by Trudy Ellmore
My family of origin is Roman Catholic, the faith I practiced until I was 18. My love of God was deep and personal. There was never a time in my life when God was not present, even in my earliest memories. Yet, when someone witnessed to me and asked,
“Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior? If you haven’t, you’re going to hell”
my reaction was one of panic. I turned away from my childhood church to a non-denominational fundamentalist church to allay my fear of damnation. There I met my first husband. After our marriage, we became involved in a Southern Baptist church where we both were baptized by immersion.
Following my husband’s death after 26 months of marriage, my infant son and I returned to my hometown. Thinking all Baptist churches were alike, I joined an American Baptist church, where I met my current husband, who was attending Seminary with the intention of pastoring in the Baptist denomination. We served the church for 5 years until he transitioned to higher education fundraising.
For the next 20 years, it was in the American Baptist denomination where my faith and love of God was nurtured and grew deeper and deeper, where I taught children and adult Sunday school classes, counseled children for baptism, served on Boards and committees, and volunteered for all sorts of ministries. It is also where I was challenged by a small-group Bible study leader to “be the church of the Book of Acts.”
That simple phrase started my quest to discover “where” that church was or if it “even was still around” and vibrant.
Simultaneously, I returned to college to finish my Bachelor’s degree. Majoring in history and taking every class possible that dealt with church history became the road which led me to the Orthodox Church. The reading list of one class included St. Athanasius’ On the Incarnation. His thesis made Jesus Christ – the Man real to me.
In each class, I dug through the past. As each subsequent piece of history was uncovered, my soul hungered for more understanding. I also found myself a little angry and betrayed. Why hadn’t any of my former pastors shared the Early Church Fathers and that there were ancient texts translated into English available to read and learn how the Early Church worshipped? Hadn’t they learned this in Seminary? The history professor mentioned previously offered a new class: The History and Theology of Eastern Orthodoxy.
The first book I read was The Way of the Pilgrim. I had found my answer to what would lead me to a deeper prayer life!
Also during this time period, unbeknownst to all those closest to me, I was falling deeper into severe depression to the extent that every night I prayed,
“God, please do not let me awaken in the morning.”
He did not answer my prayers. Each morning I opened my eyes only to sink further down into sorrow. I held on to an emotionally frayed rope as I dangled over a cliff, all the while digging through history to find the Early Church.
The professor invited our class to Midnight Paschal Divine Liturgy at his parish. When I walked into the church, illuminated only by candles surrounding Christ’s tomb, I was shocked into silence. He really died! At midnight when the priest lifted the icon of Christ in the tomb aloft and carried it into the Sanctuary, my heart skipped – He had really risen from the dead! What I had always believed seem to become alive in front of my eyes.
I knew right then, in that second, that I needed to become a part of the Orthodox Church, that the Orthodox Church contained that which would heal and save me.
Fourteen months later, on the Feast Day of the Holy Cross – September 14, 2004, I was received into the Holy Orthodox Church, receiving St. Athanasius the Great, Patriarch of Alexandria as my patron saint.
As I look back over my entire life, I see God in the workings of my life. As I write this, five and a half years later, I remain deeply thankful to God, Who by the prayers of my Patron Saint, led me into the Holy Orthodox Church.
The Church has, in fact, saved my life.