A seminarian from England once spoke at my church in Philadelphia. He had been raised Anglican, become Evangelical, converted to the Roman Catholic Church and eventually found the Orthodox Church, where he stayed and was eventually ordained. He spoke of how grateful he was for each one of those churches, for each had taught him a new way of loving God, until he found the fulfillment in the One True Faith.
I was raised Evangelical, and am thankful for the grounding it gave me in the scriptures and personal prayer. When I went to college, I chose Seattle Pacific University, an evangelical college in Seattle, where I’m from. SPU widened my horizons just a bit, as I became more aware of other liturgical traditions. We read Met. Kallistos Ware’s book The Orthodox Way as part of our university-wide common booklist. I attended a Presbyterian church that incorporated older liturgical traditions and taught adult Sunday School classes on church history. I found myself taking small steps toward a more liturgical, historic church. As a literature major, I also found myself reading Dostoevsky and becoming more and more curious about the faith that was prominent in his work.
The real turning point came when I went to the Middle East for a semester of my senior year. I had previously spent a semester in Israel in high school, and this time I lived in Egypt and traveled to Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, and back to Israel, which all had a traditional Christian minority. Many of them were Orthodox or closely related (such as Eastern-Rite Catholics, Armenians, or Syriac Christians). I knew nothing about these traditions. I went to many holy sites, churches, and monasteries, including the Monastery of St. Thekla in Syria. In Israel I revisited the Holy Sepulchre, the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, and the holy sites throughout Jerusalem. I came home eager to know more about the people I had encountered, and about their churches. I began my inquiry as an observer, as a sociological study, not a religious one, but the more I learned the more I became interested in their faith. I knew I was drawn to their way of worship and observance, but I didn’t think people COULD convert to it! I thought that if for any reason I decided to, I would be the only one, that I would have to learn Greek or Syriac, and it would simply be a really weird thing to do.
Then something quite surprising happened. After graduation I ran into a college friend–she found me reading Dostoevsky in a coffee shop. She had recently returned from a related study-abroad program in Russia and was attending an Orthodox Church. The church was fifteen minutes away, was in English, and nearly the entire congregation, including all the clergy, were converts. I was shocked! She invited me to join her. My first visit was on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, when everyone was doing prostrations. I was lost, confused, and totally entranced. I’m not sure I missed another service for months. I teared up every Sunday when we recited the Creed, so grateful to be in a church that actually spoke out their ages-old faith each week rather than listened to a pastor’s personal opinion of the day. I spent a year taking catechism classes in the priest’s living room. I had the usual Protestant questions, but rather than being skeptical, each explanation I was given resonated as the Truth I was looking for. I was baptized on Lazarus Saturday of 2005, and took the name Juliana, after St. Juliana the Merciful of Lazarevo.
A couple of years later I met my husband through mutual friends and we were married at St. Nicholas in Tacoma in 2008. It felt monumental to baptize our first son, James, as he was the first person in our two families to be given the gift of being raised in the Church from his birth. We spent our early years of marriage in Philadelphia, and when it came time to choose a new place to live, a place we hoped to stay and raise our children, finding a church home was the very top priority. We chose to move to Beaverton, Oregon in order to be a part of the parish of St. John the Baptist. We are so very grateful for the faithful godparents, individuals and other families that surround us and our children as we all grow in faith.