This is the first of the articles we received after a call for stories about women who converted to Orthodoxy without their husbands, and the difficult, but surprisingly blessed, road they faced.
When I initially heard the call for stories of Orthodox women who are married and converted without their husbands, I was more than a little surprised that this happens often enough to warrant a collection of stories. I thought I was in the minority. Perhaps the minority isn’t so minor after all.
First, a little background on who I am, on my husband, and on our marriage, before I begin about my journey to Orthodoxy. I am choosing to remain anonymous for the sake of my husband’s privacy, but am happy to share as much of my story as I am able. As I write this, my husband and I have been married for four years. We were married by a female Protestant pastor in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. We did not belong to a church together, but he was and is still a member of his parents’ Protestant church where he attends Christmas and Easter. We chose not to marry in this church as it was in another state, and we preferred to get married in the city where we met. When we married, I was still dedicated to the Protestant denomination I chose to belong to when I became a Christian in college.
Growing up, I only thought a Christian could be Catholic or Protestant; I was completely unaware of Orthodoxy. And as I disagreed with much that the Catholic Church believes, I became a proud Protestant. But it was at this time while we were dating and then newlyweds that I believe, in hindsight, that I was being lead away from my formerly beloved denomination, as I could not find a church to belong to. And so we were married in an outdoor garden ceremony in a place called God’s Garden. The only thing missing from this ceremony was the partaking of Communion.
My husband is the embodiment of what it means to be love according to St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. He is patient and kind, he is not easily angered, and he keeps no record of wrongs. He is a good man, but he does not attend church. He is a Trinitarian Christian, but I have never seen him pray except when he receives Communion. He enjoys attending church, but only does so on Christmas and Easter. He loves learning, but does not study or ever really read the Bible. We have never prayed together except on our wedding day, and we have never read the Bible together.
When we were dating, this bothered me a little, as I wanted to share my faith with the man who would become my husband. But something I know to be true about myself is that I am independent, hard-headed, and strong-willed. Say what you will about a husband and father being the head of the home, but I was raised by a single mother. She is the strongest Christian I know, and she taught me that faith is the most important thing a person can have. My faith is stronger when it is dependent on me; my faith is weaker when I depend on someone else to lead me. So when I stumbled upon Orthodoxy and immediately knew it was the answer to my prayers to deepen my faith, I knew I was going to convert with or without my husband.
When I told my husband about Orthodoxy and how I felt called to convert, he was surprised. He thought I was content with my denomination. But he was a good listener as I told him about how I struggled to find a home church and how I felt my faith deepening, and my current denomination wasn’t quenching my thirst. He read about the faith, attended the parish I began going to once, and listened as I told him about what I was learning in catechism.
And he was there on the day I was chrismated. Throughout my journey, he listened, learned, and supported me, but never once thought about converting himself. When I asked him if he would consider it, he told me he preferred the Western style of worship, and would miss eating meat too much during Great Lent. And he said that if he went to church every week, it would be easier to consider converting, but he felt that he would not change this habit if he converted. He prefers sleeping in on Sundays.
As for converting without my husband by my side, I feel like I had a positive experience. Once, when I visited a Greek Orthodox parish to buy my books for my catechism class, the priest at that parish asked me,
“Are you Greek? Is your husband Greek? Then why are you here?”
He couldn’t believe that I wanted to convert to Orthodoxy simply to deepen my faith.
The priest who would become the priest who chrismated me, though, couldn’t be happier to have another believer come home, and hoped that my husband will be called to convert by witnessing the faith of his believing wife (1 Corinthians 7:14). I have never experienced any yia yias coming up to me, noticing I’m without a spouse, offering to introduce me to their grandsons. I have never even had any fellow parishioners at my Church ask me why my husband doesn’t attend with me. Everyone (save that one Greek priest) has been very welcoming and accepting and happy to have me.
So I do not know how helpful my story will be to any woman who is thinking of converting to Orthodoxy without her husband, but I will tell you to do what is best for you spiritually. This is your journey, and you should heed God’s calling. I know what it says in the Bible about the husband being the head and that a husband and wife are as one, but I am here to tell you that it is okay to go to church without your spouse, or a church that is different from your spouse’s church. Be gentle and patient with your spouse when you introduce them to Orthodoxy; I’m sure it will be different from what they are used to, and they may hesitate for fear of the unknown.
But I pray that your spouse may see the truth of the One True Faith and will listen to what you are learning about in Orthodoxy just as my husband listened to me.