by Russell Howard
I was baptized Roman Catholic, and I grew up going to St. Killians Church in Farmingdale, New York. At first, my family and I attended Mass every Sunday, while I remember anxiously watching the clock. Sometimes I would even make two trips to the bathroom to kill the time. I remember paying attention to the sermons, but the priest often had an accent that was difficult for me to understand, and I also daydreamed more often than I paid attention. When my sisters stopped singing in the childrens choir, we stopped going every Sunday, and eventually we began to attend only on Easter Sunday and Christmas Eve.
Although I was Confirmed in the seventh grade, that year probably marked, more than anything else, my start on the path of rebellion. I did not care for my religion, as was evident by my scribbling of the name of the heavy metal band “AC/DC” on my Catholic study Bible during Confirmation classes. The primary cares of my junior high school years were music, friends, and girls. The heavy metal music that I listened to only brought out my rebellion even more. Soon I even rebelled against my peers. I was also very sad. I began to search for something with meaning.
Ninth grade was a very difficult time for me. My only solace was in music. I was still depressed, and I was angry too. I wanted to be accepted, but I saw myself as better than everyone else. I was very arrogant and proud. By the middle of high school, I began using drugs. They provided what I thought was a deeper experience. Soon my tastes began to change: I began reading about eastern religions, and I started experimenting and using different types of drugs. It was not long before I was thoroughly immersed in the hippy culture and new age spirituality, but I did not accept everything. I was still searching.
I continued using drugs at Nassau Community College, but after being caught by my parents the previous year, I resolved to be a bit more discreet about it. I was doing pretty well in school, and I was getting along with my parents better, but I was still depressed. Unexpectedly, I joined a local band, and it became my priority. As my partying grew yet harder, it began to overshadow everything else. The people I spent my time with changed, and I began to feel alienated from my band mates and friends. This was aided by changing views on life: I no longer believed in a subjective reality, moral relativism, or that truth was nonexistent. Intellectually, my reading had led me to Christianity, but experientially, I was drowning.
When I was at my lowest point, and felt most alone in the world, I met my girlfriend Valerie. Even though I did not believe at the time that I prayed, our most Benevolent God had heard my prayers, and had answered them. She was like no one I had ever met before, and we fell in love. Valerie had a strong Christian upbringing, and we shared many common experiences throughout our young lives.
Although my use and experimentation with illicit substances had led me to some of the worst kinds, Valerie gave me new hope. So did my religious readings. I began to make changes in my life for the purpose of obedience to our Lord. Soon my use of drugs stopped altogether. I had never been a happier person.
Shortly before Great Lent of 2003, I decided to attend a service at Saint Gregory of Nyssa Church. Valerie and I had been talking about going to church, and we both had the desire to do so, but the problem remained of where to go. She had been brought up Pentecostal, and although I was Catholic, in my heart, I knew that I wanted to go to an Orthodox church. When I was younger, I had sometimes gone with my mother, who’s side of the family is Orthodox, and I had always felt more at home there than in Catholic church: somehow it just felt right.
Additionally, my Uncle John had given my family a book called The Way of a Pilgrim, which had, even at times of earlier confusion, blessed me with a profound sense of Orthodox Christian humility. Since then, I had read more and more about Orthodoxy, and had come to realize its truth. My first Sunday morning at St. Gregory was a life changing experience, because I truly felt the presence of God!
Since that day, I have known in my heart, that my search for truth has ended. By the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, He has led me to the True Faith: the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Although I knew right away that I wanted to become an Orthodox Christian, Fr. Ed only instructed me after I had attended Liturgy a number of times. I eventually became a catechumen of the Church.
I became an Orthodox Christian when I was Chrismated during August of 2003. Although my life since has not been without troubles, God has been with me, and His Holy Spirit has been my Strength and my Guide. I am happy to struggle for the glory of my Savior. I feel like, after a long journey, through much confusion, by the grace of God, I have come home.
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. Amen.