cor. 7:14)

  8. Diana Chapdelaine says:

    Thank you for featuring the story again. There are many of us in the same situation.

  9. I am experiencing the same kind of thing, however, it is with my wife being an unbeliever.

    When my wife and I met, neither of us were believers. I myself was reckless and young, a heavy drinker battling depression and anxiety, among other things.

    My wife stuck by me through those times, and somewhere along the way I received a New Testament Bible from some preachers at the Illinois State Fair.

    It sat unread for months. When I finally did read it, I truly believe that I had sort of a “spiritual experience.” My wife, girlfriend at the time, thought I’d gone crazy.

    I completely cut out the music I was listening to, was ferverent in reading the bible, started praying, even eventually was baptized.

    Anyone that knew me personally would never believe such a thing! Mario, being baptized, going to church? Glory to God, it’s true.

    So, that was the beginning of my spiritual path. We started going to the “non-denominatonal” protestant church I was baptized at.

    My wife also attended, who still wasn’t a believer, but in support. By this time we had one child and were married by a protestant pastor.

    Quite the jump, I know. I was a believer for about a year before attending church. In that time my wife and I got married and had a child.

    We now have two children, I have now been a believer for about three or four years. God has led me from the Methodist denomination, to non denominational, to now the Orthodox faith, what I believe to be the true Faith.

    I have been unable to convert fully to Orthodoxy, however, I live the faith as fully as possible at home. My wife is unwilling to attend the Divine Liturgy on Sundays, and the children do not behave well during the Liturgy, since it is very new to them.

    My wife went once, we were not made to feel welcomed, as in our protestant churches, especially our children.

    So my battle is now spiritual. I pray for the Lord to soften her heart, to see the Orthodox faith as the way we need to go.

    God seems to be hearing those prayers. I can see she is beginning to slowly soften, I think she is even beginning to believe in Christ. She has started asking about prayer, even other topics, and has even helped me put an icon corner together in our home.

    I pray God opens the way for us to be united in faith, and shows me how to lead my family to be united with the Orthodox faith.

  10. Mario, your struggle is not unique – you are not alone! Get those kids to liturgy so that they can acclamate to it. Attend Vespers with them if at all possible. Vespers is a very calming service. Finally, we have been collecting a series of journey stories of men converting without their wives. You may want to have a look.

    And let us know how we can help. As I mentioned earlier, this is not unusual, and more often than not, thanks to the Holy Spirit, it has a happy ending for all.

  11. Dn Michael says:

    This takes courage and commitment. It can feel like a lonely path, and even a greater mission when women bring their children to church without their husband. They now act as the priest of their family. I have counseled men that are not able to commit to a life of faith, and they have all chalked it up to having a father that watched television or slept in while their mother readied them for Church.

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