A few years ago, a good friend invited me to a girls’ weekend in Portland, Oregon. Since I live in a rural area, it was a much-anticipated opportunity to visit a few shops and restaurants and catch up with my friend over lots of steaming coffee. I was looking forward to the chance to step outside of my busy life for a few days and I sensed this trip would hold many meaningful conversations. My friend and I shared a similar love for books, art, and beauty, but usually found ourselves unable to live out our high ideals in any meaningful way. I chalked this up to being a hard-working mom, but I could tell my friend was searching for a deeper answer, some sort of meaning to her life.
I wasn’t really searching anymore. I had grown up with a healthy relationship with religion, but over the years had drifted away. Occasionally my husband and I would visit churches with the vague hope of reconnecting to a ‘better way,’ but would always leave dissatisfied and empty. Eventually we quit visiting all together, and the darkness of despair began its slow creep into our lives.
When I arrived in Portland, my friend mentioned that a Greek Festival was going on, and it would be fun to visit. She had been reading a lot of history lately, and wanted to check out the Church. I just wanted to get to some coffee and vist a bookstore. Once she convinced me that there would be great coffee there, we were off.
Even though it was rainy and cold, the festival was in full swing when we arrived. We made a beeline for the coffee and treats, watched the dancing, and signed up for the lamb dinner. We had an hour to kill before the dinner would be ready, so when we noticed a church tour about to begin, we joined in.
The interior of the church was such a contrast to the noise outside that it took a minute to adjust. A deacon in long black robes was talking, but I could not pay attention to his words as my eyes were drawn to the chandelier, to the beautiful images along the walls, then to the glint of gold from behind the wooden screen up front. It was peaceful, yet there was a sensation of expectancy in the air and in the still, deep eyes looking down on me from every wall.
The deacon was answering a few questions about the beautiful picture of the Crucifixion (an “icon”, I learned later) near the front of the Church. A man asked him about the image of a skull beneath the cross. “But how do we know that is really Adam’s skull?” he queried with an air of skepticism, arms crossed. I was curious to see how the deacon would respond. Theological debate was familiar to me and I was going to enjoy watching this one.
The deacon smiled, unruffled. “Icons,” he said, “are a picture of truth, not a picture of subjective ‘reality’.”
I had to sit down. All my questions of art, beauty, and knowledge all fell away. The hidden, hurt place in me, the place that cried out for meaning, for truth, was touched in a way that was beyond understanding.
The deacon finished the tour and ushered us out. My friend and I stayed for the rest of the day; we watched a video series being shown in the choir loft about the history of the church, and joined the next church tour. We ate another lamb dinner, and went on the church tour again. We went to Vespers, dazzled by the chanting and the incense wafting from the censor. Afterwards the deacon, with laughing eyes, told us that he needed to lock up the church, but we could come back for Liturgy in the morning. “We’re invited?” we asked, dazed and unable to believe we would be welcome there. “Well, it’s either that or a restraining order,” he joked.
The next morning we were back at the church bright and early. Thankfully we noticed that none of the parishioners were carrying coffee cups into church and hid ours behind some shrubbery before tentatively following them in. We were greeted warmly, though we did receive more than a few curious looks. The next two hours were an unbelievable experience. In what I can only describe as a miracle, I met Christ that day in the Liturgy. I knew from that moment that whatever the cost, I was being called by Christ to His Church, and must answer it with my life.
That day a journey of healing began for my family. My husband visited the church with me the very next weekend and had a different but equally compelling experience. We began attending the closest parish, which was still two hours away in Eugene, and then the local mission in Roseburg. Not long afterwards, we were made catechumens and a year later my family was received into the Church on the Feast of Theophany.
I had the great joy of representing my parish at a recent Metropolis Clergy Laity Assembly, and by God’s grace ran into the deacon who showed me the Kingdom of God. I was able to tell him of his great impact on my life, and thank him for it. He had no idea at the time that his words on that rainy fall day, surely spoken from the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, would be like a stone thrown into the waters of my life, with the effects rippling out into eternity.