by Adam Lindahl
But I will never forget that moment that I stepped over the threshold. I was immediately struck with a sense of awe and reverence. Before me stood a dark room with only candlelight illuminating select portions of the space. The smell of previously used incense lingered in the air. The image of Christ was before me with only a small flickering candle casting light on His face. Everyone was silently awaiting the beginning of the service. A few people hurriedly, but carefully prepared for the service by lighting remaining candles and preparing sheet music in a small corner of the room. Icons of saints lined the church and people piously venerated them and lit candles before sitting in the very few seats or on the floor.
I was shocked to learn that everyone stood throughout the entire service! Before we made our way to our spot in the church, the priest approached me, introduced himself and told me nothing more than “Just listen” as he offered a warm smile. He turned and entered a side door to the altar which held a beautiful image of an angel clad in armor and brandishing a sword. I knew enough from my past to recognize the Archangel Michael.
My roommate began to do his duties to prepare for the service, and his Godfather, with whom I was already friends, began to explain to me the layout of the church. He told me of the significance of the icons that were in front of us, who they were and why they were arranged the way they were. He told me about the saints who lined the walls and why it was that they were venerated. He explained the service very briefly, but it made no sense to me at the time. I had nothing to say in return, I just nodded, politely smiled and waited for the service to begin.
Prayers arose in the darkened room which signified the beginning of the service. I recognized countless verses from the New and Old Testaments. I heard petitions to God and I heard His praise constantly. The people made bows and crossed themselves throughout the entire service. Unable to stand the whole time I simply sat and absorbed. What I was seeing was nothing that I had seen before. The piety of the people was nothing that I had ever encountered. The prayers were like nothing that I had ever heard. Every aspect was so different from everything I’d ever experienced or knew existed. As bows were made I could not help but think to myself,
“This is worship!”
As I listened as hard as I could to every prayer, I saw the entire story of the Bible laid out before me. Within the service I saw creation, the fall, the prophets, the coming of Christ, His commandments, His teachings, His Crucifixion, His Resurrection, and our redemption. The music was beautiful and otherworldly and without any guitar or drums in sight, only human voices. The service which started in the silent dark grew and grew in beauty to a crescendo, climaxing on the Resurrection and distribution of Communion almost two and a half hours later. The sermon didn’t even happen until the entire service was over! This was so bizarre to me, but the prayers and hymns were more impactful than any sermon I had ever heard.
The church was small, but it felt infinite. I felt like I sat in a mighty hall of a glorious king and my heart leapt for joy like it never had before. What was it that I saw? What had I just experienced? I felt as though God had permeated my soul in an indescribable way. It was as though He was speaking directly to my innermost being. What I thought I knew about spirituality was a pale shadow in comparison to what I had just witnessed. Every ounce of doubt that had crept into my soul was banished in a blinding light more glorious than the Sun.
As we returned home, I was awestruck. When my roommate asked what I thought all I could say was a meek “I liked it.” I asked a few small questions that I now can’t remember, but other than that I closed myself up in my room and began further investigation. What I experienced was beyond anything I knew and I had to learn more. What was the Orthodox Church? What did they teach? What did they believe? Where did they fit in history? From what I had just seen it was obvious to me that it held a truth that was beyond my understanding. My heart and mind had been illumined in an indescribable way. I felt like I learned more about God in that single service than I had in my entire life. Because of that I knew I was going back, but now I just wanted to know more and more. I looked at every single website I could get my fingertips on. I spent the entire day on my computer vigorously reading. I forgot to eat, and more importantly I completely forgot to study for the finals that were arriving.
What I concluded from my investigation was impactful to me. It was utterly clear that the Orthodox Church was the early church, completely preserved since the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles and initiated the Body of Christ upon the Earth. It was clear to me that if there was a church on this planet which followed the same practices as the first Christians, it was the Orthodox Church. Its practices perfectly reflected Christianity’s foundation in the nation of Israel: a faith unaltered through the centuries.
After this point I was hit with a feeling of indescribable relief. What I had yearned for my entire life was found. It was like I was given a map after wandering lost in the wilderness and being able to confidently take a step in the direction of home for the first time. The next day as I was venturing off to a study session, I texted my roommate that it was impossible to deny the validity and power of the Orthodox Church and that I wanted to become Orthodox.
As it turns out it was the beginning of Holy Week in the Orthodox Church, the week right before Pascha (Easter) which is filled with countless services and intense fasting (Note that the service I had been to before was Palm Sunday; the Orthodox Church calculates the date of Easter in a different way than we do in the West). Holy Week—what a time to learn about the Church and to experience it even more intensely! What I realize now is that my roommate didn’t even tell me about all the services of the week, probably for fear that I would not be able to take the intensity. But I did attend the glorious Pascha service at 1 A.M. Sunday morning. I knew where home was and I wanted every glimpse of it that I could.
