by Tamara Schmerse
This is the final installment of Tamara’s delightful story about her journey to the Orthodox faith and it is absolutely captivating. We published it in it’s entirety as a series from her blog, My Search For The Truth. Judging from the responses from you, the readers, it has been well received. Thank you for your patience in awaiting the full story. Journey To Orthodoxy appreciates what it takes to put one’s story down for others to read it. It is powerful, valuable and irreplaceable for anyone looking themselves at Orthodoxy as the only undiluted, unpolluted, pure form of Apostolic Christianity which exists. These things matter.
Enjoy the finale of this excellent journey, and thank you, Tamara, for allowing us to republish it!
Part 17 of 17.
17: Orthodox Christianity
Beverly’s recommendation to me was first and foremost, not to give up on God, nor on my search for the place God had in store for me, or as I had always termed it, His True Church. She told me that for the foreseeable future, I should worship with a church that was like the RCC, for example, Lutheran or Orthodox.
I had tried the Lutheran Church before and had discounted it. I was not going to go backward. So I thought I would investigate her other suggestion, the Orthodox Christian Church.
I was completely miserable at this point in time; I had no idea what I was even looking for anymore. I was past the end of my rope. I wanted to worship God. I wanted to worship Him in Spirit and in Truth. The Spirit I had no problem with. It was the Truth I could not seem to find. I looked again to Facebook and came across an argument, though it was done with such respect it could barely be called more than a discussion, between someone of the Roman Catholic faith, and what appeared to be someone from the Orthodox Church. His profile picture was just a black square with a big silver cross in the middle of it. And his name was John Peck.
After reading his responses to the accusations levelled at him by the Catholic, I deduced that he knew what he was talking about. He was saying things like the original Christian Church did things this way, but the Roman Catholic Church changed the story over the years and now did things that way. I thought for a moment about the implications of that statement. Was he saying that there was actually a church that was older, or more precisely, of greater historical accuracy, than the Roman Catholic Church? Was it possible that the True Church that was established by Jesus Christ 2000 years ago had survived in its purest form, and was available to me today?
I took what I was determined would be my last step towards my goal of finding the True Church. I went to the profile of John A. Peck, and clicked on Message.
Hi, I am a Christian, but a very confused one at the moment,
began my timid message. As best I could, I explained my religious background, and the search I had been on over the past two years, culminating in cold hard rejection from the Roman Catholic Church. I told him that my poor brain was so confused, I only wanted the answer to one question at the moment.
Who is this Man, Jesus Christ?
He answered my message almost immediately. I was right, he said, to ask the question I did. Everything hinged on the answer to that. He told me that if I were to go to an Orthodox service, I would hear what they believe about Jesus Christ, and have believed and taught, without change, for 2000 years. This was verifiable fact. He told me that another verifiable fact, was that the Roman Catholic Church has made many changes to what it believes, what it teaches, and how it worships over the last 2000 years.
He advised me to go to Google, and type in “English Speaking Orthodox Church” in my city. He told me to go to a service and see for myself. And to go to the priest after the service and tell him what I had said in my message regarding my search.
And to write back and tell him how it all went.
With renewed strength, I went back one last time to dear dependable Google. I discovered that there was indeed an English speaking Orthodox Church in Brisbane, and it would not be more than a 40 minute drive away. I also discovered, to my delight, that it had a Facebook Page. That was surely a sign!
That Sunday morning I walked into the strangest room I had ever been in. Apart from the colourful pictures, the warm candles and the sweet-smelling incense, I noticed a few other things as well:
First, there were actually men in this Church, leading it in the way men were supposed to lead.
Secondly, the women all filed in wearing different coloured versions of my exact outfit: long sleeved shirts, long loose skirts, and head-coverings.
Thirdly, I heard more of the Bible during that service than I had collectively heard at every Methodist service I had ever been in. And fourthly, it was obvious that every person in that building, was there for one reason: to worship God. This was no comfortable, entertaining rock concert. This was pure, reverent worship. No pretence.
Immediately after the service, one of the young men from the choir bounced over and introduced himself. His name was Tom, and he had recognised me from Facebook. I told him a bit about my story so far, and why I was there. To my amazement, he knew exactly who the man was who had sent me to that Church that Sunday – even though John, or Father John as I learned was his correct title, was in America. Tom answered a bunch of my questions, and although his answers contained more big words and information that I actually needed at the time, I began to feel very much like, once again, but differently this time, I was perhaps, finally, daring to believe that I might, after all, have found the True Faith.
Before I left Tom gave me a handful of papers to read about the Orthodox Church. One of them, which I decided to start with, was simply titled, Sola Scriptura.
Upon reading that article, I was brought face to face with the absurdity of the concept of Sola Scriptura, or as Pastor Adrian the Lutheran had termed it, Scripture Alone, one of the Four Alones that were the basis of the Reformation Theology. Those pages articulated exactly what was wrong with all the churches that I had been to and through: of course if you are going to base your entire belief system around the Bible, or more accurately, your own interpretation of the Bible, you are going to eventually butt heads with other people who are doing the same thing. If all you have is the text, and no authoritative guideline on how to interpret that text, then you can read anything you like into it, whether intentional or unintentional. It was the logical conclusion of Sola Scriptura that what we would end up with would be hundreds of denominations, each preaching an entirely different theology based on the same Text, screaming their heads off at each other that the others were all wrong and they were the only ones who knew the Truth.
And what was the Truth exactly? Was it to be found in Scripture? Or was it to be found in the Tradition of the original Church, founded by the Apostles, that consisted of both written and oral teaching, that the Bible is actually a part of? After all, how did we end up with the Bible exactly? Did Jesus write it? Did it fall from heaven exactly as it is today? Or was it put together over three hundred years by the early Church, the same Church that can be found today every Sunday in an Orthodox Christian liturgy?
