by Diana Lindsay Chapdelaine
The beginning of my journey came from my Greek American grandmother, who was born in Greece and emigrated to the United States when she was fifteen. She had an icon of St. Pantelemon in her bedroom which my grandfather had brought from a monastery in Greece when he served there during World War Two. I was always drawn to it and inherited it when she passed away.
I was baptized in the Episcopal Church as my father was and my mother was brought up in the Episcopal church as well as there were no Orthodox churches in the town in which she grew up. We were ‘C and E Christians,’ and sometimes not even that. I was not confirmed in the Episcopal church and my parents were neither spiritual nor religious.
Yet, there were echoes of Orthodoxy in my grandmother’s apartment; eggs dyed red at Easter, sometimes going up for dinner to celebrate what she called “Greek Easter” if it fell on a different day than ours, Greek Easter bread, an oil painting she did of a monastery at Mount Athos.
When I was in my twenties, I met and dated a Greek American who was attending Holy Cross seminary in Brookline MA, and the few services I attended during that time gave me a taste of the Liturgy. I even managed to survive a Pascha service there, which is a testament to anyone’s physical endurance! I would say that a barrier at that time to my spiritual development was my inability to comprehend the services as they were all in Byzantine Greek, but there was still something compelling about it all.
That period in my life ended in 1992, and I returned to my secular lifestyle. In 2002, my grandmother passed away and at that time I was dating my husband. We agreed on religion; I would have described myself as an agnostic if not an atheist at the time. We married in a civil ceremony in 2004.
In 2014, I had been doing some genealogical research and needed some translation from Greek to English done. As this involved family documents, I wanted someone who knew my grandmother to do them and I found the former seminarian whom I had dated years ago, now Protopresbyter for the Church of Greece, to review them for me. I began a correspondence with him and his wife. His wife subscribed to many Orthodox websites and I was intrigued by many of the articles.
The end of my journey began with a personal crisis; I was in a stressful job and was at a loss as what to do next. I had tried talk therapy, which did not seem to be helping to ameliorate the situation. There was an orthodox church five blocks from my apartment, architecturally built in the Russian style. After viewing their website and seeing that all the services were in English and after reading testimonials from parishioners, I decided to attend a service in July of 2014. The night before I went I said to my husband,
“Don’t divorce me, I’m going to church tomorrow and I don’t know where it may lead.”
I said this knowing after over ten years of marriage, he was, and still is, a non believer, as I was. The next morning I called Fr. Marc Vranes, the parish priest, with two questions:
“Where do I park?” and “Do you start Liturgy on time?”
By the end of Liturgy I was almost in tears I was so moved by the beauty of it, especially considering my previous experience with the Liturgy in a language unintelligible to me. At coffee hour I asked Fr. Marc what I needed to do to learn the faith and he replied, “Attend Liturgy” which I have done every Sunday for over two years.
As we had no formal catechism at my parish, I read voraciously; Fr. Kallistos Ware, Fr. Thomas Hopko, Fr. Robert Taft, Fr. Seraphim Rose, articles on Protoslavie and other orthodox websites, and writings of other church elders and monks. I also drew on the extensive knowledge of my fellow parishioner Reader Stephen Bradford, a thirty year convert to Orthodoxy who at one time had attended seminary intending to become a Roman Catholic priest. I knew in my heart after the first service that my parish could be my spiritual home, but knew I had to study to learn the history and precepts of the faith before I could declare my intent to become a catecumen.
My husband said not a word of complaint as shipments of books were arriving at our doorstep, he understood why I was attending even though he did not share my belief.
I have had support from others in my life, my friends and family. I supplied my Episcopalian baptismal certificate to Fr. Marc and declared my intent as a catecumen in early November of 2014. My husband attended Christmas Eve service that year as my Christmas gift. I was received into the Church by chrismation on January 18, 2015, after Fr. Marc realized we were reading the same book about the Eucharist and he apologized for making me wait so long. My husband and many of my family and friends attended the service. It was one of the happiest days of my life.
Now, I will attend service in any language if they let me in the door. I belong to a parish of the Orthodox Church in America, but have been to services in GOA, ROCOR, and Romanian parishes as well. Have headscarf, will travel!
My husband has been very supportive; becoming an “Orthodox widower” during Lent when I attend more services than I can count, when I take up the entire kitchen to make prosphora, that I’m back in touch with someone with whom I had a personal relationship. He even agreed to rent the rectory so as of May 2016 we literally live next to the Church.
Before we moved, he would drive me to Liturgy when driving in the snow was too much for me. He has done everything to support me that he has been able to do according to his conscience and for that I am grateful.