The final installment of Julianna’s Journey.
By early 2012, I finally came to the conclusion that it didn’t matter what I agreed or disagreed with in Orthodoxy. Who was I, 2000 years removed from the source, to try and interpret or say what Christianity was? Who was I to say I disagreed with someone that was a disciple of the disciples (as I was reading Holmes’ translation of The Apostolic Fathers). Who was Luther or any of these other guys 1500 years removed from the source to do the same? Furthermore, I had found that even those early Protestant reformers disagreed with me on some of the things that were hard like the title Theotokos. I felt like if I was going to be a Christian, the truest and oldest expression of that was found in the Orthodox Church.
My husband, however, was not at all on board or even aware that all this was going on with me. He thought this decision was done and over with, asked and answered. He did not even want to consider it. To make matters worse, our lives got in somewhat of an upheaval too. We had three kids by this time, my husband was leaving his brother-in-law’s startup and we were moving back home. The one sure and not shaky thing in our lives at that point felt like our old church. At least there we had friends, a church family, a home to embrace us as we came back.
I was not at all happy about going back into that environment though. Orthodoxy aside, our time away on the coast had felt so freeing and less oppressive from the politics and personal opinions that were not necessarily Christian. Plus, everyone wanted my husband to be back up to leading worship several times a week and I wanted him home helping me with our three very close in age babies.
Add in Orthodoxy and my embrace of it, singing songs with lyrics like, “It’s just You and me here now, only You and me here now,” felt incredibly lonely and depressing. I would walk out of the sanctuary in tears every Sunday that they played that song. I just couldn’t sing and reject the belief that I wasn’t in this alone, that there were saints and angles that cared for and prayed for me.
There was an abbess at a nearby monastery that I had been introduced to by our seminarian friend and that counseled me through a lot of this. She told me to be patient, suggested starting a Bible study and reading some of the Church fathers, that my marriage was more important than conversion.
I wish I could say I handled everything gracefully, but I was often full of temper-tantrums on Sundays before Church with my husband. Our daughter, our little Photini, during all of this would weigh in on our church dilemmas with insightful things like,
“I want to go to the Church with the candles where we pray and worship God, not the church where I play with my friends. I can play and be silly with my friends all the time. At Church I want to be with you, Mama and Papa, and with God.”
There was one Greek Orthodox Church in our area and they had food festivals in the Spring and Fall. The Spring one was coming up. I convinced my husband to go, they would have church tours, we could meet the priest in an informal way. Just maybe open up the discussion on Orthodoxy again. So we went. Our kids flipped out during the Church tour and were so loud. We lasted maybe five minutes into the little talk about Church history. My husband did not want to try and do that every Sunday. No way. Kids needed kids church.
A few weeks later we tried a liturgy. We found out about a faith class. We would switch off on going, one of us staying home with the kids, the other in class. We kept going to the Calvary Chapel on Sundays.
There were still many things that were hard. Half the service was in Greek. If we went to a Liturgy, which we eventually started doing more and more, we spent most of the time outside because we were inquirers/catechumen and also because of our little kids. But the classes were helping. One by one my husband’s pillars of disagreements were being knocked over.
However, the biggest obstacle for us soon became what Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick termed in a recent blog post, as the blessing culture. We became more and more aware of it as time went on in this particular parish. By this time we had visited a lot of different Orthodox parishes. We had gone back to the little OCA one on the coast that we spend some time at and reconnected with that priest. We had been to Antiochian parishes on the coast and in Southern California with the long time family friends that had been the first to mention Orthodoxy to us. We had been to other Greek parishes as well. Something was just very different about this particular parish in our city.
We now loved Orthodoxy and the Orthodox Church, we were very much on board all together as a family. Some things just seemed off, but we weren’t sure if it meant we were just not really ready to accept Orthodoxy, all of it. Things came to a head in the Spring of 2013 just a few weeks before we were to be brought in to the Church. I don’t want to get into specifics of the things that happened and were said, suffice it to say it all got very uncomfortable.
Just days before the most significant instance, however, I had been introduced to two families that were Orthodox in our city, but did not go to this particular parish instead they traveled 1-2 hours away to other parishes in a certain radius of our city,. These two families had also been Orthodox for awhile and in several places and picked up on this oddity that we didn’t yet have a name for (it wasn’t until Fr. Andrew’s post that I did). We decided to spend Holy Week and Pascha with one of these families in Santa Barbara at St. Athanasius, the very first Orthodox church we had visited.
Between this family, the community of St. Athanasius and the nuns at St. Barbara’s Monastery, they all just really loved our family through this rough time and into Orthodoxy. I don’t think we would be Orthodoxy today without all of them. It was loving, not strictness and force which we had already been running from in Protestantism, that brought us along and appealed to us. Over the course of that summer the abbess arranged a meeting for our three families with the OCA’s local archbishop and by that fall we had a mobile priest in his airstream and were starting a mission parish with all of them.
We were baptized as a family on November 23, 2013 at one of the first few services our parish had. Our seminarian friend was now a priest and concelebrated as well as served as Godparent along with his Matushka to our little Photini. The long time (they actually go generations back) friends from Southern California that were the first to mention Orthodoxy to us served as Godparents to our two little boys, and the other two families from our mission each took my husband and I as their Godchildren. We were surrounded by so much love and years of connections on that day. It was such a beautiful and joyful experience.
Those last two years before our baptism felt like we were stuck in anguish and questioning forever. I thought it would never end. I thought I’d be at odds with my husband over Orthodoxy forever and then once we were on the same page in our faith, it just seemed like things were such a mess that we would never actually be able to be brought into the church. Looking back now, it actually went really fast. Sometimes I even think it went too fast and wonder if I was brought in too soon or was truly ready.
This November will be three years since our baptism and I still question if I really have the Orthodox “phronema” (mindset). I do try to love my little family, repent, give what we can in resources and time to our mission and tell people that are hurting in their churches like I was that there is hope and love and a deeper well out there, but also try to be respectful of their journey and where they are at like other Orthodox Christians were with me.
Julianna grew up in a non-religious home and became a Christian in high school at a non-denominational church where she also met her husband, a worship leader there. She spent three years as a television and newspaper journalist before leaving her profession to raise her children full time. Her family was received into the Orthodox Church in Nov. of 2013 at a small mission parish that they helped plant with two other families.
Read Julianna’s Journey from the beginning: Click HERE
Julianna’s Journey: Part Three
Thanks for sharing your story, Juliana! I’m just beyond 9 years into my journey as an Orthodox Christian (former Evangelical). As for the Orthodox “phronema”, my understanding is this is something we will spend a lifetime acquiring. It is enough to have the faith you do and to keep growing. God knows what He’s doing in having established and sustained His Church and placing us within her, and it seems to me this–not our own stage of acquisition–is where we put our trust.
Wow… now I have a name for it too, “blessing culture”. It’s deep in my oca mission … floundering mission. I’m at the end of my endurance and about to quit church altogether.
Fr. John says
Anna, check your email. We’re here to help.