by Dot Lombardi
This excellent testimonial was submitted to JTO recently, and is an excellent example of what a testimonial really is!
My journey to Orthodoxy has been almost 52 years in the making. Better late than never, I suppose. Officially I was raised as a Lutheran living in southern Connecticut among mostly Italian Catholics and Jews. My mom was the children’s choir director and she is responsible for the love of church music (all kinds) that I have to this day. My dad, having grown up in the Congregational Church, was an ambivalent participant in the Lutheran tradition.
The years leading up to my parent’s separation and ultimate divorce were fraught with anger, resentment, sadness and guilt. In an effort to relieve some of this within her own heart, my mother (with my brother and I along for the ride) took a whirlwind tour of many varied traditional and non-traditional Christian groups and others: Evangelical Lutheran, Baptist, charismatic, Pentecostal, southern-style tent revivals, so-called prophets, mediums and mystics.
Additionally, I was exposed to the Roman Catholic tradition through my cousins. With all of this swirling around in my head, I was incredibly confused. I did what most teenagers would do: I tuned God out. Fast forward to 1978, my junior year in college. I was very blessed to have as one of my suite-mates a girl from Germany. Unlike me, she knew exactly what she wanted to do with her life. Disillusioned with her Lutheran upbringing, she had made a commitment to convert to Catholicism and become a missionary. We went to Mass together every week and were received into the Catholic Church during the Easter Mass of 1980. I felt right at home with the reverence, liturgy, and structure of the Roman church. I remained a Catholic for 29 years.
During those 29 years I enlisted in the Army, got married, travelled, and had children. I grew a lot spiritually. Because of this growth I began to silently question certain doctrines in the Catholic Church for which I could find no scriptural basis: papal infallibility, purgatory, indulgences, the virgin birth of Mary. I sought the counsel of my parish priest and other religious but could not get these issues resolved. In late July of 2006 my son was visiting my brother in Californis. Since we were effectively “empty-nesters” for a couple of weeks, my husband and I decided to do something we had been wanting to do for a couple of years: go to the Mediterranean Festival at the Orthodox Church nearby.
I knew nothing of Orthodoxy except what I’d read of Russian Orthodoxy or seen in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding“. We ate, enjoyed the music and I jumped at the chance to tour the church. As a Catholic, I was very familiar with pictures, statues or icons and heavily decorated altars. However, no church I had ever been in emanated the sense of God’s presence like this Orthodox church did. My attention was also captured by the parish priest, who, oddly enough was not the dark-haired man of middle-eastern descent that I was expecting, but a blonde-haired priest of Scandinavian extraction. The parish priest came across to me as a “peoples priest” who enjoyed answering the multitude of questions posed to him about Orthodoxy, without the deteachment I found with Catholic priests.
As he talked with us I felt that same sense of Gods presence; he was someone who had taken a journey of is own. On the way home, my husband and I briefly discussed returning to this church on a Sunday.
He was not as sure as I was about Orthodoxy. He pointed out to me that we wouldn’t be able to take communion and it’s too far from where we live. So for the moment the discussion ended. In 2007 the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo initiated the “Journey of Faith and Grace” that ordered the closure of a large number of underperforming churches.
This meant that the number of Catholic churches in our area would be reduced from five to two. Our family, like many other Catholic families across the diocese, felt betrayed and without a church to call “home”. My husband was comfortable attending one or the other of the remaining Catholic churches in town. I was not. My first Divine Liturgy at St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church was in May 2009. I was completely lost following the Service Book and totally awe-struck by the way the Liturgy engaged all the senses. The Divine Liturgy is filled to capacity with love for God and His love for us.
The moment I heard the priest ask the congregation to ‘open our bibles’ to the Gospel for the day, I knew I had found my new church “home”. It’s now more than a year later and I feel the hand of God through my Orthodox faith more strongly than ever before. For those who don’t yet have His strong presence in their lives, God is waiting to show you.
All you have to do is ask Him.