From the blogsite Semantron – Journey of an Eastern Orthodox Christian.
I was born and raised a Southern Baptist for the first part of my life. I went to church every Sunday, attended youth group on Wednesday night, etc. I wouldn’t say I was particularly devout at such a young age, it was just what my family and I did. When I was about 14 I had my first massive and convincing doubts about Christianity. Those doubts gnawed away at me, fueled by the disconnect I saw between those professing Protestant Christians and the things which they did and said. After a few months I finally came to realize that I did not believe in the Christian God anymore. I never doubted the existence of a god(s), but I couldn’t see any truth in the Christianity that I was familiar with.
After doing some research on various religions around the world, I found one that ‘fit’ into my conception of divinity and my world-view, and for the next four years I was a committed, practicing, solitary witch practicing a pidgin pagan religion called Wicca.
At the end of those four years I got the opportunity to go to France with my school. For some odd reason the only thing I really wanted to see was the Roman Catholic cathedral in Chartres. I loved the architecture and the history of the huge medieval cathedrals and wanted to experience this particular one for myself.
We spent our first week in France in Paris. I had a crush on the teacher’s daughter, who was a devout Wesleyan and held bible study in her room every night, so I attended as well. While in Paris I also attended Sunday Mass at the Sacre Coeur, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, with one of my friends who was a devout Catholic. While there I and even bought a rosary, though I didn’t know at the time what it was for. I’m not even sure why I bought it in the first place; perhaps I just thought at the time that it would make a good souvenir. Finally, after a week in Paris, we left to go to the town of Chartres.
The cathedral there was absolutely beautiful, filled with medieval artwork and carvings. I was walking around alone, admiring all the old stained glass windows and other art, when I found myself standing in front of a statue of, as I would later learn, St. Thérèse of Lisieux. While standing at the foot of this statue I got a sudden and odd urge to pray. So, I started mumbling a few words, not sure what to say as I hadn’t prayed in a Christian manner when I got a sensation telling me, basically, to just shut up. I had no problem doing that! I sat down on the little bench that was at the foot of the statue and was looking up at the figure, wondering who she was and what was going on, when suddenly my vision began to get increasingly blurry to the point where I couldn’t see anything. A few seconds later and my vision cleared up, and instead of a statue standing in front of me, there was an actual person! She looked down at me, smiled, and then my vision went blurry again. When it cleared up I was left looking at a statue once more. Needless to say, I was dumbstruck and very confused! I quickly ran to find my Catholic friend but he had no idea who this saint was. I wandered around for a few minutes after this, eyes on the ground with all sorts of thoughts running through my mind. When I looked up again I was standing in front of the statue once again; I very quickly decided it was time for me to leave the church!
Two more weeks went by and I found myself sitting with some other members of the group in my Wesleyan friend’s hotel room, in the city where Joan of Arc was martyred, on our last day in France before flying back to the States. The bible study was over and everyone was just sitting around talking when the subject of the ‘conviction of God’ arose. Suddenly I felt a weight on my chest and it got hard to breathe. I snuck out of the room and went to the hallway to catch my breath. Thinking I was back to normal I went back to the room, but the same thing happened again, so I left again. So there I was, standing in the hallway, looking out the window and trying to figure out what was going on. From this window I could see a huge church straight in front of me, and one to either side as well. In the night sky appeared a light, which I originally thought was a meteor, but it persisted and was moving at a slow pace, so I dismissed it as an airplane. I kept watching it, not really thinking about anything at this point when it went behind the church in front me…. except I could still see it, THROUGH the church! As soon as I realized this, it flew towards me and then just vanished, and in that instant I just -knew- that what I had seen was an angel.
A river of tears started streaming from eyes and I can clearly remember saying
“Okay God, I get it!”
That I night I became a Christian again and as soon as I got back to the States I started the process of becoming Catholic.
Roughly five years later, in 2008, I started to get interested in the mystical side of Christianity. I lamented that there wasn’t a very strong mystical tradition within Catholicism (there is one, but it’s very fringe), and I became very put off by the strict legalistic tradition Catholicism is steeped in. I began to explore around, desperately seeking a deeper understanding of my faith, when by sheer chance I stumbled upon Eastern Orthodoxy. For a few months I had been looking for a Christianity I didn’t think I was going to find, and here was a tradition expressing everything I was looking for. I didn’t even know Orthodoxy existed! Through reading about Orthodoxy I learned of Byzantine Catholicism (which uses the same rite as Orthodoxy while being loyal to Rome), found a church near me, and decided to I wanted to visit it one day. I didn’t really delve that much into Orthodoxy because I put off by the fact that they weren’t in communion with Rome.
A few months after discovering Orthodoxy, and after many half-hearted and failed promises to attend the Byzantine Catholic church, I found out that there was a Greek Orthodox church near my home, much closer than the Byzantine Catholic one. I firmly made up my mind that to attend it the next Sunday out of curiosity as to what Orthodoxy really was. After that first visit, I knew I had found what I was looking for. I found a Church where I could experience true worship, where it felt less like I was going for my sake and more like the sole purpose was to glorify God. Here was a church that has been worshiping in the same way since the very start of the Church. Here was a church singing hymns and saying prayers that were over a thousand years old.
On the Eastern Pentecost of 2008 (June 15th), I was chrismated into the Most Holy Orthodox Church. I currently attend Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church in Marietta, Georgia. It took me over two decades but I finally found my home and my shelter in the Ancient Church.
So let me get this straight…? You had a vision of St Therese of Lisieux in a Catholic Church , saw and and saw an angel at St. Joan d’Arc’s site of martyrdom and you be became ORTHODOX?!?!
Pardon me if I dont quite get it…
Sounds strange, but maybe if he’d come straight to Orthodoxy it would have been too much for him. God led him to Orthodoxy through Catholicism. I’ve known quite a few people who’ve come to Orthodoxy that way.
Myself included. I have never had a vision, but something in Catholicism didn’t “click”. Those who have been on this road know what I am talking about. It never fell into place.
John Burnham says
I am a former Roman Catholic, and I can understand. Even the traditionalist Latin Mass movement within Catholicism isn’t as fulfilling as the Orthodox Christian lifestyle. And like the author said, it is steep in legalism and cerebral religiosity. I am thankful that I converted to Catholicism from Protestantism because it laid the foundation for me to become Orthodox. I don’t think that I would have understood the Orthodox Faith or even appreciate the differences in ecclesiology between RC’ism and Orthodoxy if I had come directly from Protestantism.
Lianne Drummond says
I totally understand. I too became very close to Therese Martin, and it’s like having a sister who I never had physically who has gone before me who unfortunately never found the truth of orthodoxy, and bit like all my biological family so far though I’m not giving up hope on them. Carmelites are probably the closest to a mystical tradition that you’ll get in roman catholicism and definitely laid the foundation for me also. However, many things started getting to me like the development of doctrine in the name of tradition, the stressful legal side (actually something therese was a lot more simple about), not to mention many other things. Though coming to orthodoxy through traditional catholicism has helped me also, for starters I would never have put up with a liturgy totally in Romanian had I not become used to the Latin mass previously!