After reading that document I needed no more convincing. I had found the Church. Now I just needed to learn what it actually meant.
Tom graciously invited me to fire any number of questions at him on his Facebook Wall, and his answers were soon supplemented by the Church’s Sub Deacon Andrew, and Priest, Father Alexander. These became my Three Wise Men and between them, within a relatively short time, all the questions that had plagued me for three years, or more accurately, for my entire life, began to be answered. Andrew’s wife Sarah became my friend, supporter and guide, and eventually, at the event of my Baptism and Chrismation on December 24th 2011, my godmother.
I had found the True Church of God. No one had come after me and said
“You are doing it wrong. Come with me and I will show you.”
I had started this search on my own, and eventually, through an amazingly complicated and emotional journey, I found exactly what I was looking for: the Truth. God had brought me to where He wanted me to be. Looking back through my experiences, I can see why I went through each individual stage. I can understand why one day I was so convinced that God wanted me to be Catholic, and the next day I was equally convinced that that could not be the case.
“Behold I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.”
All God requires of us is that we search with fervour to find His Truth; if that is what we really want, He will bring us to it. If I can do this, then anyone can!
Throughout this text I have sought only to describe my personal experiences, thoughts and feelings. I have met many people along my journey who believe different things to what I have come to. I am not writing this to try to convince them that they are all wrong and need to come around to my way of thinking; I am simply being honest about where I stand, and why I stand here. I appreciate the help of everyone who has been with me along the way.
From the Baptist Church of my childhood, I gained my initial love for and appreciation of God. I learned the Scriptures. I made friends which I still have today, and I love them all for their help and support of me from when I was a child who had never set foot inside a church before.
From the COC, I have since met people who have shown me, in their weaker moments, that in their own way they really do love God and want to serve Him. I believe that they are in a very turbulent place, and pray that they make it through without the scars that I was left with. I do not believe that honest God-fearing Christians should be in an environment like that. I know that will upset some people, but I honestly believe that, if they were to step back and take a look at the bigger picture, they would see the irreverence the way I do. Life is not about having fun and coasting through while bringing God along for the ride. Our position is to worship Him, in awe of His Majesty. It is hard to do that when we are so busy preparing for party after party, all in the name of “church”.
I consider many of my friends in the Methodist Church to still be my dear friends, and appreciate their support through the years I spent with them. I believe that people who truly seek to worship God will understand why I had to leave them, and how I ended up here now.
Reverend Michael (not his real name) from the Presbyterian Church was a wonderful help to me, and I still consider him one of the most learned authorities on the Old Testament. It was the position of the Westminster Confession of Faith that I had a problem with, not the people of the Presbyterian Church. I wish them all well and thank them for their help.
The Sacred Name Movements, the Yisraelites, the Amish, Mennonites and all the other “breakaway” groups I studied with, I pray that they will find what they are looking for. God rewards our efforts when we search for Him. In this day and age we have the whole world at our mousepad (well, maybe not the Amish), and this is a blessing I am exceptionally aware of.
I met some wonderful Jehovah’s Witnesses, and I saw a lot of honest love for God in their group. However, their theology is built on heretical translations, an incorrect version of historical events and moderated by an organisation that I believe has ulterior motives.
I am thankful for the time I spent with Jews and Muslims, as I learned a great deal about two religions I had known very little about, and what I had known had been erroneous. I met so many people who love God with all their heart and mind and body and soul. I believe that we serve a merciful God, Who is gracious to all who love Him. That is enough for me to know on that score. There are some wonderful people out there, but God loves them all more than I am ever able to, and He will do what is right.
The Lutheran Church was my favourite. Pastor Adrian was so very helpful and the people there were wonderful. I appreciate his and their help more than I can express. When I realised that my search was not going to end at the Lutheran Church I was most unhappy. I cherish the memory of my time there and am thankful to God for having it.
The Roman Catholic Church; well I can see now why God took me through that experience. It was all paving the way for the true place He had prepared for me. Again, I learned a lot and appreciate the people who helped me. It is interesting, and perhaps sad, to note that every Catholic person that I spoke to after I had cancelled my annulment application, was extremely sorry for the experience I had. Every one of them begged me not to give up on God because of it. Even down to the moderator of the Catholic Daily email newsletter that I had signed up to: when I cancelled my subscription and got a standard reply email asking me to tick the box corresponding to the reason I had cancelled my subscription, I took the opportunity to write in the “Comments” section that I had earnestly sought to join the Catholic Church, but due to the fact that I had been married previously, I was unable to. The woman who ran the Newsletter emailed me back personally and asked me more questions about the process and why I was unable to go through with it. I told her about my family situation, and how contacting my ex-husband was simply not a safe option, not to mention the expense factor. She wrote back and urged me to continue to seek God, and to know that this horrendous experience was the fault of “the Church”, not of God. She was an inspiration to me and I am happy to see that there are people like that in the world.
There are many people who will, I know, be unhappy with what I have written about their particular religion or denomination. Again, please know that I did not write this to accuse anyone. I simply related my experiences. I am not an expert on every religious view I have talked about here; I can only tell you what I have seen with my own eyes, how that made me feel, and what that made me do.
For Beverly, Father John, Father Alexander, Tom, Andrew and Sarah, I thank God daily, and could not have gotten through this odyssey to this blessed place without all of them and their willingness to avail themselves to God’s will.
My Lord, I have finally found Your Truth and Your intended place for me.
Now the real work can begin.
(Note: Truly our Lord works in mysterious ways. Glory to God for All Things! – Fr. John)