by Isaac Bicko
Before I delve too deep into my journey to the Church, I would like to reflect a little bit on my childhood with an anecdote… One of my earliest memories is one of when my neighbor (also my best friend at the time) and I were playing in my backyard on a snowy December day. He was telling me about how excited he was for Santa Claus to come and listed off all the things he hoped that ole’ St. Nick would bring him, as most six year olds do. I then proceeded to tackle him deep into the snow and strangle him, shouting in his face,
“There is no Santa! Only baby Jesus!”
As you can see, I was raised to have quite a passion and love for Christ, though perhaps I not always knew how to properly express it. But, those values I was raised with have still remained in me to this day, and for that I’m very grateful.
From my childhood up through my teenage years all I really remember of church is change. From birth until about five years old I was Methodist, from then until the age of fourteen I was Baptist, and from then on it was quite a jumble. Around the age of fifteen I moved to a different town, therefore changing churches. My family and I searched all over our new area for a church to attend. From churches whose roots are in Pentecostalism, to Missionary Baptist, to extremely charismatic and Pentecostal, to non-denominational. It seemed like we were always searching for something that made sense and never finding it. We ended up settling at a non-denominational church with strong roots in legalism, though they are trying to break some of those roots. But, never truly satisfied there I often skipped church, visited my friends’ churches, or went and pretended I wasn’t there. I still felt that feeling of not finding something that made sense. Jesus made sense, but His churches didn’t.
At age nineteen I got engaged and started making a lot of my own decisions. I stopped going to my parents church and went my, then, fiancée’s church. I was actually really excited about it. I got involved playing guitar on the worship team. Made some really awesome friendships that I hold still to this day. The people were really awesome. The donuts after the service were great. But, it seemed like I had everything I thought I wanted out of a church, but I was missing the one thing I needed: sanctity.
I remember our pre-service prayer sessions, every Sunday praying to God that He would bless the service, that He would move within the congregation, and that He would reveal Himself to us. And it seemed like He just wasn’t showing up. For a while I thought it was just me. I mean, I was on the worship team, I supposedly leading people to the Holy Spirit, but yet I felt empty on the stage. A lot of guilt and a lot of feelings of inadequacy came from this. But, then I started to question the institution. I started to question if maybe all these churches I have gone to and been a part of throughout my life were perhaps letting me down in same way; not giving me the full truth. It got to the point to where I was resentful and angry towards the church I had known. I’m sure any former evangelical that has converted to Orthodoxy can understand that feeling. You feel cheated.
My grandpa is Orthodox. So, that has always had a little bit of influence on our family. I remember as a child thinking how cool it was that I got not one, but TWO Christmases. I also remember attending a few services as a child, but never really understanding anything and being bored out of my mind. But now as an adult who was craving anything that could possibly have truth in it, I figured I’d check it out some.
I bought a few books and became instantaneously encapsulated with Orthodox tradition, theology, and history. I also realized that many of the teaching I was learning were thoughts and viewing I already had. It’s as if I was Orthodox long before ever finding the Church. So, after about two months, I figured it’s about time to visit a parish. I attended a vespers service, and I’ll never forget that feeling of walking into the nave, seeing the iconostasis, hearing the choir and smelling the incense.
How humbling it was. I didn’t feel worthy to even be within the parish. I wasn’t being catered to. Nothing there was for my entertainment. Jesus wasn’t being bought and sold. He wasn’t a commodity. And nobody was trying to make the Church trendy. It was a place of humility and a place of submission, that of which I have never experienced in any of the countless churches I attended. The parish I attended was also where my great-grandparents who I never met, immigrants of Russia and Czechoslovakia, attended. And where my grandpa served as an altar boy. Standing in the same room as my ancestors I never met, praying the same prayers they were praying, and are still praying. It was a very cool experience to feel at home spiritually, but also physically. I felt linked to it. And I still feel that same link to this day.
I was still playing guitar in the worship team and still participating at the evangelical church I was a part of. But, each Sunday that I got home I felt emptier than I had before I went to church. I so desperately needed the Orthodox Church to be a constant in my life. But, I didn’t really know how to manage that with the craziness of planning a wedding, not knowing what my future wife would think about it all, and also feeling obligated to the worship team I was involved with. I didn’t want to let anyone down, though I was perfectly fine with letting myself down.
Fast forward to August of 2016, and my fiancé and I got married on the 20th. We honeymooned for a week in the Finger Lakes area of New York. Conveniently, St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Monastery and Seminary was only about two hours away from us. So, I talked my wife into us visiting on our way back home. (How many people can say they went to a monastery on their honeymoon?) We got a tour of their museum and of the monastery grounds. Everything was so beautiful, everything felt so holy and so sacred. It felt like the Spirit of God was within every blade of grass and every air molecule. As the tour concluded and we got into our car, the first thing my wife says to me was, “So, are we going to do this?” Caught off guard a bit, I asked her what she meant. “Are we going to convert?” “I would like to.” I replied. “Well, then stop waiting. Just do it.” She too saw the glory and sanctity in the Orthodox Church! What a beautiful moment that was, one I will never forget.
When we got back home and rested from our honeymoon, I talked to some of the leaders at the church we had been attending and told them I was no longer going to be attending there and instead will be pursuing the Orthodox Church. Some of them didn’t really seem to care, some were pretty concerned, thinking I was on a direct route to heresy. But, all I saw was the Truth.
It was a little tough at first. The Orthodox Church can be very daunting to those coming from a very relaxed and catered-to evangelical background. Plus, my wife hadn’t been enthralled with the Church and the theology for as long as I was, so it was new to both of us, but even more so for her. But, through much prayer, patience and earnestness God was revealing Himself more and more to us through His True Church. After a few months of attending services, meeting with our priest, getting to know some people, we became catachumens on January 8th, 2017! We are now undergoing our catechism, doing lots and lots of reading, learning, growing, and anxiously awaiting our baptism. To quote the post-communal hymn, “We have seen the True Light!”