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.
Thank you for sharing. I am on the road to conversion but my husband and family are not. It can be lonely sometimes. Your story hits home with me. 🙂
Sara Tinkelman says
How generous of Emilia to share her story – it’s great not to struggle alone!
These are very poignant stories and all too familiar. Unlike these though, the spousal response to my interest, desire and eventual reception into the Church was not very positive. Many years later, the ‘support’ now comes through no push back regarding my parish involvement, time in services and full icon corner (though truthfully there never was push back regarding icons). His feeling of my having divided the marriage in an unGodly way remains, as does his anger/resentment at being ‘excluded’ from Communion despite his being a life-long Christian. He is seminary trained and ordained. We served two Protestant churches for the first 5 years of our marriage, until he decided he’d made a mistake being ordained. As laity, we became very involved in our Protestant parish and served in significant leadership positions, as well as teaching (though never together). Interestingly, our theological beliefs can be different. He is much more moderate, standing in the middle of controversial issues; whereas I am much more conservative. We used to talk theology, but do no longer because I cannot explain the Orthodox teachings satisfactorly.
The greatest errors I have made are those of talking about problems in the Church, both local and national; especially with the hierarchy of my jurisdiction. Being friendly with a couple of bishops, and knowing the problems one has encountered, has been very negative in my opinion.
Many years ago, when Yahoo discussion groups were popular, OXWOMS was started by some one who was Orthodox yet his spouse was not. The acronym means Orthodox WithOut My Spouse. At its’ inception, the group was very active, supportive and helpful. Through the prayers of the faithful there, several spouses have been received into the One True Church, while others have become far less antagonistic.
Forgive me for filling the comm box as I have. I look forward to reading more stories.
Fr. John says
Athanasia, that is what it is for.
I enjoyed reading your article. I was so sorry to read of your first encounter with a Greek priest being a negative one. I belong to a Greek parish and we are so warm and welcoming to everyone, especially the priest. But I’m glad you kept pursuing your search and found a church home. Welcome to the Truth!
Thanks Fr. John. Being able to write about it helps mitigate the sorrow.
my reception into the Church, his own church attendance and involvement has dropped to nothing this year – not even attending worship for Christmas or Easter. That made me unbearably sad. He likes my spiritual father, who has worked hard to establish a relationship. Other encounters with Orthodox Christians and priests has been very, very negative – to the point of offensive.
My reception into the Church was in a Greek mission parish that has since dissolved. The people were very pleased to receive me as their very first convert. It was the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross and two priests celebrated the Liturgy. It was a blessed day for me.
God has been good and blessed me immensely despite my continued sorrow. I pray for my husband and my children (both of whom have fallen away from church attendance too). Of all my family only my father and I remain faithful to our respective faiths and attend worship regularly.
I LOVE the Orthodox Church and regret nothing. I am where I need to be and where God wants me. The Church gives me the stability and security that I do not have anywhere else in my life.
To God be the Glory.
Kissing your right hand, Fr. John!
Fr. John says
Your prayers and sacrifice are sanctifying them – do not doubt it! As the Scriptures say,
Diana Chapdelaine says
Thank you for featuring the story again. There are many of us in the same situation.
I am experiencing the same kind of thing, however, it is with my wife being an unbeliever.
When my wife and I met, neither of us were believers. I myself was reckless and young, a heavy drinker battling depression and anxiety, among other things.
My wife stuck by me through those times, and somewhere along the way I received a New Testament Bible from some preachers at the Illinois State Fair.
It sat unread for months. When I finally did read it, I truly believe that I had sort of a “spiritual experience.” My wife, girlfriend at the time, thought I’d gone crazy.
I completely cut out the music I was listening to, was ferverent in reading the bible, started praying, even eventually was baptized.
Anyone that knew me personally would never believe such a thing! Mario, being baptized, going to church? Glory to God, it’s true.
So, that was the beginning of my spiritual path. We started going to the “non-denominatonal” protestant church I was baptized at.
