by Sean Alexander
This is the first of several ‘journey’ stories of members of Holy Cross Church in Williamsport, PA.
My journey to Orthodoxy began at a young age. I was greatly influenced by my grandmother who would watch us from time to time and sing songs like “Rock of Ages” and “My Cup is Full and Overflowing.” We attended the local Methodist Church every Sunday, and we always attended as a family.
I continued to attend the Methodist Church until 1993 when I married Hayln. We started to attend the Baptist church she had been attending. In the spring of 1994, shortly after I graduated, we moved. And over the next ten years, we attended many different protestant churches; Baptist, Christian and Missionary Alliance, Church of God, and Brethren in Christ.
In January, 2001, Hayln and I moved back to Jersey Shore and we started attending the Jersey Shore Church of God. This church was full of energy and would really get you thinking that you were in the right church. They had a worship leader and a band. After a short time, Hayln felt something was missing — and she was right. The more we paid attention, the more we realized that we weren’t really there to worship God. We were there because we were having a good time. It wasn’t about God; it was more about us being entertained.
During this same time, my mother-in-law was attending a small church (Holy Cross!) that was similar to the one her father had attended when he was a child. She never said much and wasn’t pushy at all. I just remember her saying, “It just feels like I have finally come home.”
After leaving the Church of God, Hayln and I sought out a smaller church that we felt was more reverent, also trying to avoid the feeling that the church we were attending was making a greater effort to keep us entertained than to help us in our spiritual growth. At some point, Hayln started to attend the Monday bible studies with her mother and developed a great urge to attend Holy Cross Orthodox Church. Easter and Pascha were coming soon and they were not on the same weekend, so Hayln asked if we could attend both. I agreed.
“Why not celebrate with both my parents and her mom?”
Later, Hayln informed me that the service started at 11:00 PM! I didn’t find out until I was AT the service that it lasted three hours and I would have to hold my son the whole time! This didn’t help to develop a good attitude toward the Orthodox Church! Besides that, it felt to me like the Roman Catholic Church and I didn’t want my family to attend this type of church.
Hayln, however, was determined that she would attend no other church, and, for a short time, she and I attended different churches. This went against my childhood feeling that church was a family event and it didn’t help that most Sundays I went to church angry and Hayln went to Holy Cross crying. One Sunday, I had our son Ethan along with me and it was a particularly rough morning. I thought; “This is not how God intended church to be. We should be together as a family.” So I made up my mind that I would attend the Orthodox Church with Hayln — until I was able to find some theological error! Then we could leave the Orthodox church.
The first few weeks at Holy Cross I spent looking at the architecture and then sneaking out to the creek with Ethan halfway through the service. But eventually, I began paying attention to the Liturgy (since that was the only way I was going to find any “errors!”) I had many questions. I asked Father Dan all of my questions as I felt he would be honest and I could easily show the errors to Hayln, and then we could quietly move on. What happened was the opposite. Father Dan answered all of my questions, with references from the Bible. In the Orthodox Church, the interpretation of a verse must be supported by all of the verses around it or it is simply taken out of context. So the answers were actually more thorough and true than I would have received from a protestant pastor.
Hayln and I started to attend inquirers classes, and we had many discussions with Father Dan. As Pascha was (again) approaching, Hayln seriously wanted to join the Orthodox Church. I, too, was receptive to the idea. Father Dan addressed all of my concerns to that point and I was beginning to feel that there was more to this church than the other churches that I attended.
So one night during an inquirers’ class, I approached Father Dan about joining the church. Much to my surprise, Father Dan said “Let’s wait. I’m not sure you’re quite ready yet.” I believe he was right. Hayln was ready: she’d been ready for a year! I, on the other hand, realizing that joining the Orthodox Church was equivalent to a marriage, was not quite as ready to make that commitment.
On September 17, 2005 our family was received into the membership of Holy Cross Church. I will never forget the first time I received the Holy Eucharist. It had been several years since we had been able to take communion. Communion was always something that both Hayln and I held special, even as Protestants when we believed it to be symbolic. We both longed to receive the Eucharist, and when we approached the chalice to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, I was taken by surprise when I noticed the Chalice appeared to be steaming like a hot cup of tea on a cold morning. My first thought was
“this could be hot enough to burn!”
But when I received the Eucharist, it was not overly warm.
My family has been part of the Holy Cross family now for two years. We have recently found that when we occasionally attend non-orthodox churches for special events, the services are lacking. There is truly a blessing in worshipping the Holy Trinity with all of your senses; from the icons and incense to receiving the Eucharist. Not only does all this help to keep one’s focus DURING the service but the incense lingers as you leave the church. It all helps us remember the never-changing faith, in the ever-changing world!