This is part 6 of this six part series on one family’s inspiring journey to the Orthodox faith.
The very first Monday in January of 2006, I met a lady named Mary at an inner city Bible study. I noticed that Mary made the sign of the cross during our prayer time .When the prayer time was over–I asked her about her faith. Mary had grown up in California. Her father was Catholic and her mother was Baptist. She was never confirmed as a Catholic. However, she gravatated to the Catholic faith more than the Baptist faith.
Mary had been a part of the Jesus movement on the West coast during the early seventies. I had followed that movement as a young college student and even wrote a paper on it for my English 102 class. Mary’s marriage didn’t work out. She left California for LasVegas , NV. Mary had various jobs–a clerk in a fancy department store and later working in the cassinos. While raising one daughter, Mary managed to turn from her faith to a life of deep immorality. Working and partying filled her life up. Amazingly, she told me that she continually read the Bible through a little each day. It was like that spark deep inside of her towards God just would not die out.
In April of 2005, Mary decided not to drive to work, but to take a bus. She blacked out and suffered a severe hematoma that day. Every capilary in her brain busted. The doctors told her grown daughter “to pray that she dies”. So it was a miracle when Mary recovered. The road back to health was slow. She told me that for awhile she had three MRI’s a week. Mary also told me that God finally had her attention.
From that point on, she began living a Christian life again.
In November of 2003, Mary made a visit to our town to see some friends of her California days. She liked our town a great deal and decided to move here. In Janurary of 2004, Mary moved to Kentucky. Having suffered from mild epilepsy all of her life–she now had a full blown case of this disease. She qualified for social security disability. Mary had made the rounds of churches in our town–only to still fill something was missing in her life.
After meeting Mary, we connected very well. Jim and I went over to visit her and she showed us all the prayers she had written. She was already practicing morning, noon and evening prayers. She had prayer shawls, holy oil etc to go along with her prayer time. Mary decided through the weeks of our sharing in January and February that she wanted to travel to church with us.
It was the end of February that she first visited St Elizabeth with us. On the way home, Mary told us she knew she had found a church home at last. A real extrovert, she soon made herself known.
Meanwhile, I was taking care of a four year girl in January and February while getting to know my new friend Mary. Jim’s disability pay was set to run out the end of February. His cardioligist wanted Jim to try to work four hours a day. Having been a substitute teacher off and on since l988, I knew I had to jump back into this profession. I had only been away from teaching for three years, so it wasn’t hard to get started again. My favorite high school was happy that I was returning. I started back to work the last week in February. My little girl was able to stay with “Nanna” who took care of my grandsons. Jim also started to work when I did.
One of the advantages of working as a substitute in high school was the long planning periods that I could read. This high school was on the block system which meant that the students had four 90 minutes classes a day. The teachers would have three classes and a planning period. I read one book after another about the Orthodox Faith.
In mid April, Jim finally went back to an eight hour day. During my spring break, I visited with Mary quite a bit. She kept begging Fr John and Fr Steven to let her become a catachumen. They kept telling her that she needed to wait and make sure that is really what she wanted to do. The Orthodox Church never pressures anyone to join. In fact, they ignore one’s request for the longest time. Likewise, once a person becomes a catachumen, it is a long journey to Chrismation. The final result is that once a person becomes fully Orthodox, that person is more likely to stay in the church and not drift around.
Our part time priest, who was also a high school principal, announced that he would be leaving in late spring. His family also drove 100 miles to be able to minister to us. It was time for our little parish to start looking for a fulltime priest. Fr. Stephen Rogers told us that Fr John Oliver and his family wanted to return to the mid South. Fr. John and his wife, Kh Lara had been a part of St Ignatius before they went off to seminary. They wanted to come to our parish. We had a special time after the service one Sunday, when Fr. Stephen asked us to make a pledge of how much we could give the Olivers. They needed a decent salary to support a family of six.
This was the first time in my entire life that I’d had ever considered giving a tenth of my income. I whispered to Jim the amount I had in mind. He was thinking the same thing. We wanted the Olivers to be able to come. Our parish wanted a fulltime priest. The pledges did indeed come through. The Bishop gave his approval and the Oliver family was set to come in early August.
Meanwhile, Fr Stepehen and the other two priests at St Ignatius rotated each Sunday for our Divine Liturgy. Vera, Jim and I were restless. We wanted be Chrismated. In early June, we asked Father Stephen by phone for permission. He granted our request. Now we had to begin to work on preparing for our lifetime confession.
We arrived early that last Sunday morning of June to our parish. We each had our confession with Fr Stephen prior to the services. Orthodox confession is so very personal. We didn’t stand in a booth. We stood with our priest before the Icon of Christ. Fr Stephen would give bits of counsel as we talked. It was a very peaceful and cleansing time. ( Each of our confessions were private).
Our families traveled to see our Chrismation. Our sponsors were with us. We had beautiful candles. It was a tremendous morning. Finally, Mary also was granted her desire to become a catachumen. She had her service before ours. I couldn’t help pondering the miracle God had worked in Mary’s life, and in our lives.
For Jim and I , it was the culmination of searching our entire life for a Christianity that was not broken or fragmented. We knew we could depend on the ancient church not to change and waver with the times. We’ve never regretted becoming Orthodox. Each day, we have new purpose and meaning. Moreover, we take our faith extremely serious. It is not something to trifle with.
Yes, the Orthodox faith helped us even as searchers when Jim almost lost his life. Now the Orthodox faith provides a solid foundation for the trials of every day life.
Mary was chrismated on December 17th, 2006 at Ft. Campbell , Ky. (This is a long story in and of itself). As far as we know this moment, there are only four Orthodox Christians in our town. Just as surely as St Elizabeth grew out of just a few couples, we are praying that someday there will be an Orthodox parish right here in our town and more springing up all over Western Kentucky.
For wonderful information on the Orthodox Faith , visit www.ancientfaithradio.com. Our own Fr John Oliver has a regular podcast. Another good source of information is http://www.ourlifeinchrist.com and I invite you to take a journey of your own. Someday, we hope to read or hear your story.