My wife also attended, who still wasn’t a believer, but in support. By this time we had one child and were married by a protestant pastor.
Quite the jump, I know. I was a believer for about a year before attending church. In that time my wife and I got married and had a child.
We now have two children, I have now been a believer for about three or four years. God has led me from the Methodist denomination, to non denominational, to now the Orthodox faith, what I believe to be the true Faith.
I have been unable to convert fully to Orthodoxy, however, I live the faith as fully as possible at home. My wife is unwilling to attend the Divine Liturgy on Sundays, and the children do not behave well during the Liturgy, since it is very new to them.
My wife went once, we were not made to feel welcomed, as in our protestant churches, especially our children.
So my battle is now spiritual. I pray for the Lord to soften her heart, to see the Orthodox faith as the way we need to go.
God seems to be hearing those prayers. I can see she is beginning to slowly soften, I think she is even beginning to believe in Christ. She has started asking about prayer, even other topics, and has even helped me put an icon corner together in our home.
I pray God opens the way for us to be united in faith, and shows me how to lead my family to be united with the Orthodox faith.
Fr. John says
Mario, your struggle is not unique – you are not alone! Get those kids to liturgy so that they can acclamate to it. Attend Vespers with them if at all possible. Vespers is a very calming service. Finally, we have been collecting a series of journey stories of men converting without their wives. You may want to have a look.
And let us know how we can help. As I mentioned earlier, this is not unusual, and more often than not, thanks to the Holy Spirit, it has a happy ending for all.
Dn Michael says
This takes courage and commitment. It can feel like a lonely path, and even a greater mission when women bring their children to church without their husband. They now act as the priest of their family. I have counseled men that are not able to commit to a life of faith, and they have all chalked it up to having a father that watched television or slept in while their mother readied them for Church.
deborah pendleton says
I was married to an abusive man, but that didn’t stop me from seeing the truth and pursuing it after a friend invited me to her Orthodox church. Unfortunately, I ran into an Orthodox priest who refused to allow me to convert without my husband. Fortunately, even a man like him was moved by Orthodoxy so he finally cooperated. However, the abuse only worsened. This same priest wouldn’t believe me about the abuse. I had to leave that church(OCA)to another jurisdiction. After meeting with me and my husband a few times, that priest actually advised me to leave that marriage asap because he thought my husband would kill me if I stayed. After the divorce, he became a seventh day Adventist. I remarried a man who converted from Mormonism and we had our daughter, a cradle Orthodox.
Fr. John says
That’s a harrowing story, but the beauty and strength of your faith is inspirational!
David Waite says
I am converting to Orthodoxy without the support of my Christian, but non-churchgoing, wife. What happened to “Men converting without their wives?” And are there any other resources you can recommend?
Thanks for your article. I am in this situation.
Today I read an Orthodox who marries a non orthodox can not receive Communion or be a godparent.
Has anyone else heard this? Does it apply to people who convert without their spouse?
Fr. John says
If an Orthodox person marries outside the Church, they have left the Church. No communion. No being godparent. They’ve removed themselves from the Body of Christ. If they marry someone who is not Orthodox, but get married in the Orthodox Church, they remain members in good standing. Get a clarification from your priest.
This has been such a blessing to read, as I am in the process of converting to Orthodoxy without my husband. Thankfully, he is being relatively supportive. He was raised Catholic but has rarely gone to church since we married 24 years ago and considers himself agnostic. I am converting from the Lutheran church. Thank you so much for sharing your story!
Artem A. Nikitin says
I love your story Emilia because this is hitting home with my current dating relationship. I am wrestling with this question: is okay if the future woman who I may perhaps want to be married to decides that she just cannot convert to Orthodoxy Christanity, but still wants to be married to me for life?…I asked because I know one lady who told that she has been Orthodox all her life and when she was married, her husband was Roman Catholic all his life until his passing, but he never decided to convert to Orthodoxy. Bottom line, what do I do in this situation?
