by Anastasia & Joseph Guiliani
This is the conversion story from ocultism in the Jehovah’s Witnesses to Orthodoxy, and it is not a light read. The account presented here has been edited, but reader discretion is advised. This is a strong story. We are grateful for Ravyn Anastasia and Lee Joseph for permitting us to publish it.
Our First Lent
I was happy to fast, we could not afford to eat like most people anyway. But we also started to give alms, and to do things without food and money, spiritual exercises in fasting and almsgiving. The richness of Orthodoxy was opening up to us. We were anxious with anticipation about whether our Spiritual father would think we were ready yet to become full members. We had much soul-searching and heart-adjusting to do. We listened to Ancient Faith Radio podcasts and OCN videos everyday. Even the ancient Greek in the Divine Liturgy was becoming familiar and recognizable and Lee and I would come home humming chants and wake up with pieces of prayers or Psalms in our heads like Orthodox ear-worms.
Lee was struggling with faith. He was still having trouble trusting. He was not sure of himself and did not know if he could really ‘do’ the whole Orthodox Christian thing.
And Then One Night Changed Our Lives Forever.
On the evening of March 30th, Lee gave a friend a ride home from his work and the friend asked Lee to pick up his fiancee too. We have done it before. But the girl was drunk and in a bad situation with an ex, it turned very ugly very fast and the friend’s life was in danger (against 3 others with weapons). Lee got out of the vehicle and drew his gun, pointing to the ground and finger off the trigger in the “ready” position to get them out of there. Lee put his gun away when he assessed the threat and the situation as under control because he did not want to shoot anyone. Then the assailants came after both Lee and the friend and started pushing, poking, punching, but Lee was able to fight them off and help the friend get away too.
They all got in back in our vehicle, the drunken fiancee got in the back seat and put on her seat belt willingly. Her door was unlocked and she had her cell phone in her hand. Lee drove off at a normal speed to take them home but the ones who attacked had called the police and reported that she had been kidnapped at gunpoint. So after a block or so when she asked to let out, Lee pulled over in a parking lot and let her out before he was surrounded by squad cars and blue lights. He was cuffed and arrested and went to jail, even though when the Police Officer asked her if she had been kidnapped she said no, and no one asked if the others had threatened their lives.
I don’t think I can can ever write in words the complete anguish I felt when a friend pounded on my door that night saying Lee called him from jail. The next week was a living nightmare worse than anything I had lived through as a child. Nothing went right. Things looked very very bad for Lee. Kidnapping can carry the Death Penalty in our state. No attorney could take the case because all of the assailants had records and every attorney in town had handled a case for one or the other of them in the past so it was a conflict of interest. I had $5 in my purse. Lee’s phone was with the police. I am disabled and ina wheelchair part-time and Lee’s parents will not even speak to me.
If it was not for our priest, I would have died either from the stress. And Lee who has asthma, diabetes and sleeps with a c-pap and is a Federal Protection Officer is in General Population with men who would kill him if they knew, and the guards would not try to stop it. I went numb after the first few hours. Lee was there for 3 and a half days (!) and our Spiritual Father gave me the money for the bail bondsman, 1% of the bail that had been set at $100,000. (Lee’s parents paid him back.)
One week later, on Holy Saturday, April 11th., Lee and I were Chrismated and Crowned in a double Crowing with a dear young couple who sponsored us for the Chrismation, preceding us into the Church by only a year or so.
Lee had a true conversion experience in jail for those 3 and a half days. He read scripture and shared with other men a sense of the spiritual he has never experienced anywhere else. He came away with a conviction in his heart and a confidence of faith that he had never known before. Jesus met him in jail.
As for me. What can I say? I survived it with God’s help. But I know it has taken years off my life. I know I will never be the same and my priorities have been completely rearranged. I am not sure yet if it was all positive. I can only assume that someday something good will come of it because everything God does is good.
I say thanks everyday for the experience, and I say thanks that it is over.
We Are Orthodox.
It has been a harrowing journey. But we are home in the Church at last! And now our REAL journey is just beginning. We are still being refined of course and our suffering is the same as it is for everyone, redemptive. We are being prepared daily for eternity, and by the grace of God we make it through another day, another trial. I am convinced that the lessons we all need to learn involve knowing when to hold on and when to let go, it just feels like most of what we do is the letting go part. But I also know deep in my soul that there is nothing of any value that we ever lose. This classroom is the temporary that will lead us to the permanent. And everything God has made is good. We try to be thankful and grateful and joyful even in our pain and losses. Nothing that we have ever lived through has gone to waste, it has all contributed to who we are and it has all given us some gift we can use.
I have been helping other Jehovah’s Witnesses and former Jehovah’s Witnesses to be able to get out of that cult, to be able to think for themselves and find the instructions for life outside of that mind-set for the last 20 years. It is called Exit Counseling. Most of my work is online, I have hundreds of friends who I have known, some for 20 years, who are former Jehovah’s Witnesses like me. Some of them are activists and run groups and disseminate information. It is a huge online community and it does not lurk in the shadows they are all over social media. They have helped me and I have helped them. I regularly talk to 3 or 4 people a month who have had similar experiences that I had with the occultism, although it is a very small percentage who are even aware of it (and even less who believe it really happens.)
It takes nothing more than an internet search to find the occult connection for the Watchtower organization. But you are more likely to find news about the recent legal issues regarding abuse, which is ample proof of demonic influence without even getting into their dark past and the history the like to rewrite every few years to dupe their members and recruit more vulnerable people into their ranks. The hallmarks of a cult include insulating, isolating and setting up a false sense of us-vs-them, and denial is very strong. It is almost impossible to break the hold the cult have on s on their membership.
I saw incredible stuff my entire life and it still took me 33 years to get out. The cognitive dissonance did not kick in until I was emotionally devastated and realized I had been intellectually deceived. And even that did not happen without help from the Holy Spirit. The number one thing you can do to help Jehovah’s Witnesses break free is to pray for it and then follow Holy Spirit’s direction for each individual. There is no magic pill or secret word, and until now, I had no place to direct my fellow lost souls to go to. Go to Christ. Find yourself in His Church. Never underestimate the power to break demonic holds by just saying the Jesus prayer!
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner!”
It is the beginning and end for all of us here on this earth.
What I Was Born For
I had been told my whole life that I was born for various things, usually of some use to the person telling me more than myself. I was told I was born to be an oracle of the demons. I was told I was born to be a witch. I was told I was born to be the savior of my family, the rescuer of fellow living creatures, the loyal friend to the lonely, soul-mate of my spouse.
What I really was born to be, I have finally figured out after 53 and half years: I was born to be an Orthodox Christian.