by Vicki Jones
Like most folks who weren’t “born” Orthodox, I have a story of my trip getting here. It’s not a particularly entertaining story, like that of Fredrica Matthewes-Green’s vision in an Irish church. But it’s mine, and I’d like to share it with you in the hope that you see at least a few common elements with your own.
My parents weren’t particularly religious, and didn’t attend any church regularly. Both were more than a bit jaded about “organized” religion, Mother with the Church of Christ and Dad with the Baptist Church. In her later years, Mom had a great interest in the Orthodox Church, even attending a couple of services and experimenting with lenten dishes when she lived with us (she never really liked tofu – put it in the same category as liver).
I truly believe that, if she had not been in such poor health and perhaps had lived longer, she would have joined the Church. As it is, I believe she died with great peace and faith in our Lord. Dad has recently found the Most Holy Trinity, although not in the Orthodox Church. But I am still comforted, since we must remember that no one but God knows where the wind blows.
So, needless to say as a ‘70s’ teen, I went this way and that trying to find the Truth. Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Pentecostal, Assembly of God, Hindu, New Age, Buddhism, Essenes, Eck, etc., etc., etc. But a funny thing happened on my way to St. John the Forerunner…
It was at this time (fast forward to 1994, two kids and a downward-spiraling, substance-abusing husband later) that I happened to office with a big bear of a guy and a very proper British maiden lady. At lunch one day, the topic of religion (usually a no-no in a business environment) came up. Seems that our British friend had recently heard of a Texas monastery of the Orthodox Christian Church, and asked if we had ever heard of such a thing. You can imagine her (and my) surprise – and open mouths – when our lunch companion, the bear, said something like,
“Sure. I’m a Subdeacon.”
Turns out, the bear was not only a subdeacon, he also was enrolled in the St. Stephen’s course and was scheduled to be ordained into the diaconate about three months later. So the next three months were filled with discussions about Orthodoxy, theology, etc. He even asked me to proof a couple of his papers! I’ll never forget one conversation, when my western-trained, logical mind kept trying to get at how the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. Bear looked at me – almost exasperated, but not quite – and said something like,
“Stop trying to figure it out and just accept it! Why do you think it’s called a mystery?”
So I did, and haven’t wondered about it since. And when the big day came, my British friend and I were invited to the ordination at St. Anthony in Spring, Texas.
The parishioners and the priest at St. Anthony warmly welcomed us. And so, our first experience in an Orthodox Church was the ordination of the bear (now Fr. Gabriel and still a bear) into the diaconate with our own Bishop BASIL serving the hierarchical liturgy. By the end of the service, British lady and I were hooked. It must have been pretty obvious, because even His Grace asked us if this was our first service (that’s what you get when you sit a Roman Catholic and a Flavor of the Month on the first row!). Several more discussions with Fr. Justin McFeeters, and British lady and I were ready to become serious Inquirers.
But then, another, not so funny, thing happened…
About the same time as most of these goings on, my spouse had started a serious downward spiral into substance abuse, depression, and emotional abuse, ultimately ending in our divorce and his doing time in a federal penitentiary. One fine, clear November day, he came home and announced that he no longer considered himself my husband or the girls’ father. At this point, all I really felt was relief. So I went about trying to figure out how to deal with the situation – after being overwhelmed and paralyzed by fear of the future for about the next three months.
I’d leave the girls with their grandmother occasionally on weekends, for some solitary “mom time”. Often, I’d drive to Austin to visit family and friends who live here. This time was the only true time I had to think, and let me tell you, I know 290 from Houston to Austin pretty well! It became increasingly apparent to me that I had to make some life changes. No longer could I be self-absorbed, self-willed, and out in the boonies with two pre-pubescent girls. I needed a support system, and help, and had another really big place to fill in my heart. I learned what that was on another fine, clear day – this time, in the green leafiness of spring.
Driving became my “think time”. I was driving one day in the National Forest near our house, on old gravel roads. Not paying much attention to where I was, I got lost. Now I usually don’t panic, but it was getting close to time for the bus to drop the girls off and I wanted to be home for them. So I drove a little longer trying to reorient myself, and finally stopped at a crossroads.
Sitting there, idling the truck engine, an incredible feeling of peace came over me. And as clear as the person was sitting next to me, I heard someone say,
“You have to make a decision. You can’t just sit here – you have to go right or left. Help the children.”
To this day, I don’t remember driving home. I just know I got there. And I don’t really know who’s voice came to me – my Guardian Angel’s, or God’s. I just know that from then on out, circumstances seemed to arrange themselves to make it possible for me to move to Round Rock. My job, which I had re-organized myself out of, sort of disappeared and turned into an attractive severance package. My attorney cleared the way for me to move the girls without legal issues. I found a house, moved without having a job, and found one soon after moving. The oddest thing of all, though, is what happened when I tried to look up Father James McKenna.
It so happens that Fr. Justin’s Godfather is Fr. James. So Fr. Justin told me to look him up when I got to Austin, to continue my journey. So, after seeing Kristi off to Australia and New Zealand (lucky kid) for a few weeks, and Kat off to her grandmother’s for summer vacation, I looked up St. Elias’ phone number in the directory and dialed the phone to ask for directions.
Khouriya Jedonne Rhudy answered the phone…
Turns out, the Parish Life Conference was in Austin that year, and Jedonne was working on registration at the church office. After a few Jedonne-like questions (those of you who know our former Khouriya know what I mean!), it was determined that I would be attending some of the sessions – and visiting the Northwest Mission, not St. Elias. He truly works in mysterious ways.
The rest, as they say, is history. Continuing our catechesis, and warmly welcomed by parishioners at the mission, resulted in our baptism and chrismation December 22, 1996 – just days after learning our mission’s recommended name had been approved by the Archdiocese, and we were now St. John the Forerunner. Joining us at the baptismal font was none other than the Copples, and Luke Rosenquist. Our journeys had led us here at roughly the same time.
By the way, in case you were wondering. My British maiden lady friend was chrismated the following February, and currently is a member of St. George in Houston.