Fr. John says
It is always more difficult when yoked to an unbelieving spouse, but since you can only marry a fellow Christian, she should be supportive of your faith. In time, she may herself become a better Orthodox Christian than you! Follow the instructions of your spiritual father in any event.
Thank you for posting this article. Any encouragement helps. I converted to orthodox but my husband is Muslim. It has been very difficult for my marriage, but my faith remains strong. I pray every day that my husband will one day see the truth in Christ and turn to Him.
Thank you for sharing. I’m converting with our 3 children and my spouse is not. He has been to church with us a lot through the years (it’s been a 10 year journey to join ) , but probably will not come when we are chrismated.
I was married for many years, before I converted to Orthodoxy over twenty years ago. So, it was a bit of a hard one for my poor wife. Not only does she not think much of Orthodoxy, but ‘religion’ in general – being very much a secular, rationalist – and very sharp, so I can’t possibly convince with any ‘explanations’…
So how does it work? Well, for me it has certainly helped me to sort out any ‘hobby’ aspects to my commitment to the Faith. There is plenty to get one’s teeth into without anyone else knowing anything about it with one’s daily rule. Plus Liturgy once a fortnight and occasional mid week Feast day Liturgies, sort of accepted years ago as a routine..
There are countless stories to be strenghtened and inspired by, of married Orthodox lives lived in circumstances that are isolating or even hostile (think of Russia during communism and Greeks under the Ottomans)
Yes, I do pray that my wife would find the barrier of the scientific mind cracking open and even join me! And yes I am occasionally a bit sad when I see regular couples and families at the Liturgy.
But – in a strange way – and this might be selfish – I find it actually helpful for my own journey, because what I do is sifted through the saving essentials of our Tradition and I don’t just ‘go to church because our family always has done…’ (but perhaps I’m just jealous)
And it isn’t half good for one’s humility to be given that look by someone close, which says, ‘call yourself a christian!?’
So to all you out there who’s partner is not Orthodox – I would say, don’t either ‘act the martyr’ on one hand or ‘shove in their face’ on the other. Quietly keep your rule, get to the Liturgy when you can, and let God look after everything else…
Ah your story is so much like mine. My husband is loving, a good provider, he prays with me, he will listen to me when I read him the Bible, etc., but he doesn’t want to convert. My faith has deepened and my commitment to the spiritual life has as well, and I believe that my husband feels that if he converts he will be expected to attend church as much as I do. Whereas a three hour liturgy seems to fly by for me, it’s too long for him. Knowing what I now know in terms of the importance of the sacraments, I fear for his soul. Please pray for him and pray for me too.
Thomas Limon says
I converted without my wife. I’ve been told by many that I can’t be a deacon or priest because my wife is mormon. I married before I converted. I’ve been told that I’m in good standing, but for no fault of my own, and because my wife is lds, I cannot receive orders. My marriage is second-rate, I suppose?
Fr. John says
Thomas, it is not likely any bishop will ordain a man whose household is not following him in the faith. It has nothing to do with having a ‘second-rate’ marriage. Please reconsider such judgementalism! The truth is, as St. John Chrysostom says “the priesthood is forbidden to all women, and most men.”
See Good Guys Wear Black for more information about vocations.
Thomas Limon says
I must respectfully push back against any judgmental assertion of purported judgmentalism. I would hope this retort is allowed to stand. Sidelining people who have done nothing wrong, but marry and have a family prior to an orthodox conversion is communicative of the worth of that man’s marriage and its value. Surely one could at least see how one might come to that conclusion. Your accusation of judgmentalism is unjust, unkind, and false.
Fr. John says
Thomas, I intended nothing unkind, and was only referring to your statement about a ‘second rate marriage.’ Forgive me if that wasn’t clear.
As I said, no bishop will ordain a man whose household (wife and children) are not following him in the faith. The family is your first parish. It matters.