The school year ended and I followed my job to Alaska where I started attending St. John’s Orthodox Cathedral in Eagle River, Alaska. I became a catechumen there and began the process of preparation for coming into the Church. That following Christmas I was Chrismated into the Orthodox Christian Church. I was finally home. I basked in the glory of God and the safe haven I had found in the Orthodox Church.
Now I have been an Orthodox Christian for almost four years. Life has changed a lot. I met the love of my life in the very church in which I was Chrismated and now have been married for over two years. I got a new job and we’ve moved to a new state. I have been reflecting on my journey so far and on how I got here because it is so clear that my life would not be the same today had I never found the Church. I have been asked many times by both those who were in my life before my conversion and from many that I have met in recent years, why did you become Orthodox? What led you there? Are you Greek? Russian? Jewish? When I explain to them that I was Lutheran, then Evangelical, then nothing, and finally Orthodox, they find it very interesting, especially because of my age. One does not immediately assume that millennials would be drawn to a more “traditional” Christian experience.
But I believe that the Orthodox Church is precisely what my generation is yearning for. My arrival at a Relativist viewpoint in college is not uncommon among my peers. Much of the Christianity we have experienced through our younger years is lacking in historical foundation and often seems opposed to true spiritual formation and instead emphasizes emotional experiences and/or pure moral improvement for its own sake.
With this Christian understanding, is it no surprise that the youth are hemorrhaging from the Christian churches in the United States? Is it no surprise that non-Christian faiths, philosophies, and spiritualties are drawing them in due to their promise of spiritual growth, historical foundation, and existential purpose? Is it no surprise that so many young adults are vastly materialistic and worldly in their viewpoints, seeing faith as pointless or even a weight holding down progress?
The average Millennial (and all of us for that matter) is searching for this depth in one form or another in our modern spiritual wasteland. I look back at these last four years and I see myself on a ship in the midst of the tempest. I have had a joy that I cannot rightly express in words and the sense that I am coming to love and know God in a way that I never knew existed before. Not everything has been easy—in fact I would say nothing has been easy.
That’s kind of the point. Christ promised us the way of the Cross, not the way of ease and prosperity. Life is hard, it’s a furnace in which we can be forged into a more perfect Image and Likeness of God if we so choose. Understanding and tackling the difficulties of life through the lens of the Body of Christ, the Orthodox Church, has allowed me to find joy even in the most depressing and dire of circumstances. More than anything, it has brought my life meaning through Jesus that I never expected to find before.
So this is my formal invitation to all who aren’t familiar with the Orthodox Church, all who are searching for a greater depth in their faith, and all who wish to know God in Spirit and in Truth: find an Orthodox Church near you, visit for a couple services, smell the incense, see the icons, feel the depth, and as the first priest I ever met said,
Praise be to God.
Read this story from the beginning
Deacon David Maliniak says
… and the corollary to “just listen,” as you surely know by now, is, “come and see!” (John 1:39)
Fr. John says
You’re not wrong.
I was raised Roman Catholic(catholic grammer, high, and college). I’ve been to other Christian churches (Lutheran, Presbyterian, Baptist, etc) in my journey. When I walked into an Orthodox Church, I was home. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I’m at the beginning stages of conversion. What Orthodoxy teaches is that Christianity is a way of life in all areas, not just on Sunday Morning.
Cyneath Ian Christian says
Yes, yes, yes!
That’s how it was last St. Mary of Egypt (04/2016) upon going through those doors! And it still is, even being Illumined on Theophany (01/2017)!
Thank-you, Adam, for your telling, not only the what, but how you said it, like you were reading the transcript of my epiphany of the Bride of Christ. I had come to receive the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ, from the chalice, knowing full-well that it could take a while to proceed as a Catechumen before that could happen. Yet, instantly (it seems) I received the communion of the saints in our (notice how possessive I’ve become!) little parish: they freely gave me what they had received from Christ, including me in the life of the parish, the life of the Church.
Keep on such excellent writing, Adam: God has much work for those that can communicate with the young people of the Diaspora.
May it be blessed.
Mary Henry says
Roman Catholicism is in trouble. Pray for our brethren in Christ that they will look past the last thousand years and see they are repeating the same mistakes that have divided us and continues to divide. People are suffering so much in the world today ! I pray for understanding and True Unity again and believe it to be the path to defeating jihad and antichrist.
This year is the 100th anniversary of Fatima and it is significant for all Believers especially concerning the iIslamafcation of Europe.
May the All Pure Virgin Mary, our mother too, win this battle and bring all of humanity to Her Son once again in Unity.
St John Chrysostom pray for us!
That sense you mentioned as you first stepped foot into an Orthodox Church, I know exactly what you mean. The lingering incense in the air, the reverential atmosphere, a place encouraging you to lay aside all earthly cares and step into the presence of God, not trying to be “relevant” or cool but simply testifying to millennia of Christlike people in the community of the saints. I am currently an evangelical Christian but more and more I am drawn to Orthodoxy. Pray for me
Fr. John says
We do and we will! Let us know how we can help you!