by Matthew Douglas
The story of my conversion to Holy Orthodoxy is very long, and the process consisted in so many steps, trials, and phases of contemplation that it is difficult to find a good starting point. Honestly, I believe that a whole book could one day be written about God’s divine guidance of me into the Orthodox Church.
To begin, I was raised in a non-denominational Evangelical household, and I was blessed with godly parents who raised me up in Christianity and encouraged me to read my Bible daily. As a young child, I was always thankful for their love and guidance; however, I began to rebel and drift away as a teenager. I slowly started to feel skeptical about my belief in God and, obviously, Christianity. Even though I had been blessed with a wonderful, supportive family, life did not seem to possess the same meaning and purpose as I had once thought. With the passing of time I increasingly became more convinced of atheism, which dragged me down into the most regretful days of my life.
At the age of sixteen, I continually gave myself over to many sins; without my belief in God, I felt free to act as I pleased. This dark period of my life lasted for about two years. The Holy Spirit began to powerfully convict me of my sin and guilt, causing me to question my atheistic beliefs in which I had previously felt firmly established. Thankfully, the intense guilt and sorrow I experienced from my sins exceedingly outweighed the false pleasure that sin gave me. I finally decided that I truly desired to be a Christian and return to the purity of my upbringing. Through daily prayers, Scripture readings, and the grace of God I overcame the sins that formerly dominated and haunted me. There was even one day when I cried tears of joy to God for delivering me from my transgressions.
Having passed through such trials, I wanted to reaffirm my commitment to Christianity and deepen my relationship with God to the fullest possible extent. In spite of this, I steadily felt more uneasy concerning the tenants of Protestantism and especially Evangelicalism. The doctrines of Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide I particularly found questionable. The parable of the sheep and the goats and other passages seemed to refute Sola Fide, and Sola Scriptura apparently failed to lead Christians to the complete truths of Christianity, considering Protestantism is divided into literally thousands of denominations. If Sola Scriptura were true, how come such massive doctrinal division exists within Protestantism? I knew that there had to be a visible Church that had remained entirely faithful to the teachings of the Apostles, considering Christ’s promise that
“the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).
As Protestantism seemed more questionable to me, I began to consider Roman Catholicism.
“If Sola Fide and Sola Scriptura, the “pillars of the Reformation,” are false, what if the papacy, purgatory, and other Roman Catholic doctrines are actually true?” I thought.
Consequently, I decided to read about the Catholic Church online. Articles by David Armstrong, Scott Hahn, and other Protestant converts to Catholicism were interesting to me, and I tried to approach them with an open, impartial mind.
Despite my research, I simply did not feel convinced. Somehow, it just did not seem right to me. Not knowing what else to do, I finally began reading about Orthodoxy. While I already knew about the East-West Schism and the Orthodox Church, I knew very little about the Orthodox Church’s doctrines. One day, I happened to find an online article about Frank Schaffer and his book entitled “Dancing Alone.” I did not read the book; however, I watched some of his YouTube videos about why he converted to Orthodoxy. Feeling inspired by Schaffer’s testimony, I decided that I wanted to visit an Orthodox church to get a first-hand experience of its worship and liturgy.
When I searched online for Orthodox churches in my area, I found out that I was blessed to have a parish that was only about twenty minutes from my house. Founded in 2006, it was originally called The Greek Orthodox Parish of Loudoun County, but it has since been named Holy Apostles Greek Orthodox Church. Now at the age of twenty-two, I know that, if there is one thing in life that I will never forget, it will be the memory of first visiting that church! I was immediately convinced of my desire to convert to Orthodoxy when I attended my first Divine Liturgy.
When I came to the Orthodox Church I was astonished and overwhelmed by the beauty of the sanctuary. The Orthodox Church possesses a transcendent atmosphere and character in all of its elements. The holy icons, the incense, and the candles, the magnificent liturgy, capture all the senses; they engage the whole person. Saint Vladimir’s envoys summed up best the wonders of Orthodoxy when they said,
“we knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth. For on earth there is no such splendor or such beauty, and we are at a loss how to describe it. We know only that God dwells there among men.”
I began my catechism in January 2015 and was baptized and Chrismated on June 15, 2016. My first partaking of the Holy Eucharist was on June 19, the Day of Pentecost. Joining the Orthodox Church has been, and will always be, the greatest blessing of my life. The grace of the Holy Mysteries empower Orthodox Christians in their struggles for theosis; by receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, we truly become
“partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).
The veneration of the Theotokos and the Saints provides a continual source of inspiration to strive to follow their examples of holiness and submission to God. They constantly remind me that I am not alone in my struggles on earth and that they are interceding on my behalf. I know that by God’s abundant grace I am given the ability to attain a higher degree of righteousness and bring glory to the Lord. When I fall into sin, Confession restores me to Christ and the path of salvation.
I know that Orthodoxy is the True Faith because it neither adds nor detracts from the teachings of the Apostles. As St. Vincent of Lerins wrote,
“The Church of Christ, zealous and cautious guardian of the dogmas deposited with it, never changes any phase of them. It does not diminish them or add to them; it neither trims what seems necessary, nor grafts things superfluous.”
Every day I thank God for leading into the Orthodox Church, because it is truly the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.