It doesn’t mean you aren’t a full member of the Church, but it does mean you do not fulfill the requirements necessary for ordination. That’s all.
About a year and a half ago, I decided to convert to Orthodoxy. I was raised a Prostetant and my husband is a non church going Protestant. Although unwilling at the time to convert with me, my husband was vaguely supportive of my decision to convert. However, along with other marital problems we had been going through, my decision to convert put quite a strain on our marriage that I was very distraught over. We sought marital counseling through the church with the Fr. There, And began working on the marriage. This resulted in a pregnancy with our third child. This past Theophany myself, and my two children became baptized into the faith while I was 5 months pregnant with the third child. Which my husband attended. While I was out with the baby for 40 days, my husband took our other children to Liturgy in my place. Upon my return to the church, my husband has been attending services with us to “help” with the kids since I have my hands full with the baby. I’ve noticed he is having a really hard time with the kids through Liturgy. So I at one point told him not to come out of obligation, and he has chosen to continue coming. Im still not sure if he will ever convert, but am seeing the Lord working in the situation. I am hopeful that through the Holy Spirit anything is possible, and continue to ask for St. Monica to intercede for us in prayers.
Fr., are there any other Saints that you find the intercessions of helpful in marriage?
Fr. John says
Ss. Joachim and Anna certainly!
Kieran Lisney says
Reading these stories is such an inspiration! A little about my story (have patience with me): I was raised Catholic, left the faith in my late teens, met my wife, converted back to Catholicism, left again, converted to Protestantism, left that…and FINALLY I am on my way to being a part of the one true faith of Holy Orthodoxy. That being said, my wife has always been a nominal Christian. She hasn’t had much experience individually with Jesus and has always sort of had a hesitation towards religion. Nevertheless, her support has always been with me in all stages of my spiritual search. I came to discover Orthodoxy this past summer and kind of blind sided my wife with it. You see, we recently had our first child, and as a result of this my wife decided she wanted to start attending church with me (she doesn’t want to attempt to give my son something she herself doesn’t have-a relationship with Christ). Around three or four months into our attending a baptist church together regularly with our son I started to really come up against theological inconsistencies in Protestantism as a whole. This brought me into enquiring about the Orthodox faith. I went to one vespers, and well, let’s just say that there was simply no turning back for me. Now I have a real dilemma on my hands. My spiritual director wants me to get Chrismated but also wants me to hold out for as long as I can for my wife and son. I’m more than happy to be obedient and wait for God’s timing. The one thing I find particularly difficult is dividing my time between my wife’s church and the Orthodox Church. I want to continue to help foster and encourage my wife’s search for the truth (which means going to church with her and helping to take care of my son), but I also long so desperately to go to as many Orthodox services as possible. It’s a slow transition, and who knows, she could convert with me in the next year. Or maybe she never will. All I know is what I was advised to do by my spiritual Father: show my faith through my actions and pray daily for my wife and son’s conversion into the church! God bless you all and thank you ever so much for your testimonies! They have encouraged me deeply!
Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me.
What if your husband says you’re not “allowed” to convert because that’s his spiritual authority? Or even not allowed to even pursue conversion or visit a parish? We are taught by the Roman Catholics to abandon the pope is practically the road to hell, in fact even considering the orthodox position seriously is a sin, even though Rome is pretty chill with people who are already orthodox. What then?
Thank you so much for sharing your story I too am a convert to Orthodoxy I converted without my husband as well it was a true blessing to me to convert from Roman Catholic to be an Orthodox Christian the experience has deepened my faith
What a wonderful, supportive Christian couple you both seem to be.
I have a different story in that my husband was an agnostic for many years and did not support my Christian beliefs.
He has now converted to
Orthodoxy and tells me that I am not allowed to celebrate the gift that was Jesus by joining him at his Church unless I leave my denomination .
This saddens me greatly as I do not wish to change my Christian denomination, but I would like to celebrate Easter and Christmas with him.
Pray for us.